This Month's Featured Resources...


Wednesday, February 14

Payback on Poplar Lane

The boys have been working on their Entrepreneurship Badges for Boy Scouts - see more on that here - and so when we discovered this book, it was the perfect read aloud for the week!

Payback on Poplar Lane (Margaret Mincks)
ABC's Shark Tank meets The Terrible Two when a pair of sixth grade entrepreneurs compete to become top mogul on their block.

Twelve-year-old Peter Gronkowski prides himself on being a professional businessman. Tired of the clichéd lemonade stands that line his block, he decides to start a better business with the help of an intern. But his intern of choice, the quiet and writerly Rachel Chambers, turns out to be more than he bargained for. Rachel is innovative, resourceful, driven--and when she's had enough of Peter's overbearing management style, she decides to start a competing empire next door. As their rivalry and sabotage tactics become more outrageous--Slander! Espionage! Lemonade threats!--Peter and Rachel ultimately learn the hard way that "nothing gold can stay" and that friendship is more important than money.

Alternating perspectives reveal what really motivates each character to win. And Peter's memos and "business tips" as well as excerpts from Rachel's melodramatic novel-in-progress generate fresh hilarity and tension at every page turn. Payback on Poplar Lane is a pitch-perfect comedy with heart, reminiscent of your favorite classic middle-grade series.


Our Thoughts
While a middle school book, it has enough hijinks in it to interest an adult...hearkening back toward days of youth.  I like that it's told from multiple perspectives, such that we are able to see the reasoning behind both Peter's and Rachel's actions.  It brings up questions of ethics and how to handle certain situations, sparking family conversations about character.  Each of the main characters has a cross to bear; one feels as though she's hiding in plain sight and wants to become more visible, while the other is so money-driven that he loses focus of the important things in life.  While I'm not sure how realistic the ending is, it is at least idealistic and teaches some character lessons.

Tuesday, February 13

Healthier, Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies


Cookies

  • 1 c softened butter
  • 2/3 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 c oats


Filling

  • 3/4 c softened butter
  • 2 1/2 c confectioner sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp milk


Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cream together butter and sugars.  Add in eggs and vanilla.
  3. In separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  4. Mix two bowls together well.  Add in oats and mix well.
  5. You may choose to make traditional cookies, with a scoop, or lay the filling out in one large bar on the pan and cut them into square cookies.
  6. Bake 10-12 minutes (12-15 for the square cookies).
  7. Cool cookies completely before adding filling.
  8. Mix butter, sugar, vanilla, and milk until it creates a creamy mixture.  (Approx 3-5 min)
  9. Spread cream filling on flat side of one cookie and top with a second cookie.
  10. Makes 10-12 cream pies.



Why is it healthier?
There are no preservatives or chemicals used to give these cookies a long shelf life.  They are meant to be enjoyed in a relatively short period of time.  Keep them in the refrigerator to extend their life.

Monday, February 12

Reads from the Heart....

February's New Releases.....

Children's Books
Legends of Easter Treasury (Dandi Daley Mackall)
The Legends of Easter Treasury; Inspirational Stories of Faith and Hope contains three bestselling Easter stories that include The Legend of the Easter Egg, The Legend of the Easter Robin, and The Legend of the Sand Dollar. The Legend of the Easter Egg, written by Lori Walburg and illustrated by Richard Cowdrey, is a timeless tale that explores the meaning behind Easter eggs and the Easter story itself. This beautifully illustrated story of faith, love, and wonder includes explanations of the most common traditions and symbols of Lent and Easter. Educational and inspirational, The Legend of the Easter Egg is sure to delight both children and their parents. The Legend of the Easter Robin, written by Dandi Daley Mackall and illustrated by Richard Cowdrey, is a classic tale that explores the symbol of the robin and its connection to Easter and Jesus’ death and resurrection. This Easter story reminds readers everywhere how much Jesus sacrificed for us and how much he loves us. The Legend of the Sand Dollar, written by Chris Auer and illustrated by Richard Cowdrey, is a tale filled with wonder and charm that explores the hidden meaning of Easter within the sand dollar. This Easter story reminds readers everywhere that when Jesus died for us and was resurrected, he promised hope for all.


