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Friday, October 6, 2017

The Curious Christian- A Title I would Happily Wear

A sense of wonder is the feeling that envelops my childhood memories. Discovery, awe and time "lost"- in thought, enjoying nature, listening to music. A full life was taking things in- learning, exploring, experiencing. And then I grew up and a successful life was putting out- checking off to do lists and being productive. It didn't take me long to realize that to "grow up" didn't leave much time and space for those things my childhood were characterized by and I assumed that was okay because I had to mature. Then I had kids and I realized I pretty much was just "doing", there wasn't a lot of "being". My sense of who I was pretty well depleted- I had been so focused on the putting out that adult life and motherhood required that I hadn't been investing anything back in. As my boys grew and became more aware of the world around them, I saw that childlike sense of wonder in them and I wanted to make sure it was cultivated. The best way to teach is by example- I wanted my children to be life long learners so I needed to be learning my whole life long.


 A rich and intriguing book that helped me to flesh out the why and how of staying curious in life and even how that applies to and affects my christian life was The Curious Christian by Barnabas Piper. Barnabas is the son of well known pastor and author, John Piper, but he gives the credit for his sense of curiosity and thus the content of his book to his mother. This made my Mama heart smile and was an encouragement to dive into this book with abandon.  I loved that Piper began with the side effects of the Uncurious- binary thinking, missed connections, depleted friendships and love lost; Things we'd all rather stay away from. The books premise is that a sense of wonder and curiosity enrich every part of life. "In the end I want you to see that curiosity is more than a mere habit. It is a discipline, a skill, a habit- one that will expand your life in magnificent, if subtle, ways." 

Piper starts out by tackling the very predicament I struggled with in "growing up"- leaving behind childhood pleasures for adult responsibilities. He poses the question, "What if we leave behind childishness but not childlike?".  he then reminds us that discovery is part of our calling by God- to explore both His word and His world. We can and should always be searching for Truth in the world and in the people around us. By being curious, we will constantly be learning, always be in awe and ever be deepening our relationships. Piper touches on how the best education makes us ever-curious people and solidified some of my reasons for teaching my own children at home so I can share in their pursuit of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. 


I appreciated Piper's ideas on how a spirit of curiosity, coupled with the fruits of the spirit, could really make the Church a more vibrant and engaging entity. "Curiosity in action will lead us to ask questions of those who we perceive as different that allow them to speak for themselves and express the beauty and strength of their culture." Being truly curious means we truly ask and want to see before we judge. I thought it was balanced and wise that Piper included that while "curiosity did not kill the Christian" there are also boundaries to where we allow our curiosity to lead us. We can be a person of curiosity and conviction by "being willing to to listen arguments carefully and process them honestly, but do not move from a conviction without ample reason to do so." He also makes a good point about how grace and wonder allow us to maintain optimism about people while being realistic. We can be curious to know who someone is and assume the best and worst about them simultaneously by being wise yet gracious.

Piper also goes beyond the theoretical and philosophical and offers some practical advice on being curious that I thought was very helpful. He challenges up to consider what media and the like we are "inputting". He offers some questions to ask ourselves such as "How does this shape my life?" and "Is this trustworthy?". In the section, "On being cultured", Piper shares suggestions on cultivating an appetite and appreciation for quality literature, music, nature and science. He hits on so many interesting thoughts on such a variety of topics that it's hard to even scratch the surface of the substance of this book, but I thought the last chapter offered up some solid points for living a curious life: Be Interested, Be Humble, Look, Listen, Record, Ask, Go and Explore, Try Things, Read and Always Come Back to Scripture. "Curiosity is about God and for God. It is an expression of worship and it honors Him by exploring the depths and breadth of His creation." 


This is a book I will be periodically be rereading to remind myself of the worthiness of the pursuit of Truth and the beauty in Wonder. I hope I never stop learning and being in awe. I hope I maybe rub off on my kids a little, like they have immensely rubbed off on me. I hope one day my children each have a lively spirit of curiosity and that I am a part of some of the memories that cultivated it.

Thanks to B&H Publishing for providing this book to review. 


