Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Beloved and My Friend: A Book Review

Hal & Melanie Young have written another fabulous and much-needed book, My Beloved and My Friend: How to Stay Married to Your Best Friend Without Changing Spouses.  Brilliant book.  Of course it is; I knew it would be.  They are the folks behind Great Waters Press, the ones who wrote Raising Real Men.  (That link is to the review I wrote nearly three years ago.)  I loved that book, and I knew I'd get a lot from this one too.

Loving a book doesn't always make it easy to review though. I want to sit down, over a cup of coffee (or tea, if we invite Melanie into the conversation) and talk about just why I think this book is important and wonderful.  But writing it is hard.

Hal and Melanie Young have been married a few years longer than we have (they've at 25+ years), and they clearly have a successful marriage.  They also have a whole bunch of really amazing kids.  Samuel has a special place in my heart, but that has to be a separate post.

This book covers so many incredible areas, and the Youngs aren't afraid to tackle controversial or uncomfortable topics. Submission, for instance, where they said a lot, but I dearly loved the quote, "He needed a wife, not a robot!" in that chapter.

From the opening chapter, "Leaving and Cleaving," I knew this was a book I needed to read.  One would think that after 20+ years of marriage, we'd have some of this stuff down, especially regarding something that sounds like it is supposed to be a newlywed issue.  We have done some things right.  We moved 1,000 miles shortly after we were wed, and that was definitely a "leaving and cleaving" thing.  The health of our marriage depended on it.

One of the things I said about Raising Real Men was that there was a lot of information in there that I already knew, but it was a huge thing for me to hear it from someone else.  Stuff like:

Now that is a lesson I want my kids to learn before they wed.  Leaving and cleaving means turning from a "me" to an "us" -- but it also means that the "us" they already have (their parents and siblings) can no longer be the most important "us" in their lives.
In nine more days, as a certain son of mine just reminded me, I'll be the mother of three teenage boys. Leaving and cleaving is not necessarily some far-off, abstract concept.  That means I need to be prepared to do my part too.  I have some great examples among my friends and family of fabulous in-laws, and some not so fabulous ones.  I desperately need this book to help me remember which type I plan to be.

The rest of the book is just as good.  Easy to read, filled with down-to-earth stories that make the Youngs feel like family friends, this is a book every married or soon-to-be-married couple ought to read.  And re-read, I am sure. Like the section in the chapter, Fidelity and Loyalty are not Mutual Funds, about "You get the mate you believe in" --

Wow, have we ever seen that borne out in our lives and the lives of those around us.  Unfortunately, usually what we've seen is the opposite... "a wife who constantly points out his failures and shortcomings will probably succeed only in depressing his efforts to overcome them."  That is a lesson we've really worked hard to get our boys to grasp.  They need to find women who will believe in them, not belittle them.  Doesn't matter how pretty she is, how perfect, how much other guys envy them.  In the long run, a woman capable of respecting her husband is the better catch. 

(And in the interest of full disclosure, I need to make that image my wallpaper.  I let all the "men are worthless" voices in society get into my head way too often.  We live in a society that makes it very hard to respect men in general, and thus our husband in particular.  And we don't teach our daughters the importance of respect.  I'm not ready to contemplate my baby girl getting married, but that is a lesson I will teach when she gets to be a bit older.)

What I loved about Raising Real Men was how Hal and Melanie give all kinds of great advice, but they don't make a whole lot of "this is the best/only/Christian way" statements.  When addressing things like who should keep track of the checkbook, for instance, they talk about the strengths of each partner, not some patriarchal "should" language.  So maybe it is best for the husband to manage the checkbook, maybe it is best for the wife to do it, maybe there is a time to switch that up, or maybe they ought to do it together.  What is right for one couple may not be the answer for another.

Who should read this book?  Well, I think any married person could get something out of it.  I think it would be great pre-marital "counseling" too.  And I think it is fantastic for parents of teens and young adults, as a primer in the "these are issues you may want to be sharing with your children before they get married" category.

The book will cost $15, and is due out for Valentine's Day.  However, you can pre-order and spend just $12, and have it in time for Christmas.  I recommend it.  I may start making it a standard wedding gift.

You can read more reviews from the Bow of Bronze Launch Team.  There are some great ones there.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: War on Christmas

As part of The War on Christmas Launch Team, I've been spending a bit of time the past few weeks reading about Christmas and Christmas traditions.  The War on Christmas, edited by Bodie Hodge and published by Master Books, is a beautiful book that covers a fairly wide variety of Christmas-related topics.

