2016-2017 Homeschool Curriculum Review

We haven’t yet moved into our next school year, but the planning for next year is coming along. This past year was our 7th homeschooling year. We had 4 official students and 1 who insisted on jumping into the fun with us. (Preschoolers do that from time to time. Sometimes they want to participate. Sometimes they don’t. Before age 6, we let them choose. Play time is learning time for that age, so I’m not comfortable pushing them toward rigorous studies just yet.) I figured I’d let you guys know what worked and what didn’t this school year. But I always like to give an update on what worked and what didn't, since my opinions may change by the time we get closer to the end.

Overall, we have used The Well Trained Mind throughout our schooling days. We’ve been a little more relaxed in the Grammar stage. Some of the suggested resources haven’t worked for us, so we have found alternatives that work.

I had two fifth graders this year, one third grader, one kindergartener, and one preschooler.

Math
We used Teaching Textbooks 5 and 3 for these guys this year. Teaching Textbooks has been the best math program for these guys. These two started with Singapore Math and then switched to Teaching Textbooks for fourth grade. We no longer buy the workbooks, because my kids only use the computer disc portion of the program. Each lesson is well explained, having them do practice problems as they go. If they don’t do well on a lesson, you can go in and delete the grade and let them try again. They get two tries at each problem, and the program explains how the answer is achieved. It gives immediate gratification, telling them if they are right or wrong on each problem before they move on. The kids do very well with this program. I have read some reviews that say the grade levels are off, but I have not found that to be the case. Each year starts off pretty easy, but builds back to more difficult concepts. So, a student may find it easy at first, but there is more challenge coming. My only issue with the program is the cardboard cases the CDs come in. I feel like for the price, they should come in some durable CD cases for long term use. I’ve had to move all our discs into a zippered CD case. That works, but for $99 a set (higher in the higher levels) they should come with something more durable than paper. The program keeps up with the grades and you can check them at any time. We don’t usually do grades, but since the kids were doing it all on their own, it helped me keep an eye on their progress.
We started the year with Essential Math K. He flew through it. It wasn’t a challenge for him at all. We switched to Life of Fred about halfway through the year. It introduced more complex topics and he liked the storytelling aspect. The preschooler joined us for these lessons, but will likely need to do them again.

Grammar
I signed the older two up for Wordly Wise Online through Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op. They didn’t like it. I didn’t like it. The program isn’t well laid out. It is very confusing and takes a lot of time per lesson. I also felt like they weren’t really learning much for the effort being put in. We stopped it mid-year and will not be picking it back up.
We also grabbed the new Writer’s In Residence program from Apologia. Each student needs their own book. And the books are hefty. While I like some of the content, overall, the program didn’t work well for us. For one, it isn’t well laid out. The grading rubric is confusing. Everything has to be graded, which is weird for us since we don’t really grade things. Some of the assignments were frivolous. Also, it got really messy. It is a huge workbook, so I expect all the work to be done in the book and fit in the book. But there were several times when things were cut out of the book (which annoys me greatly) or they had to paper clip extra pages into the book. I felt like they could have made it all work, but didn’t. If the kids are needing to use separate paper, I would have just liked it in textbook format with all the work being done on their own paper in a separate notebook. My kids did learn from the program, but it was far too parent intensive and far too convoluted. You will need at least one of the Teacher’s Guides. I won’t be continuing this program. Even if I wanted to, I can’t. They released Volume 1 of 4 last year but haven’t released Volume 2 yet. I have such mixed feelings on this program. Some of it is SO good. But then some of it is SO bad.

I kept my third grader signed up for Explode the Code online. I absolutely love that program. It has worked so unbelievably well for him. He enjoys it. It challenges him. He is finishing up the program now, so he won’t be using it next year. I’ll be looking at buying it again for our rising first grader, though.

History
Our history years aren’t lining up smoothly because we spent longer than a school year on Ancient history. We use Story of The World. This year, we started a history co-op with some other families in our church. That slowed us down considerably, so we didn’t finish a full year of history this year either. We finished up Story of The World 2 and then moved into Story of the World 3. We tried the audio version of Story of the World 2, but the kids hated it. They did not like listening to the CDs. So, we went back to me reading it to them from the book. When we started Story of The World 3, I added interactive notebooks. It would have worked well for just my kids, but in the co-op setting, it got a little hectic. We will be continuing Story of The World 3 next year, but these two will be moving into the Logic stage, so they will be adjusting how they do history. (Technically, the Logic Stage begins in 5th grade, but my kids needed an extra year of writing and grammar before they could really tackle outlines and summaries.)

Science
We found a really awesome Science curriculum that works alongside Story of The World so well. Berean Builders Science is chronological science, studied by scientist and discovery. That has made so much more sense to my kids and given them a better understanding of how we come to know what we know. I’ll admit, they watched a few too many documentaries that had distorted their view of science. Because each documentary presents everything as fact, not theory. Then the documentaries would contradict one another or come from an atheistic world view. My kids became super skeptical and I was having difficulty drawing them back into the subject. The Berean Science books have been perfect to hook them back in. We started using Science in the Scientific Revolution along with Story of the World 3. There are experiments to better understand the discoveries made. It has been awesome. The kids love it, they are actually engaged, and they better understand the scientific process and how new discoveries change the way we see the world.

Handwriting
I have never used a proper handwriting program. However, my kids really needed it. They were having a lot of trouble writing clearly enough to communicate their ideas. So, I opted for an actual handwriting book. I chose Patriotic Penmanship. I liked the selected quotes. I decided to keep my third grader in print writing because he was only 7 and he needed some reinforcement on the proper way to make letters. One of my fifth graders did introductory cursive and the other did her proper grade. The workbooks are great. I had them work on a two page spread, one lesson, each week. Day one they would just practice making a letter. Day two they would practice key words. Day three they would work on a full phrase or two. Day four they would write the entire quote. It didn’t take more than a few minutes each day and I simply asked for very hard work for those few minutes. All of them have improved their handwriting significantly with just a little work each day. I will definitely be ordering Patriotic Penmanship workbooks again this year. Each child needs their own workbook as they are consumable.

