Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bible Bee! We're participating this year!

So something I have wanted to post about here these past couple of weeks is the Bible Bee.

Yes, we are participating.  All four boys.  Eeek!

We've never done this before, so I feel kind of silly talking about it when I don't know what to expect at all...

But I did  receive a shipping notification, so I know my box of stuff is on its way here.  The initial notification told me that it will arrive on Tuesday, but checking it again this morning, and the update said it would be here tomorrow --  check this out --


What do I think we are in for?

Well, all the stuff (like the button above) says that we spend 20 minutes a day, using 2 cards a week, and we'll draw closer to God and deepen family relationships.

So we'll be studying throughout the summer -- and in August, we'll be making a trip to Minnesota to participate in a local event on August 25, aka Celebration Day.  We registered a month or so ago (it's $30 to register a child) and we'll be getting:
  • 25 Bible Memory cards (this is the 2 cards a week part)
  • A Bible (ESV, in our case)
  • A Sword Study, at the appropriate level (this is the 20 minutes a day part) and I am really looking forward to this
  • A Bible Bee T-shirt and button
  • Gifts from their partners (?)
  • A parent guidebook
I also chose to purchase the musical CD, as some of my children definitely memorize better to music!  I think I bought something else too... but I'm going to have to wait for my box to arrive to remember what that might have been!

I can't wait.

My plan -- and I hope some of you will harass me if I don't seem to be following through -- is to be blogging every week about what is going on for us.  I think I'll be doing that on Thursdays, starting with today! 

If you are reading this right after I posted, it is not too late... registration ends May 31 though, so you have to hurry.

Disclosure: As a Bible Bee Blogger, I received registration in exchange for my promise to talk about our experience.  This post is a part of that commitment.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

N is for North Dakota

Blogging through the Alphabet time again. I missed a couple weeks.  Sigh.

So this week?  I'll do two.

M is for Marathon.

N is for North Dakota.

We just got back from a trip home.  Home would be Fargo, North Dakota.  So on this trip back, the plan was for Connor and William to run in the Fargo Marathon.  Well, not the marathon part of the Fargo Marathon, but the 5K bit of it.  My brother and his girlfriend were also running the 5K... Jeff was planning it as a "warm-up" for the half-marathon.

Of course, Jeff went and broke his foot.  But the other three still ran the 5K.

Temperatures were in the 90s.  Fargo residents on the 5K path were asked to turn on their boulevard sprinklers.  It.  Was.  Hot.

So here they are getting ready for the start of the race:

Connor and William are in the lime green shirts by the 30-35 minutes sign
Dad and Jeff were at the start (and finish).  The rest of us went to visit Dad's cousin, Marion, and hung out with her for awhile.  Then we walked half a block to see the 5Kers come by.  This was roughly at the 3K point.

Thomas' arm and head almost frame his brothers here
They looked hot.  And William looked pretty tired.  But they were running...

After the race, they were presented with finisher medals. 

The boys were thrilled with what is written on the ribbon.  Hebrews 12:1 -- Let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us.

Believe me, they slept well that night.

Their response to their first 5K --

"Let's do that again.  Only we'll train more.  And maybe it won't be so hot."

Go, check out Marcy's blog, where she included some fabulous N is for Nature photos.  Other people blogged about great things like Netflix and Next Year!

Review: Dive Into Diversity

For the past few weeks, we've had the pleasure of watching a DVD from Dive Into Your Imagination. Not only that, but we've also been able to work with a brand-new Educator Guide for students in Grades 1-3.

Dive Into Your Imagination has a number of ocean-related videos, and as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I had the chance to review Dive Into Diversity.

It has been fun.

Ocean Annie was trained as a photo and broadcast journalist, but learning to SCUBA dive changed her life.  She started Dive Into Your Imagination to help the next generation to learn about the ocean, and about themselves too.

Dive Into Diversity is just one title in this series.  This one focuses on a whole lot of the different types of life in the sea.  There are eight chapters on the DVD, including:
  1. Night Diving on the Reef (about the creatures out at night)
  2. Dive Into Diversity! (shows lots of animals)
  3. Be a Submarine Pilot (about the equipment people use to explore the deep ocean)
  4. Swim in a Kelp Forest (plants and algae)
  5. Invertebrates of the Sea
  6. Coral Reef Living
  7. Vertebrates: Animals with a Backbone
  8. Wacky, Weird, Crusty Crustaceans
The video is visually stunning.  Check out this sample:

The Educator's Guide is something brand new.  For Dive Into Diversity, there are actually FOUR pdf files -- two for grades PreK-K and two for grades 1-3.  I looked at the PreK-K one, but determined we were best served by working with the Grade 1-3 one for Trina (rising 1st grader) and Richard (rising 3rd grader).  Thomas (rising 6th grader) sat in on almost everything we did too.

The Guide is split into two parts based on the chapters listed above.  So chapters 1-4 are covered in the first guide, and chapters 5-8 in the second.  Over 300 pages total, it includes roughly 35 pages per chapter.

We are easily able to spend a week on a chapter.  For the first one -- the Night Diving one -- we found eight books that were recommended in the study guides (okay, so I did look at the PreK-K guide for the book list!) and we read one or two of them a day.  Fabulous books, I'm telling you.  And I love, love, love read-alouds.

Each chapter has a treasure chest of words.  Some of these were a bit much for Trina, but Thomas ended up spending time pulling out the Greek/Latin roots.  Words like bioluminescence, and piscivore were a lot of fun to explore.  Many of the words were well-known to us already, such as carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, predator and prey.

Other activities we did with chapter 1 included discussing trust (there is a character trait emphasized in each chapter of the guide), playing a game with flashlights and codes (related to how divers communicate when night diving), and doing a code worksheet.  Trina loved coloring some of the pages included in the guide.  There are also really cute journal/notebooking pages and some other worksheets.

We primarily focused on the reading suggestions and some hands-on.  But there is a lot more.  Some is, I should warn you, fairly classroom oriented.  But I just chose the activities that appealed to me and to my "classroom" situation at the moment.  There are plenty to choose from.

The DVDs are available for $19.99 at Annie Crawley's website.  The guides -- right now -- are available for free if you mention in the comments that you homeschool and that you would like a pdf copy of the Educator Guide.  That's a $70 value.

Members of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew had the chance to review this or one of two other DVDs -- Who Lives in the Sea? and What Makes a Fish, a Fish?  To see what my fellow crewmates had to say about these and the accompanying educator guides, click the banner here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive products as mentioned above for the purposes of a review.  All opinions are my own.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review and Giveaway: The Genesis Code

I am always up for a family-friendly movie.  And as my husband said in the opening scenes, "Oh, we needed another hockey movie!"