From the publisher:
  • Is it a bunch of pagan symbols "Christianized" for the celebration?
  • Why is our concept of Christmas so important for those who don't believe in Jesus?
  • Most may say Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, but are we truly worshiping Him or just celebrating the earthly gifts we give ourselves?
Filled with family get-togethers, office parties, breaks from school, decorating the tree, and more, Christmas is a time of peace and love. So why has so much controversy clouded this sacred holiday? It has become ground zero in an ongoing culture war where Nativity scenes are nixed, Merry Christmas becomes Happy Holidays, and even the word "Christmas" is considered by some as offensive. Find the truth about Christmas and the Christian's response to a culture that seems to be declaring war.

I've always had fairly mixed feelings about some things with the celebration of Christmas.  We try to focus on "the reason for the season" in how we do celebrate, which is tough sometimes in the face of far too many not-so-great influences.  For us, that is either people who give the message that Christmas is about getting/giving stuff, or that family (and maybe friends) is the real meaning of Christmas.

I hope every year that we do manage to get the real message across, but I'm never quite sure.  Of course, then I watched this trailer with a certain child of mine, who got pretty much every answer wrong.  (I had them all right, thankyouverymuch.)  Clearly, I have more work to do.

What I thought of the book:  Confession first -- I didn't really expect to learn much of anything, yet I find this book to have changed some of my thinking on Christmas.  A chapter I really liked was Chapter 11: Hark! The Herald Angels Said?  Now, I have heard people criticize the hymn because the Bible doesn't say that the angels sang.  Luke tells us "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'"

Okay, well, I like the image of a sky filled with singing angels.  They sound a lot like the men's chorus record my parents had from their college days.  Or at least, that is what I hear in my head when I read the verses.  So I was bracing myself to be frustrated for not relying on what the Bible says, and instead bringing in fallible traditions.  The book surprised me.  It goes on to talk about the myriad of Scriptural connections between praising and singing.
I don't agree with absolutely everything I read, but after going through the entire book myself, I have started it over as a read-aloud to my kids.  There is a lot of really good discussion material here.  There is plenty of information about the secular attacks on Christmas, and also plenty about the Christian attacks on the holiday as well.  There were certainly aspects that I wanted to research more, so I can see other perspectives.

The book itself is beautiful.  Great photos and other illustrations, cool backgrounds on some of the pages.  That part is delightful.

One criticism I did have is that there could be a bit tighter editing.  An example is that the issue of the Three Kings comes up in a few different chapters, and each time it is treated as though this is new information. Chapter 10 is about "The Three Kings" and talks about things like the Greek word for magi, how many there were, and when they visited Jesus.  Chapter 15, which is about the Star of Bethlehem, introduces a lot of the same information as though we haven't recently read it.

Really, this was a pretty minor thing, but still, it bothered me.

Overall, this is a fantastic resource, and reading through the 23 chapters (plus the introduction and conclusion) seems like a perfect new Advent tradition for my family. 

You can see what other launch team members had to say about The War on Christmas too.

Disclaimer:   I received this book and a t-shirt for free from New Leaf Publishing Group as part of The War on Christmas Launch Team.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bountiful Baskets: October 26

Any local friends who want to be doing Bountiful Baskets, I have to say that we really do need more participation in Ellicott.  We're debating whether we need to drop back to every other week.  That is sad.  I love having baskets every week, but wow, are our numbers low!

That being said, it was a wonderful basket today, and amazing volunteers and wonderful participants.

Check out the photo of one of my baskets:

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Included in my TWO baskets:
  • 4 fennel
  • 4 romaine lettuce packages
  • 16 red onions
  • 4 yellow squash
  • 2 6 oz packages blackberries
  • 15 bananas
  • 10 Asian pears
  • 12 persimmons
  • 2 pineapple
  • 2 personal size watermelon

I also got a 40 pound box of Honeycrisp Apples and a 25 pound box of tomatoes.  One thing I love about the Honeycrisp apples is that I paid about HALF of what they are on sale for at Sprouts this week.  And they are big and gorgeous.

What will I do with this stuff?
  • bananas, Asian pears, pineapple and watermelon will simply be eaten.  As will the lettuce.
  • With the blackberries, I want to do something fun and special, but honestly, they'll probably just be eaten too.
  • Persimmons will probably mostly be dried.  We'll see.
  • Fennel -- I foresee a whole lot of potato-fennel soup.  Of some sort.  Yum.  I love fennel, and never would have discovered it without Bountiful Baskets.
  • Squash -- we've been adding it to spaghetti and such.  Maybe I'll do up a chunky veggie-rich spaghetti sauce to can.
  • Onions -- we have an awful lot of onions right now.  Some will get canned with the tomatoes, I am positive.  Some will just be used in making meals.  
  • but I'm considering dehydrating a few onions also, because I really want to be able to use them but there are just too many around. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bridgeway Academy {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Anyone who has read my blog at all knows that we are a family of science geeks.  Right now, I have children studying physics, astronomy, biology, zoology... and, thanks to this review, Marine Biology. If there is a field of science that won't intrigue at least one of us, well, we haven't found it.  Someone (or usually, everyone) is pretty fascinated by everything science-y.