Bible
For our Bible study for the older kids, we used Herein Is Love: Genesis. This one has a lot more lessons in it than the Leviticus book. The kids really enjoyed it and I think they learned a lot. It does a great job of weaving the whole story into the beginning story.
For the Little Guys, we used the Jesus Calling Storybook. I was not as in love with this Storybook Bible as I was with the Jesus Storybook Bible. It has little notes from Jesus, but they are worded oddly and it makes it a little difficult to follow in a read aloud format. But the kids liked it and they did learn.

Geography
We used my Operation World geography plan. It went really well. It helped open my kids’ worldview and show them more than what is outside their front door. I was really happy with how it went and will continue it next year.

Kindergarten
I purchased Alpha Tales and Phonics Tales at Costco for the little guys. We did not get into the Phonics Tales. It will really be a toss up this year if we do that book or The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Reading. I’m not sure which will work better for these guys.
I also signed them up for ABCMouse.com mid year. They have loved it. They can use their tablets to play. I signed up for the assessments, as well, but found that portion pretty worthless.

Reading
I basically let the kids pick what they wanted to read this year instead of using the reading list from Well Trained Mind. Turned out, that was a mistake. Well, the kids really loved reading, but they essentially spent the year reading junk books. I did strongly suggest a few classics that they did read and enjoy. The third grader loved the Roald Dahl books we have and finished all the Magic Treehouse books we own, plus ventured over to the Imagination Station books. The fifth graders read Peter Pan and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. They also read some Judy Bloom. But they did read a bunch of Goosebumps books and other junk type books. Next year, I’ll separate the required reading and the fun reading a bit more.

I kept track of everything in a composition notebook that I used like a bullet journal for schooling. This helped the planning significantly. I’ll be doing the same again because it worked so well. Though I’ll likely opt for a real bullet journal this year. (I’ve been using a bullet journal for a class I am taking and another one for the upcoming 2018 year. I’m liking the customization so much more than a standard planner. I also have one that I’ve been using alongside my 2017 planner for notes and things. I do like having separate planners for each of those areas, since I feel like everything together just gets too cluttered.)

** This post contains affiliate links. Using these links won't cost you more. But if you use the links, they do benefit me. Using affiliate links is a way to help support bloggers like me. **

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Feng Shui Mommy & Musings on Being A Mother


I had the opportunity to review the book Feng Shui Mommy by Bailey Gaddis recently. It took me a little longer than usual, since we have been traveling for what seems like forever. And I see these Instagram posts of parents having this relaxing, chill time while traveling, reading and sipping pretty cups of coffee. That is so far from my life. For me, traveling is a bunch of yelling at kids to please, don’t scream in the bus. And please, don’t throw a half eaten orange on the floor. And then trying to get them settled wherever we are staying is trying. Please don’t break anything. Please don’t scream. Just behave for a couple days, guys! My kids really need time to run outside and be wild children. They just get all crazy without it. And then trying to find decent food on the road while the kids are yelling “Look! Burger King! We haven’t been there in years! Please!!!!” It is just far from relaxing. And there is zero time for me to accomplish anything other than keeping the kids alive.I wasn’t entirely sure about this book. Feng Shui isn’t my think, neither is Eastern mysticism. But I figured I had read any other pregnancy book I could get my hands on, why not this one too? And I am a believer that wisdom can be gained from anywhere. You just have to be able to put in the wisdom and leave whatever doesn’t work for you behind.

I’ll start with the good. Bailey is hilarious. I’m sure we’d get along great in a Mommy group. The book is very encouraging, yet honest about the process of becoming a mother. It is really applicable for a first time mom or a seventh time mom like myself. We all know pregnancy is this giant miracle, the piece of creative work here on earth. But we also know it comes with hemorrhoids, stretch marks, uncontrollable belching, and plenty of other super fun things they write entire pregnancy books about. Bailey acknowledges these unfortunate parts while still reveling in the miraculousness of it all. And the commonness. Let’s face it. My pregnancy is life changing. For me. And my family. Not so much for everyone else. Pregnant women are everywhere. Babies are born every day. We don’t stop and revel in that daily miracle, unless the miracle is in our arms or our circle. Not that you, pregnant woman, are not special and your baby isn’t the most awesome thing ever. But there is comfort in knowing that you’re not alone in your journey. This isn’t a path not taken. Women have babies. It is what we do.

She lays down a lot of good advice about letting go of fears and accepting and allowing this experience to shape and change you. Motherhood is going to change you. You won’t be the same. Not that you will not be you, you’ll just be a better you. Motherhood has the opportunity to let us get beyond ourselves, see things in a more broad light, and see the world not just for what it is, but what it could be for our children. You hear a lot of women talking about loosing themselves in motherhood. That has not been my experience at all. I have found myself in motherhood. I have tapped into creativity, problem solving, stamina, strength, wisdom, and more through becoming a mother. Motherhood has made me a more complete person.

There are other nuggets of wisdom throughout this book. There are little aspects similar to hypnobabies, for those not necessarily wanting to jump head in to that or wanting a little more than that. Each chapter has a riddle and the answer is the code for a free relaxation recording on her website. (Yourserenelife.wordpress if you are wanting to check out the website or just purchase the recordings.) If you are a bit high strung, this will definitely help you quiet your mind and rest. The recording go alongside the chapter. There is some great information about prenatal nutrition, exercising, dealing with your anxieties, figuring out your birth plan, breathing, breastfeeding, and postpartum self care. A lot of the things she suggests are very “woo” (hippie, might seem weird to most mainstream folks), but try them and you’ll find so many benefits (without side effects). This book is really packed with a lot of natural birth type basics, specifically helpful in the preparing stage.

