Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Finding Books to Read... Aloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Disconcerting Movie Theme

Warning:  Indirect, implied spoilers included in this post.

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

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

God cares about life.  He cares about our lives.  

Psalm 139:13  ESV

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

Exodus 20:13  ESV
You shall not murder.

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

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

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

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

Romans 8:28English Standard Version (ESV)

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


Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Sound Book of Advice on Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Thinking before you speak

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

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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Returning to Facebook

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jump to another scene from this week...

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

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

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

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

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

It has been an interesting week.  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Another Time Around the Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 30, 2016

Melody Carlson's Annual Christmas Novel

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

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

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

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

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

Books on my reading list...

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Walking through the Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

TinTin and Red Rackham's Treasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a fun afternoon for all!

Unrealistic Realistic Fiction

When I sat down a moment ago to write a review of the book I just read, the phrase "unrealistic realistic fiction" came to mind.  My husband perused the book I'm about review and declared that is wholly unrealistic.

It is.  It is a Christian Romantic Suspense novel.  Lynette Eason just published the second book in her Elite Guardians series, Without Warning.  But, I don't think readers really expect all realistic fiction to be realistic.  It is set in the present with people they can picture in a world they live in every day.

Without Warning is about a personal bodyguard, Katie, who gets involved in a case of arson and life.  Katie cares about one of her self defense class students, Riley.  The man who's life is in danger happens to be Riley's uncle, Daniel. Katie quickly gets involved protecting Daniel Matthews and Riley.  The book begins with the arson of one of his six restaurants and escalates in danger from there.  Katie's fellow bodyguards work together with the police to try and solve the mystery.

The first book in the series was fun to read and quick moving--light on the romance, but engaging.  This book is just the same.  I understand my husband's response, but he also doesn't like any of the crime shows on tv.  For the person who likes crime/suspense novels, but is looking for something less gory and bloody--this book is an option.  Lynette Eason has written several series like this one.

If you start reading this book, knowing that it's fiction, you'll be fine.  Just don't expect it to be realistic.

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

Good Stand Alone Christian Fiction

This past weekend I read a book by Sarah Loudin Thomas.  When I started reading it, I had no idea that it was actually the third book in a series.  There was no indication of this on the front or spine of the book.  Surprisingly, I didn't realize that it was the third in a series until I got to the end of the book and read the descriptions of other books recommended at the back by the publisher.  This book stood on its own without depending on the two that had come before it.

The book is A Tapestry of Secrets.  The story centers on Ella and her grandmother Perla.  Ella got out of an abusive relationship with her boyfriend a year before the story begins.  Her occupation is creating art quilts.  Ella is the kind of young woman who loves tradition and is closely knitted into the fabric of her family so when Perla has a stroke, she moves home to help take care of her.  The book is the story of Perla's recovery and the secret that she wants to share.  But, it is also the story of Ella coming to understand that God has the best plan for her and those she loves--that it is better than her own plan.

Ella is not a perfectly likeable character.  She's very human, as are the other people in the story.  Sometimes I wanted them to be cookie cutter like, but most of the time I was very grateful that they weren't.  Seeing their imperfections also allows the reader to see them grow and to see a portrait of God's grace working in their lives.

I did find it interesting that art quilting was a part of this story.  Art quilts are a new form of modern art that are gaining notice among modern art circles.  I have two books that are about to be reviewed on my Making Things Stretch blog about art quilts that I love.  So, it made me smile to hear about how quilting was a part of Ella's life.

As for the writing... I have read several fiction books recently that jump around a lot, leave big holes, have minimal description, weak word choice, and left me feeling like I'd eaten a rice cake instead of a peanut butter sandwich.  As a result, it was refreshing to read Ms. Thomas' book.  I appreciated her characters' imperfections.  There were spots towards the end, where I felt her passages were a little too short and needed more, but overall it was fine.  Not exceptional, but fine, good.  The writing was enjoyable enough that I want to go find the first two books in the series and read them.

One last quick note... there was a scene in the book in which one character apologizes to another and the person receiving the apology says "That's okay."  Well, no, really it wasn't.  Yes, she forgives the person, but it isn't just "okay".  There are some responses that we give as a culture that aren't truthful and that's one of them.  The truth is that--Yes, God's grace covers over that offense and she will forgive that person, but what they did (abusive actions) wasn't "okay".   I don't expect to agree with everything in a story, but my mind stopped for a moment when I read this.

I'm glad I gave this book a try.  It was good, realistic, Christian fiction and I look forward to reading other books by this author.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Never was I

Are you

Went She

Hid slyly He


They all Saw

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Book I'm Going to Assign My Kids

This past weekend I read a book I found on someone's reading list on her blog.  The book was Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

I loved it.  I'm glad I read it and I want my kids to read it.

The book is about a girl named Ally who struggles in school.  She's been in eight schools or so in seven years because her dad serves in the military.  Ally has an older brother, Travis, who has her back.  Their family is a healthy family, but Ally's dad is deployed during the story.

This book is a story about not judging a book by its cover.  Ally's MO is to distract whenever a teacher or school administrator asks her to read or write.  Because... Ally has dyslexia.  Over the years, her teachers missed it.  Her brother struggles with dyslexia as well.  Their parents know school is hard for them, but her dad likely had it as well and encouraged his son to compensate for it in auto class.

Dyslexia often runs in families.  A few years ago, I began learning a lot more about it and asked one of my friends a few questions.  I asked her if she'd ever been tested for dyslexia.  She asked her parents and they said no.  So, a few days later, she went online and took a test.  Turns out, two separate sites confirmed that she has dyslexia.  This story about Ally could have been my friend's story.  She had teachers who treated her like Ally had been treated.  We began talking about it--I asked her the question Mr. Daniels asks Ally in this story, "Do letters move for you?"  And my friend, like Ally told Mr. Daniels, told me that they always move.  My friend is now teaching her own children and I encouraged her to consider helping her children learn how to read using what she learned about how to compensate.