We live in Colorado, though, so some things are a bit difficult to study.  Like ocean critters.  This fall, though, we have had the chance to try out Bridgeway Academy and their Homeschool Learning Labs, and that was an easy decision.  Marine Biology?  For middle school?  Oh, yeah.  Sign Thomas up now, please.
To take the courses through the Learning Lab, you need a few things:
  • high-speed internet
  • a working microphone
  • a working headset
  • a computer that runs the most recent Java applications
  • a webcam is recommended
We signed up, as we have all of that.  Unfortunately, we discovered that we don't have all of that on the same computer.  Our computers with the webcam and microphone capabilities will not run current Java apps.  The computers that are up-to-date software-wise don't have a webcam, and the microphone simply will not work there either.

However, Thomas still had a very successful class.  He just had to type any responses into the text chat, as he could not talk.  Jigsaw Meetings was fairly easy to use, and we were very happy with the format.

What was covered in the class? The course started with some introductory material about Marine Biology, and then it covered different types of animals: Osteichthyes, Chondrichthyes, Invertebrates, Mammals, and Sea Turtles.  The final two lessons are on various ecosystems, and the kids had a chance to vote on which ecosystems they wanted to cover.  Our class is covering coral seas and the arctic.

From class - you can see Mrs. Berg in the top corner, and various other screens as well.
How it works.  Each week, class meets in the Jigsaw Meeting platform.  Carla Berg, the instructor, switches around between powerpoint presentations, whiteboard drawings, chat, and even sending the kids off to watch a video on the internet.  After the one-hour class, the kids have homework of some sort.  We were told to expect about an hour of project-oriented homework, plus weekly reading.  In reality, the homework typically took Thomas a lot longer (3-4 hours).  The assignments are generally uploaded through the course website.

Here, the powerpoint presentation has been 'blown up' so you see it better while Mrs. Berg discusses it

What we thought.  The class was great.  Mrs. Berg is clearly very knowledgeable about Marine Biology and she put together some interesting projects for the kids.  I really appreciated that most of the projects did involve the kids having to do some research on their own, not just regurgitating what they had been told in class.  We made extensive use of some of the research materials available to patrons of our library district.

One week, the kids had to put together a pamphlet about an animal.  Thomas chose to make a tri-fold brochure about the Mudskipper. Fascintating stuff.  I learned a ton by reading his pamphlet!  Here is the front half of it:
I was impressed, as I didn't know Thomas could put something like this together!

One thing I didn't appreciate was that in one class, she berated the kids about typos after an assignment that involved a whole lot of rather difficult phylum names (words like Cnidaria, Echinodermata, and Ctenophora) and how there really is no excuse for mistyping a word when it is right there in front of you.  My hang-up with that lecture?  (Besides the fact that my dyslexic kiddos have a really tough time with spelling normal English words, much less phylum names?)  She typed one of the answers wrong (the "correct" answer was "Poriferea" instead of "Porifera") so in order to get it right, the kids had to figure out the typo she made.  That question, however, was worth one point, and really was not a huge deal.  It really bothered Thomas though, that he couldn't figure out the correct answer.

Another week, he also missed a point on a quiz.  You have to type in exactly what the teacher puts as an answer in order to get credit.  I'm totally okay with that concept, when the instructor goes back through and gives the kids credit for answers that are correct, just not exactly the same as hers.  We didn't really see that happening though.  Here's the one he got wrong:

I didn't go looking it up elsewhere, just in the class lectures, but in class it was clearly stated that sharks have 5-7 gill slits per side, not 5-7 gill slits.  5-7 pairs of gill slits, sure. Again, this was only a point, and both Thomas and I know he got it right, so it isn't a huge deal.  But if I were paying for the class, I would expect the teacher to actually be looking at the "wrong" answers and giving credit where credit is due.

Overall, Thomas really enjoyed the classes.  Though he griped about almost all of the homework assignments, once he got started he really did enjoy most of them.  I love that you can go back through the powerpoints, or even re-watch a class.  We missed one class because we were stuck on I-70 in a dust storm, so being able to view that at Grandma and Grandpa's was really nice.

This 9-week course is available for $145, which works out to $16 per class session.  That puts it out of reach for some, I know.  The nice part is that there were no additional books needed -- at least not specific ones.  Having the ability to do general research was required, and if you aren't comfortable with your kids researching online, you'd need some good reference-types of books from the library maybe.  This class will be offered again in the spring, and it really was fascinating.