I genuinely expected the major focus of the book to be decluttering and a form of minimalism in a family home. While there was a little of that, it was more about decluttering your mind and letting go of the junk you keep stashed in there, less about what you keep stashed under your bed. (Though it does briefly address that aspect, too.)

Now for my only big critique. As much as I enjoyed the book, Feng Shui isn’t my language. You may know what I am talking about. You read pregnancy affirmations and they just don’t resonate with you, not because they are wrong, but they aren’t the language of your heart or soul. Aligning my soul and my life with nature isn’t where I find myself. I appreciate the natural world, as a creation of our God that reveals His nature to us. So while I do find myself able to adapt and use much that I find in this book, it isn’t in the language of my heart. Same with the relaxation tracks. I can find wisdom in them. I can apply them to myself. But in all, they aren’t my language. My heart resonates with Scripture, with the voices of those for the cause of Christ. So, I did find that I had to leave some of this, and adapt the rest to fit my particular worldview. I find that Scripture is what I need to quiet my soul and release my anxieties. I memorize Bible verses, not birth affirmations because Scripture speaks to me. If you aren’t a solid Christian though, this can be much harder to do and not get lost with incompatible philosophies running around in your head. However, I think the overall tone of the book, being supportive and encouraging embracing motherhood and letting it change you, is completely in line with Christian beliefs and is what many Christian women need to hear. So, I do recommend the book, despite the difference of religion and worldview that is there.


I am going to have to figure out how to cut down on this rambling for a more concise Amazon review. But this book is a great jumping off point in discussing our expectations of motherhood and what the reality could be if we let go of our fear and become the mothers we were made to be. Our culture has a lot of myths about birth. We just don’t trust it because it is the wild, uncontrollable, unknown. We try to control it in any way we can. But pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are not beyond us- they are us. Their strength that we try to tamper because it is scary is our own strength. Our culture still paints women as these frail objects that are affected by birth. But women ARE birth. It is the work of women to BIRTH. We work alongside God in the creative act of bringing forth new life. That is amazing. That is powerful. And that is who we are and what we were made to do. For those without children, that strength is still there. It is still part of who you are. And I’m not talking about having some secret power you don’t use. You were made with the power of a mother, whether you are one or not. And you can embrace the strength given to you by God, too. One baby, ten babies, no babies. This is mystical. It is mystery. But it isn’t a nightmare or something to fear. Embrace it. Roll with it. Let it shape you.

** I did receive this book for free, however, I am under no obligation to talk it up or give it a good review. All thoughts are my own. **

2014 Books In Review

I’ll admit it, I did not read very much in 2014. I honestly don’t know what happened. I just had a slow reading year. I ended up reviewing a bunch of non-book products (crib sheets, stroller, baby carriers, vacuum, toys, etc.). But I did read, on average more than one book per month. Here they are:

revivalRevival: Faith As Wesley Lived It by Adam Hamilton

5 Stars

Written by a United Methodist Pastor, Revival is divided geographically. Each chapter focuses on a place in Wesley’s life and ministry and ties that back to Wesley’s teachings. You’ll find pictures of the author’s journey to these places. You could even use the book as a guidebook to a Wesley centered trip. He quotes Wesley’s sermons and relates them to modern life. This is a book easily understood by laity, and easily appreciated by clergy. You’ll find snippets of Wesley’s life, snippets of Wesley’s thoughts, and snippets of current Wesleyan perspective- all in one book. While not exhaustive, it is certainly a good peak into the life and mind of Wesley and into the theology of Wesleyans.

hereinisloveHerein Is Love, Volume 3: Leviticus by Nancy E. Ganz

5 Stars

I cannot tell you enough how much I love this book. I got it for homeschooling. We’d been going through the Old Testament and I found myself stumped when it came to Leviticus. This book is amazing. It ties the Old Testament to the New in a way that kids can understand. It is set up with lessons in the beginning and questions in the back. It can easily be used for Sunday School type curriculum, as well. This is understandable by grammar school age kids, but isn’t below middle or even high schoolers. My 5 year old was able to remember all the steps to becoming a priest! This book was a huge help and a huge blessing. I cannot recommend it enough!

soupclub

The Soup Club Cookbook by Courtney Allison, Tina Carr, Caroline Lasko, and Julie Peacock

5 Stars

At first, I just wanted this book for the soup recipes. And there are plenty of those! The range of the recipes is pretty wide, but if you’re not a foodie, not many of them are going to appeal to you. There are also some very difficult to find specialty ingredients in a lot of the soups. If you live near a large metro area, it likely won’t be difficult for you to acquire them. If you live in more rural areas, you’ll have a lot more trouble with a lot of the ingredients. (We’re talking about things like Marmite, specialty cheeses, fresh chestnuts, celeriac bulbs, sunchokes, masa harina, kombu, nori, etc.) There are also several non-soup recipes. I was thrilled with the recipes included. And the recipes are huge, which is a plus for this large family momma.
But what really surprised me is how much I actually like the idea of a soup club. I usually shy away from dinner clubs, mostly because they just don’t work for my family. But soup club is something I could really get used to. I look forward to finding a few friends to try soup club with me.
You’ll need a few things to make this cookbook work for you. You’ll need a huge stock pot. The soup recipes are intended to be split among 4 families. That means each recipe makes 8-9 quarts of soup. (And if you’re a large family mom, like myself, that means their might even be leftovers!) You’ll need an immersion blender for several of the soups. You may need a food processor for several soups. And if you’re starting a soup club, you’ll need quart sized jars, small jars for garnishes, and canvas tote bags for delivery.

