Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: Persecuted

If you are looking for a light read to take your mind off of your troubles or the cares of this world, go find another review of another book.  Tonight, I am not reviewing a nice, fun, feel-good book.

Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea is a book that you won't read in one sitting.  I requested it for review quite awhile back, not really thinking about just how long it would take me to work through it... or to work through enough that I felt comfortable writing a review.

It is time, though, for me to say something about this book.

First, though, let's hear from the publisher:
A timely journalistic look inside worldwide Christian persecution.

The persecution of Christians is widespread and increasing in many areas. In 2010, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the gold standard of contemporary religion statistics, concluded that Christians are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world. In December 2010, the Vatican reported the same conclusion. This timely and well-documented book tells this story well, in a journalistic and lively way, punctuated with compelling stories.

Persecuted offers readers an overview of Christian persecution, analyzing patterns of repression, abuse, and violence across the globe. It explores the reasons that specific ideological, religious, and political groups and establishments target Christian believers as enemies. Woven throughout are vivid examples of Christians persecuted and harassed for their faith. These cases illuminate the courage it takes to be a Christian in today's world. The book provides examples of how the church, including the American church, has successfully diminished or halted repression in other countries, and suggests the steps we can take together in the future.
Most Western (or American if you prefer) Christians hear words like "martyr"and they either think of something pretty casual, or they think of Christians in the arena in Ancient Rome.  Or when they hear of persecution, they immediately think about how every time they suffer from a headache, it must be Satan attacking them and trying to keep them from living a nice, full, rich life.

Or maybe, just maybe, they think about Pastor Saeed in Iran, who occasionally pops up on someone's Facebook feed.  And if they stop and think at all about persecution, it is usually only to be grateful that this kind of thing doesn't happen much in our modern world.  You know, the world that celebrates diversity and preaches tolerance.  Persecution just doesn't fit in that world.

If you are comfortable with that viewpoint, you probably ought to avoid this book. 

If, however, you are more interested in knowing more about what is really happening in the world, and more specifically what is happening to Christians around the world, then maybe you ought to consider reading this.

This book is not a fun read.  It is, however, an important one.  The book is incredibly well-documented, and it isn't just a catalog of the awful things being done today.  The authors also are calling us -- those in the not really persecuted church -- to take action.  To be aware, to be praying, to not be so complacent.

As much as I would prefer to pretend persecution and martrydom was not a reality in today's world, I would rather be informed.  My 15 year old (he's still 15 tonight anyway) has been sneaking this book away from me for the same reason.  He says this isn't a great story, and he'd much rather read, well, almost anything.  "But this is important.  People should know this stuff."

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com 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, April 27, 2013

Bountiful Baskets: April 27

I ran our site today (eeek!)  which always makes me nervous.  Survived it, though.

Today was a beautiful basket though, and I got two. The photo shows one basket, but my list is what I got in both.

  • Three bunches of celery
  • Two heads romaine lettuce
  • Three bunches of broccoli 
  • Eleven tomatoes
  • Three bunches of green onions
  • Twenty-three potatoes
  • Two personal-size watermelons
  • Three boxes of strawberries
  • Four mangoes
  • Two pineapples
  • Thirteen bananas
This is another basket where it is tough to talk about what we'll do with it.
  • Potatoes, celery, lettuce, tomatoes -- those are totally just staples and I'll use 'em
  • The fruit will all just be eaten over the week.  I may do a dessert with one box of strawberries.
  • Green onions aren't exactly a staple, but I won't have to think about using them either.  I make a lot of stuff that calls for green onions where I end up subbing in regular onions instead.  I just won't do that (the substituting!)
  • Broccoli -- we'll chop some up and the kids can snack on it.  I'll do a stirfry with one bunch.  I'll use another in a casserole-y thing for lunch this week.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review and Giveaway: This is Our Time

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned in this post 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.

We had another family movie night, this time watching This is Our Time.  This movie released last week.

First, a bit about the film ~
This Is Our Time, distributed by Pure Flix, follows the post-collegiate lives of five friends connected by their strong belief in God who all long to make a meaningful difference in the world. But when tragedy strikes the close-knit group, their friendship and their faith are tested in ways they never imagined.
This is an inspirational film about what it really means, and what it really takes, to follow the call of God in your life.   “The experiences the characters in THIS IS OUR TIME face are the kinds of real-life ups and downs, successes and devastation, all of us encounter in living life,” said Lisa Arnold, the film’s writer, director and co-producer. “I wanted to tell a story that would resonate with young people just stepping out into the world to make their mark that would help them see that no matter the circumstances they face, God is always with them, loving them, guiding them.”

The movie tells the interwoven stories of Luke (T.J. Dalrymple) and Alé (Erin Bethea), who marry right after school and move to India to serve as missionaries for Embrace A Village, a ministry that cares for those afflicted with leprosy and their families; aspiring financier Catherine (Kate Cobb), who joins a prestigious financial institution determined to make an impact on corporate America; Ryder (Matthew Florida), who lands an impressive job in social media and can’t wait to use the powerful medium for a greater good; and Ethan (Shawn-Caulin Young,) seemingly the odd man out, who struggles to find his God-given-purpose and feels sidelined by God.
“What they all come to learn is that it never really was their time,” Arnold said. “It always was, always is, God’s time.”
This movie is not a fast-paced action flick, but I think everyone over the age of 10 in my household found themselves identifying with Ethan, who narrates the story.  The five friends graduate, and four of them have big, huge things they are heading off to accomplish.  Ethan, however, did not get into grad school and finds a job waiting tables.  He knows he is a disappointment to his father, and he struggles with what he is supposed to do.