These are wonderful stories to read aloud to young children, or for older children to read to themselves (elementary age).  The illustrations are drawn, but realistically so, and are so bright and vibrant that it brings a sense of joy to every page!  While we enjoyed every story, The Legend of the Sand Dollar was hands-down our family's favorite...probably because we all enjoy visiting the ocean so much.  It is the story of how the sand dollar represents Jesus, including his crucifixion, and includes a pictures of the sand dollar broken open so that we can see the doves inside.  All three of these stories are centered around Christ and what the robin, egg, and sand dollar represent within his context.


Moo moo, cows!  Baa baa, sheep!  When the sun sinks low down on the farm, the animals are all tuckered out from the day’s adventures. Join these adorable farm animals in pajamas as they say night night to the farm, to their mommies and daddies, and to God. Enjoy the award-winning artwork in a brand-new way with a touch and feel element on every spread. The story comes alive as children feel the texture of the tractor wheels and soft baby calves as they drift off to sleep.  Your little ones will sleep until the rooster crows knowing that the God who made them loves them too.  Night night, farm!


The board book is written in a rhythmic rhyme that will both enchant young ones and help lull them to sleep.  If your child just isn’t up for a nap, though, it also has plenty of room for play…with bright colors, beautiful illustrations, and the hands-on components of different textures for different objects.  While it’s recommended for ages 3-5, I felt it was appropriate for the 18-month-old in the house, too.   It reminds me of a sweet book, “Going to Sleep on the Farm,” that I used to read to my older children at bedtime.  Each page shows a different stage of getting ready for sleep, as the animals bed down for the night, but in this book, the ending reminds them that God is watching over them as they sleep.

Fiction
The Sea Before Us (Sarah Sundin)
In 1944, American naval officer Lt. Wyatt Paxton arrives in London to prepare for the Allied invasion of France. He works closely with Dorothy Fairfax, a "Wren" in the Women's Royal Naval Service. Dorothy pieces together reconnaissance photographs with thousands of holiday snapshots of France--including those of her own family's summer home--in order to create accurate maps of Normandy. Maps that Wyatt will turn into naval bombardment plans.  As the two spend concentrated time together in the pressure cooker of war, their deepening friendship threatens to turn to love. Dorothy must resist its pull. Her bereaved father depends on her, and her heart already belongs to another man. Wyatt too has much to lose. The closer he gets to Dorothy, the more he fears his efforts to win the war will destroy everything she has ever loved.  The tense days leading up to the monumental D-Day landing blaze to life under Sarah Sundin's practiced pen with this powerful new series.

I have to be honest and say that my first Sarah Sundin book was picked up purely because I liked the picture on the front of the cover....but sometimes you really CAN judge a book by its cover.  I went back and read every other book she'd published, and have read them all ever since.  This book is the first in a new trilogy, and I cannot wait to see how the other two play out!  Sarah does such a wonderful job of researching the history and weaving it into her stories that you can't help but feel like you're learning something along the way.  In this book, we are approaching D-Day in the United Kingdom, and Dorothy and Wyatt much come through the war struggles as well as their personal / relationship issues.  I can only imagine that this was such a difficult time to live through, which may explain the protagonist's insecurities.  Mix that with the prodigal son (the other protagonist), a third player in the romance field, and questions of who can be trusted, and you've got something to sort out.  This author's books never disappoint; if you're into history, this is one to not be missed!

The Refuge Assured (Jocelyn Green)
Lacemaker Vivienne Rivard never imagined her craft could threaten her life. Yet in revolutionary France, it is a death sentence when the nobility, and those associated with them, are forced to the guillotine. Vivienne flees to Philadelphia but finds the same dangers lurking in the French Quarter, as revolutionary sympathizers threaten the life of a young boy left in her care, who some suspect to be the Dauphin. Can the French settlement, Azilum, offer permanent refuge?  Militiaman Liam Delaney proudly served in the American Revolution, but now that the new government has imposed an oppressive tax that impacts his family, he barely recognizes the democracy he fought for. He wants only to cultivate the land of his hard-won farm near Azilum, but soon finds himself drawn into the escalating tension of the Whiskey Rebellion. When he meets a beautiful young Frenchwoman recently arrived from Paris, they will be drawn together in surprising ways to fight for the peace and safety for which they long.

