Monday, June 29, 2020

Cross Shadow: an I Read with Audra review

A few months ago, I reviewed A Cross to Kill by Andrew Huff, a book I thoroughly enjoyed.  The next book in the Shepherd Suspense series is Cross Shadow, which I stayed up all night to read.  Because it isn't like I have to go anywhere anymore. 

Here is how the publisher describes the book:

All journalist Christine Lewis wants is the truth.

All pastor John Cross wants is to avoid it. Former CIA agent turned evangelical pastor John Cross is busy caring for the small community of believers he ministers to in Virginia. Journalist Christine Lewis is busy with the demand for her talents from top news agencies in New York City. Neither has any time left for their relationship, which began eight months before when they paired up to prevent the detonation of a chemical bomb in the nation's capital.

But when Christine hears that her stepbrother has been arrested for murder in Texas, they team up again to discover the truth about the crime. Untangling a web of conspiracy, the couple finds themselves in the center of another dangerous situation-and in trouble far deeper than they expected.

With an assassin on the loose, a trusted colleague acting as a double agent, and unreliable artificial intelligence connected to mercenaries who have Cross on their hit list, these two may not get out of the Lone Star State alive.

This middle book in the trilogy felt a lot faster paced.  In the first book, there was a breather now and again, but that really didn't happen in Cross Shadow.  That was a big part of the reason I couldn't put it down.

John and Christine's relationship takes a few twists and turns in this story.  For much of the book, I wanted to shake them and tell them to just talk to each other.  Of course, between suicide bombers and assassins, they are a little distracted. 

The ending left me absolutely ready for the final installment in this trilogy.  One more reason to be looking forward to 2021.

My recommendation?  Get a copy of A Cross to Kill, and start there. 

Learn more Andrew Huff and the Shepherd Suspense novels at He can also be found on Facebook (@huffwrites), Twitter (@andrewjohnhuff) and Instagram (@andyhuff).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the I Read with Audra blogger program. The review is my own opinion.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Five minute Friday: Compromise

It is time for Five Minute Friday.  On a Sunday.  Because that is just how I roll.

The idea is to take a word and write for five minutes without editing or preplanning or anything like that.  Just a note:  I will be editing, as my left shift key no longer works, and I don't plan to slow down to get the capital letters right.  I will go back and add those in after my timer goes off. 

This week, the word is Compromise.  Wow.


Compromise seems like such an appropriate word for 2020.  Not in the 'making concessions in our argument' sense of the word, but more in the sense of having to compromise our standards in various areas.

So my kids aren't taking live classes for some of their 4H projects, for instance.  We weren't able to have graduation ceremonies for either of my graduates this year.  Trina didn't get to teach the little kids in American Heritage Girls in a meeting, but got to do a video and a zoom meeting instead.


It just seems more dramatic this year -- as it is more dramatic this year.  But it also seems that life is a lot like that usually.  Making compromises, doing just enough to get by in some areas that don't matter so much right now, so that we can invest time where it does matter.

That is one reason that my younger two are at Bible Camp this summer.  I want them to spend their time with something that does really matter, and we are willing to give up time and money to make that happen.

Choices aren't always fun, and this year has involved far more compromise than I would prefer.  But life is like that.


And here is that video --

Lots of others have something to say about "Compromise" a well, and you can find them at this week's Five Minute Friday link-up!

Friday, June 19, 2020

Juneteenth - and Learning about other Holidays as well

This year, as a fun add-on to school, my teens worked through Music Lessons for Holidays and Special Days, by Music in Our Homeschool.

And by "worked through," I mean "we're nearly through."

As evidenced by the 90% complete bar in the graphic on the right.

The course is set up by the calendar, though, and we started in September with Labor Day and have worked all the way through the year.  In May, we had three lessons left - Summer, Father's Day, and Independence Day.

However, Gena Mayo, the author of this course, is always doing wonderful things like adding an extra lesson.  This week, she added one for Juneteenth, and it is fabulous.  And also available for FREE.

So, as you can see, we have four lessons left.  Or we did when I started this post.  We have completed the Juneteenth lesson at this point.

This course is intended for elementary and middle school ages, but I would highly encourage people to consider it for high school as well.  Most of the worksheets are not exactly high school material, but the course itself is still good for older ages. 

The course is all online, and once you own it you can access it forever.  I love being able to go back to some of these things!  We project my screen to the big screen in our living room, and work through it together, usually over lunch.

