Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sometimes the Movie is better than the book

Two of my favorite movies are Wives and Daughters and North and South .  They are both written by Elizabeth Gaskell.  I love the development of the characters and the story lines.  I think I love them more than Pride and Prejudice actually.  I know that often books end differently than movies, so I wanted to read the book endings.

I did.

And I didn't like them!

Ms. Gaskell actually passed away before she finished Wives and Daughters.  I think the BBC did a great job coming up with a great ending.  The book ends before the story ends.  As for North and South, Margaret is such a different sort of character in the book than in the movie!  She's so much more froofy and fluffy in the book.  She is also much more inconstant and caught up in society.  This is not how she is portrayed in the movie.  In the BBC version of North and South, the characters are consistent in character and believable to me.  They do leave out details that change the story and would make it less connected.

The only thing I can conclude is that once in a while the movie is better than the book.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Finishing Up the Trilogy

I remember waiting for each installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to come out on the big screen.  It was early in my marriage and the films came out around December, if I remember correctly.  It was hard to wait!  I've been waiting again because over the past three years, I've been reading Bryan Litfin's Chiveis Trilogy.  One by one they've been published.  The final book was just published in June.  The trilogy tells the story of the demise of our world due to a deadly virus.  The remnant left alive enter a modern dark age and Christianity is hidden.  A dark religion takes over the minds of the people.  The trilogy is about the search for Christ.

The first book, The Sword, surprised me.  It was a book of speculative fiction--a genre that is not my usual choice.  I enjoyed the development of the main characters, Teo and Ana.  The plot took unexpected turns.  The second book, The Gift, was a solid sequel.  I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first, though.  The third, The Kingdom, arrived last week and I had the chance to read it over the weekend. 

At the beginning of The Sword, there is a short prologue that explains how a deadly virus spread throughout the world.  I was impressed by Litfin's quick, but succinct description of events.  It was quite vivid.  Then, we are introduced to the kingdom of Chiveis.  The gap between the virus and the present kingdom of Chiveis is filled in in the prologue of The Kingdom.  It is explained how the kingdoms came about and how their governments took power.  Then, the story begins.  The conclusion of the trilogy.

I did enjoy this series over all, but the last book is the one I enjoyed the least.  There is a lot more violence and sensuality than in the other books.  It is interesting to find these components in a Christian fiction book.  I feel I should admit that I also cringe at The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  This is a very different genre of fiction for me to read.  I have read books that have deftly dealt with these aspects of life without dwelling too much upon them.  In the case of this book, it is the sensuality in certain scenes and how it is described more than the violence.  I understand that is part of battle and war.  For this reason, I would only recommend this book to adults and not teenagers.  Perhaps I give teenagers too little credit for how mature they are, but still I wouldn't want my daughters to read this book until they are in college.  I know I say that as the mother of three young children, though, and my perspective might be different in 10 years.  

This story finds Teo and Ana together fully grasping the Gospel and preparing to share it with others.  They long to return to Chiveis and hope to soon.  The story follows their paths and the paths of those they love.  The dialogue felt a little too much like casual conversation today.  I imagine royalty as speaking more formally than they did in this book during those scenes and for those speaking to royalty to have more respect in their address.  The dialogue often felt discordant with the setting and the plot.  The story also felt like a mixture of other stories I've read in the past.  

But, the ending was satisfying.  It did have a good ending.  As I was reading, I hoped for Good to prevail over evil and for the Gospel to be shared with the people.  That is what God's Word tells us about this world we live in.  

So, do I recommend this book?  Yes, if you've read the first two and want to know how everything turns out.  Is it a stand alone book?  Definitely not.  The first two should be read first.  Bryan Litfin has created an interesting world with an interesting premise.  I think it is wise to consider what the world would be like without the hope of Christ--perhaps considering such can help us be more mindful of sharing the Gospel and seeing those who don't know the hope of Christ as lost.  It's so easy to get caught up in our day to day responsibilities and miss out on the opportunities we have to love others in our lives who don't know the Lord.  I know it is for me.  

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Beta with the Missing Fins

Last December, when we moved to our new home, we gave my daughters a beta tank and two male betas.  We have one of those beta tanks that has a divider in the middle, because betas will kill each other if they are in the same vicinity.  My daughters are responsible for feeding the fish and I am responsible for cleaning the tank.  I knew the tank needed some more water and some care, but I'd been putting it off.