One of the aspects of this book that I loved the most was the author's use of historical context and detail.  She takes a little-known event in history - the Whiskey Rebellion - and uses it as a central setting, thus providing not only a little bit of (clean) entertainment, but a history lesson to boot!  Having recently visited the Susquehanna River area of Pennsylvania made this story even more intriguing.  The story covers both the French Revolution across the pond and the Whiskey Rebellion in the colonies.  Vivienne and Liam are both strong characters, believable and easy to relate to, who overcome their struggles with moral backbone, and themes of belonging and responsibility are central to the story.  This is another great read for the fan of historical fiction!

The Lost Castle (Kristy Cambron)
Ellie Carver arrives at her grandmother’s bedside expecting to find her silently slipping away. Instead, the beloved woman begins speaking. Of a secret past and castle ruins forgotten by time. Of a hidden chapel that served as a rendezvous for the French Resistance in World War II. Of lost love and deep regret . . .  Each piece that unlocks the story seems to unlock part of Ellie too—where she came from and who she is becoming. But her grandmother is quickly disappearing into the shadows of Alzheimer’s and Ellie must act fast if she wants to uncover the truth of her family’s history. Drawn by the mystery surrounding The Sleeping Beauty—a castle so named for Charles Perrault’s beloved fairy tale—Ellie embarks on a journey to France’s Loire Valley in hopes that she can unearth its secrets before time silences them forever.  Bridging the past to the present in three time periods—the French Revolution, World War II, and present day—The Lost Castle is a story of loves won and lost, of battles waged in the hearts of men, and of an enchanted castle that stood witness to it all, inspiring a legacy of faith through the generations.

I so looked forward to getting to read this, and that anticipation was well-rewarded!  This book is written over three eras (the present, WWII, and the French Revolution), each of which is a high-drama time period!  It is a time travel book, and while those can be difficult to read, this one flows fairly smoothly, especially given the multiple timelines.  It's not a fast read - you'll want to pace yourself and make sure that you're not just skimming along, or you're going to get lost.  The story centers around a castle; each of the three main characters comes to find herself at this castle during a pivotal point in both world history and her own life.  While the beginning may seem a bit disjointed, you absolutely must bear with it, because it will all make sense at the end.  You won't even see it coming until you're in tears!  (No spoilers.)  The stories feature strong female characters who persevere through tragedy, find their rock bottom, and then find the hope they desire to build upon a strengthened-by-trials foundation of faith.  This is the first book in a trilogy, and I am eagerly awaiting the next two!
Words from the Heart (Kathleen Fuller)
Ivy Yoder hasn’t heard from John King in over a year. She knows it’s time to let go of the idea that they will one day marry, but she’s humiliated to be one of the oldest single women in her Amish community of Birch Creek. When quirky Cevilla Schlabach asks her to help clean out an attic, Ivy is grateful for the distraction. Noah Schlabach isn’t from Birch Creek, or even Ohio. His job as an auctioneer takes him around the country and away from a typical Amish life, but he still remains devoted to his family. So when his aging aunt asks him to help clean out her attic, he agrees. Plus, who knows what curious items he might find up there? As Noah and Ivy work side by side, they come across a different kind of treasure: a packet of letters written during the Korean War. Soon they are swept up in the story of two young people falling in love—even as they remain determined not to fall in love themselves.

Kathleen Fuller writes some very sweet Amish stories, and this was one of them. I liked how the main characters mirror the characters of the past, sharing their stories through letters. I also liked that they learned from their elders. :) The main characters each have their own personal struggles, and it doesn’t help that they have meddling aunts and family members compounding them! This is not a heavy read, it's not something that will take long to get through - it's just a nice, cozy story about an Amish relationship. Themes include grief, fear, rejection, coping with illness and change, and depending on others.


Hearts Entwined (Karen Witemeyer)
Four top historical romance novelists team up in this new collection to offer stories of love and romance with a twist of humor. In Karen Witemeyer's "The Love Knot," Claire Nevin gets the surprise of her life awaiting her sister's arrival by train. Mary Connealy's "The Tangled Ties That Bind" offers the story of two former best friends who are reunited while escaping a stampede. Regina Jennings offers "Bound and Determined," where a most unusual trip across barren Oklahoma plains is filled with adventure, romance, and . . . camels? And Melissa Jagears' "Tied and True" entertains with a tale of two hearts from different social classes who become entwined at a cotton thread factory. 