crochetwithoneCrochet with One Sheepish Girl by Meredith Crawford

5 Stars

I am a very beginning crocheter. This book has the basics in the beginning of the book, though crochet is a little hard to grasp in book form, so you may want to watch some YouTube videos to help with the beginner basics. There are several patterns in this book, all of them pretty unique. (I hate it when I buy a craft book and can find every single pattern for free on the internet. This book isn’t like that.)
Patterns include: Granny Square Infinity Cowl, Color Block Ribbed Turban, Bow Brooch, Striped Bow Clutch, Sweater Makeover (Adding crochet hearts to a sweater, not the pattern for the sweater), Collared Shirt Makeover (Adding a crochet trim to a button up shirt), Scallop Stripe Cowl, Home Cozy Home Pillowcase, Crochet Edge Frames, Yarn Bag Makeover (Adding Crochet touches to a ready made canvas bag), Ombre Basket in Three Sizes, Crochet Hook Organizer, Heart Pocket Apron, Teacup Coasters, “Enjoy” Place Setting Placemat, Cottage Tea Cozy, Diana Camera Purse (looks like a camera, doesn’t hold a camera), Tablet Case, Gift Boxes, Chocolate Latte (crochet to go coffee cup, doesn’t actually hold coffee), Blueberry Muffin (again, a “play” muffin), Party Hat Garland, Snow Cone Garland, and Crochet Edge Cards and Tags (cards are printed in the back of the book so you can make copies of the cards she has or add the trim to your own).

charcuterieThe New Charcuterie Cookbook by Jamie Bissonnette

4 Stars

This is a well laid out book. There are plenty of pictures, even step by step pictures helping you wade through the unfamiliar territory. You’ll need more than the average American kitchen contains, though. You’ll need a meat grinder. For many recipes, you need a separate meat curing fridge. You’ll need a sausage stuffer. None of these recipes will make your kitchen more efficient or save you money. This is more of a hobby cooking type endeavor. (Telling you his first few hams didn’t turn out, so don’t worry if yours doesn’t won’t fly when you’re counting on that ham for dinner.)

You should also be aware that this book, particularly in the introduction, is quite crude and contains a few profanities. I wouldn’t usually expect that in a cookbook, but think it is pertinent info, particularly for those giving the book as a gift.

Overall, a beautifully laid out, well explained book. Just not something the average American home cook is going to necessarily employ.

goodadvice
Good Advice from Bad People by Zac Bissonnette
4 Stars
This makes for an interesting coffee table book. Organized with a quote on one page in large print and then the story of why the quote is so humorous coming from that person follows on the next page or two. Some of the quotes and stories are not so amusing, some are. Makes a great conversation starter, for sure.
afterworlds
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield
3 Stars
This book is two books in one. You have the book, “Afterworlds”. Then you have the story of a young up-and-coming author writing “Afterworlds”. Chapters alternate between the stories. The timing between the stories is very well done.
“Afterworlds” by Darcy Patel would have gotten a 5 star review. And I would sit anxiously awaiting “Untitled Patel”. It was the second story of Darcy Patel flowing through the pages that brought the rating down. Don’t get me wrong, the book premise was genius, the timing of the stories flowing together was nothing short of epic. The characters in the Darcy Patel story just lost their fizz and definition as the love relationship in that story began. The plot took over and left nothing for the characters themselves to be. Darcy began acting not like Darcy, but by a pawn of the plot. Huge bummer because this book could have been epic. Darcy was just all wrong from the beginning. (She should have been a dude- that would have made so much more sense because she didn’t ever feel like any girl I have ever known. The soul of the character felt like an insecure boy.) Read it, because you have to- this is Scott Westerfeld we’re talking about. Enjoy the genius in the premise and in the Afterworlds story. But know that the Darcy Patel story is just a flat, soulless blah once you get beyond the perfect timing, insightful industry look, and innovative idea.Parental blurb: (This book is YA. Recommended for 14 and up. So I am dutifully including the info parents might want to know.) This book contains the following:
-terrorism
-cult in minor detail
– violence, but nothing excessively graphic
– violence against children
– cursing, not excessive, but a few f-bombs
– underage drinking
– sex in vague passing references, nothing graphic
– homosexual relationship is one of the main stories in the book

breastfeeding
5 Stars

I have breastfed all five of my children, so I am not new to this, nor was any of the information in the book really new or unheard of to me. However, this made me heart just sing reading about the beauty God created in the mother and child dynamic shared in breastfeeding. I will go back and read this again and again. And I highly recommend it!

Note: I am not Catholic, but I found the book amazing nonetheless. I am Protestant/Methodist.