One day last week, I walked into my daughters' bedroom and looked at their beta tank.  I was startled when I realized they were both on the same side!  Alarmed, I ran to get to measuring cups and the fish net.  I took the fish out and realized that I had put the divider in upside down.  The blue beta had scooted under the divider and gone to the other side.  In the process, his fins had gotten mightily nipped by the other beta.  I didn't realize this at first though.  I was so focused on fixing the tank that I didn't look closely at the fish.  When I'd fixed the tank, I put the fish back in and noticed that the blue one seemed to be staying near the bottom of the tank and not swimming very well.  That was when I noticed it!  The fins on the black one had been bitten by the other fish!  Quite badly!  I was fearful that he would die and wondered if I should simply put the fish out of his misery.  My husband encouraged me to wait and see.  

I think I was more distressed than my daughters.  I felt a strange grief for this little fish that thought he knew what he wanted, but would likely turn out to be the death of him.  

I've been watching this little fish for the past week.  The first day or two, he'd swim a little and then stay still.  I feared for him.  But, then we noticed that he began to gather his strength back and swim a bit more.  I went away for the weekend and was quite surprised when I looked into the tank on Monday.

The little blue fish was swimming all about.  He had gotten used to his short fins and tail.  They even seem to already be growing back a bit.  

Isn't this little blue fish like all of us and our children?  We all want our freedom to do what we want, when we want, where we want.  But, God knows it's not best for us.  

We went away last weekend and my husband made a comment to me that made me pause.  I commented that I hadn't found time to go to the farmer's market each week so far this summer.  He shared with me that it was because I chose other things--that I wanted my freedom to do as I pleased with my days.  I had to admit that he was right.  I didn't want to be constrained by needing to go at a certain time every Friday afternoon.  But, after discussing it, I realized it needed to be a weekly commitment for me.  It is not a bad thing to have structure in my life.  I am like the little fish who wants to go where he pleases.   

I know the structure is coming and I see it looming in the distance for this homeschool year.  I have been thankful for God's mercy in easing me into it.  But, this year Autumn will be in 4th grade and our school days are going to be longer.  Eli will be doing PK4 and Sami in 2nd.  I'm looking forward to it and the lessons that God has for me to learn!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bringing Up Girls

I sat a moment just now trying to think of a "catchy" title for this book review, but in the end have decided that the title of the book is as good a title for this post as any.  This week I sat down with Dr. Dobson's book Bringing Up Girls.  It was an interesting experience.  Dr. Dobson's book Bringing Up Boys has become one of those books that everyone knows, mentions in conversations, and has read or knows someone who has.  Bringing Up Girls was written by Dobson and then published in 2010 for parents of girls in response to parents asking for a similar book about girls.  

Seven years ago, I would have picked up this book and responded a certain with to Dobson's words.  This week I responded in a completely different way than I would have then.  Seven years ago, I was in my early 30s and the mother of one little girl with one on the way. My husband and I had only just moved to a new state and were adjusting to a completely different place with no family or friends to walk with.  I know I would have read this book and been scared, alarmed, and fearful of what was ahead for my children.  I would have wanted to hide them in a bomb shelter with me and at the same time been deeply fearful of how I could potentially and fatally wound my children for the rest of their lives.  Seven years later, two kids later, five years of homeschooling later, and seven years older--this book struck me very differently.   I recognized the alarmist tone of the book.  I also saw some good things in the book--like the intention of making parents aware of how the things they say can affect their daughters.  

One of my friends who has many children once said something to me that I'll never forget.  She told me that when her oldest children were young, she and the other young mothers at her church latched onto certain parenting advice in the hope that if they parented right, then it would guarantee that their children would turn out to be Christians as adults and would turn out the way they hoped they would.  She explained to me, though, that there is no "right" way to parent and there is no "guarantee".  

The way I took her advice was that I needed to seek the Lord and pray for my children.  I need to love them well and trust God to take care of them.  I need to be aware of what they will face in the future and do my best to prepare them, with God's help to face it!  But, most of all, I need to let go.  I need to let go of the belief that I can parent "perfectly".  I need to remain humble and not be tempted to live through my children.  I am an imperfect parent who loves my children.

There is a family I once knew who was very strict with their children.  The parents sincerely loved their children, but were so strict that when their children grew they walked away from the Lord.  I have wondered if they parented out of fear.  

When we homeschool, there is the temptation to shelter our children from everything bad in the world.  One of the great weaknesses of  doing this is that though it keeps them from harmful influences when they are young, they may not be able to cope with and understand the world when they have to live in it on their own unless they are gradually exposed.  I feel like I am constantly trying to figure out what this balance is--how to be in this world, but not of it.  My husband strongly challenged me on this very topic this past weekend.

