Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rachel Hauck ~ “A Brush with Love” Kindle Giveaway!

I've noticed a few authors that I really like have been talking about this new e-novella, and with a Kindle Fire giveaway going along with its release, I figured I'd talk about it too.

"Fire" up the romance in the new year with Rachel Hauck's newest book, A Brush with Love, by entering her Kindle Fire giveaway! And be sure to catch a sneak peek of the soon-to-be-released How to Catch a Prince!

One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire
  • A Brush with Love by Rachel Hauck
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway only runs for a week, 12/30 – 1/5. Winner will be announced January 6th on Rachel's blog.


Disclaimer:  In exchange for promoting this giveaway, I will receive this ebook through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Exploring Christian Theology {a Bethany House review}

So I've been wanting to do something systematic with my teens, something that goes over the basic aspects of Christian living and theology.  You know, something like confirmation.  And I'm not finding anything (that doesn't cost a fortune) that seems to fit that bill.

Then I had the chance to review Exploring Christian Theology: Volume 1 by Nathan D. Holsteen and Michael J. Svigel.  Both men are Associate Professors of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and their approach is fairly non-denominational.

I think this is my answer.

This series will include three volumes, and I plan to get more.

While this might not quite be my ideal confirmation program, it does cover the doctrines and a lot of issues that are very important.

Each book is split into two parts, so there will be six parts in total.  Each part includes:
  • High Altitude Survey, a big-picture overview of the topic
  • Passages to Master, a list of key Bible verses on the topic, along with commentary on why they are important
  • An "in Retrospect" section, that goes over the topic through history (Patristic Period, Medieval Period, Protestant Period, Modern Period)
  • Facts to Never Forget, a section with key points to remember
  • Dangers to Avoid, or some heretical types of thinking on the topic
  • Principles to Put Into Practice, or a 'how to actually apply this to your life' section
  • Voices from the Past and Present, that talks about what others have written on the topic in various periods (listed above)
  • Shelf Space, which recommends titles for additional reading
Volume 1 focuses on "Revelation, Scripture, and Truth" in part one, and "God in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in part two.

We're still working through how to make this work as a family study.  One thing that is happening is that we are working on memorizing the suggested passages.  Beyond that, we are working at reading through the material and talking about it.

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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What's in the Bible? Vol. 1 {a Family Christian review and giveaway}

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this a DVD to give awayfree from Family Christian Stores through the Family Christian Blogger program. This post does contain affiliate links.  I was not required to write a positive review, and any affiliate relationship does not impact my opinions. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

We love Buck Denver in this house.

Love him.

In fact, the couple of titles of What's in the Bible that we don't already own are going to be showing up tomorrow morning as Christmas gifts.

When Family Christian offered me a chance to review this DVD and give away an appreciation certificate, I asked if I could do a give away for the DVD instead, and they didn't need to send me one.  So that is what I'm doing here.

Buck Denver asks... What's in the Bible? Vol. 1 is a fantastic resource that everyone should own.  Phil Vischer (one of the creators of Veggie Tales) is simply fabulous in this series.  The entire series (13 volumes) covers the entire Bible, in a format that is great for absolutely all ages.  My daughter started watching when she was around 3, and it certainly works for adults too.

Each volume of What's in the Bible includes two episodes, lasting 25 minutes each.  That means there are 26 episodes to get through the entire Bible.  The first two episodes cover just what is the Bible (episode 1) and primeval history, Genesis 1-11 (episode 2).

The puppets are amazing, each with a personality of its own.  In Volume 1, we are introduced to pretty much everyone (except Marcy, who shows up in Volume 3).  There are a lot of them --
  • Michael - a kid in the backseat of a van, who is "watching" What's in The Bible while traveling to Grandma's house.  He introduces each segment.
  • Buck Denver, Man of News.  In a suit and tie, he "runs" the episode.
  • Clive and Ian.  They're dressed in safari-like garb, have British accents, and are probably the absolute favorite of everyone in this house.  Ian especially.  He is always coming up with lines like, "My toaster doesn't have a love button."  I know, it isn't funny if you haven't seen the episode.  
  • Chuck Waggin.  He's into country music, from the Bible Belt, and always has his 'gee-tar' with him.  Great songs, and he's a lot of fun.
  • Sunday School Lady (and her Magic Flannelgraph) is a little old lady who has taught Sunday School forever, so she will often be called upon to tell a story or explain what is going on.  She is adorable.
  • Winifred and Agnes are two old ladies who are watching the show on the television in their living room.  You know the old guys from The Muppet Show?  The ones who sat in the balcony and heckled everyone on stage?  That is these two.  They cut in with comments about how things are going.  Stuff like, "Good heavens, Winifred!  Only two minutes in, and it's already a train wreck!"  They rank just below Clive and Ian in my "favorite" list.
  • Pastor Paul is a piano-playing preacher who is also called on to explain things quite a bit.  He's kind of the theology guy.  He is likely to be one of the folks who explains the "big words" used.  I love that they use big words.  He'll talk about the Latin and Greek roots.
  • Dr. Schniffenhousen is a scientist, and he doesn't show up all that often.  When he does, he is a lot of fun though.
  • Brother Louie brings a Southern Gospel or maybe a jazz flair to the show.  I love Brother Louie.  There's a touch of the 'what does this mean to me today' about this character.
  • Cap'n Pete is a pirate, and in Volume 1, his role is to talk about church history, the time in between Jesus and now.  He talks about how the books of the Bible were determined in this volume.  Later, he takes on a bigger role.
  • Chester is one we don't really see, but he tells stories using popsicle stick puppets.  He is very funny.  In the second episode of this volume, he tells of Adam and Eve, mentioning the fact that they didn't have any clothes, which is why they always have to hide behind bushes when their pictures are taken for Children's Bibles.  
    There are also three real people who appear in the episodes.  Phil Vischer answers a lot of questions and helps to move things along.  He's amazing, of course.

