Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Take This Cup - a review

Take This Cup

By Bodie and Brock Thoene
Published by Zondervan

This is the 2nd installment in the Jerusalem Chronicles book. I didn't realize that fact until I was halfway through it and just happened to catch the note. It is easily a stand-alone novel. And thankfully, it isn't a novel that leaves you in suspense for a year while you wait for the next book in the series to come out.

I have loved every Thoene book I've ever read. They are incredible storytellers who invest a lot of time and talent into researching and incorporating history into their novels. 

This book shares the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on what we celebrate as Palm Sunday, and tells it through the eyes of a child named Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was raised under a priest who studied the stars. According to the story, he joined the wise men who followed the Christmas star and saw the Saviour after His birth. There were many references to constellations in unique positions, telling the Gospel story in the night sky. This was fascinating to me, knowing that the Thoene's heavily research such things before sharing them and especially considering the week that I was reading the book: the week of Passover and the recent Blood Moon! 

There were a couple of moments that did make me uncomfortable. Twice the book referred to verses of the Bible that we all know and said that they were misunderstood because the Aramaic words sound so similar. For instance, the verse comparing rich men entering heaven with a camel fitting through the eye of a needle is quoted as being rope in the eye of a needle. They explain that camel and rope sound very similar in the original language and that many people just misunderstood what Jesus really said. This certainly makes a lot of sense, but questioning the accuracy of scripture isn't a little thing. 

This was the first Thoene book I've read that included some fanciful imagery. If it had been anyone else, I might have found it a bit silly. There was a large deer, alive since the garden of Eden who interacted with Nehemiah and sort of spoke to him. Nehemiah also met Joseph (of rainbow coat fame) through visions and flew with Nehemiah at one point. These fanciful moments were reminiscent of Narnia, but the rest of the novel didn't follow that pattern, so it felt a bit awkward. Still, it was an engaging novel and gave a beautiful perspective on the Easter story.  

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.”

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring is in the air!

That's Pinteresting
This past winter was long and dreary. I'm not generally affected by the weather, but this year was the closest I've come to getting the winter blues. It was just so....grey. Bleak. Dreary. 

Suddenly spring is upon us and signs of life are everywhere! Every time I go to the grocery store, I can't resist buying flowers. My budget warns me I shouldn't, but how can I resist? Did you know you can buy flowers at Aldi's?? $5 hydrangeas, $3 hyacinths, and $3 tulips! 

Much as we are all itching to be outdoors, spring also means SCHOOL. There is a renewed energy to our work, as we see how much we slowed down since Christmas. Summer is just around the bend and we'd like to do less school than usual during the summer months. What classes can we hurry up and finish so that we can be done with them through the summer?

Though we are motivated to have less schoolwork, we can't resist adding in new classes that require us to be outside. I have always been terrible at incorporating nature studies, and every spring I try again. This year, I have my friend Beth from Acorn Hill Academy holding my hand and walking me through the process. Nature studies come a little more instinctive to Beth, but knowing that I need a checklist and clear instructions, she gave me some ideas for creating some simple nature journals to start us out. 

Be sure to check out Beth's ideas for nature studies and feel free to use my journal pages. I'd love to hear which ones are a hit with your family, so be sure to come back and leave me a message.

I created two journals for you, and each contains several different font options. Scroll down through the pages to find the font style that suits you best.
Illustrated Nature Journal
Observation Page

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Homeschool Adventure Co - a review

One of the many things I love about homeschooling is the opportunity to pursue unique interests and incorporate classes that aren't available through our local public school. Home School Adventure Co. recently gave us the chance to review Philosophy Adventure, a class that incorporates critical thinking, writing, and Biblical worldview lessons all in one deep class. With my boys both in the rhetoric stage of learning, this was a great opportunity to pursue those interests!

Philosophy Adventure is available as physical books, on CDROM, or as a digital download. We used the downloadable PDFs. The course includes 3 files:
    Home School Adventure Co.
  • Teacher Resources
  • Student Workbook
  • Pre-Socratic Reader

These are PDF files which can be printed or uploaded to your device of choice. We printed the Workbook, uploaded the Teacher Resources to kindle via email, and uploaded the Reader to Google Drive so that we could all access it and read along together.

Teacher Resources
This includes flashcards, timelines, maps, and answer keys

Student Workbook
This is a massive workbook. I like to pinch pennies where possible, but I can certainly see the benefit to purchasing the print version of this workbook. The beautiful part of this is that, when finished, students have created their own book on philosophy.

The files for the workbook include the option to type in them and print your work. One son opted to print his and bind it, the other opted to type his lessons and bind it when finished. Of course, mapwork still needs to be finished by hand. Here is a sample of their work:

There are two parts to the workbook: Notebooking Pages and a Journal. The Notebooking Pages include comprehension questions, philosopher profile pages, geography work, and creative freewriting. The Journal section prompts some seriously deep thinking. The first lesson asks the BIG questions:

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Good Ol' James.

James has to be about the hardest book of the Bible to read, don't you think? It is probably my favorite, but I think that's because I really love a good challenge. James certainly challenges me on so many levels.