I like what Tim Kimmel says in Grace Based Parenting--that we are to equip our children well so that they can move into adulthood as vital members of the human race...(he) didn't say "as vital members of the Christian community." We need to have kids that can be sent off to the most hostile universities, toil in the greediest work environments...and...not be the least bit intimidated by their surroundings.  Furthermore, they need to be engaged in the lives of people in their culture, gracefully representing Christ's love inside these desperate surroundings." p. 9  

I know there is a place for being wise and guarded about what we expose our children to in the world.  We don't have cable television and I filter what my children read--for now.  There will come a day when they must choose their own books and I won't have a say.  So, I want them to be strong and courageous and filled with love for others--not filled with fear.  

But, I'm afraid I've gone on a very long rabbit trail rather than reviewing this book.  So, back to this book...

There's another fear that I felt creeping into my own heart as I read this book.  I thought about the things my husband and I don't do that Dr. Dobson feels very strongly about.  Does this mean we're bad parents?  Are we not loving our children because my husband doesn't take our girls on "dates"?  I don't think so.  My husband has explained how he feels about it to me and he feels it is only appropriate for dates to be between men and women in a romantic relationship--whether dating or marriage.  I can understand and support that.  I'm also okay knowing that a lot of other dads enjoy taking their daughters on 

"dates".  Every family is different.  

When I picked up this book, I realized that this is a formula "how to" parent kind of book.  One that is likely going to scare you.  Is it a bad book?  No.  I'm sure it will encourage a lot of people.  But, is it the parenting book I'd recommend?  No.  First I'd recommend Growing Grateful Kids by Susie Larson.  Then, I'd recommend one of Kendra Smiley's books on parenting.  Please forgive my bluntness about this book and my reaction to it.  I suppose it is very honest.  I can't quite articulate all of my concerns and what I am thinking, but I've tried. 

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Another Way to Teach Art

When I've talked to friends about teaching art to their children and as I've contemplated myself, I've noticed that we all have two main desires.  First, we want our children to experience the creativity of making their artistic pieces.  Second, we want them to understand and appreciate the different types of art--both contemporary and of the past.  Often we find that a curriculum focuses on one or the other.

A few months ago, I came across a curriculum that does both.  It is Artistic Pursuits.  It is written by Brenda Ellis.  For some reason, her website is giving me problems today, but it is normally  You can find her books on Amazon or CBD.  This series has one book for preschool (only available through her website), three for grades K-3, two for grades 4-6, two for junior high, and two for high schoool.  

I have been working through some of the lessons in the first K-3 book with my children.  There are 32 lessons in the book.  32 works well with completing a book in a year.  I don't think I would use this book with a kindergartener unless your has good hand/eye coordination.  I would start it in first grade.  Every lesson introduces children to a concept, a piece of art, and has an activity.  I liked the questions for the paintings and sculptures included in the books.  A few of the paintings were difficult to see clearly enough for my children to easily answer the questions.  But, when I googled the name of the painting, I was able to find a clearer and larger picture of the painting easily enough.  This first book is broken down into what artists do, what they see, and where we find art.  It's a great introduction to art. Some parents might find that they want a few more instructions for the activities, but the instructions there are good ones and are enough to do the activites.  I'd just recommend that you think through the assignment first and do an example on your own that you can show your children before you start the activity.  This is a step I often skip when teaching arts or crafts--and one I often regret that I've skipped!  This curriculum doesn't come with any dvds or live examples.  But, the lessons are easy enough to understand and teach from.  

In terms of the quality and quantity of directions you can find in a textbook, Artistic Pursuits gives a lot more directions than Adventures in Art or Singapore's art curriculums that I've used before.  It also includes better questions and background about the art pieces included.  That was noticeably lacking in Adventures in Art.  A great plus for this series is that the books could easily be used with multiple ages.  You could use the K-3 book for children grades K-4 or 5.  The art your children produce will simply look different depending on their age, fine motor skills, and abilities.  It is a solid, easy to use curriculum.

So, that introduces another question I have had to ponder about teaching art.  What medium is the best way to teach art?  Video, book, in person...  This year my girls went to a co-op class. For the two of them, a year of art cost about $320 (class plus materials), I believe.  The girls enjoyed going to art with their friends, but the difficult part for me was getting somewhere on another day of the week.  Between art, ballet, and piano--all on different days--I struggled.  That was why I started to look at other alternatives.  The year before I'd used a textbook, Adventures in Art by Laura Chapman.  I liked the books a lot and the directions were basic.  It was very affordable ($30 for 6 books to use for grades 1-6 used from Amazon).  Before that, I'd used Singapore's Nursery Art, which was also very inexpensive, but that you can't find anywhere anymore.  I have struggled to complete our art lessons the past few years, so I chose to do the class this year.  

