Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Escaping into Fiction

Sometimes I wish I read books a little more slowly, but other times, it doesn't bother me.  Last week, I sat down with a new book by Tamera Alexander, A Note Yet Unsung.

It is the story of a young woman returning to the south during the Reconstruction Era after the US
Civil War.  The young woman, Rebekah, has been forced to return home from Austria, where she had been living for several years.  It was not by choice that she returns home, but rather because of the death of her grandmother.  She is a musician, but at the time women were not allowed to play in orchestras.  They were a male-only profession.  This fictional story is of her attempt to play and perform.  She becomes the assistant to the local Orchestra Conductor and an invaluable aid to his work.  Due to her home situation, she was also unable to return to her mother's home where her stepfather lives, but she finds a live-in position as a music instructor.  The main plot of the story unfolds bit by bit from there.

The plot kept me engaged and I wanted to know how the story ended, though I was surprised and a bit disappointed that there were certain rabbit trails the author dangled in front of the reader, but didn't really expand upon.  I liked the main character of the story and the unpredictableness of one of Rebekah's employers.  Rebekah was very likeable.  The ending left me cringing a little though because it felt a little too idealistic and fairy tale-like given the social mores of the time.  But, that is often what Christian historical fiction is.

This book is one of a series "A Belmont Mansion Novel", but the ending didn't lead me to believe that there will be a distinct sequel.  This is actually the first book I've read by this author and it was fine.  I enjoyed the story.  I don't think I'd go out of my way to get her new books as soon as they're published, but she's a safe one.  When I'm at the library, looking for something to read, I would pick up one of the other books in this series.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher--but these opinions are my own and I chose to write this review.

My aha moment with teaching high school writing to homeschoolers!

Okay. So I had an aha moment. 

I do not use IEW and I do not follow the classical model for writing. 

I follow the model of students writing first sentences (K-2), paragraphs (3-5), then essays (4-8). when they write (I've used Write Source from Great Source for K-6) they learn many different forms: how to writing, cause and effect writing, compare/contrast, descriptive, narrative, poetry... In 7th grade, I wrote my own curriculum that focused first on Show, Don't Tell Writing (lots of printables online for free), then moved into poetry--choosing words on purpose, then into narrative writing where description naturally fits, and then into non-fiction narrative. We end that year with compare/contrast writing. 

This year, we began with summarizing, moved into when to paraphrase, quote, and summarize, and then into a research paper. The research paper was where the waters got muddy. It's an enormous undertaking and I needed to break it down. We started with how to tell what was a good source on the internet and what wasn't (found an awesome presentation on this online!) then chose a topic and evaluated several online sources for info. 

We moved towards writing the research paper, but I still felt like I was treading water a little and that was when my aha moment came!http://www.glencoe.com/.../language_arts/rprw/68rprw.pdf We had started outlining. First phrases and then sentence outline, but I was missing a piece and this it...

In K-8 students learn the forms of writing. Teachers explain when to use this form (and this connection should be also made when they are reading) and the structure of it. Then, in 8th grade they transition... ! 

They must now do 2 thing: 
1. They must be able to write research papers. They must take notes, and then decide what approach is best for the essay (there's a page in that Glencoe book that explains this). Then they outline based on the form they've chosen. For longer papers, you need to combine more than one approach/form ie. for postmodernism, my student is going to begin with a definition, move into a compare/contrast, and end with a cause/effect. 
2. They must read a writing prompt and identify which approach/form is best for that prompt. This is where homeschoolers tend to be weak. We don't want to teach to the test (myself included), but I realized when I started grading my daughter's tests that I have to teach her how to take tests and she does also have to do well on the SAT/ACT because that is what colleges want to see (external validation that she can do fine in college). 

This is huge for me, because I need to make sure that my children can write in all these forms and now I see the big picture of why I'm teaching them how to write all these different ways to begin with!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book #2... Waiting for #3

I find that it is hard to keep track of series of books when one has to wait several months between their publishing.  But, sometimes I happen upon the first and then subsequent books in a series.  Honestly, I prefer to read a series when it has all already been published--because then I don't have to wait!

Last year, I began reading the books by one particular author, Susan May Warren.  She had written two different series set in Deep Haven, Minnesota.  One was about a fictional family, the Christiansens.  The second was several interconnected stories about people who lived in that same town.  I enjoyed the stories more than I enjoy most stories.  So, I looked forward to the books in her new Montana Rescue series.  A few months ago, I reviewed the first novel of the series: Wild Montana Skies.  Then, a week ago, I got to read the second book in the series, Rescue Me.

Rescue Me follows two characters that appear near the end of the first book, Sam Brooks and Willow.  I didn't remember much about these two characters from the first book, so my opinion is that this second book is fine as a stand alone novel.  Of course, the ending leaves the reader with questions, and waiting for the third book.  

This story begins with Willow, a girl who's path has not been a traditional one.  She never graduated from high school, but loves the youth at her church with a passion.  Her sister Sierra is dating the man, that Willow has had a crush on for years.  But, in the story, Sam and Willow end up on an adventurous hike together with some youth.  And the story goes from there...

I like Ms. Warren's characters and her writing.  She isn't too graphic in how she writes romantic scenes and I am glad for this.  Her books are very easy and quick to read.  I have to admit that I read her books simply for fun.  They are light-hearted Christian fiction with some drama thrown in!

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Easy to Use Art Curriculum

Where I live (Maryland), art is a required subjects for homeschoolers in grades K-8.  What counts as art?  That's a good question.