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Creating a Passionate Marriage for Life- the Mediterranean Way

This season of summer and pregnancy has been heavy on a parenting focus. My husband and I were able to take a little get away in early May to recharge as a couple before the busyness of summer and a new Little One joined our family. That was such a treat! We indulged in a classy hotel stay and had so much fun exploring a new to us town. We saw some amazing sights and enjoyed some delicious food. Even a short escape from reality is always such a refreshment for our relationship.  This time I enjoyed reading aloud to my husband as we drove from a great new marriage book The Mediterranean Love Plan: 7 secrets to lifelong passion in marriage.  


 Stephen Arterburn is an author I respect for the various titles he has released and was excited to see he was coming out with a book about marriage coauthored with his wife, Misty. The Arterburns have built a passionate and playful marriage over the years and share their "secrets" in this engaging book. They share in it's pages the secrets of attunement, playfulness, savoring food, enjoying beauty, creativity, health and longevity and how to blend the sacred and the sexual. Each chapter gives a picture of how the people of Mediterranean countries live out these areas and the satisfaction it brings to their relationships and lives. The authors then share very practical and applicable tips and strategies to enhance your marriage in the Every Day. 

 I was encouraged by this book to not only survive in marriage but continue to build a marriage that is both thriving and enjoyable. I feel there is a real need for resources to help Christian marriages in this department and the Arterburns have made a worthy contribution to this cause! 

 Thanks to Book Look Bloggers for providing me with this title to review.

A Faith that God Built: A great new children's book series

Wow, it has been so long since I have shared anything new with You All! Summer and a pregnancy that is so very close to coming to an end have really kept me preoccupied the last few months. We have enjoyed several fun adventures and a lot of baby sister prep this summer. But August has defintely brought the summer heat and with that, a reason to spend some time indoors with some fun, new picture books. One of the best in our pile has been The Frightening Philippi Jail by Gary Bower. 


 This is the first of his A Faith that God Built series that we've read and I was really impressed with it! Each book in the series features a foundational bible story and and introduces it in the build upon rhyming format of the house that Jack built. The Frighenting Philippi Jail is about the miraculous recscue of Paul and Silas from the the jail in Philippi. 


 The book starts out by introducing the very unpleasant conditions of the jail- complete with "bugs and rats and slugs" and intriguing illustrations to match. This defintely got my boys attention from the start!


The story proceeds to tell how Paul and Silas shouldn't have even been in this jail but we're nonetheless singing praises to God and witnessing to the other prisoners. Of how their shackles miraculously fell to the floor and this incident brought the jailer to Christ.


This book does a great job of bringing this important story from the Bible to kids in a captivating way. I am eager to add other titles from this series to our library! 

Thanks to Tyndale Publishers for providing me with this title to review.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Different- Some Hope for the Mama of the Out-of-the-Box Child

Every child is unique and every child has their "issues" and challenges; but some children are a little out of the box in all areas, but specifically in the challenges department. There is a well earned general rule that parenting is straight up hard and each of your kids are individuals who need unique care, but some parents find that their child's needs are beyond the normal spectrum of child rearing. What a breath of fresh air to have a well known and much respected name in the Christian Mothering community step out and raise her hand and admit, "That's me." Sally Clarkson is not only an author I admire but also a "mentor" from a far- a woman whose life I greatly appreciate and strive to emulate. I always glean so much wisdom and practical insight from her books and am so impressed by the "fruit of her labors" that can be seen in her grown children. I really appreciate that she writes from a stage in life where she has seen the outcome of her methods and can share what was successful and what to avoid, but also has a humility and honesty that remembers what it was like to truly be in the trenches during the Little Years. 


In her latest book, Different: The story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him, Sally and her son, Nathan vulnerablely pull back the curtains on what it looked like for Nathan to grow up with multiple challenges- including OCD and learning issues and what it took for Sally to parent him well. Sally is very honest with how overwhelmed and frustrated she was at times, but also so faithful to share how God met her there and gave her the strength and wisdom she needed to rise up to the task of really seeing Nathan's heart and needs thru his "issues" and how to love him like he needed to be. Nathan has bravely chosen to allow God to use the many struggles he's wrestled with over the years to be a connection to others who can relate and an encouragement to what a great God (and a good mom) can do for an out-of-the-box kid!