What my kids (8th, 10th, 12th grades this past year) love is that each lesson gives a brief overview of the holiday (or special day) in question, which is interesting and "not long and boring."  You can see the first part of that in the clip here.

They are either learning something about a day they didn't know about, or they are getting a brief review.  Either way, it takes us only a few minutes to go through this part.

Often, this is followed by some explanation of some of the musical traditions associated with the day.  There are videos embedded in the materials, so you can just click and watch.

This was the second video for "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in this lesson, and was the one my kids preferred.

Often, like you see here, the lyrics are written out.

In this lesson, there were three songs altogether, with five videos.  The videos ranged from two to four and a half minutes.

Sometimes there is some additional learning materials that follow the main lesson, such as additional music to look for.

Each lesson also includes some worksheet type of activity that is in pdf format and can be printed out.  Some, like the one pictured here, can certainly work with a high school student.

Most of the time, we skipped the worksheets though.  I'm nearly certain I never printed one out.

If I were doing this course with elementary aged students, I know there were many that would have been used in my home!

The final portion is a short little quiz.

My kids actually enjoyed these, as the questions were generally fairly easy if they had paid attention.  And we just read the questions aloud and came to a consensus.  No pressure, no grading.

Here is what I truly loved about the course.  It was FUN, light, and easy -- but my kids were exposed to a huge variety of music over the year, and they did learn quite a bit about some holidays and other special days as well.

They would pretty much all agree that Star Wars Day was a favorite.  How can you go wrong learning about John Williams, watching him conduct, and listening to the various themes?  And they learned about leitmotifs in the process, and using music in movies.

One of my sons really liked the New Year's Day lesson, with a few different recordings of "Auld Lang Syne."  Another commented on how user-friendly the course was.

I loved the lessons where we learned about various instruments, like we did for St. Patrick's Day, Chinese New Year, and Cinco de Mayo.

The course is set up from January through December, but it is really easy to change that up.  The first couple of lessons referred to some things, like "throughout this course we will..." but I didn't feel like we were missing anything by not starting there.

I highly recommend this course, but at the very least -- even though Juneteenth is likely over by the time you read this -- go and check out the Free Juneteenth Lesson.

I'll be posting in July about what we have decided to use for our 2020-21 school year, but I can already tell you that it will include a high school course from Music in Our Homeschool.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this course myself and was not required to write a review. This post does contain affiliate links.  I was not required to write a positive review, and any affiliate relationship does not impact my opinions. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Ishmael Covenant by Terry Brennan

I'm going to start by quoting the end of the "About the book" section I was given when asked if I was interested in reviewing Ishmael Covenant by Terry Brennan. "Fans of Joel C. Rosenberg, Steven James, and Ted Dekker will relish the deadly whirlpool of international intrigue and end-times prophecy in Ishmael Covenant--and will eagerly await the rest of this new trilogy."

I have enjoyed reading authors like Rosenberg, so that sentence grabbed me.  I was absolutely interested in reading this first book in the Empires of Armageddon series.

Here's the rest of what the publisher has to say:
His marriage in tatters and his career ruined by lies, Diplomatic Security Service agent Brian Mullaney is at the end of his rope. Banished to Israel as punishment by his agency, he's assigned to guard a US ambassador and an insignificant box. Little does he know that this new job will propel him straight into a crisis of global proportions.

Inside the box is a messianic prophecy about the fate of the world. And a dark enemy known as The Turk and the forces of evil at his command are determined to destroy the box, the prophecy, and the Middle East as we know it. When Ambassador Cleveland gets in the way, his life and his daughter's life are threatened--and Mullaney must act fast.

Now agents of three ancient empires have launched covert operations to secure nuclear weapons, in direct defiance of the startling peace treaty Israel and its Arab neighbors have signed. And a traitor in the US State Department is leaking critical information to a foreign power. It's up to Mullaney--still struggling with his own broken future--to protect the embassy staff, thwart the clandestine conspiracies, and unmask a traitor--before the desert is turned into a radioactive wasteland.
I read this book back right before all of the COVID stuff hit in the US, and I'm not exactly sure why I think that is important to tell you.  Mostly, I think that reading it again (which I will be doing) in light of current events is going to feel different, particularly in re-reading the point of view of the black male main characters.

