Wednesday, August 31, 2011

TOS Crew Review: Pig Pile!

And they're off... in this case, it is my first review for the TOS Crew for the 2011-12 Voyage.  And it's a fun one!
RnR Games
R&R Games sent out a couple of different games to reviewers.  I had the chance to review Pig Pile! with my kids.  Oh.  What.  Fun.

Intended for 3-6 players ages 7 and up, we (of course) didn't completely follow their suggestions.  Trina (age 5) has been involved in virtually every game played in the family.

Aren't the pigs absolutely adorable?

Okay, so the basic rules of the game are to play a card to the center pile that is equal or greater to what is there already.  If three of the same value are played, that is a "hogwash" and those cards get flipped to the discard pile... and you get to start fresh.  There are special cards that make you lose a turn, or do a "ewe-turn" (play switches direction) and all that kind of thing.

First person to use all their cards gets three pigs.  Next person gets two.  Then everyone but the last person gets one pig for going out.  A new hand is dealt, and the game continues, with the number of pigs being your score.

We've played the game with a number of different players.  Our conclusions (and I'm quoting/paraphrasing my kids):
  • Three players -- long and not a lot of fun, seems kind of pointless, and fairly easy for older players to consistently win because of being able to keep track of what other players have and being able to more or less predict what will happen on their turns
  • Four players -- fun, but still long and not as predictable
  • Five players -- a great game.  Very fun.  
  • Six players -- a really and truly great game, fast moving, far more element of chance
  • Seven players -- okay, we haven't actually succeeded in getting Dad to play, but we want to try it out and see if it works.  Probably with one fewer card in the original hands.
So -- our advice?  Although the game says it is for 3-6 players, it is unlikely to become a favorite if you are consistently playing with only 3-4 people.  It probably will require modification (as those pigs sit there a very long time, not being handed out).  For 5-6 people though, the game is great.

Back to who my players were:

My three oldest boys, ages 10, 12 and 14, easily grasped the rules and taught their younger siblings to play.  And their mother.

Richard, age 7, needed a little coaching in the first game, but then could easily play.

Trina, age 5, needs occasional help ("Is this a 6 or a 9?") as she plays, and after a couple dozen games, she is understanding the basic strategies.  She rarely goes out first, but she also doesn't go out last all that often.  At least not when playing with 5-6 people.  When playing with only 3 players, she loses virtually every round, doesn't get more than maybe one pig, and is frustrated.  And whiny.  It isn't pretty.  But with everyone playing, she has fun.

Available for $15.95, this is a game my family certainly recommends.  But as a Crew Blog Reader, you can get it (or any other game that R&R sells) for 20% less through the end of the year, 12/31/11, by using the coupon code CREW20.  I have my eye on Masters of Venice as a Christmas gift...  or maybe Overthrone...

You can read what other TOS Crew Members have to say about Pig Pile (and about Flea Circus too) here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive this game in exchange for my review of the product.  All opinions are my own, and receiving complimentary products does not factor in to my opinions.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: Living Fossils

Over the past couple of months, we have been working through Living Fossils by Dr. Carl Werner for our "summer science."  We have both the hardcover student text, and the softcover Teacher's Manual.

This set is actually the second volume in the Evolution: The Grand Experiment series.  We already owned the first set (including the DVD) and had used that rather loosely a couple of years ago.  I was really excited to get a look at the second volume, and since I have more kids actually old enough to appreciate this now, I wondered how it would work for us now.

Here is what the publisher has to say about this book:
In 1938, the discovery of a large, unusual fish turned the scientific community on end. Dubbed a "living fossil," the discovery of a coelacanth in South Africa shocked scientists around the world who thought this type of fish had died out millions of years prior during the process of evolution. Today, living fossils are organisms preserved in the fossil record that still exist in similar form today. Their existence challenges the core concepts of evolution and create a fascinating debate among scholars. Do they indicate a younger earth than some have thought, placing the millions-of-years evolutionary timeline into question? Or do living fossils represent a deep mystery? Living Fossils, Vol. 2, Evolution: the Grand Experiment delves into these provocative questions. Includes 700 color images presented in an easy-to-read format. Ideal as a standalone study unit for schools and homeschoolers or easily integrated into existing curricula.
Our take?

This is a LOT more textbook-y than we usually prefer before high school.  And this was being used for my three oldest -- ages 10, 12 and 14.  Connor is used to a textbook, but the other two really aren't.  To be fair, the recommended grade level for this book is Middle School and High School -- so it isn't intended as a book for 10 year olds.

But it worked.

The book consists of 25 chapters, with most chapters being around 5-7 pages.  There are a few that are significantly longer than that.  The first three chapters are fairly text-heavy -- introducing the subject, and including a few relevant photos.

After that, though, most of the pages contain photos and not so much text.  The photography is beautiful.  My kids loved sitting and looking through the pictures.  A lot of what is shown will be a fossil of some sort right next to a photo of the modern "equivalent" creature or plant.

The Teacher's Manual was useful, and would be even moreso if you wanted to give high school credit for this course.  I opted not to.  How I used the Teacher's Guide was:
  • I read the "Purpose of the Chapter" statement aloud to the kids.
  • We discussed the discussion questions, and for the most part really liked this.
  • Then we read the chapter in the book.  Aloud.  And we pored over the photos.
  • We discussed the "Objectives" listed in the Teacher's Manual
  • Finally, we *orally* went through the chapter test
This has been great, and the kids really look forward to seeing and hearing the material in each chapter.  It does make me want to dig out Volume 1 and work through that again, because now that they are older, it is a lot of fun to have the discussions that come up from the text.

Disclaimer:   I received this set of books 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.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Review: Mercy Come Morning

I requested the book Mercy Come Morning (previously published as Christmas Every Morning) by Lisa T. Bergren, not connecting her to the Lisa Tawn Bergren who wrote God Gave Us the World (which I reviewed a few months ago).

That connection was a fun discovery.  As was the realization that Bergren lives in Colorado Springs -- which is where the novel opens.  Most of the story, however, occurs in Taos, New Mexico.

Krista is a history professor in the Springs, where she is successful, respected and she doesn't have to interact with her dysfunctional mother, now in an Alzheimer's facility.

But at the beginning of December, she receives a phone call that her mother is slipping away, and she really does need to come now.  The rest of the novel alternates between what is happening now and what has happened in Krista's past, and, through a recently discovered journal, what happened in her mother's past. 

Can Krista come to a point where she can get past her traumatic childhood and all the issues that do still have a hold on her?  What happens when she starts to see her past through eyes other than her own?

The story is told entirely from Krista's point of view, with her mother's side of things only presented through that journal or from words of her mother's only friend.  The bouncing around in time never felt contrived or forced, and it was really great to watch Krista learn about her difficult mother.

Maybe my favorite single line though had to do with Krista's looks... that she carried at least an extra ten pounds.  Even though she isn't "perfect" like practically every other book heroine, she still catches the eye of her childhood sweetheart...

That does get into my one real complaint about the book though.  While Krista and Charlotte are both well written and fleshed out, the other major characters are not.  Dane -- the director of the nursing home and Krista's high school sweetheart -- is pretty much perfect and one-dimensional.  The only flaw the man has is that he doesn't read minds.  Elena -- a very good friend to Charlotte, and both a mother figure and great friend to Krista -- is also practically perfect and fairly one-dimensional.  I would have loved to see them both a bit more real, Dane especially.

