Sunday, April 15, 2018

And the Series Goes On...

I enjoy getting into a book series and looking forward to the next one!  There have been several series I've enjoyed over the years, but right now there's a Christian fiction author that I enjoy reading.  It's Susan May Warren.  Her books are the typical Christian fiction and I've wondered why I like them more than others...

I think it is because the first series I read by her looked at a family of five kids and how their relationships changed as they became adults.  God helped me consider what that looked like.  My husband is the oldest of six kids.  Over the course of our marriage they have all become adults.  We read books because they help us to make sense of our own lives--as Leland Ryken says. 

I find that amidst the stress of life I can't handle heavy books filled with drama, but I can read light Christian Fiction. 

In the latest series from Susan May Warren, she writes about a group of rescue workers in Montana.  The last installment came out in January--Troubled Waters. 

The series began with a question mark about the relationship between Sierra and Ian Shaw.  This book finally brings them together.  The rescue squad's helicopter crashes.  So, Sierra decides to fundraise to help replace the helicopter.  Sierra heads out on Ian's yacht with a couple of his friends only to encounter some "troubled waters".  This story falls in line with the three books that precede it.  This book can stand alone, but it makes much more sense in light of the series.  I'd recommend starting with book one of this series (Wild Montana Skies).  This book flows well, with fun characters that easy to imagine.  It keeps going at a steady pace and never holds you up for too long! 

Ian and Sierra have been two of my favorite characters of the books and I looked forward to this book.  It didn't disappoint!  If you enjoy contemporary Christian fiction, I'd recommend this series!

Please note that I received a complimentary ebook copy of this book for review from Revell Books, but these opinions are entirely my own! 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Correcting One Another...

I have come to the conclusion that people often do not realize how harshly they speak and how long their correction stays with people or how it damages relationships. I think we really need to think long and hard before we speak to someone in an effort "to correct what we think is wrong in someone else". Matthew 7:3-5

Here's an interesting and different take on speaking the truth in love... see article HERE According to Tony Reinke, that verse actually applies to speaking the Gospel truth into someone's life--not correcting minor flaws you might perceive in someone else. It's easy to want to correct someone in how they are treating you, but is that loving? Is it necessary (unless it is abusive or manipulative--in which case it definitely is)?

I have observed that it is easy to want to control how people treat us when we feel out of control in our own lives (or grew up feeling out of control in our childhoods) and tell people how to treat you, but I don't believe that is what real friends do for each other. I don't believe that's what loving others really means.

We don't ever really know all that is going on in another person's life. No one knows the load I truly carry and I don't know anyone else's full load. Why add to that? What if those words are the criticism that is the straw that breaks the camel's back? Instead of criticizing one another, wouldn't it be wiser to grow in grace and forgiveness towards one another? Speaking the Gospel truth is a different matter--it is life giving and strengthening. It is a different matter altogether.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Fun, Light Hearted Reading

Whew.  A few weeks ago amidst the stress of life, I sat down and took a little break from it all.  I had fun reading the latest novel by Jen Turano.

Out of the Ordinary is the second novel (after a novella and novel) of her Apart from the Crowd Series.  It tells the story of Miss Gertrude Cadwalader and Harrison Sinclair.  They have quite the names, of course!  Ms. Turano's main characters are always quite likeable and fun to read about.  Gertrude is a companion to a very eccentric woman who is quite the thief!  Her escapades were touched upon in the first book, Behind the Scenes.  As the reader, Gertrude's character will draw you in and make you smile.  This story meanders around until it finally arrives at a happy finish.  The writing is descriptive and keeps things moving along.  There are the good characters and the bad ones who produce the conflict at the heart of the story.

I have to be honest.  I can always depend and look forward to reading one of Ms. Turano's books when they come out because they are funny and light-hearted (and unbelievable of course as any fairy tale-ish story is).  My husband constantly teases me about reading books like Out of the Ordinary.  He reads much more serious fiction.  But, my heart just needs a break and a happy ending when I pick up a book!

This book delivered just that--a fun break from life.  I could smile and chuckle as I read about Gertrude's adventures with Harrison and her friends.  It was a breath of fresh air!

As I was getting to post this, I discovered on Amazon that the next book in this series is going to be published next July.  I am so glad!  As I was reading this story, I had really wanted to know what happens to Gertrude's friend Temperance...

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishing for review, but these opinions are my own.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Engaging with Social Media

I realized yesterday that it's been about a year since I got back on Facebook.  It was quite the anniversary...

I chose to comment on a thread in a homeschool group I had joined on Facebook.  The person who started the thread asked for insight about how to help her young daughter who didn't want to do her handwriting.  I commented that I had been reading a book about handwriting research and that it was interesting to read about the important connection between the automaticity of handwriting and becoming a fluent writer.

Someone else commented and asked for the title of the book--which I replied with.  Then, the original person who started the thread commented about how she agreed with the importance of reading and writing and that they are foundational.

Well, it went downhill from there...

I replied with this, "I agree that reading and writing are the foundation of everything. ;) "

I included the wink.  The wink just meant to me that I agreed--and I thought that most people would agree--

But, a woman took offense to my simple statement.  She attacked me and my "wink".  I was surprised, but I shouldn't have been.

This is the way of social media.  People make assumptions about other people and think the worst--rather than the best. 

The commenter in this case went on about how I simply didn't understand what it was to have a child with learning disabilities and that reading and writing are not essential--that someone could function in the world without being able to write. 

The ironic thing about all of it is that God has laid it on my heart to pursue understanding learning disabilities better and specifically struggles with reading and writing.  This woman didn't know me, nor did she know this about me. 

I responded to her comment that no tone was meant by the wink and that my statement had no particular tone.   I reminded her that she didn't know me nor know my heart or experience with kids. 

And then I said that her comment is one of the reasons I stayed off social media, and Facebook in particular, for five years. 