    The Bentley Brothers sing a song or two, dressed up in crazy Elvis-ish costumes.  The songs are great, and the two of them grow on you.

    Here is the beginning few minutes of Volume 1, so you can see most of these goofy puppets for yourself:

    One thing I love, which you saw a bit of in the above clip, is that they keep things fairly relevant to today.  Showing multiple Bibles, including one on an iPhone.  Talking about books like Pat the Bunny.  Or games like Tetris.  Mentioning pop culture (American Idol or Green Lantern), or alluding to Finding Nemo, Star Wars.  Or things like patterning characters after Elvis or the hecklers in the Muppets.

    Another great thing is that the humor appeals to multiple ages.  At one point, Sunday School Lady is singing a song, and she tells Magic Flannelgraph to take a verse. Of course, we hear nothing.  And she says something to him about how she'll sing instead, because he's flat.  That joke went totally over the heads of my youngest kids, as they weren't grasping the double meaning of the word "flat" at all.

    There is also a church edition, and I am really wanting to use that in our Sunday School.  Each volume contains four weeks worth of lessons.  I think working through these would be a simply fantastic way to spend a year.

    Intrigued?  You could win a copy! 

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Tuesday, December 23, 2014

    MOMB: Favorite Resources from 2014

    As the year is winding down, the Moms of Master Books group asked me to post a "top five" post about some of our favorite resources. We reviewed eleven titles (well, twelve, actually) over the course of the year, so this post is highlighting my favorite half.

    There was no doubt as to one title that would make this "top five" list.

    It's Not GRΣΣK to Me.  This one had to be in there.  No doubt.

    My teens LOVED this DVD, and they want to know if there will be more.  If we were doing a single favorite title from the year, this post would be easy, as this one is THE one.  Todd Friel makes learning Greek a whole lot of fun, and fairly easy too.

    Our second choice was just as easy.  In March we reviewed two DVDs in the Awesome Science series...  one on Rocky Mountain National Park, the other on Glacier National Park.

    Love this series, and these two are definitely my favorites so far.  Just a heads-up -- there will be reviews of more in this series in 2015.  I haven't told my kids yet.

    Then it got harder, with so many great books to choose from.  So, in no particular order:

    In January, we reviewed the book Galapagos Islands.  Stunning photos, fascinating information, and I know I learned ever-so-much.  Isn't that pretty?

    In August, we reviewed Studies in World History, Vol. 1.  James Stobaugh does an excellent job bringing world history to middle schoolers in this series.  We really enjoyed using this book.  What was really great for me was how this spoke to differences in kids.  My oldest didn't really click with Stobaugh's approach to history for high school, but the next two sure liked this.

    Finally, in May, we reviewed The Universe.  I own everything in the Investigate the Possibilities series, and this one is just different, unique, and absolutely wonderful.  Intended to be used with students from 3rd-8th grades, I said when I reviewed it that I wouldn't use it with a typical 3rd grader.  This title is definitely geared "older" than others in the series.

    So... these are a few of our favorite things.  You can see what other Moms of Master Books members highlighted at the New Leaf Publishing Group Blog.


    Disclaimer:  As part of the Moms of Master Books program though New Leaf Publishing Group I was asked to write a summary post of five favorite books.  I received these resources in exchange for an honest review throughout 2014. Doing this post is part of my responsibility as a Moms of Master Books Blogger.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.

    Thursday, December 18, 2014

    Wisdomantics {a FlyBy review and giveaway}

    My family is starting to really enjoy time spent playing board games.  We don't have a whole lot of games that actually work for all of us, but we're starting to.  Especially as the little two get bigger.

    We were blessed to be able to review a game here this past week.  Wisdomantics, which is a DVD/Board game.  Fun idea.

    About the game:
    For 2-4 players, ages 12+
    Wisdomantics–New King James Version (NKJV) is an interactive DVD board game for players of various faiths who desire to gain the vast wisdom of King Solomon. Wisdomantics-NKJV utilizes the proverbs of Solomon and blends chance, knowledge and strategy to create a fun experience while you learn! The game’s intent is to bring individuals together to learn how to cope with numerous situations in a fun and relaxed environment. Inside the box you’ll find 2 interactive DVDs with 400 questions, score cards, blessing cards, and more!

    I really had no idea what I was getting myself into here.  The basic idea is that the DVD shows you a verse from Proverbs (NKJV), with usually two words missing.  Sometimes it is an entire phrase.  There are four answer choices, and you have 30 seconds to pick the right one.  If you are correct, you get the chance to move around the board and collect materials for building the Temple.

    If you get it wrong, the next player has 20 seconds to try to correctly fill in the proverb.  That player can collect building materials, but they don't get the chance to move.

    There are other things that happen in the game (being sent to jail) and there is some strategy involved.

    I have to confess that my kids initially found this game to be less-than-fun.  Once they figured out the DVD a bit better, and people started moving around the board and collecting special cards and such, their interest picked up.

    It was interesting to see who knew more from Proverbs.

    Would you like to win a game of your own?  I have one to give away.  Open to US and Canada only, must be 18 to enter.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

    Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

    Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    Checkmate {a Family Christian Blogger review and giveaway}

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Family Christian Stores through the Family Christian Blogger program, along with the certificate I am giving away. This post does contain affiliate links.  I was not required to write a positive review, and any affiliate relationship does not impact my opinions. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

    You know those days?  The ones that start with the phone ringing at 7:30 in the morning?  I was awake, but not out of bed yet.  I answered, to discover that my husband had a flat tire on his way to work, and it was a day he simply couldn't not be there. 

    So I put on some clothes, made a cup of coffee, grabbed a book, and headed out.  He was about 40 minutes away, and I did beat the tow truck.  By about an hour.  <sigh>  I spent that time going over the books for church.

