Friday, November 30, 2012

Back in Time

Sometimes I realize that I forget how ideas have changed over time.  Today, many families have adopted children in our country.  Their skin color is often different from one another, but it doesn't change that they are a family in any way.  In the 1800s, who your parents were had a huge impact on how you were seen.  The family you belonged to was of great significance.  

I was reminded of this detail when I read a Christian fiction book yesterday titled Every Perfect Gift by Dorothy Love.  This book is the third and final in her Hickory Ridge series.  It stands on it own and can easily be read without having read the first two.  I actually didn't realize there were two other books until the very end.  

In this story, Sophie Caldwell has returned to Hickory Ridge to restart the town's newspaper.  She once lived in the orphanage there.  A new tourist resort is being built by Horace Blakely and being overseen by Ethan Heyward.  They both are troubled by their family backgrounds.  Sophie's origins are unknown, which has always made her feel as if she was looked down upon.  This is because when she was young, people of the town were prejudiced against her.  Ethan has no family to speak of, though there is something about his past he keeps hidden.  The story centers around her efforts to get the paper up and running and Ethan's efforts to get the resort going.  Their stories intertwine.  From the first time they meet, they are attracted to one another.  That attraction develops as the story goes along.

Writing?  It's fine.  I was thankful she didn't elaborate in the "harlequin" style about what Sophie and Ethan looked like.  I have seen many Christian romance writers do that.  The plot moves along and the dialogue is engaging.

Plot?  I did find myself wanting to know how it ended.  It is very predictable, but not entirely so.

Historical facts?  The writer includes several events and current developments in the printing trade.

If you enjoy Christian romances, you'll enjoy this one.  It's better than many I've read.  I still have ones that I favor more, but Dorothy Love is a competent writer.

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

One Reason We Homeschool

Yesterday, I volunteered at our local library's book sale.  Several local teachers had been given gift certificates from a grant to purchase books for their school.  We were all glad to see them come and redeem these certificates.  But, I found some interesting thoughts and emotions in my head as they were there.

First, I wanted to be respected by them.  I have found that I often desire this from other teachers.  I was once one of them--a middle school teacher in the public schools.  But, I've found as a homeschool teacher I've rarely had their respect when I tell teachers that I homeschool.  I don't think it's seen on the same level professionally.  

Honestly, I'm a better teacher now after homeschooling my children for the past 7 years than while I was teaching middle school.  I've learned so much about how children learn.  I've learned about paying attention to the process of learning more and being more observant.  I've learned much more about how children learn to read than I understood when I was student teaching in first grade.  I've set aside a lot of dogma I was indoctrinated with--like the idea that it's better to read anything than not to be reading and whole language reading methods are the best way to teach reading.  

But, there was another thought running through my head.  It was "This is why I homeschool."  I listened as the teachers discussed what books to get for the kids.  I was surprised as they passed over good, classic books in favor of Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies and a lesbian romance book (the teachers had a discussion about the value of why they wanted it in their classrooms).  I asked the middle school language arts teacher what books she liked for her kids or what favorite authors she had for them.  She couldn't tell me a single one and just blew me off.  I am always looking for suggestions for good books--that's why I asked.  

Part of why I homeschool is because of what I want my kids to learn and be exposed to.  There's only so much time in a school day.  Why waste it on junk?  I want to teach them what is right and wrong.  I want them to learn and not just learn what a state standardized test wants them to know.  I care about what my kids read.  The teachers responses reminded me of how I felt 10 years ago when I was teaching middle school.  Teachers believe you just need to get kids reading.  It's a rare teacher (I had a friend who was one) who thinks kids need to read books that have good writing and language in them and not just what interests them even if it isn't well written.

I don't homeschool simply out of a reaction to our culture and what the public schools teach, but it was a catalyst for me seriously considering it as an option for our family eight years ago.