We are told very early in the narration that one of the five isn't going to survive the next year.  The first third or so leads up to that event, and then the story shifts a bit into the remaining four friends figuring out a bit of the 'why do bad things happen to good people' stuff.  Fortunately, they don't exactly reach any conclusions to that question, but all four do move on in a more God-focused direction.

They also have a scholarship competition going on... you can check out a movie trailer and read more about it at their website.

We really did enjoy this movie.  You can too, as I have one to give away!

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: Ephesians

A while back, I posted a review of a Discover Together Bible Study on the book of Revelation.

I'm back today to talk about another study by Sue Edwards, this one titled Ephesians: Discovering Your Identity and Purpose in Christ.

In all likelihood, it is the subject matter, but I am really enjoying this study.  I struggled a lot more with the Revelation one.

The features of the study are similar.  It is set up so that you can do it alone or with a group.  Each chapter includes an online video (that I love!), a reading assignment, and a bunch of questions.  Each chapter also includes material on the side of the pages that varies from quotes that expand on the topics being covered to some assignments that require additional reading or research.

It is totally up to you as to how involved you get with the study.  I like that.

Each chapter requires an hour or two for reading, watching, answering the study questions, and at least skimming the extra materials.  From what I've seen, those digging deeper assignments could take a pretty significant amount of time (I haven't been doing them!)

The other amazing part is that you can join an online study group, so that you can "meet" with other women and discuss what you are discovering through this study.

I love that this is a study I actually can do alone.  So many things I have tried do not really work out that way, but this title does.  I will be looking into Luke, Psalms, Proverbs... really, any additional studies she puts out.

EphesiansBibleStudybuttonEphesians: Discovering Your Identity and Purpose for Christ.
Join the online Bible study (4/15 -5/7) with Sue Edwards! And invite your friends to join you.

Between April 15 and June 17 Sue will be posting weekly on the Year of Discovery Facebook Page and interacting with groups and individuals around the country going through the study at the same time. Women will be able to discuss the study with each other and ask questions via Facebook.

Completing each lesson requires about one-and-a-half hours. Readers still receive in-depth Bible study but with a minimum time commitment. For those who desire a more thorough study, including an opportunity to learn more about the history, culture and geography related to the Bible, Edwards has provided “Digging Deeper” questions. Answering these questions may require outside resources such as an atlas, Bible dictionary or concordance and challenge readers to examine complex theological issues and differing views more closely.

More about the Ephesians study: This insightful Bible study uses the example of Paul’s church in Ephesus to show readers how they can be victorious Christians, living in God’s Word, and free from sin. Part of the discovery series, the Ephesians edition includes tips for either individual or group use, inspirational sidebars and short, 3-5 minute teaching videos.

Purchase a copy of Ephesians and join the on-line Bible study today.

“Ephesians” Online Bible Study – JOIN ME!

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review and Giveaway: Mother India

We sponsor a child in India, so the opportunity to learn more about that country is something I tend to go for.  Mother India, a short documentary film released today, was a great vehicle for getting a glimpse of life for (primarily) orphans in India.

Let's take a quick look at the description from the producers:
Winner of “Best Short Documentary” at the 2012 San Diego Christian Film Festival, Mother India is a compelling documentary that chronicles the adventure of 25 courageous orphans living as a family along the railway in Tenali, India. Mother India brings to light the struggles faced daily by over 31 million orphans in India and the challenge of rescuing them from a life of begging and addiction.

Mother India, is the work of first-time filmmakers David Trotter and Shawn Scheinoha.  “India is growing in both population and industry, but few people know that there are over 31 million orphans in this nation,” commented Trotter (Executive Producer, Director). “Each of these young lives is much more than a statistic. Every one of them has a name, a face and a story.” Scheinoha (Executive Producer) added, “We’re not out to just tell a tragic story. We’re focused on raising awareness and changing lives.”
We sat down to watch this as a family.  Connor, 15, was reading aloud the subtitles as parts are not in English.  That is something that adds some realism, and in the case of this film, it was nice as a lot of the subtitles.  So, my advice would be that there is some subject matter in this documentary that you may not want your seven-year-old to be hearing.

Life for these 25 kids isn't easy.  There is talk of sexual abuse, the prevalence of AIDS, injections, beatings, etc.  In spite of that, this isn't a depressing documentary.  The overall message is one of hope, especially if kids can get some help early.  Harvest India is one organization that is featured, and they certainly are a big, bright spot in this film.

Check out the trailer: 

Mother India is well worth watching, and I think it can give teens and tweens a fresh perspective on life, and on life in other places.  You might want to watch it yourself, though, before sharing it with younger children.

I have a copy of this movie to give away too. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer:   I received this DVD and an additional DVD for a giveaway  for free through Blogger Gateway.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  All opinions expressed are mine, or those of my family.

Reading Aloud Challenge: Back to It

We're not quite back to going all out on this reading aloud thing, but at least this week was respectable.  For a pleasant change.

What did we read aloud this week? 

We read two weeks worth of The American Patriot's Almanac by William Bennett.  We are still a couple weeks behind, but at least we've been in April almost all week.

I've been reading Charlotte's Web and Poppy to Richard and Katrina.  Both are such great books!  We are also reading aloud some history, missionary stories, etc.

Golden Goblet is what William and Thomas are listening to now.  We ended up not starting up Sonlight's Core G last week and starting this week instead.  William hasn't been well <sigh>.  So we are barely into it.  I'm also reading some history aloud.

The whole family is continuing to listen to Tower of Babel by Hodie Bodge.  I reviewed that last week, even though I haven't finished reading it to them.

(I give up. Getting a photo is just not going to happen today...

How about you?  What are you reading out loud? Your posts inspire me to keep going...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: Duchess

If you've read any of my previous reviews of any title by Susan May Warren, you know my usual bottom line -- "Buy it."