To see what other Crew members though about other Bridgeway Learning Labs (Easy Essay for high school, and Magic Treehouse: Middle Ages for elementary) or their English text, click the banner:


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Monday, October 21, 2013

Review and Giveaway: Best Friends and Mean Girls

I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to review a couple of really great books on the subject of helping your tween daughter(s) to navigate the friendship maze.

I grew up in neighborhoods where I was pretty much the only girl.  I was friends with all of my brother's friends (all boys) and if I wasn't out digging up worms or playing kickball, I was inside reading.

I had some girl friends.  But I always felt incredibly out of place in any "girl" situation.  I never understood the unspoken rules, and I would retreat to a cap gun battle in the neighborhood or to my books.

Having sons made sense to me.  I don't always understand the male mind, but I feel reasonably equipped to deal with things there.  My youngest child, however, threw me for a loop.  How in the world was I ever going to handle all the girly stuff involved in raising a daughter?  It terrified me, honestly.  Still does.

So these books were a welcome addition to my library, as I really hoped they would give me a bit more confidence in facing all this "girl" relationship stuff.  Although Trina isn't quite in the age range they target (girls ages 8-12), she is getting there fast. 

Let me tell you a bit about the author first:
Dannah Gresh has sold well-over one million copies of her books, making her one of the most successful Christian authors targeting teens and tweens today. She is the author and creator of Secret Keeper Girl, a line of mom/daughter connecting resources and live events aimed at tween girls and their moms.
And the books that I received:

A Girl’s Guide to Best Friends and Mean Girls:
Gresh, and Secret Keeper Girl tour leader and youth educator Suzy Weibel, have written a book that is part self-help, part Bible study helping girls think through important issues such as what it looks like to be a friend and how to choose friends. It also teaches girls the importance of meditating on God’s Word on a daily basis. Their desire is to help girls see that Jesus is the ultimate friend and the perfect example to follow when it comes to understanding how to be a friend.
I have to say that I really, really appreciate a book targeted towards girls that is helping my daughter to think through issues like these.  Issues where I feel totally incompetent to lead at all.  This isn't something that Trina (age 7) is ready to tackle on her own though.

I think if she were in a regular classroom situation, this would be more applicable to her right now, but given her homeschool environment, she really isn't quite ready for this.  I'm guessing that in another two years, this book will be a perfect fit though.

Talking with Your Daughter about Best Friends and Mean Girls:
Gresh adds to the popular Secret Keeper Girl 8 Great Dates series by offering eight dates for moms and daughters focused on key relationships and true love. Each one and a half hour date has a different friendship focus but follows the same general format, including special audio messages, mom-daughter discussion time, and a fun challenge activity, including a sleepover, scrapbooking, shopping, and ding-dong-ditching neighbors. Dates can be done one-on-one or as part of a small group of moms and daughters. The first date looks at what true friendship looks like, based on the Bible, with the following dates focused on specific people or groups such as loving your neighbor, your best friend, and your parents.
This is such a fantastic concept!  I loved reading through these 8 Dates and thinking about how Trina and I could make this work!  One thing I truly loved about the ideas is that Gresh gives some 'budget options' for making the dates work out without spending a lot of money.  I always love when I don't have to be the one being creative to make an idea work for us when money IS an object.

Again, some of these ideas are a bit beyond Trina, but she is just under the target age for the book so that is to be expected.  There is great stuff in here though, and it feels like something even I can do.

Another aspect I really liked was that Gresh is challenging me, Mom, to analyze my friendships too.  This isn't just about my tween daughter learning how to be a good friend, it is about ME learning too. 

If your daughter is at the point of starting 'to navigate the friendship maze' I would highly recommend checking these books out.  I want to go looking for other Secret Keeper Girl 8 Great Date books.

So I have the opportunity to give away a set of these two books.  US and Canada only, please!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in 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."

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review: The Miner's Lady

Awhile ago, I reviewed a book called The Icecutter's Daughter, by Tracie Peterson.  I really enjoyed that book, as I have this weakness for turn-of-the-century fiction that takes place in Minnesota or the Dakotas.  That book is part of a series, Land of Shining Water.

The latest book in that series is The Miner's Lady, which takes place in Ely, Minnesota.  Totally different setting than the first book, and not one I related to from family history.  This story centers on the Panetta and Calarco families, both Italian immigrant families.

