Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reading Aloud Challenge: June 30

HOW did it get to be the end of JUNE?  Oh, wow.

Well, this week is going to look much better than last week, but really, we still did not do a whole lot of reading aloud.  Mostly read to the little two.  William slept a lot this week, making up for last week no doubt.

Most of our reading this week was for the Master Books Summer Reading Program.  Richard and Trina both did their three books for June.  William and Thomas are going to read three in July.  Thomas loses credit for the one he did in June, but that is okay.  

The Answers Book for Kids: 22 Questions on Creation and the FallAnswers for Kids, Volume 1.  I read this to Richard and Trina over a couple of days.  This was one of Richard's books for the summer reading program.  Various older kids listened to parts of it too.  It was fun... Richard and Trina insisted on giving the answers before I could read them, and they did a pretty good job of it.

Noah's Floating Animal Park (Bible-Upholding Books)Noah's Floating Animal Park.  This one was as fun (actually even moreso) than the one we read last week about The Fall.  The rhyming text is so much fun, and it really does a fabulous job of drawing you in.  This one counted for Trina for the reading program.  Cute, cute, cute.

The Answers Book for Kids Volume 2: 22 Questions on Dinosaurs and the Flood of Noah (Answers Book for Kids)Answers for Kids, Volume 2.  Connor read this whole book to all his siblings in one sitting.  I love the format of the book... small (maybe 5"x5") questions from kids, with ages listed, and an answer that includes a Bible verse.  We have owned these two books for quite a while, and Connor has read them himself, but I never sat down to read them.  And I don't know why, but I assumed Richard and Trina were too young.  Anyway, this was Richard's third book for the Master Book program for June... and he wants to get Volumes 3 and 4.

The Not So Super Skyscraper (Bible-Upholding Books)The Not So Super Skyscraper.   Yep, third book in a series, and third book to count for Trina's participation in the Master Books program.  I really enjoyed this one.  Richard proceeded to build a Tower of Babel out of Legos...

Evolution: The Grand Experiment: Vol. 2 - Living FossilsWe also started working through our summer science.  Living Fossils.  This is a review book, so I'll have more about it soon.  Connor, William and Thomas are doing this.  So far, I'm not loving it, but I know that will change.  We have the first book in the series, and liked that.  I've flipped ahead, and I know we'll enjoy it.  Just not yet. 

Bombus the BumblebeeBombus the Bumblebee.  Read this to Trina.  Will be reviewing it later today (I hope!) so I'm not going to say more...

Plans for this coming week?  With the long weekend, I just don't know.  It may be a rather light week... 

How did your week go?  Sign the linky to link up your reading aloud post and I'll definitely come visit your post.   Love having you here...

To see my first post when this turned into a linky thing, check here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: Life of John Knox

I love old books.  And I'm finding I really do like books that just have an appearance of age.  This "new" series of biographies by Attic Books is one that is designed with the appearance of age.  Distressed cover, funky & uneven pages (I'll try to get a picture of that below).

And of course, the fact that it was originally published in 1833 and includes fairly extensive quotes of a guy born in 1505 means that the language most assuredly adds to that antique feel.

Life of John Knox is a biography of a man I really didn't know.  Given the language being used in the book, I wish I had found even a Wikipedia article and read a little bit about him before diving into the book.

This isn't a long book... 140 pages in all.  But it isn't light reading.  This is one of those books I ought to keep next to me for the next time one of those little Facebook games comes along.  You know, "Grab the nearest book.  Turn to page 58.  Type the 2nd complete sentence as your status."

For this book, that would be:
The affairs of the protestants, however, soon after took an unfavourable turn ; and after several reverses and disasters, they were at length compelled to leave Edinburgh, and retire in great confusion to Stirling ; but during their calamities, Knox spared no exertions to revive the languid spirit of his countrymen.
At least in this example sentence (which is random), I did understand each individual word! 

The point here is that this book is definitely written in the style prevalent in the early 19th century, with plenty of lengthy quotes from the 16th century as well.  That means modern readers need to be paying attention, or you'll be like me... finishing a sentence and wondering what in the world I just read.  And it also means that the biographer doesn't try to make it look like he is being objective (like any biographer could achieve that anyway!) which "sounds" funny to modern ears. 

You can kind of see the page edges here
From the publisher:
Rare vignettes featuring the Protestant Reformation's fiercest defender! John Knox had a life of exciting adventure, harsh imprisonment, and brilliant scholarship. Fighting battles both political and religious, Knox bravely defied royalty, nobility, and the established power of the Papacy to speak the truth. A fiery and inspirational preacher, he fiercely upheld the authority of Scripture and salvation through Christ's sacrifice. In perilous times, Knox risked his life daily in a fearless and tireless defense of the faith!
It is fascinating.  But definitely to be read when you are actually able to be paying full attention!

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Review: Already Compromised

Maybe it is because of some experiences I had growing up, but as a parent, I never considered that sending my kids to a Christian college was necessarily going to be a "safe" option.

I went to the public high school.  I knew where a person could get alcohol or pot, I heard plenty of talk about promiscuity, yada, yada, yada.  I had no assumptions that my teachers were Christian, however many of them really did keep my faith from crumbling.

But the religiously affiliated high school?  You went to those kids if you wanted serious drugs, and it always seemed that the teachers and students would talk more about religious issues, but it never felt to me that it was in any way affirming or uplifting.

It seemed to me that the parents of the private school kids assumed that the school would take care of all worldview and moral instruction, and clearly it didn't work for a lot of the kids (I'm sure it did for some, I just didn't know them!)

Christian vs. secular colleges didn't seem much different.  My public university ranged from indifferent to hostile when it came to Christianity.  But it is where I found my way back to God.  Friends at Christian colleges seemed to find the attitude towards Christianity to be wishy-washy and confusing.

That's, well, ummm, two or three decades ago.  I have assumed that the situation hasn't improved.

The book Already Compromised by Ken Ham and Dr. Greg Hall confirmed that.  It didn't shock me or surprise me, not really.  Except maybe that I'm surprised that parents still seem to think that your average Christian college is going to be an uplifting spiritual experience for their children.

That doesn't mean I don't think the book was worth reading.  America's Research Group studied 200 Christian colleges and universities in 2010, asking questions of the presidents, vice presidents, and heads of the science and religion departments.  The polls touched on a lot of issues, particularly involving scripture and faith.

I will admit to being a little surprised at some of the schizoid answers...  and on back-to-back questions, like here, asking college presidents:

Do you believe in God creating the earth in six literal 24-hour days?  78.8% said yes.
Do you believe in God creating the earth, but not in six literal days?  42.3% said yes.

Assuming 0% of the presidents believe that God didn't create the earth, you're still left with far too many college presidents who believe that the earth was created in six days and that it wasn't created in six days.  How is that possible?

Like I said above.  Wishy-washy.

The first half of the book is talking about the study and the results.  The state of Christian colleges in America.

The second half of the book is an action plan:  what can the Church do, what can parents do, what can students do.

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Math, math, math...

Argh. I just don't know what to do.

I just cannot make math decisions for any of my kids. And my decision process was complicated this weekend when I was given the teacher materials for Math U See Primer, Alpha and Beta.


So here is my dilemma... my three youngest kids (kindergarten, 2nd and 5th grades) have never truly had formal math. We've dabbled with stuff, and they are all quite good with math theory. They are all weak on math facts. That, by the way, is also true for my older kids who HAVE had plenty of formal math.

So... in looking at the realistic options for my kids, I can use Math U See, Math Mammoth, Singapore Math, Scott Foresman Exploring Mathematics, or possibly Math on the Level.

Singapore Math -- I own the textbooks and home instructor guides for levels 1-6. I own workbooks for all of Earlybird, and levels 1A through 2A. So Trina would cost me nothing, Richard (who tested into 2) would cost me 1-2 workbooks (I think he'd work through 2A, 2B and 3A in a year), and Thomas would cost me 3 workbooks (we'd review the text for 3A and 3B, then 'do' 4A through 5A, I think).

Advantages: I know the program works. Richard is very much like Connor with math, and this program was fantastic for Connor. Dale likes the idea of us using this.