Art appreciation is art.
Arts and crafts is art.
Drawing is art.
Painting is art.
Photography is art.
Interior Design is art.
Lettering and calligraphy are art.
Graphic Design is art.
Sculpture is art.
Cartooning is art.
Stop animation is art.

What parents choose to do for art depends on what they want and the importance they place on art.  I remember when my oldest daughter started drawing.  I didn't think much of it.  She could draw.  I signed up for a few random art classes.  But, as she grew older, I realized that she could take an assignment and run with it.   My husband and I saw that art needed to be a priority in our family, particularly in her case.

I've used a few different curriculums over the years.  I love Laura Chapman's older art textbooks for grades 1-6, because they incorporate both art appreciation and art projects.  My favorite arts and crafts books are Williamson Kids Can Books.  They're inexpensive to buy used and they use supplies you usually keep around the house.  For a video drawing curriculum, I loved See the Light Shine's video art curriculum.  It was an investment for the set, but we would do one lesson each week and practice that lesson the following week--which extended the length of the set for us.  There are a bunch of free resources on their site that are worth checking out.  This year I am teaching art to a group using one of Laura Chapman's book along with Animation Lab for Kids, which they are enjoying.

But, what if you're in the same place I am--trying to figure out how to fit everything in and art isn't a huge priority?  Or you want a simple art appreciation curriculum to use along with an arts and crafts curriculum...  Well, I was recently sent a curriculum to review that I really like.  I like the focus of the curriculum and how simple it would be to use.

The curriculum is titled A Child's First Introduction to Art:  What do you see?.  It was written by Laurie Bluedorn.

It is only available as an ebook, but you can print the pages of questions so that you can view the art on a computer or tablet at the same time.  This curriculum has three volumes so far.  Each ebook is $2.99 on Amazon.  The first volume is focused on center of interest and includes ten pictures with questions for each.  I liked what the author did with the questions and in choosing a focus.  This curriculum would be easy to use in a multi-age setting with kids in grades K-8.  I would discuss one picture a week and use it along with a practical art curriculum to help children learn how to look at art and think about what they are seeing.  I think the discussion of each picture would take between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on how much your children love to talk.  After finishing a book, you could go to an art museum with your kids and look at the art, discussing what the center of interest is in each picture to apply the lessons from this book.  The second volume is focuses on artists' use of primary colors and the third on light.

Many art curriculums have a high price tag or they are complicated to teach.  I like What Do You See? because it is so simple and straightforward.  Ms. Bluedorn did a wonderful job with it.  For students who have an artistic bent, this curriculum can provide an easy way to foster appreciation for other artsists' work.

Would What You See? be enough to satisfy my state's art curriculum requirement?  Yes.  If it meets your goals for them, then it is.  I think that getting through 1-2 volumes plus a trip to a museum (either virtual or in person) would be great exposure to art.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this curriculum for review from the author, but that these opinions are my own and I look forward to using it with my own children next year as part of our curriculum!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Alaskan Historical Christian Fiction

My mom told me recently that she loved Tracie Peterson's series set in Alaska.  It told her about an area of the United States that she didn't know much about.  She enjoyed the characters and plot.  My mom reads many Christian fiction books, so for one series to stand out to her--it had to be very enjoyable!

Tracie Peterson is now publishing another Alaskan Fiction series with a co-writer, Kimberley Woodhouse.  The Heart of Alaska begins with Book One:  In the Shadow of Denali.  The story
begins with team of men on a harrowing climb up Denali.  That's the prologue.  Skip ahead.  The team's guide and his daughter are working at a resort near Denali and the son of one of the men on the team comes to work there.  The story follows the son, Allan, as he tries to understand the mountain, the truth about his father's business, and the true character of the guide, John.

Ms. Peterson always writes easy to read novels that flow well.  There are the usual twists and turns, romantic involvements, characters who have faith in God, and those who struggle with their faith.  The novel doesn't jump around, which after reading so many books, I've grown to appreciate.  This book isn't too heavy, but there's a few suspenseful scenes.

If you enjoyed Ms. Peterson's other series set in Alaska.  I'm sure you'll love this one.  Because this is book one, it is stand alone novel that can be read alone and it doesn't leave you hanging like the first books do in some series.  I'm sure my mom is going to love this one!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethan House publishing, but my opinions are my own!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Not what I signed up for...

Something I think that we all struggle with at different points in our lives is disappointment.  But, sometimes that disappointment settles in, takes root, and can lead us down really harmful roads that damage the relationships we do have with our friends and family.

Over the past two weeks, I read three novels by Sally Johns: Ransomed Dreams, Desert Gift, and Heart Echoes.  Yesterday, I finished Desert Gift.  I enjoyed Ms. John's writing and the stories.  There was a theme in these three books that I was grateful to see addressed.  That theme was "This isn't what I signed up for".  Over the years, when I've spoken with couples getting divorced, this theme (idea) is something that I've heard.

I know that sounds like a strange theme--I could call it disappointed expectations or resentment or bitterness.  But, really, "This isn't what I signed up for" sums it up better.  It's the idea that what I (you, he/she) wanted when we took a given job, got married, or even had a child--wasn't supposed to be the way it is.  I deserve for life to be the way I (you, he/she) wanted it to be and it should be that way because what we wanted was a "good" way.  We would be happy if life was the way we wanted it to be and because life isn't, then we aren't happy, satisfied, or fulfilled.  