Mother and Son chronicle the highs and lows of navigating a "different" kind of childhood. I could definitely empathize with Sally's struggle to just accept the cut and dry advice of christian parenting books who suggested just more discipline and consistency in it. I don't personally have a child with any above and beyond challenges but even just in raising some strong willed and high energy boys, I have sometimes had a hard time swallowing the notion of more sternness and less understanding and grace. I really feel this book will be a tremendous blessing to the mothers of those special "out-of-the-box" kids, I know it was a refreshment to my Mama heart.  

Thanks to Tyndale Publishers for providing me with this book to review!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A little bit of nesting + the urge to spring clean= a need for E-Cloth!

Nesting is a very real phenomenon in my pregnancies and it usually hits towards the latter half of my second trimester. We are definitely there! Between my nesting instincts kicking in and a little bit of sunshine (finally!) showing up to inspire some spring cleaning, I've been on a bit of a house keeping spree lately. 

When I first got married and starting my homemaking journey, I honestly used all the conventional cleaning products on the grocery store shelf. Febreeze, Lysol, Windex- that's what the magazines and such said clean looked like and I didn't know better. I remember cleaning a bathroom or another such confined space with those cleaners and feeling so light headed I had to step outside for awhile for some fresh air; that's not a great sign of a healthy house. Once I became pregnant with my first son, I knew a clean and healthy house was now my goal and those chemical laden cleaners had to go! I did a bit of shopping around (mostly online since especially then natural products weren't readily available in my rural area) and started to stock my cleaning cabinet with products I felt comfortable exposing myself and my children to. 

With my last couple pregnancies, I felt the urge to take my cleaning habits to a new level and make some of my own cleaning products from natural ingredients I had around the house so I fully knew each and every element in what I was using. I did a lot of online research and a bunch of experimenting- some worked amazingly well and others were a flop. It seemed especially hard to find a product or DIY recipe for an all purpose spray I could feel good about using on all the surfaces that my family came into contact with multiple times a day- the dining room table, the kitchen counters,etc. I really wanted to find a product that wasn't going to leave much of a residue (hard to find in a store bought spray) but also wanted to know that it was going to be killing bacteria (hard to feel confident about in a homemade product). Then I heard about about microfiber cloths, specifically the best brand on the market- E-Cloth. I was instantly impressed with the idea of being able to clean and disinfect my house with just a cloth, no chemicals needed! E-Cloth products do just that- removing dirt, grease and grime and are proven to remove over 99% of bacteria using just water. They do it all without leaving a chemical residue on surfaces or spray in that air! I initially started by trying out a couple of their multipurpose cloths and was really happy with the cleaning power they provided with just water and no lint left behind either. 



A house cleaning dilemma I have never been able to solve is a greasy, streaky stove top surface! I try to keep it clean of food and grime by wiping it down with a natural spray and such but can never get rid of the streaky residue. I was excited when I found out that E-Cloth offered a special cloth designed just for stove top cleaning and even more when they offered to let me give one a try and share my results with all of you! The range & stove top cloth is a double sided cloth offering a smooth, "normal" microfiber surface for general cleaning on one side and the other side has blue scrubbing stripes for tackling those hardened on food messes. 



Here's a before picture of my stove top before I really felt it needed a "spring cleaning" makeover. I keep it fairly clear of really big food messes but it's always got that streaky finish and had some built up gunk around the burners. I took out the burners and their pans and scrubbed the whole range top really well with the scrubbing stripes side of the cloth. It did well at clearing up the hardened grease rings underneath the burner pans edges. I went back over the whole range top and the stove door as well with the regular side of the cloth and removed more grime! I still felt like there was a bit of a streaky film left behind so I got out the glass & polishing cloth that I already happened to have in my cleaning cabinet. I buffed the whole stove with this cloth and it really provided the finishing touch! 



And here's the "after" shots- look at that shine!