    An uneventful tow truck ride into Pueblo followed, where I was regaled with tales about how much the driver's ex-wife hated his driving.  I seriously considered telling him that he probably should save those stories for his male customers.  But there were some seriously funny stories in there.

    Then I had this view:

    It was around 10:30 at that point.  After half an hour, I found out that they needed to order the tire, and it would be there between noon and 2:00.  I had nowhere to go, so I sat and waited.

    And I spent the time reading Checkmate by Steven James.  It's the seventh book in a series.  I never pick up a series with anything past maybe the second book.  But for whatever reason, when I had the chance to review this for Family Christian, it intrigued me. 

    Let me quote the publisher's blurb:
    In Checkmate, critically acclaimed novelist Steven James offers a climactic chapter in his bestselling series, the Bowers Files. When a clandestine FBI facility is attacked, Special Agent Patrick Bowers is drawn into the vicious, ruthless story that a killer from his past is bent on telling the world. Clues lead to long-forgotten secrets buried deep beneath Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina. Now Bowers is caught up in trying to stop one of the deadliest attacks ever planned on American soil. Smart, tense, and full of mind-bending twists and turns, Checkmate explodes onto the scene, bringing this cycle of the Bowers Files to an unforgettable conclusion.
    I needed a good crime drama, so I went for it.  Then I stared at the book, wondering why I had requested it.

    But look at that photo up above again.

    I was very glad to have a seriously tense, twisty, who-in-the-world-did-it mystery on my hands.

    You spend most of the book inside the mind of Agent Patrick Bowers, as he tries to figure out what is going on.  You also spend time in the mind of The Bard -- the bad guy in this case.  And occasionally, you get inside the heads of some other characters, like Patrick's step-daughter.  Some of the jumping around was a bit confusing at first, but I quickly learned who the characters were, and it became easier to shift from one point-of-view to another.

    Knowing that I was reading Book #7 in a series, it was pretty easy to spot a number of places where there were references to previous stories in the series.  I am quite certain that I would have enjoyed this book more had I read #1-6, and I probably would have kept up with who was who a lot better.  However, it really didn't take long to have a good idea as to some of the history, and I didn't feel I was totally missing out by starting here.

    I ended up quite absorbed in the story, I must say.  Sometimes I thought I knew what was going to happen next, but mostly I kept ending up surprised at how things were turning out.  It was a great read.

    When I came up for air, I was still staring at the same empty chairs I posted above.  And it was 4:00.  I was thirsty, I was hungry, and I wasn't all that happy to have to return to my real life.  As it turns out, about a half hour later they finished with the car, I headed to a grocery store, and drove home.

    A long day.

    But it was a fantastic book.

    I have the opportunity to give away a $10 Family Christian Appreciation Certificate.  You could use it to purchase the book, or to get something else completely.

    Like the first book in the series.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Monday, December 8, 2014

    Susie's Hope {a FlyBy review and giveaway}

    My family is almost always up for a DVD review.  Especially solid family-friendly movies with great messages.

    Susie's Hope intrigued me, but my teen boys pretty much abandoned the living room in favor of a Sunday afternoon nap when I put it in.  So I watched it, along with the 8- and 10-year olds, and my husband.  The four of us enjoyed it (and I think the teens would have too, had they given it a bit of time).

    The movie is described like this:
    An extraordinary story based on true events, Susie’s Hope follows a family who triumphs over tragedy and changes lives in their community. A survivor of a horrific pit bull attack, Donna Lawrence, adopts a pit bull-mix puppy, Susie, that has been beaten, set on fire and left for dead. Together, they learn to heal, love and forgive as they lead a historic effort to seek justice and protection for all animals.
    So -- a heads up.  If you have particularly sensitive kids, you might want to preview this.  It is based on a true story, and some of the events are really awful.  If you don't believe me, go back up and read the movie description above.)  My nearly 9-year-old was a bit upset, but she did tell me that it was worth watching in the end.  Just that, "next time, I don't want to watch the beginning."

    Another warning and a bit of a spoiler -- Donna loses her baby in the "horrific pit bull attack."  If you've recently suffered a miscarriage or anything similar, you might want to pass on this film right now.

    With that being said, check out the trailer:

    Our thoughts?

    This movie was well worth watching.  I don't know all the facts behind the real story, or how closely this movie follows that.  I particularly liked that the movie was showing Donna's vulnerability and her, "why me and not my baby?" questions.

    And that it showed Roy (Donna's husband) dealing with loss realistically as well.  He makes assumptions that are wrong, but totally reasonable.  He is trying to protect his wife, while also dealing with the grief of losing what he has wanted: to be a daddy.  I particularly loved that best friend Ramona doesn't lash out when Roy is upset with her, nor does she start male-bashing.

    The violence that occurred is pretty horrific, but most of that is only alluded to or hinted at.  And most of the movie is about healing, believing, caring... and taking an opportunity to make a difference.

    Would you like to win a copy?  I have one to give away.  Open to US and Canada only, must be 18 to enter.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

    Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

    Saturday, December 6, 2014

    Feed My Sheep: Just what should I give?

    I've posted a bunch lately about donating to food pantries and food shelves, and the important role those places play in the lives of their clients.  I've also read countless articles and blog posts talking about "the ten things you should donate" or "three things to never give" or other such things.

    I'm not going to go making too many blanket statements like that.  Because what is needed in my area is going to differ from what is needed elsewhere in the country, and to be honest, what is needed in my local food pantry this month differs dramatically from what was needed a year ago, much less what was needed in June.

    My basic rule of thumb for "but what should I give?" is:

    If you purchase it for your family, chances are good that your nearest food pantry would love it too.

    Is that always going to be true?  Of course not.  But it is a pretty good basic rule of thumb.