As the description above indicates, this book is action-packed.  I found the first part of the book to be fairly confusing, as there were just so many characters and places to keep straight.  Once I got everyone more-or-less sorted out, the book was fabulous. I intended to read a couple more chapters at around that "sorted out" point, but I ended up finishing the book.  At 2 a.m.  Because I couldn't put it down.

Part of the confusion of the initial portion of the book undoubtedly had to do with the fact that the characters felt like real people.  They have personal struggles that relate to the plot, but they also have personal struggles that (so far) don't directly relate to the main conflict in the story.  I appreciate that.

Let me throw in a bit from an author interview about the historical aspect of this book.

Q: How do aspects of actual history come together with a fictional modern-day story in your book?

There are numerous threads of actual history woven throughout the plot, threads that become critical catalysts in the unfolding of Ishmael Covenant and the rest of the series.

The story of the Vilna Gaon—Rabbi Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman (1720–1797)—that launches the narrative is accurate in all its historical elements. He was the foremost Talmudic scholar of his age and a renowned genius on both sacred and secular learning. The story of the Gaon’s prophecy about Russia and Crimea, revealed by his great-great-grandson in 2014, is true and led many to believe that the coming of the Jewish Messiah was near at hand. The Gaon did attempt three trips to Jerusalem from his native Lithuania; the last one, only a few years before his death, ended prematurely in Konigsberg, Prussia. All of that history is extensively integrated into the story arc that plays out over all three books. The story of the Gaon’s prophecy is a product of my own imagination.

The ancient biblical conflict between the nation of Israel and the people of Amalek—the descendants of Abraham and Ishmael—is a fundamental element in the conflict driving the series. Other historically accurate elements of the book include the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq in 2014, the worldwide confiscation of Iranian financial assets following the hostage crisis in 1979, NATO’s nuclear sharing project which still has sixty-one nuclear bombs in bunkers at the Incirlik Airbase, the geopolitical weapon that water has become in the Middle East, the history of the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem, and the history of the Jews in Turkey. All were vital to the development of this fictional series.

I have to say that the situation they are all in, with this end-times prophecy, seemed a bit far-fetched, even if much of it is grounded in historical fact.  It is not, however, so far out there that it kept me from buying the political intrigue and covert operations drama.

Now I anxiously wait for the next book -- Persian Betrayal -- to come out. Because this ending just left me needing to know what happens next.  Watch for my review in August!

I received a copy of this book from the I Read with Audra blogger program. The review is my own opinion.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Five Minute Friday: How... did I let myself get talked into this?

Crazy me.  I mentioned to a friend that I really do want to start back to blogging.  She's heard me say it before, and so she asked me point-blank:  What is holding you back from blogging again?

It took me a while to answer.  I realized I just don't know how to get back to it.  What if I have nothing to say anymore?  What if nobody cares?  What if my kids go crazy about me talking about them?

She mentioned this Five Minute Friday thing, which I know a lot of people do.  I never have. 

She sent me over to the link.  And today's prompt is the word "How"...


That's the best I can do this late at night!

 Okay, so I guess my first how is that yes, doing this five minutes of writing each week is a great way to begin again.

It got me thinking about other How's too.

How did I reach a point where my baby is in high school?

How did my middle guy graduate from high school already?  And how do I get a transcript done?

How do I start the process of redefining who I am as I move out of the homeschool mom years here?

I think maybe I really do need to be getting back to the blog, as I often don't know what I think until I write it down.  And that might just be how I start -- being pushed into thinking about things, and forced to do some writing.  I may just learn that I do have something to say.

Lots of others have something to say about "How" a well, and you can find them at this week's Five Minute Friday link-up!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

CSB Life Essentials Interactive Study Bible

What a fun concept!  An interactive Study Bible as close as your phone. CSB Life Essentials Study Bible is billed as a "Virtual Seminary in Your Bible."  That absolutely intrigued me.

I was not all that familiar with the CSB version of the Bible, so once I received my copy, I spent a fair amount of time reading the introductory material.  The goals for this translation were to provide an accurate translation in contemporary English.  One thing I truly appreciated was the discussion of the traditional approaches to translation. 
There is formal, or literal, equivalence, where the goal is to preserve the structure of the original language as much as possible, also known as word-for-word translation.  This can be rather awkward.

There is also dynamic, or functional equivalence, where the idea is to translate the meaning of the text, also known as thought-for-thought translation.  This is much more readable.