With four different historical short stories, you're sure to find one that speaks to you in this collection!  All of the stories appear to be spin-offs from the authors' full-length novel series, but you don't need to be familiar with them.  If anything, one of these stories might inspire you to go back and read the accompanying trilogies...  As the cover would indicate, each of the stories takes place out west, but all of them seem to have 'Texas' as a central theme of some fashion.  They also all take place during the 19th century.  I enjoyed each of the stories, but all for different reasons.  The main characters have their personal struggles, and each novella involves a romance, but they're all unique stories.  My favorite was probably "Tied and True," because it's an "Uptown Girl" story....rich girl falls in love with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, while her parents have another match already approved.  It was a sweet story, and I enjoyed it the most, but all of them were well-written and (also nice) the perfect length to finish in a long afternoon read.
The Man He Never Was (James Rubart)
Toren Daniels vanished eight months back, and his wife and kids have moved on—with more than a little relief. Toren was a good man but carried a raging temper that often exploded without warning. So when he shows up on their doorstep out of the blue, they’re shocked to see him alive. But more shocked to see he’s changed. Radically.  His anger is gone. He’s oddly patient. Kind. Fun. The man he always wanted to be. Toren has no clue where he’s been but knows he’s been utterly transformed. He focuses on three things: Finding out where he’s been. Finding out how it happened. And winning back his family.  But then shards of his old self start to rise from deep inside—like the man kicked out of the NFL for his fury—and Toren must face the supreme battle of his life.  In this fresh take on the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, James L. Rubart explores the war between the good and evil within each of us—and one man’s only chance to overcome the greatest divide of the soul.

I'm a sucker for classic stories, so a contemporary re-telling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sounded too good to pass up!  We begin with a troubled youth who struggles against the demons he must face daily, only to find himself struggling against the demons within himself, too.  He wakes up one day, disoriented and missing several days of his life, and begins to try and figure out exactly who he is anymore.  His family doesn't recognize him, and are afraid of him, and he doesn't recognize himself.  He opens a dialogue with God, trying to come to grips with this reality and all of the parts of himself (the good and bad), and begins the process of transformation.  He also has to learn to accept himself and be willing to grow from that acceptance.  It gets a little strange at parts, but then again, so does the original Jekyll & Hyde.  Overall, a creative retelling!

The Sky is Yours (Chandler Klang Smith)
In the burned-out, futuristic city of Empire Island, three young people navigate a crumbling metropolis constantly under threat from a pair of dragons that circle the skies. When violence strikes, reality star Duncan Humphrey Ripple V, the spoiled scion of the metropolis’ last dynasty; Baroness Swan Lenore Dahlberg, his tempestuous, death-obsessed betrothed; and Abby, a feral beauty he discovered tossed out with the trash; are forced to flee everything they've ever known. As they wander toward the scalded heart of the city, they face fire, conspiracy, mayhem, unholy drugs, dragon-worshippers, and the monsters lurking inside themselves. In this bombshell of a novel, Chandler Klang Smith has imagined an unimaginable world: scathingly clever and gorgeously strange, The Sky Is Yours is at once faraway and disturbingly familiar, its singular chaos grounded in the universal realities of love, family, and the deeply human desire to survive at all costs.

This book took a really long time to get into, and I nearly cut my losses, but wanted to see if it improved...it did.  I say that to tell you that you should plan ahead to plow through the first third, and it will pick up and get much better!  It's a dystopian love triangle, set in the future, that includes your rich kid, narcissistic kid, and poor-with-good-morals kid.  Together they take on the world, including the violence of some fire-breathing dragons bent on burning California.  Each of the kids grows and matures throughout the story, and there are plenty of twists and action (once you get past the long set up for the story), as well as humor and romance.  I would say this book is probably best for the teen who is into dystopian literature, but good for adults who gravitate toward the same.