    Some exceptions, for my food pantry, would be:
    • Rice, dry beans, etc.  We tend to be able to get 50# bags of this kind of thing, and those get divvied up into individual-sized packages, or we can purchase (cheaply) cases of 1- or 2-pound bags of pinto and kidney beans.  Plus, we have a lot of clients who do things like stock up on a 50# bag of beans when they get some extra money.  We almost always have rice and beans available (and lots of people take them).  The exception would be "fancier" stuff -- dried black beans, dried chickpeas, or another more unusual bean. 
    • Bakery items.  Breads, desserts, etc.  We get lots and lots and lots and lots of these, donated by area supermarkets, once they hit the "too old to sell" stage.  At no cost.  A lot of times, we are telling folks to "take whatever you can use before it goes bad" so this isn't a high need at our pantry.
    • Staple veggies, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and onions.  Again, we'll end up with literally a ton of potatoes.  We let people take 50# bags (plural) of potatoes home with them.  At times, we don't have any carrots, for instance, but generally speaking, those four items are things we can obtain (usually) free.  
    That is probably about it, really.  And we wouldn't turn away any of the above either, but if you are going to spend money to get something for the pantry, it would be better to purchase something that we don't already have in abundance.

    Some things my pantry would love (most of the time), but might not work at other pantries:
    • Frozen meat.  We have been blessed with extra freezers, and meat is something we never have enough of.  Not all food pantries have enough freezer space though.
    • Dairy items.  We have also been blessed with additional refrigerator space.  We particular love being able to give out eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, sour cream and cottage cheese.    
    Really, the best thing to do, if you are looking to donate regularly to a food pantry, is to actually visit it.  Talk to not only the person in charge, but some of the regular volunteers.  Get a tour of it.  Ask them to show you what YOUR family would be able to get from the pantry if you were a customer.  And then think about what that would mean to your family. 

    If possible, talk to a pantry customer too.  That can be a bit touchier, obviously.  But it has the potential to give you quite the insight.

    My list of what you shouldn't give to the pantry:
    • Food you know (or suspect) is bad.  
    • Food that the pantry cannot store.
    • Food the pantry cannot distribute (check with them if you want to donate game or home-processed items of any sort).
    • Food that has been opened.
    That's it.  

    Friday, December 5, 2014

    The Gospel of John by Lumo Project #JohnOnNetflix

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

    And so begins a rather amazing book.

    The Gospel of John.

    The Lumo Project has an ambitious goal -- to present each of the Gospels as full-length films, beautifully filmed, and using only the biblical text.

    I have had the opportunity to watch an online screening of The Gospel of John.  I chose to watch this in NIV, narrated by British actor David Harewood.  He did an excellent job.

    This film is based on the latest theological, historical and archaeological research.

    The scenery is magnificent:

    The story is even more magnificent.

    Seriously, how much better can it get than straight out of the Bible?

    The Gospel of John is available now on Netflix.  Everyone should see this.  In addition to the NIV version, you can also see it in KJV (narrated by Brian Cox), or in Spanish in the Reina Valera 1960 version.

    You can visit them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

    Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

    Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this preview in exchange for a review.

    Monday, December 1, 2014

    Using a Kindle Fire with my Struggling Readers

    Today, there are going to be a number of bloggers writing up some stories about what they love about using tablets -- especially Kindle Fires -- in their homeschooling.  I'm sure those will be wonderful, showcasing some fantastic apps, or highlighting how you can use it for listening to audio (Bible Memory verse CDs come to mind), or about all the amazing ebooks out there.

    I agree with those reasons.
    Kindle ebook

    But I want to tell you why my family owns multiple Kindle Fires (four of them) and how one changed the life of my 16-year-old.

    Two years ago, we pooled together gift money in order to purchase a Kindle Fire for William for his 14th birthday.  It seemed a rather extravagant gift at the time.  What pushed me to make this purchase was the brand-new Immersion ability of the Kindle Fire.

    You may have heard of the Whisper-Sync ability with the Kindle Fires.  Switch back and forth from ebook to audiobook.  Neat feature, but not something I need.  And my old Kindle Fire (that would be the #1 Fire) could do that.

    The very, very cool aspect, though, is that that same technology lets you listen to the audiobook while reading the ebook.  And the words in the ebook are highlighted as the professional narrator reads the audiobook.

    That's magic. Let me show you:

    I have a couple of kids who really struggle with reading.  One was diagnosed as severely dyslexic.  He loves great literature -- especially when I read it aloud, or we get an audiobook.  But he struggles so much to read the material himself.  Two years ago, when we bought the new and improved Kindle Fire, he was turning 14, and reading fairly comfortably at about a 4th grade level.  He could struggle through material -- v-e-r-y---s-l-o-w-l-y -- for middle school.  And his comprehension was good, because he really is a smart kid.

    We got the Kindle Fire (that would be #2), and I loaded it up with the cheap books.  Books where you could get the ebook free, and then get the Audible book for $1 or even free.  Tale of Two Cities was the first one he chose to read/listen.

    He. Loved. It.

    He read through that book three or four times in four months, plus read some other materials too.  We had tried this on our own, with an audiobook and a physical book.  Good, but not great.  With Immersion, he can daydream for a couple of minutes, or be distracted, or whatever... and glance back down, and the words are highlighted so he knows where he is.  He doesn't have to scan pages of text to figure out where he is.

    That means he is truly reading for at least a pretty big chunk of the book.

    The moment I knew that this Kindle Fire was worth every. single. penny?  We were driving down the road about five months after his 14th birthday.  One thing that used to worry me, when I'd get to thinking about it, was how in the world he was ever going to drive.  Not the driving part... the reading signs as they fly by on the road.  I really did not think I could possibly get him to a point where he could do that.

    On that early spring day, he started reading signs to me as we passed them.

    I had to struggle to not break down sobbing.  I did, later, when he wasn't around (and when I wasn't driving!)  The only thing we had done differently during those few months was using the Immersion feature on the Kindle Fire.