The setting -- Taos -- is described so that you feel you are really there.  Even if you've never been there.  I've visited other parts of New Mexico, but never Taos.  Through this novel, though, I feel like I've seen it myself.

Great story, great message about forgiveness, great setting... and you can read the first chapter for yourself here.  Oh, and this isn't a book that I would unconditionally recommend for teens... there are some definite "adult" themes. 

I would truly appreciate you for "ranking" my review with the link above.  That helps me to have a wider selection of books to review.  Thank you!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.

Review: Steps4Kids -- Printing and Cursive

Earlier, I posted a review of Steps4Kids to Multiply.  This is a review of their handwriting DVDs.

Steps4Kids to Write Their ABCs is the one we used the most.  This is a traditional printing program, going through upper and lower case letters.  They advertise that it is "compatible with penmanship programs using non-slanted printing styles such as Zaner-Bloser®, Palmer®, HWOT®."  I can speak to it working well with Handwriting Without Tears.

I primarily had Trina and Richard using this DVD, as they are both right in the target age range for it (ages 4-7).  However, the older boys watched as well.

About an hour in total, the individual letter tracks are mostly under a minute each -- most actually seem to be in the 30 to 45 second range.  Basic and no frills, much like the multiplication DVD.  Each track goes through and does the following:
  • Names the letter
  • Shows and says two words beginning with that letter (x being an exception)
  • On the traditional lower-elementary style writing paper (two solid lines, dashed line in the middle) she writes the letter while talking through what she is doing.
  • Then the letter is written twice more, with more abbreviated verbal instruction
Interspersed among the letter lessons are little drawing lessons that have you start by writing a letter, then you add some extra lines or circles for eyes and you end up with some cute little something.  I rolled my eyes at these.  My kids adored them.  Goes to show that I don't always know what will motivate them, huh?

My *plan* for this DVD, which failed, was to pull it out as we worked through our language arts program and to watch the segments for the letters we were learning in there.  What I found, though, was that was too confusing for my 5 year old.  The order the letters are introduced in the language arts program makes a lot of sense for that program... but transferring it over to this DVD meant we were getting hints about how to write the letter that didn't make sense, as we hadn't seen the earlier letters.  Richard would have been okay, but he's more comfortable with the letters already.  So even if he hadn't heard the Steps4Kids suggestions for a letter, he still knew enough to understand it.

So -- what we did instead was to stop the other program and work on the writing first.  We can go through the DVD in *their* suggested order, and that has worked so much better for them both, but especially for Trina.

In September sometime, we'll go back to the language arts program.  And now we'll be able to just watch the applicable segments because the kids are already familiar with the whole thing.

The suggested order on the DVD makes sense to me.  Starting with upper-case, you do the straight vertical and horizontal line letters (F or L, for instance).  Then you introduce the curved letters (J or D, for instance).  Finally you get into letters that have slanted lines (M or V, for instance).

In the lowercase segment, the letters are grouped into related groups as well.  So, you learn to make an r, then use the r to make an n, and then an m.

What I like:
  • There is something about having someone else show them that seems to stick.
  • The little drawing segments motivate my kids
  • The progression of letters was clearly very well thought-out
  • My kids enjoy this
There are a couple of things I don't love, but they are fairly minor.  All are related to the drawing segments.  Some of the drawing sections have you using letters you haven't learned yet (doing m's as flower petals before you learn m).  But... the bigger one is that you are taught that you can use a c to make a nose and ears on a face.  The drawing is cute, and it works for my current two little ones... but my older boys had SO MUCH trouble remembering which direction a c went in the first place, that I couldn't help but cringe at the idea of actually teaching them to make a backwards c.

Steps4Kids to Write Cursive was the reason I was so excited to try this series in the first place.  My older boys have all totally failed to learn cursive, and I'm constantly debating with myself as to how important it is.  I had decided, though, that while working through the language arts program for the little two that my two struggling readers were going to be my teaching assistants.  And that I was going to pull Connor (9th) grade in as well for the writing segment... and while the little two learned to print the letters, the big three were going to learn cursive.

This DVD confirmed that.  But again...  doing it in the order of the LA program was a nightmare, and we had to give it up.  Honestly, I think it was the issues with the cursive that made us switch for the printing too.  Because my boys are NOT at all used to cursive.

The letter order on the cursive DVD is very different from that on the printing one.  Obviously.  Because the letters are grouped by similar strokes, and while some of that is similar between cursive and print, not all of it is.  So I was not really able to keep the kids going on the same letters.  Not a big deal, really.

Okay, so while very similar, there are some differences, so let me talk about the letter tracks on the Cursive DVD:
  • They show the letter
  • They talk about how it 'connects' and then give two words starting with the letter emphasizing how it connects (or doesn't, in the case of letters like a capital O)
  • The letter is demonstrated first very similar to the printing DVD, talking through and showing the strokes
  • Then there is ONE practice of each letter
  • And in between letter groups, instead of a drawing break, there is a Look2Write segment where they look at a collage of items and are to write (in cursive) the things they see that start with the letters from that group
The Look2Write segments are not at all appealing to my kids.  Yet.  As we work back through this again, maybe.

What is really great about the DVD is the fourth section (1 is introductory, 2 is uppercase, 3 is lowercase) teaches about connections.  I wish I had watched this segment with the kids before we started watching the letter-teaching parts, but I assumed we ought to go in order.  It is about fifteen minutes.  I wouldn't necessarily have them watch the entire thing before starting the rest, but the first five minutes or so talk about the rules for connecting that just make so much sense.  The remaining ten minutes are practice, which obviously they wouldn't really be able to do until they learn to make the letters.  They could watch it though.

This is going a lot more slowly than I expected it to, however it is far more effective than anything else I have tried to do to teach cursive. 

Disclaimer:  I received these DVDs in exchange for an honest review.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review: Steps4Kids to Multiply

This has taken me absolutely forever, but I'm finally getting around to writing a GLOWING review (or two) of a set of three DVDs that we've been using off and on over the summer.

Steps4Kids is a company I hadn't heard of, but a friend hooked me up with them.  Wow, wow, wow...

They produce DVDs that teach kids how to write, plus one on the multiplication tables.  Now, you have to know that I have struggled so much with teaching handwriting.  My kids write S-L-O-W-L-Y and painfully and mostly I just gave up and tried to teach them to use a keyboard.  <sigh>

This product changed that.

So - first - what I received -- I received three DVDs, that you can purchase as a bundle.
  • Steps4Kids to Write Their ABCs
  • Steps4Kids to Write Cursive
  • Steps4Kids to Multiply
Let's start with math.   Steps4Kids to Multiply is over an hour of instruction that includes information for the parent/teacher, a great section with math terms, and a track for each number 0-12.   That means you can choose just the number family you want to work with... you can use this to supplement the multiplication tables in the order your curriculum uses, or in their suggested order, or just to pull out those one or two sets that your child struggles with.

Each number track starts off showing a multiplication table, with that fact family's row and column highlighted.  There is a general overview of how to do that particular fact, with hints as appropriate.  Then they go through each fact -- showing it, talking about it, and giving the answer.

After that, they show the math problems (some vertically, some horizontally) and give the kids time to answer before they give the answer on screen.

What we are doing with this is to watch a segment a day, and then cycling back around to the beginning.  This is giving my older kids (in 7th and 5th grades) repeated exposure to these facts.  My 7th grader is severely dyslexic, which means he does fabulously with math theory but struggles with things like memorizing the times table.  I am seeing tremendous improvement for him.