Not that The Genesis Code is really a hockey movie.  There is a fair amount of hockey right at the beginning of the movie, but hockey is far from the central focus.

From the publisher:
Kerry Wells (Kelsey Sanders), a college journalist and committed Christian with an effervescent personality, has been assigned to do a story on Blake Truman (Logan Bartholomew) the college’s newest and very popular hockey superstar. As a relationship between them begins to develop Kerry finds that Blake, who hides behind a tough and independent façade, is actually struggling through a difficult personal crisis and that he bears the cross of a secret he has kept hidden for years. Blake rebuffs Kerry's suggestion that prayer might help ease his burden; he is convinced that modern science completely disproves the Bible, especially the opening verses of Genesis. Kerry — who is herself suddenly confronted with a challenge to her faith on another front — sets out to prove that science and Genesis are not in conflict and her quest leads to a startling revelation. Could it be that what science teaches us about creation and the Story as told in Genesis are both true!
What did we think?

Unlike most of the movies I've reviewed lately, this one did not hold the attention of my younger two (ages 6 and 8).  Thomas, my 11 year old, did stay attentive, but I think he is on the younger end of who is likely to find this appealing.

We enjoyed the storyline -- the personal crisis of Blake's and the faith challenge of Kerry's.  The "Genesis Code" part was interesting.  The physics nerds present Blake, some of his hockey pals, Kerry, and some other assorted persons with a pretty geek-speak hypothesis on reconciling the creation story of Genesis with modern science.

It was frustrating though, when we are having to pause the movie to talk about oh, say, the actual physics definition of motion, as opposed to the more casual use of the term.  I would have expected a physics geek who is presenting physics information to be a little more precise.

Anyway, the movie was enjoyable, and it is something we will definitely have to watch again when my teens are around.

And I have one to give away!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. 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.”

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bountiful Baskets: May 26

Today was the day!  A new Bountiful Baskets site opened up TODAY, and it is so, so, so much closer to me!  This marks a year that I've been getting Bountiful Baskets, too, so it was doubly special.  Last June, I started driving about 70 minutes (one-way) to get baskets every other week.  In October, that almost halved, as I could drive about 40 minutes.

And as of today, it halved again... the new location is 20 minutes away.

I'm also training to be a backup for running this one.  Eeeek!

Anyway, since we've been out of town, and were basically without produce (besides potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes) in the house, I went for THREE regular baskets.  I brought home a ton of stuff.  

Pictured is ONE basket --

 The fruit included:
  • 4 bananas (one basket had 5)
  • a cantaloupe
  • 7 peaches (one basket had 8)
  • 3 enormous Red D'Anjou pears (and I chose two more as my volunteer extra)
  • 7 oranges

The veggies contained:
  • 5 ears of corn (this basket had 6)
  • 1 head of leaf lettuce
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 3 artichokes
  • 6 carrots
  • 3 large to HUGE beautiful orange bell peppers
I loved, loved, loved that I didn't get anything that I had in my house in any sort of quantity!

So, what will we do with all of this?
  • Corn on the cob for dinner this week, and corn on the cob for dinner next weekend when we have extra people around
  • At least a couple dinners with carrots as the veggie
  • salads
  • I'll "just use" the tomatoes, some of the carrots and some of the peppers
  • I'll undoubtedly need to freeze some of the peppers
  • I'm thinking I'm going to can a quart or two of peaches, and maybe a quart of pears
  • Otherwise, peaches, bananas, and pears will be eaten this week
  • The oranges will probably be our main fruit next week
  • One cantaloupe will be a breakfast this week.  The other two will wait for the weekend with company.
  • Artichokes.  I've got 9 of them.  Yikes.  I've gotten some great facebook advice to steam 'em and dip in lemon butter, or in garlic butter.  I figure we'll ALL eat a couple tomorrow, and if it is a hit, I'll do it again for everyone.  Otherwise, methinks I'll be eating artichoke for lunch every day for the next week....
Oh, it is SO NICE to have produce in my house again. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Heritage History

Sometimes, even before I get a product, I simply know it is going to be an amazing fit.

Heritage History was one of those products.  My review items were not even in my house for 24 hours when I knew I needed to purchase more. 

So what is Heritage History?  First, it is a CD-ROM filled with all sorts of great living e-books from a particular historical period.  The e-books are in three formats -- pdf (which I used on my computer in making decisions about what to use, and this would be the best format for printing), mobi (which I put on my Kindle), and ePub (which I put on the Nook for my kids to use).

The book's titles are color-coded on the website, in the various documents, and on the back of the CD case so you know which are better for the younger set, the middle-school group, and for high schoolers.  And of course, they all relate to a specific time period.  In this case, the British Middle Ages.

This part of the History Curriculum products is also present on the Heritage Classical Libraries titles.  I own the Early America Library, which hits on history from colonization up through WWI.  I love this volume.  There are three other Classical Library titles:  Spanish Empire, Christian Europe, and Modern Europe.  I want to own them all.  At $19.99 each, that will happen eventually.

The Classical Curriculum CDs are so much more though.

First off, there is the Study Guide.  Oh, wow.  Simply amazing.  This study guide breaks down the entire historical time period into "eras" that make sense.  Within the eras, the guide gives an overview, talks about key dates and key figures, and specifies the books from the collection (or the chapters within the comprehensive ebooks) that relate to that time period.

You (or your child) decide which books to read, how much to read, or whatever.  You can also pursue your child's interests if you wish by looking for more resources elsewhere.  There is enough structure to make me feel secure in what we are doing.  There is enough flexibility that I don't feel guilty for focusing on archaeological resources we have in our home already.

The Study Guides are also available in a printed version, ready to put into a three-ring binder.  The printing is great, and the full-color artwork is appealing.  However, I prefer to pull up a pdf guide on the computer and just print the occasional page, so these are not something I would purchase.  I know I'm weird like that though.  Everyone I know would rather have a physical copy!

At the risk of sounding like a bad 80s infomercial... oh, why not?  "But wait! There's more!"  There is a pdf file that that includes geography terms and maps.  My boys are particularly impressed with a timeline of the wars/battles in Britain from 55 BC through 1718.  Also included are fabulous maps, some reading logs and book registers, and two user guides. 

What did we think?

Well, I've spent money at Heritage History.  That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

Here is what I love.  I can sit down with one $24.99 CD-ROM, and I can glance at some color-coded book titles and have all my kids covering roughly the same stuff at the same time, yet each doing their own thing.  I put the red titles onto the hand-me-down Nook my 15 year old now owns (thanks Grandma!), and he has a copy of the Study Guide too.  We're just starting the second section, on the Saxons, Danes, and Normans (800-1154 AD) and he knows that he can choose which of the four Advanced titles he wishes to read.  Okay, who am I kidding?  He loves this time period, so he is reading them all.  Beowulf from a Literature book, and a biography of Alfred the Great at the same time.