Non-Fiction

Rise & Grind (Daymond John)
Daymond John knows what it means to push yourself hard--and he also knows how spectacularly a killer work ethic can pay off. As a young man, he founded a modest line of clothing on a $40 budget by hand-sewing hats between his shifts at Red Lobster. Today, his brand FUBU has over $6 billion in sales.  Convenient though it might be to believe that you can shortcut your way to the top, says John, the truth is that if you want to get and stay ahead, you need to put in the work. You need to out-think, out-hustle, and out-perform everyone around you. You've got to rise and grind every day.  In the anticipated follow-up to the bestselling The Power of Broke, Daymond takes an up close look at the hard-charging routines and winning secrets of individuals who have risen to the challenges in their lives and grinded their way to the very tops of their fields. Along the way, he also reveals how grit and persistence both helped him overcome the obstacles he has faced in life and ultimately fueled his success.



In an age of overnight-YouTube-success-stories and viral-video-fifteen-minutes-of-fame-stories, it's refreshing to see someone who talks about what it really takes to make an honest living - lots of hard work and dedication.  This is about making every twenty-four hour period of your life count (no, it doesn't suggest going without sleep).  It's about not expecting things to fall in your lap, or expecting the rest of the world to provide for you, but seeking out your dreams by hustling every. single. day.  There's no guarantee of success or magic formula, but the author underscores what I would consider common sense.  Even a Type-AAA person, such as myself, can glean some words of wisdom here...particularly on the section about not letting the digital world overtake your life and consume your hours.  I think this should be recommended reading for the millennial generation, as well as teens, the vast majority of whom seem to think that life should be easy and handed to them (or so the mainstream media would have us believe).

Girl, Wash Your Face (Rachel Hollis)

Founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com and CEO of her own media company, Chic Media, Rachel Hollis has created an online fan base of hundreds of thousands of fans by sharing tips for living a better life while fearlessly revealing the messiness of her own. Now comes her highly anticipated first book featuring her signature combination of honesty, humor, and direct, no-nonsense advice. Each chapter of Girl, Wash Your Face begins with a specific lie Hollis once believed that left her feeling overwhelmed, unworthy, or ready to give up. As a working mother, a former foster parent, and a woman who has dealt with insecurities about her body and relationships, she speaks with the insight and kindness of a BFF, helping women unpack the limiting mind-sets that destroy their self-confidence and keep them from moving forward. From her temporary obsession with marrying Matt Damon to a daydream involving hypnotic iguanas to her son's request that she buy a necklace to "be like the other moms," Hollis holds nothing back. With unflinching faith and tenacity, Hollis spurs other women to live with passion and hustle and to awaken their slumbering goals.

Oh my….I NEEDED to read this book. In fact, even though I was exhausted, I pulled two very long nights and finished it quickly (not really what I should have done…given the premise of the book itself!). Rachel Hollis may be a superstar, but her’s was a new name for me, so I came into this without any preconceived notions of what to expect. The chapters are outlined based on the lies we tell ourselves; things such as, “I’ll start tomorrow,” “I’m not good enough,” and my personal favorite, “I should be further along by now.” The book is aimed at moms who are bouncing around through all of the arenas of life right now…work, home, motherhood, life in general…and trying to do it all, while feeling like they’re accomplishing nothing. The author uses real-life stories, infusing the tragedy with tons of humor, and really feels very easy to relate to. She basically says what my mother has always said, “you can’t control those around you, or the things that happen in life; you can only control your response.” One of these days…my mom’s words are actually going to kick in! The author here doesn’t sugarcoat anything…but you probably got that from the title. She tells it like it is and then encourages you to put in the hard work toward changing your mindset; she also tells you that she’ll be right there behind you. This is a must-read for young women setting out to take on the world!

How Democracies Die (Steven Levitsky)
Donald Trump’s presidency has raised a question that many of us never thought we’d be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that, by electing Trump, we have already passed the first one. Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die—and how ours can be saved.

It doesn't take a war, or a coupe, to kill off a democratic government; it's like that saying about boiling the frog alive slowly...so slowly that he doesn't even realize it's happening. Democracies can be killed the same way. The authors begin by defining what constitutes a democracy, as well as how finely-tuned and balanced they must be to maintain said status. Historical case studies are presented, including Hitler's Germany and the more-recent Venezuela, and a 'warning system' is provided for helping the reader to identify proponents of an autocracy. I think there will be a lot of people who read this book and use it as another excuse to stay on the anti-Trump bandwagon (and please don't mistake that comment for my endorsement), but the truth is that democracies die slowly...over many decades and, in this case, bipartisanship. I didn't need to read this book to understand what's been going on in our country for many years now, and I hope that those who read it will understand the context outside of party lines.


