Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse (book review)

"Missing Isaac" by Valerie Fraser Luesse was not what I expected. I wasn't in the mood for a love story, so I went with a story about a boy whose friend disappears. I know this story is about race as the back cover reads, "Though their worlds are as different as black and white, friendship knows no color." I know that it's set in Alabama in the 60s - not a great time for interracial friendships in which one party goes missing.
image via
The voice in this book is fabulous. You really get the sense of who Pete McLean is, who Isaac is/was. The characters are not perfect characters; they have flaws and are seemingly as real as flesh and blood people. You see their inner demons working their way to the surface, especially when dealing with prejudices (and not just racial ones!).

While I wasn't in the mood for a love story, Luesse snuck it in on me (apparently I didn't read the back cover carefully enough to read "...a girl who will change his life")! And it was beautiful. Natural, not forced. Again, the voice(s) that carry this story is just imperfectly perfect.

I don't want to give away the plot because it's so good; just one of those books that sticks with you. That you tell your friends about. That you pass on and tell them to pass on because it's beautifully written. Go buy "Missing Isaac."

Disclaimer: I received this book in order to write an honest review. All opinions are my own and may differ from others' opinions. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Holiday movie WINNER

Congratulations to the winner of the holiday movie gift package - Sarah & Derek!

Thanks to all of you who entered! Please enter my next giveaway.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Prairie Girl's Faith by Stephen W. Hines (book review)

"Little House on the Prairie" has been one of my favorite book and tv series for the majority of my life. I grew up watching re-runs of Laura and Mary and Baby Carrie, along with Pa and Ma. I wanted so much to be a pioneer girl as I watched or read - it never occurred to me how I would miss things like air conditioning and refrigerators.

One thing that has changed over the years is my faith. I wasn't raised in a religious household but Jesus took hold of me first in junior high, then I was a prodigal in high school, and then finally He called me to Himself in college. It's been over 10 years now of me walking with the Lord.

I started to watch "Little House on the Prairie" with my family a few months back. I read "Little House in the Big Woods" to my boys, ages 8 and 10. I actually read it first to my daughter, but she was wee, only a month old at the time. And yet, even she (who is now 2) loves to watch "Prairie." My husband is not a fan of old-fashioned things (think black & white movies and such), but he has wanted to sit and watch this series with us. I just picked up "Little House on the Prairie" to being reading to my boys tonight.

There is something simple and wholesome about the Ingalls clan. Growing up reading and watching, I didn't catch their faith. I knew they went to church but I didn't understand the underlying faith behind that. To me, church was a duty, gaining favor and points at Midweek/catechism. Knowing the Lord now, I understand it is not a duty but a joy to go join and collectively worship the Lord.  I now understand that the Ingalls had a faith that allowed them joy in the midst of their trials.
image via Amazon
"A Prairie Girl's Faith" by Stephen W. Hines is a wonderful attempt at sharing the deep faith of Laura Ingalls Wilder with her fanbase. While I enjoy the idea behind this book - I'd love for one of my favorite authors to share a faith with me - I'm afraid it felt a little contrived. For example, Hines compares Laura to Mary (of the Mary and Martha Bible story), saying she wanted to find rest. However, in the article quoted by Laura, it says nothing to resting to worship or resting to read her Bible or resting to enjoy the Lord's day. It merely talks about resting. There is a large difference between resting for rest and resting at the feet of our Lord. Hines said "she [Laura] also felt conflicted by a desire to pause and reflect on the glories of nature that God put around her" however, nothing she wrote (that Hines quoted) shared this same premise.

For me, what fails in this book is the lack of footnotes or citations within the text. Yes, I could follow each part I'm curious about to the Notes section at the end, but honestly that's a lot of work that I'd expect to be done by the author. He talks of Laura's inability to "control her adventurous and now sexually curious daughter." How does he know that? Even in the notes, there is no acknowledgement of where this statement stems from. The notes section does not even give regard to page numbers, only chapter numbers. Perhaps that is just a preference but I find it annoying to not understand where the author got some of his information from.

Hines also seemed to put his opinions over sources or rumors, too. He said that "One thing I can't and won't believe is that Laura deliberately neglected her daughter, though some scholars have suggested it." Well, did he know her personally? Did she specifically state this in her articles or books? Maybe she did (I'd like to believe she didn't either!). I find it hilarious that this statement was in this book, considering later Hines tells us that "Fiery [an editor] outright rejected the idea of a picture book and asked for an expanded narrative in the third person. Rose explained to her mother the reasoning behind this, saying, "'I' books do not sell well."" And yet I find that this book is full of I statements, whereas I was lead to believe this was a book of facts, not opinions.