I was reading in Job yesterday about his plaintive calling out to the Lord, the Lord's response, and Job's friends' response.  He could have said "This isn't what I signed up for", but he didn't.  He says to his wife at the beginning--

Job 2:10 NIV   He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

I've been wrestling with the idea that if something is good and we want that good thing--shouldn't we have it--isn't it okay?  If God doesn't take away the desire, doesn't that mean that He condones and supports that desire?  Someone said this to me and it didn't sit with me.  There are many good things that I've wanted in my life and God hasn't given me.  Does that mean that I should take things into my own hands and do what I can to get them myself?  Should I push?  

I have been trying to think through this idea "This isn't what I signed up for" and formulate a clear, biblical response to it.  I've come to a couple of conclusions.

First, God is sovereign and everything is in His control.  He opened my womb and closed it.  I have three children, but I had a miscarriage before I had my oldest daughter.  I have seen Him use that in my life many times over, though it was so painful.  He knew me before I was born.  I trust that He knows better than I do what is best for me.  

Second, not all of God's gifts and how He takes care of me is going to feel good.  
Romans 5:3-5   3Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character;and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.…

Third, sometimes God gives us desires that we need to sacrifice and surrender to him.  We need to sacrifice what we have wished for in order to love our spouses, children, and family better.  We choose them over what we want.  That is something that God uses to teach us not to be selfish.  Are we listening to them?  Thinking of them?  Loving them or ourselves first?  Tit for tat is a destructive cycle.  

Our pastor painted a picture yesterday at the beginning of the sermon that fits into this discussion well.  He explained that there is certain protocol about how we should receive and respond to gifts when we open them.  Imagine someone opening a gift, frowning, and saying "This isn't what I wanted."  or "I don't want this--can you return it and get... which is what I want?"  or simply "I don't like this.  It isn't what I asked for."  Sadly, some people really do say these things when they receive gifts.  

Once I did when I was a senior in college.  I opened a gift from a relative and didn't know what it was.  I was struggling to have enough food to eat, pay my bills, and my feet were cold (I asked for socks and a room heater that Christmas).  Because I didn't know what the gift was, I cried.  The giver thought I was a selfish brat because she thought I had more than ample financial resources and didn't know what my life was really like.  It wasn't until years later that I had the chance to explain and apologize for my reaction.  The giver understood and forgave me for my response.  

But, when people say things like that in response it comes from the heart.  Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there are heart will be also...  What comes from our mouths reflects our hearts.  Can you imagine saying those things about a gift to God?  

God, this isn't what I wanted.  I don't want it--take it back and give me the life I wanted.  This isn't the life I expected, so change it.  Now.  

No!  We probably would not talk like that to God out loud, but sometimes our hearts can feel those things when we start telling ourselves "This isn't what I signed up for... and it isn't what I want."  Isn't it the same thing, but with different words?  

I don't want to be that ungrateful receiver--when it comes to God or anyone else in my life.  No, my life has not turned out the way I expected or wanted it to.  Yes, it is very hard at times.  Very hard.  All of our lives are hard at times.  

But, we all have a choice when that thought creeps into our minds... "This isn't what I signed up for..."  

We can say to ourselves, "So I'm going to get out."  or "I'm going to get what I want myself".  

Or we can say to God, "Thank you for what you've given me because I know that you know me better than I know myself and you know what I really need.  What I want isn't as important as what I need."  and choose to focus on being grateful instead of resentful.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inspiring Creativity

When my oldest daughter received her ipad for her birthday, she discovered iMovie.  Within a few weeks, she had created a few fun trailers that made us all laugh.  Then, my son asked to use my camera to make a stop-motion lego animation movie.

I began the search for resources to help them pursue this new interest of theirs.  I found two great books for their specific interests. 

The first is titled Animation Lab for Kids by Laura Bellmont and Emily Brink.  Ms. Bellmont and
Ms. Brink are artists and art educators.  This book is perfect for art educators trying to teach a small class or a small group of students about animation from the base up.  

But, I am not an art educator.  I was a classroom educator and am now a homeschooler.  Is this a good book for me?  for other home educators like me?  Yes, but it isn't one that you can just pick up and run with.  What I know about homeschoolers is that we become students of our students.  We often have to learn how to teach our children what they want to know or explore new things together with them.  Animation is one of those things for me and I suspect it is for many parents!  

This book had tons of great directions and activities in it.  The children in the pictures of this book look to be about ages 6-8.  But, I think that the activities in this book would be much better suited to children ages 8-12 years old.  

I did several of the activities with my children who are in that age range.   I learned several things.  The most important of which is to do each activity yourself first.  The authors include basic directions, but in order to teach students how to do these projects it would be wise to make each of the projects yourself first and see what makes a project work or not work.  For example, with the zoetropes--project #1.  I learned in doing the project that it needed to be done in pen, pencil wasn't dark enough.  There also needed to be a progression, not a back and forth.  My kids enjoyed the project and so did I.  To introduce the project, I showed a video about Pixar's Zoetrope that was very interesting!

And then we commenced on our project!  Our zoetropes were successful.  I learned that 1.  Don't draw the pictures in pencil--they must be drawn in color or black ink to be easily seen.  2.  It is helpful for kids to draw the number of pictures they need on a separate sheet of paper first and then on the zoetrope paper.

Over the following weeks, we've done several more projects.  I've noticed a couple of things.  My artist daughter runs with the projects.  (It's her zoetrope above.)  Last week, we made a downshoot animation project.  Below are my oldest daughter's pictures.