    It's been two years, almost to the day, since he got that Kindle.  He's in high school, and he's reading things like Aeschylus' Oresteia and Sophocles' Oedipus.  Last quarter, he went through all of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey using immersion.  But this quarter, I couldn't find audio versions.  So he is reading them himself.

    To recap:  two years ago, he couldn't read road signs while we were driving, and he was reading around a 4th grade level.  Now, he's reading Sophocles independently.  Sophocles, by the way, pops up as "college level" for reading levels, when I went searching.  

    Needless to say, last November, another struggling reader son received a Kindle Fire (#3) for his 13th birthday, primarily so he could do the "Immersion thing" too.  His reading has improved dramatically over the last year as well.

    And to round it out with #4, since my Fire couldn't do the immersion thing, at one point last spring, they had a deal of the day going on refurbished Fires.  So I bought myself a new one, which is what is in the video above.

    Kindle Fires are far less expensive now than they used to be. And as I edit this post two years later, they have dropped even more.  Enough that this is my #1 recommendation for kids who struggle to read.

    Friday, November 28, 2014

    Word Up! The Vocab Show {a review}

    Word Up! The Vocab Show from Compass ClassroomI have a new favorite vocabulary program.  So do my kids.  All of them, ages 8 to 17.

    Word Up! The Vocab Show is simply fantastic.

    But anything by Compass Classroom is likely to be.  Especially anything that features Dwane Thomas.

    This runs $15, which is $1.50 per lesson.  Totally affordable.

    Each  lesson covers a single English word -- like "write" in the second lesson.  You learn the Latin root (scribo/scriptum) and the Greek root (grapho).  For each root, you learn TEN English words (proscribe, cacography).  So that is about a nickel per vocabulary word right now.  Even when not on sale, we talking $15 for the whole thing.  A bargain, I tell you.

    Each lesson includes a video that is around 15 minutes in length, and it features a few characters, all played by Dwane.  After the video, you also have access to Quizlet for more workbook-ish work with the ten words for the Latin root, and another Quizlet area for the ten words for the Greek root.

    Before I go further, here is the very first lesson:

    How it works:

    So, the "characters" in the video include:

    The guy who introduces each word.  In this case, he's introducing the word "time."  This guy is definitely goofy.  In this video, he's taking his kids (off-screen) to explore London.  This segment is only around 45 seconds, before the opening credits.

    The announcer.  Suit and tie, in studio, he's the guy who transitions between the various segments and provides commentary on the strange antics of the first guy.  We see him in between pretty much everything.  In this particular video, he's complaining about how much we must be spending to send that first guy to London.  He also wants to know why he doesn't have a clock anywhere in the studio.  Then we get to the meat of the lesson.

    Here we have the Latin Expert.  He gives us the Latin root, always in front of cool Roman backgrounds.  He then goes through ten vocabulary words, with sometimes offbeat comments about the words, and always there is something in the background to help you to figure out the words too.  Some of the words are fairly common, some are more obscure or specialized.  Words for Tempus include temporary, contemporary, extemporaneous, temporal, atemporal, tempo, tense, temporize, contretemps, tempest.

    In this lesson, he talks about how a word like tense (present tense, past tense, future tense) did come from tempus through French, and that is why it doesn't LOOK like it comes from tempus.  He tells a joke, and comments on how that joke works because tense has another meaning too (tension), and that tense also comes from Latin, but not through French this time.

    After a trip back to the announcer, who now has a pink clock, we head on.

    The final character is the Greek Expert.  As you can see above, you get to see the Greek root in both Greek and English letters.  That is something we really appreciate.  Again, we get great Greek backgrounds for the first part of his segment.  Again, the words range from fairly common (though not really common in this particular lesson) to more obscure.  The words included in this lesson are Chronos, crony, chronic, chronicle, chronology, chronograph, chronometer, anachronism, synchronize, and diachronic.

    In talking about the various words, The Greek Expert covers all kinds of material, not just short little definitions. What shows up in the background varies a lot -- a statue of Father Time (Chronos), a photo of the White House (crony), an x-ray of a knee (chronic), a map of Narnia (chronicle), a gorgeous historical timeline (chronology), a timepiece (chronograph), another timepiece (chronometer), a Pilgrim with modern glasses and a camera (anachronism), video of swimmers and divers (synchronize), and various pages written in English from long ago (diachronic).

    For many of those, there were other images too.  And The Greek Expert's explanations make the background pictures make sense.

    And the end of the episode, we go back to the Announcer, who can't get his pink alarm clock to stop.

    The videos are a little silly, but very memorable.  Everyone here, from the 8-year-old to Mom and Dad, love them.  Dumb jokes, fun little comments, interesting trivia related to the words, all combine to make the words stick.

    Of course, then you go to Quizlet to cement that knowledge.  I do not have the 8- and 10-year-olds doing Quizlet independently.  The teens all certainly can though.

    In Quizlet, you can look at a nice, dictionary-style list of the words.  You can do flashcards.  You can do various exercises that have you typing the word from the written definition, or from listening to it.

    There is a test, which I really love.  You can choose what types of questions it will ask, so if I do have the younger two use this, I just make sure they don't have to do the "written questions" format, and instead they get multiple choice, matching, and/or true false.  The student can do the work on the computer, or you can print the tests.  I love that, except that then I have to grade it.

    There are also a couple of games, but we don't tend to use those.

    My bottom line:

    I LOVE THIS PRODUCT.  Everyone needs this.  Seriously.

    My kids' bottom line:

    "Mom, promise you'll buy any more of these that come out."  Need I say more?  My kids have really learned the words in the lessons.  The elementary kiddos don't necessarily "own" the obscure words, but they really know the more common ones, and most of the sort of obscure ones.  The teens (who are actually more of the target audience) truly learned the words.

    This is available as a download -- which I love, as I can easily put the video onto the iPad or computer -- or as a DVD.  Same $15 regular price, though you need to add shipping for a DVD. 