Disadvantages:  I would have to teach, and it isn't as fun as some other options out there.

Scott Foresman Exploring Math

Colorful, inviting, worksheet based for K-2, text for 3 and up.  I own it all and wouldn't have to spend anything.  This goes in a more traditional scope and sequence.  I worry about too much busy work, but really, a couple pages a day isn't all bad.  The textbooks though, I don't know...

Math Mammoth

I  own Grade 1 and 2 but would have to purchase the rest.  I love that it is non-consumable.  I like the way it teaches.  It doesn't help me figure out what to do with Trina this year.  It incorporates games, websites, all kinds of fun stuff.

I like that the page count is fairly low, and the individual worksheets are rarely intimidating.  It is thorough, and I don't have to keep track of anything besides where I saved the file.

Math U See

This would be the expensive option.  I need manipulatives, I'd need the student books.  And those add up.

The biggest advantage would be that I could be a step removed in the teaching process.  Anything that lets me "hire help" is a good thing.

What I worry about, though, is that my kids are very, very (VERY) strong on theory, and they struggle to memorize facts.  My biggest hang-up is camping out while they work on truly knowing a given set of math facts and them being bored to tears.  Conceptually, my 7 year old is understanding high school geometry and beginning algebra.  Math facts though?  He is still working on addition and is intimidated by a page of single digit addition problems. 

My concern is him zoning out and hating math.  Because honestly, I'm not all that worried about whether or not he has memorized his addition tables... his older brothers have all mastered them when they actually needed to (but way later than everyone says kids are "supposed to")

Could I buy the manipulatives and use the DVDs as a supplement?

Math on the Level:

I own part of the program, and I love the concept.  I wish it had existed when my oldest was around 1st or 2nd grade, as I think it would have been great.  Right now, though, I look at it and think "I do not have the time or patience to figure this all out."


How do I decide?  The cheapest option (Scott Foresman)?  The least time consuming for mom option (Math U See)?  The one Dad likes best (Singapore)?  The one that looks like the best mix of straight-forward and not time-consuming for the kids (Math Mammoth)? 

Or do I just roll a die?  We own a 10-sided one...  I could give each option two numbers...

Book Review: Courting Miss Amsel

I just finished reading Courting Miss Amsel by Kim Vogel Sawyer.  It wasn't until I had finished the book that I realized I had reviewed another of Sawyer's books in the past, In Every Heartbeat.  One of the things I really liked about that book was how well-researched it felt, and the flawed, believable characters.  This was certainly true of Courting Miss Amsel as well.

Courting Miss Amsel occurs in a totally different time and place -- Nebraska in 1882.  I'm drawn to fiction in the plains states, and this one did not disappoint.  Sawyer writes as though she has experienced a serious blizzard or two (but why does every story set in this part of the country involve a blizzard?  Hmmm...).  That is another way of saying, she certainly seems to have captured the spirit of this part of the country.

The basic plot line is that Edythe Amsel comes to this little town in Nebraska to teach school.  She's escaping her emotionally abusive father, and although she isn't terribly religious, she clearly feels called to teach.  And she's good at it.

Two of her eighteen students are being raised by their bachelor uncle, Joel, and it doesn't take long for Joel to be attracted to the new teacher, and for her to be attracted to him.  She doesn't want to be courted, and he doesn't want to be yoked to an unbeliever.  So there are definitely some issues.

What I really loved about this story was how believable so many of the characters were.  The children were simply precious and I had a picture in my head of each of them.  Edythe's landlady has to be my favorite character in the book.  I want to be her when I grow up...

This was a pleasant read, relaxing, perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I truly enjoyed it.

Disclosure:  Bethany House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Review: The Whole Bible Story

I am always interested in new ways to bring the Bible into our life.  We have done quite a few things as a family.  Reading through a pretty detailed story Bible in a school year, reading through a one-year chronological Bible for kids, reading through  a regular Bible in a year, doing the entire Bible in 90 days...

So I requested to review The Whole Bible Story by Dr. William H. Marty with the hope that I could use it as another way of going through the Bible with at least my older kids.

I like the idea -- A Bible Story for Grown-Ups.

The publisher's description says that it focuses on the plot and the characters.  I like that concept, but somehow this still wasn't quite what I was looking for.  I do like that it is in "plain English" and I love that it is chronological. 

I think this book could be great for someone who has never read through the Bible.  And I've included an excerpt below, so you can see for yourself if it would be right for you.

The Whole Bible Story

Disclosure:  Bethany House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Review: True U - Is the Bible Reliable?

I was fortunate enough, a couple of years ago, to attend the live session of a massive Truth Project training seminar that was broadcast from Focus on the Family.  My family went through The Truth Project (including the kids) and they went through The Truth Chronicles.

While my nearly-teen (Connor turned 13 in the few weeks we took to watch the DVDs) got a lot out of both productions, and he enjoyed them, he was really "too old" for The Truth Chronicles, and in The Truth Project Del Tackett is definitely speaking to adults.

So knowing that True U was coming out, and it was going to be actually addressed to high school and college students, well, I was excited.  Through Tyndale, I was able to attend a True U presentation with Dr. Stephen Meyer at Focus on the Family.  I purchased the first volume of True U there -- Does God Exist?  Connor received it for Christmas.

He loved it.  Finding that each segment is introduced and closed by Dave Stotts was a huge bonus (we love Dave's Drive-Thru History DVDs and own every one of them).  And Connor loved Dr. Meyer.  Clearly, Dr. Meyer is accustomed to talking to young adults, and it shines through in the video.  His presentations are engaging, funny, and energetic.  He says things in a way that sticks with you.

When I had the chance to review Is the Bible Reliable? -- well, to say "I jumped at the chance" is a bit of an understatement.  "I screamed" is a bit closer to reality.

Am I ever glad I did (review this, that is -- the screaming was optional).  As much as we liked Volume 1, well, we absolutely loved Volume 2.  Volume 1 is subtitled "building the scientific case" and to some extent, it is material we have heard before.  Presented fabulously, but still, a lot of stuff we've heard elsewhere.

Volume 2 is subtitled, "building the historical case" and it is amazing.  Dr. Meyer traces through the Bible, starting with "In the Footsteps of Abraham" and ending with "The Trial of Jesus."  All along the way, Dr. Meyer is presenting archaeological evidence and it was fascinating.  Absolutely fascinating.  My ten year old didn't really watch the first True U set.  He insisted on being a part of this one, though, as he wants to go into archaeology when he grows up, and this is exactly the kind of work he wants to be doing.

And again, Dave Stotts is providing the introductory and concluding comments to each segment.

The program comes with two DVDs containing ten half-hour lessons, plus a book containing extra information, cartoons, quizzes, etc.

I don't have the words to express how strongly I feel about this program.  I think every Christian teen needs to watch this series before heading off to college or out into the world.  And if they are heading off to college, they need to own the DVDs and rewatch them.

I will, if necessary, give up food in order to purchase future volumes of True U.  How's that for an endorsement?

Disclaimer:   I received this DVD set for free from Tyndale House Publishers.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reading Aloud Challenge: June 23

The one where Debra confesses that she mostly forgot to read aloud to anyone.


I spent Friday in the car away from my kids, stressing out.  I spent Saturday mostly in the car with my kids, stressing out.  I spent Sunday taking William to Boy Scout camp.  And he has been there since.  So... the list is SHORT this week.

I read aloud from the Astronomy Merit Badge book.  To William.  Have I ever mentioned that astronomy is one aspect of science that I just don't care for?

The Day the World Went Wacky (Bible-Upholding Books)I read to Trina and Richard.  Part of the Master Books summer reading program.  The Day the World Went Wacky.  This is a CUTE book, and I'm glad we bought it.  Rhyming text, going through the story of Creation and the Fall.  The illustrations took a bit of getting used to, but once we were about halfway through, we were all enjoying them.

Plans for this coming week?  Yeah, right.  I don't know. 

How did your week go?  Couldn't be much worse than mine.  Sign the linky and I'll definitely come visit your post.   Love having you here...

