Every Mom’s Guide to Ethical Back to School Shopping: Part 1

My school supply ad arrived in the mail yesterday. It’s so colorful and pretty and almost makes me wish I was going back to school because I kind of have a crush on all things notebook and pencil and pen pouch and binder and someone stop me now. I just want to color.

As I looked through the pages of supplies I was taken in. Those ad people know what they’re doing. Seriously. But I’m not rushing out my door to shop the latest sales, not anymore. Not since I read that book and everything started to change.

Now when I read an ad I think to myself, “Hmm, how were those products made? Is there pain in these pages I can’t see?” And true to my new form I began to research notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons and markers looking for companies doing the most good with their products.

Here is my strategy for ethical school supply shopping this year. (In part two we’ll cover shopping for clothes.)

Back To School

Shop your stash. Around here we have colored pencils in colors I didn’t even know existed. We’ll be using the ones we have instead of buying new. What do you already have that you can reuse?

Get thrifty. We always start our hunt for common items at the thrift store. Last week we went to one of our favorites and, I kid you not, a girl walked out carrying an arm-load of binders. She was saving money and giving some castoff school supplies new life. When we got into the store there were still several binders left (read a whole shelf). Check your thrift stores friends. They’re golden.

BuyGreen. BuyGreen.com has an entire section dedicated to school supplies, including the recycled newspaper pencils and crayon sticks I love. The crayons come in sticks as well as fun shapes and are recycled from crayons that would otherwise end up in landfills. You can even arrange for your crayons to be recycled through Crazy Crayons when you’re done with them. Color on!

TerraCycle. For pencil pouches, lunch sacks and more unique gear check out TerraCycle products (available for sale through DwellSmart). They’re taking garbage and remaking it into useful products. Their website even includes tutorials on how to turn your garbage into something useful. Check their site for ways to send your reusable garbage to be made into useful products.

Skilcraft. Skilcraft brand products are manufactured by the AbilityOne Network which “envisions a world where everyone that is blind or has other significant disabilities is able to achieve their maximum employment potential.” Skilcraft products are manufactured in the USA and many, including their notebooks, use recycled materials. Skilcraft products are available at OfficeDepot, on Amazon and through other retailers.

Up&Up School Supplies at Target. Target’s corporate statement about social responsibility is robust. They will tell you where their products are made and how their factories are performing when it comes to worker rights. They’re making strides in environmental responsibility and even working to reduce conflict minerals in their electronics.

This year when you purchase Up&Up school supplies before August 2nd Target will donate supplies to the Kids in Need Foundation at a one-to-one ratio. It’s that easy to do something good with your purchases.

I researched, Googled and emailed several companies this year. The ones listed here stood out to me above the rest for their commitment to recycled products, corporate transparency and desire to offer dignified employment. I’ll keep looking and hopefully next year have a few more options for you. Until part two… Happy Shopping.

Where are you shopping for ethical back to school supplies this year?

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The One Jesus Sees

I wish I knew her story.

Perhaps her husband was a soldier killed too young, leaving her alone at an early age. Perhaps he was ill, outcast and no one but her noticed when his body betrayed him to death. Maybe they lived a long happy life together before the breath went out of him for the last time.

Whatever happened, she’s alone when we meet her. Her clothes are clean but tattered, mended time and again. Her hands and eyes tell the story of a difficult life. She is neither wealthy nor famous but she knows the most Famous One. Today she is in the temple. She walks among the teachers of the law, the money changers, and the crowds of people headed to worship, unnoticed except perhaps by those who wish to keep their distance.

She doesn’t expect to be noticed. She knows her gift is minuscule by the count of men. Still, she makes her way through the crowd to place her coins in the collection box and this is all we know of her.

She came. She gave all she had.

And Jesus noticed her.

In this story Jesus has just finished warning his followers to be wary of the religious elite who are more concerned about their fame in this life than they are about caring for the widows, the poor and the marginalized. Then the scripture cuts to a scene in the temple. The show-offs, the important, the leaders, the elite and the wealthy abound. They fill the collection boxes with pomp and circumstance, vying for position and recognition.

Jesus Sees

And then a widow. A widow enters the temple and with the plink, plink of two small coins she out-gives them all.

And Jesus notices her.