There were several more pictures in between that when strung together form an animation sequence.  In doing this project, I noticed several things about this book.  My daughter ran with this project.  The projects in this book lend themselves to huge creative explorations.  The projects plant seeds of how to do things.  My daughter thought of changing the size and angle of the girl on the bird in the pictures.  I didn't tell her to do that.

After seeing my daughter run with this project, I realized that this book was written by art educators--and so art educators will read these directions in the book and run with them-- like my daughter did.  For me, someone who loves art but isn't trained as an art educator, I needed to do the projects ahead of time and still need to be flexible when I hit snags with a project.  Doing the projects helped me see what extra directions I needed to give and what set up I needed to do before class.

I love this book because it is the perfect low-tech jumping off point to introduce my kids to animation.

In the case of my son, his creativity is focused on legos.  So, I found an animation book at his level focused specifically on Legos.  For Christmas, we gave him The Lego Animation Book: Make Your Own Lego Movies! by David Pagano and David Pickett.  My son is only in 3rd grade so this book was perfect for him.  He had checked out Brick Flicks! from the library, but that book is written at a high school/adult reading level.  He sunk his teeth into that book, but it was tough for him--which is why I went looking for another book.

The Lego Animation book, on the other hand, was perfect.  The formatting and directions on how to make a Lego movies.  There were even pictures to show how to build some things and pictures to show simple sequences.  That is something that was missing from the Animation Lab for Kids Book.  I think this book is perfect for kids 8-13 years old.  It's very accessible and easy to follow.  The formatting makes the text easy to focus on and understand.

Please note that I received a copy of Animation Lab for Kids from the publisher for review, but this review is my own opinion.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Finding Books to Read... Aloud

When I started teaching, there was a book that was recommended to all new teachers--The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  The beginning of the book is really a treatise on why reading aloud matters.  But, most homeschooling parents don't need to be convinced.  The ones I know and have met have all believe reading aloud is a good and important thing to do.  But, if you're looking for a book on why one should read aloud, The Read Aloud Handbook will explain why it is important and "how" to do it.

Most parents, like my husband and I, want to read aloud books to our children, but struggle at times coming up with books we want to read aloud--especially at the younger ages.  So, we search.  We look for lists of books for independent reading and we look for lists of books for read alouds.  I live in a house of very avid readers so I am always on the lookout for new book lists!

One friend suggested that I check out a popular blog titled the Read Aloud Revival.  It is written Sarah Mackenzie and some other young moms.  I think it's kind of funny that it's called a revival--because school teachers have been reading aloud to children for decades, as have homeschool parents.  Ms Mackenzie and her staff all have young children (age 12 or younger) and the book lists on her site clearly reflect this.  There are very few true Middle School books in her lists or books for advanced readers.  Her lists and blog are heavily bent towards younger children.   I found her lists to be very narrow and with some big holes for all ages.

At about the same time, I read through the list The Classical Reader: A Comprehensive Reading Guide by Dr. Christopher Perrin.  I took issue with this book (and wrote the lone 2 star review for it on Amazon).  I didn't agree with the author's leveling of the books and felt that he had inaccurately leveled books on several occasions.  I was also concerned that there was no modern realistic fiction included in the book.  Surprisingly, Dickens' novels are considered realistic fiction by this author, though I would disagree and assert that they are now historical fiction.   By high school, even in the classical model, students should be reading books that give them a well rounded understanding of the world we live in today.

Yet, in my searching of both this book, the Read Aloud Revival Website, and other lists on the web, I always simply looked for lists of books to read.  I didn't separate books for reading aloud and independent reading.  I had concluded that if one was good for one, then it must be good for the other. But, then I came across a book that specifically lists books good for reading aloud.

Nathaniel Bluedorn, one of the authors of The Fallacy Detective, wrote a book titled Hand that Rocks the Cradle:  400 Classic Books for Children.  It is a list of the books his mom read to his siblings and him when he was growing up--with some additions by his brothers, sisters, and him.  At the beginning of the book, he gives a very short explanation about the books included and what children gain from hearing stories.  One interesting thing to not is that all of the books included in this list are fiction.

As I read through the list, I enjoyed reading the book descriptions and seeing what books were included.  I found more than a few that I look forward to reading with our children in the future.  As my husband and I discussed the list, I brought up a few that I thought were missing.  My husband pointed out to me that he didn't think the books I mentioned would be good for reading aloud.  I think this is because there are some books when savored and read alone, one can get lost in the book differently than when it is read aloud in the presence of others.  It is a rare list that includes many books that I haven't heard of and I'll be honest, this book had several books that I'll be purchasing to read to my children.  This was quite a pleasant surprise to me!  The descriptions included made me curious about many of the books.  I appreciated particularly that they were rated by age range at which they were appropriate.  A simple, 1/2/3 system, not specific grade levels.  Most families have multiple children and ages that they are reading to, so I think this would be very helpful.  For personal reading, Honey for a Teen's Heart also rates books by both age and maturity level with similar guidelines.  I have found this to be very helpful with my advanced readers.

This book is a welcome addition to our homeschooling reference books and is going to occupy a revered spot alongside my two faithful reference books by Gladys Hunt (Honey for a Child's Heart and Honey for a Teen's Heart).  I love both of these books and they are two of essential books I'd recommend to homeschoolers because of the author's discussions of reading, book descriptions, and book lists.  But, Hand that Rocks the Cradle: 400 Classic Books for Children is an important companion because reading aloud and reading independently are different!

Please note that I received a copy of this book from the author for review, but that these opinions are all my own.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Disconcerting Movie Theme

Warning:  Indirect, implied spoilers included in this post.