Speaking of which, I need to get to homeschooling...  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas Devotional for Families

Last week I got a wonderful surprise in the mail!  It was the day before Thanksgiving and it had just crossed my mind that I would love to have a Christmas devotional to read through with my kids this year.  I've had friends who've read through Benjamin's Button and Jotham's Journey over the years (both of which I haven't read but have heard good things about).  But, I wanted a devotional that would take us into the Word and talk about Christmas.

In the mail, I received just that!  Shepherd Press published a new Christmas devotional for families this year. It is titled Why Christmas?  Barbara Reaoch wrote 25 days of daily devotions.  So, you can begin with it on December 1st, which is what we'll be doing.  For each day, Ms. Reaoch has written a short talk/devotional, identified a truth to focus on, given several questions to discuss, a verse to memorize, 1 of 4 hymns to sing, and a biblical term or word to explain.  These devotionals would be best for children ages 4 or 5 through 10.  Younger children who are 3, with older siblings, would also be able to pay attention.

There were several things that I love about this devotional.
#1  The language is very appropriate for 4-10 year olds.
#2  I have learned that the reading level of the Bible and hymns is high.  Many of the words in the Bible and Christmas carols need to be explained to children so they can understand them.
#3  It is what I was looking for.  

Anyways, I just wanted to post this quick review in case you, like me, are looking for something like this book....

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Shepherd Press. 

Fun Music for Kids (that's not annoying!)

There are a few silly kids cds that we've found over the years that have lasted and not ended up annoying me.  Veggie Tales cds are not one of those for me.  We listened to Veggie Tales for a year when my oldest daughter was between 9 and 21 months and I haven't been able to listen to them since for more than a song or two!  But, because I have such a hard time listening to Veggie Tales music, I really appreciate cds that I don't mind listening to and that my kids really enjoy. Two of the silly song bands we've enjoyed are the Laurie Berkner Band and the lesser known Brent Holmes.

We found Brent Holmes cds a few years ago when my aunt sent my children a cd for Christmas.  It was called Cow Tunes for Kids.  I have to say that I thought it was really funny.  Brent Holmes has a voice that's easy to listen to and the songs cracked up me and my kids.  I think my favorite is the one about a cow reading a book about people eating ice cream.  The last two tracks are information about cows and ice cream.  Even though Mr. Holmes' voice is almost deadpan and doesn't have a lot of inflection to it, both my kids and I listened and learned from what he had to say.

The next Christmas my aunt sent us Fun Tunes for Teachers since we were homeschooling for preschool.  This collection of songs is comprised of songs from his other cds that are all educational.  They're still fun and silly, but they have something to teach.  

This past week my kids and I had the chance to listen to (and now review) a few of Brent Holmes most recent cds and dvds.  The first cd my son listened to was Sea Tunes for Kids.  Eli was very skeptical because he couldn't remember the cow tunes cd as well as my girls.  But, he was needing a break from his sisters, so I sat him down on his bed, put the cd in the player and asked him to just listen.  I came back 10 minutes later expecting him to be complaining just as much as he was when I left.  Nope.  He was happy as a clam.  He looked at me and said, "Mommy, I like this music."  And then I walked right back out of the room.  He got a well needed break and had fun listening.  The Lobster Parade is his favorite.  He also was excited about the facts he learned about oceans at the end.

The DVD is best for toddlers and preschoolers.  Brent sings the songs as you see scenes of different fish.  My kids loved watching the lobsters underwater, all the different kinds of fish, and even the manatees!  It was really neat to watch the lobsters move.  I have only ever seen them in the grocery store!

More recently, Brent recorded two versions of Island Tunes for Kids.  One version is carribbean and the other is Hawaiian.  There is a cd and dvd for both versions.  At first, I was puzzled because the songs on the cds (except for 1 song) are exactly the same.  When I listened, though, I could hear the different accompaniment to the songs.  The Carribbean album had a different sound and it reminded me of those islands.  The Hawaiian songs reminded me of hula music when I listened.  My kids did immediately take to the songs and enjoy dancing around.  We made grass skirts out of construction paper and laid towels out for pretend surfboards.