Challenging and Real. Relevant to my real, everyday life.

For instance, my sons have been bickering lately. And by lately, I mean forever. They are best friends and worst enemies and it's a miracle I don't have grey hair yet. It's been especially difficult lately, which made the timing of last week's study in James just perfect.

I started with my general grumbling prayers of exasperation for my sons and then hit James chapter 3. My thoughts were still clouded with the stress of their relationship but verse 13 penetrated its way into my brain:

My house definitely wasn't feeling peace and my boys certainly weren't sowing peace. And a big part of their strife was that each felt quite justified in their wisdom. Meekness was not the word to describe their "wisdom" though. A brief discussion and a reading of this verse was eye opening for all of us. Hearing that kind of wisdom described as "demonic" was eye opening as well.

But that discussion came later. First, I had to read on to chapter 4. 

What indeed? Talk about God hearing my heart cry! 

They weren't murdering, but they were having their moments of hate, though neither would admit things were quite that bad on their part. The other still felt hated and our Saviour was pretty clear about His feelings on hating a brother. Still, where did those strong feelings come from? Desiring and not having? What did that mean?

I honestly wasn't sure what it meant, but I sat down and talked with the boys and had them think about it and get back to me. They each came back later to discuss and it was incredible.

One felt that his deep, unmet desire was a need to be in control. He greatly feared a lack of control of situations. He viewed life as a chess board and considered his interactions as strategies.
(It's life! I'm winning!)

We've been chatting about how this revealed a lack of Lordship in his life. It revealed his need to control things and an unwillingness to let God control things. It was a total paradigm shift for him to STOP seeing life as a chess game. He has spent the last week (a fabulous week of revival in our church and hearts) learning to give his life more fully to Christ.

The arguments were certainly not one-sided, but both boys benefited from the discussions and not being challenged to play chess on a regular basis might be just the change we're needing.

We're not all patched up just yet, but it has been exciting to see God's hand at work. As always. 

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tailor Made Whiteboards - a review and GIVEAWAY!

While my goal is to keep things blissfully simple, my life is often a chaotic mess. As kids get older and schedules get busier, the chaotic hum becomes the soundtrack of our life. The few working organizational tools we have become beacons to guide us through the adventure. My dayplanner, chore chart, and our wall calendar have weathered some fun, crazy times.

Until this year.

This year, we couldn't find the perfect wall calendar to fit our perfect frame. We usually start shopping in November because we are ridiculously picky about our calendar. It's silly, really. But November and December came and went without the perfect calendar showing up. At that point, we were happy to have an imperfect calendar as long as it fit in our frame, but even those were gone. January was interesting, without a calendar on the wall to see us through. I even lost my day planner for a week there and things got really hairy.

Thankfully, in February, Tailor Made Whiteboards offered to share a customizable whiteboard with me and another for one of my readers! I designed mine to use as a wall calendar and held my breath, hoping it would be perfect enough to replace our yearly hunts for perfect calendars.

It is. It's beautiful. It has fabulous large squares to hold all the details we want to add. The quality is incredible and it is obvious that it is sturdy enough to last for as long as we're going to need a calendar, which means a very. long. time.

Let me tell you briefly about the whiteboards in general and then I'll share mine with you. After that, the giveaway! Tailor Made Whiteboards aren't just for calendars. They can be designed as Menu Planners, Chore Charts, or anything you want them to be. Tailor Made offers many one-of-a-kind designs created with the help of a local Colorado artist, and all of the designs can be personalized because they make them in-house and are eager to work with customers.

The whiteboards come with a Quick Change frame that lets you easily change the graphic insert so that function of the whiteboard can always fit your needs. When mine were younger, a chore chart would have been handy. The calendar is definitely what we need at this stage of life, but when the busy teenage schedules are gone, the menu planner will suit us best. There are many designs to choose from, but they will even work with you to custom design your own background insert. If I had the budget, I would buy different inserts just for the seasonal themes. There are beautiful Christmas calendars and spring calendars and...well, you get the picture. The point is that these things are going to last. I have no doubt the whiteboard and frame will last us well beyond the teen years of parenting. All of the products are guaranteed to wipe clean and remain stain-free over many years of use.

Here is my calendar:

I chose the Chalkboard Activity Planner in an 18x24 size. I chose a black chalkboard background and went with the Maple Changeable Frame. The wood is light, but is well-sealed and I have no worries about it staining or getting dingy. I love the 24 inch tray, which is plenty deep to hold erasers and markers with ease.

You can personalize your board with an image that you upload. A family photo is a popular option, but I decided to add a scrappy butterfly instead.The butterfly is a symbol of Hope and this simple picture reminds me of the freedom and hope I have in Christ and the new life He has given me.