Last week, I watched Me Before You.  It was interesting.  The acting and filming were well done and drew me into the movie.  Afterwards, I looked up the sequel to the book that was turned into this movie and read a review with spoilers.  

Sometimes I watch movies to help me understand what our culture believes about right and wrong, what our culture values.  Me Before You is one of those movies.  

God cares about life.  He cares about our lives.  

Psalm 139:13  ESV

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

Exodus 20:13  ESV
You shall not murder.

Me Before You is a movie ultimately about euthanasia and God is absent.  

Well, not really.  God is always there--even when people think He isn't.  But, the characters in this movie never mention God.  One character only says that life isn't what he wants and he enjoyed his life before, so it isn't worth living.  

I think most people could say at some point, or even all the way along that life isn't what they/we wanted.  But, I believe and trust that it is what God knows is best for us.  Sometimes that's hard.  Really hard.  And sometimes it really isn't what I want.  But, in the end, it is comforting that God is in control and not me.  

Romans 8:28 is one of the most comforting verses to me.  

Romans 8:28English Standard Version (ESV)

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
And Psalm 112:6-8a (ESV)
For the righteous will never be moved;
    he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
    his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
Time after time I have learned later that what I wanted wasn't good for me--like the boy I dated before my husband who I later learned was someone I really wouldn't have wanted to marry.  But, at the time, I thought I loved him.  Lessons learned.  
Me Before You could be used as an example of such lessons.  The main character could have seen that he never would have even acknowledged the young woman he became enamored of in his previous life.  I think I remember that he did see this actually--yet it didn't overcome his overall feelings about the futility of his life as it was.
It was interesting to me to read about the plot for the sequel to this story.  It left me feeling "Blech." The futility of life and the unhappiness left me feeling a bit lost.  And then I came back to the realization that for these characters, God was not a part of the pictures.   But, he is for me, which is where my hope comes from.
This past weekend my husband and I went to NYC.  As we were eating dinner, I shared with him that I had come to feel that life is always hard.  This is rather ironic because I am always that half full person in my marriage and he is the half empty person.  He didn't agree with me, but rather felt that some times are harder than others.  I had felt this way until recently when I just felt like life wouldn't let up.  Every time I try to get a breath, I get pulled back down.  
But, the next morning, as I was eating delicious french toast at Sarabeth's in Tribeca, I realized that I could make what I was eating--it would only take a good loaf of bread.  And just like that, my cup was half full again.  It happened without me realizing it.  That's the thing about our hearts--often things happen when we don't realize it.
This morning as my husband got a late start (and so did my kids), I resolved to take a moment to fix breakfast for myself.  I pulled out the bag of frozen cornflake crumbs I had fixed for my fake fried ice cream a few weeks ago, the baguette I bought on Monday, and other French Toast makings.  In the next few minutes, I made myself cinnamon cornflake encrusted french toast with sliced bananas and maple syrup.  I shared a piece with each of my children, who immediately requested it for tomorrow morning's breakfast, and then asked them fro 10 uninterrupted minutes to eat my breakfast.  
Then, I sat and ate.  It was good.  Really good.  As good as the French Toast from Busick Court in Salem, Oregon, that I have longed to have again for twenty plus years since I graduated from college.  I expected an epiphany to come.  It didn't.  But, I was calm and enjoyed my breakfast quiet.  
Then, I got up and within five minutes my son had stubbed his toe on the fireplace and was wailing, needing tending and fixing (my son, not the fireplace).  
This is life.  A series of many, many choices that reflect our hearts.  As a friend said to me this morning, our actions reflect what well we're drawing from.  How we look at our own lives and the value of life also reflects that.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Sound Book of Advice on Depression

"Much as we don't see a clogged drain before it backs up, we often don't recognize the initial signs of anxiety, depression, cancer, heart disease, and many other conditions for what they are.  Until enough signs and symptoms add up to a situation warranting concern, we don't recognize a problem exists." pg. 42 from Hope Prevails by Dr. Michelle Bengston

Depression is the subject that Dr. Bengston tackles in Hope Prevails.  She has both lived with
depression and walked others through the struggles of living with depression.  I have read several books on depression over the years and I'm always curious about how authors deal with this subject.  I've seen it handled well and handled poorly.  

In my own life, I have seen some Christians make black and white statements about depression--one person told me that it's just sin and anyone struggling with depression just needs to fight it.  Another Christian told me "that's just the way he/she is and we just need to accept him/her that way".  I've also heard Christians vocally speak against antidepressants.

Depression has had an effect on my entire life from the very beginning because I had a family member living with depression who blamed me and other people in their life for their unhappiness.  Deep scars have healed over the years only to be replaced by new ones.  I know personally what God means when he says in the Psalms that he will heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.

BUT, it doesn't have to be this way.

There is help.  Dr. Bengston knows this.   The thing is that although depression makes life difficult--it can be more difficult or less difficult.  If you're reading this book because you're living with depression, start with Chapter 12 and then go back and read the rest.  I appreciated what she says about medication.  Then, go back and start from the beginning.

She's very honest about what she has walked through and I look for honesty and humility in authors' writing.  I found her book to be encouraging and helpful.  There isn't a chapter written to family members and loved ones who are loving someone who lives with depression, but this book can be helpful with its insights and gaining perspective.