To see my first post when this turned into a linky thing, check here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: The Quotable Rogue

I don't usually get into a lot of politics on my blog.  Sometimes.  But not often.  So, I'll come right out and say:  I like Sarah Palin.  There are a few politicians that I just think it would be fun to hang out with, to sit down for a cup of coffee with, or something similar.  Not many, but a few.  I thought Bill Clinton would be a fun guy to talk to at a barbecue (he probably still would, I just haven't thought much about him for awhile!)  So clearly, it isn't just about liking their stand politically, as I don't think Sarah and Bill have a whole lot in common, except that they both strike me as real people.

Palin makes me laugh, Palin makes me think.  I don't always agree with her.  But I almost always enjoy "hearing" from her.

So when I had the opportunity to review this little book, The Quotable Rogue, by Matt Lewis, I wanted to read it.

From the Publisher:
Inspiring, impactful, and revealing words from political and cultural icon Sarah Palin.
Many a pundit has tried to define Sarah Palin, but this is one woman who chooses not to wear labels imposed by others but instead to define herself by her own words and actions. Today she is one of the most sought after speakers and commentators and is poised to help to frame the issues in the 2010 election and beyond. The Quotable Rogue encapsulates Palin’s thoughts on such salient issues as health care, taxes, and government spending, the right to life, climate change, what it means for a politician to serve the people, and more.
  • “We need to spend more time lifting up America instead of apologizing for the greatest country on earth.”
  • “How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for you?”
  • “My dad always says, ‘Don’t retreat, just reload.’ Don’t let anybody tell you to sit down and shut up.”
My take:  I enjoyed this book.  Split into 33 sections of a few pages each, it is pretty easy to flip through and read a string of quotations on whatever subject appeals to me at the moment.  I did not read this book beginning to end, and I'm pretty sure there are a couple of topics I haven't read at all.  But I enjoyed reading each topic that I did read, and I loved just flipping through and reading quotes at random.

The publisher's blurb above makes it look like this book is filled with a slew of one-liners.  That isn't the case.  Most of the quotes are actually a paragraph or more, and are far more in-depth than I was expecting.

Disclaimer: As a Booksneeze Blogger, I did receive this book for free from Thomas Nelson. No other compensation was received. For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: The Fall of Satan

The Fall of Satan by Bodie Hodge, is one of those books where I stared at the description quite some time before deciding that I wanted to review it.

Given that, I still failed to grasp that this book was going to be in a question and answer format.  I was expecting something different.  The Q&A aspect does work for the topic though.

From the publisher: 
The ruler of darkness... the Tempter... the Great Red Dragon... Apollyon; the Destroyer... One being is revealed to have all these titles and more... names that reveal his horrific nature... All names given to Satan, your adversary who comes like a lion "seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
Today, many question and even mock the very existence of Satan, as well as the reality of evil. Even in the Church, by and large, there are few biblical resources on the subject to counter the destructive claims raised in today's humanistic culture. In The Fall of Satan: Rebels in the Garden you will discover the answers to 35 captivating questions, such as:
  • How could one created good become so absorbed by evil?
  • Why would God, who is not evil, allow evil to continue to exist?
  • Did sin begin with Adam or was its origin found in Satan?
  • When did Satan rebel against God's authority?
Where can the answers be found to such provocative, spiritual questions that have been asked so many times over? Carefully consider the biblical response, since it is the only completely reliable foundation for information about Satan. As our absolute authority, we must reject unqualified conclusions drawn from sources outside the Bible, such as the current ideas and traditions of the culture. No believer should be unaware of these sound answers found in the Bible.
My take:  I have mixed reactions to this book.  I was expecting a book about Satan and about evil.  I was not expecting questions like "Shouldn't Eve have been a clone of Adam?" or "Did Adam and Even have to sleep before the Fall?"  I think I expected more about Satan and less about Adam and Eve.  So in that I was disappointed.

I expected more of this book to reference the New Testament, particularly Revelation.  I guess the title The Fall of Satan should have clued me in that this was going to be primarily based in Genesis.  Like I said, even studying the publisher's description, I somehow had a really different picture of what this book would be about.

So my disappointments are primarily in what I expected vs. what was actually in the book.  The questions like "Did the serpent originally have legs?" were terrific, and the Satan-specific questions comprise enough of the book that I feel this title has value.

I'll confess I skimmed a few of the Q&A sections.  I've read some of this stuff in so many other books, it was hard to go through it again.  So, in my opinion, parts of this book were excellent.  And if you haven't read lots of other young earth creationist materials that talk about the fall of man, you will probably get more out of the parts I tended to skim.

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free through the Page Turners program from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Scout Camp

Okay, so I dropped William off today to go to Scout Camp for a week.  Alone.  I am trying very, very hard to deal with that.  Fortunately one of the adults camping all week is someone who knows and loves my kid...  He's going to be fine.  I know he is.  I can't wait to blog next week about how wonderful of a time he had.

This is the first time since becoming a Boy Scout that Connor isn't going to summer camp.  But decisions had to be made.  So instead of going to camp, Connor is hosting his own merit badge college week.  We'll see... 

The plan is for him to finish up Emergency Preparedness (which shouldn't take long!) and otherwise, he is going to focus on some badges he really hasn't done much with.

  • Citizenship in the Community-- he's done a couple things for this one like attend a school board meeting and a bunch of service hours.  But there is a lot left.
  • Personal Management-- so he gets to track stocks and make a to-do list and all sorts of fun stuff like that.
  • Inventing-- you know those things you think your kids really aren't going to succeed in doing, but you have to let them do anyway?  This is one of them.  
  • Hiking-- not the hiking part.  He's waiting for William to come back before doing that.  But he is going to get the other requirements done, including writing up some plans for 10 mile hikes.  And we'll be going on them on weekends this summer and into the fall.  Because *I* need it.  Oh, I mean, so the kids can earn their merit badge.
Anyone who wants to pray for a paranoid mom this week, I'd definitely appreciate it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reading Aloud Challenge: June 16

It has been a BUSY week.  Kids are taking turns being sick, and we were without water at the end of last week.  I'm stressed.  I'm exhausted.  But we did still manage to do some reading.

One Foot AshoreWe read a couple more chapters of One Foot Ashore this week.   The kids keep begging for one more chapter, but this week has been crazy.

We abandoned Anna and the King of Siam.  I realized that what Connor was supposed to be reading for school was Anna and the King, which is about half the length... same author and all.  Anyway, the descriptions in the "adult" book are long and, well, boring.  The library doesn't have Anna and the King and I decided I just don't care enough to buy it right now.  So (dare I confess this on a read-aloud post) we watched the Jodie Foster movie....

Whale of a Story: 
Adventures on the High Seas
We finished Whale of a Story for the Master Books Summer Reading Program.  This counts for any of my three youngest children.  Great book.  Fabulous illustrations.  So much to look at.

Darien's Rise (Adventures in Odyssey Passages)We read Darien's Rise, which is the fist book in the Adventures in Odyssey Passages series.  The kids want more...  I think we can probably do that.  Summer is a time for books like this...

Nory Ryan's SongConnor and I listened to Nory Ryan's Song.  Oh, wow.   This was one we planned to do on vacation while driving to South Dakota, but it didn't happen.  Instead, we listened while chasing around last weekend.  I thought I was going to end up needing to pull over so I could sob...

Plans for this coming week?  I don't know.  William will be at scout camp, so I'm hoping to finish One Foot Ashore before he leaves.

How did your week go?  Sign the linky and I'll definitely come visit your post.   Love having you here...