The DVDs for these cds are also similar.  Brent Holmes is in these cds.  On the carribbean dvd, a toucan introduces each song.  On the Hawaiian dvd, a girl introduces each song and explains something Hawaiian.  I prefered the Hawaiian Island tunes dvd for this reason.  My kids enjoyed it.  I like these dvds because they're something kids can enjoy and be active with.  I wouldn't encourage children to sit while watching this dvd.  I would encourage them to dance to the music and enjoy the songs.  

One of the things I've found as a parent to be difficult is finding videos that you feel comfortable with your kids watching when they're little and also finding music that isn't annoying after multiple playings.  I was very comfortable with my kids watching these videos and Eli really enjoyed them.  I think the perfect age for these videos and is 2-5 years old, but children over 5 will still really enjoy them as well.  I lent one of the Island Tunes cds to a friend and asked a few days later how they liked it.  She began to tell me when her husband interrupted and began to tell me all about the kooky little coconut and octopus island.  He really liked it and talked about how much their 6 and 7 year old kids enjoyed the cd!

If you have never heard Brent Holmes music and you're looking for some music you'd feel comfortable listening to with your kids in the car (especially on a long trip), I'd definitely look up Brent Holmes on Amazon.  You can order any of his albums or dvds there.  You can also find his albums for purchase as MP3 albums (which are cheaper).  Cow Tunes is still my favorite, but my kids might say otherwise!

Please note that Brent Holmes sent me complimentary copies of the Island Tunes cds and dvds as well as the Sea Tunes for Kids for review.  But, all opinions in this review are my own--as always!

Annual Holiday Novella

Every holiday season, Melody Carlson has published a Christmas novella.  This year, The Christmas Pony, is being published.

The story begins with a little girl, Lucy, hoping for a gray pony.  Her dad has died and her mom and grandma are working hard to keep food on their table and a roof over their head.  Two strangers get stranded in town and end up staying at their boarding house.

The story is quite predictable--moreso than the last few holiday stories I've ready by Melody Carlson.  It is interesting that this story focuses more on the little girl than an adult.  It is told in light of what matters most to her and what she experiences.

The writing is fine.  I use the phrase "made for tv movie" a lot.  And that phrase also sums up this book to a tee.  If you're looking for a book that you just want to sit down with for two hours and a cup of coffee, and forget the cares of this world.  This is a fine book to pick up.  If you haven't read Christmas at Harringtons or The Christmas Bus, also by Carlson, I would recommend those first though.  I did enjoy them more than this one.

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Roses for Christmas

This is the first of two reviews of Christmas fiction that I'm going to be posting.  Over the past few days, I sat down first with Christmas Roses by Amanda Cabot and then with Melody Carlson's yearly Christmas novella.

Christmas Roses prompted me to consider something I hadn't thought about before.  I always read the author's description on the jacket cover and a bit about them on the internet.  Something struck me about her bio--no one was mentioned but her.  I learned nothing personal about this woman at all--even in a 20 minute interview she linked to on her website.  I suspect she isn't married.  This is interesting to me, because she writes romantic fiction.

I pondered this for a moment and then Jane Austen came to my mind.  Jane Austen was a spinster who never married.  She had no family of her own, yet she wrote romances that have beguiled and spellbound generations of readers who love her books.  Was Jane Austen's writing any less because she herself wasn't married?  I suppose not.  She was a wonderful writer.  But...  her books are essentially fairy tales.  I have to admit that to myself.  Once I'd admitted that to myself, I realized this book, Christmas Roses falls into that same category.  It is a romantic fairy tale.  I think this is important to understand.  It is not realistic historical fiction.  Simply put it is a fairy tale.

So, with that in mind...

Christmas Roses tells the story of baby Emma and her mother Celia.  Celia's husband had died the previous year in an accident and Celia was doing all she could to stay afloat.  In walks, Mark.  Mark has been wandering the country looking for his father for the past two years.  Mark comes to care about Celia and Emma.  And so the romance begins...