hyperbole
Hyperbole and A Half by Allie Brosh
4 Stars
I don’t read the blog, but I bought the book anyway. I wasn’t exactly aware of how much the author likes the F word. I found the book amusing. I would caution readers that it does contain a lot of profanity, so if that is something that bothers you, skip this book. There is no getting around the profanity.
fallout
The Fallout by S.A. Bodeen
4 Stars
I did not think The Compound really needed a sequel. It was a great stand alone story. I wish authors would rebel against this new trend toward making everything a series. With that said, I liked this book. I didn’t want it tagged onto The Compound, but I did enjoy it.
baked
Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
5 Stars
If you know me, you know how much I love baking. And I love the premise of these recipes- decrease the sugar where you can, add more chocolate where you can. There are recipes for cookies, cakes, pies, tarts, and more. If you’ve never baked a cake before, you might want to start with something simpler, but for those that know their way around a mixer, you’ll love this book!
lectures
Lectures in Old Testament Theology by Dennis Kinlaw with John Oswalt
5 Stars
As I was preparing to teach the kids about the Old Testament this year, I found myself with a lot of questions. So, instead of trudging along blindly, I picked up this book and began to read and help answer some of those questions. This book was undoubtedly a blessing to me. It helped me understand the Old Testament, helped tie it to the New Testament, and gave me more insight into the Bible than I have had before. While this book was written for academia, I find it very easy to understand with no theological or Biblical degree. I would recommend it for clergy and laity, alike.
bibleamongthemyths
The Bible Among Myths by John Oswalt
5 Stars
In addition to the previous book, I picked up this book to help further answer some of my questions. Living in a time where everyone spouts “truth” as it is known to them, it is easy to find yourself a bit confused on what is and isn’t actually true. This book helped frame the world when the Bible was written. It helps you understand the concepts of myth and history and how the Bible fits into that. It is a little more difficult to read than Lectures in Old Testament Theology, but readable nonetheless, for those with an interest in the subject.
Note: Dr. Oswalt was one of The Pastor’s seminary professors.
holdon
Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate
5 Stars
I read this book at such an opportune time. My kids have just started playing with other kids around the neighborhood and I was able to see a lot of what the authors were discussing playing out in the early stages. And I was really surprised how quickly the kids’ attachments went from our home to homes around the neighborhood. It has definitely given me more to think about and more of a leg to stand on when certain relationships my children have make me uncomfortable. (And usually, it isn’t a matter of the other kid being a bad kid. It is just how much emphasis and how much of themselves they throw into the relationship, even at relatively young ages.) This is definitely a book to read, particularly for those entering the world of raising kids who have their own friends and relationships outside of the family. It is easier to foster healthier relationships from the beginning than to be scrambling to fix them when things go bad. (Though if you’re in that second camp, this book will help, too.)
angryconvos
Angry Conversations With God by Susan E. Isaacs
4 Stars
I really couldn’t relate to Susan’s story at all. I don’t know what it is like to be a single adult searching for your mate. I don’t know what it is like to move across the country while single. I don’t know what it is like building a career while searching for Mr. Right. I didn’t do those things. And that life is so foreign to me, I just couldn’t relate. I know nothing about church hopping and trying to find the perfect church. (I’ve always been of the “grow where you are planted” variety and try to make my church better and take the things that I dislike about it to make myself a better person. I’ve never moved to a new city and had to shop for churches. In every move, I had a church home waiting for me, and I made that the best I could.)
This book is funny and snarky. And I enjoyed it, despite the author being nothing like myself. I like peeking into the spiritual journey’s of others. It gives me more insight into choices they make and why they tick. So, I did enjoy the book, though I didn’t necessarily find it personally edifying or touching.
handsfree
You’ve already seen my review of Hands Free Mama and all the ways I dislike it. If you haven’t, go read it. I gave it 2 out of 5 stars, and I think that was being pretty generous.
protecting
Protecting The Gift by Gavin de Becker
4 Stars
I really liked Gavin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear. That book really should be read by all parents. This book, had its great points. If I was in a different situation in life, needing childcare providers on a regular basis or something, this book would have likely gotten 5 stars. There are screening questions for daycares, schools, and babysitters. There are tips on things to look for, things to ask that you may not think about, and just the general word to trust your gut. Parents today need to hear that. Trust your gut. We get so bogged down in the lists and the comparing that we often try not to listen to ourselves, even when we should. This book also helped me navigate some personal parenting issues that had come up in my life, which was invaluable. I just found that I really liked about half the book and then just kind of got through the other half. It isn’t a topic we usually like to dwell on, but Gavin de Becker does such a great job of getting right to the heart of the matter that it immediately deals with our anxieties and then leaves us with nothing but newfound strength.
makingafamilyhome
Making A Family Home by Shannon Honeybloom
2 Stars
The book is full of beautiful pictures… of the author’s perfect home and perfect kids and perfect life. Of course, likely all taken on the same day and likely not quite as perfect as projected. (I think we’ve all seen similar on social media.) It was seriously just room by room of her house and how to make your house like her home. I didn’t find it all that helpful or inspirational, it just felt pretentious. But the pictures were pretty.
lovingthelittleyears
Loving The Little Years by Rachel Jankovic
4 Stars
Overall, I enjoyed this book. There were parts that were very encouraging. Parts that had me tearing up. Parts that I felt convicted to do better for my kids. I think her views on how children change a mother’s body are amazing and could read an entire book just on that subject.
I did conclude that Mrs. Jankovic and I are very different parents. And to me, that is okay. However, I wish she wouldn’t have talked so much about discipline in her book since that is where she and I would majorly disagree. I also didn’t find it helpful to the overall grounding and encouraging tone of the book. I also found it humorous that a mom whose oldest child is 5 is talking about long term discipline approaches. She really should have left that part out, added a few more uplifting and encouraging chapter, and called it a five star book.
mamarazzi
Mamarazzi by Stacey Wasmuth
4 Stars
This book is overall a good help to taking great pictures of your kids. It contains tons of pictures along with the camera settings uses to take each picture. There are tips on how to make handmade photography helps, like diffusers and reflectors. It is a very good resource for the technical aspects of photography, explaining aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. There were tips and tricks for photographing newborns through teens. It also has info on how I choose a professional photographer when you need one.
The downsides of this book are small, but keep it from being a 5 star book. The book was copyrighted in 2011, so many of the website and specific products recommended are gone. Including websites in a book is helpful, but certainly dates a book. All the photo editing is specifically geared to Adobe Photoshop. There are recommended iPhone apps, which only scratch the surface of what is currently available. The advice on choosing a camera is really limited to Canon and Nikon. There are plenty of other options available. It also recommends a dSLR because of previous limitations with digital cameras. I own a dSLR myself, but there are plenty of digitals that are blowing folks away these days.
I think my favorite quote from this book is, “Buying a fancy camera does not make you a photographer.”
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2013 Books

I wanted to read more in 2013. I really did. But then it just didn’t happen. Something about having a baby threw my number of books read this year way, way down. Boo.

4 out of 5 stars

I read this book last January in an attempt to organize my house again. I never ended up organizing my house last year. I say every year that it is something I will do and then I don’t do it. 2014 is my year! Right?! That is a post for another day. Overall is was a decent organizing book. I received the book for free for review purposes.

