Friday, October 25, 2019

A Cross to Kill {a Kregel Publishing review}

I've recently had the opportunity to take on some book reviews again.  I get to kick this off with a hard to put down title by Andrew Huff.  I truly enjoyed reading A Cross to Kill: A Shepherd Suspense Novel, and I look forward to the rest of the trilogy.

The publisher described the book this way:
A gripping debut thriller pits a man of God against terrorists—and his own deadly past 
John Cross is a small-town pastor, bent on leading his flock to follow God's calling. He's not the sort of man one would expect to have a checkered past.

But the truth is that the man behind the pulpit preaching to his sheep was once a wolfan assassin for the CIA. When John decided to follow Christ, he put that work behind him, determined to pay penance for all the lives he took. He vowed never to kill again.

Now someone wants the peaceful pastor to pay for his sins with his own life. And when a terrorist out for revenge walks into the church, John's secrets are laid bare. Confronted with his past, he must face his demons and discover whether a man can truly change. Can he keep his voweven when the people he loves are in mortal danger? Will his congregation and the brave woman he's learning to care for be caught in the cross fire? In the end, his death may be the only sacrifice he has left to offer.

Andrew Huff's thrilling debut is not only a riveting story of suspense, it's also a deep exploration of the moral quandaries that face those who choose to follow the Prince of Peace in a violent world

What did I think?

I had a hard time putting it down.  You start off right in the thick of things, inside the head of a reporter who is about to be executed by terrorists.  The first sentence is, "Millions of people would witness the murder of Christine Lewis, and not one of them could do anything to stop it."

This is a suspense novel, and only the first chapter, so I don't think it is too much of a spoiler to tell you that this execution does not go as planned.  John Cross shows up in chapter one in an attempt to save her, but that rescue does not go as planned either.

That makes for a pretty good synopsis of this book:  plans are made, and plans don't work out like anyone expected.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

It isn't quite non-stop twists and turns.  Cross returns to the small church he pastors, and there is a breather where you get to meet some delightful characters that remind me so much of church people I've known over the years, particularly at smaller churches. 

I would not have guessed that this was the first novel for Andrew Huff.  And I highly recommend it.

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

4-H, State Fair, and the awards that matter

A first trebuchet attempt.
It has been a pretty crazy summer.  The kids are involved in 4-H, and with my crazy life it isn't like I was doing a great job of making sure they were working on their projects.

Photos from some of the projects are scattered throughout this post, by the way.   Just to keep my blathering a bit more interesting.

(This one is Richard's first attempt for Junk Drawer Robotics.  It wouldn't thrown a projectile far enough, so he had to create a second model.)

Testing out some different teas for dyeing
So when we hit the end of June, with county fair rapidly approaching, my solution was to have some of us work at a fireworks stand for a couple of weeks.  That left even less time for firming up those county fair projects.

That was tough.

We had a lot of things to finalize and not nearly enough time to do it.

(Katrina had a lot of trial and error with her Upcycle My Style project.  Everything she did to fix things caused more issues.  So the final step ended up being to use coffee to dye the handkerchief tablecloth on her shirt.  She tested some teas first.)

Out of sixteen projects that they entered, though, half earned champion ribbons (the dark purple ones) meaning that they'd go on to the State Fair.

These are not the awards that truly matter

Last week, Thomas and Richard served as teen clerks down at the fair.  Richard was working in cake decorating, and Thomas was working with the sewing projects.  Both of those are areas with a lot of different categories, just to keep things interesting.

A drying project all the kids did
So as of this past Friday, the state judging is all done, and everyone is just waiting for the official results to be posted.

I went down (and brought William and Trina) on Saturday to volunteer, as the next step in getting ready for the state fair is to get all those exhibits displayed.  That makes for a long day of checking and double checking, of moving and arranging, and trying to be careful with these items made by kids throughout the state. 

(This photo is of Richard twisting the dried corn off the cob.  All their other food preservation projects involved the dehydrator, but we tried corn in the oven.  Richard was the only one to have his Food Preservation go on to state.)