Can't do that this time.  Duchess is the third (and final) book in the Daughters of Fortune series, and while it is definitely the best book of the three, I personally do not think it stands on its own.  So my bottom line this time:  Go get Heiress.  Then Baroness.  And finally, go get Duchess

I suspect this book would be good if you haven't read the first two.  But it is so much better knowing the stories that have come before.

From the publisher:
The golden age of Hollywood is in the business of creating stars. Rosie Worth, now starlet Roxy Price, has found everything she’s wanted in the glamour of the silver screen. With adoring fans and a studio-mogul husband, she’s finally silenced the voices—and grief—of the past. Her future shines bright…until the fated Black Friday when it all comes crashing down. When Roxy loses everything, she finds herself disgraced and penniless. Her only hope is to join forces with Belgian duke Rolfe Van Horne, a longtime film investor. But Rolfe is not who he seems, and he has other plans for Roxy and her movies—plans to support a growing unrest in Europe, plans that could break her heart and endanger her life.
This novel covers the late 1920s and the 1930s, in Hollywood and in Europe.  I'll confess to knowing very, very little about Hollywood in the 30s, but the detail in Duchess certainly rings true for what I do know about the times.  The 1930s Europe setting is one that is a bit more familiar to me, and the historical details there (and their accuracy) were simply fantastic.

As she always does, Warren managed to suck me in so that I really did care about the characters, even though the whole "starlet" thing didn't do anything for me.  Rosie/Roxy became very real, and her struggles with whether or not God could possibly care about her rung oh-so-very-true.

This series is great.  And you could win it and a Kindle...

Susan May Warren is celebrating the release of Duchess with a Kindle Fire HD Giveaway.


One "glam" winner will receive:
  • A brand new Kindle Fire HD
  • Signed copies of Duchess, Baroness and Heiress
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 4th. Winner will be announced on 5/7/13 at Susan's blog.

Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning.

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

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review and Giveaway: Break Away


My family tends to love doing movie nights, especially when the movie is an inspiring and family-friendly movie.

The opportunity to review Break Away was too good to pass up... especially since it is from the producer of Faith Like Potatoes, a movie we truly love.

Let's take a quick look at the description from the producers:
Francois is a hard-working husband and dad that gets laid off from his job. None of his efforts to get another job succeed, and he is forced to use what he has, including an old bicycle, in order to provide for his family. With the help of his "black sheep" brother, a bicycle shop owner and a pro-cyclist, Francois makes some life-changing discoveries about his life, career and faith in God.

Although a fictional story, BREAK AWAY, was inspired by true events around the recession that left people without work. The message brings hope and offers practical and Biblical solutions in a very entertaining way.
Francois is a very likeable character from the very beginning of the movie, although it did take a bit of watching/listening before I was used to the accents and speech patterns.  The most unlikeable thing he does in the entire movie is at the start though, where he waits (I think) four months before finally telling his wife that he lost his job.

The beginning is slow and a bit confusing, but the pace definitely picks up about halfway into the movie.  I think the similarities to Faith Like Potatoes are in this aspect too... my first time watching that movie, I spent about the first half trying to figure out where they were going with the movie and wondering a bit as to why it had been so highly recommended to me.  Then I finally got hooked in and really cared.  And on subsequent viewings, I just can't quite remember why I didn't find the movie compelling from the start...

Check out the trailer.  It might help you come up with an answer to the first giveaway entry question.

With Break Away, I found that I really loved the special features, and that truly served to connect me to the characters and the story.  Watching the movie again, I was pulled in much faster and inspired even more.

This isn't a story that is likely to engage your younger children, but for tweens and teens -- if they can stick with it through that first half -- there is a great story and a lot of inspiration.

I have a copy of this family-friendly movie to give away too. 

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Disclaimer:   I received this DVD and an additional DVD for a giveaway  for free through Blogger Gateway.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  All opinions expressed are mine, or those of my family.

E is for Emergency Preparedness

Blogging Through the Alphabet
I totally missed last week (D is for Dingbat?) but had to get in on E week.

E is for Emergency Preparedness.  

Why?  Well, a couple of reasons.  Trina earned her Emergency Preparedness badge in American Heritage Girls this week, we're looking at getting Thomas going on earning his E Prep merit badge in Boy Scouts, the whole Boston Marathon thing just has me thinking, and we've recently run into so many people who simply are not prepared at all.  I want this to be an encouragement to anyone who isn't prepared to just do something.

Trina has been working off and on for her Emergency Preparedness badge with American Heritage Girls.  It started last fall, when her brother needed to do a fire escape plan and practice it with his family.  We decided that since Trina had to do the same thing for E Prep, she may as well work on it too.

For this 1st-3rd grade level, she had to do things like learn about calling 911, making a list of emergency numbers, do that fire drill where we discovered that one bedroom window was stuck (big brother fixed that) and that a bunkbed was too close to another bedroom window and therefore the window couldn't be opened.  She also had to do stuff to locate flashlights, and discovered that one doesn't work anymore.  Very productive badge.

With Thomas, we decided against him starting on the E Prep badge at summer camp, but he is going to have to do it sometime soon.  He's going to camp this summer and will be working on other things there -- camping, cooking, wilderness survival.  Fun, huh?

But what about the adult preparation?  It seems lately Dale & I have both been talking with people who aren't at all prepared for any sort of emergency.  You know, the "we go grocery shopping every two or three days" sort of thing.  They want to be prepared, but it seems so overwhelming.

Here's my profound advice... just do something.  You don't have to go from shopping three times a week to having six months of food storage for your entire family straight away.  What can you do right now that could make a difference?