Jesus sees the anonymous. Jesus sees the marginalized. Jesus sees the poor. Jesus sees us.

Be wary of wishing to be recognized for your greatness. It will not satisfy for long.

Jesus asks not for you to be powerful, to be famous, to build success, to gain endless riches, to see the world or to be well liked. Jesus asks for all; all you have to give, no matter how small it may seem and to him that gift holds the greatest value. He measures value by the size of the sacrifice not the commotion stirred in the crowd.

Oh that we would see the widow, the orphan, the anonymous, the poor, the slave, the marginalized and ourselves not as causes to pity but as Jesus sees us — As people of matchless worth.

In the Deep End of Motherhood

I was just where you are. Right there, in the deep end of motherhood. I was changing diapers, sleeping on a scattered schedule, dressing, brushing, feeding, buckling, soothing, bathing, and holding two little littles. I was there, trying to keep my head above the high waters just thirty seconds ago. Or maybe it was a few months ago. Treading water in the deep end of motherhood changes the way time seems to pass. Like catsup in the bottle slowly, slowly, slowly then all at once, all over you and you wonder how it came so fast.

It will sneak up on you. It will creep and crawl and then one day you’ll be here, where I am. You will see your little people and realize the little littles are gone.

I won’t tell you to cherish these moments with your wee ones. I know how quickly the cherishing can turn to chaos. You don’t need the weight of future regret on your already heavy plate.

I won’t tell you how to live with your littles more fully or how to parent better. I won’t lament the difficulties of motherhood.

Today, I want you to know that one day you will be here, where I am. Motherhood will still be exhausting. Motherhood will still be chaotic. Motherhood will still be the best kind of frustration you’ve ever known. And one day, not that far from now, you will experience the fruit of the work you do in the deep end of mothering your littles.

Deep End 1

One day you’ll fall on your bed at 2 in the afternoon. Exhausted. You’ll lay there, willing the bed to swallow you whole for five minutes of quiet. You’ll watch the ceiling fan as it doesn’t turn and then… THUD. CRASH. CRACK. You’ll know what’s coming next; the wailing of your youngest. And it will come. Loud and strong, probably accompanied by real tears. And you will not move. Something in you will say, “Let’s see how this plays out.”

“I’m sorry Brother. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” the oldest will offer.


You’ll stay. Still. Listening.

Again, the oldest will soothe, “I’m sorry Brother.”

The little one will suck in his breath and through tears you’ll hear him, “I for..forgive you.”

And ever so slowly the tears will dry and the crying will turn to laughter and they won’t need you to manage the situation. They won’t need you to referee, to soothe, to explain how apologies work. They won’t need you this time because you did the work in the deep end.

Just like that your wondering will stop. Those times of wondering if you pulled the right ticket in the ‘good kid’ lottery or if the work you’re doing actually matters will be gone. The Realists, who told you some kids are just easier than others, they’ll be silenced. Now you’ll know. You will know that children are not born knowing to say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I forgive you.’

Your children will do what you taught them while you were in the deep end. When the water threatened to swallow you and as you fought for air you helped them learn to live well. You did the work. The work of motherhood matters.

Your kids will still mess up. Moments later they’ll be fighting over a balloon, calling for help in the bathroom, and letting you know they’re hungrier than they’ve ever been before. But this time you’ll know; the work you do in the deep end, when you wonder if you’ll make it through, that work matters.

Deep End

Friend, whether you’re in the deep end with little littles or big ones, keep working. Keep loving hard. Keep teaching them how to live well. They’re listening. They’re learning. They’re watching. They’re growing. And you, you’re the one showing them the way.

What you’re doing now matters.

What Happened With That Rwanda Trip?

It’s been 3 weeks since I first entered the #StyleForJustice contest for a trip to Rwanda with Noonday Collection and International Justice Mission. The first round of voting ended Wednesday, May 28. I ended up with just about 600 votes and laded in the top 20%! Can you believe it?! A.Maz.Ing.

The ladies who were eligible to move on to the next round all had over 7000 votes. From what I saw they are well equipped to be effective voices in the fight for freedom and justice. I was impressed and inspired by their efforts.