I'd like to believe that Laura Ingalls Wilder had a deep faith that carried her family through rough times and was passed down from her beloved Ma and Pa. However, quoting from her semi-fictional books shows me more of a cultural religion than a deep faith. Her newspaper articles do seem to tell of a faith, although deeply private (which is odd, considering the Great Commission to spread the gospel of the Lord to the ends of the earth) as shown in this account "from Pamela Hill's Pioneer Girl": "Howard Ensign had joined the Congregational church...and would testify at prayer meeting...It someway offended my sense of privacy. It seemed to me that the things between one and God should be between him and God like loving ones [sic] mother. One didn't go around saying, "I love my mother, she has been so good to me." One just loved her and did things that she liked one to do." Realizing I have come to know Christ in a highly evangelical world, I know others have a very private faith; I just have a hard time thinking that a private faith is real. That may sound harsh but my faith in Christ is deep-rooted so that it penetrates all of who I am and what I do. There is no privacy in that; Christ has called us to the world.

I do feel badly for Laura and Almanzo, if they indeed did have faith. Their daughter, Rose, was sorely lacking in faith. Hines depicts Wilder Lane as a bit of a wild child, a humanist who thought the pioneers survived more on grit than on faith. Perhaps she was right, but many people live and survive through faith alone. I'm just still unsure after reading "A Prairie Girl's Faith" if Laura Ingalls Wilder was one of them.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in order to write an honest review. Others' opinions may differ from my own but they are my own.

More Than Just Making It by Erin Odom (book review)

We have never been a wealthy family. We have had years of struggles and wondering how to make ends meet. There's never been a spending problem, as my husband is thrifty and I don't spend out of respect. Our problem, has always been an income problem. I had never put those terms to it until I read "More Than Just Making It" by Erin Odom.

In this book, the author walks you through her story of going through the economic depression, foreclosure, and bankruptcy. Her family also experienced income problem, especially when her husband was a teacher in a very low paying state.
image via Amazon

While I appreciate her tips on bringing in more income and thrifty shopping, the thing I love most about this book was her perspective on government aid and getting help. At our lowest financial point, we used Medicaid for two pregnancies and births, WIC, and food stamps to help us feed our family. This was something we talked about long before we had children and we did not see eye to eye. My own family used government aid when it was needed when we were very poor and my parents were very young. My husband was very against the idea of aid, but I told him about my past experiences with it and helped him to realize that aid is really for people who need it. I'm so thankful that he changed his views on it, or else we would be in amount of debt. 

I really love how the author put this hard subject into a Christian perspective. She said that we give to Caesar what is Caesar's, which is a quote from Jesus talking about paying our taxes. How God provides and sometimes this is His way of providing. How, when we go to college, we don't blink at putting in applications for aid and grants, but we do when it comes to later times in our lives....why? How we are supposed to take care of one another and paying our taxes without judging those who take aid may be just that way. 

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in thay person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." (1 John 3:16-18)

What a beautiful picture of sacrificing for one another. Odom talks about how in "Scripture, it doesn't take long to discover that God's Word is brimming with admonitions to care for the poor..." how we should oppress the poor. "You might be thinking, 'I don't oppress the poor!' I didn't think I did either. But what is the definition of "oppress"? Learning Dictionary defines it in two ways: 'to treat a person or group of people in a cruel or unfair way' and 'to make someone feel sad or worried for a long period of time.' While none of us may be actively 'oppressing' those living on a lower income than we are, doesn't our lack of compassion adn support count as a sort of 'oppression'? I think it might." 

I just love this perspective, so different than what you typically see in mainstream media. I feel like our culture very much looks down on those who have drawn from aid and that's horrible. We don't know one another's circumstances that lead to aid but that shouldn't matter; we should give gladly and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Disclaimer: I received this book in order to write an honest review. All opinions are my own and others' opinions may differ from my own.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Holiday Christmas Giveaway - Ba-Humbug! (giveaway)

Christmas is coming! It's almost here! Well, once Thanksgiving passes, of course. I love this holiday season - thankfulness, joy, giving, ba-humbug...wait, what? But seriously, what would this season be without Mr. Scrooge? Thankfully, a new movie "The Man Who Invented Christmas" is about to open (November 22) that will give us the insider's view on how Charles Dickens wrote his classic "A Christmas Carol."