My suggestion is that this week, you think about what you could store to feed your family for a single day, and on your shopping trips this week, you purchase that, and set it aside somewhere.  In my home, in a power outage scenario, we'd still have access to the stove, but we wouldn't have water.  So if this was me, I could purchase a box of matches (to light the stove), a couple cans of stew, a couple gallons of water, a couple cans of fruit, makings for a stove-top tuna casserole (tuna helper and tuna, if you prefer!), and some pancake mix.  As an off the top of my head suggestion. 

It does need to be food your family is willing to eat.  And once you have it stored somewhere (do you have seldom-used cupboards above your fridge?) you will want to rotate it out periodically.

So it isn't much, but it is a start.  And next time there is a storm you don't HAVE to run to the grocery store.

And next week... or next month... you could figure out another breakfast, lunch and dinner option, and have two days of food stored up.  Do it once a month, and next May, you'd be able to go about two weeks without a grocery store visit. 

What can you do this week?

This post has inspired me to do a bit more to build up water storage.  That's one area where we are lacking.

Check out Marcy's blog, you can see where E is for all kinds of other great things like the elephants, engineer, and exercise.

Bountiful Baskets: April 21

So, all day today, I am going to be thinking it is Saturday, as starting the day unloading produce from a truck HAS to mean it is Saturday...

This 24 hour delay thing is going to be messing me up.

Nice basket today, but I am glad I only got one.  I also split a box of apples and a box of Roma tomatoes with a friend, so I have plenty of produce to go around at the moment.

  • 1 bunch of Romaine lettuce
  • 2 bunches of broccoli
  • 1 head of broccoflower
  • 13 red potatoes
  • 10 chilies
  • 4 avocado
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 2 honeydew melons
  • 6 bananas
  • 1 box of blackberries
  • 2 mangoes
What will we do with all of this?

Fruit will just be eaten.  The melons will go with breakfast a couple of days in a row.

Potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce -- those are all staples that just get used.

Broccoli -- I'll be doing stir fry one night (the only way Dale will eat broccoli) and a casserole type of something for lunch one day.

Broccoflower, well, I always have a tough time figuring out just what to do with it.  I'll come up with something.

Chilies are probably going to be roasted and frozen.  Some will go into salsa, but those might be the ones from last week's basket.

Avocado -- we still have some from a week or two ago that are just getting ripe.  I suspect I'll be freezing some of this too.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: Tower of Babel

One of the first books I read, years go, that got me started in questioning whether a theistic evolution worldview made sense to me had something to do with ancient man, and some of the "how did they do it?" questions that inevitably come up when you start digging too far.

I'll confess that up to that time, the story of the Tower of Babel was pretty much just that:  a story.  I  didn't necessarily think it was untrue, precisely. But I think I believed it in the same way I believe a child who has spent a week digging in the backward who then tells me that he is halfway to China now.  The child believes he has dug a significant distance.  Those ancient people likewise felt they had built a tower high enough to reach heaven.

Learning more about ancient man's accomplishments made me start questioning my assumptions about stories like that of Babel.  And I have loved anything I can get my hands on that helps me to make sense of these accounts.

So I was thrilled, to put it mildly, to have the chance to read and review Bodie Hodge's new book, Tower of Babel: The Cultural History of Our Ancestors.  I started reading it on my Kindle immediately, and within two chapters, I knew I had to make this a family read-aloud.  So I started over.

The vast majority of the chapters are pretty short and sweet.  The first dozen (plus) cover a whole lot of ground, but they do it in a few short pages and in the clear, direct style I've come to expect from Hodge.

Before I go on, here is what Master Books, a division of New Leaf Publishing Group, has to say:
The Tower of Babel: The Cultural History of Our Ancestors reveals our shared ancestry as never before! Many are familiar with the Biblical account of Babel, but after the dispersal, there was a void beyond Biblical history until empires like Rome and Greece arose. Now, discover the truth of these people groups and their civilizations that spread across the earth and trace their roots back to Babel as well as to the sons and grandsons of Noah.

Many of today’s scholars write off what occurred at the Tower of Babel as mythology and deny that it was a historical event. Beginning with the Biblical accounts, author Bodie Hodge researched ancient texts, critical clues, and rare historic records to help solve the mystery of what became of the failed builders of Babel. For the purpose of defending the Bible, Hodge presents these and other vital historical facts surrounding this much-debated event. Teens and older can use this layman’s reference for Biblical classes, ancient history, apologetics training, and to realize their own cultural connection to the Bible.
Doesn't that sound fascinating?

I think so.  So do my big boys (ages 12 to nearly 16).  My 7 and 9 year olds are completely tuning this out, though I think the 9 year old is at least picking up a tidbit or two.

My big boys beg me to read "one more chapter" and I've overheard them discussing some of the details we've been reading about.

I've continued to read ahead, and I highly suspect that once we reach Chapter 17: Where Did All the People Go Initially, they are going to be satisfied with a single chapter.  That chapter is 80 pages long.  Eighty very interesting pages, but still -- that is nearly one-third of the book.  None of the other chapters come close to that length!

Check out the trailer:

My oldest loves this book as he gets into the apologetics angle, and particularly appreciates a book written to adults, as he doesn't feel he's being talked down to.  My 12 year old loves this book, as he is quite intrigued by archaeology, so all the ziggurats and charts particularly appeal to him.

This is a great book and I most certainly recommend it.

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Reading Aloud Challenge: The XBox Edition

This post?

This week's reading aloud post?

Yeah, this one is for everyone who seems to have this completely insane idea that I'm super-homeschool-mom or something.

What did we read aloud this week?  Well, I think we managed to read two days of The American Patriot's Almanac by William Bennett.  That's maybe 5 minutes total. 