A little more specific quick cost comparison...
The cost of using Artistic Pursuits would be about $40 for one book plus materials.  You could purchase them through the year (and use your Michael's and Joann's coupons to save some money) and spread out the cost or buy a kit Ms. Ellis has put together on her site. Artistic Pursuits covers several different types of art--painting, drawing, sculpture, and even mosaic so the materials needed are a little more expensive overall.
Art Class from See the Light Shine is $100 for 9 DVDs which you could stretch out over 2 years.   The supplies needed are much less expensive, but Art Class solely focuses on drawing.

Art is one of those subjects that it's easy to push off when you just don't have time.  You could easily use this curriculum for half a year and then do the other half of the book the next year.  The lessons are well planned and laid out.  I have a hard time when I simply have a book like How to teach Art to Children published by Evan-Moor.  When it comes to art, the simpler the better for me.

After considering all the different factors of choosing a good art curriculum--ease of use, material covered, age appropriateness, cost, homeschool friendliness, I think that Artistic Pursuits fits the bill.  The biggest plus for me about this curriculum is the age appropriate integration of art history and practical art lessons.  Many curriculums I've seen either teach one or the other.  Brenda Ellis has written a great curriculum in Artistic Pursuits!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author for review.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wading through the Web

The internet is such a complicated thing.  When I'm searching for a reproducible form for homeschooling, I have to type in a couple of combinations usually before I find what I'm looking for.  In order to use the internet effectively, I think there are a couple of things I need to do.
1) I need to construct an internet notebook with tabs/sections where I write down the sites for various subjects that I like.  I think it would also be a good idea to write the date when I find the site.
2) I need to have a good file system where I can file forms that I particularly like--that might not be there the next time I need them.

But, until I have a good system like that in place, it's nice to have a place to start.  I found some ideas in a book I recently read through, Free Resources for Elementary Teachers by Colleen Kessler.  I have to be honest, I had big hopes for this book and it didn't quite measure up to those hopes.  I had a few specific types of files I was hoping for that weren't included.  The information that was included, though, was helpful.

In this book, Ms. Kessler breaks down internet sites into categories like general resources, mathematics, science, social studies, literacy, P.E. and health, teachers blogs, and she even includes homeschool blogs.  It was interesting to peruse the sites she lists.  I looked up a bunch for each section.  She intersperses teaching tips between each of the internet sections.  Some of them were fun ideas for classrooms.  These were definitely for classroom teachers--which is the primary audience of this book.  If you are a homeschooler who's children use the computer a lot as a teaching tool, many of the sites will be very helpful to you.  We don't happen to use it in our classroom, so that made a lot of the sites listed not useful to me.  

The goal of the book is really to save teachers time (in my opinion) by doing the searching for them.  Internet searching can definitely swallow me up at times.  So, did the book save me time?  Maybe.  Being a homeschooler, my needs are a little different than a classroom teacher, but very similar.  Still, for every three or for sites I would check out, I'd find 1 or 2 that I liked.  What I found more helpful were a few of the homeschool blogs she lists at the back (a few of them weren't actually homeschool blogs, but just life blogs). One of the best resources I found was a site  There were lots of free printables and helpful info.  I already have printed out the pages with illustrations for b and d for my little lefty.  

If you've been overwhelmed by the internet and not sure where to start searching, this book could definitely give you a place to start.  But, know that it's a place to start, not end.  To homeschoolers: you'll likely find a few blogs with links and it will be those links that will be more valuable than the blogs themselves.  At least, that's what I've found.  To classroom teachers: this book could save you time looking for that supplemental site you need for your classroom during computer time.  To parents:  you'll find a lot of educational sites that your children can peruse after school and during the summer.

The verdict?  I like this book.  I don't love it.  But, I like it and it's a place to start.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Prufrock Press for review.

The treatment of soldiers in fiction

I came across a fiction book that I was curious to read.  The summary said was the story of a soldier who'd returned home with a spine injury and of the woman he'd loved.  I was curious to see how the author handled the issues injured soldiers and their families face.

The book was titled Travelers Rest.  The author is Ann Tatlock.

Jane is in Asheville, North Carolina for the summer.  She's a teacher and is on summer break.  Her fiancee, Seth, has been transferred to the VA rehabilitation hospital there.  She isn't sure what's ahead for them.