From the publisher:
When Chantel Panetta's younger sister claims to be in love with Orlando Calarco, Chantel knows there is no hope. The Panettas and Calarcos have been sworn enemies for decades, and young love cannot heal the deep wounds between the two iron-mining families. Yet, unable to resist Isabella's pleas, Chantel agrees to help her sister spend time with Orlando...only to have a run-in with Dante, Orlando's brother.

Chantel can't deny the attraction that flares when she's with Dante. But when a tragedy occurs at the mine, is there any hope that the hatred that has simmered between these two families might be resolved? Or will Chantel and Isabella's hope for love be buried amidst decades of misunderstanding?
I didn't get too far into the book before I started remembering a college friend whose name totally escapes me. He came to the U of M from Ely and he was very Italian.  Once I remembered him, well, the Dante Calarco in my head looked just like him.

I really don't know much about the history of Ely -- the Iron Range just isn't a part of the state that I've ever spent time in.  But... it still felt really historically "real" and the details were a lot of fun.

One main theme of the book was forgiveness, which just seems to be something I'm encountering everywhere lately.  Reconciliation was the subject of today's sermon in church, including the idea that we need to be forgiving everyone if we are wanting God to forgive us.  I'm butchering that, I'm afraid, as that doesn't sound quite right.  The idea that forgiveness isn't about who is right.

I missed The Quarryman's Bride, the second book in the series.  I'm going to find it, and I will watch for more titles in the Land of Shining Water series.

Disclosure:  Bethany House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bountiful Baskets: October 19

It was dark this morning!  And frost on the windshield!  I'm going to have to get used to that aspect of my early morning Bountiful Baskets runs, again.

Thomas accompanied me this morning, though as it turned out, we really didn't NEED extra volunteers.  You just never know though.  It was a great basket day, though I can't say I'm excited about any of the veggies.  We'll use stuff, of course, but nothing makes me jump up and down with excitement.

Here is a photo of ONE basket:

Between my two baskets, I got:
  • 2 heads of green leaf lettuce
  • 2 heads of endive
  • 4 beets
  • 10 red onions
  • 8 yellow squash
  • 20 bananas
  • 9 red pears
  • 18 Granny Smith apples
  • 11 persimmons
  • 9 pomegranates
  • 12 kiwi

What will we do with all of this?
  • The lettuce and endive will go to salads.  I'll be making the kids eat a salad a day here for awhile, I think, as we still have lettuce from last week.
  • The apples and pomegranates are going to be turning into apple-pomegranate crisp.  Mostly for the freezer.  We have some apples left from last week that will go into this too.
  • I think I'm going to can a batch of pears, hoping for 7 quarts out of it.  We have pears left from last week too, though not too many.
  • I'm dehydrating the persimmons.  
  • Kiwi and bananas will just be eaten.
  • I may not dehydrate these particular onions, but because I have them, I'll be dehydrating others.  I'm going to make my own onion powder.
  • Squash -- I'm going to be playing with those.  I saw a squash au gratin recipe, for one.  And I was already planning for spaghetti tonight, so one of the squash will go into that.
  • Beets.  Yeah.  I never know what to do with beets.  I'll be pulling out my Polish cookbooks, and I will find a thing or two to try.  Maybe I'll make my own borscht.  I've never done that.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Review and Giveaway: One Way Love

Time for another review and giveaway!  I've been reading a great book -- One Way Love -- by Tullian Tchividjian.

The subtitle, Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, says a whole lot.  This is a book about grace, and wow, did it make me really think about grace really is.

That is one of those words that gets thrown around.  All.  The. Time.

Do we really know what it means though?  Really?  A couple sentences in the introduction say, "The hub of Christianity is not 'do something for Jesus.' The hub of Christianity is 'Jesus has done everything for you.'"

And the book continues from there, challenging my ideas with commentary on the prodigal son (and his big brother), or stories about Pharisees.

From the publisher:
Real life is long on law and short on grace—the demands never stop, the failures pile up, and fear sets in. Life requires many things from us—a stable marriage, successful children, a certain quality of life. Anyone living inside the guilt, anxiety, and uncertainty of daily life knows that the weight of life is heavy. We are all in need of some relief.
Bestselling author Tullian Tchividjian is convinced our world needs a fresh encounter with grace.
Grace.  One-way love.  God loves us because he loves us.  I can't earn that love.  Mother Teresa couldn't earn that love.  God loves us because he loves us.

About the author:
William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. A Florida native, Tullian is the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. He is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a contributing editor to Leadership JournalHe is an ordained minister in Presbyterian Church of America. He is the author of six books; including the best seller, Jesus + Nothing = Everything  that won Christianity Today’s 2011 book of the year. He travels extensively, speaking at conferences throughout the U.S.
Very thought-provoking book. And I have one to give away!  US or Canada only, please!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in 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."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review and Giveaway: Homemaker's Mentor

It's time for another review and giveaway, this time of an amazing set of resources on one little CD -- The Homemaker's Mentor.  This is a whole bunch of files, all relating to some aspect of keeping a home.