I put a mix of the Intermediate (brown) and Beginner (green) titles on the hand-me-down Nook my 13 year old now owns (thanks Grandpa!), and he knows that he can choose which he wishes to read.  The titles grab him... titles like Boy's Book of Battles.  He also fully intends to read Days of William the Conqueror.  He's severely dyslexic, so I don't expect him to read many for himself.  Since Connor was interested in a couple of these also, they negotiated that Connor will borrow William's Nook and read a couple aloud.

My Kindle is home to all of the Beginner titles, and some Intermediate ones.  Thomas (11) borrows that to read Stories of Beowulf, and I read aloud to all three younger children (Thomas, plus the 8 and 6 year olds) from Our Island Story and Famous Men of the Middle Ages.

Everyone is studying the same basic time period. I read the material from the Study Guide aloud.  We can discuss all kinds of things, since people are reading/hearing different parts.

It is fabulous.

Heritage History's Curriculum CDs can be used as a stand-alone curriculum for the history that they cover (you'd need something else for modern times, for instance).  Or they are incredible as a resource for many other history programs out there.  They talk about combining curriculums -- using Heritage alongside programs like Ambleside, Old Fashioned Education, or Tapestry of Grace.

I'm not completely sure which way we will use Heritage, but we most certainly WILL continue to use it.

Like I said, I loved it so much that I spent money.  Each Curriculum CD is $24.99, or you can purchase all five for $99.99.  Or right now, they are running a Buy 2 - Get the Third Free sale, which is actually 1/3 off on the purchase of three Curriculum OR Library CDs. 

One of the things I bought was an extra CD-ROM of the British Middle Ages that I've been talking about here.  Would you like to win it?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Members of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew had the chance to review various titles in the Heritage History Curriculum set.  To see what my fellow crewmates had to say about these, click the banner here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive products as mentioned above for the purposes of a review.  The item I am giving away was purchased by me.  All opinions are my own.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

TOS Homeschool Crew: Blue Ribbon Awards

As the 2011-2012 Crew year comes to a close, the Crew once again voted, and we are proud to present awards to our vendors - the TOS Homeschool Crew Blue Ribbon Awards.

I did not review all of these products this year, but I did review a lot of them.  Since this is my blog, I'll link up my review where appropriate, and the text will be in blue.  If I didn't review the product, the link will take you to the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog page for that review.  All my reviews link back to the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog page, if you want to see other people's opinions too.

Obviously, everyone I voted for didn't win, but there certainly are some amazing companies and products on this list.

The following vendors are the recipients of the award (pictured at the left) this year:

Favorite Reading Instruction Product: Reading Eggs
Favorite Writing Product: Write Shop
Favorite Language Arts Product: Progeny Press
Favorite Social Studies Product: TruthQuest History
Favorite Science Product: Amazing Science
Favorite Math Product: Math Mammoth
Favorite Online Math Product: Math Rider
Favorite Foreign Language Product: Visual Latin
Favorite Fine Arts Product: Artistic Pursuits ~I did review Artistic Pursuits for the crew before
Favorite Christian Education Product: Apologia: Who Am I?
Favorite Preschool Product: Before Five in a Row
Favorite Elementary Product: All About Reading
Favorite Middle School Product: Write with WORLD
Favorite High School Product: Excellence in Literature
Favorite College or College-Prep Product: Excellence in Literature
Best Online Resource: Reading Eggs
Best e-Product: Heritage History ~I will be posting a review -- and giveaway -- hopefully today
Best Homeschool Resource: Apologia: Educating the Wholehearted Child
Best Book, Novel, or Magazine: Apologia: How to Have a HEART for Your Kids
Best Children's Book: Amazing Animals by Design
Best Game or Toy: Northstar Games: Wits and Wagers and Say Anything ~I reviewed Wits and Wagers last year
Best Hands-On Resource: Pitsco Education
Best Resource I Didn't Know I Needed: eMeals
Best Customer Service: K5 Learning
Most Adaptable Resource: Creek Edge Press
Most Family-Oriented Resource: Northstar Games: Wits and Wagers and Say Anything ~I reviewed Wits and Wagers last year

Kids' Choice (favorite of CHILDREN ages 0-12): Reading Eggs
Teens' Choice (favorite per the TEENAGERS): Pitsco Education
All Around Crew Favorite: Visual Latin

On a personal note, I would have loved to add an additional category this year.  So MY PERSONAL award, not at all official through the Crew as a whole:

Product that Changed Our Lives:  Read Naturally's Read Live subscription

I'll be posting SOON, I promise, on just how life-changing this has been for William and Thomas.

Congratulations to all the winners!  I sure hope to see many of you sailing with us again!

Many Crew Members are blogging about these awards as well. Click below to see what they have to say!

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Click here to see the Crew Blog Posts...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: Beyond Hope's Valley

Having reviewed the first two books in the Big Sky novel series by Tricia Goyer, I was anxious to review Beyond Hope's Valley.

From the publisher:
After an extended stay in Montana, where Amish traditions are different than in her home state, Marianna Sommer returns to Indiana for two reasons, first to help her brother and his girlfriend prepare for a baby and their wedding. Second, to plan her own wedding to Aaron Zook -- a marriage she’s been dreaming about ever since childhood. And yet, although she had missed the idyllic farms and families of her upbringing, Marianna is surprised that Indiana is somehow making her long now for Montana.

As months pass, secrets that were hidden in winter’s frozen grasp thaw and take on a life of their own. The truths about a child, about a past relationship, and about God’s plans are being revealed. Walking through a valley of questions, Marianna must hold on to hope as she decides where and with whom her heart truly belongs.

The book was fabulous.  Tricia writes characters that feel real, and she paints places so I can almost smell them.  That being said, I'm just not sure this book would stand alone.  I highly recommend it, but I think that starting with Beside Still Waters would make more sense.

While I loved reading Marianna's story, I also really appreciated the story of her mother, Ruth.  I felt like I really understood her by the end of the first book, but she continued to surprise and inspire me.

About Tricia: Tricia Goyer is the award winning author of thirty-two books including Beside Still Waters, Remembering You, and the mommy memoir, Blue Like Play Dough. Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences and is the host of Living Inspired. She and her family make their home in Little Rock, Arkansas where they are part of the ministry of FamilyLife.