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

    Wednesday, November 26, 2014

    Adventures in Odyssey Black Friday!

    Over the summer, I was posting about Adventures in Odyssey and the Odyssey Adventure Club.  They've got a Black Friday deal that is simply fabulous.  For $5, you get the first month's access, plus some incredible additional resources (worth $50).

    Those resources include the only Imagination Station book we don't own, so you know I'm on this.  I've reviewed Imagination Station books multiple times on my blog, and I simply love them.

    Check it out --


    Christmas time is nearly here, and the excitement is in the air. But rather than waking up before the sun on Black Friday or having to fight the massive crowds, you could get a special present for your kids or grandkids from Adventures in Odyssey: a subscription to their online Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC)!

    Offering 24/7 access to 25 years’ worth of Adventures in Odyssey episodes, the club is a safe and fun environment where children can explore, create and imagine, all while developing their faith and learning biblical truth.

    When you sign up between 11/26 and 12/1 (promo code: BLKFRDAY) not only will you receive a special introductory price of $5.00 for your first month of club membership, you’ll also receive a special gift worth $50, including:
    • Imagination Station #12: Danger on A Silent Night book (mailed to you in December)
    • A Family Christmas Volume 1 of Timeless Classics on CD (mailed to you in December)
    • Radio Theatre: A Christmas Carol digital download
    • Radio Theatre: Traveling Home For Christmas digital download
    • 101 Surefire Ways To Strengthen Your Child’s Faith ebook
    Membership provides:
    • 24/7 streaming access to more than 750 Adventures in Odyssey episodes (a $1500 retail value).
    • A new, members-only Adventures in Odyssey episode every month.
    • A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine delivered to your mailbox.
    • A web quest of video stories and online activities reflecting the biblical theme of that month's episode.
    • On-the-go access with the OAClub mobile iOS app.
    • Growing access to Odyssey books, a daily devotion, access to select Radio Theatre dramas and more.
    A portion of each Odyssey Adventure Club membership benefits Focus on the Family partner relief organizations such as Operation Christmas Child and Compassion International, providing parents with an opportunity to teach children about the value of giving and serving others.

    This Christmas, give a present that will not only entertain throughout the year, but will provide a lifelong spiritual foundation.

    Disclaimer: As part of the Odyssey Club Blogger program, I receive access to the Odyssey Adventure Club and some other resources in exchange for posting about the Club. I am not required to give positive opinions.

    Monday, November 24, 2014

    44 Animals of the Bible {a Moms of Master Books review}

    It's that time of month again.  Time for the monthly review for Moms of Master Books.

    This month, it is a cute title called 44 Animals of the Bible, by Nancy Pelander Johnson and illustrated by Lloyd R. Hight.

    The illustrations in this book are fabulous.  But let me tell you about the publisher description first.

    From the publisher:
    Each beautifully illustrated animal includes details to help clarify its meaning for children, important cultural information, and connections between the historic world of the Bible and our world today!

    God once told Job that animals are important to Him, and that they are a big part of His creation. God watches when the doe gives birth to her fawn. He makes the leopard swift to hunt its prey. He commands eagles to soar. Animals are important to God. He loves them and cares for them, and wants us to do the same. Many of the animals mentioned in the Bible are featured in 44 Animals of the Bible.

    My thoughts:

    Obviously, this book covers 44 animals that are mentioned in the Bible.  Each animal gets a single page.  Each includes a stunning drawing, a couple paragraphs of text, and a Bible verse that mentions the animal.

    The text is brief, but interesting.  Some facts about the animal and where it is found, or other items of interest.  Most of the pages include a bit of information about how it is referenced in the Bible that supplements the verse at the bottom of the page.

    One of the most interesting animals I learned about is the Pygarg.  Apparently, "many Bibles" translate this animal as "wild goat" instead of naming it, as it is nearly extinct.

    There are also many much more common animals, and a few other unusual ones.

    I have not used this with my children at this point, but I could see starting off each morning with my elementary aged kids and a single page of the book.  Or having them read a page to me.  Or having them use the information on one animal as an exercise in taking good notes.

    Go see what other Moms of Master Books have to say about 44 Animals of the Bible.

    You could win one at the Facebook party tomorrow night.  Plus some other cool prizes.

    There is a Book and a Treat Facebook party coming up tonight, November 25 at 7:30 pm Central Time, where you could win cool prizes -- and discuss bugs too. 

    Disclaimer:   I received this book 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.

    Sunday, November 23, 2014

    Duck Commander Faith and Family Bible {a BookLook Blogger review}

    When The Duck Commander Faith and Family Bible came up as a review option from BookLook Bloggers, I knew I had to get it for my husband.

    As I mentioned in a recent post, we do watch Duck Dynasty -- though we can't stay current.  We enjoy the crazy antics, but what we really love are the more serious moments, where we see the "faith and family" aspects really shine.

    This seemed like a perfect Bible for my husband, especially as I know he likes the New King James version.

    From the publisher:
    The stars of the hit TV show Duck Dynasty are committed to upholding five core values both on and off the screen: faith, family, fellowship, forgiveness, and freedom.

    The Duck Commander® Faith and Family Bible features new stories and testimonials by Phil, the Robertson family patriarch, and his son Al, a pastor with more than 22 years of experience. Together they offer fresh wisdom on biblical values and how everyday people can apply them to their lives.
    Powered by relentless dedication to sharing the gospel and celebrating Christ’s kingdom, the Robertson family has become influential to contemporary evangelism and discipleship. The Duck Commander® Faith and Family Bible unleashes the power of their practical insight into critical faith issues, founded on God’s Word.

    Features include:
    • Full text of the New King James Version Bible
    • A personal welcome note from Phil and Al Robertson
    • 125 articles on the top 24 most-searched topics on BibleGateway
    • Life application and scripture references supplement each article
    • 30 days of life-changing testimonials
    • Topical index and reading plans

    My thoughts:

    As you can see in the image linked above, this Bible looks nice without looking all "churchy" or anything.  I like that.