I was attracted to this because of the home aspects.  Titles like:
  • A Vision of Order for your Home
  • Closet Advice
  • Kitchen Sparkle
  • Master Bedroom Detailing
You know, stuff that sounds organized and clean.  Who doesn't want a sparkly kitchen?  Besides me apparently, as I haven't even opened that resource.  Truth be told, I had far too much fun with other titles.  You know, like:
  • How to Make Your Own Home Pizzeria & Ice Cream Parlour (can you say 'banana split'?)
  • Making Jerky and Fruit Leather
  • Dining "IN"
  • Cookies!
  • Beans, Beans & More Beans!
Yeah.  Fruit leather, refried beans, banana splits... definitely more fun than organizing my closet.  And it leads to better photos too.

This isn't just a bunch of recipes, or how-to's for making aprons.  This is a teaching resource, filled with practical advice.  The Beans, Beans & More Beans! materials, for instance, give information about a few dozen types of beans, along with brief advice on how to prepare them.  Then there is general advice about cooking dried beans, and a bunch of recipes.  There is information about bean flours that I found fascinating.

And that is just one of the publications in the Beans group... another has photos of bunches of different types of dried beans, with info.  Others have craft projects, or recipes.  This all prompted me to grab a pound of pinto beans and make my own refried beans.  They were better than any others I've made before, but I didn't get photos.

I did get photos of my pear overload though.  We got six boxes of pears given to us and I was at a loss as to just what to do with them all.  Many were in pretty sad shape.  Making Jerky and Fruit Leather to the rescue, though!

Here are the pears after I got them into my big ol' stockpot on the stove:

Turned that into pear sauce.  Spread it out on plastic wrap on a few baking pans, and put it into a 200 degree oven for a few hours.  It came out looking like this:

Obviously, I spread it a bit too thin in parts of it!  Once it cools a bit, you remove the plastic wrap, put it on new wrap, and roll it up.  Then you chop it into pieces.  I went with fairly small pieces:

My kids could NOT believe there wasn't any sugar added to this, as it is SO sweet.  Probably because those pears were really, really ripe...

So now, instead of six boxes of pears, I've got a bunch of pear roll-ups, 9 quarts of pear sauce, a pear cake, and the kids ate a few dozen pears last week.  I never would have tried the fruit leather bit, but because of the hints and tips in there, I'm thinking that any time I get some fruit that is a bit past its prime, I'll be mixing it in with apple- or pear-sauce, and making fruit leather.  Especially when it is chilly out and I want to heat up my kitchen!

The best part, of what I've used so far?  Chocolate sauce for ice cream, that tastes very similar to what my grandma used to make.  Doesn't this look amazing?

There is an amazing giveaway going that includes far more than just The Homemaker's Mentor.  In fact, there is over $400 worth of resources, pictured here.

You can check out a whole bunch of other fantastic reviews over at Bow of Bronze.

I'm giving away two copies of the CD as well.  If you are international, you will receive a download version instead of the CD.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bountiful Baskets: October 12

So this week was the first week with new surcharges and such designed to make Bountiful Baskets more bountiful.  My take is that it was effective.  The basket is still available for a $15 contribution, but instead of a flat $1.50 processing fee, the fees vary by state.  I pay $3.50 per order.

This week, I got three baskets and a box of Mixed Pears.  Wow, just wow.  Lots of produce in my house now.

Between the 3 baskets, I got:
  • 4 bunches of asparagus
  • 4 containers grape tomatoes
  • 3 bunches of celery
  • 3 heads green leaf lettuce
  • 11 green bell peppers
  • 12-13 pounds of potatoes
  • 8 grapefruit
  • 14 Asian pears
  • 9 red pears
  • 33 Granny Smith apples
  • 37 bananas
I'm so excited.  We're nearly out of produce, so we can definitely make use of it all.
  • Potatoes and all of the fruit will just be eaten.
  • Lettuce and grape tomatoes will become salads.
  • Asparagus -- we're having asparagus for a few meals here this week, and I've heard you can freeze it, so I will freeze one bunch just to see how I like that.
  • Celery -- I have a few carrots and quite a few of onions on hand.  I'm processing a bunch for the freezer.  (chop equal amounts of the three, saute, freeze)
  • Bell peppers - undoubtedly, we'll use some.  But I'm taking a bunch and sauteing with onions for the freezer.
Oh, and I also got the Pear Pack.  A whole bunch of yummy looking pears. 3 lb. bag of Bartlett Pears, 3 larger California Bartlett Pears, 7 Asian Pears, 4 Crimson Pears, 4 Danjou Pears, 6 Bosc Pears and 5 Comice Pears.