More info: Living Inspired and

Celebrate with Tricia and enter to win a custom-made Amish Wall hanging in the colors of your choice ... and much more!

One fortunate winner will receive: 

  •  Custom Amish Wall Hanging {You choose the colors!} 
  • An Amish Doll {Sweet.} 
  • Amish-made basket {It’s picnic season!} 
  • Doilies, potholder and an Amish cookbook {All items form Bird-in-Hand, PA!} 
  • Three book Big Sky Amish series {Be swept away by this captivating series.} 

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 20th. Winner will be announced at "All Things Amish" Author Chat Facebook Party on 5/21. Tricia will be hosting an author chat (on Facebook and Live from her website) and giving away books, gift certificates and more!

So grab your copy of Beyond Hope's Valley and join Tricia on the evening of the May 21st for a fun chat, trivia contest (How much do you know about the Amish?) and lots of giveaways. (If you haven't read the book - don't let that stop you from coming!)

Enter via E-mail Enter via Facebook Enter via Twitter

Don't miss a moment of the fun. RSVP today and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 21st!

Disclaimer:  I received this book through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.   

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Review: Crazy Dangerous

When I was presented with the opportunity to review Crazy Dangerous by Andrew Klavan, I called my nearly 15 year old to the computer to have him read this book description:
"You probably want to hear about Jennifer and the demons and how I played chicken with a freight train and-oh yeah-the weird murder . . . you're definitely going to want to hear about that."

Sam Hopkins is a good kid who has fallen in with a bad crowd. Hanging around with car thieves and thugs, Sam knows it's only a matter of time before he makes one bad decision too many and gets into real trouble.

But one day, Sam sees them harassing an eccentric schoolmate of his named Jennifer. When Sam finds the courage to face the bullies down, he loses a bad set of friends and acquires a very strange new one.

Because Jennifer is not just eccentric. To Sam, she seems downright crazy. She has terrifying hallucinations involving demons and the devil and death. And here's the really crazy part: Sam is beginning to suspect that these visions may actually be prophecies--prophecies of something terrible that's going to happen very soon. Unless he can stop it.

With no one to believe him, with no one to help him, Sam is now all alone in a race against time. Finding the truth before disaster strikes is going to be both crazy and very, very dangerous.
I asked Connor if he wanted to review it, and his response was, "Yes.  Definitely."

I ended up giving it to him on his birthday.  Two days later, he had finished it.  "You have to read this, Mom!"

Connor's take:  I would definitely recommend this book to other teens.  Mr. Klavan really drew me in, and kept me guessing.  I love when I read a mystery and am actually surprised by the ending.  One great thing about the writing was that it was written in retrospect... Sam was telling the story as though he was telling you about it after it had happened.  The great part was that it kept that "looking back" feel throughout.  Some other books I've read seem to jump back and forth from past to present tense.

This is a great book.

My take:  I read this a couple weeks later.  I was immediately struck by Klavan's ability to sound like a teen boy in telling this story.  It really sounded like a teen boy narrating (well, part of it is told from Jennifer's point of view, but the majority is from Sam).

For me, the ending wasn't quite as surprising, but mostly that was because of some things Connor had said about the book.

While this is Young Adult fiction, it drew me in as well.  I definitely enjoyed this book.

Celebrate with Andrew Klavan by entering his Crazy Dangerous giveaway and connecting with him during the Author Chat Party on 5/29!

One fortunate winner will receive:
  • A $100 Visa Cash Card
  • A copy of Crazy Dangerous by Andrew Klavan for YOU and
    5 of your Friends!
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends at noon on May 28th. Winner will be announced at the "Crazy Dangerous" Author Chat Facebook Party on 5/29. Andrew will be hosting an Author Chat, testing your survival trivia skills, giving away books and gift certificates to iTunes and! Don't miss a second of the "danger"!

Grab your copy of Crazy Dangerous and connect with Andrew on the evening of 5/29/12 for an author chat and lots of giveaways.

Enter via E-mail Enter via Facebook Enter via Twitter

Don't miss a moment of the fun. RSVP
and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see
you on the 24th!

Disclaimer:  I received this book through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.   

Friday, May 18, 2012

Living out of my Pantry: some final questions

The TOS Homeschool Crew is doing a 5 Days of... Blog Hop, and I decided I would use this to push me into posting about some things I've meant to for awhile.

I will -- one way or another -- be posting every day this week on the topic of 5 Days of Living out of my Pantry

This is the post where I attempt to wrap things up a bit.  But I'm feeling way too random and I totally lost my focus.

How do I afford to do this?

Well, this isn't a one-shot thing.  For me, anyway, a good pantry is built up over time.  In general, I try to be replacing what I'm using as part of my weekly grocery shopping.

And I try to allocate a percent or two of my weekly grocery budget to building the pantry.  When I'm in a $35/week grocery budget cycle, it's tough... but I can still get a pound of beans or a single can of tuna, above and beyond what I plan to serve that week.  When I'm spending $100 per week, that means I try to put $5-10 a month into my pantry.

I also try to hit Sam's Club every couple of months and purchase something there... a 25# bag of flour, popcorn, or rice, or one of those ginormous packages of yeast.

I allocate roughly $50 every other week to Bountiful Baskets.  That lets me get two baskets (which is all the produce I usually purchase for my family) and an "extra" or two.  When it is tomatoes, I get a bunch canned.  I've also canned peaches, frozen apple slices, and frozen mangoes from those extras.  I sometimes can manage to preserve something out of the baskets too.

When neighbors are desperately trying to get rid of zucchini, I'll shred and freeze a whole lot of that.  When we can get over-ripe melons for nothing (or next to it) from the farmers down in La Junta, I chop and freeze those too.

I purchase mark-down meat, and come home and do a mini freezer cooking session.  A crew-mate posted a bunch about that topic in 5 Days of Freezer Cooking.

Where do I put all of this?

Well, that is tricky.  We don't have a ton of storage available in our kitchen.  I do have food stored on the tops of my cupboards in the kitchen.  We have food stored in boxes under our bed.

We have a good sized chest freezer in our living room.

Organization is not my gifting.  One of my crew-mates posted about organizing your pantry earlier this week though, as part of her 5 Days of Home Organization.

But, but, but...

Your situation is undoubtedly totally different than mine.  My military friends can't build up a huge pantry when they have to worry about moving every three years.  They can still get to a point where (except when they are about to leave) they could feed their families for a month or two, but planning for longer just isn't realistic.

That's fine.

You have to do what works for you.  I truly believe that EVERYONE should be prepared to eat well for a week though.

What do I cook?

Ethnic cookbooks can be great.  I have a lot of Polish cookbooks, and those are fabulous for using some pretty inexpensive ingredients.  There are lots of great ideas online.  That's where I find most of mine, actually.