    This is primarily the Bible text.  There aren't thirty-seven little symbols to alert you that they are about to explain something biographical, cultural, etymological, or whatever.  Mostly, this is "just" a Bible.

    What does set it apart is a couple of things:
    1. Introductory material telling you who Phil and Al Robertson are and why the Bible is important.
    2. Thirty Lifechangers stories (one page each) in the introduction.  These talk about transformed lives.  Half are written by Phil, and half are by Al.  These are located all together in the introductory materials.
    3. 52 Days...  This is the little notes, essays, whatever that are scattered throughout the Bible.  There are 52 Days with Phil, and 52 Days with Al.  Each man has essays on the topics of Faith, Family, Fellowship, Forgiveness, and Freedom.  The idea is to read one a week for a year.  Well, two years.  One with Phil, one with Al.
    There is also some material at the end of the book, like a topical index and some reading suggestions.

    I love that this is fairly simple.  Down-to-earth.

    You could read through the Bible, using any sort of reading schedule, and just read the essays as you come to them.  You could read through the essays at a one-a-week pace, following each up with reading the appropriate sections in the Bible.  Or you could read one Phil essay and one Al essay each week in a similar way.

    Each essay gives an overview, tells a story, and gives a key verse.  It then also gives links to other similar essays.  And finally, there is an "On the Hunt" section which gives a list of other Bible verses (with the verses spelled out, not just referenced) on the same topic.  And there are elegant line drawings of ducks flying across the top of the first page of the essay and the bottom of the second page.

    I really like this format.

    Apparently, from the publisher's info about this, the Robertson's chose what to write about based on the most-asked questions at BibleGateway.  So they are trying to address the issues that real people care about.

    I think they succeeded.

    My husband is liking this Bible.  He isn't really good at "all that reviewing stuff" when it comes to books, but he does appreciate that there aren't a lot of distractions, yet there is still enough additional content to justify the Duck Commander label being on it.

    I find it amusing that I'm writing up a review of this particular Bible as my eldest son is preparing to go process an elk and a deer.  With his hunting buddies.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

    Saturday, November 22, 2014

    A visit to the food pantry

    Since I'm on a roll, I thought I'd keep it up.  I posted about food pantries in general, and the attitude that I really hate about whether or not people "deserve" the food a couple days ago.  I posted about our Mobile Food Truck yesterday.  That happens the third Friday of every month.

    Today is regular pantry day.  That happens on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month.  Occasionally, like this weekend, the third Friday and 4th Saturday happen on the same weekend.  Usually not.

    I took two teens over this morning, but I've got a headache (and maybe a bit of a fever, I'm noticing now) and there were LOTS of volunteers, so I took off after going through the pantry as a customer myself.  The teens are still there, carrying boxes, helping people select produce, and so on. 

    I'm home enjoying silence.  And getting a load of laundry done.  And I chopped up apples and started some cranberry applesauce. 

    Updating this to say:  I picked them up, and there were 84 families served today.  Eighty-four.  That is a lot of hungry people.

    We can go through the pantry twice a month
    That's my haul, as a family of seven.  I wish I had been thinking about posting this, as I might have made some different choices in shopping today.  Basically, though, families of four or more get 40 points to shop with.  You can see points written on top of some of the containers. 

    Three points are automatically "spent" for bakery, dairy, meat and produce items.  Today, that part (for me) included one loaf of sliced bread, a package of English muffins, a blueberry coffeecake, two white onions, 10 eggs, and a carton of sour cream.  Because of Thanksgiving, there wasn't meat (there is supposed to be a turkey/chicken/ham distribution on Tuesday).

    I could have taken more produce.  There were potatoes, apples and bell peppers, but I got plenty of those yesterday.  There were carrots, which I also have.  There were a few heads of cabbage, and I chose to not take one as there just aren't enough for every family coming through.

    In the regular shopping part, though, you can see I got a few items.  A lot of staples there -- diced tomatoes, kidney beans, pasta, pasta sauce, soup (which you can't see in the photo), gravy, condensed milk, chicken broth, a can of yams, and jello.

    That's all great, and I'm thrilled about it.  Not all of that is available each time.  What really excited me on this trip, though, was:

    • Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix.  Big container.  My kids are going to be excited.
    • Stuffing mix.  We used to see that a lot, but it has been scarce lately.  
    • Kraft Spaghetti Classics.  This is one of those "comfort foods" things for me. 
    • Almonds.  Oh.  My.
    • Craisins.  Oh.  My.
    • Peanut Butter, even if it is creamy and has a broken lid.  
    • Refried beans -- not just any refried beans, but the jalepeño ones we prefer.
    • V8 juice.  Thomas especially loves this.
    • Pace Southwest Ranch dip.  I'm sure I'll come up with a fun way to use that.
    • Lea & Perrins Marinade in a Bag -- we've had this available a LOT at pantry, for the past few months, and I love it.
    • Caramels.  
    • Sure-Jell -- so at some point, I'll get a bunch of fruit that needs to be used NOW and I'll get to make jam.
    Today had a whole lot of name-brand stuff, which is a lot unusual.  'Tis the season, I suppose.   Usually, there are a lot more dented and dinged items, but at this time of year between corporate donations to Feeding America, and all the food drives, there does tend to be a lot more name-brand stuff in nice cans.

    This was a great pantry trip. 

    Friday, November 21, 2014

    Mobile Food Truck

    Since I posted yesterday about our food pantry in general, I thought I'd post today about the Mobile Food Truck.

    Care and Share sends a truck out once a month to visit rural areas and bring mostly fresh produce, but also some bakery items, and sometimes other things as well.  They showcase our site in action at their blog.