Fairy Tale elements:  Tonight I was talking with a young woman about how important it is to remember when we're reading a fairy tale romance.  Real life just doesn't work that way...  the guy knowing everything you want him to do without asking.  The guy saying exactly what you want him to say when you want him to.  The guy doing everything you wish he'd do for you even if it seems impossible--without you asking.  Men just aren't like that.

Setting:  Realistic historically?  No.  Celia's parents came over from Sweden, yet there was very little Swedish vocabulary in her speech and no mention or reference to an accent.  This surprised me.  Was everyone in the community Swedish?  I don't know, because it was never mentioned or discussed.  Her first husband was Swedish.

Fairy tale writing:  The book was an easy and enjoyable read.  A cup of tea would have complemented my reading time.  The characters are likable-- formulaic, but likable.  As Amanda Cabot says, people read Christian fiction because it is safer than secular romances.  It leaves out the smut and lust.  And indeed it does.  I am thankful for that.  It is really a very wholesome story.

The verdict?  It's fine.  Ms. Cabot paints a completely unrealistic picture of marriage and relationships, but this is a fairy tale, so it needs to be seen as such.  I prefer Melody Carlson's Christmas stories, but if you want a holiday romance, made for tv movie in a book, then I'm sure Christmas Roses would fit the bill.

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thoughts to Share with Moms of Little Ones

At our church, there is a group of moms who get together bi-weekly.  They ask one of the other moms at our church to come share a short devotional.  This week I get to go and share.  I am looking forward to it.  I thought I would share here what I want to share with them.

This week I was having a conversation with a friend who has a one year old.  Her husband has to work a lot right now and is also going to school (like mine!).  I asked her how it was going with him being gone so much.  She said she thinks that it's harder on him than her.  Her own dad worked so much that he wasn't home very much, so she's used to it.  Her other comment was that she's able to take care of their child and doesn't really need his help.  She can do it.  So, it's frustrating to her when her husband comes home and starts telling her how to take care of their child.  My response on the phone was that we need to listen.  We need to think about what our husbands say and whether we should change how we're doing something.  We are called to submit to our husbands and this is one of those cases when we have to figure out what that means in our marriages.  Does it mean following their instructions even if we disagree?  Does it mean discussing it and figuring out what works for both of you?  Does it mean listening and genuinely trying it out and then coming back to your husband explaining why his instructions are difficult for you and/or your child(ren)?  

Asking these questions and following through on the answers can be difficult though.  There are a few things that I've seen in my own heart that are stumbling blocks to me.  I have a strong personality and I'm strong willed!  This is often tempered by the people pleasing side of my personality.  So, outwardly I am a people pleaser, the "goody two shoes".  But, inside I have a rebellious spirit.  Though I disagree with her conclusions, I agree with some of author Cynthia Tobias' observations.  One is that strong willed children and adults consider rules not to be rules, but rather guidelines.  They will push and push, actively or passively, by doing things their own way even when told not to if they think their way is better than the instructions (rules).  Do I do this?  Yes!  My husband confronted me about my rebellious spirit 9 years ago on the way home from the post office as he was getting ready to deploy overseas while I was pregnant with our first child.  I remember my inward shock and recoiling inside.  I was so mad at his accusation!  But, then as the dust settled, I realized that I had to admit that he was right.  I struggle to respect authority and not simply question it--all or most of the time.  I was raised to do so.  

God began planting seeds in my heart shortly after I got married with a book called Feminism: Mystique or Mistake by Diane Passno.  I began to see all of the things I had believed all of my life about women's and men's roles in a marriage and family.  I had to sort out what God desired for submission to look like in my marriage.  That conversation with my husband was one of those pieces God put in the puzzle.  I've tried harder to listen and follow through since then.  I've looked a lot at my own heart and seen where my heart and mind struggle with my will.

Our hearts and wills shape how parent our own children and what we want for them.  For me, that has meant God teaching me to listen and ponder.  My husband and I back each other up when it comes to our children.  I won't question him in front of them.  I will talk to him afterwards, though, if I have concerns.  So, in the case of my friend, it was a question of what does submission look like for her in her marriage?  How can she love her husband and child well in this situation?