4 out of 5 Stars

I received this book for free for the purposes of a review. This book was a new take on The Island of Dr. Moreau. It was creepy and gothic. There were aspects that missed the full potential of what the book could have been. It could have been phenomenal, but the author strayed and missed the overall mark at times. These things happen.

4 out of 5 Stars

I didn’t realize this was a kid’s book until I got it. I love the pictures. They are fabulous. The words are heart warming, but not particularly for kids. Not sure where the intended audience actually was or what mark they were trying to hit. This isn’t a devotional or a story. It isn’t exactly a coffee table book, either. It is more of a pick me up on a bad day kind of book. I didn’t like it very much at first, but it has grown on me over the year. On my first reading, I gave it 3 stars. Now I give it 4.

5 out of 5 Stars

This is a wonderfully cute little embroidery book. It comes with iron on images, so you don’t have to hand copy them, which is worth the price of the book all by itself. The images are cute and sweet. I embroidered a few burp cloths while waiting for Topher last year using these patterns.

4 out of 5 Stars

I expected to like this book much more than I did. I had hyped it up so much in my head that the end product just didn’t live up to my head hype. It contains projects of various kinds. It contains parenting insights on how to encourage creativity in your child. I just… well, my kids just don’t cooperate with this kind of fantasy she lays out. My kids are very creative, but also destructive. So, I can’t have random stuff found from outside hanging out on my hearth. My kids tear it all to shreds. I can’t leave art supplies out. They mural my walls. In my fantasy world, I do these wonderful things from this book, but in my real life, things just don’t work out that way.

4 out of 5 Stars

I really loved Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth and as a natural birther and planning a home birth, I kind of felt like Spiritual Midwifery was a must read. It was set up much like Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth– birth stories for the first half of the book and information in the second half. The information in Spiritual Midwifery is geared much more toward midwives (surprise!). It was interesting, for sure. The birth stories were a little more “woo” than I experience myself. I also really disliked Stephen Gaskin writing any portion of the book. The other dad perspectives didn’t bother me, though. Definitely not for the mainstream people. It also wasn’t particularly helpful for my home birth preparations. I just felt like I needed to read it so I could get my granola card punched.

3 out of 5 Stars

This book has some good activities for your little ones, but overall I think it is overkill. Plus it isn’t really doable, in my opinion, in real life when you have more than one child under five at a time. (And I currently have three under five.) Some of the activities were just dumb. I’m naturally inclined against things geared toward this age group. I find they are far too limited and seem to assume that preschoolers and toddlers are much dumber than they really are. If you find this book for free or at a thrift store, pick it up. But don’t pay full price for it. It isn’t worth it.

4 out of 5 Stars

I really liked the overall premise of this book. I particularly did not like the last few chapter, which brought my rating down from 5 stars to 4. But there was so much good in this book. I highly recommend it. Clearly, I am not Jewish, but this book contained so much great parenting advice. It did talk about Jewish tradition quite a bit, but I think any parent would find the book helpful if you are in any way spiritual. It talks about not sheltering your kids, letting your kids fail, letting your kids express themselves, not bulldozing your children, and giving your children the freedom to be themselves.

5 out of 5 Stars

I really wish more people in the Church would read this book. (See that I capitalized Church? That means the entire worldwide Church, not just my local church that I attend.) It is one of the Big Deals in my life that I think through decisions that I make. That Hideous Strength (which happens to be part of The Space Trilogy, only one of my favorite book series in the world- so much so that I named my kid after the main character, Ransom) is the fiction equivalent to this book. If I boiled it down, the point of the book is that in an attempt to control nature, it ends up controlling us. We try to be gods, but lack the necessary knowledge of God. This book is so relevant to today, you’ll find yourself amazed this insight came from the 1950s.

5 out of 5 Stars

It is no secret that I am not very mainstream. (Although I’ve recently found out that many people in real life didn’t know about my crunchy leanings. Surprise! I’m a hippy under these normal clothes!) This book is a great resource for dealing with childhood illness without running to the doctor for everything. It is completely exhaustive, there are plenty of other remedies than those listed. But it is a very easy to use quick guide. We successfully managed a few ear aches, coughs, chest colds, croupy coughs, and sore throats with the help of this book. If you’re just getting out of the mainstream, this book gives you brand name products to buy online or at your local natural grocer so you don’t have to go make your own tinctures and such. If you’ve got a crunchy card, you can make your own or buy similar products. I highly recommend this book!

5 out of 5 Stars

This book deserves its own post. And I will get on that. This book changed my life. No joke. It changed my heart and changed the lives of my family, as well. I cannot recommend this book enough. Full post about this story is coming.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

I was given this book free for review. The authors have a massive mega church plant down the street from me. I think the book skims over a lot of what made their mega church a success and it doesn’t delve into their limitations and problems quite enough. But this book wasn’t about their church, it is about them. It is a book for church planting families. How do you balance the work required in a church plant with your family life? How do you guard your marriage during the turbulent church planting times? It is something only those in full time ministry really understand. I appreciated their perspective and advice far more than I anticipated, even though I do not agree with all their advice.

3 out of 5 Stars

Honestly, I am still on the fence about this. It works. You loose weight. (I lost 17 lbs. in one month.) It does help you feel better toward the end. But it is so arbitrary. It is so limiting. It is not sustainable. (And not intended to be.) It is absolutely miserable. It will break your physical food addictions, but in my opinion can make the mental issues surrounding food much worse. I’m so torn on this. It worked. I physically felt better. I lost weight. The restrictions were ridiculous and arbitrary. But mentally, it put me in a much worse place than when I started. Menu planning now sends me to tears. Just ordering food in a restaurant begins an epic mental battle for me. I’m now having to heal my body image and my food relationship coming off of this. It is hard to do with a family. It is hard to stick to period. I don’t think this is healthy for life. Check out Go Kaleo. I’m beginning my healing from this diet there.