I've thought about getting back off.  I start a lot of conversations with friends asking how they manage and approach the pitfalls of social media because it is a part of our lives for better or for worse. 

I've discovered that most people I know have concerns about social media.

What common struggles do we have?

We all see the lives of others and at times think that their lives are easier or better than ours. 
We can compare ourselves and feel that we have failed personally or professionally--that we are less that we should be or can be. 
We get caught up in the gossipy details about people's lives.
We're privvy to complaints that family members have against others that we'd rather not know about. 
We only hear one side of the story and it's easy to get caught up judging the other side--the one we don't know. 

But, what is the antidote to these struggles?  Is there a way to find our way through it?  Is staying off social media the only solution? 

I think there are a few ways I've found and I've heard from friends to deal with these things. 

1.  You don't have to friend everyone.  Be wise. 
2.  You don't have to unfriend people who's posts you don't want to see--you can unfollow them. 
3.  Keep your privacy settings tight.
4.  Set boundaries with yourself about how much you want/don't want to get on social media. 
             For me, I only have facebook access on my computer.  I did put the app on my phone.  So, I
            don't get pinged when someone posts and I'm not distracted by it when I'm not home.  I have
            other friends who only get one once a week or who only use it to connect with family
5.  Practice thinking the best of people and not the worst.
6.  Weigh the emotional costs of engaging in banter on a post.  Does the person have ears to hear or would it be a case of throwing pearls before swine that they might turn and trample upon--and then attack you?  If you don't want to comment, you can always PM someone if you have a positive thing to say or simply want to ask a different question.  I've gone this route multiple times.

But, I haven't figured it all out at all.  It still hurts when strangers say unkind things when I choose to share something I think in reply to a question they've asked.  I struggle when I know there are two sides of a story and one person is broadcasting their side and people are jumping on board--criticizing the other side.  It makes me sad when I find myself comparing myself with others. 

It's not easy to figure out what to do.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ugh... A horrible book.

I just read the kind of book that gives homeschoolers a bad name.  I feel like I have had a unique combination of experiences.  I have taught in several public schools, substitute taught at various schools in several different states, taught at a private school, taught at a homeschool co-op, taught in a GED program at a community college, have tutored K-12 subjects, and have now homeschooled for over ten years.  I know that there are strengths and weaknesses of each system.  But, one of the biggest problems I see is how the systems--public, private, and homeschooling--interact with each other and view each other.  It is this problem that grieves me.  I don't believe that there is one right educational fit for all children, but I wish there was more respect and grace shown between these three systems.  The book I just read does not help to encourage that.

In front of me sits a new book by Dr. Kevin Leman, Education a la Carte:  Choosing the best schooling options for your child.  What this book should really be titled is Education:  Valuing Public, Private, and Charter Schools More.  My time is short and so I'll try and get straight to the point and explain what my issues with this book are.  I know I don't have time to really dig into them.  I realized that this book first of all doesn't have a Christian emphasis, but does have a moral slant.  Secondly, the author perceives that the goal of all parents is that their children will achieve worldly success and by that I mean monetary success.  Lastly, this author was "privileged to sit in on a homeschooling focus group" in which he listened to a group (of what size? where?  who was in it?  what ages were their children?  who was running it?) which made some statements that by no means were representative of the vast variety of homeschoolers who are educating their children today.  So, my last issue is how he portrays homeschooling.

I'll start with my first point.  The books I'm aware of by Dr.  Kevin Leman's books have all been published by Christian publishers over the years, so I assumed that they were grounded in the Word.  But, as I perused this book, I realized that there weren't any Bible verses in it or referenced in it.  So, I spoke with a friend who has read several of his parenting books and asked if they were Biblical.  She explained that they had some solid, good advice but that they would better be classified as "moral" than "Biblical".  But, what that means for the book is that many Christian parents may not find that they agree with the premise of most of his points.  I didn't.

Next point.  The first chapters focus on explaining and identifying what parents want first for their children and then what they should look for in a school--note that he really means in a formal school setting.  The feeling I got as I read those chapters was that we should all want monetary success and acceptance to the best colleges for our kids.  On page 27, Leman writes "Let's be honest, shall we?  Each of us wants our child not only to compete but also to be top dog in an increasingly complicated, global world."  No, that's not want I want most for my kids!!  What I want for my kids is to to love God, to love others well, and to be able to live independently as adults.  Then, two pages later, he writes that "the reality is that you have to go to some sort of college these days in order to make a decent buck."  No!  That's not true either.  I talk to people all the time about their jobs and how they got them.  But, college isn't always a part of the picture.  My husband took a very nontraditional path to his degree and he's a great example that debunks that myth.  He's a smart man who works hard and has a lot of knowledge.  He does have his degree now, but it is his experience and the knowledge he sought outside of a classroom that really helps him do his job!  When I consider my own children, I expect my youngest son to pursue a trade that will allow him to be practical and support himself (and a family) and pursue his interests.

At one point, there's this statement that tells you about Leman's wife's reaction when he brought up homeschooling to her.  This is how he relates the story on page 63, "...I once brought up homeschooling to my wife.  "What?" she said, baring her teeth like a German shepherd patrolling the junkyard against potential adversaries.  That was the end of the subject for us."  When you read a statement like that in the book, you know that the author and his wife do not see homeschooling the way homeschoolers do.  I wish he had left that story out of the book.  The section on homeschooling is very short and gives a very strange and in many ways wrong view of how homeschooling actually works.  He focuses on the drawback he sees of what to do when your child misbehaves and paints the picture that homeschooling parents have to separate the roles of teacher and parent.  My experience is that you can't fully separate the two roles.  You are always parent and teacher, too.  Because as a homeschooling parent, I engage in my kids' lives throughout the day.  Ironically, the homeschooling authorities that he quotes are odd ones--two of them I've never even heard of!  I have been reviewing homeschooling curriculum for over ten years and listening to parents about the different books they read and I've never come across these two...  I could go on and on, but instead hopefully I'll write a book some day that's a better representation of homeschooling.