Enter the Ring (D.A. Horton)
Enter the Ring takes a fresh, powerful, vulnerable approach to marriage by framing it as the fight that it is. The world uses different assaults and tactics to distract us, tempting us to walk away, in order to destroy our marriages. But there is hope: The constant forgiveness, grace, and intervention of God can preserve and protect us from not only the world but also ourselves.  D. A. and Elicia Horton explore the tension of two people becoming one and how spouses often fight over which “one of us” they become. This book approaches the traditional topics of a marriage book with the brutal and life-giving honesty of two millennials who have fought together for their marriage. All topics are addressed through the vulnerable lens of the authors’ own struggles and mistakes.  This is a no-holds-barred, real-world . . . marriage book.  They unpack topics such as
  • Seasons of suffering
  • Communication
  • Sexual and physical intimacy
  • The spiritual life of the home
  • Money
There's something to be said for learning from the wisdom of our elders, and this book strives to do just that.  When we look at a healthy, thriving marriage, it's easy to forget that the couple has faced their share of struggles and lived to tell about them.  This book covers various phases of marriage, including some of the most hotly-fought-over topics in most marriages, and breaks them down.  There are personal narratives, scripture, and advice from those who have gone before us.  The authors are easy to relate to, and their advice is solid and Christian-based.  I think that every couple, regardless of their 'marriage friendliness status,' should continue working on said marriage.  We're all only one crisis away from actively being in the ring ourselves, and it never hurts to have a game plan!


How Healing Works (Wayne Jonas)

In How Healing Works, Dr. Wayne Jonas lays out a revolutionary new way to approach injury, illness, and wellness. Dr. Jonas explains the biology of healing and the science behind the discovery that 80 percent of healing can be attributed to the mind-body connection and other naturally occurring processes. Jonas details how the healing process works and what we can do to facilitate our own innate ability to heal. Dr. Jonas's advice will change how we consume health care, enabling us to be more in control of our recovery and lasting wellness. Simple line illustrations communicate statistics and take-aways in a memorable way. Stories from Dr. Jonas's practice and studies further illustrate his method for helping people get well and stay well after minor and major medical events.

"The science that successfully stops infections, treats trauma, and saves our lives from acute diseases doesn’t work very well for chronic diseases. Not only does it not work well, but it can also mislead us and harm us." With these words, I began an interested, albeit skeptical, look into this new book. There's so much 'alternative health' stuff out there these days, and some of it's good, and some it's very harmful -- but most people don't realize which is which. I like that this book features a guy who is trained in conventional medicine, but also practices holistic medicine. To me, someone who has the knowledge and pulls from both sides of the fence is going to be a better practitioner. That said, while there are some nuggets of wisdom tucked within the pages, a lot of it is pop-science. If you're not familiar with holistic medicine, this is a good jumping off point; if you're looking for something new, this isn't it.


Fierce Faith (Alli Worthington)
Sometimes Jesus’s call to “fear not” seems like the hardest instruction to follow. Some days you faultlessly juggle everything that is your life—kids, husband, house, job, church, friendships, school, pets, appointments, and on and on. Other days the very thought of which ball you’re going to drop puts your anxiety level through the roof. You’re afraid you’re forgetting something. And you are: God’s advice to fear not. Alli Worthington knows all about the ways a woman can be hard on herself. She shares her own fear struggles with humor and honesty—while offering real strategies for coping with life’s big worries as well as those little everyday worries. Grab a cup of coffee and sit down for some encouragement from a friend. Alli’s no-nonsense, wise advice will lighten your heart and help you cut through the daily clutter of fear and worry to reconnect with your own fierce faith. Alli uses biblical wisdom and practical insight to help you:
Identify fear-based thinking.