3 out of 5 Stars

A collection of essays about cleaning. It is interesting to look into the minds of others when it comes to cleaning. You’ve seen it in those you know- your aunts, your mother, your mother-in-law. They all clean differently and all feel differently about cleaning. They have their reasons and you might know them. There are underlying psychological reasons we clean (or don’t clean) the way we do. Has poverty led to a need to hold onto everything? Has a busy life resulted in a completely chaotic house? Has a military past led way to a need for orderly surrounding? Is housework a woman’s work? Is it a man’s? Is it a maid’s? It is interesting to look into the lives and homes of others.

4 out of 5 Stars

Unschooling fascinates me. It really speaks to me. I’m finding myself drawn in that direction myself, but have not fully given into the idea. This book explores five basic principles into unschooling. I actually felt that it explored 3 unschooling ideas and 2 parenting ideas. I enjoyed the actual part about unschooling. I didn’t really resonate with the parenting parts 100%. But such is life. (Have you ever noticed how hard it is to have other parent friends? You never 100% agree on parenting issues and it can get awkward. You really have to try hard to give them space to parent their way while also staying true to you. If you thought finding friends in junior high was hard, just wait until you’re a parent! Suddenly how your diaper offends a now former friend. How you feed your baby hurts someone’s feelings. How you discipline or don’t discipline your child is now a grand dividing line.) I am looking forward to exploring unschooling further. The anarchist in me says, “Go for it!”

5 out of 5 Stars

I didn’t think it was possible for a breastfeeding book to move me to tears, but this one did. With the science to back up the claims, the Church to back up the methods, this book is full of wisdom for breastfeeding moms (and dads). I very highly recommend this book. It doesn’t have a lot of the how to and problem solving of breastfeeding, but will deepen you resolve to breastfeed your child and turn it from a chore into something you love to do. It elevated my role as a mother. It elevated Topher’s role as my son. Fabulous read.

5 out of 5 Stars

I have 5 kids, he has 5 kids. Had to read it. Some of the content of this book is the same as his stand up routines, but it is still funny. In fact, it may be funnier that you can read it in his voice. So funny. This book is stories of fatherhood, thoughts on fatherhood and families and our society in relation to big families.

4 out of 5 Stars

This book needs a different title. The first part of the book is about choosing to have a large family and thinking through the logistics of it all. It does have some practical advice for larger than average families. Some is similar to other books about large families. I liked her writing style. Good thoughts for families of not so many kids thinking about maybe having more. Or for families that are wanting to have more but haven’t really figured out how it will work.

Freelance Reviewing

I have been doing quite a bit of review work lately. (Companies send me free stuff in exchange for an honest review.) I haven’t been reviewing the items on my blog, because really, I didn’t want to bore my readers. However, I will now be adding reviews to my blog for a couple reasons. First, in all honesty, “they” have asked me to do so. And second, because some of the books and items I’ve been getting are pretty cool and I’d like for you, my readers, to know about them.

Why do I write reviews? Well, mainly because I read reviews before I buy anything. I am not kidding you. I bought a carpet cleaner this week and probably read 100 reviews before deciding which one to buy. I rarely just go grab whatever off the shelf. So, I write reviews because I read reviews. Writing reviews in exchange for free books (and other random products) also feeds my book obsession with no impact on my budget. I read a lot. Getting free books helps at least lessen the amount I spend on books a month. (Some women buy expensive hand bags. I buy books.)

Hopefully these reviews will not annoy you, but rather help you. Hopefully they will help you make (or edit) your reading list. I’m just letting you, my readers, know upfront about what I’m up to. Yes, I get stuff for free and review it. I don’t let the freeness of the product effect my review. I review for those that read reviews, not for those wanting the reviews.

On that note, if you want an honest review of your product, I’m available.

Reading A Lot

My camera is still broken. I’m not sure when I’ll get it fixed. I’m not blogging for the kids until I replace it. I won’t be blogging here as much until it is replaced. Not sure when that will be. But I have been reading bunches!

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

After reading Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras, I had to see what else Scott Westerfeld had in his head. Turns out, it is vampires! This is a non-sparkly vampire story. In fact, this is vampires portrayed as the innocent contractors of a parasite. Yep. Lots of gross parasitic information between these pages, and I like it. I know, who likes parasites? Well, science geeks do, I guess. In this book, a carrier of the parasite seeks to send those he unknowingly infected to a treatment facility, but finds himself in the middle of something much bigger and stranger than it seemed.

This is a young adult book, so here is the nitty gritty for parents. There is no foul language that I can recall. There are gory details of parasitic infestation (the real kind, hookworms and such). There is a lot of talk of sex and wanting sex. In the story, one way the parasite is transmitted is by sexual contact. That fact is mentioned often. Sex outside of marriage is a common theme in the book. However, to the author’s credit, there are no details of any sexual encounters- just the mentioning that such encounters did occur. Add another STD to the book- have sex outside of marriage and you might become a vampire.

Steady Days by Jamie C. Martin

This book is a very quick read. It is broken down into 40 very small chapters, 1 to 3 pages each. This book offers practical insight to providing our children a steady life. You maintain a flexible schedule to optimize your performance as their mother and provide them some stability. I do wish the book was a bit longer, going into more detail in some areas. But this is an encouraging and uplifting book.

The best insight I gleaned from the book is that I am the expert when it comes to raising my children. Too many times, I’ve read a book from an expert telling my what to do. This book give me the tools to do my best, whatever my best might be. Whatever my plan, it is my plan. Only I know my children and my family, so only I know what they’ll like and what will benefit them the most.