Cooking here often involves me looking and thinking, "I have a bazillion great northern beans.  And we got broccoli in our basket this week." Then I google "white beans and broccoli recipes" and end up with hits like Emeril's Noodles with Broccoli and White Beans.  It calls for canned beans, but I'll substitute.

Or if I get stuck, I post on Facebook.  A plea like, "Help this northern girl figure out how to cook edible grits!" for instance, and I had a bunch of great recommendations.  And I made grits that were not merely edible (which in itself would have been a huge improvement) but people went back for seconds...  and it was requested that I make it again.

What about you?  Thoughts?  Questions?  Looking forward to chatting about living out of your pantry...

Keep Hopping thru the Homeschool Crew Blog Hop!  Just click on the graphic below.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Living out of my Pantry: How do I do this for the long-term?

Living from my pantry?  What about when I do need to make this a long-term lifestyle?

The TOS Homeschool Crew is doing a 5 Days of... Blog Hop, and I decided I would use this to push me into posting about some things I've meant to for awhile.

I will -- one way or another -- be posting every day this week on the topic of 5 Days of Living out of my Pantry

Yesterday, I posted about why this is an issue I care about and how we've relied on our pantry for months at a time.

So what makes that possible?

I said before that there isn't some shopping list that will make this work for anyone.  You have to put some thought into this.  What matters for your family?

There are some general guidelines though.  For me, stocking up my pantry is something that needs to mostly include fairly inexpensive food.

Stocking your pantry also needs to include things that your family will eat.  And that someone can prepare.

You can have 100 pounds of dried beans stored under your bed... but if your family won't eat beans, or if you have no idea how to turn them into chili or bean soup or something, those hundred pounds of beans may as well be a hundred pounds of rocks.

So what do I typically have in my pantry?  And why?
  • Dried beans.  A variety of kinds.  And yes, I know how to cook 'em.  I usually cook them and freeze them in 2- and 3-cup containers.  At my altitude, beans don't always get soft enough, and freezing them for later use helps them to be perfect.  I use beans to make chili, soup of all kinds, to stretch hamburger in Mexican food, etc.
  • Rice.  Lots and lots of rice.  I use rice as a base -- serving other food over it.  I use rice to stretch soup, to stretch Mexican dishes, in eggs, etc.  I'm starting to cook a big batch of rice up, and then using the "planned-overs" a cup or two at a time throughout the next few days.
  • Flour.  I get huge bags, store them in the freezer.  I would LOVE to be getting wheat and grinding my own, but that is still in the saving-up-for stage.  (Anyone want me to review a grain mill?  I'm all ears...)  With flour, I can make bread, biscuits, pizza dough, cookies, etc.  I usually have at least 50# around.
  • Yeast.  I buy it at Sam's Club, and store it in the freezer.  A few dollars gets me enough to last months, even when I'm baking bread nearly every day.
  • Potatoes.  I usually have a lot of fresh ones around (if stored right, they last a very long time) but I also will cube and fry them, then freeze them.  Potatoes go into soup, my skillet breakfasts, and about a million other dishes.  Serving a meal over mashed potatoes is a very inexpensive way to stretch the meal.  A side of roasted potatoes works quite often too.
  • Pasta.  A variety of shapes and sizes. 
  • Tomatoes.  Not the fresh ones, necessarily.  But I do make sure I have canned tomatoes around.  Lots and lots and lots.  I make my own, or buy canned.  But I always have a variety of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salsa, pizza sauce, etc.  I usually have some frozen tomatoes too.  
  • Powdered milk.  I don't like to drink the stuff, but I use it almost exclusively in cooking.  
  • Oatmeal.  The canisters, not little instant packets.  
  • Pancake mix.  Okay, I know I could make my own with ingredients already in my house.  But I determined that it is worth it to have the mix.  That way, I actually make pancakes instead of thinking "I ought to."  And it is so nice when we are in a living from the pantry phase to be able to EASILY do very inexpensive breakfasts... with a bit of variety.
  • Spices.  Good ones.  Having a good Greek Seasoning Blend, and a good Creole one, and others makes the plain old rice a lot more interesting.  I spend more than I could get away with on spices.  But this is important to me.  I have a steak seasoning that I love to put into stew.  The Creole one makes eggs and rice taste a bit different.  Various blends give a slightly new twist to the same potato soup. 
  • Other staples, like oils, sugar, salt, cornmeal, vinegars, etc.
Those are my basics.  I'm probably missing some.

In addition, I try to have a variety of canned and frozen meats.  I try to have some canned soup.  That often makes a great base for adding a bit of this and a lot of that.  I like having dried, canned and frozen fruit.  Some goes great in oatmeal, or in pancakes, or as a dessert topping.  I typically have frozen and (some) canned vegetables. And I try to pick up some of the extra stuff I'd use typically in my meals.

The big thing here though is that you have to be using what you store.  If your family balks at rice based casseroles, you can't be planning to serve them three nights a week if something happens that keeps you from grocery shopping.  You need to be using what you store now too.  Otherwise, if something happens, your family will feel deprived.  And there's certainly the chance that half your stored food is going to be long past its "use by" date.

What about you?  What do you think is essential when looking at long-term pantry needs?  Looking forward to chatting about living out of your pantry...

Keep Hopping thru the Homeschool Crew Blog Hop!  Just click on the graphic below.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Living out of my Pantry: Why is this important?

Living from my pantry?  Why do I feel so strongly about a well-stocked pantry?

The TOS Homeschool Crew is doing a 5 Days of... Blog Hop, and I decided I would use this to push me into posting about some things I've meant to for awhile. 

I will -- one way or another -- be posting every day this week on the topic of 5 Days of Living out of my Pantry

Monday, I talked a little bit about what I mean by living out of my pantry, and a bit about why it is a good idea to be able to.  Tuesday I chatted about being able to eat well in a short-term emergency.

Today I'm going to tell you a couple of stories.  Because the day got away from me, and I just don't have time for the post I planned.   Too much of today was spent driving to North Dakota.

So why am I so passionate about having a solid, long-term pantry option?

We've had issues over the years.  More than once.  In 2000, we were in a car accident that left my husband unable to go back to his job.  I was pregnant, and we had two small children.  Because of my pantry, we got by quite well for five months... with a grocery budget of roughly $45 per month.

Fast forward a few years, and Dale's wages were garnished for one of the medical bills from that accident.  We had four kids at that point.  We spent no more than about $10 per month on groceries when the garnishment was going on, and upped that to $35/week for the next six months while we were trying to recover from the mess those couple months made.  And doubled it to $70/week for the next three or four months.  That was a pretty long year. 