The black chalkboard background was irresistible to me, but it didn't quite work with regular dry erase markers. I had purchased some chalk markers for a different project already and they were a perfect solution. I later realized that Tailor Made Whiteboards offers chalk markers on their website, and at an even better rate than what I purchased on Amazon. Here it is with regular dry erase, which you can see didn't work very well:

The full price for the whiteboard I received, with all of the customizations and accessories would have been just over $100. My penny-pinching brain seized up at the thought, but then I realized that I have spent well over that amount on calendars over the last few years. The frame for my old calendar cost $30 originally and the calendars that fit it cost us $15-18 each year. They are beautiful and we considered them part of our home decor as well as an investment in our sanity. This whiteboard is of significantly higher quality than our old frame and will be around for many, many more years. This sturdy tool can be handed down to grandkids someday!

If you'd like to order your own Tailor Made Whiteboard, you can save 10% with the coupon code: TMWBFRIENDS

Now for the giveaway! Before entering, please note that this contest is open to U.S. and Canadian addresses only. Canadian addresses will be charged a $45 fee to offset the cost of international shipping.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Considering Homeschooling?

After over a decade in the game, I've had a lot of questions from families considering homeschooling. I thought I'd share that advice online for anyone else thinking about taking that leap. Of course, if you already read my blog, chances are you are already homeschooling. Perhaps this will be something you can share with your friends who are contemplating homeschooling. I will take a few weeks and share an entry per week.

Part 1
This one is short and sweet, but it is the most important thing to think about.

My advice to anyone considering homeschooling is to pray and ask direction first. There are lots of great reasons to homeschool, but God knows the best plans for your family. It's not a decision you want to make based on reason, but on obedience. He'll give you peace with the right decision.

That's it. It's nearly impossible to keep your brain from saying, "Yeah, but!" so I'm going to keep from sharing anything else just yet. Truly, stop thinking about it and just pray about it.  Be quiet. Wait. Listen.

'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 
'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.
-Jeremiah 29:11

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Hey, Mom! I'll Start Dinner! - a review & giveaway

There are 2 Giveaways at the end of this post! Be sure to check them out!

The idea of kids helping in the kitchen has been in the news lately. It seems parents are wising up to the importance of teaching children to cook. The trend to protect our children against All The Things may finally coming back around to a balanced point of view. The idea of handing a six year old a knife might seem a bit scary, but looks as if the benefits far outweigh the risks. And in this age of busy families, it is a beautiful time for children to enjoy that sense of accomplishment and joy that comes from serving others. Another added benefit is the opportunity to gather around a table together, as a family, to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

My sons are teens and are excellent cooks. My daughters are 8 and 10 years old and I have had a hard time admitting to myself that they are growing up. They are the "babies" and I am realizing more and more that I am not giving them enough age-appropriate tasks. They seem much younger than my boys did at that age. Cooking is something they have wanted to do on their own, but I never quite trusted them with the kitchen all to themselves. Cherilyn Dahlsten provided me with a copy of her new book "Hey Mom, I'll start Dinner" and my girls have amazed me with their culinary talents.

This book is large, though not thick, and easy to read. It is full of colorful pictures and instructions. The book contains 40 recipes, and of those, 24 are gluten free. The recipes are divided between Beginner recipes and Intermediate recipes.

It might not have been the best plan, but I let my girls dive right into the intermediate section. Being new to independently cooking, they took forever and a day to complete preparations. Once they were finished, the wait was well worth it.

So far, they have made Ham and Split Pea Soup, Grilled Ham and Cheese sandwiches, Homemade Tomato Soup, and Meatloaf with Baked Potatoes.

I can't believe I had myself convinced they weren't ready to work solo. They did a fabulous job! The meals were all delicious (though the girls felt the split pea soup was just "okay".) The recipes also helped us realize now much my girls need to work on following instructions and paying attention. Following recipes make for excellent life lessons. They forgot to read all of the instructions once, which required starting over. They forgot to gather all of their ingredients once, which delayed their cooking quite a bit when it was discovered we didn't have all of the ingredients...halfway through the mixing. They do tend to dawdle and get distracted, but they also tend to get hungry, which is motivating them to try to focus better so they can eat sooner.

Meatloaf has long been my family's favorite meal. I had a great recipe that we all loved. This recipe replaced our old favorite. It took our girls an entire hour to work through the preparations that should have taken 10 minutes, but even though we ate a very late lunch that day, it was well worth the wait. We did change one thing. The recipe called for plain tomato sauce to be used as the sole topping, which....ewww. We mixed ketchup and brown sugar instead. Other than that, this is a 5 star recipe. All thumbs up!

After the meatloaf was finished, it made for excellent leftovers! The girls made meatloaf sandwiches for lunch today and they were as big a hit as the meatloaf itself.

This example from our book shows how the recipes are set up. Ingredients and Steps are for the child. Night Before notes are for the parents. There are also notes on how to adapt the Intermediate recipes for Beginners. Each recipe also includes full color pictures of the finished results and suggestions for easy side dishes the children can do on their own. There are also notes from the author's sons, sharing their thoughts and tips for each recipe.

You can check out a sample of the colorful cookbook before buying your own copy. You can also enter my giveaway for a free copy of your own! Here are 2 giveaways. The first is my giveaway for a free copy of this book. The second is a much bigger giveaway for lots of fun things. Feel free to join both!

Giveaway #1

Giveaway #2

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