To see my first post when this turned into a linky thing, check here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

This and That

Which must be my new favorite blog post title.  I've been crazy busy, and haven't had time to seriously blog.  So catching up on life:

  • Why can't we seem to ever get to Scouts?  It switched to Wednesdays for a month or two, which was impossible.  And we have just not been able to get back since it moved back to Mondays.  Ugh. 
  • William heads to camp next week.  Alone.  His best friend will be there, but Connor won't.  I'm completely freaked out about this.
  • I've got some new responsibilities with the TOS Homeschool Crew this coming year.  That is part of what is keeping me busy this week.  I'll feel better about it all when I'm a little more clear on my job duties.  Right now, I'm going cross-eyed putting some supplementary stuff together for the Crew Manual.
  • I've had sick kids just about every day for the past month.  Part of the reason we haven't made scouts.  It is so totally messing with school though.
  • We started doing Primary Arts of Language this week.  We've managed one day of it.  I love it.  But I need to have four healthy kids to make it work.  I'll blog about it next week maybe.  Depends on whether or not I have healthy kids.
  • I called Dale and asked if we can have a Lizard Limit.  Right now, we have three lizards in two different 10 gallon terrariums, and three lizards in other assorted critter keepers.
  • My computer is wigging out on me.  I can't lose this thing.  I just can't.
  • I posted a review to Amazon on Monday.  It hasn't been approved yet.  I need it to be approved by tomorrow.  <sigh>
  • We picked up our first ever CSA order on Saturday.  And we started doing Bountiful Baskets.  At the moment, I'm more excited about Bountiful Baskets, but I'm sure the CSA will be more exciting as we get into summer veggies instead of mostly just greens...
 Hopefully, I'll manage some real posts again soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Review: Branded

I have to be honest.  I have no idea what compelled me to fill out the interest form for the opportunity to read and review Branded: Sharing Jesus with a Consumer Culture by Tim Sinclair.

From reading the description, this is the kind of book I'm trying to avoid reviewing.  Any of the Christian How-To books.  I want to read other people's reviews and see what is worth reading.  Then I want to go find those books and read them on my own, without the pressure of a review.

For some reason, though, I signed up for this Blog Tour.

About Branded:
The church spends $1.5 million for every one new follower of Jesus. Apple sells 26 iPads every minute. What is it that makes Apple so exciting and Jesus so boring? What is it that compels someone to bring their iPod everywhere and their Bible nowhere? In a word: marketing. Jesus is a life-changing product with lousy salespeople-people who are intimidated and embarrassed by the word "evangelism" and who show more enthusiasm for their gadgets than their God.

What would life look like if we stopped mass-marketing Jesus and started marketing our faith like Nike and Apple market their products--sharing relationally, from person to person? Using examples from these and other successful companies, author Tim Sinclair challenges Christians to throw out their casual attitudes toward faith and sign on for a marketing campaign for the Savior.

Written with the wit and wisdom of an experienced marketer, Branded peels away the feelings of fear and encourages readers how to share their faith in ways that are honest, authentic, and, most importantly, effective.

While I really hated my marketing class back in college (mostly the Yuppie types of people in that class), I did find a lot of the marketing concepts interesting, and even with my accounting positions over the years, I seemed to lean towards actually using those facts and figures to determine how to reach people with a product or service.

So really, this book is right up my alley.  I loved Tim's flair for describing various marketing techniques.  His description of shopping at Best Buy and Circuit City 10-15 years ago was spot on.  I laughed so hard I cried.  And then I read that part aloud to my husband, gasping to get the words out at points.  Hysterically funny.  And spot on.  Okay, so it is funny because it is spot on.  If you weren't shopping these stores back then, you probably won't be laughing quite so hard, but Tim does still make his point clear.

So.  I laughed.  I cried.  It moved me Bob... but did I come away learning anything about how to market my Savior?

Initially, I was disappointed.  At the beginning of the book, I was reading Tim's insightful thoughts on marketing using very up-to-date examples in the business world.  And Tim would compare that to how we "market Jesus" and Christians are definitely found falling short...  and I kept thinking, "This is great, he's right on.  But what do I do?"

In fact, I nearly finished the book (it is a very quick and enjoyable read) before I started to "get it" in any way, shape or form.  The last chapter, read the night before my review was due, was what got my mind spinning.  I had to write and ask for an extension on my review, something I really strive to not do.  Because last week, I just couldn't write anything coherent.  Believe me, I tried.

This book has been on my mind ever since I finished it.  I looked at the little WWJD bracelets at Mardel on Saturday in a totally different light.  I'm reading things on Facebook with a different perspective.  I'm talking to my kids about faith and life, and in the back of my mind, there is a different conversation going on.  I'm looking at posts written by atheists who attended a Christian homeschool conference, and I'm cringing.  I'm looking at a recent experience with a group "witnessing" to my baby brother at Mount Rushmore... and while I agreed with almost everything they said, and while I pray my brother truly heard them... I am pondering the approach now.

I get so excited about showing my parents how FaceTime works and hoping they will upgrade their iPod Touch so that the kids (and I) can make use of the technology and talk to them via our gadgets.  I rave about my Nook.  I don't bombard everyone I know with information about how much I prefer my Mac to the PCs I used for decades, but if someone expresses any hint of interest, I certainly will.  I'll tell anyone and everyone how important it is to read aloud to their children. 

Why don't I have the same enthusiasm for sharing about the absolute greatest service I've ever experienced?  A savior who loves ME enough to pay the price for all the screwing up I've done. 

This isn't a book to quickly read and then move on to the next title to check off a list.  This is a book to read and enjoy.  And then, probably, to read again and think.  Or at least to think.  I am quite certain this book is changing me.  But it is still way too early for me to truly say how.

Read this book.  Here's the link again to go buy it at Amazon.  Less than $10.  Well worth it.

Disclaimer:  I received this book through LitFuse.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Do you need something to do tonight?

We've had a pretty horrible week.  Wonderful vacation last weekend.  Returned home Monday night.  Decided to take Tuesday "off" from things like laundry and dishes, and woke up Wednesday to no water.  Two nights of working with the well made us all hot, sticky and miserable.  And we finally got water again on Friday afternoon.

So sitting down last night, as a family, to watch a pre-release version of Field of Vision was a very welcome break from reality.  And you can watch it too.  Tonight.  On NBC at 7:00 or 8:00, depending on where you are.  Since this is part of Family Movie Night, brought to you by Wal-Mart and Proctor & Gamble, you can watch it knowing that it is family-friendly.

My family loved it.  The general topic of the movie is bullying.  Specifically, it dealt with the decision to do the right thing even when it will most likely cost you a lot.

My kids really identified with many of the characters, particularly the little girl -- a voracious reader, who befriends the older foster kid (the one being bullied). The best part for Dale and I was the opportunity to talk about issues like being a friend to people who need one, and about doing what is right.

Check out their Facebook page, or Moms for Family TV.  Think about watching the movie tonight. 
Quality family programming is something worth supporting.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Reading Aloud Challenge: June 9

Well, we are back from vacation.  Fabulous trip.  Simply fabulous.  And, as promised, we did a lot of audiobooks, and a bit of other reading aloud.

Have I mentioned lately how I simply love putting solid, grammatically correct paragraphs into my children's heads?  There were so many instances this week where I was reminded -- strongly -- about why I do this.

Anyway, on to the books:

Swallows and Amazons (Godine Storyteller)I totally forgot (because their father is doing it with them) that the kids have been working their way through Swallows and Amazons.  What a wonderful book! 

William now wants to own a boat.

So, they finished this book up over the weekend.  And I didn't have to be involved at all.

Connor & I started on an audio version of Anna and the King of Siam.  I think this will be great.  But.  But it is one of those where the reader reads everything on the dust jacket, the acknowledgments, simply everything.  And the book certainly doesn't start off with a lot of activity.  We only finished a few chapters, and we will be finishing that up this week, I hope.

One Foot AshoreWe all started reading One Foot Ashore this week.   This is a sequel to Out of Many Waters, which we read a couple months ago.  Out of Many Waters was the story of a 12 year old Jewish girl and her escape from the Portuguese Inquisition to New Amsterdam.  One Foot Ashore is the story of her big sister, who is 16.  Big sister does make it to Amsterdam, and we get the chance to "meet" Rembrandt... not that we are quite that far yet.

Of course, a big chunk of our read-aloud time this past week took place at Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore.  We read an awful lot of display text aloud.  We learned so much!

Whale of a Story: Adventures on the High Seas
We also started reading Whale of a Story for the Master Books Summer Reading Program.  This counts for any of my three youngest children.  Great book.

Plans for this coming week?  Finish up most everything posted here.  We'll see though.

How did your week go?  Sign the linky and I'll definitely come visit your post.   Love having you here...