This also means that my 2nd grader is going through things a little faster than maybe he should.  But he's a lot like all his big brothers... he understands the concept of multiplication and has for years.  It's the pesky detail of learning the facts that he needs to work on.  So cycling through seems to be a good thing for him as well.  He's not getting bogged down in having to memorize them all before moving on.

One thing I especially love is that when you get to the 10, 11 and 12 tracks, they are showing it in the traditional format of multiplying a two digit number by a single digit number.  So 12 x 6 would be talked about (this is MY paraphrase, they do it better) as taking 6 times 2 = 12, so you write down the 2 for the ones/units place and carry over the 1 ten.  Then 6 times 1 = 6 tens, plus the one you carried over, so a total of 7 tens... or 72.  When the "drill" part is done, it is much quicker.

I LOVE this aspect.  Introducing them to the "harder" format makes it so much easier.  I dearly wish I had this a few years ago for my 12 year old.

I love that it is straight-forward and pretty basic.  No little songs, no flashy animations.  Nothing that is terribly distracting.  The voices are soothing, yet aren't lulling you off to sleep...

Coming up in another post:  The two writing ones.  I'll link when I get it posted.

Disclaimer:  I received these DVDs in exchange for an honest review.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Grace Card Winner

I only have a minute... but I wanted to post a winner for The Grace Card that I reviewed last week.

I went to, and it chose lucky #12.

That means that this was the winning entry:

Edna Miller said...
I would LOVE to share it with family and friends...and I would enjoy it too! <3

I'll be messaging you on Facebook.... or you can send me your shipping info, so I can pass that along!

Congrats, Edna!

For everyone else, I know there are others giving this movie away in the next week or two, but unfortunately, I can't seem to find any of them right now.  Thanks for entering my giveaway though!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reading Aloud Challenge: August 25

Okay, so we made some major changes in our school plans this week. Dropped books entirely, and are just in the midst of switching stuff around completely.  It actually turned out to be a decent read-aloud week, though not quite what I'd prefer.  Two weeks from now, well...

The basic plan, as I'm sure I'll be asked (!) is that Richard and Trina are starting Sonlight Core 1 next week.  We'll be skipping over the overview-y stuff (reading the archaeology book though).  William and Thomas will be doing Core 6, starting the week after that... however, we are going to get a start on The Golden Goblet this coming week.  Because that book has such L-O-N-G chapters.  I was hoping they'd let me not read it.  But alas, they want to hear it again.

Here is what we've been reading this week.

Still More Stories from 
Grandma's Attic (Grandma's Attic Series)Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic.  This one I was reading mostly to Richard and Trina, but everyone got involved this week. This whole series is amazing, and like I said in my review yesterday, I've had votes to start over with book 1 as soon as we get through all four.

Banner in the SkyBanner in the Sky.  This is Connor's... and (you knew this was coming...) all the boys are now listening.  What a great book!  We should finish early next week.

Angel on the SquareAngel in the Square.  Another book of Connor's.  Did I mention that we are kind of all over the place for Connor?  Decided that he is not going to do all of the 20th century stuff in Core 7, as he'll get lots of that in Core 300.  So we're wrapping up the history of the 19th century, but still filling in quite a few of the read-alouds (and readers) from the 20th century.
This one was great.  And we started and finished it.  Audiobook, in case anyone thinks I'm doing all of the actual reading.  I count audiobooks when multiple people are listening at the same time.

Snow TreasureSnow Treasure.  This is a book I've read before (unlike any of the above titles!) and the kids (all of them, naturally) are loving it.  We are maybe a third of the way into it, so the Nazis have only just invaded and the kids are just about to start their first mission... so yes, that means we are to the point of my kids bargaining with me.  "I'll do all the dishes if you keep reading..."  Love it.

Plans for this coming week? Finishing up the above.  Richard and Trina will be doing the next Grandma's Attic book, plus Charlotte's Web.  William and  Thomas will be starting Golden Goblet and possibly Mara, Daughter of the Nile.  Connor will be starting Number the Stars.  It is starting to feel like school is truly beginning.

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... you motivate me when I feel like NOT reading aloud.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Polio Treatment

Okay, so since I reviewed a book yesterday (Blue Skies Tomorrow) and linked to a guest blog post by the author (Sarah Sundin) about polio, I wanted to post really quick to point you at the part 2 in this guest blog series:  Polio - Part 2 - Treatment.

The Sister Kenny she mentions in the post is someone I've heard about my entire life.

Excellent post, marvelous historical author.  I think I have a new favorite.

FIRST: Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic and Treasures from Grandma's Attic

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 books:

David C. Cook; Reprint edition (August 1, 2011)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


The late Arleta Richardson grew up an only child in Chicago, living in a hotel on the shores of Lake Michigan. Under the care of her maternal grandmother, she listened for hours to stories from her grandmother’s childhood. With unusual recall, Arleta began to write these stories for an audience that now numbers over two million. “My grandmother would be amazed to know her stories have gone around the world,” Arleta said.


Grandma did what? You might be surprised. Back in the 1880’s, when she was a young girl named Mabel, trouble seemed to follow her everywhere. She and her best friend, Sarah Jane, had the best intentions at home and at school, but somehow clumsiness and mischief always seemed to intrude. Whether getting into a sticky mess with face cream, traveling to the big city, sneaking out to a birthday party or studying for the spelling bee, Mabel’s brilliant ideas only seemed to show how much she had to learn. And each of her mishaps turned into lessons in honesty, patience and responsibility.

Arleta Richardson’s beloved series, Grandma’s Attic, returns with Still More Stories from Grandma’s Attic and Treasures from Grandma’s Attic, the third and fourth books in the refreshed classic collection for girls ages 8 to 12. These compilations of tales recount humorous and poignant memories from Grandma Mabel’s childhood on a Michigan farm in the late 1800’s. Combining the warmth and spirit of Little House on the Prairie with a Christian focus, these books transport readers back to a simpler time to learn lessons surprisingly relevant in today’s world.

Even though these stories took place over a hundred years ago, there are some things about being a girl that never change. Just like Mabel, girls still want to be prettier or more independent. It’s all part of growing up. But the amazing thing is—Grandma felt the same way! Sometimes your brother teases you or someone you thought was a friend turns out to be insincere. Sometimes you’re certain you know better than your parents, only to discover to your horror that they might have been right. It’s all part of growing up.

Richardson’s wholesome stories have reached more than two million readers worldwide. Parents appreciate the godly values and character they promote while children love the captivating storytelling that recounts childhood memories of mischief and joy. These books are ideal for homes, schools, libraries or gifts and are certain to be treasured. So return to Grandma’s attic, where true tales of yesteryear bring timeless lessons for today, combining the appeal of historical fiction for girls with the truth of God’s Word. Each captivating story promotes godly character and values with humor, understanding and warmth.

My take:  These stories are just as fabulous as the ones in the first two In Grandma's Attic books.  My ten year old son (I thought I was reading this aloud to the 5 and 7 year old!) asked me yesterday... "So, when we finish book 4 [Treasures from Grandma's Attic], we're going to grab the first book and start all over again, right?"

I don't know of a stronger endorsement than that.