I remember thinking when the person said to me that depression was just sin that the person speaking hadn't experienced it themselves or had a loved one live with depression.  As with most things in life, we understand best what we've experienced.  But, if we haven't experienced something, reading books by people who have and by listening, really listening we can grow in our compassion towards others.  This is one of those books that can help someone better understand depression if they listen, really listen.

This past week I walked through some really stressful events in life that pretty much brought me to my knees.  I didn't know things were going to implode on me until they did.  I found myself sick and unable to drive the day before Thanksgiving.  Quite the timing.  I'm climbing back up now, but I think this author hits it right on the button with the quote I began this post with.  I just read part of the chapter about recovering your joy.  Like her, I often struggle with authors that make simple, platitudes about what we need to do to fix our situations or our selves.  I don't think it works that way.  Rather, the heart is very complex and the mind just as much so.  I have found myself clinging to Isaiah 43:2 while recognizing that as I walk through the waters, the Word doesn't tell me that I will have 100% of my energy as I walk through them!  Ms. Bengston portrays a vivid and helpful picture, I think, of walking through depression and coping with life.  Even if you don't live with depression, but are struggling with stress and what it steals from your life, you may find parts of this book very encouraging and helpful.

This book surprised me.  It was far deeper and far better than I ever expected it to be!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review, but that these thoughts and opinions are clearly my own.  I'm quite opinionated!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Thinking before you speak

Yesterday at soccer, I was discussing social media and email with another teacher at a local school.  She said that their school used a poster to help teach kids about what to say--and not say via email and social media.

I found a similar poster to the one she described HERE.  I'm definitely printing this up and laminating it for my classroom today!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Returning to Facebook

With all our activities this year, I realized that some of the groups we're now involved in communicate via Facebook.  I've been off Facebook for five years because they deleted something on my page (non-offensive) without my permission.  I decided to return to Facebook this week.  But, it's interesting.

My husband made this stipulation to me when I opened a new account:  "Don't put anything on Facebook that you wouldn't want in the newspaper."  I think this is wise guidance and it is what I am using to make decisions about what I post and what I don't post.

I realize that I have walked back into the world of deciding who to be friends with and not friends with on Facebook--what to say and what not to say.  When I got off Facebook years ago, I realized that people wanted to be facebook friends with me who hadn't been nice to me when I was a kid.  When people say that people will do and say things they wouldn't in person, they usually are referring to insults people are willing to hurl at people on the internet.  But, ironically, I found that people are also willing to be "friends" with people they wouldn't be friends with in person.

Facebook introduces a complex series of decisions--a complexity of which I had mostly forgotten until this week.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


My kids are no longer toddlers.  They're growing up heading towards their teenager years with lots of things they love to do.  There are so many opportunities we can pursue with them.  But, what is wise?  How much is enough?  How much is too much?

This fall has been a busy one.  We have more activities going on than we have in past school years.

Mini co-op for art
Flute, Piano
Watercolor lessons
Homeschool PE 1x/week (this is an organized large group)
Youth Group
Mini co-op for French and Writing

We've been busy for the past eight weeks.  But, what now?  My middle daughter loves soccer. Should we become a year round sports family?  Can we say no?  yes?

Yesterday, I sat watching my daughter's soccer game and talked with a mom sitting next to me who had come to cheer on her friend's daughter.  This woman's two sons play sports year round and she was surprised when I said we only did soccer.  I immediately felt this emotion well up in me that I needed to explain that we do a lot of other things, too, though.  

As parents we all want to do well by our kids.  Every parent I know does, including my husband and me.  But, he asked me to pause and step back before I jump into committing our daughter to playing soccer year round. 

What are our priorities?  We do have three children, not just 1.  Are we ready for that (soccer/sports) to become the focus of our lives?  I didn't realize before how easy it would be for my mind to sway.  I want my kids to have a good, well rounded education.  I'm willing to push myself.  But, at the same time, I know that my kids are happier when they aren't stressed and have enough time to get their work done.  

I'm not exactly sure what activities we're going to pick up this winter to help us stay physically active, but I know I need to be careful about what I take on and that I make sure I'm not neglecting one of my children over another.  

Jump to another scene from this week...

This past Monday night I was a part of a panel discussing homeschooling with a group of parents.  I listened to the other parents and found myself pondering several questions at the end of the night.
1.  Are my children having fun in school?
2.  Are my children driven?

The answers to both made me pause again--in the same way that our choices about sports are making me pause.  I don't think my kids would say school is fun.  They enjoy their co-op classes and activities.  My girls are willing to do their work and are growing and learning.  My son is struggling to do the subjects he doesn't want to, but he understands it is his responsibility to learn and do his work.  The discussions about homeschooling through high school particularly made me pause.  The kids who advance are driven.  But, my oldest isn't driven the way they describe and the way I was when I was her age.  Yet, she is taking 6 high school courses as an 8th grader.  When I realized this, I knew I needed to find a way to take something away.  So, we took her health off the table.  I am going to spread it out over the next 2 years.  

For some families, homeschooling is fun.  I think my family has its fun times and I enjoy the time I have with my kids.  When Sami made pancakes for everyone this week, enlisting her sister and brother and teaching them before school began one day--that was fun.  When we decorated pumpkins on Thursday before school began--that was fun.  When Eli did his science experiment with bubbles and the girls joined in blowing bubbles everywhere--that was fun.  But, it isn't all fun. There's lots of work, too.  