I think the last thing that surprised me about this book is that the list of resources at the end of the book is just a list of Dr. Kevin Leman's books.  There were no references or explanation of the "homeschooling focus group" he attended, no footnotes explained, or the site that told him Susan Sutherland Isaacs and John Holt are two of the major driving educational philosophical forces behind homeschooling.

I wish Dr. Leman had written a better book.  I would not recommend this book.  It is not a broad research based book.  Instead, it is a book written based on stereotypes and anecdotal evidence from his own life and experience.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book by Revell books and very obviously these are all my own opinions.

The next yearly installment...

For the past how ever many years, I have reviewed Melody Carlson's annual Christmas novella.  This year is no different.  This post is about her new one, The Christmas Blessing.  I've had some favorites over the years.  Christmas at Harringtons, The Christmas Cat, The Christmas Box...  But, this one kept me going until the end and then it didn't make my favorites list.  Let me explain.

The book is just fine.  It's a made for tv Christmas movie.  It's a sweet story about a young mom at
her wit's end choosing what's best for her son over what's best for her, sacrificing her heart.  Amelia Richards had hoped for so much more in her life, but she made a choice and then her love died in the World War II.

Melody Carlson writes fun Christmas novels.  And this one is enjoyable until the end.  There is a scene that is missing.  I feel like she took the easy way out.  It is the hard scenes in a book that I love and learn the most from.  The scene right before the end is the one I most want to read!!  But, it's not there.  The author chose instead to infer in two sentences what happened.

Is the book still worth reading?  It's a fun, pick up to read book when you have a cup of tea one evening.  But, just be warned, there's a scene that I think is missing!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Publishing for review, but these opinions are my own.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The many approaches to homeschooling

In a former life, in what feels like a long, long time ago, I was a middle school teacher in two different public schools.  It seems like a lifetime ago.  I had earned a master's degree in education and fell in line with an educational philosophy similar to many of my colleagues.  I was in a cohort of students that hoped to teach at urban schools--to help kids who were struggling learn.  My educational philosophy was based upon theories of the likes of Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget about how children develop and learn.

But, when I entered the world of homeschooling, the phrase "educational philosophy" took on a different meaning.  The greatest difference I found among homeschoolers was whether parents considered their philosophy to be in line with the likes of Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, classical education, or was standards based.

In a post a few months ago, I mentioned that I started out when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten subscribing to the educational philosophy outlined in Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Well Trained Mind.  This book sets forth how one can follow the classical model for education.   The Classical model is based on teaching children according to three stages of development: grammar, logic, and then rhetoric.  Trivium Pursuit gives a detailed explanation of what a Classical education is Here.   I think parents who see problems in the public schools and the tide turning away from phonics towards common core and whole language reading like the appeal of academics and a wholly new way of attacking the same problems.  It strongly appeals to people who feel they were missing things in their own education as children, love the classics, see a huge value in learning Latin and Greek, and appreciate the promises it gives of a well rounded education for students if parents follow through.  There are other books which outline this approach as well, including Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn.  Teaching the Trivium differs from The Well-Trained Mind in that the latter book is written from a secular perspective and the former is written from a Christian perspective.

After following the model of WTM for two years, I realized that it was not working for my daughter or me.  We were both at our wit's end.  Something needed to change.  We moved away from the philosophy of WTM and back towards a standards based philosophy of education using public school textbooks as the foundation of our curriculum.

But, the classical model works for many families.  I have watched this over years and listened to many parents who love what their children are learning.  So, how do you figure out how to follow this model?  There are a lot of great resources out there.

Many families I know have joined Classical Conversations groups.  The founder of this network of groups is Leigh Borten.  I do want to note that her ideas are very intellectually similar to the ideas of Lev Vygotsky.  Another way to follow the classical method is by using the WTM as a guide or Teaching the Trivium.  Leigh Borten's book and Douglas Wilson's book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning both argue why classical education is the best way to argue education.  Wilson, in his typical style, is of course very inflammatory.  Borten is more moderate and balanced, though.  Even though she plagiarizes other educational theorists' ideas, her book is easy to read and understand.  Her book, The Core, is easy to understand and clear (although she plagiarizes other educational theorists).  If I were to recommend one book to explain the classical method, this would probably be it.  Although, I recently spoke to a friend who wouldn't recommend this book.  After being a part of a classical conversations group for several years and being a tutor, she felt that it isn't a program that works for all students, although it presents itself as one that does.  She also explained that Borten's ideas are based upon Douglas Wilson's ideas, which gave me concern.

Teaching the Trivium takes a very specific approach to classical education and it's the right book for the right person--just as the other books are the right books for the right people.  As homeschoolers, we all find books that will encourage us.  But, no book will have all of the answers.  They can give us ideas, but since all of our families are different, we have to take the ideas that have worked for other families and consider how they will work for us.  Teaching the Trivium is written from a strong Christian perspective and the belief that all families should homeschool.  I did correspond with the author about her book and she expressed that if they could publish a second edition that there are changes they would make to the book.  I would keep that in mind and just like you would read any book--read it looking for ideas about what might work for you.  Sometimes even an opposite idea can help you figure out what you believe about homeschooling.

The Well-Trained Mind, like Classical Conversations relies heavily on curriculum from the authors as the foundation of their programs.  It has a very specific tone...  It is a very helpful book, but I think it is important to keep in mind that you are not "right" if you follow the author's advice, and "wrong" if you don't.  Rather, it is one approach to education and if you find that you align with the ideas set forth in the book, then it will give you a framework of how one can implement classical education in your home.