All in all, I was very pleased with the range & stove top cloth and will be using it regularly with my kitchen chores. I would recommend this product but also would suggest having the polishing cloth to really finish up the job well. In fact, I think I am going to be picking up a couple more for myself with their current 2 for 1 deal


With adding a new baby to our family again in just a couple, short months- I know I will be doing a lot more deep cleaning projects and will be shopping E-cloth's selection for my cleaning needs. I was also excited learn that e-cloth is now available at Ace hardware. You can visit the Store Locator at www.ecloth.com to find your local participating store. 

You can find out more about E-Cloth and find out the latest about what they are up to by checking out their blog or following them on facebookpinteresttwitter or instagram

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bible Stories in Board Books

I am loving this stage of Motherhood, as it means I have children in so many fun stages of childhood: An early school age, a preschooler, a toddler and one not even made her first appearance yet! ;) I have enjoyed the challenge of teaching exciting, new skills like reading to my oldest. My preschooler has a natural wonder for life and all that he gets to learn and explore that is just so contagious. My toddler is just adorable (I'm not biased or anything like that! ;) and brings a lot of joy to our days. I cannot wait to have a brand new baby in the house soon and re-experience all the magic of the First Year.


 As a book loving Mama, I have also really been enjoying sharing multiple forms and types of books with my boys recently. I have started some classic, first chapter book read alouds with my two biggest boys. Everyone in our house enjoys a good picture book. I am so glad to still have a toddler to read board books to and look forward to bond with the newest Little One over them too! Board books are the perfect introduction to having "your own library" for the youngest members of the family. Durable, easy to hold for little hands, and quick to read- they are a beginning to a lifetime love of books. What better way to introduce some of the most foundational bible stories at an early age than in the form of Baby's own board book! I love the newest offerings from Worthy Kids/Ideals Publishing that do just that- In the Beginning and Noah's Ark by Susana Gay and her son, Owen. 


In the Beginning is a the perfect paraphrase of the Creation Story for very young readers. My toddler loved the suspense of the blank/dark first page as the beginning of the account of God creating the world from nothing. The text is accurate and direct- perfectly for short attention spans. I love the clean and basic illustrations to portray each day of creation. The happy animals and people at the end really made the whole story come together for my little boy. 


Noah's Ark shares the well loved, children's favorite story of Noah's giant boat full of animals! I loved the sweet introduction to Noah on the first page and how the middle of the book turns into a counting primer. My toddler is 2 so he loved seeing "his number" over and over! I appreciated how the story took them all the way through to landing on the mountain top and gave all the credit of the rescue to God. How fun is the rainbow with the colors primer aspect added?! 



These two little books are an exciting addition to my board book library and I can't wait until my toddler becomes a big brother and can "read" them to Little Sister! :) I will definitely be considering these as baby shower gifts as well. The text is perfect for this age range and the artwork is modern, yet classic. 


Thank you to Worthy Kids Publishers for providing me with these fun books to share a review with my readers of. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Picturing the Past- A wonderful Charlotte Mason inspired Artist Study Resource

As I tread on in my (very fledgling) homeschool journey, I am continuously in awe at both the great weight and the immense joy it is to be the Curator and Instructor for my boy's' education. There is truly so much that I want them to know and even more than that, so many beautiful things I want them to be able to experience and take pleasure in. I secretly have always purposed to raise little Renaissance Men- I really hope for my boys to be able to have a wide appreciation for the vast amounts of Goodness, Truth and Beauty  that are found, literally, everywhere. There are so many pursuits and pastimes that been dismissed by our generation as antiquated and particularly not "manly". This is depressing considering that most of the geniuses in the creative fields for years have been men and being "cultured" has traditionally been a sign of an accomplished man. Honestly, my boys live on a farm and are surrounded by very amazing, hard working, masculine men and I really couldn't be more grateful for that! They learn so much from these grounded and wise men, but the "cultured" part is up to their Mama! ;) And since I am on a vulnerable streak here, I'll also add that I am not always very reliable at providing them the opportunities to be exposed to the Arts and other sources of enrichment. They are a rough and tumble bunch who are always chomping at the bit to get to some "war game" or head out the door. Many days between (what feels like constantly) feeding them, cleaning up after all the "fun" they've had and trying to fit in a few quiet moments for myself, it seems that we are lucky to get the very basics of school in each day. All the amazing and beautiful "extras" I so wish to have woven thru our days usually get left in "a dream" status. 