This story made me aware of several things.  First, teachers should read this story.  But, parents should too.  And I want my kids to read this story.  None of them struggle with reading, but reading this story will give them an idea of what it's like for someone who does.  There are other issues, too that are brought up.  One of Ally's friends doesn't have any food in the refrigerator at home.  Bullying comes into play as well.  There are some adults who are wrong in this story in how they treat the kids.  But, there are adults who try to love kids well, too.  The principal even apologizes to Ally after she learns she has dyslexia.  This is the world we live in.  It's the world the kids my life in.  I feel like so many books make the issues of this world too heavy for kids to handle.  But, this one brings up some of the tough parts of life in an age appropriate way.  The book is rated for grades 4-6, but I think this is a great book for students in grades 5-7.  I think it could stretch either way up to grade 8 or down to grade 4.  The reading level is 5th grade.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Bunny

The grass swallows your paws
As you sit

Not a sound

But, I want to see
How God made you

Hop little limber bunny

Walking closer
The bunny skitters

Without a Sound


For the past two months, I've been teaching my 2nd-5th grade Sunday school class about the Beattitudes.  I've been using a curriculum, The Kids Travel Guide to the Beattitudes, that I haven't been that happy with, actually.  I had used a previous book in the same series and really liked that one.  But, this one...  it has felt like there's a lot of fluff.  So, I end up taking a few ideas from the book and writing my own lessons each week.

Yesterday, I only had a half hour in which I needed to prepare my lesson.  I'd been taking care of my family's needs all day and that was all there was.  I prayed and trusted that the Lord would help me put the pieces together.  One of the pieces came from an unexpected place...

A few months ago, I agreed to review a Christian Living book because all of the author's books have been encouraging to me.  The book is The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges.  A few months ago, this man passed away in the same weekend that another well known Christian author and preacher died.  The biographies of the other pastor were prolific.  It was easy to find details about his life.  But, when I tried to find out more about Jerry Bridges, I found very few details about his life.  This struck me as interesting at the time.

When his book came to my mind yesterday afternoon, I realized just why this was the case.  The Blessing of Humility is about the Beattitudes--which I hadn't realized!  I had felt for several weeks that I needed to pick up this book, but I kept pushing it off because I wasn't sure that I wanted to delve into this topic.  How would this book affect me?  I looked at the book as if it was bad tasting medicine that I knew would be good for me.  Of course, it turns out that it doesn't taste as bad as I thought it would and of course, God knew just what I needed.

I've just begun reading this book, but I have been very encouraged by it.  My eyes opened to a huge piece of the puzzle that my Sunday School curriculum hadn't shown me.

The Beattitudes are a sermon.  But, just like a conversation, all of the verses are connected together and build upon one another.  All of my life, I have always isolated each verse from one another.  Instead, this sermon is all about Salvation, forgiveness, and realizing the greatness of God!

From the ESV:  Matthew 5:1-5

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Poor means in need of something.  When we are poor in spirit, we realize that we need God's spirit.  When we realize this, we come to Him and accept the gift of salvation.  Those who mourn, mourn because they realize they are sinners and God comforts them in this with His forgiveness.  The Meek--are gentle and humble.  We find ourselves humble when we see the greatness of God and what He can do and what we cannot.  We cannot forgive our selves.  We cannot make it rain.  When we are saved, we are coheirs with Christ--we will receive the blessings of this life--seeing what God does for us and how He takes care of us.  

What I discovered in Bridges' book that I had been missing the past few weeks is how these verses are connected!  Each one builds on the next.  They are not separate verse, but rather parts of a whole.  

In contrast, I was a part of a Bible Study discussion Saturday morning about the book A Praying Life by Paul Miller.  I have  enjoyed this book and two verses brought out by the discussion guide has been very helpful to me.  The verses are Matthew 23:13-14  “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in."

What does that mean to shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces?  It is the opposite of humility.  The scribes and pharisees wore their good deeds on their sleeves.  Literally, the Jews wear a black box with portions of scripture on their foreheads and a second black box with a black strap on their left arm.  People are put off by the contradiction between preaching and "talking the talk" of a Christian if the fruit doesn't reflect love and kindness--the fruits of the spirit.

The verses preceding verses 13 and 14 (ESV)

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi[b] by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.[c] And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

When we as Christians parade our good deeds, we shut the door to the kingdom of heaven to others!  When we do acts of service for others, people can see our motives--whether we say them or not.  Years ago, I thought I could hide the anger in my heart from other people but I learned after God washed my heart clean that I hadn't really been able to hide it because a friend told me so.  She had seen it.  She'd also seen the change when God washed the anger from my heart.  And I felt it.  I had tried for years to fix my heart myself, but I couldn't.  Only God could.  

Juxtaposed next to the Beattitudes, the picture is clear of how God desires us to live.  

Ephesians 4:1 "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called"

In The Blessing of Humility, Bridges talks about when the lightbulb turned on his head during one Bible study over 60 years ago when a teacher told him that "The Bible is meant to be applied in your everyday life." (pg. 1)  
I know that my Sunday school students are the ones that were supposed to be learning about the Beattitudes, but I feel like I am finally learning what they mean and what Jesus was preaching.  
We are to seek God--understand that we need Him, see our sin with sadness, see how Great God is and "walk humbly with our God." (Micah 6:8)