To see my first post when this turned into a linky thing, check here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Review: Spring for Susannah

I love Christian historical fiction that takes occurs in places I know.  So I jumped at the chance to review Spring for Susannah, the first novel by Catherine Richmond, which takes place near Fargo starting in 1873.

My family was immigrating into Dakota Territory only a couple of years later than this, though further south.

About the book:
Booklist says, "Inspired by [folk] lyrics, Richmond arrives on the inspirational fiction scene with a moving debut novel. Readers will be filled with hope that Susannah will learn the true meaning of love. Highly recommended where inspiring, romantic historical fiction is in demand."

Hundreds of miles from home, Susannah faces an uncertain future as a mail-order bride on the untamed Dakota prairie.

When her parents die suddenly, and no suitors call, Susannah resigns herself to the only option available: becoming a mail-order bride. Agreeing to marry her pastor's brother, Jesse, Susannah leaves the only home she's ever known for the untamed frontier of the Dakota Territory.

Her new husband is more loving and patient with her than she believes she deserves. Still, there is also a wildness to him that mirrors the wilderness surrounding them. And Susannah finds herself constantly on edge. But Jesse's confidence in her-and his faith in God's perfect plan-slowly begin to chip away at the wall she hides behind.

When she miscarries in the brutal Dakota winter, Susannah's fledgling faith in herself and in God begins to crumble. Still, Jesse's love is unwavering. Just when it seems like winter will never end, Susannah finally sees the first tentative evidence of spring. And with it, the realization that more than the landscape has changed.

She looks to the future with a renewed heart. Yet in her wildest dreams, she couldn't predict all that awaits her.

About Catherine:
Catherine Richmond was focused on her career as an occupational therapist till a special song planted a story idea in her mind. That idea would ultimately become Spring for Susannah, her first novel. She is also a founder and moderator of Nebraska Novelist critique group and lives in Nebraska with her husband.

For more about Catherine, please visit

My take:   First, I really did enjoy this book.  Told primarily from the point of view of Susannah, it also includes portions told by Caleb and some other minor characters.  One part I particularly enjoyed was that each chapter started off with a one- or two-line prayer, usually of Caleb's, that served as a chapter title of sorts.

The story did tend to be more "romance" than I usually prefer, and that aspect will keep me from handing it to my kids to read.

I loved the idea of reading about the very early settlers of the Red River Valley though.  This story starts less than two years after Fargo was founded... and includes the first hotel built in Fargo, along with details about Fort Abraham Lincoln out in Mandan.  Those touches were fabulous.  The aspects of Susannah adjusting to the wide open, treeless plains and the long winters without neighbors were great.  The nearest neighbors -- Ivar and Marta -- oh, I wanted them to be a bigger part of the story.  I would have loved it more if they had been Swedes instead of Norwegian, but there are more Norwegians in the Fargo area, so that was realistic.

As far as the historical aspects go, though, there were a lot of details that did not ring true for me.  There ended up being a lot I went and looked up either as I read, or after.  Like Susannah talking about the landscape being formed by Lake Agassiz... which wasn't named that until a few years after the story ended.  Okay, so a lot of these details did turn out to be accurate or plausible... but enough didn't.  And for someone who isn't terribly concerned about little details of North Dakota history, well, it is highly unlikely that this will bother you at all.

It did not keep me from enjoying the story.  But it did leave me raising an eyebrow and reaching for Google...

You can read other people's opinions of Spring for Susannah at the LitFuse Blog Tour page, and find more details on entering a Kindle giveaway!    

Disclaimer:  I received this book through the LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Reading Programs

Okay, I can't focus!  I keep getting sidetracked trying to keep track of the various summer reading programs the kids will be participating in.  Decided if I don't blog about it, I'll never be able to accomplish anything.

Pikes Peak Library District is AMAZING.  Connor & William will be doing You Are Here, the teen program (and volunteering).  Thomas, Richard and Trina are doing One World, Many Stories, the children's program.  Coupons for free stuff, free books, free t-shirts, and much, much more...

Master Books just announced a summer reading program this morning.  Since I review for them, I need to see if we will be eligible or not.  But my hope is that Richard and Trina can do the ages 5-7 program (prizes including The Answer Book for Kids, or a Noah's Big Adventure set.)  I'd love to have Thomas do this and get the Complete Zoo Adventure book.  I probably won't have the older two participate (we already own the prizes, and, well, they are busy!)  Read three books (from the list) in June, or in July, and be eligible for a prize.

Tyndale is doing a summer reading program for adults and teens/kids. This one I am having Connor and William do.  Read 5 books and select a free book.  Again, this is from a list of titles, but it includes the Imagination Station books (we own all four) and Red Rocks Mysteries (our library has)...

Borders is again doing their Double Dog Dare Challenge.  Everyone but Connor is eligible (ages 12 and under).  Read ten books, get one free.  The decision needs to be made based on the books available though.  I thought Trina might like Ramona the Brave, maybe I could convince Richard to get Danny and the Dinosaur (the first book I remember owning), and Thomas maybe could get Hungry, Hungry Sharks.  Not sure that there is anything for William though.  The nice thing with this one is that it goes through September 5.

Barnes & Noble is sponsoring Imagination's Destination this summer, where kids read 8 books to earn a free one.  This goes through September 6, and is good for kids in grades 1-6.  I don't remember whether it is kids going INTO 1st-6th, or kids who completed 1st-6th.  Either way, I have three eligible.  However, I'm not totally convinced we are going to bother.  I just don't see anything on the list I care enough about to go through the effort.  I mean, the 3rd-4th grade prize selections are SO incredibly GIRL... an American Girl book, a Nancy Drew book, Mercy Watson doesn't *sound* boyish... I don't know that I can excite my boys about these choices at all.

So... we could have a busy summer of reading.

Anyone else know of something fun?  We don't have some of the stores like Half-Price Books.  Though since we'll be heading down to Pueblo pretty much every Friday this summer, maybe we should do their summer reading program too.  Hmmm....  and they have a summer program for adults too... hmmm....

Friday, June 3, 2011

FIRST: Maximal Reserve

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Deep River (February 1, 2011)
***Special thanks to Arielle Roper of Bring it On! Communications for sending me a review copy.***


Sam Batterman is a self-avowed ‘geek,’ he pursued a Computer Science degree and works as a software engineer in Southeastern Pennsylvania. In 2007 he started writing his first novel, Wayback and had it published in 2009 where it went on to be the best-selling fiction novel for his publisher.

Visit the author's website.


Petroleum exploration engineer Phil Channing uncovers the single largest oil reserve in history--and he's only been employed for a week! The find is so large that it dwarfs all Middle East reserves combined, and lies so deep within the bowels of the earth that it can't be reached by any conventional method. He discovers how to tap into this Maximal Reserve through research left behind by a college friend who was brutally murdered just before Phil took the job. The secret lies in the cryptic revelation of a complex of lava tubes on the southeast side of the Dead Sea known as Etsba Elohim--the Finger of God.

This knowledge provides the ability to reach this incredibly strategic resource and threatens to change the world's balance of power and wealth in favor of the small nation of Israel.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Deep River (February 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1935265520
ISBN-13: 978-1935265528


Okay, so I have to confess that I didn't finish this book.  If I knew for sure that I'd have internet access tonight, I'd post later... but I don't know that I will.  So this review is based on what I have read so far.

And I am loving the story.  Good character development, but more important -- the science fits exactly with a lot of things I've seen or read lately.  Well, okay, not quite all of it.  My family is tired of me commenting on how I've just been reading about exactly that in my current book...

The plot is very fast-paced, but not so quick that I feel lost.  The description I saw in the reviews on the back of the book tended to use the word techno-thriller -- and that is perfect.

I told my husband that he needs to read this book as soon as I finish.  I highly recommend this one.




Heavy metal music blasted across the small apartment as rain droplets gyrated on the smudged window glass. The small spheres of water multiplied a hundredfold the bright hues of neon light coming from across the street.

Jackson Sanders popped the tabbed lid of a high-energy drink and gulped down a third of the can without taking his eyes off the thirty-inch computer monitor dwarfing his desk. A strange image was spread across the display, a branching, root-like shape with tapered cylinders that sprouted from a single point. The shape’s surface was wire-framed and broken into thousands of triangles. Depths measured in kilometers ran along a vertical axis.