One of the topics that came up during the panel was how long it takes to homeschool.   For some families homeschooling only takes an hour for kindergarten and 3-4 hours a day for 1st-8th grades.  I have realized that it has a lot to do with the curriculum you choose, how much work you ask your children to complete, and how easy it is for them to complete it.  Preschool was 30 minutes 2x/week for PK3 and 45 min. 3x/week for PK4, but once we hit Kindergarten, it took us 2-3 hours or a little more because our work got spread out while I juggled my younger children.  When I followed the Well Trained Mind for kindergarten with my oldest it took longer.  First grade was hard with my oldest.  I pushed my daughter too hard, listening to the Well Trained Mind and its very intensive, idealistic view of what homeschooling should look like.  Then, long about the middle of the year, I realized that I needed to change course with her, or we both would never survive!  I let go of the Well Trained Mind because it didn't fit us (though I know many families love it!).  I began to find my own path.  And we've been on our own path since.  But, that path takes longer each day than the families I was listening to on Monday night.  If we get a full day of school in at home, we work for 6-7 hours.  This year, we only get one full day at home in which we don't have activities interrupting our day.

I think homeschooling isn't a cookie cutter mold that one can plop onto a piece of bread and cut out a perfectly shaped sandwich.  Our families are all different.  I'm just trying to remember we don't have to do everything and we don't have to keep up with the Jones', so to speak.  

It has been an interesting week.  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Another Time Around the Track

Last spring, I found a book series on Hoopla Digital that I really enjoyed it.  It was a series about the Christiansen Family by Susan May Warren.  So, I was curious about her new series that begins with Wild Montana Skies.  This book is about a pilot, Kacey Fairing, who is returning home from a deployment to Afghanistan--trying to recover and cope with PTSD.  Enter her daughter, Audrey, and Kacey's high school boyfriend, Ben King.

The book follows these three as they cope with a weather tragedy and as Ben and Kacey try to help others in need.  This is a story of the truth coming out.  It is a contemporary romance, but it isn't as bad as a Harlequin--or as bad as the second book I'm reviewing in this post.

I like some romance in a novel.  There's plenty in Wild Montana Skies for me.  It isn't too physically descriptive, though, and I'm grateful for that.  This is the funny part of romance novels to me.  Where is the line that bothers me when it comes to romance?

I think the line is the one between the words "hot" and "handsome".  When an author's tone about romance tends towards the first word, the descriptions tend to be more physically graphic and rooted in the surface physical attraction between characters.  When an author's tone gravitates towards the second word, there is more of a lasting type of emotion that's not just about physical attraction.  It's more about the heart and feels more grounded somehow.

The second book I read this week was Irene Hannon's new book Tangled Webs.  This romantic suspense tends towards the first word more, which is why I didn't like it.  It felt more Harelequin-like.  The attraction between the two main characters was instant and felt very unrealistic because of the issues they were both dealing with and--PTSD--for different reasons.  I read this book because I've
wanted to give Christian Suspense another chance.  I enjoyed the last book I read by Lynnette Eason,
because it wasn't so focused on romance.  This book, on the other hand, was far more romance than suspense.

The two main characters, Dana and Finn, are neighbors at a lake.  After first meeting and realizing they are both attracted to each other, Finn finds reasons to be around Dana more.  Enter the suspense-- two people who don't want Dana to stay in the cabin where she's residing.  As the story progresses and Finn tries to figure out who is threatening Dana, they begin dating.  I wasn't sure that how PTSD plays out for both of the main characters was really realistic, either, which took away from the story for me--that's the difficulty I run into sometimes with realistic fiction.

One thing I will say for the romance in this book, even though it is more Harlequin-like in tone, the author doesn't cross any physical boundaries that I was really uncomfortable with.  A few months ago, I read a few pages in a secular romance novel just to understand what it was like.  It only took a few pages and I had to quickly put it down because it was unwise for me to read.  The pages were filled with cussing, physical affection that was far too physical for me to be comfortable with, and an attitude towards dating that reminded me of the difference having God in my life makes in my relationships.

Please note that I received complimentary copies of these books from the publisher.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Melody Carlson's Annual Christmas Novel

For the past few years, I have enjoyed reading Melody Carlson's annual Christmas novels.  Every Fall, a new one comes out.  This year's novel is titled The Christmas Angel Project.  With this story, it's hard to explain the story without giving the crux of the plot away.  So, I'm not going to.  This story is one of 4 friends who grow and walk through some tough times together around Christmas.

Melody Carlson writes these novels like Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (since they're the only ones nowadays who really make cheesy movies like the story of these books).  But, they're fun to read.  There's something about Christmas that makes people think of healing, family, friends, and fellowship.  That's what this book is all about.

Does the plot flow?  Yes.  Are the characters flawed, yet likeable?  Yes.  Does the writing make it easy to picture the story?  Yes.  It's just fine.

If you enjoy tv movies or cheesy Christmas stories, you'll like this short story.  It would be fun and easy to read while sipping a cup of hot tea.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell Books for review.

Books on my reading list...

Recently, I read two really good books.  They were very different from one another, though.  One was good and it took concentration and effort to read; while with the other, I made myself put it down after each chapter so that I could savor it and make it last.

The first book was The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges.  This book was not what I expected.  It surprised me with insight that I had never understood before.  I'm in my 40s, yet I had always seen the Beattitudes as a group of verses that were grouped by pattern, rather than meaning.  In this book, I felt like Jerry Bridges opened my eyes to see the pyramid that the Beattitudes form--each verse building upon the previous to help us understand God's plan for our salvation.  The book was very insightful and helpful to me when I was teaching a group of 2nd to 5th graders about the Beattitudes this summer.   I found time and time again that the curriculum book missed the point of the verses.  I had to abandon the book and turn to Bridges' book for help understanding the verses and how they connect together.  If you have never delved into the Beattitudes, I would highly recommend this book!  I have always found Jerry Bridges' writing to be very easily understood and I found the same with this book.