Film Synopsis: The Man Who Invented Christmas tells the magical journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), Tiny Tim and other classic characters from A Christmas Carol. Directed by Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), the film shows how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) mixed real life inspirations with his vivid imagination to conjure up unforgettable characters and a timeless tale, forever changing the holiday season into the celebration we know today.
image via Grace Hill Media

Doesn't that sound terrific? I love Christmas movies! Not the Hallmark kind, really, but ones I've watched since I was small. I love the cartoons like "Frosty the Snowman," "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer," and "A Charlie Brown Christmas." My husband enjoys watching "Elf" year-round. My children are fans of the Veggie Tales movie "The Toy Who Saved Christmas," "The Polar Express," and "Jingle All the Way." I also enjoy "Miracle on 34th Street" and "The Nativity Story."

By far, my favorite two Christmas movies are "Home Alone" and "The Santa Clause." There is a mix of nostalgia and fun in these movies. I know they aren't about the real story of Christmas - at all! They are completely secular and wonderful. I love watching Kevin McAllister outsmart the bad guys. I love watching Tim Allen transform into Santa. 

My favorite "Home Alone" scene is in the church. The children's choir is practicing and Kevin sits by his scary old neighbor who turns out to be not scary at all. I love the music! It's one of my favorite Christmas songs in that scene: "O Holy Night." Just makes me so happy to see it!

My favorite "The Santa Clause" scene is when we see Santa enter a house without a chimney. I grew up without a chimney so there were always those questions of how he got in. This movie made a completely plausible, magical answer! 

I know Christmas is about a whole lot more than silly movies. Of course, this is the time we remember Emmanuel: God with us. Such wonderful news that I can enjoy year round. But what a remarkable time we have to share this Good News with others...maybe after watching our favorite movie together!

I love giving away things. This happens to be an incredible giveaway! Grace Hill Media has collaborated with me to give one of you a Holiday movie collection that includes: "The Sounds of Music," "Beauty and the Beast" (the new live-action one!), and "A Christmas Carol." Fabulous! 

One entry per person. Please leave a valid email address so I can reach you if you win (if I cannot contact you, you cannot win). 

Please leave a comment telling me your favorite Christmas movie and why!

That's it, very simple. Remember to leave your email address in the comment. Thanks for reading! GIVEAWAY ENDS Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 11:59pm CST. Winner will be notified via email.

Disclaimer: I will receive a Holiday movie collection in appreciation for writing this post and hosting this giveaway. All opinions are my own and will likely vary from others' opinions. Void where prohibited. Must be 18 or over to enter. 

Cave Tools vegetable grill basket (review)

In the summer, I cut down on my cooking time by grilling. I enjoy hamburgers and hotdogs and bratwurst and chicken, all grilled. I had never had grilled vegetables before using the Cave Tools vegetable grill basket.

I followed the directions by spraying the basket with cooking spray before using it, but that left ours with a dingy film on it. I'm not sure how much food would've been caked on without it, however. I just let my husband wash it - big burly guy he is!
this box was shiny silver before cooking
My first attempt with the vegetable grill basket was with white potatoes. I thought they would taste really good grilled. Perhaps I filled the box too full, or had the flames too high, but our potatoes were largely burned or underdone. It took a lot of ketchup to eat that meal.
not my best attempt

It really has gotten way too cold to Grill here in Kansas. It is in the 20s and I cannot bring myself to go outside and grill. However, I do plan to try the vegetable grill basket in my oven. I do like the versatility of being able to use it in my oven. 

The one thing I really don't like about the vegetable grill basket is how big it is. At the top, it is probably close to 2 feet wide and it does not collapse. I am not entirely sure where I am going to store it.

You can find your own vegetable grill basket by visiting Amazon or Cave Tools online. I also have their grill brush which is really good!

You can save 15% on your own veggie basket with code VEGGIE15 .

Disclaimer: I received this product in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and others' opinions may differ from mine.

Big and Little Coloring Devotion by Rachel Swanson and Jacy Corral (book review)

Growing up, my sisters and I colored all the time. We used to color really dark by the black lines and then lighter on the inside. I'm sure we thought it was so cool! I remember much of my childhood, even in to college, spotted with memories of coloring. And melted crayons on back windows of cars...oops.

image via B&H

My sons enjoyed coloring when they were smaller, or at least my second son did. My older son has always been the kid that chooses one color – red – and colors the entire picture of that color in a few fell swoops. He's in 5th grade now and does a much better job but it's not his natural bent. 