Jack moved the mouse while holding down the right button, and the entire scene shifted slowly in three dimensions as if his head were at the center of the display. The lights on the front of his computer flickered at high speed, trying to keep up with the eyes and actions of its user.

The powerful computer was losing the battle.

Clicking on a few of the colorful triangles, Jack measured the distance between two points on the display. He knew this strange digital domain better than his messy apartment.

“There it is,” he mumbled, pulling out a notepad with a University of Waterloo at Toronto crest on the cover. He wrote quickly, the scrawl indecipherable to all but himself. Years of e-mail exchanges and multiple instant-messenger sessions open at any given time had long ago ruined any appreciation he’d had for good penmanship.

A new track began to play, but its volume and vigor were the same. Jack’s head bobbed with the syncopated rhythm. He continued writing in the tattered notepad at a mad pace when a small icon began flashing on his virtual desktop.

Jack frowned and clicked on the icon. A window sprang up, showing a grid of video feeds covering the hallway outside his apartment, the stairwell leading to the second floor, and the back alley below his rain-covered window.

Jack had written the program for surveillance purposes. The small fortune tied up in his workstations, servers, and networking could fetch quite a reward at a local pawn shop or fund a junkie’s habit for the next few months, so this gave him a way to keep an eye on the area. The program was simple: it allowed him to view the grainy black-and-white images coming from the cameras and look for big changes between frames—arriving or departing parties in the apartment complex.

Jack squinted at the low-quality images. Three men in black coats and jeans, with crew cuts and the physique of soldiers, were coming up the stairwell.

Jack didn’t recognize them. He glanced at his watch: 10:30 p.m.

The bars don’t close for another three hours; they’re not students, Jack thought.

One of the video feeds went to static. The stairwell feed was out. Jack’s already caffeinated body amped up with adrenaline.

He’d known this day was coming.

Jack watched the men approach the surveillance cameras. It seemed they knew where the cameras were. The remaining feeds blurred rapidly and then succumbed to static.

Jack pulled the hard drive connected to his nine-thousand-dollar workstation, and the monitor went blank. He ran to the kitchenette and opened the microwave door, shoving the hard drive into the small oven and cramming in a dozen CDs and DVDs from a shoebox on a bookshelf. He slammed the microwave door shut and pushed the “Popcorn” button. The appliance hummed as it destroyed the magnetic characteristics of the storage media.

Jack bounded from the kitchenette across his rumpled bed, the mattress groaning from a dozen broken springs. He grabbed his backpack and shoved the university notepads containing his indecipherable scrawl into it.

A polite knock came at the door as Jack opened the raindrop-covered window as quietly as possible. He took one last look around his apartment and glanced at the lightning forking behind the tinted glass of the microwave door as the hard drive was destroyed.

Jack stepped out onto the small balcony and fire escape. Inside the apartment, polite knocking had turned into pounding. The balcony was crowded: a mountain bike, a hibachi for warmer weather, and a dead plant left little room for anything or anyone else.

Jack picked up the light, titanium-framed mountain bike and threw it over the ledge of the balcony. It bounced off a pile of trash bags and landed on the street ten feet below. There was no time to carry it down to the street carefully like he normally did.

As he stepped to the rusting ladder of the fire escape, he heard the apartment door splinter and crack as the men broke through. Jack flicked the latch for the ladder, and the rusty steel rungs flew down to the street.

Jack bailed over the side of the balcony and made his way down the slippery ladder to the alley below. As his sneakers hit the asphalt, he heard the men rummaging through all the things in his apartment.

Jack smiled. They wouldn’t find what they were looking for.

He mounted his bike and pedaled with all his might down the alley, avoiding a homeless man and a dumpster on the way to Front Street. As he left the alley he heard a gruff voice yell, “There he is!” The squelch of a two-way radio followed before the sounds of the city at night extinguished the shouting from the apartment raid.

Jack pedaled quickly, weaving between parking meters and parked cars as he headed toward Roger’s Center and the downtown area. The rain stung his eyes, and he felt numb with the wind sweeping the street. As he reached the corner, he saw the CN Tower looming above him with spotlights shining on its three soaring concrete sides. Behind him the squealing tires of a speeding car announced a vehicle entering the street a hundred yards back.

A black Escalade SUV roared toward him. Jack could see neon lights reflecting in its polished grill. He stood up on the bike and pumped the pedals while careening down the smooth concrete, ducking the grid-like arrangement of trees growing out of sidewalk-level planters. He passed over the boulevard and into Roundhouse Park. A bus horn sounded, startling him, and a late-shift city bus roared past, nearly turning him into a splattered bug on its windshield.

Exhausted, his lungs burning, Jack looked behind him. No one was following. There were no main roads into the park.

He was safe, and he flashed a smile of relief.

Jack’s smile disappeared as the high beams of the SUV glinted through the dark. The vehicle smashed over the median and into the courtyard of the park. Orange sparks flew from the car’s transmission and undercarriage as automotive steel and concrete paving met.

Jack increased his speed, pedaling like a man possessed—too fast, much too fast.

Another car screeched into the far end of the park, cutting off the Lake Shore Drive ramp. Instinctively, Jack hit the brakes, and the mountain bike lost its traction on the park’s wet cobblestones and crashed onto its side. The bike and its passenger slid for a dozen feet before running into a park bench. Spokes bent under the impact, and the chain broke and slithered across the sidewalk into the grass like a wounded snake.

Dazed, Jack pulled his bleeding leg from under the wrecked bike, grabbed his backpack from the pavement, and hobbled toward a crescent-shaped grove of pine trees.

A bleep sounded in the night air, and a tuft of grass flew up just to his left. Jack ambled to the right, and another pistol flashed, the bullet clipping his foot. He fell to the wet grass. Three long shadows stretched across the park lawn, blotting out the city lights behind them. They clustered together, and two of them looked over their shoulders in opposite directions, checking for unwanted observers.

“No!” said Jack, trembling and raising his right hand toward the man in the center of the group. “Please,” he pleaded. “I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”

“You’re right about that, Jack,” said the man in the middle, twisting a silencer on the front of his pistol and pointing it at Jack’s forehead.

The orange glow from the muzzle blast lit up Jack’s terrified eyes for the last time.

“Get the backpack!” said the assassin.

“Got it!” said one of his accomplices, rummaging through the contents of the blood-spattered backpack. He held out a notebook with the university logo. The embossed crest gleamed in the town car’s headlights. The other man knelt down and collected the empty shells from the wet lawn.

“Make sure you grab his wallet and phone, and let’s get out of here,” said the leader, flipping open his cell phone and snapping a photo of Jack’s shattered body. He stored the picture and dialed a number. The three men walked back toward the still-idling Escalade, leaving Jack’s lifeless form behind on the wet lawn.

“Yes, we took care of it; nothing’s left. The secret’s still safe. We’ll be there in the morning. We’re heading to the airport now.”

Chapter One

The Interview

Philip Channing sat in the ripped-vinyl driver’s seat of his car and examined his face and hair in the rearview mirror, adjusting his necktie one more time and giving an awkward smile. He closed his eyes and rehearsed his answers to the questions that would come at him in the next two hours. He gulped and cheered himself on as if he were in some sort of otherworldly race with himself as both player and spectator. Okay, this is it. This is for all the marbles. Come on, Phil!

He lifted the door latch and stepped out into the bright Texas sunlight and humid air. As he closed the car door, something beneath the rusty hulk creaked. The college beater had served him well for six years, but now, parked next to Lexuses, BMWs, and SUVs, it seemed out of its element. Kinda like me. He scanned the parking lot, pictured the drivers of the cars, and grinned.

I’m not worthy!

Phil opened his leather-bound notepad and double-checked his arsenal of résumés and recommendation letters. He glanced at his watch and began the long walk to the security building over two hundred yards away. He had searched for a visitor parking spot upon arrival, but all the slots were filled. Instead of risking a parking ticket he couldn’t afford—or worse, the towing of his decrepit but critically needed conveyance—he’d decided to join the rank and file in parking in the distant employee parking lot.

If all went well, his car would soon belong there.