  • Overcome the big and little worries in life.
  • Learn a simple trick to stop the anxiety spiral.
  • Live a more confident, less worried life.
Like having coffee with an old friend, the author breaks it down and keeps it real in this humorous and real-life book. Life isn't easy, but it's a lot easier with friends who build us up and keep us going through the hard times...friends who remind us to refocus and put our faith back front and center. The solutions to life's little problems (and it's always the little stuff, right?!) are scripture-based, but without being preachy, and this is like seeking wisdom from an older, wiser, and funny girlfriend. Her faith and maturity guide the advice as she tackles grief, burnout, fear, pain, and all of the anxieties we take on in this life.

Stronger than the Struggle (Havilah Cunnington)
We all face challenges. On any given day, the problems of real life can take our breaths away. Our marriages, finances, relationships, and health are regular struggles, and that's just the beginning. Doesn't the Bible say the war has already been won? So why do we still battle?  With humor and honesty, Cunnington lays out practical tools to thrive in the face of hardship, enabling us to walk forward in the confidence that, because of Jesus, we really are stronger than the struggle.  In a down-to-earth, let’s-get-real approach, popular Bible teacher Havilah Cunnington cuts through the confusion and shows us how to :
  • Discern whether we’re dealing with battles within ourselves, resistance from God, or genuine fights with the Devil.
  • Throw off misconceptions about spiritual warfare, and understand what Jesus really said about our spiritual authority and the certainty we have in him.
  • Ask the right questions and build a realistic battle plan to win one day at a time.
This is the kind of book that I NEEDED to read as a teen, but wouldn't have touched.  It is full of personal narratives that will make you laugh, then cry, with understanding and the ability to relate.  It follows a chronological progression (from her teens up to her mom years), and the wisdom matures with the stories.  It's very understated in its message...like just hanging out with your favorite aunt..someone cool enough to relate to, wise enough to guide you, and not your mother - so you might actually listen!  It's one of those books that you'll read all the way through one time, and then you'll put it aside to pull back out and read whichever narrative personally speaks to you during a future struggle.

With a biting, satirical style reminiscent of The OnionHow to Be a Perfect Christian takes a humorous look at the quirks of cultural Christianity while subtly challenging the reader to search for more than a cultural faith.  Written in the trademark style of The Babylon Bee, this book humorously satirizes cultural Christianity while peppering in subtle challenges to the reader. Through humor and sarcasm (and a handy meter to rank your "holiness" as you progress through the book), readers will be called to find a more biblical understanding of the Christian faith, all while poking fun at the quirks of the modern, American Christian community.

I think this book speaks for itself, if you can just see some of it...so I've chosen a couple of paragraphs from the first part of the book for you to sample :

Some of the most common warning signs that your church isn’t conducive to your personal growth into a perfect Christian include a pastor who preaches sermons that make you feel uncomfortable, a worship experience that centers your attention more on God than on your own feelings, and a church staff who refuse to incorporate the advice from the thousands of helpful comment cards you’ve left over the years. These kinds of churches are dangerous. If you find yourself treading water in a similar spiritual wasteland, it’s time for your very first step toward spiritual awesomeness: church shopping.

According to recent research, every single town in America has a minimum of 6,521,587 churches to choose from, so you’ve got your work cut out for you. You actually have a better chance of winning the lottery while getting struck by lightning than of picking a good church near you on the first shot. So it’s a great thing you have this book to help you out.

It's snarky; it's satirical.  It is NOT serious.  If you're unable to take life with a grain of salt and find the humor in any situation, this may not be the book for you.  Then again, maybe it is -- maybe it's time to learn how to step back and smile a bit more.  Personally, I found it both blasphemous and funny....all the while remembering that it's supposed to be satire.

How to Break Up with Your Phone (Catherine Price)
Is your phone the first thing you reach for in the morning and the last thing you touch before bed? Do you frequently pick it up "just to check," only to look up forty-five minutes later wondering where the time has gone? Do you say you want to spend less time on your phone--but have no idea how to do so without giving it up completely? If so, this book is your solution.  Award-winning journalist Catherine Price presents a practical, hands-on plan to break up--and then make up--with your phone. The goal? A long-term relationship that actually feels good. You'll discover how phones and apps are designed to be addictive, and learn how the time we spend on them damages our abilities to focus, think deeply, and form new memories. You'll then make customized changes to your settings, apps, environment, and mindset that will ultimately enable you to take back control of your life.