Entering myself in this competition taught me a few things:

  1. I am surrounded by people who love and support me. Everyone I told about the competition (including my hairdresser) was encouraging and excited. Several of my friends shared this journey with their friends. I was both humbled and honored. You all are The. Very. Best!
  2. Twitter isn’t as useless as I once thought. Who knew I’d actually kind-of like it?! You can connect with me on Twitter here.
  3. When I want something I am capable of asking for help and support to get there.  I generally hold my hopes and dreams a little closer to myself. I’m learning to be bolder. Did I mention I told my hairdresser and asked her to vote for me?
    Rwanda Results
  4. We all have talents to use in the fight for freedom. Noonday Collection is a jewelry and accessory company using fashion to “restore dignity to abandoned women in Ethiopia, empower communities in Ecuador, and create business opportunities for Ugandans.
    They combined a love of jewelry with a passion for justice and change is happening. My passion for writing your your passion for whatever can also be used to give hope.
  5. Some people still believe slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. I know of at least one person who discovered slavery still exists because I wanted to go to Rwanda. (And I have never found raising awareness to be so enjoyable.)
  6. Change is possible when we all do our part. Not one of the women who entered this contest could get to Rwanda on their own. They had to rely on the support of others. All around the world and in our backyards people are in need of our support. Not a charitable handout but a helping hand to pull them up so they can stand on their own. When we all do a little change is possible.

I’m out of the competition but I’m still voting. I’ve put my support behind the Flower Patch Farm-girl, Shannan. You must check out her work. Really, do it. Or just vote for her here! (She’s the one in the green shirt and white scarf.)

To all of you who helped me get farther than I could have ever gone on my own, Thank You! You have no idea what it means to me to be so very loved.

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On Making Core Values Work In Daily Life

Call me a self-improvement geek but I could talk and write about personality types, core values, gift assessment, strengths and the like until I’m blue in the face and my fingers go numb. I love the theory of it. Love. It.

daily life

I also know the theory isn’t much good if it doesn’t translate into action. If you’ve been following along we’ve been talking about developing a sense of mission in our families. We touched on the bigger picture and the idea that our families are telling a story. We moved from there into a definition of values and the importance of knowing our core family values.

Today I’m going to share my family’s core values chart and explain how it helps us make decisions as a family.

A note about this chart: This is our family at the core. I don’t share it to tell you what you should or shouldn’t value. Please take it as a guide for your journey toward a clearer picture of your family not a prescription for every family.

Core Values

Our central defining value is our faith. We follow Jesus. This value is both core and aspirational. We follow and seek to follow Jesus in all we do.

Second, we care for and protect our family. This value plays out not in the helicopter parenting, micro-management marriage sense but in the sense that we will prioritize what is best for our family over almost every other decision. Family impact is always part of the conversation.

My husband’s job allows for several scheduling options. When we discussed the hours he would work the central deciding factor was how his schedule impacts our family. A secondary factor was his personal preference. Working out the details according to our values made it easy to come to a consensus about what was best for us.

Third you’ll see we value service, health, and being wise with our finances. These three values bend and flex in service to each other and always serve our central values.

Several years ago when I found myself staring depression in the face we joined a gym. We were in the middle of saving money for a down payment and trying to pinch every single penny. Joining a gym didn’t meet our financial goals. In this instance our financial health took a back seat to my physical health. Fast forward a few years – we recently decided a gym membership isn’t right for us. I’m exercising at home, feeling great, and we’re saving a few extra dollars. This time around the finances are winning out.

The gray area is where we see our sense of mission. It’s gray because we’re still working it out. More on that soon.

On the outside edges of our chart you’ll notice several “permission to play” values. We’ve put them there as a check for ourselves. When we come to conversations about life these words are there to remind us how we play the game. We communicate with honesty, integrity, and vulnerability. We approach the world with courage, grace, respect, and excellence.

Going forward I see us using this chart to work through our monthly planning process. Having a written reminder will help us keep the main thing in perspective while sorting out the details of daily life.

This week’s challenge: Put your core family values into a format you can use. Write them out, draw a diagram, or use another system to show how your values work together. Place them where you’ll see them each day.

What are your core family values? Share with me in the comments.