As Phil walked behind the shiny cars, he wondered how he had ended up here at the Axcess Energy Company. Axcess was the enemy when he was in school. It was the eight-hundred-pound gorilla of the energy market that was poisoning the earth by belching its fossil fuels into the planet’s precious and fragile atmosphere, practically stomping on the polar ice caps with its enormous carbon footprint.

He thought through a hundred lectures from guest speakers and liberal professors who had lambasted and accused Axcess of raping the natural resources of the planet for the purposes of greed and short-term stock value. As a freshman he had even participated in an on-campus protest against the corporate leviathan.

But that was a long time ago.

Phil looked up into the cloudless sky as he did a quick calculation of how much his education had cost him and his parents. Eighty thousand dollars in tuition funds, lab fees, and overall living debt was enough to bring sobriety to any environmental zealot drunk with dogma. Things were different now: more pragmatic, less idealistic. In short, he needed a job.

His parents, a proud blue-collar worker and a schoolteacher, had done what they could to help him—sacrificing their early retirements and driving used cars instead of new ones to help fund his education, first in an expensive prep school and then during his undergraduate years. Phil sometimes felt guilty about his parents’ sacrifices, but now, alone in the world after their deaths—his mom in a tragic auto accident and his dad from a fast-moving cancer in Phil’s sophomore year of college—he knew this interview was the door to making their investments in his life pay off.

Only a few weeks before, he had packed all his earthly belongings into his deathtrap and driven to Austin. It was a far warmer climate than Toronto’s, where the typically Canadian winter was made even colder by freezing wind from Lake Ontario, plunging the temperature to zero and below in the winter months. The routine of graduate school was wearing off. He was responsible for himself now, and maybe soon—he hoped—for Lisa. His parents were gone, Lisa’s parents still looked at him like he was a bum off the streets, he was in a boatload of debt, and he needed something to do. Something worthwhile and challenging, something that wasn’t just school.

Yes, he needed this job—badly.

Three weeks earlier he had endured a technical interview with three of Axcess’s most brilliant petroleum engineers: Scott Ward, Gorin Vladofsky, and Caleb Mosha. Phil had met Caleb in Toronto; his niece was dating Phil’s best friend, Jack Sanders. It was Caleb who had made the interview with the energy company possible.

All three men worked for Dr. John Chambers—the legend, the iconoclast, the maverick. Chambers was the man to work for in the energy sector, more dynamic even than Glenn Martin, Axcess’s CEO. Chambers was so important to the future of the energy company that the board gave him absolute flexibility in his research programs. Chambers’s attitude was well-known: first, break all the rules; second, slay sacred cows. Chambers was highly regarded in academic communities and feared in the halls of business and government. His ideas and theories were always radical and challenged the status quo at every turn. Just like Phil.

The guardhouse was still a hundred yards away when Phil’s cell phone rang. He fumbled with his notepad and dug through every pocket of his suit searching for the phone. He looked at the display: Lisa Baton. Phil smiled at the name and the photo that accompanied the call. He pressed “Take Call” with his nail-bitten thumb and heard the most beautiful voice in the world.

“Hi, Phil, I know you’re getting ready to get all nervous and everything, but remember: regardless of what happens, I still love you and I still think you are the best geophysicist/computer science guy on the planet.”

“Lisa, I think I’m the only geophysicist/computer science guy on the plan-et—at least the only one out of work,” Phil replied.

Her response came quickly, as if Lisa had known he would say that. “True, but even if there were hordes of your kind, you’d still be the most handsome.”

Even though the two had been dating for four years, she could still make him blush. “Thanks . . . I think,” said Phil, stepping through the guardhouse door and getting in line with a dozen other people jockeying for position to register their visits.

Lisa’s tone changed as she sensed Phil’s attention being pulled away from the conversation. “Seriously, just do your best and let things happen. I’ll be praying for you. I love you!”

“I love you too,” said Phil a little too loudly as a lady in front of him turned around, smiled, and winked at him. Red-faced, Phil shoved his phone back into his suit pocket and wished there was another line he could get into.

A few uncomfortable minutes later, the security officer waved and said, “Next please,” breaking the unspoken tension with the woman whose body language still showed she thought Phil was flirting with her.

After the woman went through the security turnstile, Phil stepped to the counter and smiled. The bored security guard stared at him with the biggest bags under his eyes that Phil had ever seen.

“I’m here for an interview with Dr. John Chambers,” said Phil cheerfully.

“Good for you,” said the security officer. “Do you have ID?”

Phil worked his way through all the pockets in his suit, producing his cell phone, car keys, a pen, and finally his wallet. The droopy-eyed security guard watched the stack of personal items grow on the counter in front of him.

“Here you go,” Phil said, handing his driver’s license over the counter. “Sorry, I rarely wear a suit.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed,” said the security guard. A few moments later a black-and-white label rolled out of a printer. The guard peeled the wax-paper backing off the label and stuck it onto a temporary badge that said ESCORT REQUIRED in big red letters.

“Walk up the sidewalk to the main lobby and wait for your escort.”

“Thanks,” said Phil, smiling at the guard as he stepped through the turnstile. The security guard was already processing the next visitor.

The walk was quick. A small cement sidewalk skirted a perfectly manicured lawn and freshly mulched flowerbeds. The glass-and-steel office complex soared a dozen stories above the lawn and gleamed in the morning sun. Phil could see people in their offices, gathering in conference rooms, and walking across glass-enclosed sky bridges between the buildings, all preparing for a busy and productive day.

The beauty of the place seemed lost on the employees who were scurrying past, drinking coffee, checking voice mail, and typing on their BlackBerrys while juggling briefcases and messenger bags. Phil decided to pop open his cell phone and join the fun.

The welcome screen appeared on his phone and displayed his communication status:

New Text Messages: 0

New E-mail Messages: 0

Well, so much for that.

Phil flipped the phone closed as he reached the glass doors of the visitor center lobby. The lobby was a huge atrium, and sunlight radiated through the skylights, illuminating the beautiful marble floor of the visitor center. Phil looked along the wood-paneled walls where supposedly artistic and valuable sculptures were positioned in regular intervals. The rare oil paintings on the walls and benches made of beautiful wood were carefully interspersed, reminding Phil of an art gallery, not of the lair of a corporate beast that wanted to melt the Arctic.

A pleasant voice pulled Phil from his admiration of the lobby and back into reality. “Mr. Channing?”

Phil spun around and found an attractive, thirty-something woman dressed in a conservative navy business suit. She extended her hand.

“Mr. Channing, I’m Sarah Rogers, Dr. Chambers’s administrative assistant. I’ll be taking you to the conference room where the interview will be occurring today.”

“Hello,” said Phil, trying not to look like a goon. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Phil walked alongside Sarah toward an elevator at the end of the hall, passing through a gauntlet of security guards who were eyeballing badges and checking for escorts. As they walked, Phil tried to break the awkward silence.

“It sure is pretty outside. What a wonderful facility you have here.” He cleared his throat. Exactly how stupid and obvious could he sound, anyway?

They both stepped into the elevator, and Sarah pressed the button for the fourth floor. “Axcess is a wonderful place to work, Philip; they have a heart for the environment and a mind for American prosperity.” Her tone was even with no inflection, giving no indication that she knew her response was weird and sounded way too recorded.

Phil pretended to glance at the back of the elevator, but he was really looking at the back of Sarah Rogers for a pull string showing that she was, in fact, a robot.

The elevator dinged, and the door slid open, revealing a wide-open reception area surrounded by spacious conference rooms. The sprawling campus of the corporation could be seen beyond windows that wrapped around the entire floor.

“How many people work at this facility?” asked Phil, admiring the rectangles of perfectly mowed lawns and glass-and-concrete structures outside the window.

“Around five thousand. Austin is the headquarters and the largest of all Axcess’s sites. Now then, Dr. Chambers will be here in a minute. May I get you some water or anything?” Sarah said.

“No, thank you. I’m fine.”

Sarah smiled and left the conference room. Phil put his leather notepad on the enormous oval table and walked around it to gaze out over the campus. He smiled as he looked through the glass and indulged in a quick fantasy that he had worked here for ten years and this was his corner office.