Other than that, <ahem> the only reading aloud that happened all week was when someone read subtitles on various XBox games.

Okay, so I read aloud a couple news stories about the Boston Marathon too.

If it isn't obvious, Dale had the week off, and we stayed home.  That primarily meant various mega-game fests that I tried to ignore.

I thought about just not posting a reading aloud link-up, but hey, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Some weeks are just not educational.  At all.

In other semi-related news, though, William has been reading along on his Kindle Fire via the Immersion thing (where the professional Audible.com audiobook is read, and the text on the ebook is highlighted as the words are said) a whole lot of stuff, including some this past week.

And yesterday, driving to Scouts, he did more reading aloud than I did all week.  He was trying to read every road sign we passed.  He was succeeding too.  I never, ever thought he would be able to do that.  He told me that he figured this was really good practice -- having only a certain amount of time to read (usually) unfamiliar text.  "And besides, Mom, I'll need to be good at reading road signs before I can drive."  <gasp, choke, sputter>

I had people tell me I was spoiling him by buying that Kindle Fire, but he has made SO much reading progress in the past four months, and I haven't been working with him at all in 2013.  He has read through Tale of Two Cities three or four times, and right now he is doing Gulliver's Travels and some Troy book or another.  And clearly, it is having an impact. 

It was worth every single penny.

How about you?  What are you reading out loud? It simply has to be more than I did this past week...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review and Giveaway: What I Wish I Knew at 18

I've recently had the chance to review a new book by Dennis Trittin, What I Wish I Knew at 18

My oldest tells me that he'll be 16 really soon.  I'm in denial, let me tell you.  And just yesterday, we attended a combination Eagle Court of Honor/18th birthday party for one of the most amazing young men I know.  I know he's older than my kids, but only barely.  And that means that it is only a blink or two until I have an 18 year-old as well.

I have a mere 24 and a half months left to teach him what I want him to know at 18.  And now I have a start on doing that.

From the back cover:
What I Wish I Knew at 18 can serve as your personal life coach as you navigate the road ahead by helping you answer some key questions:
How will I define success in my life?
How can I make a successful transition to college?
How will I select and thrive in my career?
How will I build new relationships and achieve a lasting marriage?
What are my financial goals and how will I achieve them?
I started reading it myself, because I wanted to know if the things that Dennis wishes he knew at 18 agree with what I want my boys to know at 18.  This isn't the kind of book I want to just hand over to them without knowing what is in it.

I didn't get too far into the book before I decided that my kids will go through it, so at that point, I started flipping through to specific sections in there.  You know, like "Love and Marriage."  And while I don't completely agree with Dennis on every point in this section, I most certainly can see this as a basis for discussion.

Which means I'm reading a section at a time out loud.  Each section ends with a "Take Five" which is something for the student to think about and analyze themselves.

This isn't a book just for homeschoolers, this is for older teens in general.  I'd guess rough age 15, though my 14 year old tends to hang out to listen to these few minutes of reading/discussion too. 

I love this book... and you could have one too, as I have a copy to give away!

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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.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Reading Aloud Challenge: April 9

We're loving being sort of back to Sonlight!  Instructor Guides for the three older guys have been ordered and will hopefully arrive this week.  Connor will have run out of the 3-week sample by that point, and I'd just rather get started with William and Thomas with the real thing.

I am continuing to read Albert Einstein by Kathleen Krull and Investigating Rocks by Will Hurd, as part of the Moving Beyond the Page units that I am doing with William and Thomas. Both are great, and the study has been fun.

I am still reading Poppy by Avi to Richard and Trina.  Also part of a Moving Beyond the Page study. We are working on this at a bit slower pace now.

We are doing Tower of Babel by Bodie Hodge as a family read-aloud. From a real book now instead of from my Kindle.

Richard and Trina are listening to Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.  They only heard another chapter though.

Charlotte's Web is our first Sonlight Read-Aloud for Richard and Trina.  It is a bit scary for me to realize that they haven't heard the book ever.  Which is why I'm back to Sonlight.

I read When Jackie and Hank Met by Cathy Goldberg Fishman to the little two.  That's a review I'm putting up on Amazon as soon as I get this posted.  What a great book.  Every time I read about Jackie Robinson, I am so incredibly impressed by him.  This picture book is at a great level of detail for the younger ones.  You understand that both Hank and Jackie were treated badly because of their religion or color, but without graphic detail. 

How about you?  What are you reading out loud? 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

C is for Coaching

Blogging Through the Alphabet
There are just so many great C things to blog about, but this week has nearly slipped away without me doing any of them.

C is for Crazy.  Something I know a bit about lately.

C is for Clutter, something we're trying to get rid of.
C is for Citizenship in the Community, the merit badge Connor is trying to finish up.  We were driving around this past week taking pictures.  Pictures of things like (C is for) Cattle, as that tells a lot about our community.

But for this post, I have to say that C is for Coaching.

I posted last week in my B is for Books post about how we are back to Sonlight.  Part of this is that I am back to realizing what my job as a teacher is, with these kiddos who are so much taller than I am.  My job is to be a coach.  A demanding one, sometimes.  But definitely a caring one.

It is hard to back off and let these guys make some of these decisions.  It is hard to know when to let them fail, and when to get in their face and shock them back into reality.  Or when to call in reinforcements, in the form of someone else (Dad, usually) giving them a bit of a lecture.

If you came into this post thinking I'd give you some answers, well, prepare to be disappointed.  I had more answers to this stuff four years ago.  You know, before I had teens.  Now I question a lot more:

When do I back off and let their lack of diligence cost them something?

When do I rescue them and keep their lack of responsibility from inconveniencing someone else?