Product Details:

Still More Stories from Grandma’s Attic

List Price: $6.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; Reprint edition (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781403812
ISBN-13: 978-0781403818

Treasures from Grandma’s Attic:

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; Reprint edition (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781403820
ISBN-13: 978-0781403825


Still More Stories from Grandma’s Attic

When Grandma Was a Little Girl

One hundred years! What a long, long time ago that is! Not very many people are still alive who can remember that far back. But through the magic of stories, we can be right there again.

When I was a little girl, I thought no one could tell a story like my grandma.

“Tell me about when you were a little girl,” I would say. Soon I would be back on the farm in northern Michigan with young Mabel—who became my grandmother—her mother and father, and her brothers, Reuben and Roy.

The old kitchen where I sat to hear many of Grandma’s stories didn’t look the same as when she was a little girl. Then there was no electricity nor running water. But my grandma still lived in the house she grew up in. I had no trouble imagining all the funny jams that Grandma and her best friend, Sarah Jane, got into. Or how it felt to wear long flannel stockings and high-buttoned shoes.

From the dusty old attic to the front parlor with its slippery furniture, Grandma’s old house was a storybook just waiting to be opened. I was fortunate to have a grandma who knew just how to open it. She loved to tell a story just as much as I loved to hear one.

Come with me now, back to the old kitchen in that Michigan farmhouse, and enjoy the laughter and tears of many years ago....


Face Cream from Godey’s Lady’s Book

Receiving mail always excited me. I never had to be told to get the mail for Grandma on my way home from school. But sometimes the mail became even more important. Like the time I was watching for something I had ordered from Woman’s Home Companion.

When the small package finally arrived, my face revealed how excited I was.

“What did you get a sample of this time?” Grandma asked as I came in proudly carrying the precious box.

“You’ll see. Just wait till I show you,” I said, promising Grandma the box held something special.

Quickly I tore the wrapping paper off the small box. Inside was a jar of skin cream for wrinkles.

Grandma laughed when she saw it. “You certainly don’t need that,” she said. “Now it might do me some good if those things ever really worked.”

“You aren’t wrinkled, Grandma,” I protested. “Your face is nice and smooth.”

“Perhaps so. But not because of what I’ve rubbed on it. More than likely I’ve inherited a smooth skin.”

She took the jar of cream and looked at the ingredients “This doesn’t look quite as dangerous as some stuff Sarah Jane and I mixed up one day. Did I ever tell you about that?”

“No, I’m sure you didn’t,” I replied. “Tell me now.”

Grandma picked up her crocheting, and I settled back to listen to a story about Grandma and her friend, Sarah Jane, when they were my age.


Sarah Jane had a cousin who lived in the city. This cousin often came to stay at Sarah Jane’s for a few days. She brought things with her that we were not accustomed to seeing.

One morning as Sarah Jane and I were walking to school together, Sarah Jane told me some very exciting news. “My cousin Laura will be here tomorrow. She’s going to stay all next week. Won’t that be fun?”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I’m glad she’s coming. What do you think she’ll bring this time?”

“Probably some pretty new dresses and hats,” Sarah Jane guessed. “She might even let us try them on.”

“Oh, I’m sure she wouldn’t want us to try on her dresses. But maybe she wouldn’t mind if we peeked at ourselves in the mirror to see how the hats looked.”

Laura arrived the next day with several new hats. She amiably agreed that we might try them on.

They were too big, and had a tendency to slide down over our noses. But to us, they were the latest fashion.

As we laid the hats back on the bed, Sarah Jane spied something else that interested her. It was a magazine for ladies. We had not seen more than half a dozen magazines in our lives, so this was exciting.

“Oh, Laura,” Sarah Jane cried, “may we look at your magazine? We’ll be very careful.”

“Why, yes. I’m not going to be reading it right away. Go ahead.”

Eagerly we snatched the magazine and ran out to the porch. The cover pictured a lady with a very fashionable dress and hat, carrying a frilly parasol. The name of the magazine was Godey’s Lady’s Book.

“Ooh! Look at the ruffles on her dress!” Sarah Jane exclaimed. “Wouldn’t you just love to have one dress with all those ribbons and things?”

“Yes, but there’s little chance I’ll ever have it,” I replied. “Ma wouldn’t iron that many ruffles for anything. Besides, we’re not grown up enough to have dresses like that. It looks like it might be organdy, doesn’t it?”

“Mmm-hum,” Sarah Jane agreed. “It looks like something soft, all right. And look at her hair. It must be long to make that big a roll around her head.”

We spread the magazine across our laps and studied each page carefully. Nothing escaped our notice. “I sure wish we were grown up,” Sarah Jane sighed. “Think how much prettier we’d be.”

“Yes, and how much more fun we could have. These ladies don’t spend all their time going to school and doing chores. They just get all dressed up and sit around looking pretty.”

We looked for a moment in silence; then Sarah Jane noticed something interesting. “Look here, Mabel. Here’s something you can make to get rid of wrinkles on your face.”

I looked where she was reading.

Guaranteed to remove wrinkles. Melt together a quantity of white wax and honey. When it becomes liquid, add the juice of several lemons. Spread the mixture liberally on your face and allow it to dry. In addition to smoothing out your wrinkles, this formula will leave your skin soft, smooth, and freckle free.

“But we don’t have any wrinkles,” I pointed out.

“That doesn’t matter,” Sarah Jane replied. “If it takes wrinkles away, it should keep us from getting them too. Besides,” she added critically, “it says it takes away freckles. And you have plenty of those.”

I rubbed my nose reflectively. “I sure do. Do you suppose that stuff really would take them off?”

“We can try it and see. I’ll put some on if you will. Where shall we mix it up?”

This would be a problem, since Sarah Jane’s mother was baking in her kitchen. It would be better to work where we wouldn’t have to answer questions about what we were doing.

“Let’s go to your house and see what your mother is doing,” Sarah Jane suggested.

We hurriedly returned the magazine to Laura’s bedroom and dashed back outdoors.

“Do you have all the things we need to put in it?” Sarah Jane asked.

“I know we have wax left over from Ma’s jelly glasses. And I’m sure we have lemons. But I don’t know how much honey is left.

“I know where we can get some, though.” I continued. “Remember that hollow tree in the woods? We found honey there last week.”

Soon we were on our way to collect it in a small pail.

“This is sure going to be messy and sticky to put on our faces,” I commented as we filled the pail.

“Probably the wax takes the sticky out,” Sarah Jane replied. “Anyway, if it takes away your freckles and makes our skin smooth, it won’t matter if it is a little gooey. I wonder how long we leave it on.”

“The directions said to let it dry,” I reminded her. “I suppose the longer you leave it there, the more good it does. We’ll have to take it off before we go in to supper, I guess.”

“I guess so,” Sarah Jane exclaimed. “I don’t know what your brothers would say. But I’m not going to give Caleb a chance to make fun of me.”

I knew what Reuben and Roy would say, too, and I was pretty sure I could predict what Ma would say. There seemed to be no reason to let them know about it.

Fortune was with us, for the kitchen was empty when we cautiously opened the back door. Ma heard us come in and called down from upstairs, “Do you need something, Mabel?”

“No, Ma’am,” I answered. “But we might like a cookie.”

“Help yourself,” Ma replied. “I’m too busy tearing rags to come down right now. You can pour yourselves some milk too.”

I assured her that we could. With a sigh of relief, we went to the pantry for a kettle in which to melt the wax and honey.

“This looks big enough,” Sarah Jane said. “You start that getting hot, and I’ll squeeze the lemons. Do you think two will be enough?”

“I guess two is ‘several.’ Maybe we can tell by the way it looks whether we need more or not.”