“Nice view, isn’t it?” came a booming voice. Phil jumped, bumping into the windowpane. He was thankful for the safety glass; otherwise, he would have been plummeting some four stories to his doom.

“Dr. Chambers!” Phil responded as he tried to cross the space between them with some class and dignity to shake the famous scientist’s hand. The older man smiled kindly at the young, eager recruit. Chambers was tall and thin in an athletic way and slightly balding with a close-shorn salt-and-pepper beard. He was dressed all in black, with the enigmatic noir look popularized by Steve Jobs. The Apple CEO had given his most successful product launches dressed in all black, and now technologists the world over emulated his “Geek Chic” look.

“I’ve been following your academic career for a very long time, Phil. Your professors give you the highest praise,” said Chambers, inviting Phil to sit in the plush chair and taking a seat across from him. “They say you are one of the brightest minds to come through the university in quite a while. In fact, they call you the hottest data visualization specialist on the planet.”

Phil paused. He wasn’t sure how to respond to this praise. Should he look confident, or would that come across as arrogant? He managed to flash a subtle smile. Chambers’s magnetism was legendary, and here in the presence of the icon, Phil felt the man’s charisma envelop him like an energy field. Chambers instantly made you want to work for him.

The man leaned forward and focused all his attention on Phil. “So why are you bailing out now?”

Phil wasn’t exactly sure what he meant. “Excuse me?”

Chambers clarified his question without so much as a blink of an eyelash. “Why aren’t you staying to get your doctorate? With the kind of work you did in graduate school, you could be done pretty quickly.”

Time seemed to stop. Phil felt a bead of sweat roll down his face. The energy emanating from the man tangled around him. He knew the right answers, of course. Everything he should say to make him sound like a good candidate for the job. But under such pressure, he felt the strange urge to speak his mind—as if that’s what Chambers wanted.

Phil took a deep breath. “I’ve been in college and grad school for six years. I have double majors in geology and computer science and a master’s in petroleum exploration. And you’re right, I could keep going, but I want to use my education now. I want to work on great projects with people who will challenge me and make me better. I already have a master’s degree—some would say that means I’ve mastered the subject, but how can that be? I’ve never made a commercial contribution to a company, and I’ve only seen the data and situations that an academic institution can provide. Frankly, Dr. Chambers, I want more.”

Chambers beamed. It was the right answer.

“I do plan on going back to get my doctorate, but only after I have the experience that would make it valuable.” There. He had hedged his bet properly.

“One of the researchers on my team, Caleb Mosha, brought you to my attention four years ago. You went to school with his niece, didn’t you?”

“Yes, Aliya is dating one of my best friends. We double-dated a lot in school,” answered Phil. “Actually, we all did everything together.”

“All?” asked Chambers, raising his eyebrow.

“Aliya and her boyfriend and Lisa—she’s my girlfriend. She lives here in town and works for the state.”

Chambers looked at his cell phone and set it to vibrate before staring directly at Phil, taking in his every facial expression. “If it’s not completely obvious by this point, Phil, I want you to work for me, on a project that I’m certain will define both of our careers. Since you went through the technical wringer a few weeks ago with the staff, I just want to answer any questions you might have and try to help you with your decision.”

Chambers paused for a full minute, his eyes drilling into Phil’s, who responded in kind, like a corporate version of a first-one-who-blinks-is-a-rottenegg contest. Silence boomed in Phil’s ears. Suddenly his mouth was dry, and he wished he had taken the robot up on her water offer.

Here goes. Phil licked his lips. He only had one question. “Well, to be honest, Dr. Chambers, I want to know more about the project. I need to know more about the actual work I’d be doing here at Axcess.”

Chambers seemed a bit surprised. “You mean they didn’t tell you anything about our project during the technical interview?”

“No, sir, most of their questions revolved around the project I worked on a few years ago. That project involved using commodity-based computer grids to solve uncertainty around seismic data, but nothing about the actual job at Axcess was discussed.”

“Leave it to the nerds and the lawyers to goof up a good thing,” Chambers muttered.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing.” Chambers glanced beyond Phil for a moment, his attention lost in the sprawling campus of Axcess Energy. A smile crept across his face, and he snapped his fingers. “Do you have a passport?”

“Um, yes,” said Phil. Where is he going with this?

“I want to show you what you’ll be working on. Are you available for, say, thirty hours?” asked Chambers as he stood up and dialed his assistant. He looked back at the young recruit. “Or are you doing something more important?”

How can I argue with that? Phil asked himself.

“Sarah, please have a limousine come around front for me.” Chambers snapped the phone shut.

“Thirty hours? You mean right now?” asked Phil, glancing at his business suit and wing-tip shoes. “What do I need to bring?”

“No time like the present,” said Chambers. “We’ll stop by your apartment before the airport so you can get your stuff. We’re heading for a research rig, so dress like you’re going camping. Oh, and one more thing. It’s going to be windy.”

Stop by my apartment? How does he know—wait a minute—did he just say airport?

Chambers strode quickly from the conference room with Phil running close behind to keep up. When the elevator reached the lobby, a black limousine pulled around to the front of the complex, and Phil and Chambers jumped in.

■ ■ ■ ■

Phil opened the door of his apartment and ducked inside. The place was a mess, and he was glad Chambers hadn’t asked to come in. That would’ve been a job killer for sure.

He pulled back a curtain and looked at the limo idling in the parking lot. Chambers was on his cell phone, and he spotted Phil looking out the window. He smiled and tapped his watch.

Phil ran to the bedroom and grabbed a duffel bag from the closet. He grabbed a shaving bag from the bathroom, a toothbrush, and all the typical things for an overnight hotel stay. He threw a pair of jeans, a few T-shirts, and a sweatshirt into the duffel, cramming them down with his hands and forcing the zipper shut. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. It was dead.

There was no time to charge the battery.

He grabbed the power cord for charging his laptop and stuffed it and the computer into his backpack. Running to the kitchen, he picked up the landline and dialed Lisa’s number. Phil glanced at the refrigerator and wondered how many science experiments were growing in there. Cleaning had not been his top priority over the past few weeks. Phil’s OCD took over, and he moved the trash can in front of the refrigerator with his legs. While the phone connection was being made, he started throwing things away—eggs, milk, and a head of lettuce that was already turning brown. The trash can was filling up fast.


Phil cocked his neck to hold the phone against his shoulder and continued purging the refrigerator of its perishables.

“Lisa! You won’t believe the day I’m having.”

“You’re already back at home? Why didn’t you call me after you got out? How’d the interview go? Tell me everything!” The questions whizzed across Phil’s mind like arrows.

“Listen, hon, I’m not done with the interview. I’m at the apartment packing for an, um, a business trip.”

“A business trip? Phil, what are you talking about?” Phil could tell from Lisa’s tone that she was confused and quickly heading toward annoyed.

“Well, let’s just say they want to show me something to help me make up my mind. I think they really want me on board. It’s weird and mysterious, but I can’t say no.”

There was silence on the other end of the line before Lisa spoke up. “Okay, well, where are you going? Will you be back for dinner? We were going to celebrate your interview tonight.”

He slammed the fridge door shut. Dinner? Blast! I forgot!

“I think we’re going to have to postpone dinner, sweetheart. They told me thirty hours, and to pack jeans like I was going camping. No suits or ties.”

There was a pause on the other end.

Lisa’s disappointment was obvious, but she came through as she always did. “Okay, Phil, we’ll celebrate when you get back. I don’t like this mysterious trip—it’s not very corporate—but I trust you . . .”

“Thanks, honey. I love you!”

“I love you too. Be safe and call me when you can. Bye.”

Phil hung up the phone, grateful for an understanding girlfriend. They had dated all through college, and she really was his best friend. She trusted him and he trusted her.

Phil tied a knot at the top of the heavy trash bag and swung it over his shoulder like a homeless man’s version of Santa Claus. He grabbed the duffel and his backpack with his other hand and scanned the room quickly for anything that needed to be unplugged, turned off, or worried about while he was away. Nothing.

He ran out the front door and lobbed the overstuffed trash bag into the dumpster as he ran to the waiting limousine and a business trip that he was sure would be unusual.