No lack of fresh fruit in this household this week!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Exploring the World of Astronomy {MoMB Review}

It is time for another Moms of Master Books review.  This time, I'm fortunate enough to be reviewing a wonderful John Hudson Tiner title, Exploring the World of Astronomy.

This book is another excellent addition to a fantastic series for Junior and Senior High School. In the past, we've used Exploring Planet Earth and Exploring the History of Medicine as read-alouds for everyone.  Various kids have used Exploring the World of... Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and Mathematics on their own.  I think the only book we haven't used is Exploring the World Around You.  I might need to rectify that.

From the publisher:
Think you know all there is to know about our solar system? You might be surprised at some of the amazing details that you find when you begin Exploring the World of Astronomy! From the rugged surface of the moon to the distant and mysterious constellations, this book provides an exciting educational tour for students of different ages and skill levels. Learn about a blue moon, the 400-year storm on Jupiter, and what is meant by "the zone of life." Discussion ideas, questions, and research opportunities help expand this great resource on observational astronomy into an unforgettable educational course for middle school to high school students!
We've been using this book to study astronomy as a group, so I have two high school students (11th and 9th grades), a middle school student (7th grade) plus two elementary students (4th and 2nd grades) doing this together.  The littles are supposedly outside the age range for this product, and they certainly are not grasping everything -- especially in some of the more math-intensive chapters -- but they love it too.

What I've found wonderful about this book (besides how easy it is for me to use with everyone) is that it is constantly talking about what you can see in the sky, or what you can see using pretty low magnification (binoculars, for instance) in addition to showing some great images from high-powered equipment. 

We've only gotten through six chapters as a group, but I did go skim through the remaining seven.  I came across this intro paragraph in the final chapter, Starlighted Nights:
Exploring the World of Astronomy has emphasized observational astronomy: what we can see with the unaided eyes, binoculars, and small telescopes.  Known facts are emphasized.  Before dwelling on theoretical discussion or speculation, it is best to first see what is actually visible.  Nothing substitutes for observing the stars in the dark vault of the heavens.  Surprise and delight often accompany the first good, clear view of a star cluster, contrasting double stars of blue o gold, or a misty nebula.
Yes.  That is what I was trying to express before.  I love that this book has such an emphasis on what we can see for ourselves.

I polled the kids too, to see what it was that they most liked.  Connor stated, "I think the pictures complement the text very well. There aren't too many images, but it isn't too heavy on text either.  I love all the charts.  All kinds of great detail.  About real facts.  This is a great overview of the subject of Astronomy."

William and Thomas commented about how they really like the historical portions of this, such as how the planet was discovered, or how they found the moons or figured out what type of terrain it had.  Thomas added, "It amazes me that they (the Greeks and Romans) knew about all of these planets and they named them so appropriately, like Jupiter being the king of the gods, and it turns out that Jupiter is also the biggest planet."

Richard's comment was "I like the lore about the planets -- like the stories about aliens on the moon or Mars, and all that about what people used to believe."

Katrina really didn't say anything in particular about the book, but she has been drawing pictures of the solar system in every spare moment for the past couple of weeks, and she asked if there is an Astronomy badge in American Heritage Girls.  (There is, sort of.  Space Exploration covers astronomy and the space program both.  And yes, we're working on it now!)

Each chapter includes text, illustrations, some questions to whet the kids' appetites (with answers at the end of the chapter), a chapter quiz (mostly true/false or multiple choice questions), and an "Explore More" section with ideas for additional study.  I love those.  Most chapters include a suggestion to research an astronomer, some famous, others not-so-famous.  Most also include a suggestion that lends itself well to a simple group discussion (Which planet would be the easiest to colonize?  Which would be the hardest?)

At the end of the book, there are even more "Explore More" suggestions.  There is something there to suit almost anyone.  There are questions that relate to literature, geography, geology, math, art, and of course, science.  Telling my kids to pick their own project is great when there are so many options available.

I recommend this book highly.  I certainly am learning a lot from it.

You can go see what other Moms of Master Books have to say about Exploring the World of Astronomy!

There is a Book and a Treat Facebook party coming up October 22 at 9 pm EDT, where you could win cool prizes including (I assume) this title -- and discuss the book too. 

Disclaimer:   I received this books for free from New Leaf Publishing Group as part of the Moms of Master Books program.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.

A non-Bountiful Baskets Produce Post

With our trip to Fargo the last couple of weeks, and the fact that I decided I just needed a week off yesterday, it has been a long time since we've done Bountiful Baskets.  That is taking some getting used to on my part!