It was also extremely encouraging to read that the author is the mother of 3 preschoolers. I find that most “experts” in parenting are older- they’ve raised their children- they are done. It is refreshing to find a young expert. It gives me confidence in myself, because if she can be an expert at this stage, so can I. I would consider this book a “must read” for stay-at-home moms (and even working moms).

Ask Supernanny by Jo Frost

I know you’ve probably seen the show Supernanny. I have seen the show a few times, and that is why I bought this book. It exceeded my expectations. I have read a lot of parenting books. I’m sure some of you have me beat, but I’ve read quite a few. I was expecting some simple demonstration of her “Naughty Seat” technique and maybe one or two others. What I got was a book FULL of various techniques for the various issues that arise in raising children. I can say her “Back to Bed Technique” worked immediately with my trouble sleeper (Aidan). It also puts many of the issues into a much better perspective so you can better handle the issue.

I will say, I’m now extremely curious about baby care in Europe. From this book, it seems to be different from the baby care we are taught (or pick up) here. I’d like to know more about this aspect of her parenting advice. I am more than a little confused by her advice to completely wean a 9 month old. I’m intrigued by her advice to not make the move to a “big boy bed” before 3, even if they are climbing out of the crib. I’d like to know more about her position on certain baby care techniques before I come to any conclusions about them. Maybe it is just one of those slight cultural differences between Europe and America. I think I’m going to buy her baby care book to find out more!

What I’ve Been Reading

My camera is dead. I’m pretty sure he’s all dead. (Only thing left to do is empty his pockets and look for loose change.) He was simply broken. I fixed his brokenness, but unfortunately the cure killed him.

So, instead of my usual pictures of things I’ve made and instructions so you can so the same, I’ll do a post of reviews of books I’ve read recently. (And I’ve been reading, A LOT!)

The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Bauer (click the book title to go buy it)

The Pastor and I are considering (more like planning) homeschooling the beautiful little ones. We decided to look into the classical method more thoroughly, so I bought The Well Trained Mind. I like their method. It makes a lot of sense to me. We will more than likely be going this route. The book lays out a classical education in a very straight forward method. Jessie and Susan give you the books they recommend and even give you helpful links to find them (though most of the resources are available on Amazon). They even suggest how much time you should be spending on each subject for each grade level.

Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras by Scott Westerfeld

So, yes, I am a nerd. I did read this series (originally intended to be a trilogy, but ended up a trilogy plus one- or maybe we should call that a Trilogy Plus or a Super Trilogy!) intended for teens and I really liked it. I’m going to briefly describe it, just know that it is infinitely cooler than it sounds!

Set in the future, after man was almost wiped out by a … well, I don’t want to give any of the book away… a 15 year old Tally finds herself awaiting the day she’ll be made pretty. In this new world, one your 16th birthday, you are surgically transformed to be pretty like everyone else- creating a perfect world where everyone is equal. Tally’s new friend Shay has other ideas and Tally’s world is turned upside down. As she fights for what she has always wanted, Tally finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy bigger than herself.

Believe me, you’ll finish Uglies and move right into Pretties. It is too captivating to put down. For parents wondering about the appropriateness for teens- here are the nuts and bolts for you. There are brief mentions (mainly in Pretties) of sex, but nothing in detail or explicit. They are simply passing remarks about the danger of having sex with the first Pretty you meet. There is also a main character who lives with her boyfriend in Pretties. Nothing at all is mentioned about intimacy during this. There is no foul language that I recall. There is a lot of drinking, especially in Uglies and Pretties. It isn’t condoned or necessarily condemned, just the way the world is at that time.  You can decide if that is okay for your kid.

Tithe by Holly Black

Yes, another teen book. However, I did not like this one. The story was intriguing enough, but the writing quality and poor taste ruined the book. Needless to say, I’ve got no desire to read any more by this author.

It is the story of a girl, Tithe, who sees fairies. She gets caught up in a mystical fight for control over the magical beings.

Parents, here are the nuts and bolts for your teen. There is underage drinking and smoking, which seems to be accepted as a normal thing. The main character is a high school drop out, which seems to be condoned, but not directly. This book also deals with homosexuality, as one of the main characters is gay. It also has many sexual undertones without being explicit. There is a lot of cursing, especially in the beginning of the book.

Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson

I really like this book! It is an encyclopedia of all this cleaning! Mendelson offers many insights on making your house a home- from your dinners to how you wash your shirts. This book is fabulous!

The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

If you don’t know the value of reading to kids, or don’t see the value in reading to kids, then this book is for you. If you know the value of reading to kids, but need a good list of books to read, then this book is for you.

The first half of this book is about reading aloud to children. It has the whys & statistics. The last half of the book is recommended books to read. Yes, you could spend the ime searching all that out yourself, or you can buy (or borrow) the book and save a little trouble.

To Spank or Not To Spank by John Rosemond

I’m still not quite sure where I stand with John Rosemond, or rather, where he stands with me. At times, I think, this man is making a lot of sense. Other times I think, this dude is nuts if he thinks I’m doing THAT to my child. Regardless of how I feel about Rosemond, I don’t like this book. It came across as a defensive response to some unknown argument. It was very “everyone but me is wrong” in it’s tone. If you’re looking for a discipline book, read his other stuff. (Most of his books are repetitive and he is very vocal about discipline in all of them, so you’re sure to find his opinion on the subject in any of his books you pick up.) Unless, of course, you enjoy a good one-sided argument.

Absolutely A-line by Wendi Gatz

I bought this book to make Imogene’s Easter dress and possibly some summer clothes. It did come with a pattern. I’m not sure about you, but I can always come up with dozens of ways to alter/embellish a simple pattern without a book to tell me how. The embellishments are simple. The alterations are not mind blowing. However, I didn’t have an A-line dress pattern, and now I do. And it made me feel pretty good when my dress turned out as nice (if not nicer) than most of those pictured in the book.

The dress I made using the book.