But, to my husband, it was a different question entirely.  I mentioned to my husband that night after dinner that I had spoken to this friend and I gave him the basics of the situation that we discussed.  I wanted to know what he thought.  He shared with me some insight that I hadn't considered.  

He explained to me that the husband likely was trying to assert that he mattered in his family--that he had something contribute.  In coming off as telling his wife how to do things, that was what he was doing.  I can understand this and see it in our lives.  My husband works a lot and then studies the rest of the time.  He also eats meals with us and spends what time he can with me and our kids.  But, several times recently as we've had friends over they've commented about our house and the work it's taken.  My husband has made comments about how it's all me--my doing.  He hasn't done anything.  The truth is that I do a lot around our home--the housework, teaching our kids, cooking, yardwork, home repair projects, errands...  My day yesterday included getting up early to make homemade pretzels, taking my husband's car to get an oil change, running to Target, taking the kids on a fall hike to enjoy the leaves (pe), homeschooling, fixing breakfast/lunch/dinner, cutting up an enormous pile of branches and bundling them for pick up Friday morning, babysitting for a friend for 1 1/2 hours, and... breathing.  So, it would be easy to think that my husband says it like it is--except that it's not.  He works hard so that I can stay home with our kids and not have to work outside our home.  We feel that he is called to attend seminary, so he is going to graduate school on top of his full time job.  And this weekend when he came home after taking a mid-term exam and having lunch with a mentor/colleague of his, he arrived home to hear that the sink in our bathroom simply wouldn't drain.  So began the several hour project to replace the sink in the bathroom which needed four trips to Home Depot.  I do all the little (and many medium) projects and he does all of the big ones.  I don't do electricity and plumbing.  But, I do lay floors, paint, and even put doors back on their hinges.  So, does my husband contribute to our home?  Definitely.  But, his view of the situation helped me understand that he, too, will tell me how to do things at times because he wants to know that his opinion matters--that he matters in our family.  

Understanding the other person's motives can change how we see them and how we react.  It happened again yesterday, twice.  I came to my husband with a plan for something I wanted to do.  He suggested not making such a big plan.  Later that evening, I explained to him my response to a request for my help (and others).  I explained that I just couldn't.  My husband agreed.  I think it was good for him to know that I can say no.  I also needed him to know that I was listening to his counsel.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Another Romantic Christian Fiction

One of my mom's favorite authors is Tracie Peterson.  So, when Taming the Wind, book three of the Land of the Lone Star series was to be published, I agreed to read and review it.  About ten years ago, I remember Lori Wick as the most well known historical Christian fiction author.  Then came Karen Kingsbury and women like Tracie Peterson.  Some romance fiction is better than others.  Most are predictable with happy endings.  That's a discussion that I'll briefly address in this review.

In Honey for a Woman's Heart, Gladys Hunt shares a great discussion of why women do and why they should read.  One of those reasons is for enjoyment.  Taming the Wind fits into that category.  I didn't find it to be that informative about the historical time period the book is set in, but it was a good, predictable story.

Taming the Wind is easily a stand alone book, though it was the third in a series.  I just read the third in another series that was not easily read as a stand alone.  There are enough details for me, the reader, to understand the characters in this story without getting mired down in telling the previous stories all over again.    In this story, Carissa, a widow, has gone with her daughter to go stay with her sister and her family for a time.  Of course, there is the man, Tyler, who rescued Carissa from her former, abusive husband who is living nearby.

Hmmm... do you know yet what it's going to be about?  Of course!  I'm sure you can guess a large part of the plot.  The storyline centers around a cattle drive and the events before, during, and afterwards.  That's the setting for Carissa's question mark relationship with Tyler.

I can tell why so many people enjoy Ms. Peterson's books.  They are easy to read and have happy endings. On one hand, that can be a bad thing if we, as women, come to expect happy endings and the romance of stories like this.  They are romances after all and not real life.  But, if you think about it, there is a happy ending to life when you believe in Christ.  Someday, the suffering of this life will end and we will go to heaven, where we praise the Lord.