Am I totally failing them?

Will they become productive adults?

This parenting teens thing is challenging, and exhilarating too.  Check back in about a dozen years, when I've navigated teenhood for four boys, and I'll be nearly through Trina's teenage years.  Maybe I'll have more answers then.

But I do know that this transition from dictator to coach is a necessary one.  Sometimes, if you want something done right, you need to back off and be willing to let it be done wrong.  And be there to ask the questions.  What do you think of the outcome?  What could you have done differently?  What did you do right?  What advice would you give your younger brother?  Are you ready to try it again, or is this something to let go?

I might have the answers for me (or I might not), but as a coach, I need to push them to find God's answers for them.

So, this week, C is for Coaching... and if you check out Marcy's blog, you can see where C is for all kinds of other great things like the Crew, Castles, or Curriculum.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Bountiful Baskets: April 6

I was actually able to get over and volunteer at Bountiful Baskets today. I. Have. Missed. It.

We had 45 baskets today.  45.  So very exciting.  With more participants, the baskets are definitely better.  And today had great items, so I am so happy we were able to get everything!

We contributed for two baskets this week, so between the two, we got:
  • two heads of romaine lettuce
  • two bunches celery
  • two packages grape tomatoes
  • 78 cute little peppers
  • six italian squash
  • three bundles of asparagus
  • two packages of mushrooms 
  • fourteen bananas
  • two packages strawberries
  • seventeen oranges
  • fourteen gala apples
What are we doing with all of this?

The fruit is easy.  It will all be eaten.  No planning necessary.

Lettuce, celery and mushrooms are easy.  They just get used.  I am SO excited about mushrooms.

Asparagus -- we end up roasting this with some olive oil and sea salt, then adding some melted butter.

Peppers -- I'm planning to play with stuffing some roasted peppers, to take care of a chunk of these.  The others will just be "staples" too, being chopped and added to eggs, casseroles, whatever.

Squash -- that I need to figure out.  Not quite sure what I'll do with those.

Grape tomatoes -- some will just be eaten as they are, some will end up in salads, some will be sliced and added to eggs and such.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Review: Take a Chance on Me

Susan May Warren has done it again.  The short version of this review:  Go get Take a Chance on Me.  It's my favorite to date.

Apparently, though, to be considered a real review, I need to tell you more than that. 

Fine.  I'll do that.

This book is the first in a new series, featuring the Christiansen Family.  The Christiansen's own Evergreen Resort, just north of Deep Haven, Minnesota.  This novel focuses on Darek Christiansen, the eldest of the Christiansen six kids.  The youngest, Amelia, just graduated from high school.  . the first chapter of the next book in the series, it looks like there will be one for each of these adult "kids."

As an aside, my favorite part of this book was that first chapter in the next book.  Eden Christiansen, a former Minnesota Daily employee, is on a date at Sturbs (aka Stub and Herbs), and wow, oh, wow, did I end up homesick. I simply have to read Walk On By as soon as it comes out.

Back to THIS book, though.  Here is what the publisher had to say about it:
Darek Christiansen is almost a dream bachelor—oldest son in the large Christiansen clan, heir to their historic Evergreen Lake Resort, and doting father. But he’s also wounded and angry since the tragic death of his wife, Felicity. No woman in Deep Haven dares come near.

New assistant county attorney Ivy Madison simply doesn’t know any better when she bids on Darek at the charity auction. Nor does she know that when she crafted a plea bargain three years ago to keep Jensen Atwood out of jail and in Deep Haven fulfilling community service, she was releasing the man responsible for Felicity’s death. All Ivy knows is that the Christiansens feel like the family she’s always longed for. And once she gets past Darek’s tough exterior, she finds a man she could spend the rest of her life with. Which scares her almost as much as Darek learning of her involvement in his wife’s case.

Caught between new love and old grudges, Darek must decide if he can set aside the past for a future with Ivy—a future more and more at risk as an approaching wildfire threatens to wipe out the Christiansen resort and Deep Haven itself.
So, I'll confess, that description didn't make me jump up and down with excitement, except for the fact that it takes place in Deep Haven.  As I have written in every review I've done of a Deep Haven book, Susan May Warren writes Minnesotan incredibly well. But while some of the details resonate more with me than they would with someone who's never been in the state, the story is compelling regardless of familiarity with the location.

The book is simply fantastic.  You've got so much going on -- the love stories with the late 20s to 30s crowd, the parents and grandparents watching their young adult offspring, all the sibling interaction among the Christiansen kids, and the various friendships.  With my oldest being only a bit younger than the "baby" of the Christiansen clan, the Mom-adult child relationships in this story really grabbed me.  Apparently, they were supposed to.
Question: What was your inspiration for this particular book and the main character Darek Christiansen?
Susan May Warren: As I started to put together this series, I began to think about our culture and our children today. I started to take a look at the big questions we are faced with as parents – and as young people; the issues that affect us as a culture, as well as personally. I wanted these books to go beyond family drama, beyond a great romance to raise bigger questions and stir truths that we might pass along to others. This story is about our propensity in our culture to blame others for what goes wrong in our lives – and how this alienates us from each other, and ultimately, God. Darek is the oldest brother in the family; the leader and a real hero. He’s a wildland firefighter and a widower who’s had to give up his job to come home and run the resort and care for his young son. Darek doesn’t realize he has a problem – he lives with anger on his shoulder, hating the man who killed his wife (his best friend). His real problem is that he can’t forgive himself. In this first story, readers meet the family, hang out at the resort and discover that God can redeem even a heart of stone, if we take a chance on Him. 
You can read the rest of the interview for yourself.  Great stuff.

Do you want a peek? You can read the first chapter for yourself.