Though I have found a very effective way to add enrichment subjects to our days is Morning Time- an hour or so each morning that we tackle little bites of various topics such as catechism, poetry, etc.-I am really striving to add Artist and Composer study to this Feast on a more regular basis. This is an area that I don't have a lot of natural resources and storehouses to access in my own accord. I have book lists galore archived in my head but paintings and pieces of classical music- not so much. I grew up doing a lot of reading, especially since I have a natural affinity for it, but I didn't have a lot of attraction or exposure to artists and composers. So this is really a whole new game for both my boys and I. I'm really okay with that though, because one of my favorite benefits of homeschooling is that I get to learn right beside my kids. There is always something new to discover in this life!





 I decided to just jump in and do something for an artist study, even if I didn't have a ton of personal knowledge to impart or the perfect approach to use. In all honesty, we have studied one artist this year. Not exactly impressive, but we have fit in a lot of fun coordinating projects and books because we weren't on a tight time frame. My boys are really young and we have many years left to fill with new artists and their paintings. We choose Van Gogh this fall, partly because we had an abundance of sunflowers blooming and Vanf Gogh's sunflower paintings seemed like a perfect fit to introduce art study. We of course looked at a couple of his renditions of his favorite flower and the style in which he painted. We made some of our own sunflower masterpieces, which the boys really enjoyed. I found a couple of picture books about Van Gogh and his life and those fit in really nicely with our study. 



I was really excited to find out that the met museum has an extensive collection of classic art pieces archived online for free personal download and use. I printed out 4x6s of a few of our favorite Van Gogh pieces and have them displayed on our "school wall." But nothing beats having art in larger format, high quality prints to study. A wonderful resource I have found for providing a wide collection of famous artists pictures in one book and also a neat format for documenting your students artist study is Sarah Brown's Picturing the Past: Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Study of Art and History. In true Funschooling fashion, this is a large format, high quality (and thick!) workbook. It is designed to be a year long study that covers 15 well known artists-as well as a fun collection of pictures by unknown artists at the end- that are dated from 1700-1930. The Artists included are Pierre Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassett, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Charles Burton Barber, Harry Brooker, Albert Anker, George Dunlop Leslie, Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, John William Waterhouse, Grant Wood, and Lois Wain. Each artist has an average of five pictures featured and a dedicated work page accompanying each picture for recording impressions and notes from the student. The worksheet asks students to look at the piece of art for a few minutes and then answer two of the four questions on a given day. The questions are "What can you learn from this picture?", "What do you think the artist is trying to communicate?", "Make up a short story about this picture:", and "How does this picture make you feel?" I think these questions tie into the Charlotte Mason method of artist study pretty neatly. Mason advocated a pretty simple, straight forward approach of repeatedly showing an art print to a student over a period of time and asking them to observe the painting and remember what details they could to tell back. These repetitive, open ended questions will give the child a idea of what to be "looking" for in the painting and what will be expected of him later on in the study time.





My boys are all technically under the recommended age range for this workbook, but they caught on to the concept pretty quickly. I plan to stretch this study book well over the year long period it is designed for and use it as an awesome art study supplement to record the artists we've studied over our school career. 




We finished out our study of Van Gogh by "celebrating" his birthday on March 30th! The boys had fun filling out a interactive, little booklet about Van Gogh's approach to painting and some of his most famous pieces. My oldest received a high quality, paint by number of "The Starry Night" and enjoyed working on that. My Preschooler is super creative and did a great job on making his own rendition of "The Starry Night" with paints and construction paper!




Artist study has been a grand, new adventure for our little schoolroom and I am so thankful to have the Picturing the Past: picture study journal to provide me with some direction and actual prints to use. I think we'll dive into Monet next!

I am very grateful to The Thinking Tree LLC. for providing me with this great resource for my family and to be able to share a thorough review with you all.