So, what's my opinion of this book?  Well, if you like Christian romances, then I'm sure you'll like this one.  It's fine.  It's a great book to curl up with in a chair and a cup of hot apple cider and escape for a few hours.

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

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Blame Game

God is good.  He is faithful and steadfast.  He is loyal and trustworthy.  

Today something was festering in my heart.  I needed to talk to my husband about it, but I knew it would have to wait a day or two.  I anticipated conflict and tension.  

But, God is good.

This afternoon as I was driving I was struck by my own error.  I realized I had started this thing that I needed to talk to him about.  So, when my husband called tonight, I admitted it to him.  We talked and after I got off the phone, I was simply thankful.  God knew.  I wonder if it's part of our sinful nature to automatically jump to the conclusion that whatever is wrong is someone else's fault.  Actually, I think it is.

Have you watched any episodes of Modern Family?  Do you remember Married With Children?  I watched one episode once.  I figured I ought to know what it was like so I understood what people were talking about when they refer to it.  But, I knew from descriptions of the show that I was concerned about the "modern values" of the show and I shouldn't be critical of something that I've never even seen.  So, I watched one episode.  It was the one where the middle daughter was valedictorian of her 8th grade class and was set to make a speech.  I was struck by one particular thing that I saw throughout the show.  Everyone picked at each other.  Sometimes everyone thought it was funny, but then other times they ganged up on each other and picked all together at one person.  The picking and sarcastic criticism of one another led to this perpetual cycle throughout the show.

I know it's just a show.  The problem is--this is what happens in real life, too.  Someone gets irritated, so they pick at another person and that person picks back.  This happens a lot in marriages.  I remember that it used to happen a lot to my husband and I when we were first married.  The first few years I said a lot out loud.  That was bad.  The next few years, I stuffed it all inside.  That was bad, too.  Then, the next years have been a journey of me figuring out how and when to say things--and a lot of trusting God.

Here's my theory of what often happens.  We're told over and over in the media that if we don't stand up for ourselves, then we've been walked on--and basically that we should never be walked on.  So, when someone says something to us that is critical or is irritated with us and we don't think they have a right to be or rubs the wrong way, then we react.  Then, that person reacts in kind.  Then, we react in kind...  And so the cycle goes.  Sometimes it's little picking and sometimes it's big.  It leaves this bad taste in one's mouth.  

So, how do we stop it?  

I think by stopping ourselves.  God tells us that He will be our defender.  Don't react right away.  Wait till you're both calm then talk about it.  John Piper explains what it means to bear with one another in love in his book This Momentary Marriage (good food for another post).   

I've also had a lot of Bible studies, older women, and the Bible tell me something else... to look at my own heart first. 

English Standard Version (©2001)  Matthew 7:5
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

I'll be honest.  That verse has at times has been hard for me to receive.  And my husband, unfortunately, knows it.  I'm learning.  I know he knows that too.  

So, today seeing the log in my own eye was the answer.  It doesn't mean that I'm less in any kind of way as the world would have me believe.  I'm not crushed.  I'm broken and God put me back together.

I remember my dad telling me in high school that if someone hit him, he was going to hit them back harder.  I responded by telling him that if someone was mean to me, that meant that they were hurting in the first place.  Hurting them back wasn't going to help me or the other person.  I know the world would have us believe what my dad told me.  

I'm worried.  But several friends have shared with me or said things just in the course of conversation that have reminded me of how easily we can fall into this cycle.  I don't know if you've ever found yourself in this cycle in your marriage, but if you have please know that I'm praying for you.  I know that probably sounds strange, but I'm going to pray that God will break this cycle in the lives of anyone who reads this.  I know that probably sounds crazy and impersonal, but it's not. 

And I don't mean that everyone should be doormats.  I'm afraid that someone might even think that I think a person should endure abuse.  I don't.  That's not what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about the picking. The kind of picking you see on Modern Family or Married with Children or Jon and Kate Plus 8 (when it used to be on) or...  

Now, I really need to get to bed.