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.

A fun romance to read

I have to admit that I use books as an escape.  Life can overwhelm me and so I escape into books at times.  Thankfully, I read very fast and can set down a book after reading only a few pages.  But, I really enjoy a good book.

This week I started reading Irene Hannon's Hope Harbor series.  I started late in the series, but it still made sense.  I think it is a strength of a book when you can read it as a stand alone if it is in a series. Sandpiper Cove is the third book in the series.

The book begins with Adam Stone and Lexie Graham.  Adam Stone is starting life over after getting out of prison.  He came to know the Lord while in prison through a prison ministry.  But, he's a loner, struggling to trust people and believe that he could have a different life.  Lexie Graham is a single mom dealing with her own pain.  She also happens to be Hope Harbor's police chief.  The story is really a romance more than anything else.  It follows these two characters as they come to terms with who they are.

What did I like about this romance?  It wasn't graphic about the romance and I was grateful.  The author talked about the characters' struggles.  The plot moved along at a steady pace and I enjoyed the characters themselves.  They were likeable.

Did I like it?  Yes.  Am I reading the one before it the series now?

Yes, after I finished this one, I headed over the library and picked up another book from the series...

Please note that I received a copy of this book from Revell books for review--but this review contains my own opinions!

The Value Our Culture Places on Learning Foreign Languages

A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend about homeschooling and learning foreign language.  She was asking why I thought many homeschoolers don't pursue fluency in a second language for their children.  I have noticed, as my friend has, over the years that parents and teachers have different goals when it comes to students learning foreign language.

Those goals range along a continuum from exposure, to familiarity, to basic competency, and then to varying levels of proficiency and ultimately fluency.  Even fluency in a foreign language can be rated according to different levels.  Tests have been developed to rate a person's fluency in different languages.

My husband and I do value the pursuit of fluency in a second language for our children.  I asked my husband what his thoughts were about my friend's question and he had some helpful food for thought that I want to share in this post.

He pointed out to me that in Europe and around the world, being fluent in to two languages is one of the keys to successfully getting a job as an adult.  But, in the United States, it isn't.  K-12 education is focused on preparing kids for college and getting them into college.  Many parents view sports as their children's potential ticket to a scholarship for college and they large amounts of energy into that effort.  Foreign language isn't one of those things that parents think, "This could get my kid into college."

Colleges are focused on getting students ready to enter the workforce--in the United States... not in Europe or other countries in the world.  And in the United States, being fluent in two languages is nice, but not a requirement or even needed for many jobs.

Given that we live in the United States and being fluent in two languages isn't a job requirement, why do we want our kids to pursue fluency in a second language?  What will that give our kids?  Why have we made that a priority in our homeschooling?

1.  In the past, Americans have been able to be americentric in their view of culture and language.  We live in a big country where national boundaries are not close to where many of the people live.  But, our world is increasingly connected and I believe that it will be impossible to as isolationist as we have in the past.  Learning a second language and about the culture of the countries where it i spoken breaks that mold and can help kids see a wider view of the world.

2.  Here is an article with many reasons:

In the end, we value our kids learning a foreign language because we believe it will enrich their lives in many ways!   Our kids enjoy learning French and I love seeing them enjoy it!

Friday, March 24, 2017

An Amazing Book--A Must Read for Parents

A while back, I began to read a new book that's just been published.  It's titled different: The Story of an Outside-the-box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Nathan and Sally Clarkson.  When I had seen the description of this book, I had been very curious about it.  One of my very favorite parenting books is The Journey of the Strong Willed Child by Kendra Smiley.  One of the things I love most about that book is that it includes both her perspective, her husband's perspective, and her son's.  I learned so much from seeing their different sides.  This book by Nathan and Sally Clarkson is very helpful in that same way--it is written by both Sally Clarkson, the mom, and Nathan Clarkson, her son.

This book tackles many issues parents struggle with today: anxiety, depression, ADHD, and mental
illness.  Nathan lives with OCD, anxiety, and depression.  Sally homeschooled Nathan and his siblings throughout their growing up years, so she lived with these companions of Nathan's day in and day out.  Two of her other children also live with OCD as well.  She intimately knows what it means to struggle to love your child through the ups and downs of life.  Nathan knows what it is to live with these struggles.