“I don’t see how,” Sarah Jane argued. “We never saw any of this stuff before. But we’ll start with two, anyway.”

I placed the pan containing the wax and honey on the hottest part of the stove and pulled up a chair to sit on. “Do you suppose I ought to stir it?” I inquired. “It doesn’t look as though it’s mixing very fast.”

“Give it time,” Sarah Jane advised. “Once the wax melts down, it will mix.”

After a short time, the mixture began to bubble.

“There, see?” she said, stirring it with a spoon. “You can’t tell which is wax and which is honey. I think it’s time to put in the lemon juice.” She picked up the juice, but I stopped her.

“You have to take the seeds out, first, silly. You don’t want knobs all over your face, do you?”

“I guess you’re right. That wouldn’t look too good, would it?”

She dug the seeds out, and we carefully stirred the lemon juice into the pan.

“Umm, it smells good,” I observed.

Sarah Jane agreed. “In fact, it smells a little like Ma’s cough syrup. Do you want to taste it?”

“Sure, I’ll take a little taste.” I licked some off the spoon and smacked my lips. “It’s fine,” I reported. “If it tastes that good, it will certainly be safe to use. Let’s take it to my room and try it.”

We carefully lifted the kettle from the stove. Together we carried the kettle upstairs and set it on my dresser.

“It will have to cool a little before we put it on,” I said.

“What if the wax gets hard again? We’ll have to take it downstairs and heat it all over.”

“It won’t,” I assured her. “The honey will keep it from getting too hard.” By the time the mixture was cool enough to use, it was thick and gooey—but still spreadable.

“Well, here goes,” Sarah Jane said. She dipped a big blob out and spread it on her face. I did the same. Soon our faces were covered with the sticky mess.

“Don’t get it in your hair,” I warned. “It looks like it would be awfully hard to get out. I wonder how long it will take to dry?”

“The magazine didn’t say that. It would probably dry faster outside in the sun. But someone is sure to see us out there. We’d better stay here.... I wish we had brought the magazine to look at.”

“We can look at the Sears catalog,” I suggested. “Let’s play like we’re ordering things for our own house.”

We sat down on the floor and spread the catalog out in front of us. After several minutes, Sarah Jane felt her face.

“I think it’s dry, Mabel,” she announced, hardly moving her lips. “It doesn’t bend or anything.”

I touched mine and discovered the same thing. The mask was solid and hard. It was impossible to move my mouth to speak, so my voice had a funny sound when I answered her.

“So’s mine. Maybe we’d better start taking it off now.”

We ran to the mirror and looked at ourselves.

“We sure look funny.” Sarah Jane laughed the best she could without moving her face. “How did the magazine say to get it off?”

Suddenly we looked at each other in dismay. The magazine hadn’t said anything about removing the mixture, only how to fix and spread it on.

“Well, we’ve done it again,” I said. “How come everything we try works until we’re ready to undo it? We’ll just have to figure some way to get rid of it.”

We certainly did try. We pushed the heavy masks that covered our faces. We pulled them, knocked on them, and tried to soak them off. They would not budge.

“I think we used too much wax and not enough honey,” Sarah Jane puffed as she flopped back down on the bed.

“That’s certainly a great thing to think of now,” I answered crossly. “The only way to move wax is to melt it. And we certainly can’t stick our faces in the fire!”

“Mine feels like it’s already on fire. I don’t think this stuff is good for your skin.”

“You’re going to have to think about more than that,” I told her. “Or this stuff will be your skin. There has to be some way to get it off.”

“We’ve tried everything we can think of. We’ll just have to go down and let your rna help us.”

That was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. But I could see no other alternative. Slowly we trudged down to the kitchen.

Ma was working at the stove, and she said cheerfully, “Are you girls hungry again? It won’t be long until suppertime, so you’d better not eat ....”

She turned around as she spoke. When she spotted us standing in the doorway, her eyes widened in disbelief.

“What on earth? ... What have you done to yourselves?”

I burst into tears. The sight of drops of tears running down that ridiculous mask must have been more than Ma could stand. Suddenly she began to laugh. She laughed until she had to sit down.

“It’s not funny, Ma. We can’t get it off! We’ll have to wear it the rest of our lives!”

Ma controlled herself long enough to come over and feel my face. “What did you put in it?” she asked. “That will help me know how to take it off.”

We told her.

“If you two ever live to grow up, it will only be the Lord’s good mercy. The only thing we can do is apply something hot enough to melt the wax,” Ma told us quickly.

“But we boiled the wax, Ma,” I cried. “You can’t boil our faces!”

“No, 1won’t try anything as drastic as that. I’ll just use hot towels until it gets soft enough to pull away.”

After several applications, we were finally able to start peeling the mixture off. As it came loose, our skin came with it.

“Ouch! That hurts,” I cried.

But Ma could not stop. By the time the last bits of wax and honey were removed, our faces were fiery red and raw.

“What did we do wrong?” Sarah Jane wailed. “We made it just like the magazine said.”

“You may have used the wrong quantities, or left it on too long,” Ma said. “At any rate, I don’t think you’ll try it again.”

“I know I won’t,” Sarah Jane moaned. “I’m going to tell Laura she should ignore that page in her magazine.” She looked at me. “The stuff did one thing they said it would, Mabel. I don’t see any freckles.”

“There’s no skin left, either,” I retorted. “I’d rather have freckles than a face like this.”

“Never mind.” Ma tried to soothe us. “Your faces will be all right in a couple of days.”

“A couple of days!” I howled. “We can’t go to school looking like this!”


“We did, though.” Grandma laughed as she finished the story. “After a while we were able to laugh with the others over our foolishness.”

I looked at the little jar of cream that had come in the mail.

“I don’t think I’ll use this, Grandma. I guess I’ll just let my face get wrinkled if it wants to!”


Treasures from Grandma's Attic

Cousin Agatha

My best friend, Sarah Jane, and I were walking home from school on a cold November afternoon.

“Do you realize, Mabel, that 1886 is almost over? Another year of nothing important ever happening is nearly gone.”

“Well, we still have a good bit of life ahead of us,” I replied.

“You don’t know that,” Sarah Jane said darkly, “We’re thirteen and a half. We may already have lived nearly a third of our allotted time.”

“The O’Dells live to be awfully old,” I told her. “So, unless I get run down by a horse and buggy, I’ll probably be around awhile.”

We walked along in silence. Then suddenly Sarah Jane pulled me to the side of the road.

“Here’s the horse and buggy that could keep you from becoming an old lady,” she kidded. We turned to see my pa coming down the road.

“Want to ride the rest of the way, girls?” he called. We clambered into the buggy, and Pa clucked to Nellie.

“What did you get in town?” I asked.

“Some things for the farm and a letter for your ma.” Around the next bend, Pa slowed Nellie to a halt. “Your stop, Sarah Jane.”

“Thanks, Mr. O’Dell.” Sarah Jane jumped down. “I’ll be over to study later, Mabel. ‘Bye.”

“Who’s the letter from?” I asked Pa.

“Can’t tell from the handwriting. We’ll have to wait for Ma to tell us.”

When Ma opened the letter, she looked puzzled. “This is from your cousin Agatha,” she said to Pa. “Why didn’t she address it to you, too?”

“If I know Aggie, she wants something,” Pa declared. “And she figured you’d be more likely to listen to her sad story.”

Ma read the letter and shook her head at Pa. “She just wants to come for Thanksgiving. Now aren’t you ashamed of talking that way?”