3D printing a computer project
My kids have had a good year with 4-H.  We have brought home a lot of ribbons, and I am eating a wonderful cranberry bar while I type up this post.  We have a bunch of produce that has been dehydrated.  They have certainly learned a lot.

(This is the printing of an ornament that Thomas designed.  This would be the fourth version of the ornament, and the one that did go to state.)

The absolute greatest awards happened on Saturday though.

Awards that I can't take a picture of.

Because they are not physical.  They are the "treasured these things in her heart" types of awards.

I was so incredibly proud of these guys, as I had so many people come up to me on Saturday and tell me how much they appreciated the boys and the work they had done in the past few days.  I was told that they were cheerful, hard workers, and diligent.  I heard how they stepped in to help when they absolutely didn't have to.  I heard lots of stories.  I was asked (or told) to bring them back again next year.  More than one of the adults asked if they were available to adopt.

One lady told me, "Mama, you must have done something right."  I'm not so sure that is true. 

I'm just blessed to be their mom.

The awards that I prize -- finding that at least sometimes, these kids have grown up to be good humans.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Chemistry {a Master Books review}

I have used lots of materials from Master Books, and have always been very pleased with the quality of their books. In the past few years, they have been greatly expanding their course offerings and creating materials that look a lot more traditional. By that I mean that their high school science offerings included courses like Basic Pre-Med and Survey of Science History & Concepts.

Now they have a textbook for Chemistry, written by Dr. Dennis Englin. There is also a parent guide to go with this, which schedules the course out into daily assignments and includes worksheets and tests. I have not seen that, except for the samples.

I did receive the pdf version of the text, and have been working through it myself. The book is gorgeous, with loads of color. Dr. Englin writes in a conversational tone that doesn’t intimidate. I love that.

The book contains 28 chapters, and each chapter includes a lab assignment. I think lab work is really important, but so much of it tends to be either expensive or silly. I get very frustrated with that.

In this course, the labs tend to me more practical, and they actually teach something. You start off with a lab that makes you think through the scientific method, then in chapter two you are working with the metric system and significant digits. This is hugely important.


When I taught physical science to middle school students a few years ago, the whole idea of significant digits was one they really struggled to grasp.  This gets to be pretty important as you move into more advanced sciences.  I was thrilled that Dr. Englin doesn't assume students (or their parents) do grasp this idea.  He teaches it again.

I love the images used, with pictures of a dozen donuts when they introduce Avodgadro's number.  The photo really draws you in -- what in the world do donuts have to do with chemistry?

Or this, from Chapter 6, with a whole lot of paint and paint brushes.

What is "molar" anyway, and what does it have to do with painting?  I think the photos really do leave you wondering a bit, and that can only be a good thing.  It got me to read enough to figure out why they chose this particularly colorful image.

This book also does something I really love, including little sidebar types of sections about scientists.  That helps make science more real, I think, when you are learning something about the people behind the ideas.

The one pictured here is about Henry Louis Le Chatelier, and is introduced in Chapter 7.  Balancing equations hasn't been the fun part of chemistry for any of my students, but learning a bit about the guy behind some of it definitely helps!

If you peruse the table of contents, this course really does cover all that I expect a high school chemistry class to cover.  It is easy to read, bright, engaging...

Two thumbs up from this mama.

Disclaimer:   I received this ebook for free from Master Books.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Simply Music: a Homeschool Review Crew review

For the past few weeks, I've been trying to work with a FREE piano program from Simply Music.  Given that I don't have a working keyboard or piano in my home, that isn't always easy.  I've been using the keyboard at church when I can, and am over halfway through the Music & Creativity - Foundation Course at this point.

This photo is of Trina working on one of the first lessons, as sometimes she comes along when I head over.  Trina has only worked up to lesson 3 at this point, so she isn't very far into it.

I love that during lesson 3, she is learning her first song, and she has already spent time improvising as well.

The course consists of twenty total lessons - an introductory "Quickstart" lesson, plus 19 regular lessons.