Many homeschooling parents love the classical model and there are many other classical publishers out there including Veritas Press and Memoria Press.  But, I think if I could wish one thing for homeschoolers in regard to classical education, it would be that we would all show one another respect--whether we do or don't agree with this model.  I truly believe that there is no one "right way" to homeschool in regards to educational philosophy.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Teaching the Trivium for review from the publisher.  But, the thoughts in this post are all my own.  I borrowed a copy of the Core, checked out a copy of Douglas Wilson's book from the library years ago, and owned a copy of The Well-Trained Mind when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten years ago.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cops and Robbers

A while back, I started reading Lynette Eason's Elite Guardians series.  It was fun.  I enjoyed the characters.  So, I looked forward to reading the new book in the series, Chasing Secrets.  Chasing Secrets could be a stand alone novel, but it really makes more sense when read in the sequence of the series.  I had missed one of the books, so I went back and read Moving Target before I read Chasing Secrets.  There were a few details about the characters in Chasing Secrets that you wouldn't know if you didn't read Moving Target.

Chasing Secrets tells the story of Haley Callaghan.  Haley is one of the Elite Guardians, a group of bodyguards in Columbia, South Carolina, that works with the police department to protect people.  At the beginning of the story, a young man Zeke attempts to rob Haley.  How that scene plays out will make you like Haley from the very beginning.  Another character is introduced at the beginning of the story that you will come to like, Steve.  He's come home to South Carolina after several years away.  He, like many book characters, is running away from the past, but finds that he has to stop and face the past.

Isn't that life?  We each have our own history and if we don't take it to the Lord and sort through it, it will confront us (or rather God will confront us with it).  Of course, it's always more dramatic in Christian fiction, but that truth remains the same.  We are all products of our past.

Ms. Eason writes a compelling story in Chasing Secrets.  It moves along at a good clip.  There are neither too few nor too many characters for most of the story.  Although at one point, there were quite a few moving people to keep track of.  It's a good solid Christian crime-suspense novel.

If you have read any of her other novels, I'm sure you'll enjoy this one!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell books for review, but these opinions are my own.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


Sometimes I feel embarrassed that I read Christian fiction as a way to relax and take a mental break from life.  My husband teases me about the books and I am embarrassed when friends or family ask me what I've been reading.

To me, life is quite heavy.  It's busy and I have a lot to do.  My life only allows me to breathe for a few minutes here and there.  And Christian fiction books let me do that--breathe and be entertained.  Yes, they are entertaining to me.  Some are better than others, though.  Some Christian writers are more skilled in their character development, and description.  Some stories are more feasible and believable (even in a fairy-tale sense) than others.

Having said all that, there are still books that I've read, but have not really enjoyed.  The book I read this past week is falls into this category.  I didn't like or enjoy it and found myself skipping past 3/4 of the book to the end to see how it ended.  I've read other books by this author and they fell in the middle of the pack of "Christian historical fiction" that I've read.  They neither stood out, nor fell to the bottom.  But, this one was irksome to me.

The book was A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White.
I have been pondering why I disliked this book and I think it had to do with the glorification and justification of theft.  The plot was also more ridiculous in nature than the usual Christian fiction.  The main character of the story, Rosemary Gresham, is a thief who is recruited for the task of discovering whether a gentleman's loyalty lay with Britain or Germany.  She is an orphan who was adopted into a family of thieves and orphans.  The story follows her as she wrestles with her heart over her task yet seeks to follow it to completion.  When she changed, I didn't entirely know whether to believe the changes or not and that didn't sit with me.

I want to clarify that it's not that this particular story or book is bad in my opinion.  It's just that I didn't enjoy it and I think the story line rubbed me the wrong way.  I much preferred Ms. White's Ladies of the Manor series.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Novellas and Christian Historical Fiction

After the last novel I read by Jen Turano, I discovered that she'd written a novella as the start of her new series.  I read the first novel first.  When I discovered the novella, I enjoyed reading it, but wished that I had read it first.  I've noticed that several authors have started to do this.  So, when a new novel arrived in the mail recently for me to read, I first went online to see if the author had written a novella to kick off the series.  And... she had!

The series is the Orphan Train by Jody Hedlund.  The novella that begins the series is An Awakened Heart.  It can be found on Amazon to download for free to read on your kindle or kindle app on your tablet.  The novella tells the story of Miss Pendleton and the Reverend Bedell.  Miss Pendleton is only thirty years old, yet already considered a spinster in the times she lived in--New York City during the 1850s.  That novella tells her story of finding purpose and not giving up.  It is a sweet story and it also sets the stage for the first book of the series, With You Always.  

This book begins where the novella leaves off--which is why I'd definitely encourage you to read the novella first.  Some novels are stand alone, but in this case, I think the novella is needed.  At the beginning of the novel, we find Elise Neumann and her sisters staying at the Seventh Street Mission.  How she ends up there is explained in the novella.  With You Always follows Elise as she travels to Quincy, Illinois, seeking to support her sisters and adopted siblings.  Before she heads off to Quincy, she meets Thornton Quincy.  The story follows them and the adventures that lie in Quincy, Illinois.

The story flows and keeps going at a good pace.  The characters are enjoyable and engaging.  This book is simply light-hearted reading.  Jody Hedlund's books are similar to Tracie Peterson's or Kim Vogel-Sawyer's books.  This book and the novella are a fun, afternoon read.  If you enjoy lighthearted Christian historical romance, then this book will be right up your alley!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House but these opinions are entirely my own.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Different Children = Different Learners

When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, I remember a mom telling me that she had to use different curriculum with each of her children.  I also clearly remember my reaction!  Inside I recoiled at the thought of having to buy new curriculum for each of my children--I had no idea how I would afford to do that!  It was also hard for me to imagine that my children wouldn't be able to use the same curriculum.  I had been a classroom teacher and I used the same curriculum for all of the students in my class.