My produce goal this week?

I want to use up (nearly) every bit of fresh produce we have, and I want to be using some of the stuff I have in cans.  Have to do that for fruit for sure! 

The sum total of produce in my home right now?
  • About 6 pounds of potatoes
  • 2.5 pounds of carrots
  • 1 pound bag of baby carrots
  • about half a head of lettuce
  • 4 tomatillos
  • 2 bunches celery
  • about 2 bunches of green onions
  • 10 regular onions; red, white and yellow; medium to large size
  • about a dozen chili peppers
  • a whole lot of garlic 
  • 3 soft mangoes
I'm thinking I need to roast and freeze the chilis, as they aren't going to stay good for long.  That, or I need to do a couple batches of Mexican Lasagna (I blogged the recipe over at the Bountiful Baskets blog!) using canned tomatoes and adding tomatillos.  I could freeze one.  Or give it away.  I know someone who could use it.

I'm thinking a couple of stew recipes this week ought to pretty much take care of the carrots, potatoes, and some of the celery and onions too.

Cindy posted a Mango Chicken over Coconut Rice recipe that I just have to try.  I'll be using some home-canned peaches, and probably more mangoes than it calls for.

If I let the kids munch on the baby carrots and celery, and I make a dipping sauce using the green onions, plus I eat a salad (maybe there's enough lettuce for two), that ought to pretty much do it.

I'm thinking with that plan, we'll still have a potato or two, a few stalks of celery, a couple onions, and garlic left.  That works for me.

So am I crazy for wanting to use up all of our produce?  I just am feeling the need for a fresh start, I guess...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review and Giveaway: Rufus and Ryan Go to Church!

Even though I don't have kids in the target age for this book, the illustration on the cover was just so cute... and it includes a stuffed monkey.  So I had to check this book out.

My hope was to bring it to church and borrow a toddler or two.  However, the timing was not the best, as I spent a chunk of time here lately traveling to North Dakota for my baby brother's wedding.

So, I read it to all of my kids instead.  Yeah.  The teen (or almost teen) boys were not impressed with their breakfast-time read-aloud on THAT day.

From the publisher:
In Rufus and Ryan Go to Church!, four-year-old Ryan explains to his stuffed monkey, Rufus, what is happening as they attend church on Sunday morning. He lets Rufus know when it’s time to sing and to pray and to be quiet. Author Kathleen Bostrom brings a delightfully light touch to the text as she provides an introduction to an experience that most children are exposed to long before they understand why. And children everywhere will relate to the idea of explaining their surroundings to their favorite companions as they go about their daily activities.
This is just one of the first titles in a new series of inspirational books for preschoolers.
Collectively, from my teens, the consensus was that this book is never going to qualify as classic literature, but the pictures are cute.  I asked them what they would think about reading the book aloud to a certain 3-year-old we know, and they were slightly more enthusiastic.

"He'd love the illustrations.  I think he'd think it was fun to see how Ryan's church and his church are the same and how they are different.  Of course, he'd have to want to have a story read to him, because he isn't going to sit still no matter what if he doesn't want a story."

The 9- and 7-year-olds were far more enthusiastic about the book, as long as I made it clear that they are "definitely older than the intended audience, Mom."  (Do they sound like their mother reviews a lot of books?  Seriously, what kind of kid SAYS something like that??)

Richard (9) adores monkeys, so he was a big fan of the book and he thinks we should buy more (Rufus and Ryan Say Their Prayers is also out, with more planned).  "To give to church, of course!" he added.  Trina thought this would be a fun way to help "little kids" learn more about church, but she didn't think this book necessarily was good for preparing kids to attend our church.

I would agree with her on that.  It is a really cute book, and I'd love to see the Prayers one, but I was left wondering a bit just who the intended audience for this book really was. I think it could be really great for a toddler (ages 2-5 is the target audience!) who will be attending a new church -- whether because of a move, or a visit to Grandma, or something similar.

There were some fantastic suggestions for introducing a child to church included in a document for reviewers.  One tip I really liked:
Take home a worship bulletin and go through the service at home. Show your child that there are times to sit, to stand (and in some places, to kneel), to sing, to pray, and to listen. If the Lord’s Prayer is used, write down the words and let your child practice at home. Prepare offering envelopes and let your child put money in the envelope, and explain why the offering is important.
I am going to remember that one for my bigger kids too, for when we are visiting other churches. Ours is pretty relaxed, and standing, sitting, etc., are very easy to figure out.  Not a big help for the more liturgy-based services we attend elsewhere!

I will be giving my copy of this book to our children's ministry.  And I have another one to give away!  US or Canada only, please!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in 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."