“No, I’m not. That’s what Aggie says she wants. You can be sure there’s more there than meets the eye. Are you going to tell her to come ahead?”

“Why, of course!” Ma exclaimed. “If I were a widowed lady up in years, I’d want to be with family on Thanksgiving. Why shouldn’t I tell her to come?”

Pa took his hat from the peg by the door and started for the barn, where my older brothers were already at work. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he remarked as he left.

“What did Pa warn you about?” I asked as soon as the door closed behind him. “What does Cousin Agatha want?”

“I don’t believe Pa was talking to you,” Ma replied. “You heard me say that she wants to come for Thanksgiving.”

“Yes, but Pa said—”

“That’s enough, Mabel. We won’t discuss it further.”

I watched silently as Ma sat down at the kitchen table and answered Cousin Agatha’s letter.

Snow began to fall two days before the holiday, and Pa had to hitch up the sleigh to go into town and meet the train.

“It will be just our misfortune to have a real blizzard and be snowed in with that woman for a week,” he grumbled.

“Having Aggie here a few days won’t hurt you,” Ma said. “The way you carry on, you’d think she was coming to stay forever!”

Pa’s look said he considered that a distinct possibility. As I helped Ma with the pies, I questioned her about Cousin Agatha.

“Has she been here before? I can’t remember seeing her.”

“I guess you were pretty small last time Agatha visited,” Ma replied. “I expect she gets lonely in that big house in the city.”

“What do you suppose she wants besides dinner?” I ventured.

“Friendly company,” Ma snapped. “And we’re going to give it to her.”

When the pies were in the oven, I hung around the window, watching for the sleigh. It was nearly dark when I heard the bells on Nellie’s harness ring out across the snow.

“They’re coming, Ma,” I called, and Ma hurried to the door with the lamp held high over her head. The boys and I crowded behind her. Pa jumped down from the sleigh and turned to help Cousin Agatha.

“I don’t need any assistance from you, James,” a firm voice spoke. “I’m perfectly capable of leaving any conveyance under my own power.”

“She talks like a book!” Roy whispered, and Reuben poked him. I watched in awe as a tall, unbending figure sailed into the kitchen.

“Well, Maryanne,” she said, “it’s good to see you.” She removed her big hat, jabbed a long hat pin into it, and handed the hat to me. “You must be Mabel.”

I nodded wordlessly.

“What’s the matter? Can’t you speak?” she boomed.

“Yes, ma’am,” I gulped nervously.

“Then don’t stand there bobbing your head like a monkey on a stick. People will think you have no sense. You can put that hat in my room.”

I stared openmouthed at this unusual person until a gentle push from Ma sent me in the direction of the guest room.

After dinner and prayers, Pa rose with the intention of going to the barn.

“James!” Cousin Agatha’s voice stopped him. “Surely you aren’t going to do the chores with these two great hulking fellows sitting here, are you?”

The two great hulking fellows leaped for the door with a speed I didn’t know they had.

“I should guess so,” Cousin Agatha exclaimed with satisfaction. “If there’s anything I can’t abide, it’s a lazy child.”

As she spoke, Cousin Agatha pulled Ma’s rocker to the stove and lowered herself into it. “This chair would be more comfortable if there were something to put my feet on,” she said, “but I suppose one can’t expect the amenities in a place like this.”

I looked at Ma for some clue as to what “amenities” might be. This was not a word we had encountered in our speller.

“Run into the parlor and get the footstool, Mabel,” Ma directed.

When Cousin Agatha was settled with her hands in her lap and her feet off the cold floor, I started the dishes.

“Maryanne, don’t you think Mabel’s dress is a mite too short?”

Startled, I looked down at my dress.

“No,” Ma’s calm voice replied. “She’s only thirteen, you know. I don’t want her to be grown up too soon.”

“There is such a thing as modesty, you know.” Cousin Agatha sniffed.

Pa and the boys returned just then, so Ma didn’t answer. I steered an uneasy path around Cousin Agatha all evening. For the first time I could remember, I was glad when bedtime came.

The next day was Thanksgiving, and the house was filled with the aroma of good things to eat. From her rocker, Cousin Agatha offered suggestions as Ma scurried about the kitchen.

“Isn’t it time to baste the turkey, Maryanne? I don’t care for dry fowl.”

“I see the boys running around out there with that mangy dog as though they had nothing to do. Shouldn’t they be chopping wood or something?”

“I should think Mabel could be helping you instead of reading a book. If there’s one thing I can’t abide . . . “

“Mabel will set the table when it’s time,” Ma put in. “Maybe you’d like to peel some potatoes?”

The horrified look on Cousin Agatha’s face said she wouldn’t consider it, so Ma withdrew her offer.

A bump on the door indicated that the “mangy dog” was tired of the cold. I laid down my book and let Pep in. He made straight for the stove and his rug.

“Mercy!” Cousin Agatha cried. “Do you let that—that animal in the kitchen?”

“Yes,” Ma replied. “He’s not a young dog any longer. He isn’t any bother, and he does enjoy the heat.”

“Humph.” Agatha pulled her skirts around her. “I wouldn’t allow any livestock in my kitchen. Can’t think what earthly good a dog can be.” She glared at Pep, who responded with a thump of his tail and a sigh of contentment.

“Dumb creature,” Cousin Agatha muttered.

“Pep isn’t dumb, Cousin Agatha,” I said. “He’s really the smartest dog I know.”

“I was not referring to his intellect or lack of it,” she told me, “‘Dumb’ indicates an inability to speak. You will have to concede that he is unable to carry on a conversation.”

I was ready to dispute that, too, but Ma shook her head. Cousin Agatha continued to give Pep disparaging glances.

“Didn’t you ever have any pets at your house, Cousin Agatha?” I asked.

“Pets? I should say not! Where in the Bible does it say that God made animals for man’s playthings? They’re meant to earn their keep, not sprawl out around the house absorbing heat.”

“Oh, Pep works,” I assured her. “He’s been taking the cows out and bringing them back for years now.”

Cousin Agatha was not impressed. She sat back in the rocker and eyed Pep with disfavor. “The one thing I can’t abide, next to a lazy child, is a useless animal—and in the house!”

I began to look nervously at Ma, thinking she might send Pep to the barn to keep the peace. But she went on about her work, serenely ignoring Cousin Agatha’s hints. I was glad when it was time to set the table.

After we had eaten, Pa took the Bible down from the cupboard and read our Thanksgiving chapter, Psalm 100. Then he prayed, thanking the Lord for Cousin Agatha and asking the Lord’s blessing on her just as he did on the rest of us. When he had finished, Cousin Agatha spoke up.

“I believe that I will stay here until Christmas, James. Then, if I find it to my liking, I could sell the house in the city and continue on with you. Maryanne could use some help in teaching these children how to be useful.”

In the stunned silence that followed, I looked at Pa and Ma to see how this news had affected them. Ma looked pale. Before Pa could open his mouth to answer, Cousin Agatha rose from the table. “I’ll just go to my room for a bit of rest,” she said. “We’ll discuss this later.”

When she had left, we gazed at each other helplessly.

“Is there anything in the Bible that tells you what to do now?” I asked Pa.

“Well, it says if we don’t love our brother whom we can see, how can we love God whom we can’t see? I think that probably applies to cousins as well.”

“I’d love her better if I couldn’t see her.” Reuben declared. “We don’t have to let her stay, do we, Pa?”