In addition to the video lessons, there are downloadable components as well.  There are a total of four items to download.  The one I've used most is the soundtrack zip file, but there is also a reference book that includes words for the songs, and the diagrams used to help visualize the pieces by helping you to see shapes and patterns.  The fourth item is a pdf book, Music and the Art of Long-Term Relationships.

What is not included is any sort of traditional music.  This course does not teach you to read music in a traditional sense -- the idea is to gets hands-on, to learn by playing.  As you go along, you are introduced to some music theory, but it is all very active and not at all.

Many of the videos include some instruction from Neil Moore.  He sits at a piano and talks to the camera, as shown here from lesson 9.

I really liked this particular lesson, as he was discussing accompaniment, and that was one of the reasons I was particularly interested in taking this course.  I played piano as a child and I was pretty good.  But I never, ever was able to accompany a choir or even a soloist really at all.

It has always made me feel fairly inadequate, to be honest, and when I've been asked to do things at church, I get so hung up on all the chords in the hymnal, and the idea of transposing into a key we are capable of singing to, and I really don't even try.

Neil explains that the accompaniment is a bit like the canvas that a picture is painted on to.  It isn't the song itself, it is a foundation that allows the soloist to shine through.  He makes me think I can actually do this.

Most lessons also include some time where Neil is playing the piano and demonstrating what  you are to be playing.  Here, in lesson 7, he is showing some techniques for using the sustain pedal, and I really liked how the camera shows us both what he is doing with his hands and what he is doing with his foot.

This screenshot also demonstrates a bit about how the lessons are set up.  Each of the 19 lessons has at least one video segment, and once you have completed that section, you have to mark it as complete.  In the shot above, I could not move on to Lesson 8.1 until I marked that I had watched this one.

Note that I don't actually have to watch a lesson to mark it complete.  If I wanted to skip forward and try the lesson on Amazing Grace (Lesson 14), I could just go in and mark each video as complete until I get to the one I wish to watch.  So it is possible to skip ahead, but it is not a quick process to do so.

To do the lessons, you need to have a screen on which to watch the lessons over the internet (they are not downloadable), and you need a piano or a keyboard with at least 49 keys.  Having a device to play the soundtracks and having headphones is a plus, but not totally essential.

To do a lesson, I bring my laptop and my iPad with me to church.  I have the lessons playing on my computer, and I can get the iPad to play the soundtracks.  If there are extra people around at church, I can plug in headphones.

Because I have played piano for a lot of years, I don't find that I need to spend a lot of time with the instructional portions of the program.  I can generally watch the lesson once and not have to really spend any time processing it.

Trina hasn't done much on a piano before, so she does spend some time getting comfortable with the right hand part before moving on to the left hand segment, for instance.  So far, she hasn't needed a lot of time either though.

Neil does address how you are to work through the lessons.  You are to 'control events' by verbalizing what you are going to do before you do it.  Initially, you focus on 'what to play' rather than 'how to play,' so the expectation is that you are not going to sound smooth initially.  And on the subject of how long it will take before you move on, his answer is, "as long as it takes."

I really do like that.

He addresses the parents in how to help your child through the lessons, and one thing he pushes is that you make sure your child is not moving too fast.  Take small pieces and get comfortable before moving on to the next chunk.

I love that approach.

This screenshot is from the last lesson I did, as I realized I hadn't shown any shots of the camera angles when he is demonstrating what to play.

So what do I think?  This program is free, so it is certainly something worth trying out.  A student who really needs to know exactly what they are doing before they do it may be better off with a more traditional approach to learning piano, but I think this is a great way to go for a lot of people.  For me, it is teaching me to *play* with the music in the improvisation sections, and it is changing how I look at accompaniment.  I hope to actually follow through and play keyboard with our praise team.

For my daughter, she is able to sound good from the start and she isn't having to learn to read all the crazy squiggles on a page to do that.

My one caution for anyone else with previous keyboard experience is to persevere.  The first lessons do get a bit hard to get through, particularly lesson 3.  It is worth it to keep going, though.