The CSB, like most translations, is a mix of the above opposite approaches.  Using what they call Optimal Equivalence, they aim to do a word-for-word translation when the result makes sense, but to use thought-by-thought translation when a literal translation is confusing to modern readers.

I found the CSB to be easy to read, and when comparing to other versions I use, I did find that I like it.  But the uniqueness of this Study Bible is in the technology.

In this photo, you can see a QR code (the little boxy thing in the lower left of the grey box on the left page, or the one on the screen of my phone).  Going in to take a photo of that code will result in a little link popping up on the screen.  Follow that link to a free video, where Dr. Gene Getz expounds on one of the 1500 essential life principles in about ten minutes.

That's 250 hours of in-depth video teaching, as close as the camera on your phone (or tablet).

The video shown here, from Psalm 68, is based on "The Day of the Lord" and the idea that we can rejoice when the wicked are defeated, but we are not to rejoice over eternal condemnation for those who reject Jesus.

The reflection and response section asks this: "Why is it sometimes difficult to pray for those who are blatantly opposed to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and who mercilessly persecute Christians?"

I find Dr. Getz to be easy to listen to, and the length of each principle video is great as I can usually find the ten or so minutes to watch a video.

As you can see in the photo on the right, the video looks a bit like a sermon or a lecture.  Bible text is added to the screen when Dr. Getz is quoting it, as is the reflection and response question.

In other words, the video is pretty straight-forward, not flashy.

Dr. Getz has been preaching and teaching for years, and it is evident when listening to the videos that he has experience.  He was involved in a church plant in 1972 of Fellowship Bible Church.  Watch this to learn more about him, and about this Bible.

The video ends with suggestions for other related principles.

There is an app (that I really have not played with yet) that will keep track of which videos you have watched, so if you do start somewhere and just keep going on to something related somewhere else (like jumping from Psalms to Philippians), you can use the app to start a new trail with a principle you have not seen yet.

I really do love this Bible.  Even if you are between churches, without a pastor, or homebound, you can bring an experienced teacher and pastor into your home easily.

Would you like to win a copy?  I spent too much time with this Bible myself, so I am doing a flash giveaway.  I'll be drawing a winner at midnight Mountain time, May 17. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer:  I received this Bible and one for a giveaway, in exchange for my review.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Experimenting with Bacon

Last year, I decided that all three of my 4-H kids were going to be doing the Food and Nutrition 101 project together.  I wanted to work through the materials, as I figured it would be good for them.  And I just wanted them all on the same page.  Far easier for me.

It was wonderful.  The only downside was that they were all working from the same set of recipes.

The basic requirements for the project are to:
  • Make 2-3 recipes from each section of the project manual, so 10-15 recipes each.
  • Do a couple of experiments or activities from the manual (which they did together).
  • Do community service related to their project (baking cookies for a bake sale, baking cookies to give out in Thanksgiving baskets).
  • Give a demonstration relating to your project.
  • Make something to exhibit at County Fair.  For 101, that had to be either cookies, bar cookies, or no-bake cookies.  For 201, that is muffins, scones, or quick bread.
One of the experiments for Food and Nutrition 201 is to make bacon three different ways and do a family taste test.  I bought bacon, so we'd be sure to have enough of the SAME stuff, at one point when there was actually meat available in the grocery store.

The kids cut each piece into thirds, and then made one piece for each of us a) in the oven, b) on the stove, and c) in the microwave.  Since our microwave died a couple days after all the COVID shutdowns, we had to wait to do this activity until we got a replacement.

The only way they have ever made bacon is by frying it on the stove. 

Trina putting bacon onto the stone to go into the oven
I used to microwave bacon, but have never made it in the oven, except when wrapped around chicken, veggies, or a jalapeno.

Richard putting bacon on a tray to microwave it.
I wish we had thought to get a photo once they were all cooked.  The kids grabbed paper plates, labeled the edges with A, B and C, and placed the bacon on the plates for each family member.

It was interesting to see the results.  Basically, we all were torn between the stove and oven, and pretty much all thought the microwave-cooked bacon was a distant 3rd place.  What we liked about the bacon from the oven was that it was pretty flat instead of all curled up.  But we preferred the taste of the bacon that they fried.

We finished the day off by having BLTs, and made that bacon in the oven so it would work in the sandwiches better.

Next taste test?  Rice.  We're supposed to compare cooked on the stove to cooked in the oven, but I'm going to add the rice cooker to the mix.

I just love 4-H!