    There is a lot of food insecurity in rural areas.  Way too much.  Nearly 70 families went through today.

    But there are opportunities for assistance.  And this is what my family came home with today:

    We could have taken more potatoes (that's 6 3-lb bags there), and we also could have taken carrots.  But we have so many of both around right now, I just did not want more.

    And if you can't quite tell what's in there, we brought home:
    • 18 pounds of potatoes
    • a pumpkin
    • ten red bell peppers
    • ten fairly small onions
    • 14 big apples
    • a big pumpkin pie
    • six banana nut muffins
    • a HUGE bag of hamburger buns
    • a loaf of Sara Lee 100% Whole Wheat bread
    I'm planning to dehydrate most of the bell peppers. The pumpkin will become pumpkin bread and/or cookies.  Apples, onions, potatoes, and bread all just get eaten.  I'm sure the pumpkin pie will be dessert a couple nites in a row.  The muffins are already gone.

    Thursday, November 20, 2014

    Feed My Sheep

    For the past couple weeks, it has been on my heart to post about the food pantry.  I know, I've mentioned them before on this blog.  We volunteer at the pantry -- a lot -- and that is something that has meant so much to my family.  On a day like tomorrow, which is Mobile Food Truck day, we can all get involved.

    Connor is in the back, in glasses, his face hidden
    • The teens carry boxes while participants select their items, and then carry the boxes (and 50 pound bags of potatoes!) out to load into the cars. 
    • The 8- and 10-year-olds can man a station, letting people know that they can have one cabbage, or that they can get 2 apples per family member, or whatever.  They smile and give suggestions as to just what one can do with sweet potatoes.  Or they try to convince people to get another bag of potatoes.
    • I fit in wherever I'm needed.
    That's me, carrying *something* outside for distribution
    It is fabulous.  I've given lots of reasons I love volunteering at the food pantry in the past. What I don't tend to talk about though, and I should, is that the food is a big reason too.  Because, like virtually all of the volunteers at our little pantry on the prairie, we don't just work here.  We're also customers.

    At times, I've been an "end of the day" customer... so I let other families shop first, and I only go through towards the end, getting a few things here and there, and being totally okay if they ran out of oranges before I get there.

    Right now, I'm not anywhere near so noble.

    All of that has me thinking about food pantries, and asking for help, and the sanctimonious garbage I often read online.  You know, people complaining because someone going through a food pantry has a smart phone.  Or their kid is playing on a Kindle Fire.  Or they have nice clothes.  Or a nice car.  They don't deserve it.  You've seen those posts and rants, I'm sure.

    Fortunately, I've never encountered that personally. 

    I have volunteered at a number of different pantries.  I have used services of a number of pantries as well.  And one thing that has always been emphasized is that we have to take people at face value.  If they say they need food, then they need food.  We can't decide they do or do not based on what they are wearing, what they are carrying, or what they are driving.

    That probably means that we've given food to people who don't truly "need" it.  And when you are seeing so many people who really, really need food, it is tough to accept that some of the food is going to "the wrong people."

    But we've also given food to hundreds and hundreds of people who did.  And that is what is important.

    Jesus told us to feed the hungry.  And He did too.  When I read in the Bible about multiplying the loaves and fishes, I don't see Him instructing the disciples to make people prove they really need food before grudgingly offering them fish and bread.  I don't see Him instructing the disciples to not give food to anyone whose robes are "too nice" nor to skip anyone who arrived via donkey instead of on foot.

    He tells them to feed His sheep. 

    Just how would you define "need" anyway?  Some people would look at my family and say we don't "need" food.
    • We have a new car.
    • We own things like iPads and Kindle Fires.  Plural.
    • We are employed.
    • I can show up, having some of the kids dressed in spendy clothing.
    • Or people spot me at Starbucks, enjoying an outrageously expensive Salted Caramel Mocha.
    But what does that have to do with a need for food?  The clothes is either gifts or thrift store finds, with the occasional purchase of something nice.  And by "something nice" I basically mean new jeans, without holes.  Or new shoes.

    The car was purchased after a serious look at fuel economy, and we spend less on car payment, insurance and gas than we did on just gas for my husband to drive to and from work.

    We've used birthday money, Christmas money, and serious sales to purchase the technology, and we use it extensively for school, not just to play Angry Birds.

    I tend to be given Starbucks gift cards as thank you's, birthday gifts, or just because gifts.  And yes, I could go in and purchase scones or something that has some nutritive value (and I have) but usually I use that to treat myself.  Or to have a teacher-student conference with one of my kids.

    Waiting for the truck

    At the moment, the big thing driving our "need" for food is medical bills.  All of a sudden, we have roughly $8,000 in medical bills.  Everyone wants that paid now, or in generous installments, and just one of those payments eats up 2/3 of our monthly grocery budget.  We have three big medical payments to make (the ER, the ambulance, the hospital) and a lot of little ones too.  To meet those obligations, we have to eliminate all discretionary spending, eliminate our grocery budget, and cut our electricity use in half.  For the next year.  And that still puts us a couple hundred dollars a month short.

    We can't do that.

    The good news is that we can drastically cut our grocery bill.  With two trips to the food pantry each month (the max allowed) and the mobile food truck, we'll have fresh produce (especially potatoes), some dairy, some meat, some canned goods, some snacks, and lots and lots of "need to use immediately" breads and desserts.

    I have stored up a lot.  Our freezer is completely full.  My mama is a war baby.  She taught me to prepare for a rainy day. 

    I've survived before, feeding the family on a grocery budget as low as $35 a month.

    Of course, I didn't have three teen boys then.

    The point of this post though, isn't to whine about how rough I have it.  I don't.  This is a tight spot, unplanned, but I'm not seriously concerned about a foreclosure.  And pantry or not, I know I can feed my family rice and beans for MONTHS, so it isn't like we'll starve.

    But the food pantry makes it easier.