The second book on my desk is titled Ragged Hope:  Surviving the Fallout of Other People's Choices by Cynthia Ruchti.  I recently read several fiction books by this author and discovered this book by her on Amazon.  The title made me very curious because of my own life and some struggles close friends of mine are walking through.  Ms. Ruchti wrote a wonderful, encouraging book.  Each chapter of the book was about a crisis someone has walked through or is still walking through (some trials affect our lives for a lifetime).  After the stories, Ms. Ruchti talked about how God sustained the people and their perspectives.  She included questions at the end of each chapter about how the story might relate to you personally and then how it might relate to someone you know.  She includes wonderful suggestions about how we can love people better who find themselves in situations like these.

I remember when I had a miscarriage before I had my oldest daughter.  Several people didn't talk to me because they simply didn't know what to say--they were paralyzed.  When I mentioned this to a family I know, they said they had a similar experience when one of their children died.  There were some people that never talked to them again--because they didn't know what to say.  Sometimes eventhough we're called to love one another, we can be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and making someone's hurt worse.  I think this book can help with ideas so that we don't end up not doing something when people we care about are hurting.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of The Blessing of Humility from Tyndale books for review, but I purchased Ragged Hope because the title was something I thought I needed to read--and I was right.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Walking through the Valley

Yesterday, I walked through a valley.  It wasn't fun.  Valleys never are, really.  As I had entered this valley, I had just finished reading a fiction book by a new author I found on Hoopla that I enjoy, Cynthia Ruchti.  The book was titled As Waters Gone By.  It sounds like a bit of an odd title, but it's taken from a single verse of Job.

Job 11:16
You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away.
 (gone away in the NIV)

Yesterday morning, I read the larger portion of verses surrounding verse 16 and they were filled with hope.

starting with verse 13...
If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward him.  If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents.  surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and will not fear.  You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away.  And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning.  And you will feel secure, because there is hope; you will look around and take your rest in security.  You will lie down, and none will make you afraid; many will court your favor.  But the eyes of the wicket will fail; all way of escape will be lost to them, and their hope is to breathe their last.  ... ending with verse 20.  ESV

Those verses were very encouraging to me yesterday.  Valleys come and go.  But, there is hope because we will get through them.  Some are short journeys, some are long.  Perhaps, some are even life-long.  But, I was reminded that there is hope.  Hope in Christ.  I am loved by Jesus because of who He made me to be.  Nothing can change that.  I need to find my identity and peace in Him.  Always.  When my eyes get distracted and I value other things more, then my heart fills will resentment and struggle.

I am grateful this morning to be through the valley.  I do know there will be another one.  In fact, there will be many more.  But, there is hope.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

TinTin and Red Rackham's Treasure

Yesterday, my girls had a book group meeting (for 4th-6th grade girls).  They talked about a book titled They were Strong and Good by Robert Lawson.  It's a book full of potential material for discussion.

Here are the questions that my girls came up with:
1.  Did you enjoy this book?  Why or why not?
2.  How would this story change if the author was not proud of his heritage?
3.  How does the author's story make you feel about your own family?  Why?
4.  What was the purpose or message of the book?  What was the author trying to say?
5.  How does the story connect to you?
6.  Why does it matter where you come from?
7.  Do you think that the title fits the book?  Why, if so?  If not, what would you call the book?
8.  Robert Lawson described his family as strong and good.  How would you describe your family in 2 words?
9.  Why do you think Lawson described his family as strong and good to begin with?

We also had a discussion at the end about language and the words we use and how they can offend people so we need to be sensitive to not using culturally offensive words.

After their book discussion, they wrote on some slips of paper something they had inherited from someone in their family and put the slips of paper in a bag.  The papers did not have their names on them.  They pulled one paper out at a time and guessed who it belonged to.

My daughters and I chose foods for snack that mattered to our relatives and our own family.

Then, I also set out a Family Tree worksheet from Scholastic to fill out on the table.

But, I also have a son who I needed to keep busy during the book group, so this summer I've had another book group for him going at the same time.  In July, the boys had a theme of Encyclopedia Brown.  This month TinTin was the theme.

Yesterday, my son and three other boys watched TinTin and Red Rackham's Treasure.  Season 1 is free to watch on Amazon Prime.  Afterwards, I discussed a few questions with them.  I found the answers on the TinTin website.

1.  What are TinTin's first and last name?  (see website for answer)
2.  Professor Calculus is funny.  Did he seem like he knew what he was doing?  Do you think he did?
What was your favorite part of this adventure?  What is something TinTin did that you would like to do?
3.  Why doesn't Professor Calculus understand everyone else?
4.  What was your favorite part of this adventure?  What is something TinTin did that you would like to do?
5.  Why is TinTin a hero?  What is a hero?
6.  Captain Haddock--How old do you think he is?  How old is Tintin?  (answers on the website)
7.  What kind of dog is Snowy?  (answer on website)
8.  How did they figure out where the treasure was?  Who gave up?  Who didn't?
9.  Have you ever given up on something and then tried again?

After the discussion, they had a snack, and then drew on blank comic strips from Picklebums that you can find HERE.

Then, the boys went outside and drove R/C cars and a drone helicopter that one of the boys had brought.

It was a fun afternoon for all!