When our well went out this past year, and all of our "extra" money suddenly had to be diverted to paying for a new pump, we (now a family of 7, including one teen boy, and two tween boys) found ourselves budgeting $25/week for groceries.  For a few months.  I had $4 to spend for Thanksgiving and our Thanksgiving weekend.  And yes, we had turkey with a whole lot of trimmings.

In the interest of full disclosure, in some of those times we also visited food shelves.  And while that is an amazing blessing, I can tell you that it is a tremendous help, but hardly enough to rely on as a sole source of nourishment.  Some amazing people made a huge difference too... grocery gift cards that were given to me, or that I won on blog giveaways... 

Because I believe so strongly in my pantry being a bit like an emergency fund, we had choices when things hit hard.  We had the option to eliminate our grocery spending for a week, or for a few weeks.  Or to drastically cut it for a month or two... or even for a year...

And we didn't starve.  Most of the time, we ate pretty normal looking meals.

We didn't empty our pantry. Though we did have times where things were starting to feel a bit bare.

This is why I'm blogging on this topic. 

What about you?   Looking forward to chatting about living out of your pantry...

Keep Hopping thru the Homeschool Crew Blog Hop!  Just click on the graphic below.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book review: Forever Hilltop

Once in awhile, I get the chance to review a completely fabulous book.  Now if only I could do it justice...

Forever Hilltop by Judy Baer is two novels in one.  The first, Unlikely Blessing, I reviewed before.  And I loved it.  My bottom line was summed up in this eloquent quote:  "Read it."

The sequel, Surprising Grace, was every single bit as wonderful as the first.

Judy grew up in North Dakota, and currently lives an hour or so from where I am right now.  She clearly knows North Dakota.  She writes North Dakota incredibly well.  But I think this is a story that -- while meaning more to those of us with North Dakota roots -- will be appreciated by people from pretty much anywhere.

The first novel, Unlikely Blessing, involves Alex coming from Chicago to pastor two rural ND churches.  Please read my earlier review for the first part of the story.  Surprising Grace picks up the story and covers the next couple of months. 

From the publisher:
Alex Armstrong is settling into his new role as pastor of Hilltop Church, and he's even starting to understand the strange ways of the people who populate this barren stretch of North Dakota prairie. But he also finds that his flock needs help and counsel like he never imagined. In this cozy and entertaining read, Alex must choose between the woman he once planned to marry-and the home he's come to love.
I really can't say enough things about this novel.  Judy weaves a story with endearing and realistic characters, characters who feel real.  Dialogue sounds so very familiar, with phrases like, "Would you like me to come with?"  Food plays a central role, with amazing recipes included.  And the threatened lutefisk dinner still looms on the horizon. 

The story is sweet, but it isn't always happy.  Things don't all wrap up into happy little packages at the end.  You are left wondering what happens next, but not in a cliff-hanger way.  More like you want to wake up tomorrow to see what God has in store next.  My life doesn't all wrap up in pretty packages either, you know?  That aspect just makes these people feel so much more real.

Judy makes me homesick.  I want to move back.

This book is simply fabulous.  If I don't have the opportunity to review the next Forever Hilltop title, I will buy it.  That isn't a statement I make often.

@JudyKBaer is giving away a Kindle for YOU … and one for a Friend in her Forever Hilltop Giveaway!

Celebrate with Judy by entering to win a Kindle for you and a friend!

One lucky winner will receive:
  • Brand New KINDLE with Wi-Fi
  • Brand New KINDLE with Wi-Fi to Giveaway to a Friend!
  • Forever Hilltop by Judy K Baer for you and a one for a friend

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 22nd. Winner will be announced 5/24/12 on Judy's Blog.

Enter via E-mail Enter via Facebook Enter via Twitter

Don't miss a moment of the fun. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 21st!

Disclaimer:  I received this book through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.   

Living out of my Pantry: Where do I start?

Living from my pantry?  Where do I start? 

The TOS Homeschool Crew is doing a 5 Days of... Blog Hop, and I decided I would use this to push me into posting about some things I've meant to for awhile. 

I will -- one way or another -- be posting every day this week on the topic of 5 Days of Living out of my Pantry

So yesterday, I talked a little bit about what I mean by living out of my pantry, and a bit about why it is a good idea to be able to.

Today, let's attack the subject of HOW?  Where do you start?  If you go browsing around the web, you'll find some answers to this.  Some of them are really straightforward and easy to follow.  Some of them are incredibly expensive.    Some leave you (or at least they leave ME) scratching your head, still unsure of where to begin.

I think for the most part that anyone who is telling you precisely what to do to 'be prepared' is nuts.  That would include me.  Feel free to tell me I'm nuts if I cross that line!

Here is what I suggest.  Everyone, everywhere has some type of scenario that is a possibility that would keep you from easily being able to go grocery shopping for a couple of days.  Blizzards, hurricanes, floods, or other weather conditions are an obvious culprit.  Illness, flat tires, or an unexpected bill might cause a short-term issue too.

Personally, I think the best way to start on the road to living out of your pantry is with something small.  Can you feed your family decently for three days?  If you go grocery shopping every Tuesday, and a storm hits Monday night, would you be okay through Thursday?

This isn't just, "could you get by?"  What I mean is, can you be calm and not have to worry about what in the world you'll eat if you can't get out tomorrow?

If you aren't sure about that, here are the steps I would recommend:
  1. Assess YOUR situation.  What are the likely causes of your inability to grocery shop? 
  2. What else does that mean for you?  If a storm means you can't get out, does that also leave you without power?  Or water?  
  3. What cooking options are you likely to have?  
And some other things to think about:
  1. If losing electricity is likely, your short-term living from the pantry plan needs to be heavy on getting rid of stuff in your refrigerator that first day or so. That's not so easy to plan for.
  2. If losing water is likely, your living from the pantry plan has to factor water needs in as well. 
It's only after thinking about those factors that you can start considering what should be in your Short-Term Living out of my Pantry plan.

Here are my answers:
  1. Storms (winter) can cut us off completely from access to any shopping. This does happen regularly.
  2. Storms often mean a lack of electricity and water (we're on a well) for at least some of that time.  No electric would mean no internet, so I better not need to go google-ing for recipe ideas.  It would also tend to mean no heat.
  3. We have the stove (propane) as long as we have matches.  We have a grill, a fire-pit, various camp cooking implements.  The stove is the easiest.  So I want meals I can fix in a skillet.