But, in time, I found the other mom's statement to be partially true, but only partially.  Many homeschooling materials appeal to one style of learner more than another or they aren't easily leveled to different abilities levels within the same grade level.  So, often when kids learn differently, parents have to buy different curriculum for each one.  This is one reason why I've gravitated to public school textbooks over the years.  Public school books tend to integrate multiple learning styles and lend themselves to differentiated learning.  For grades 1-6, I used Harcourt Trophies for Language Arts.  At the end of each lesson, there were 4 activities I could assign.  The directions were general, so I could decide the length of the assignments and which ones were right for my kids.

The term differentiated learning, aka differentiation, is a funny one to me.  It is what homeschool parents do all the time without calling it that.  But, it's the phrase classroom teachers use to describe what they do and what we do to help our students.  In homeschooling, we all modify our curriculum and choose curriculum that's appropriate for our kids--for their reading level, for their learning styles, and basically for how they learn best.  When we become students of our students, we differentiate their learning.

How can one avoid having to buy multiple curriculum for the same grade level if your children learn very differently and are not all at the same ability level in a given grade level?  You can do two things--you can either differentiate learning using the same books or you can buy curriculum that has multiple levels already included in it.  One good example of this is Evan-Moor's Nonfiction Reading Practice books.

It's easy to build a language arts curriculum around fiction, but learning how to read and understand grade level nonfiction passages is really important, too.  This series by Evan-Moor includes 17 topics.  There are three leveled passages for each topic with coordinating questions and a writing topic.  The topics are on social studies, science, math, technology, and the arts.  The topics are interesting.  The books are reproducible, so you only need to copy the pages needed for each child.  The writing paper has wide, clear lines.

I'm going to be using the grade 6 book from this series this upcoming school year with my middle daughter.  I plan on using one passage from this book each Monday.  On Monday, I'll have her read the passage silently, then we'll read it together and then highlight or underline the most important sentences (3-4 at most).  I will then ask her to list the sentences.  On Tuesday, we'll work on paraphrasing those sentences and writing a summary.  On Wednesday, I will assign the questions--which include short 1 sentence responses and multiple choice.  Thursday, she'll begin her writing assignment by completing a graphic organizer and then spend time on Thursday and Friday writing a response.

I'm looking forward to using this book.  It will make my life as a teacher easier.  I love writing curriculum and modifying it, but I actually have less planning time as a homeschooler than I did when I was teaching in a formal classroom setting.  I need to be able to grab a book and go!  I hit the ground running, so to speak every hour of every day.  I have three children at three completely different grade levels, so it's a lot to juggle!  Books like this series by Evan-Moor make life simpler for me and I'm very grateful!

Please note that I did receive a copy of the grade 6 Nonfiction Reading Practice book from Evan-moor for review, but these opinions are entirely my own.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dads and Father's Day

Getting back on Facebook this year after being off of it for five years has been an interesting experience for me.  Some things have changed and some have stayed the same...  One thing that is the same is the cornucopia of comments on any given holiday.  Today there are many, many loving and positive comments posted by people about their fathers.

I posted about the dessert I made about my husband.  I rejoiced that I successfully made the custard for creme brulee and that my husband used the kitchen torch I bought a few months ago to carmelize sugar on top to make the key crusty topping that it needs!

I didn't say anything about my husband, though I am very grateful (as are my kids) for who he is and the piece of the puzzle he is in our family.  He is one of kind--always saying something off the wall to make us laugh or think.  He balances me as a parent and as my husband.  He tells me that I balance him, too.

Many of the comments were made by people about their spouses, but just as many are made about their fathers.

But, I didn't.  I thought about my dad this morning during church and remembered the time when my kids asked me to tell them some good things about my dad.  What did he give me?  He gave me the belief that I could do anything I set my mind to.  I inherited my strong will and stubborn determination from him.  But, I also inherited the personality trait of being an entrepreneur.  I am always thinking of new ways to tackle problems or new things.  I am a salesperson at heart like my dad.

Not all relationships are the ones that we paint on Facebook.  That is the tough part about Facebook.  I read several comments today that were very complementary of parents who have provoked their children in the past as Ephesians 6 exhorts fathers not to do.  Facebook is not all real.  There's always another side.  Sometimes it's a good side, but sometimes it's a bad side.  Facebook simply doesn't tell the whole story, which is what makes it such an effective trap!  A comparison trap.

It is easy to get mired down in the dysfunction of certain relationships, yet I believe there is good that can come from also remembering the good as my children's query did for me.  I wanted to share this in case someone else might feel the way I do when I see all of the posts on Facebook.  In general, I stay away from Facebook on holidays and near holidays because I have learned it isn't good for my heart and my thoughts.  I have learned that this is wise for me to do.  Seeing or hearing things that cause us to fall into competitive thought patterns or make us feel bad about our own lives or struggle with the lives God has given us isn't helpful.  I come back to this scripture...

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:8, ESV

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Christians and Homosexuality

Over the past few years, I've read several books about homosexuality and Christianity as I have sought to sort out how I feel about this issue that has become a difficult point of contention for many Christians.  There are Christians who say that it is not sinful to be homosexual and live an active homosexual lifestyle.  There are other Christians who disagree with these claims and say that it is unbiblical.

I have watched as our society has been grappling with this issue.  Periodically I have reviewed different books about homosexuality written by Christians.  These books include Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill, Rosario Butterfield's books The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered, and I read a book last year in which the author, a father of a lesbian daughter, justified that homosexuality is not a sin, nor is it a sin to be in a homosexual relationship because God wants us to be happy.

Reviewing Washed and Waiting was a learning experience for me.  I spent time contemplating and writing my review so that it would be clear, but not condemning.  I received several scathing comments on my review from people who disagreed with the book's premise and ideas.  For a few days, my mind churned and my stomach clenched when I read and responded to the comments written.  They were harsh and upsetting.  I tried to respond with grace.   It was one of my first experiences with how mean people could be with their comments on reviews.  But, those comments compelled me to sort through and understand why people would make such comments and understand my own beliefs.