Seth feels hopeless.  He was a carpenter before he went to fight.  Now he cannot use his hands let alone his feet.  He does believe in God, but he doesn't know what the meaning of all of this is.

And then there's Truman.  He's a resident at the hospital who helps out since he's a retired doctor.

This story is a story of the journey back to hope and healing.  That healing doesn't always turn out the way we hope it will, but healing nonetheless.  I loved how Ms. Tatlock intertwined the stories of these three characters and the people who come into their lives.  It was an easy book to read.  It had a satisfying ending.  And of course there were a few twists and turns as the characters tackle and heal from the pain in their lives.

Some readers might find the twists a bit unrealistic, but I am often reminded of how big God is and how he works.  I remember coming across someone at a church in Maryland who knew an old boyfriend of mine from Colorado.  The story she told me helped me be very thankful for God's plan for my life and not what I had wanted at the time.  God does things like that.  He orchestrates the meetings of people and events in so many ways that we don't understand.  I wanted to share that story because some may think that the way this story goes may be unrealistic or even contrived.  But, I've seen God work in real life the way the events work out in this fictional story.

As for how the author handled veterans and the issues they face, I felt she handled them well.  She was compassionate, but not sappy.  

If you're looking for a good book to sit down with a cup of iced tea with for a few hours, I'd definitely recommend this book.  It is, like many Christian fiction books, like a made for tv movie--but a good one.  And I like those.

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

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Thoughts on Patriotism

I have always felt the deep irony in my life that I was raised in a Quaker church and then married a soldier in the army.  I am patriotic and feel a deep sense of thankfulness for our soldiers and their families who support them.  This morning I read a great column in the Baltimore Sun.  A soldier's wife shared her story of having her second child while her husband was deployed.  You can read it here.  I was reminded of the sense of loyalty I have for our country and also of a completely different subject--pregnancy and delivery.

I just finished perusing a book titled Jasmine and Fire by Salma Abdelnour.  The author and I don't see eye to eye on so many levels, but there were some things that I am told she portrays very accurately in her book.  One particular topic she mentions is patriotism.  She views it almost like religion.  I couldn't find the passage in her book to directly quote how she feels, but seemed to think that patriotism and loyalty to one's country is  somehow misdirected or wrong.  I can't quite put my finger on how to explain what she thinks, but she definitely doesn't seem to value patriotism.  

As I said, I don't see eye to eye with her.  I cried when I read the soldier's wife's story.  It took me back to the days when the war first began and I was sick on the couch with our first child while my husband was in Iraq.  Whenever I read or hear of a family being reunited after a deployment, I cry.  It's impossible for me not to.  I am thankful for their reunion.  They have all sacrificed--why?  For us.  For this country we live in.  For the world we live in--because we can't be so self-centered as a nation.  I read this morning about the massacres that occurred in Sabra and Shatila in 1982. Every middle easterner knows of these events in Lebanon? But, do we as westerners?  I don't think many of us do.  We need to care.  For our own country and for others.  

One of the books that made me see outside myself was Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker.  If you haven't read it, I would encourage you to.  I made me realize how unconsciously I had adoped an Americentric view of the world.  This book helped me change that about my thinking.  

I have realized that I deeply desire to raise my children appreciating where they live and valuing the freedom they have and the people who fight to protect that freedom.  

The second subject is pregnancy and labor and delivery.  We all have expectations about life.  So many of them if we're honest with ourselves.  As I near 40 years old and reflect on pregnancy and the deliveries of my children, I am struck by one statement.  Life is not the way we expect it to be.  I have come to trust this and even expect life to not be exactly the way I hope it will be.  I have found that most of my friends share this in common with me about pregnancy and delivery--we expect it to turn out one way, but there are usually some twists and turns in the path.  Once in a rare instance, I will meet a woman whose labor turns out the way she planned it.  But, she is the exception rather than the rule.  I have had friends share with me the deep guilt and grief they've had when their labors have not turned out as they hoped or felt they should.  What I've said to them is that it isn't how they arrive that matters the most, but that they have arrived.  It's a little like the saying that the wedding day is a day--a special one, but it is the marriage that lasts that matters more.  

So, these are the two things that struck me as I read the article and simply wanted to put down in words here this morning while I'm home waiting for my sciatic nerve to get better and my son to get over hand-foot-mouth (thankfully a very mild case).  Life is usually not the way we expect it to be.  But, it is okay.  It is all in God's hands and I trust Him to know what is better for me than I know myself.