Raise your hand if you don’t have a dependency on some sort of device?  Ok, really?  Be honest with yourself, and put your hand down.  And no, I’m not going to tell you to throw it away.  Here’s a quote from the author that sums up this book nicely; “The point of breaking up with our phones isn’t to deprive ourselves of the benefit of modern technology.  It’s to set boundaries so that we can enjoy the good parts of our phones while also protecting ourselves from the bad.”  This book is rooted in psychological premise, specifically the premise of addiction.  It’s a short read (you’ll have time), and has real-world action plans built into it to help you overcome that addiction.  It’s designed to help you use your phone as designed – as a device, not your lifeline to the world.  I felt like I really needed to read this, and yet, I also feel like I’m one of the least-connected people around lately.  Does that make sense?  I eschew cell phones specifically because they have taken the place of face-to-face communication.  How often do we see large, rowdy groups of teens in restaurants these days?  Whenever I see a group now, they are quiet and all looking down, glued to phones…no one speaking.  Sorry, but please give me back the rowdy.  And it’s not just teens…do we have any idea of the long-term repercussions of growing up in this type of world?


I received some of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Monday, February 5

Eye of the Tiger (Survivor)

Re-enacting the Traditional Greek Olympics (with a few extra events!)

At the end of each unit in our Ancient History curriculum, we get to do one big super-fun project!  For Ancient Greece, we got to plan out our own Olympic Day, complete with medals!  

The original Greek Olympics had five events :  javelin, discus, wrestling, foot race, and pentathalon.  We added Jello snarfling and Nerf gun sharp-shooting to round out our competition...  

Want to stage your own Olympics?  You'll want these resources!


Javelin Throw
An old flagpole made a perfect javelin!


Discus Toss
A frisbee...a discus....it's all the same shape!

Obstacle Course & Foot Races
Over the playground and through the woods...

Wrestling
Who had more fun here....Daddy, or the kids?

Jello Snarfling
I'm fairly certain this was the favorite event!


Nerf Gun Sharp-shooting
The cat kept running in front of the target....

If you want an easy way to make medals, we used old canning lids to make our medals.  Poke a hole through it, use some string, and you have a shiny, metal medal!  We made our own Greek scoreboard to keep track of the day's events.  While there was no clear cut winner, we all came out on top and had a fabulous afternoon!

Wednesday, January 31

Wooly Bully (Sam the Sham)

Not exactly a ZOO study, but we got to take a field trip to Just Right Alpacas, on a very cold day!  The owners, John & Janice Robinson, are just the nicest people you'll ever meet.  They taught us all about their alpacas, including how they got into alpaca farming, all about the animals, and how the fibers are harvested and used.

Alpacas are :
  • green & sustainable
  • herd livestock
  • very easy to care for, with minimal shelter
  • thrive on a few acres
  • produce organic fertilizer
  • produce soft, versatile fibers
  • are naturally hypoallergenic
Be sure to check out our other Zoo Studies!

While we were there, the kids got to take a hayride and ride on a horse.  For some of them, it was the first time they'd ever ridden!
At the end of the day, the kids got to make wool dryer balls out of alpaca fibers and old pantyhose.  It was a neat, easy craft, and we're still using them in the dryer today!

Want to know more about these cool creatures? Here are a few pieces of information we’ve learned:
  • An alpaca is a camelid. Other camelids include camels, llamas, vicuñas and guanacos.
  • Alpacas are native to South America, especially Peru.
  • There are two types of alpacas: Suri and Huacaya. Gia and all the animals we work with are  Huacaya. Suris have a different texture of fiber – almost like dreadlocks.
  • Alpacas are herd animals, so you really can’t and shouldn’t keep just one. But you can raise as many as five on a single acre. Interestingly, many alpacas develop particular “friendships” and will make noise if they’re separated from their friend.
  • An adult alpaca might weigh between about 120 and 200 pounds. Bigger than 200 is Alpaca Diet Time!
  • Alpacas eat primarily grass and hay, and in fact, some of the ones from our local farms are used by a nearby farm market in their solar panel field as “grass-mowers!” 
  • An alpaca is like a cow in that it has a multi-chambered stomach and chews a cud. This helps it get the most nutrition possible even when the foliage they’re eating isn’t particularly great.
Resources :