This book is not meant to be a one-size fits all approach to parenting children with mental illness, rather it is meant to be an encouragement to parents who are walking through these things with their own children.  But, I would recommend this to all parents.  Why?  Why would I recommend it even if your children do not live with mental illness?

Because you will know someone who is--whether you have a friend who is living with mental illness or a friend who's child lives with mental illness.  It is important to have compassion and understanding for one another.  It is especially important to be aware of these things so that we can love people well in the church!  Medicine continues to face such stigma in the church when it comes to mental illness--so much so that it is often an impediment to people getting help when they really need it.

I want to include two quotes from the book that deeply encouraged me.  The first is from Nathan on page 186.

"The TRUTH is, we live in a deeply fractured world, and we don't always have a choice about being broken.  But we do have a choice about where we let our  brokenness lead us.

We can follow it into escape or addition.

But we can also follow it straight to God.  To the One who knows us inside and out--with all our mistakes, broken parts, insecurities, and battles--and who still loves us."

And from Sally Clarkson on page 193:

"I had to learn that God never intended me to judge my children's value by how well they fit the assembly line of cultural expectations or my own dreams of what I thought motherhood should be like."

Yes!!  I believe this to be true for every child.  I have watched my children and seen the times when other adults see them for who they are and also when adults and children have expected them to fit a mold.  There was a time when I was troubled that one of my children didn't fit the mold (and still doesn't).  But, I'm no longer troubled by it because I've seen that what wasn't seen to fit has actually now become a gift!

If you are looking for a book on mental illness, parenting, and children, I'd highly recommend reading this one.  But, honestly, I think it would be an interesting and good read for any parent!

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

Are My Kids on Track?

Are My Kids on Track? is the title of a new book by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan.  Every parent wants to know whether they are doing right by their kids.  Are we doing enough?  Are we preparing our kids for life?  Are we loving them well?  Are we good parents?

A few years ago, I read my favorite parenting book--Growing Grateful Kids.  In that book, Susie Larson says that we can't give ourselves something we don't have ourselves--so we still need to work first on our own hearts (with the Lord's help) rather than simply focus on what we see that we want to see fixed in our kids hearts.  That piece of advice has been a huge one for me that always lingers in the back of my brain.  It also dovetails nicely with this book.

Goff, Thomas, and Trevathan tackle some of the difficult life and emotional milestones of children's development.  They give separate insight and advice for boys and girls in each chapter.  Yes, they are wired differently!  I read through various pieces of advice from this book and found that the writing
sounds like counselor's voices.  The voices don't sound like that of Growing Grateful Kids or Journey of a Strong-Willed Child.  The tone of this book is more like a textbook or a reference book.  It is focused on parenting K-12th graders.  It isn't about parenting little ones.

I really like that the authors identify both stumbling blocks and building blocks for boys and girls.
One example is what the authors wrote about the stumbling block of entitlement for boys.  There was the simple insight that boys stumble here when they believe the rules don't apply to them.  Hmm... Something to think about and something to make sure I convey to my son.

Your children or my children may not struggle with all of the stumbling blocks, but if you see some they do, the book may be helpful.    I like that the authors come back to the Word of God.  I also like that the authors continually encourage parents to look at their own patterns of behavior and responding to life and how those patterns influence their children's responses.

But, the biggest thing I would say after reading this book is that we need to love our children for who they are--not who who want them to be--or even think they should be.  As parents, we want our children to become who God has for them to be.  If you're looking for some ideas about how to tackle some emotional stumbling blocks your children are wrestling with, this may be a book worth checking out!

Please note that I received a copy of this book from Bethany House books, but that this review contains my own opinions.

When the ending doesn't work...

This afternoon I finished a book by one of my favorite authors, but I cringed.  The ending didn't work!  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

A while back, Ann Gabhart published the first book in her Hidden Springs Mystery series, Murder at the Courthouse.  I enjoyed her foray into writing a mystery.  The second book in the series was published, Murder Comes by Mail, was again a fun read!  So, I looked forward to the third book in this series when I discovered it was set to come out this spring!  Murder No Accident followed right along with the main character, Michael.

As the deputy sheriff in Hidden Springs, Michael has a pretty calm life--except the occasional murder.  There is his Aunt Lindy, the matriarch of the town, and the lawyer next door who is the grandfather of the girls he's loved since he was a kid.  The book can be read alone, but you get to
know the characters over the course of the trilogy.