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For When You Feel Anonymous

It usually happens to me when I walk into the Apple Store. A thousand (or thirty) people surround me all of them staring at screens speaking a techie jargon I cannot comprehend. I’m enveloped by a sea of white, my brain turns to mush, and I can’t recall the reason I’m there. It probably has something to do with my computer but in that moment (the one right before a tech asks how she can help me) I want to run and hide. I feel small, unqualified, in way over my head, and I wonder if all these people can see I don’t fit in. But no one notices me at all. I’m unseen. Anonymous.

Maybe you feel that way too. I don’t know when it happens for you. Perhaps you are working diligently to care for your frantic schedule and chaotic home but no one seems to notice. Maybe you stay at the office after hours with no recognition. Maybe your career has come to an end, your nest is empty and you wonder what’s next for you. You stand, watching the sea of people around you and as the clouds begin to gather overhead you wonder if what you’re doing really matters at all. You feel anonymous.

There is hope for the anonymous. We do not have to have our names recorded in the history books, the newspaper, or plastered on the cover of a magazine for our lives to have significance. Recognition does not determine the value of our days or the worth of our life.


Genesis 7:13 reads, On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.”

We do not know the names of the women on the ark. In fact, we don’t know much about them at all. There is little thought given to these four women in commentaries or Biblical notes. They’re simply listed as having entered the ark. They were anonymous.

Most of us will work our whole lives and never be noticed in the arena. We will be remembered by those we love for a few generations then our names will be lost in the records of history. In a breath we will vanish. Anonymous. 

But. Not. To. God.

By all accounts these women were not heroes of the faith. God didn’t look down and see Noah’s wife as righteous among her people. God didn’t consult her about how to decorate the ark or if she wanted a room next to the elephants. As far as we know her life was completely average. Nothing to record or see here. And history didn’t.

Except for this: The women on the ark were chosen by God to be the matriarchs of the new world. They lived what we might call an extraordinary average life. They would have disembarked into a world where nothing and everything was different. They would have tended their homes, land, and families with recognition only from the few other people on the boat. Imagine what would have happened if these women had agreed to work and live only for fame or fortune.

God knows the names of the women on the ark. God knows your name. God knows my name. He gives worth to our lives. He knows the value of our days. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He has known us from before we were born, sees every step we take, numbers the hairs on our heads, and will know us ever after. We are seen.  We are known. We are loved.

We are not anonymous to the One who’s recognition matters most of all. And God invites anonymous people to be part of His story. God uses people like us.

As you walk through this week know this: You are seen. Walk knowing you matter.


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What an Outfit Taught Me About Core Values

As I ran this morning I mulled over what I would wear for the day – jeans, a striped tank, those cute red shoes, and the black sweater to bring it all together. When I went to pull my clothes from the closet I discovered a problem. My black sweater was nowhere to be found. Without the sweater the tank wouldn’t work and without the tank the shoes no longer matched. My outfit was quickly unraveling. What’s a girl to do?

The wardrobe incident got me thinking about core values and why they make such a difference. I went to my closet with a plan in mind – a mission, if you will – and found I didn’t have what I needed to make the mission a reality. Trying to determine a family mission without first knowing what we value is a little like planning an outfit without first knowing what’s in your closet. You run the risk of your plan unraveling before you even leave the house.

My husband and I see our core values as a filter through which we live out a mission. We value Faith, Family, Service, Health and Financial Prudence. As we organize our thoughts around a mission we find goals relating to these categories are the most meaningful.

Part of our family mission is to promote justice in our world. We think we’ll see the most value and longevity in our contribution to that goal when we center it around justice that is faith based, family oriented and allows us to serve in ways that promote health and financial stability. Had we not done the work to discover our core values we would have stumbled through living out our mission in a meaningful way.


This world wants to give you a purpose. Your culture, your place of worship, your choice of entertainment, the media and every magazine, blog, and article you read seek to enrapture your heart. Every influence is vying for a place in your story. Without a filter we run the risk of losing ourselves in the wind and waves of every teaching. Doing the work to know our values and building a sense of mission around them allows us to tune-in to the most meaningful messages.

When it comes to our families, I wonder if we spend more time thinking about what we’ll wear each day than we do discovering what we truly value. Your family will leave a legacy. The question is how you choose to direct it.

Do the work. Know your values. Build your mission around those values. Go make a difference.

What have you found most meaningful in your conversations about core values? Where have you seen success in living them out?

Speaking of promoting justice. Vote and send me to Rwanda. More about that here.

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