My bottom line:  Go get Take a Chance on Me.  It's my favorite to date.  Or did I say that already?

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from Tyndale House Publishers.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: American Literature

We've been floundering a bit with high school here.  So the chance to review James Stobaugh's revised literature series was a very welcome addition to our schooling.  American Literature includes both the student text, and a Teacher Guide.  Together, this can be used for a full-year literature course for high school.

This title, along with British Literature and World Literature, and the corresponding history titles, is published by Master Books, a division of New Leaf Publishing Group.

Here's what they have to say:
Enjoy beloved classics while developing vocabulary, reading, and critical thinking skills!
  • Each literature book in the series is a one-year course
  • Each chapter has five lessons with daily concept-building exercises, warm-up questions, and guided readings
  • Easy-to-use with suggested reading schedules and daily calendar
  • Equips students to think critically about philosophy and trends in culture, and articulate their views through writing
A well-crafted presentation of whole-book or whole-work selections from the major genres of classic literature (prose, poetry, and drama), each course has 34 chapters representing 34 weeks of study, with an overview of narrative background material on the writers, their historical settings, and worldview.
The rich curriculum’s content is infused with critical thinking skills, and an easy-to-use teacher’s guide outlines student objectives with each chapter, providing the answers to the assignments and weekly exercises. The final lesson of the week includes both the exam, covering insights on the week’s chapter, as well as essays developed through the course of that week’s study, chosen by the educator and student to personalize the coursework for the individual learner.
Coordinates with American History, by the same author!  That is a feature I love.  Okay, the coordination isn't totally perfect, but it is really close.  For instance, Chapters 4-5 of American Literature focus on "The Revolutionary Period, 1750-1800."  In history, Chapters 5-6 relate to the Revolutionary War, and Chapter 8 relates to the Constitution.

Looking over the table of contents for both titles, though, they do mesh amazingly well.  Chapter 25 in history is on the World War II, and Chapter 25 in literature is the last of six chapters focusing on 1916-1946.  The time periods match up great.

My take:  There is a fairly lengthy list of literature -- additional books and texts not included in the student book -- provided in the introductory materials.  I counted 20 titles in total.  The suggestion is that the student read "most, if not all" of them during the summer before taking the course.  Personally, that wouldn't work so well for me... or for my students.  If they are finishing these titles up in August (to use traditional school schedules here), but not studying those last few until May... that is a long time to really remember the details of a book like The Chosen by Chaim Potok (the last book on the list).

In our case, we needed to start using the materials pretty much as soon as we got it.  Connor had recently read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, so he was able to skip the reading of that one.  Otherwise, he was starting each title a week or two before we got to it in the materials.  The student book does tell you what is coming up, so you do know to read those selections.

Personally, I think 20 titles is a bit much for reasonably in-depth literature study over 34 weeks.  However, I can't really argue with that amount of reading, nor can I argue with the titles selected.  Basically, this course covers:
  • up to 1750: two chapters (Bradford, Edwards, Bradstreet)
  • 1750-1800: two chapters (Franklin, Wheatley, Henry, Jefferson)
  • 1800-1840: two chapters (Bryant, Irving, Poe)
  • 1840-1855: five chapters (lots of great poets, Thoreua, Melville)
  • 1855-1865: two chapters (poetry, speeches, spirituals, Douglass)
  • 1865-1915: five chapters (Twain, Crane, and some short stories)
  • 1915-1946: six chapters (poetry, Wharton, Hemingway, Hurston, Faulkner, Steinbeck)
  • 1946-1960: five chapters (O'Neill, Hellman, Williams, Miller)
  • 1960-present: four chapters (Knowles, O'Connor, Porter, Burns, Potok)
Each week includes daily assignments, weekly reading (for sure if you didn't read over the summer, but frequently even if you did), a weekly essay, and a weekly test.

I think to do this course as written, you are definitely doing an honors-level course. 

For us, Connor struggles to keep up with this level of writing.  He could pump out an essay a week, but given his other school assignments, and his interests (more science-oriented), to do that well sucks up a lot of his time.  We've slowed it down, and I'm not requiring a weekly Literature essay from him.  Instead, we started looking at the assignments for the week, and determining which essay assignments ought to truly be done as essays, but some we just used for discussion, and others he would outline an essay for me but not actually write it.

One thing I really appreciate is that each chapter has three essay options.  For instance, in the first chapter on Huckleberry Finn, the student can write about how Twain develops the character of Jim, how Huck matures, or he can compare Huck Finn to young Samuel in 1 Samuel 1-3.  (I abbreviated the actual essay prompts, there is more information in the book!)  With pumping out an essay every week, it is nice that there are some choices as to what to write about.

We will continue to use this and the other books in the series (British Literature and World Literature), though with my science-oriented children, we are not likely to use them as intended.  Maybe for my youngest, but she's only 7 so it is a bit early to tell.

This is making a great addition to our plan for high school English credits.  I love the worldview presented, and am especially glad that Connor did do the first chapter (Worldview Formation) as written.

You can watch the book trailer here:

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.   

    Wednesday, April 3, 2013

    Review and Giveaway: Janet's Planet

    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.

    I've had the chance here lately to review a really great kids' science DVD.  Janet's Planet has a DVD called Exploring Microgravity.  Sounds exciting, doesn't it?

    Well, if you are my geek family, it does.  But even if you aren't a family of geeks, this DVD is fun. 

    This 37-minute DVD is meant for elementary aged children, but I think it could be interesting to middle-schoolers as well, especially if they are in the middle of studying gravity in their physical science course!  They might roll their eyes a wee bit, but the information presented is certainly not beneath them.

