Saturday, September 30, 2017

31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes & Other News

five minute friday, free writes,

Can you believe it, tomorrow is October 1st! Crazy, right? But it really is going to be October in just a few hours. I'm going to try something new this year and join in with Kate and several of the others from our Five minute Friday writing group and join in Kate's 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes challenge. Will I get them all done? I hope so! No promises on what time of day they will post, so you will just have to check in often ... or make it easy on yourself and subscribe by email (that little white box in the right sidebar under our blog button picture of the zinnia) and get it delivered to your inbox with ease!

So what else is going on in October? Actually, quite a bit. I'm looking forward to attending two different writing conferences during the month, and Arlene is joining in the Inktober challenge. It is a cool art challenge to draw something everyday, either from your own inspiration, or by using the word prompts. The idea is to draw something new every day... from ink. Yesterday we went by Hobby Lobby so she could buy herself a new mixed media/ sketch book and some black ink pens. I've already asked, and  the answer is no, she will not be sharing her drawings here. At least right now she is not planning to share any of them because as she put it, she is new to ink drawing, and these are for herself. She usually draws with pencil. Do not be worried, she is continuing her Books With Bean series, as well as her hand-lettered songs. 

Sounds like October is going to be busy here on the blog! I'll be having a giveaway soon for a copy of Design Your Day by Claire Diaz-Ortiz that I reviewed the end of August. The folks at Moody Publishing sent me a second copy to bless one of our readers with. 

Fall is definitely here, with cool mornings, and warm afternoons. Great weather for football, hiking, and roasting s'mores! Get outside and enjoy the days with your family. :)


Isaiah 1:18

Scripture Writing, Isaiah 1:18

Monday, September 25, 2017

Captain Bayley's Heir ~ Heirloom Audio ~ A Crew Review

Heirloom Audio Productions is back with another edge of your seat story from the Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty: Captain Bayley's Heir. Join Frank as he travels from England to America as a deckhand aboard a clipper ship and soon finds himself joining a wagon train to reach California and prospect for gold. Along the way Frank endures a storm upon the mighty Mississippi river, an indian attack, and harsh conditions. But he also meets people who point him towards God's grace.

Captain Bayley's Heir is the eighth installment in the Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty series, and the seventh time we have been invited to join in the fun by the Homeschool Review Crew. I'll let you in on a little secret: we purchased #7 ourselves last year because we wanted to listen to it before the Crew had an opportunity to review it. It was really good too, and someday, hopefully soon, I'll have Arlene write up a review of it for you to read. :)

Heirloom Audio Productions has become famous for producing such wonderfully immersive audio dramas. Many listeners comment that it is just like being at the theater, but without the pictures. I concur! We have enjoyed every adventure so far, and are looking forward to the next one... there was a definitive hint at the end of Captain Bayley's Heir, but you'll have to listen yourself to find out what it is - we're not offering that spoiler here. :)

Why might you want to get your family a copy of Captain Bayley's Heir? It is over two hours of wholesome entertainment, with a strong message about finding God's grace in the midst of trials. If you have listened to other audio dramas from Heirloom Audio Productions then you will remember that there is always a pointing towards the Savior in the stories. In this adventure, Frank is pointed to God's grace by more than one of the people he meets. In the introduction to the story, voiced by Brian Blessed as Henty, we hear a clear presentation of the Gospel message.

Spoiler Alert!

Below the next picture I am going to give you a plot summary. If you do not want to know the story before you begin listening, then stop reading now and scroll all the way to the last paragraph where you'll find the link to purchase your own copy of Captain Bayley's Heir! (Then you can scroll back up four paragraphs and read about the Study Guide and the Live the Adventure Club and still miss the plot spoilers.)

The story of Captain Bayley's Heir begins in England, where we are introduced to Frank, his cousin Fred, their Uncle Captain Bayley, and the Captain's ward, Alice. Frank, Fred, and Alice have grown up as cousins. Alice and Frank live with Captain Bayley, and Fred lives nearby and visits often. At the beginning of the story, Frank and Fred both attend Westminster, and Alice oversees the Captain's household. 

They meet a chap named Harry one cold winter day when his dog falls through the ice and Frank dives in to rescue him. Harry is the crippled son of a dust-man and a washerwoman, and he loves to play his violin. He thanks Frank for rescuing his dog the next time he sees him and invites him to visit his parents if Frank is willing. During the visit Frank finds out that Harry loves to read Virgil so he gives him a copy.

Unfortunately for Frank, an unwise choice with his school chums gets him in big trouble, and then he is accused of stealing a ten-pound note. Under threat of being publicly expelled, Frank decides to flee to America. He wants to try to make his own way (as had his Uncle) and hopefully one day return to England to clear his name.

Along his voyage Frank learns how to be a deckhand, and when he lands in New Orleans he is introduced to a flatboat captain who hires him for trips up and down the Mississippi river. A storm causes great trouble, and damage to the boat, but Frank comes up with an idea for repairs.

When Frank decides to head west to California, he meets up with a trio of unforgettable characters in Rube, Abe, and Dickens. They are my favorite people in the story. So funny!

The story also continues in England, and we are treated to a back and forth storyline between Frank's new life and the life he left behind. I would tell you more, except I want you to listen to it yourself! Once Frank and his trio of new friends start out with the wagon train the adventure gets even greater. It truly is a wonderful presentation of the story, with a strong pointing to God's grace and forgiveness woven throughout.