I naturally assumed when I had my daughter, that she would love coloring. Don't all girls? OK, that is probably not true but my girl does enjoy coloring. Her preferred medium is markers, and her preferred surface is her arms and legs. I generally keep the markers high. 

Regardless of her toddler-esque coloring habits, I do enjoy coloring with her. The Big and Little Coloring Devotional book is such a sweet idea. A beautiful picture for her to color and a beautiful picture for me to color. The adult side of the coloring book has a small devotional, one or two paragraphs. The picture is more intricate and detailed; harder and more time-consuming.
I started to color this intricate lion page but didn't get far in one sitting

Princess and I have had fun coloring a few of the pages out of this book, but I actually prefer the less intricate pages of the book. I find this with every adult coloring book; that the designs are too intricate, too complicated, and take more than one sitting to finish. I do not have time to color these pages, but I do have time to color the children pages.  The adult pages make me feel like it's an impossible task; the children pages are an easier thing to finish. I enjoy those pages with their simple verse and beautiful drawings.

A friend of mine spend an evening coloring with her middle school daughter a few weeks ago, and I think this book would be perfect for that same kind of time but these children pages are more geared toward upper elementary or junior high. Since I enjoy the children pages a little more, I even let Princess color the adult page while I read the devotional upside down and colored the child page. It worked for us.

my child page on top; Princess scribbled on the adult page

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in order to write an honest review. Others' opinions may differ from my own. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Indescribable: 100 Devotions for Kids about God and Science by Louie Giglio (book review)

Squirt, my 8-year-old son, loves science. He wants to be a scientist when he grows up, we do science experiments when I have all the ingredients, and he (usually) listens when I tell him something science-related. I thought of him immediately when I got the chance to read "Indescribable: 100 Devotions for Kids About God and Science" by Louie Giglio. It is based on his popular messages "Indescribable" and "How Great is Our God."

image via BookLook

I am all about mixing my kids' interests and God. Anything to draw them closer to Him and teach them more about Him. "Indescribable" did not disappoint. The devotions were just over a page each with a "Be Amazed" fact portion about something science related (dinosaurs or weird sea creatures).

I'm always amazed when I go outside at night (or very early morning) to see the stars. I just cannot comprehend how that could be random; it's too beautiful, too perfect, too created. Our Creator did create the heavens and the earth. So much of our surroundings reflect Him, if only we choose to see Him. "Indescribable" allows me to show my kids more of God's creativity and orderliness of our world. Any chance to show my kids more about the Creator, the better.

Unfortunately for me, my two-year-old went and hid this book somewhere so I need to scour the house for it this week so we can keep reading! Or I can always purchase it here and help support my favorite seminary, EBS in Haiti.

Disclaimer: I was given this book in order to write an honest review. Others' opinions may vary from my own. The link included in this goes to AmazonSmile which helps support my favorite seminary, Emmaus Biblical Seminary in Haiti.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

CSB Bible - Reader's Edition (book review)

In 1550, Edito Regia was published by Robert Estienne. It featured the chapter and verse numbers we are familiar with in Bibles. I love the idea that if I say "John 3:16," it can be easily found in the Bible. 

However, I have sometimes found this system limiting in my reading of the Bible. It can make it seem more laborious than it is. "Oh, I've read 2 chapters!" That seems like a lot but two Bible chapters differs from two chapters in Little House on the Prairie or The Hobbit. But my head knows chapters are long, so it seems laborious. 
image via Amazon

Sometimes verses are split in half and sections are chopped up with headings. It can be difficult to trace a "therefore " back to its original subject. 

Much of the New Testament are epistles, letters. They don't look like letters with the chapter and verse numbers. 
image via Amazon

I have enjoyed the uninterrupted reading in the CSB Reader's Bible (CSB = Christian Standard Bible) for a few months now. Reading two pages is like reading two pages (with small print still)! Passages are not oddly broken up! I just feel like it's easier to read this Bible. 

I do have to beware of fast reading! I am a fast reader and can skim a page and get the gist. However, Bible reading is not college reading. I have no timeline and no test. I don't need to rush and rushing, in this instance, can be detrimental. I may miss something small that God wants to magnify in my application of a certain passage. So I must not speed over the awesome Word. 