    Here is the description I received from FlyBy Promotions:
    By focusing on science, technology, engineering, art and math, Janet's Planet travels at the "speed of thought" and is designed to fuel S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics). Gravity’s phenomena and effects are explained and the audience gets to meet Galileo, Newton and Cavendish and find out how they built on the ideas of scientists before them and formed a shared picture of how the universe works! You’ll also get a chance to see Janet onboard the Zero G plane experiencing microgravity!
    My third and first graders absolutely loved this DVD, and my sixth grader even admitted to learning a thing or two.  Janet is energetic, enthusiastic, and a bit silly.  But there is a LOT of great scientific information packed into a half-hour, and watching Janet onboard doing parabolic flight patterns was a lot of fun.

    We had a conversation about how my cousin has done that, and I went looking for some of the pictures.  I have to get in touch with her.

    My youngest kids, after watching this DVD once, started having their imaginative play completely dominated by issues relating to gravity and especially microgravity situations.  They've made lego models of various planets, drawn flight paths for the Zero-G plane, role-played all kinds of scenarios, and created a model of the solar system in Minecraft.  I'd say that this video fired their imaginations!

    Gravity, microgravity, Newton, space travel, parabolas... like I said, there is a lot packed into this DVD.

    I highly recommend it ... and you could have one too, as I have a copy to give away!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Tuesday, April 2, 2013

    Reading Aloud Challenge: Starting Back to Sonlight

    I've spent so much time this past week re-planning a lot of our school life, and I do have a couple of kids who are back to using Sonlight.  For Connor, that doesn't impact this post as he is pretty independent.  For Richard and Trina, however, this means that I'll have Sonlight Read-Alouds to start listing for them.

    I am continuing to read Albert Einstein by Kathleen Krull and Investigating Rocks by Will Hurd, as part of the Moving Beyond the Page units that I am doing with William and Thomas.  We are loving this.  The plan is to finish this up by the time their Sonlight materials arrive in the house!

    I am still reading Poppy by Avi to Richard and Trina.  Also part of a Moving Beyond the Page study. We are working on this at a bit slower pace now.

    We are doing Tower of Babel by Bodie Hodge as a family read-aloud.  Review coming soon.  Hopefully this week.  I love this book.

    Richard and Trina are listening to Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.  Mostly, this started so that I could get some sleep when I was feeling horrible.  The problem with that plan is that I adored this book as a child, and I haven't read it since I was about their age.  So I don't want to miss any of it, and I'm not getting my nap in.  Gotta figure out an audiobook that I don't care if I get to listen to or not.

    Charlotte's Web is our first Sonlight Read-Aloud.  We started that yesterday.  I absolutely love having a schedule.  It means I don't have to keep reading just because the kids ask me to.  I can read the scheduled chapter (or chapters) and feel totally okay with being done.  We'll undoubtedly get ahead on the readings still.  But I love knowing I've done enough.

    We're doing the Christian Heroes for Young Readers series from YWAM instead of the missionary book that Sonlight schedules.  So today (since I'm posting late!) we read William Carey.

    (I am going to get the photo inserted.  I am I am I am.

    How about you?  What are you reading out loud?  Have you made any changes in your routines now that Spring has Sprung?

    Monday, April 1, 2013

    Book Review and Giveaway: Challenge on the Hill of Fire

    One thing I have found is that it is terribly difficult to review a book when your child loses it.  That was the case with this one.  I kept thinking "it'll turn up" so I didn't want to purchase another.  And it did turn up.  When I was cleaning out the van after totaling it. 

    None of that has anything to do with this review, other than the fact that I planned to post a review three months ago, and am just now getting it done.  Because of that, I am also going to do a giveaway.

    So, Challenge on the Hill of Fire by Marianne Hering and Nancy Sanders is book #10 in The Imagination Station series. I have reviewed -- and loved -- many of these books in the past, and this title most certainly does not disappoint.

    The basic premise of The Imagination Station Series is that twins Patrick and Beth go back in time and interact in a variety of historical scenarios.  The first books in the series followed an extended story arc, so they were better if read in order.  This book, like the other later titles, stands on its own.

    Challenge on the Hill of Fire is about Patritius (St. Patrick), specifically about him challenging the Druid priests by building a fire when it is forbidden.  Patrick and Beth get caught up in the middle, of course.

    Like most of the books in the series, if you already know a fair amount about the history of the particular event or person, a lot of the plot is fairly predictable.  That is what my oldest struggling reader (William, 14) has found.  He enjoys the suspense of just how Patrick and Beth will get out of the scrape they are in, but he generally knows what is happening in the historical portion of the story.

    With a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 2.1, though, even he says that for the reading level of the book this is far more interesting and intriguing than anything else he's encountered.  From what I've read before (and written about it some of my reviews), this is intentional.  These books are meant to be at a fairly low reading level, but have a high interest level, even for older kids.  My boys seem to "top out" on this series somewhere around age 12-13, which goes right along with the age range stated at Focus on the Family (ages 7-12).  You can go check out the first chapter for yourself.

    For both my 12 and 14 year old, though, the other side of that is that they are reading at a higher level now, too.  Still not "at grade level," but this series is now a pretty "easy read" for them.  I'm sad about that, however the series is at a perfect level for my 9 year old, Richard.  And since the book is in the house, William and Thomas are likely to pick it up anyway.

    What I love about this series is the fact that they have integrated history with a wholesome yet action-packed storyline featuring both a male and female character, and all of this in that 'early chapter book' reading level.  My older boys may get a bit of a superior, "I already know how this ends" attitude, but they still grab the book and read it.  That gives them more reading practice, and successful practice at that.

    Would you like to win your own copy of Challenge on the Hill of Fire?  I am giving one away.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from Tyndale House Publishers.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.