I know that I cannot waste precious water on anything where I'm going to drain it off.  I can use water for cooking, but it better end up as part of the dish, or be something I can use in a side (using the water from cooking veggies to add to the potato flakes for mashed potatoes, for instance).  I don't do dried beans, I don't do much pasta, and I don't want meals that will involve a lot of dishwashing.  One-dish skillet meals are best.
For me, a basic 3-day Pantry plan will involve things like canned meat (chicken, tuna, salmon, etc.), rice, canned soup or stew, pancake mix, powdered milk, instant potatoes, etc.

A first day emergency meal might consist of using up meat thawing in the fridge.  I'd come up with a skillet meal based around that.  I could throw in veggies from the fridge, or make some rice to serve it over, or add a can of cream of something soup, or... well, it would depend on the perishables I have around.

I know not everyone is a "throw it together" cook.  My take on cooking is that a recipe is a jumping-off point.  It gives me ideas, gets me started, but I practically never follow one to the letter.  So emergency pantry cooking is fun -- grab the most perishable thing around and make something happen based on it.

If you are someone who does tend to follow recipes, you might want a bit more of a base.  This is where canned soup/stew can be nice.  Grab a can or two of soup, put it in a saucepan, add some water and appropriate bouillon cubes, and then add extra veggies or other perishables from the fridge.  Add some green beans to the stew, add some leftover rice to the chicken vegetable soup.  A bit of extra spaghetti sauce can be a great addition. 

Or start with a box of tuna helper.  Add whatever meat, canned or leftovers, and you can always add in some other extras, like some mushrooms, bell peppers, grated carrots, whatever...

YOU have to figure it out for yourself.  But basically, think about the types of things you would normally serve, and see if you can have a small stash of extra... and some easy "I can turn this into anything" items too.  I tend to make my own white sauce normally, but in emergency living out of my pantry settings, it is nice to have canned cream of mushroom soup available!

Adjust this totally to fit your family preferences:
  • canned meat (chicken, ham, tuna, salmon, etc.)
  • some basic canned soups (stew, chili, chicken vegetable, etc.)
  • rice and/or rice mixes
  • tuna helper (I find those more versatile than hamburger helper) or similar "base" products for a skillet meal
  • cooking soups (cream of whatever, tomato, etc.)
  • powdered milk, instant potato flakes, pancake mix, etc.
What happens when the issue isn't quite so temporary?  That is a topic for later this week...

What do you rely on for short-term situations?  Looking forward to chatting about living out of your pantry...

Keep Hopping thru the Homeschool Crew Blog Hop!  Just click on the graphic below.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Living out of my Pantry: What does that mean?

Living from my pantry?  What does that even mean?  And why would I want to?

The TOS Homeschool Crew is doing a 5 Days of... Blog Hop, and I decided I would use this to push me into posting about some things I've meant to for awhile.  Little did I know that my life would get crazy at the same time (more on that later, I hope)

I will -- one way or another -- be posting every day this week on the topic of 5 Days of Living out of my Pantry

Today, I just want to define this, and if you don't already do something similar, maybe it will get you thinking about it a bit.

I grew up the oldest child of a couple of war-babies.  Their parents (my grandparents) were definitely shaped by their experience in the Great Depression.  We grew a lot of food, and processed cases of tomatoes and pickles, along with other things.

Every year, we headed to my grandparents' farm to butcher chickens, or to shuck and freeze acres of sweet corn, or to chop firewood, or to head out fishing.  We'd head to my grandma's house to pick apples, which we then spent a weekend freezing.

It wasn't something I thought about a lot as a kid. But I always knew that no matter what, we had chicken, corn, tomatoes, pickles, etc. in the house -- enough to last all year.  And we could always bake an apple pie.  One way or another, we would eat.

Maybe on some level, I knew my family was a bit different.  When a blizzard was forecast, my mom wasn't making an emergency run to the grocery store.  We were always prepared.  I have no recollection of there ever being any thought given to what we'd eat if we were snowed in for a week. 

That is how I've approached things too.  I don't have family raising chickens (though Connor wants to start), or anyone with an extra field of sweet corn.  And while we have been known to stop at a store when there is an approaching storm, that is a choice.  We normally don't have to.

Looking at my house, it ain't my momma's pantry.  But most of the time, I know that if push comes to shove, I could feed my family through any storm.  I've tested that.  We've frequently had 2-3 days where we can't get out.  Sometimes longer.

With some (okay, a lot of) creativity, we could make it for a few months without shopping for food.  At all.  I know that, but I haven't exactly tested it.  However, we have had seasons of life where I have drastically cut our grocery spending for months... as in $35 a week (for a family of seven)... and we have done well.  It does take a lot of creativity though. 

But that is a topic for later this week...

How long could you go without buying food?  I am certainly no expert, and I hope to learn from my readers this week too.  Looking forward to chatting about living out of your pantry.

Keep Hopping thru the Homeschool Crew Blog Hop!  Just click on the graphic below.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

FIRST Wild Card Tour: YESHUA: The King, The Demon & The Traitor

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:

and the book:

Authentic Media (March 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to Mike Parker for sending me a review copy.***


GP Taylor is a New York Times best selling author whose works include Shadowmancer, Wormwood, Tersias, The Curse of Salamander Street and The Tizzle Sisters. He lives on the banks of a river in the midst of a dark wood, an arrow's flight from the Prince Regent Hotel near the 'town at the end of the line'. He spends his days writing and collecting firewood. Visit him online at

Paula K. Parker is a nationally recognized playwright, author, and freelance writer whose works include the stage plays, “Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility” and “Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.” She is highly respected in the Christian entertainment industry and is frequently called upon to write about it. Visit her online at


YESHUA: The King, The Demon & The Traitor is the second volume in the “Ancient Mysteries Retold” series from U.K.-based publisher, Authentic Media. This two-volume collection recounts some of the most wondrous stories from the greatest book of all time - the Bible. The first volume, YHWH: The Flood, The Fish & The Giant included 20 stories from the Old Testament while the new volume includes 29 stories from the New Testament, specifically from the life of Christ. Far from being simply a rehash of old Sunday school stories, these are rich, compelling tales that stand up to anything Harry Potter or Percy Jackson can dish out.

Product Details:
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Authentic Media (March 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1860248292
ISBN-13: 978-1860248290

My Take:  We reviewed YHWH: The Flood, the Fish and the Giant a while back, and past the first chapter, we really enjoyed that.  Enough that my 11 year old begged for this when he found out we could review it.  My 13 year old was interested, but not quite as enthused. 

This book is a fabulous follow-up to the first.  It is not just the Bible stories, but the stories with added details that mostly seem realistic.  In the excerpt below, the story of the birth of Jesus is told mostly from the point of view of a shepherd boy.  You really do get the sense of terror at the sight of the angels.