Overall, I have enjoyed this CSB Reader's Bible. I plan to continue to do much of my reading out of this Bible. I don't use it for Bible studies due to ease of finding corresponding verses. I love to use it partially in my own study of the Bible when I read through a book to get an overview. It's great to have a more uninhibited read through!

You can purchase the CSB Reader's Bible through the CSB website or via Amazon Smile (and support my favorite seminary EBS).

Disclaimer: I received this Bible in order to write an honest review. My opinions are my own and may differ from everyone else's opinions. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How We Love (Expanded Edition) by Milan and Kay Yerkovich (book review)

Several years ago I wrote a book review on "How We Love Our Kids" by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. I learned that I had a vacillator love style in my parenting - meaning I vacillated (kind of like an oscillating fan) between wanting to be a really involved mom which lead to me being sort of overwhelmed and then I would back way off, almost isolating myself into myself.

I've worked really hard to push past my natural tendency to pull away from my kids when I get overwhelmed. This has taken a lot of prayer and Holy Spirit gumption. Motherhood has been more enjoyable and I can see the difference in my children's attitudes when I pushed through my natural tendencies to do the next right thing!

I recently read "How We Love" by Milan and Kay Yerkovich, which is their original book on how to "Discover your love style, enhance your marriage." Who doesn't want to enhance their marriage?!

image via Blogging for Books
My biggest take away from this book has been the section called "Duets that Damage" where it explains what happens when two differing love styles get married. My husband is a pleaser and I still fall to the vacillator love style. As a vacillator, I idealize things and get disappointed quite easily. I easily feel abandoned or forgotten and can assume people (including my husband) intend to hurt (when they really don't). As a pleaser, that can trigger my husband to do things to make me happy and minimize conflict. That, in turn, can make me feel not heard well or disappointed more if the things done to make me happy, don't make me happy (love languages comes in to play here with me being a gift giver - and receiver - and my husband being a acts of service kind of guy). It's just an interesting concept that has gotten better for us just through intentional listening. To see it written in a book and see that there is this pattern that is common is quite eerie. Like having someone look into your life telescopically.

I also enjoyed some questions in the book that helped me look at why I have developed into a vacillator love style. The first that has stuck with me was "do you remember receiving comfort as a child?" This means beyond comfort received when you fell off your bike, but more emotional. I have no recollection of being cuddled or held at all. This is not to say I wasn't but I do not recall that. This is a sensitive question because it falls back to my parents, who were good parents and did the best raising me as they has the tools to do. But we all fall short, and I'm included in that. My children will likely have hurts and scars from my parenting, too, so this in no way is meant to be demeaning but just interesting. Without that comfort memory, it's difficult for people to be vulnerable and know when to seek out help with their emotions.

Another question was in the "Duets that Damage" section: "Think about how your family handled feelings, such as happiness, anger, frustration, sadness, and fear, when you were a child. Did both parents express all these emotions? What about the other family members?" Often times we are taught how to handle (or in most cases, not handle) our emotions. I don't think that was in my parents' toolbox, how to handle emotions or how to help their children handle emotions. I struggle greatly with expressing my emotions and working through them versus merely reacting (badly) to them. I think this is a common thing but something I'd rather no repeat in my own parenting. Having a 10-year-old already, I have some work cut out for me helping him (and my other children) acknowledge their emotions and work healthily through them.

In "How We Love," the Yerkoviches talk about a list of soul words. This is a tool to help us (and our children and spouses) acknowledge our true emotions. There is happy but beyond that there is "cheerful, delighted, elated, encouraged, glad..." For each emotion, we can dig deeper to be more specific. When we are more specific (I feel humiliated versus ashamed), then we can dig deeper in ourselves (and family members) to unearth the cause and work toward healing. It was mentioned in the book, and I've done my own research with it since, that most of the time when you ask someone how they feel about something, they don't answer with a feeling. "How do you feel about your husband switching jobs?" "Oh it's going to be great." That's not how you're feeling at all! It's just an interesting tid bit that has made me think about how I respond. The more we work on identifying our soul words, the better off our relationships will be.

If you want to understand your own love style, there is a quiz on the How We Love website that can be useful. To dig deeper and really work through your love style, they also have a workbook available.

Disclaimer: I received this book in order to write an honest review. All opinions are my own and may vary from others' opinions about the book, author(s), or most anything else. 

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