You can read what others on the Crew had to say by clicking this image:

Learn to Play the Piano with Music & Creativity - Foundation Course {Simply Music Reviews}

Follow them on social media:


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Use It Up! A challenge for June

Okay, so I told you on the 1st that sometime this week, I'd pull all my 2018 cans off the shelf and start working on making those go away.

The idea was that I'd challenge myself to finish them off in June.

Piece. Of. Cake.

That is everything.

Just the fact that they are sitting on my freezer is probably going to be enough.  I need to actually think a bit for the water chestnuts.  The soups will just be eaten for lunch at some point.  I'll probably add olives to a couple Mexican-inspired dishes this month.

And I was already thinking I would either grill a turkey, or at least cook up a turkey breast (to use that stupid can of turkey gravy from my last two posts!), so that will take care of one can of cranberries.  If we have potato sausage, we can make the other can go away.  A can of salmon could turn into a lot of different dishes.

I should have NO PROBLEM meeting this goal.  Now if I can just finish off the last couple things from my May challenge...

And in the time it took me to finish writing this post, I managed to actually use some of this.  The soup and the salmon are gone.   I made salmon cakes for dinner.  I used the soup from the May challenge too.  Haven't gotten rid of anything else though.

Next week, I will post a photo of the chickens eating that can of squid.  I can't feed it to them until after the weekend.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Use it Up! An update

I failed.

The goal I set about two weeks ago was to use up all the truly old cans in my pantry.

This is what it looked like after I completed my sorting of stuff.

That is quite a bit of food.  And I made serious progress, because this is what it looks like on June 1:

I clearly am not all that excited about the two desserts.

I already said I'm not excited about the squid.

I think I'm going to:
  1. Have the French Onion Soup as lunch for me one of these days when the rest of the family eats Dale's chili.  I even bought some provolone cheese to go on it.
  2. Maybe suggest Dale use the chipotles into his chili?
  3. Clam Chowder still sounds good.  Or maybe some linguini?
  4. Gravy?  Umm.  Just heat it up and offer it with mashed potatoes?  
  5. Suck it up and make the desserts.  
  6. I'm giving Dale until the end of the week to use that squid.  It becomes chicken food after that.

Sometime this week, I'm pulling all the cans marked 2018 off my shelf and starting this challenge again.  I might even post about that, mostly to force me into actually doing it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Use it Up!

It has been a very busy couple of months here.  One project I took on was to pull every single can off of my pantry shelves, date it, and put it all back in an organized fashion.  I also inventoried it all.   That was a pretty time-consuming project, but it is nice to have it done.

When I say, "put it all back," though, I don't actually mean all of it.  I tossed four or five cans out as they looked scary.  And everything with a best-by date any earlier than 2018, I put on the freezer. 

There were a few things, obviously.  And I also grabbed a couple of dessert mixes with old dates and added it to my on-the-freezer stash.

Having spent a lot of time working in food pantries, I've been trained repeatedly in what is okay to use past dates and what isn't.  Scary stuff is things like milk (two of the cans I tossed were sweetened condensed milk) and mayonnaise.  Tomatoes and other high-acid food shouldn't be older than 12-18 months.  But a lot of the other canned goods are supposed to be good for five years.

I don't like stuff to be five years past dates though.  So I want to use it all up.

I've used most of the items in the above picture at this point.  I'm mostly down to things that are a bit harder to use in cooking for a family of six.  Like one little can of crabmeat.  Seriously, how do I stretch that to feed us all?

(I'm planning to either do stuffed mushrooms, or stuffed something else.)

Or things I just don't use and am not entirely sure why I have, such as canned/jarred gravy. 

Or strange stuff my husband bought, like a can of squid.  (I know what I want to do with that!  I want to feed it to either the cats or the chickens.)

Some of the items are really easy to use.  This was breakfast this morning -- cinnamon rolls with apple pie filling.

I made a cake with a can of blueberry pie filling. 

I cooked up the can of roast beef, the mushrooms, beef gravy, and probably something else and we had it over mashed potatoes.  That was excellent, and it is probably what I'll do with the remaining beef gravy too.