“No, we don’t have to,” Pa replied. “We could ask her to leave tomorrow as planned. But I’m not sure that would be right. What do you think, Ma?”

“I wouldn’t want to live alone in the city,” Ma said slowly. “I can see that she would prefer the company of a family. I suppose we should ask her to stay until Christmas.”

“I think she already asked herself,” Roy ventured. “But she did say if she found things to her liking. . . .”

We all looked at Roy. Pa said, “You’re not planning something that wouldn’t be to her liking, are you?”

“Oh, no, sir!” Roy quickly answered. “Not me.”

Pa signed. “I’m not sure I’d blame you. She’s not an easy person to live with. We’ll all have to be especially patient with her.”

There wasn’t much Thanksgiving atmosphere in the kitchen as we did the dishes.

“How can we possibly stand it for another whole month?” I moaned.

“The Lord only sends us one day at a time,” Ma informed me. “Don’t worry about more than that. When the other days arrive, you’ll probably find out you worried about all the wrong things.”

As soon as the work was finished, I put on my coat and walked over to Sarah Jane’s.

“What will you do if she stays on after Christmas?” she asked.

“I’ll just die.”

“I thought you were going to be a long-living O’Dell.”

“I changed my mind,” I retorted. “What would you do if you were in my place?”

“I’d probably make her life miserable so she’d want to leave.”

“You know I couldn’t get away with that. Pa believes that Christian love is the best solution.”

“All right, then,” Sarah Jane said with a shrug. “Love her to death.”

As though to fulfill Pa’s prediction, snow began to fall heavily that night. By morning we were snowed in.

“Snowed in?” Cousin Agatha repeated. “You mean unable to leave the house at all?”

“That’s right,” Pa replied. “This one is coming straight down from Canada.”

Cousin Agatha looked troubled. “I don’t like this. I don’t like it at all.”

“We’ll be all right,” Ma reassured her. “We have plenty of wood and all the food we need.”

But Cousin Agatha was not to be reassured. I watched her stare into the fire and twist her handkerchief around her fingers. Why, she’s frightened! I thought. This old lady had been directing things all her life, and here was something she couldn’t control. Suddenly I felt sorry for her.

“Cousin Agatha,” I said, “we have fun when we’re snowed in. We play games and pop corn and tell stories. You’ll enjoy it. I know you will!”

I ran over and put my arms around her shoulders and kissed her on the cheek. She looked at me in surprise.

“That’s the first time anyone has hugged me since I can remember,” she said. “Do you really like me, Mabel?”

Right then I knew that I did like Cousin Agatha a whole lot. Behind her stern front was another person who needed to be loved and wanted.

“Oh, yes, Cousin Agatha,” I replied. “I really do. You’ll see what a good time we’ll have together.”

The smile that lighted her face was bright enough to chase away any gloom that had settled over the kitchen. And deep down inside, I felt real good.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: Blue Skies Tomorrow

Blue Skies Tomorrow

I don't remember exactly why, but I became a Facebook fan of Sarah Sundin quite awhile back... and I have been so impressed with the WWII information she posts regularly.  Enough so that I jumped at the chance to review Blue Skies Tomorrow -- the third (and final) book in a series.

Oh, wow, am I glad I did.

First, check out that cover... is it just amazing?  I feel totally swept back in time.  And the cover doesn't do that "sweeping back" anywhere near as well as Sundin's writing.

From the press release:

Helen Carlisle is recovering from the death of her war hero husband in Sarah Sundin's,Blue Skies Tomorrow. Healing from the year, she runs into Lt. Ray Novak-a childhood crush. She has been surviving her loss through copious volunteering, but deep down she is troubled. How much longer can she do this? Is she living a lie? Was her dead husband a hero? How can she live with the past?  

Lt. Novak faces his own life uncertainty as a dedicated officer who has postponed his calling to be a pastor for the duration of the war. His secondary passion to fly is quenched as an instructor, until he is deployed to Europe for a combat mission just as a romantic relationship with Helen is building.

As Helen tries to make ends meet back home and begins to confront the past, Ray encounters a deadly enemy of his own. Will they find the courage to face their challenges? Will the truth come out? Will hope and redemption ring true for Helen?

Sure to live up to the high praise of the previous books in the Wings of Glory series, Blue Skies Tomorrow completes the story of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in World War II, covering the infamous Port Chicago Explosion, which occurred close to Antioch, Calif., where Helen and the Novaks live, to victory in Europe.

"Both Helen and Ray learn about true courage and how to do the right thing no matter the cost," says Sundin. "They both find they're subconsciously trying to earn God's grace through good works and have to deal with that.

"I hope readers will see how they, too, can find courage in the Lord and the strength to face whatever life throws at them."

So, where to start. First, Helen had polio as a child. That right there is enough to draw me in to a story.  The polio aspect is told so well.  In fact, Sundin is guest-posting about polio this week -- and from this post, it is clear that she does know a lot about the disease.  Okay, but having a well-written polio victim probably isn't enough to make most of you jump up to read this book, especially since the whole polio thing is really just one little piece of who Helen is.

Well, the same total realism pervades the rest of the story too.  It is not very often that I am so totally drawn into a story, completely absorbed in the world that is described.  I found myself flinching when Helen was threatened or ducking to avoid explosions when Ray is fighting in Germany.

A main plot point in this story has to do with abuse... and that was related as realistically as everything else.  That had me setting down the book to reflect and absorb before I could continue.

Obviously, with Ray setting aside his calling to be a pastor while he serves his country, this book is Christian fiction.  But there is nothing preachy about it.  What Ray believes, what Helen believes, what other characters believe... the message is absorbed through the story without a need for Sundin to lecture the reader.  Beautiful.

Excellent book.  Though, apparently, having read the first two books would have made me appreciate this one more (I got that from reading some of the discussion questions at the end) -- still -- this book totally stands on its own and I never got the feeling I had picked up at part three of three.  I have already held the rest of the Wings of Glory series though, and I will be reading them soon.

You can read other bloggers' opinions at the LitFuse Blue Skies Tomorrow blog tour page.

To celebrate the release of Blue Skies Tomorrow, the final installment of the Wings of Glory series, Sarah is giving one lucky winner A Vintage Kindle Prize Package!  Read what the reviewers are saying here.
One winner will receive:
* Kindle with Wi-Fi
* Handmade vintage apron for you and a friend (see a photo here)
* Blue Skies Tomorrow (for Kindle)

To enter just click one of the icons below. But, hurry, giveaway ends on 9/10. Winner will be announced on 9/12 at Sarah Sundin's blog. Details and official rules can be found when entering the contest.
Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Review: To Win Her Heart

When I get a chance, I really enjoy reading Christian historical fiction -- and though the romance types aren't necessarily my first choice, I do enjoy them.

I usually go for ones that take place in time periods I'm particularly interested in, or in locations I'm attached to.  So I'm not exactly sure why I chose to review To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer.

Taking place in Texas in 1887, I'm neither particularly attached to the location nor to that time period (now, 1887 in Dakota Territory -- I'd be all over that!)

However, I really did enjoy the story. 

From the publisher:
After completing his sentence for the unintentional crime that derailed his youthful plans for fame and fortune, Levi Grant looks to start over in the town of Spencer, Texas. Spencer needs a blacksmith, a trade he learned at his father's knee, and he needs a place where no one knows his past.