I came to several conclusions.  One is that many people in our culture have embraced the belief that God wants us to be happy and that that belief supercedes what the Word of God says.  That belief is the justification many people use for discarding several translations of the Bible and whole parts of the Bible.  That belief is what drives people to say that the Bible was mistranslated.  People throughout history have been twisting God's Word to say what they want it to.

A second belief is that parents can have a hard time acknowledging the sin of their children.  It is a hard thing to acknowledge sin in our own hearts, but our children are even more precious to us.  The book written by the father who's daughter is a lesbian was written to explain that homosexuality is biblically okay.

Yesterday, I was reading Jerry Bridge's book He Took Me By The Hand, in which he explains that it is not the Holy Spirit that is fallible, but that our interpretation of the Word can be fallible and that we can not see clearly because of things we are holding on to.  So, we must test what we believe by the what the Scripture says.

Recently, another book on this subject came across my desk.  Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted by Ron Citlau is written by a pastor who has struggled with same sex attractedness during his own life.
 This book is a teaching book--more sermon than memoir, but filled with personal acknowledgements.  It is different than other books I've read because it is more cut and dried, straight to the point.  I appreciate the topics Mr. Citlau tackles such as marriage and whether it can be a help or a hinderance to someone who struggles with homosexuality.  He cites Scripture throughout his book.  He begins with tackling the primary issue at hand--one of identity.  I think it is wise that he begins there because claiming that something is "my identity", or is "just the way I am" along with a belief that God wants me to be happy is the justification many people use for all sorts of bad decisions--from having affairs, to leaving their spouses, to using marijuana...  I think this book starts in a good place and tackles some difficult topics that others don't.

If you're looking for a book on this topic that explains why homosexuality is a sin and how to love people who struggle with it, or if you are a Christian who struggles with homosexuality, this book may give you some food for thought.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House publishers for review, but these opinions are my own.

Riveting Christian Suspense

Last week, I read Dee Henderson's new suspense novel, Threads of Suspicion.  It is the second book in her series about Evie Blackwell.  Before I read this novel, I went back and read the first book in the series, Traces of Guilt.  I really enjoyed Traces of Guilt.    I started with the first one because I was curious about how the main character of this series, Evie Blackwell, would be introduced and described.  Traces of Guilt introduces the idea of a group of detectives in Illinois tasked with solving cold cases.  Evie Blackwell is a test case in the first novel.

This second novel does not depend at all on the first one, so you can jump into this series in the
middle.  Evie and several other detectives are announced at the beginning as a new task force by the governor and they decide on the cases they are going to tackle.  Evie picks a case involving a missing college student and her partner picks a missing private investigator.  This novel follows their journeys as they try to solve their cases.

Evie's character is complicated, but human.  The cases the story centers around are complicated and cloudy.  The plot moves at a steady pace and doesn't get bogged down too much along the way.

The thing about suspense novels is that they are often intense and this one does not disappoint!  Dee Henderson is an excellent suspense writer and this novel is full of twists and turns.  I think I liked the first novel more, but this one didn't let me down.  These two novels are much more intense than her popular O'Malley series.  In Threads of Guilt, two of the O'Malleys show up within the story indirectly connected and if you've read that series, it is fun to realize those connections!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers for review, but these opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just light, fun reading...

Over the years, I've read Jen Turano's books as they've come out.  The first of a new two book series Apart from the Crowd is what I read last week.  Behind the Scenes centers around Miss Permilia Griswold (could she have a worse name?).

The story begins with a ball in New York City's high society--one of the events of society's season.  Miss Griswold is likable--a Cinderella of sorts surrounded by her ugly stepmother and unkind stepsister. One big difference in this Cinderella tale is that Miss Griswold's father is only absent, thankfully, and not dead.

At the ball, she overhears threats made about a man's life and she attempts to warn him.  This book did make me laugh out loud as Ms. Griswold attempted to save Mr. Rutherford when she overhears a threat on his life, but which he doesn't give any credence.

This story is a bit like high school--you have the in crowd and the outsiders.  And as the story goes on, you realize the significance of the two.  It's hard for me to imagine what it was like to live in the late 1800s.  This story is such a fairy tale, but it's a fun one.  Cinderella has always been one of my favorites.  And this story does not disappoint.

I would however recommend reading Ms. Turano's novella At Your Request first.  It sets the stage for Behind the Scenes and there's a scene in the book that makes much more sense.  At Your Request can be downloaded for free to your Kindle on Amazon.  And besides, it's just fun to read as well!  I discovered the novella after reading the first novel and wish I had discovered it first!

The writing flows in Behind the Scenes and I didn't get bogged down reading it at any point.  Permilia made me laugh and smile.  It's just simply a light-hearted, fun read!  If you have enjoyed any of Ms. Turano's books in the past, I'm sure you will enjoy this one as well!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishing for review, but these thoughts are entirely my own.  I enjoyed this book and its moments of escape!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Fun Journaling Idea Book

I asked my daughter to write a review of a new book because it was write up her alley.  These are her words...

To Moms and Teens:

Do you have a child (or are you one yourself) who loves art and language, but needs some ideas to start using their/your gifts?  If you are, then Journal Sparks by Emily K. Neuburger may be the book you need!  It combines art and writing in its ideas for journaling, fosters creativity, and inspires out of the box thinking.

Exercises include--word jars, collages, color descriptions, topic challenges, comics, observations recordings, multi-person entries, and much more!  Also, it comes wiht artsy papers and unique stickers.

But...there are some things you should know before you used this book.  First, in my opinion, no one below fifth grade should use this book.  Some fonts/font sizes would be difficult for young ages to read, and my recommended age range would be middle-high schoolers to adults.  In addition, this is not a workbook.  This si a supplement and instruction manual--a DIY guide.  It gives you ideas to begin with, but from there it is up to you.  Elementary students might struggle with it, being used to workbook formats.