In this third book, Murder No Accident, of course there is a murder that Michael must solve.  At first, he wants to believe it is an accident, but as the story goes on Michael realize that it wasn't an accident.  The story moves slowly and only picks up the pace at the very end.

But, I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first two.  I recommend the first two heartily! They are fun to read.  My enjoyment of this book, though, was diminished by the ending.  The way I read the ending someone was guilty and the response of the characters didn't make sense to me.  Then, the very, very ending of the book seemed out of character for it.  It sounded like Ms. Gabhart's other books, but not this one.  Her writing style has been different in these mysteries and I have enjoyed it.
I was so puzzled by these two things.  The climax and ending of a book can make or break it, in my opinion.  In this case, the book wasn't the same for me after I had finished the ending.

If you're looking for a fun, pretty wholesome mystery that isn't very graphic, I'd highly recommend this series!  But, I'd also recommend sticking with the first two books of the series and not the third.

Please note that I received a copy of this book for review from Revell books, but these opinions are very much my own and how I felt after reading the book!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Reflecting on This is Us

A month ago, I started noticing a bunch of posts from friends about a tv show, This is Us.  I was curious, so I opened a new tab and watched the available episodes of the show.  But, I seem to have had the opposite reaction that many people I know have had to this show.

I don't like it.

This is one of those times when I have felt puzzled and so I began asking the question, "Why don't I like it?"

Yesterday, after leaving Bible study, I was able to articulate part of why.  We're going through the book A Praying Life by Paul Miller and our discussion was about chapter 23.  It focused on understanding that our suffering is part of God's story that He is weaving.  Mr. Miller gave some advice on how to cope with suffering and this is my paraphrased of his advice.
                 1.  Surrender.
                 2.  Look for God's story and what he's doing.
                 3.  Stay in the story.  Hang in there.

One of my friend's mentioned her childhood and the difference between her childhood and her own children's childhood.  I often think about this.  But, yesterday, I thought about it in a new way.

I thought of my mom's life while I was a child.  I loved my mom then and love her now.  She protected me the best she could and the one time she didn't, she quickly learned the consequences of that and never did that again.  My mom didn't have a college education or even a community college education, but supported me in school and college.  I was a very strong willed child, but the freedom she gave me made want to turn to her and tell her everything.  My mom's life as a wife stayed the same during her marriage and didn't improve until she got a divorce from my dad.

My childhood was tense and without laughter.  It was lonely and mostly unhappy.  I don't have that many happy memories of being a kid.  I grew up in a big house, but a big house doesn't mean someone's happy.  Never judge a book by its cover.  I was introverted as a measure of self protection.

But, my children's childhood is very different than mine and for this I am immensely grateful.  We laugh every day.  They have friends, even if only a few, they do have good friends.  And they have each other--and they enjoy playing with each other (which my brother and I did not)!  And my life as a mom is different than my mom's.  My marriage has God at the center of it, holding my husband and I together.  In the years we have been married, we have grown.  Life may not be the exact way I want it to be and I may not have all that I want (intangible things), but my life with my husband is marked by change and growth.  God has grown me.  He has grown my husband.  And he has grown us together.

There are actually several reasons why This is Us bothers me.  The first is that it's a show about self-centered characters.  Even though the show is telling the story simultaneously of the adults' childhood and their adulthood (going back and forth between the two), each of the characters is very self centered on their own issues.  The main character of the three adult children, Randall, spends the majority of all the scenes I've seen blaming his mother and being angry at her.  One predominant theme of the show is blame.

I have a teenage daughter and one who is in her tween years.  Sometimes I worry that as adults they will look back on their childhoods and wish that I parented differently.  I worry sometimes that they will blame me if they have problems as adults.  This show feeds into that fear and it's not good for me.

It's easy to start focusing on what we don't have, but rather we should be focusing on what God has given us and what He's doing in our lives.  This is what God reminded me to look at.  He reminded me this week that those things I want most--He is giving me--but they don't look at all like I wanted them to.  So, if I'm not looking for how God is working, I'm going to miss it.

I'm not a perfect parent.  I know I'm going to make mistakes.  I know I have already made mistakes. But, I'm grateful for the life God is giving me, my husband, and our children--even though it's not perfect.  It is marked by suffering of a different kind than I experienced as a child.  Our family has walked through some tough stuff--like everyone I know.  But, there is a story there--one that God is weaving even now.

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! 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!