Stuff like pineapple, jalepeños, and soup just needed to be front and center and those got used up.

It's starting to be harder to use what I have left though.  My goal is to have used it all by the end of May.  I probably could use some ideas.

What I have left:
  • 1 can chicken, which will probably be chicken salad sandwiches for lunch soon.
  • 1 can clams
  • 1 can crab
  • 1 can squid
  • 1 can French onion soup
  • 1 can chipotle peppers
  • 1 can baked beans, which will probably be used over Memorial Day weekend
  • 2 cans beef gravy
  • 1 can turkey gravy
  • 1 box of no bake cheesecake
  • 1 box of pumpkin cheesecake
What would you make?

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A super mom vs SuperMom

Facebook memories are so much fun sometimes.  Today, I saw this one, which I did dutifully share on my wall:

I could undoubtedly turn that into a whole post too.

But earlier this week, there was a memory where I started reading the comments.  I don't even remember what the post was about, but from the first line below, I'm pretty sure it was the new Sonlight catalog.  Someone was commenting on how whatever it was made them feel totally inadequate.  And this is someone I really respect and admire, someone doing a LOT with her kids.  I wrote back:
I totally understand what you mean. The pictures, the little quotes and testimonials, they all sound so perfect. And then the lack of book descriptions leaves me feeling, I don't know, incomplete. So combined, I feel inadequate too.

But remember when you look at those pictures that you are only seeing one brief narrowly focused snapshot. If it is anything like most of the photos I put on my blog, there is a mountain of clutter just outside the frame, and undoubtedly there is a child throwing a tantrum that you can't hear over the sound of my "forced to appear calm" voice describing the scene.

You are a super mom. But you can't be SuperMom. None of us in this thread are either... and none of the people in the catalog is either. You have your SuperMomMoments. I know you do. But this side of heaven, it will never be more than a few scattered perfect moments...

Don't beat yourself up. Really. You are amazing and wonderful. And flawed. Don't measure your reality against the projected external perfection of anyone else...
 Don't we all need reminders like that?

"Don't measure your reality against the projected external perfection of anyone else..."

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Restoration Series

One subject that has never come up on my blog before today:  prisons.

It is a subject that occasionally comes up in my life though.  Not that I plan to go into a lot of detail on my blog, but there have been a couple of individuals in my life who I met after they got out of prison, while they were trying to get back into life on the outside.

That isn't easy, usually for a whole lot of reasons.  Lots of reasons that most of us don't think about.  Prison Fellowship has put out a fascinating documentary, The Restoration Series: Jonathan's Walk

You can watch the first part below.  It's not quite five minutes.  Come on, you have five minutes.

Watch it.

One of the ministries that my church supports is helping women to get integrated back into society after they have been released from prison.  Listening to Marilyn, who runs this ministry, speak about these women -- and meeting some of them, too -- has been eye-opening for me as well.

About the series:

For years, Jonathan has been in prison. As a result, he has missed milestone
moments with his family. He wasn’t there for his daughter’s first day of school or a thousand little experiences with his wife and as a father, he is devastated to be separated from those he loves most.

Jonathan has been looking forward to his release from prison for over a decade. So many life events have been missed and he is now ready to be with his wife and kids again. Of course, this transition isn't going to be easy. The odds are against him: with over half of prisoners returning to prison within two years, Jonathan is aware of the challenge set before him.

Still, he is determined to take the skills he has learned into the world outside of incarceration and stay there, helping build the community that he is part of for years to come.

Prison Fellowship presents The Restoration Series: Jonathan’s Walk, a 5-part documentary film series following one man as he re-enters his community after 15 years in prison. It demonstrates in imagery, powerful storytelling and social interaction what it means to be human and the shared need of all people to see communities restored.

Though America is home to only 4% of the world's population, we house more than 20% of its prisoners. Recidivism–the tendency of a criminal to reoffend—is out of control. The Restoration Series tells the story of men and women who have experienced The Academy, a revolutionary in-prison program that is combatting incarceration and recidivism head on.

Go check it out.  The Restoration Series.

“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.