Secondly, some moms may not be comfortable with a few things in the book if they have younger kids.  It contains mandalas, and a potion making idea.  My impression is that the  mandalas are intended to be pretty patterned circles, and their idea of potions is very mild, being closer to olden medieval times when potions were more herbal remedies than witchy brews.

However, if you or your child feel that the above descriptions this book would be enjoyable and useful, then by all means give it a try and I wish you fun journaling!  As for myself, I love this book and cannot wait to try some of its ideas next year.  My om gave it to me because it is perfectly suited to my interests:  I love art, writing, and am very creative.  The ideas portrayed in this book inspire me, and I like them much better than my usual writing prompts, which never allow me to draw or list new words.  If you choose to buy this book, I sincerely hope that you will enjoy it as much as I have!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Storey Books for review, but these opinions were my daughter's own opinions.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Smaller Furniture, Smaller Space

We've lived in our house for over 5 years now.  Nowadays, my goal is to fix one thing per month, but sometimes it ends up being several things in one month, like it was this month.

First, I went looking for ants under my kitchen sink and discovered water instead....which led to a visit from the plumber, a new kitchen faucet, a new outdoor faucet, and a new faucet in our bathroom.  Then, we were given some hand me down lawn furniture from our neighbor.  I was thankful for it, but wasn't sure how things would go together.  I just wanted things to match.  That led to me spray painting a black table to go with the two green chairs in the front, spray painting a table for the patio, getting a cabinet at Aldi, and another spray painting project waiting for me.  But, it also led to my patio finally having seating and looking like a patio where people gather!  Yahoo!

Then on Saturday, amidst the rain, I went garage saling.  Rain normally shuts down garage sales, but I thought I'd take a chance because the rain came on mid-morning just as I was leaving my house with my middle daughter who is a shopper and enjoys going with me.  There was a community that had a lot of garages so I took a chance and found several garage sales!  Sami and I found two baseball gloves that the girls needed to play catch for $5 (which saved me $55 and another shopping trip), a picture for our kitchen for $1, a used Vera Bradley purse/bag for my mom for $2 (which she loved), and a new Vera Bradley purse for my church bag for $2 in that neighborhood.  Sami found a really cool, fun scarf, too!  Then, we headed to a church where I found a 1950s aluminum chicken roaster with the rack in it in amazing shape.  But, my find of the day was really a table and three chairs that I found for $15.

I realized a while back that I would love to have a smaller table in our kitchen with chairs.  The table we had in it was way too large for the space and you had to squeeze by the edges to get to the back of the table.  But, it hasn't been on our radar to replace it.  Furniture can be expensive and we had something that worked--sort of.

But, when I found this table--in the rain--I asked the man how much it was.  He said $20.  I offered him $15 and he accepted my offer.  We loaded it into my van (the table and all 3 chairs) and I headed home.   When I arrived home, I waited and left it in the van.  I wasn't exactly sure how my husband was going to feel about it.  But, after a few minutes, I told him I'd bought a table and chairs.  His reaction told me that he knows how much garage saling means to me--I enjoy the treasure hunting. So, I brought the chairs and table up to the front porch and he took a look at them.

He liked them.

So, we moved our kitchen table into the school room and set up the new table, which really brings me to the point of the whole story.  We live in a house built in the 1950s.  We have no vaulted ceilings or really large rooms.  What we do have are rooms that are smaller and when we put the new table and chairs I realized something that makes sense...  Our house is older, so older style furniture fits better in it.  The new table and chairs is significantly (!) smaller than our table that we bought fifteen years ago from Cost Plus World Market--picture larger round table (even without the leaves) and larger chairs with a tall back.  The table that had been in our kitchen was designed with a modern, newly constructed home built some time between the 1990s and the present--with large rooms and tall ceilings.  It can be deceiving to see furniture in a store.  Furniture stores are huge and have very tall ceilings!  Buying a table and chairs that was built during the time period when our home was built makes sense to me now as to why it fits so much better in our kitchen than our old table.

I checked the chairs on ebay and found that they sell for about $300 each.  They are Ethan Allen (a store that I haven't ever even set foot in because I know it's expensive).  But, the chairs and the table aren't worth anymore to me because of their worth on ebay.  Their value to me is that they fit in our kitchen and I can finally walk by the table and get the pans that I store behind the table without having to squeeze by the table!  I am grateful every time I pass by the table.  But, I'm also thankful for the lessons I'm learning about choosing furniture that best fits the space it's intended for.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Finding Safe Apps... A Great Drawing App for Young Kids!

One of my friends this week got a new iphone.  She was excited that she finally had room for Target's Cartwheel app.  But, her next comment was that her kids want her to install some apps for them.  This started a conversation about kids and apps... and in-app purchases.

Over the past few years, I have resisted installing game apps on my phone and tablet because I've been so scared of accidental in-app purchases being made.  I've read so many stories on yahoo about kids accidentally racking up hundreds of dollars in fees on apps or on cell phones accidentally.  So, I've tried to find apps that I am comfortable with my kids using that I didn't have to worry about.

Recently, I had the chance to review an app for younger kids that incorporated writing and drawing.  It was developed by Evan-Moor.

The app is available via Evan-Moor's site or itunes.  It allows 4-6 year olds to trace different animals and complete fill in the word simple sentences about the pictures.  The app fits these ages best, but all three of my kids (the oldest of whom is 13 years old!) loved it.  My 13 yo is a little unusual because her primary subject interest is art.  She was able to create several projects for her siblings to trace in the program and share these with them.  

The app isn't free.  It costs $4.  But, the peace of mind of not having to deal with ads and have a great drawing app is worth it to me.  I wish this app had been around when my kids were younger!  

Often as homeschoolers, we're looking for simple rewards that motivate kids to get their work done, but are still beneficial.  This app is one of them!  The drawing portion helps kids work on their fine motor control--which can help improve handwriting.  Kids could use either a stylus or their finger to draw.  The stationary drawing screen is something I much prefer for my kids over flashing images which don't require kids to develop a steady focus.  The minimal writing and the cloze sentences would be a good reinforcement for kindergarteners and first graders.   It's a fun, easy to use app for kids.  The last thing that I loved is that I could create a separate account for each of my children and it saved their drawings.  