Eden Spencer has sworn off men, choosing instead to devote her time to the lending library she runs in the town her father founded. When a mountain-sized stranger walks through her door and asks to borrow a book, she's reluctant to trust him. Yet as the mysteries of the town's new blacksmith unfold, Eden discovers hidden depths in him that tempt her heart.

Eden believes she's finally found a man of honor and integrity. But when the truth about Levi's prodigal past comes to light, can this tarnished hero find a way to win back the librarian's affections?
I think there were two aspects of this story that really grabbed me.
  1. Levi has a speech problem that masks his intelligence.  When he talks, he'll think a word with an 's' sound, then have to search his mind for a replacement that he can pronounce.  It leaves him sounding slow and dim-witted at times, though his vocabulary is amazing.  Not that my son's struggles with dyslexia are exactly related... I couldn't help but compare them.  If he is in a situation where he needs to read aloud, people immediately judge his intelligence based on the halting sentences that come out of his mouth.
  2. Levi found Jesus in prison.  And he is getting out and looking for a second chance.  Since we start off inside his head, realizing he is a changed man, we are sympathetic to his plight.  It is so easy to see the other characters -- who react with fear -- as being close-minded and un-Christlike.  But really, are we better?  If you had a twenty and were walking out of Wal-mart thinking to give that bill away... and you have a table with sad, hungry children's faces soliciting for an orphanage on one side... are you really going to walk to the other table that shows prison bars and is asking you to donate money to buy Bibles for convicts?  Or do you think the children are more deserving?  Hmmm... it is a question that is making me think.
 I really do recommend this book.  Especially if you read it and think about your attitudes towards ex-cons and people who have learning struggles of any sort.

You can read the first three chapters:
To Win Her Heart

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.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: Putting Others First

My kids have listened to Paws & Tales on the radio off and on for years.  We've always enjoyed that as the stories are engaging and definitely teach a biblical lesson.

A few months ago, we received the first video in a new DVD series, God Cares for You.  The younger kids (Richard and Trina) really enjoyed that.  So when I saw that the fourth DVD in the series, Putting Others First, was available to review, I knew I wanted to do that.

Here is what the publisher has to say:
Using colorful animation, fun characters, and great lessons, Paws & Tales is an exciting tool for helping build godly character into kids. Based on the Paws & Tales national broadcast radio program presented by Chuck Swindoll’s Insight for Living, the Paws & Tales videos communicate biblical truth and show kids how they can apply it to real life. Kids will be captivated by the adventure, caught up in the laughter, and carried away in the fun . . . and the whole time they’ll be on their way to understanding solid Bible theology. This fourth DVD in the series is based on Matthew 22:39 and Philippians 2:3 and includes two episodes that teach kids about putting others first.
In episode #1, “A Race against Time,” CJ and Staci risk disappointing Paw Paw Chuck to help someone in need.
In episode #2, “The Hire Principle,” Tiffany learns to put the feelings of others ahead of her own.
What did we think?  My older kids (ages 10-14) watched it once, thought it was cute, and really don't care if they see it again.

The younger two, however, have watched it multiple times.  They really like the first episode, "A Race Against Time."  The theme of that one -- helping others even when it isn't terribly convenient -- is something they were able to identify with.  The second one -- where Tiffany is blackmailing her classmates, is enjoyable for them, but I don't think the whole blackmail concept resonates with them in quite the same way.

The animation quality isn't superb, but it isn't bad either.  My kids (who can be pretty critical of those types of things) haven't complained. 

Overall, I think this is a solid DVD for kids in the 5-8 year old bracket. We will look to complete the series.

Disclaimer:   I received this DVD 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.   

Review and Giveaway: Grace Card


My family sat down last night to watch a movie.  That is actually a bit unusual lately.  This time, the movie was Grace Card -- which came out on DVD just this week.

Starring Michael Joiner, Michael Higgenbottom, and Louis Gossett Jr., the basic plot line involves two cops who are opposites in so very many ways being paired up and then dealing with their differences.

Mac, the older (white) cop lost his five year old son in the opening "flashback" scene, which occurred seventeen years before the rest of the movie.  He is bitter and resentful and part of a completely dysfunctional family.  This bitterness means he can't move up in the police force, he doesn't know his 17 year old son at all, and he just wishes he were dead.

Sam, the young (black) rising star on the police force is also a part-time pastor, and has a loving family.  He and his wife pray before bed; his adorable little girls clearly love their daddy.  His biggest struggle seems to be that he started this life as a cop as a way to pay the bills while they got their church off the ground... and he struggles with whether he is called to be a pastor, or if he should be a cop.  Well, that and he struggles with his new partner who doesn't want anything to do with his 'God stuff' and resents so much about him.

Grandpa (Louis Gossett Jr.) tells Sam a story about his grandfather -- and that is the idea behind 'playing the Grace Card'... and I don't think it is a spoiler to mention that it was nice to hear something not entirely negative being stated about a slaveowner in a film dealing with race relations.

Anyway -- we all really loved the movie.  Those of you with younger kids may want to be warned that this movie does have some violence, but nothing gratuitous... I was sorry my 5 year old wasn't watching the initial scene where Mac's five-year old son is killed by a car (well, you don't actually SEE that part) as I would like to have a discussion with her about why we have the rules we do around traffic.  She'll watch at least that part with us sometime.

My bigger boys, husband and myself all highly recommend this movie.  And the previews include on the DVD are well worth watching too!

And I have a copy to give away!

To enter, you must make a comment on this post telling me why you would like to win this DVD.  Visiting the Grace Card website might help you answer that!

There are some additional ways you can enter as well.  Leave me a comment telling me which you have done for each entry:
  • Follow this blog via Google Friend Connect
  • Follow this blog via Networked Blogs
  • Like Grace Card on Facebook and tell them you entered a giveaway at Footprints in the Butter
  • Be my friend on Facebook
Every day, you can get an entry for either or both of the following:
  • post a relevant comment on any of my non-giveaway blog entries
  • share this giveaway on Facebook, Twitter or on your blog.  Give me a link if appropriate.
This giveaway will end on Thursday, August 25 at midnight EDT.  I will use to draw a winner and will do what I can to contact the winner.  If I am unable to easily determine an email address, or if the winner does not respond within 48 hours, I reserve the right to draw a new winner.

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.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Just call me Suzie Homemaker here

I know, some people seem to think I've actually got it all together.  I'm a homeschooler, right, so the stereotype goes that my kids are brilliant and well-behaved, we grow our own food and grind our own grain, and there is a long list of things we simply never do.

Well, this week, I feel like we're living up to exactly none of those expectations.  My house is a mess, as always, and I've been fighting to get the kids to get much of anything done for school (yeah, we "really" started up this week again).

And of course, I'm providing my kids with healthy, natural, wonderful cooked from scratch meals...  or not.

I did cook last night.  Healthy, natural and from scratch?  Not hardly.

So my made up on the spot recipe:
Take 2 boxes of mac and cheese.  Cook the noodles, dump the sauce and the required butter and milk into a skillet.  Add 1 can (tuna sized) of ham.  Stare at that awhile.

Decide you could use some veggies, so chop up two tomatoes, and grab a handful of stuff you sauted once upon a time (celery, onions and carrots).  Stare at it some more.

By this time, the noodles are done, so drain and add them.  Stir, over medium heat, until you realize you simply are not coming up with anything else to add in at the moment.

Serve with bread.  Bought from a store, of course, as that is pretty much all I ever serve.

My family said it was delicious and I need to make it again.