The only real struggle we had, still, was with the renaming of the characters.  Like Yosef and Miriam in the chapter below.  That probably gives it a more authentic feel, and with those two names it isn't a big deal.  None were as jarring as the renaming of Adam and Eve from the first book.

Overall, I think this is a great way to get an older child to think a bit more about the Bible stories and how this "stuff" happened to real people. 


Chapter 1
The Birth
The remnants of the evening fire smouldered in the ring of stones. It had lasted long into the night but now, the moon had set long before and the sky was filled with bright stars. They clung to the canopy of the sky as if they were diamonds sewn on to the velvet of the night.
A small boy no more than ten years old lay huddled in the long cloak that belonged to his older brother. It was wrapped around him, covering all but his sun burnt face and dark eyes. It had been discarded in the panic. He was alone. The hillside was deserted. Stirring from his sleep as if the whispering wind was speaking to him of his fate, the boy slowly opened one eye and then the other. He was fearful of what he would see.
Looking out across the valley, the stars burned brighter than they had ever done before. It was as if they had come to life and moved across the galaxy, pushed by an unseen hand. It was then that he had the sudden and dreadful feeling that all was not well. Gone was his father. Gone was his brother. Gone were the rest of the men who had been on the hillside. Gone were the sheep. Yet, the boy knew he was not alone. He had the feeling before, one night when he was seven years old. Sleeping on the roof he had dreamt that something was staring at him from the darkness. It was only when he woke from his sleep and opened his eyes that he had seen the snake at the foot of his bed. Its head had been folded back as if about to strike. The long black tongue had flickered in the darkness and then… the hand of his father had snatched it around the neck and cast it from the roof.
Now, as he lay alone on the hillside in the dark of night with only the ever-brightening light of the stars, he felt the same.
‘Do you always sleep so deeply?’ the dark voice behind him asked. The boy dare not turn. He looked at the sky, convinced that the heavens were falling as the stars drew closer. ‘Daniel – do you hear me?’ the voice asked.
Daniel turned slowly. Whoever was there, knew his name.
‘Where is my father… my brother?’ he asked as his words fell from his mouth and then suddenly stopped. Terror gripped his throat as he looked up at the biggest man he had ever seen. His mouth fell open as he panted and gripped a tuft of grass.
The man threw his head back and laughed. He loomed above the boy, bright and radiant, a long sword in his hand.
‘Fear not, Daniel. I will not harm you.’
‘What…’ Daniel answered slowly, the only word his feeble mind could think of. He licked his lips and croaked, ‘…are you?’
‘An Angel – that is what I am – a messenger of the King of kings and I bring the word to you…’
The boy-shepherd screamed in terror. With every word that the Angel spoke he glowed brighter and brighter. It was then that Daniel realised that there was not one man standing before him but a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand. They were not stars in the sky but Angels that swooped back and forth above his head. As if in one voice they all sang, filling the night air. The boy fell back and lay on the ground staring up at the Angel who stood over him.
‘My father….’ Daniel screamed hoping his words would be heard. ‘What have you done with him?’
The Angel laughed, bent down and then, with one hand gripped around the boy’s waist, lifted Daniel from the ground and held him in the air.
‘The Heavens declare… that tonight… in Bethlehem … the KING is born and YOU… will be a witness to HIM…’ The Angel roared, his words like the howling of a volcano that echoed across the valley and around the mountains. ‘Go… find your father and you brother… they have gone to the town. NOW RUN…’ the Angel shouted as he put the boy on the ground and nudged him in the back. ‘As fast as you can – go… quickly…’
Daniel dared not look back. He ran through the parting phalanxes of radiant creatures that stood around him. As he passed each one, they turned into wisps of silver mist. Daniel ran and ran, tears streaming down his face as the words of the Angel echoed through his mind again and again.
‘A King… the baby…’ he said over and over as he ran towards the town on the path he had walked a hundred times.
In the town below, at the back of a small tavern above where the landlord kept the animals, an old man tapped on the door.
‘Congratulations!’ The old man paused. ‘There are some men – shepherds – who want to see the child.’
Inside, a man stood up and moved to the doorway, so as not to wake the woman who slept on a small bed by the fire. ‘What?’ he asked.
‘Yosef – wake Miriam… a rabble of dirty shepherds just arrived at my house and they stink more than my animals,’ the host explained. ‘They want to see the child. I told them, “No, leave the young couple alone,” but when they told me their story, I changed my mind,’ he said quickly, his voice raising in excitment.
‘Their story?’ Yosef asked. ‘What happened… how do they know we are here?’
‘I should let them tell you,’ the old man said as he walked away.
‘Yosef?’ his wife Miriam called to him. He crossed the floor and knelt by her, giving her a drink of water. Then he lit the lamp and set it back on the top of the post. ‘What is happening?’ she asked, her voice still weak with fatigue.
‘The owner of the house said that shepherds have arrived, wanting to see our baby.’
Before Yosef could finish speaking there was a knock at the door. The old man stepped inside, followed by six dirty, disheveled men. They were hesitant and wide-eyed as they entered. Each looked around the room as if expecting to see more than was before them. When they saw the sleeping baby, they gasped and fell to their knees.
‘It is the child!’ one of them said.
‘Just as we were told,’ another agreed.
Yosef and Miriam looked at each other and then at the shepherds. ‘Who told you about our baby?’ Yosef asked.
The shepherds looked at each other as though uncertain what to say. Finally, the one who spoke first turned to them. His words were hesitant. ‘An…angel,’ he whispered. ‘We were watching our sheep nearby. It was like any other night then suddenly a man appeared in the sky. He was an angel!
The door burst open a young boy rushed in and dived into the arms of one of the shepherds
‘Father! He was huge!’ Daniel said, ‘Taller than Goliath must have been, with a robe that was blinding white!’
‘Daniel, please, let me tell the story,’ his father said. He turned back to Miriam and Yosef. ‘I am not ashamed to say that we were terrified. We cried out and fell to the ground. This…angel…told us to not be afraid. Then he said he had good news. “It will be for everyone in the world,” he said. “Today, in the birth place of King David, a Saviour has been born. He is the Messiah. You will know it is him when you find a new born baby lying in a feeding trough.’
Daniel pushed free from his father and took hold of Yosef by the hand.
‘Suddenly the whole sky was filled with other angels,’ the boy told Yosef. ‘I have never heard anything like it; it sounded like all of creation was singing. Then they turned and – flew – upwards. This child is the KING…’
His father pulled Daniel back apologetically.
‘We had to come and see the child they had told us about.’ The shepherd peered at the sleeping baby. ‘And here he is, just as the angel said.’