If you're looking for an easy to use drawing app for your kids--I'd definitely check this one out!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this app, but that these opinions are my own.

Designing Curriculum

When one is homeschooling, there are two ways of choosing curriculum.  The first is to purchase an all-in-one curriculum.  This could be an all-in-one that integrates multiple subjects like My Father's World or Sonlight.  Or it could be an all-in-one that puts everything together for individual subjects, like Abeka, Saxon, or Christian Light.

The second way to put together curriculum is to draw from different resources.  This takes more time, but it can allow you to modify and tailor your curriculum to your child's needs and to what you want to teach.  Often this can help you save a lot of money.  I read recently on Facebook where one mom was looking for alternatives to spending a thousand dollars on curriculum for one of her children.

This second way is the way I've always put together our curriculum.  I budget around $500 per year for all three of my children together.  I purchase a lot of fiction books through the school year because our library system doesn't usually have the books my kids love, but saving money on curriculum allows me to do this.

I make a list of each subject for each child for the coming year and then go subject by subject choosing curriculum.  When I find a publisher I particularly like, then they become the place I start looking.  For grades K-6, Evan-Moor, EPS books, and Harcourt were the three publishers I looked at first.

One of the resources I've often used is books from Evan-Moor.  One example of how I've used their books is their Daily Math Practice.  I use a mastery curriculum, so my kids needed a little bit of review every day.  There are homeschool curriculums, known as spiral curriculums that switch concepts every day--like a spiral--such as Horizons, Saxon, and Abeka that build in a lot of daily review.  But, there are other popular math programs like Singapore and Harcourt that move chapter by chapter from one large concept to the next--mastery curriculum.

I've gone with Harcourt Math for grades K-6 for my kids and have loved it. Harcourt publishes consumable books for grades K-2 and then hardcover texts for grades 3-6.  I also purchased the homework book for grades 3-6 because some of my children did better if they didn't have to write the problem down and only needed to focus on doing the problems.  But, I needed some way to add some review work in every day for my kids since it is a mastery curriculum.  The Evan-Moor practice books have been my solution--give 5 problems per day, which is perfect--not too much nor too little.  They are right on grade level--with grade level appropriate instructions.  There is a mixture of math problems and word problems.

Homeschooling curriculum can add up fast and one of the ways that I've saved is by buying used public school books and purchasing the Evan-Moor books--the teacher books are reproducible, so I was able to buy one book, make two copies and store it after my first child was done, and then let my third child write in the book.  I also discovered that on the Evan-Moor website, they sell student books!  They cost far less and don't have to be copied (less work for mom!).

It's been interesting transitioning into middle school and high school math after finding such a good solution for our elementary years for my kids.   But, those comments need another post of there own...

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Learning Greek...

When I began homeschooling, I read The Well-Trained Mind and found it's ideas of classical education very appealing.  I attempted to follow this model for two years, but found that it didn't work for my oldest daughter.  I had to step back and rethink how I was going to approach homeschooling if she and I were going to survive this journey!  In that process, I found that I am more of a standards based homeschooler who loves textbooks, because they help keep me on track and hold me accountable.  I have so many things going on in my head and in my life.  Having textbooks help my children know what to do next and works for us because I have very little time to plan lessons.

Not following a classical model of education means many things.  One of them is that I don't intentionally teach my children latin or Greek.  But, I am in a position with a local group now in which I advise several families who do follow the classical model.  I like to be aware of different curriculums that they might use and how those curriculums work.

I have a couple of books that follow this model that I'm going to be reviewing.  The first are a pair of books on teaching Greek.  Harvey Bluedorn, who's sons wrote the well known book The Fallacy Detective, wrote A Greek Alphabetarion:  A Primer for Teaching How to Read, Write, and Pronounce Ancient and Biblical Greek along with A Greek Hupogrammon:  A beginner's copybooks for the Greek Alphabet with Pronunciations.

Greek has always been a puzzle to me, a mystery that I didn't know how to decipher.  Like any language that one attempts to learn in addition to one's native tongue, learning Greek starts with learning the letters--how to pronounce them, memorizing their shapes, and learning how to write them.  The Greek Alphabetarion gives some vague directions on how to study the letters, but they are a little too vague for my liking.  This is where the Hupogrammon comes in.  I am very glad that the author wrote this second book with exercises for how to study the letters.  This book is well formatted and easy to navigate.  It walks the student through each letter and gives exercises which are simple and clear.  Together the two books make a great peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but alone they just aren't the same.

If I were learning Greek, I would consider this curriculum.  I have watched my husband teach two homeschooled high schoolers for the past two years.  He began with the alphabet of the language he was teaching, which took them quite some time, because it was completely foreign to their English letters.  So, I know that starting with the letters in this way is a good way to start with Greek.

I would recommend this curriculum to middle and high school students.  The workbook pages have large letters--so it would also be possible for a younger child to use the workbook if they have the propensity to do so.  The formatting of both books make these books much easier to use than many books I've seen.  The size of the font of a book can make a book daunting to a student if it is very small.

My only caveat is that you need to buy both books.  In the first book, Mr. Bluedorn writes about how to use the book and says that students/teachers must create exercises to go with the letters.  I would liken this approach to what I read in the first grade Horizons mathematics curriculum years ago when I read that I should "Teach the clock."  My mind spun--"How?  How do I teach the clock?"  I see Greek in the same way.  When a parent is unfamiliar with the language but desires to teach the material, more specific directions are needed--and that is where the second book comes in handy.  If you are interested in seeing a preview of these two books, you can find one on CBD.  Both Amazon and CBD sell these books, but a preview is only available on CBD.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of these two books from Trivium Pursuit for review, but these opinions are my own.