I would be remiss if I did not tell you about the Study Guide, a 38 page PDF that is designed to help parents talk with their children about the themes of the story. It includes the same three types of sections as previous ones have: Listening Well, Defining Words, and Thinking Further (digging deeper into the themes of the story.) I appreciated the thinking further questions the most. There are so many themes and deeper issues involved in this story that even if you think you already know some about the California Gold Rush you should probably look these over with your children and talk about them. If your children are little, they might not understand terms like Manifest Destiny, but your teens and you should have a discussion about how our country expanded, what we did right, and where we fell short. We cannot change the past, but we should learn from it and ask God to help us make wise choices in our own lives.

The study guide is divided up by sections that correspond to the plot turns in the story. There are several extras parts included under the Expand Your Learning banners. One of those teaches about the Gold Rush mining camps, another about the famous/ important people during the Gold Rush in California, etc.

At the end of the Study Guide are my favorite parts: the Bible studies! There are three studies to go along with this audio adventure: God's Grace, Becoming a Christian, and Honoring your parents. 

For those of you who love history, or activities, or whose children like extras, Heirloom Audio Productions has produced a wonderful website for the Live the Adventure Club. This subscription-based website has kid's activities, including coloring pages and word searches, along with a read-along script for your children, and a whole host of educational resources for parents and older students. It also includes an Old time radio vault, texts from old history books, family activity ideas, and daily inspiration. It really is a neat resource for the entire family. If you join the club, the cost includes 3 new Audio Dramas per year. Bonus! :)

I hope this review has whet your appetite for a good rollicking adventure! To find your next one, get your family a copy of Captain Bayley's Heir, and the check out the Live the Adventure Club.

Captain Bayley's Heir {Heirloom Audio Productions Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Books With Bean ~ The Wizard of Oz

Books with Bean, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gale, book reviews by teens

The Wizard of Oz

Author: L. Frank Baum 
Published: 1900 
Genre: Children’s Fantasy  

Summery & What I liked about it: You might know the story from the 1939 MGM movie with Judy Garland, but before it was a movie (or the many other adaptations after it) it was a book. 

The story is much the same as the movie. Dorothy lives a grayish life in Kansas until one day she and her dog Toto are inside their house when it is whisked to Oz by a twister. Oz is a place filled with color and is very different place from home. When she gets there she finds that she has killed the evil witch that was ruling the munchkins (the inhabitants of that part of Oz), and has set them free from servitude to her. While it seems nice, Dorothy still wants to go home. So Dorothy sets out to go to the Emerald City to find the Wizard of Oz hoping that he can send her home. Along the way she meets new people who join her on her journey to the Emerald City. 

The book is the first of 15 official books by Baum 14 are full length stories and the last a collection of short stories.

There were many books written to follow it that also take place in the world of Oz that were not written by Baum. However these are too numerous for me to even begin listing here.

To say I like Oz is a understatement, growing up my older sister Emily had Wonderland, and I had Oz. While we liked the other’s books to a degree (I probably liked Wonderland more then Emily likes Oz), we always preferred our own fantasy worlds to anything else. But I’m getting off point.

Oz is a beautiful fairyland that has many marvels in it. I have always liked the childlike simplicity of it and I think while you may not learn any great lessons or morals from it, it does have the wonder and amazement that is so often missing from books written today. 

Language: None 

Romance: None 

Violence: The two wicked witches are killed, one  when Dorothy’s house lands on her when Dorothy first gets to Oz and the other melts when Dorothy throws water on her not knowing that this will kill her. It is not gory or graphic they simply die. 

Magic: There is magic in Oz. There are 4 witches at the beginning of the first book but only the two good ones are left by the end. One hardly shows up again but Glenda is a major person of interest in many of the later books. The way magic is dealt with like most children’s books of the time is as a mysterious thing that is there and does amazing things but it is not good or bad it simply is. 

Recommended Age: I first read the book with mom when I was little. I remember loving it as it was the first “Big” book I finished myself. I would recommend this book for pretty much as soon as your child can read or sooner if you want to read it with them. 6 or 7 should be fine. 

Like I said there are many books that follow it but I have only ever read Baum’s original 7. I have several reasons, 
1. Baum cares not for continuity, and after 7 books the history of Oz’s past is such a jumble that I simply got confused each time he changed it to fit with the plot of the next book. 

2. There are only so many adventures a girl can have before they all become the same. By the seventh book Dorothy is the main character of the books no more. She has moved to Oz permanently with her aunt and uncle, and while she shows up she is not the hero she was in 5 of the first 6 books. However if you wish the read all of Baum’s books go for it. 

Books with Bean, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gale, book reviews by teens

This is the third installment in Books with Bean.
Read Arlene's reviews of Peter Pan and Pride and Prejudice

Sunday, September 24, 2017


I know, I know, it's not Friday anymore... but I was busy mowing the yard and cleaning the house. Friday had other priorities. 
That's just one of those things we have to accept, that God orders our days and we often must do what needs done instead of what we might rather do. Work before play.

So here goes, my belated Five Minute Friday writing about this week's prompt: accept

five minute friday writing prompt, accept, God's plans

Some days life is full of things that are easy to accept, and other days are so very trying.

This summer brought so many difficult things, and yet, I know that God is using them to make me whole again... in His timing, not in mine.

I find myself wondering when the new normal will settle in, or if it ever will. Do I even really want a normal life? 

No, not really. 

I want a life filled with joy and adventure.

And while my life has been emotionally challenging this year, it has still been filled with joy and adventure. So now, it is up to me, do I accept this life as God has prepared it for me, or do I struggle and fight against His plan? 

I want to surrender, to accept that His ways and plans are high than mine. While I ponder what that might mean for the future, I know this: He will be there, upholding me by His mighty hand.

When you think you are at the end of your rope, look up, and see the stars. If He knows the name of each star, surely He knows our names as well.

Becoming MomStrong by Heidi St. John ~ A Tyndale book review

Heidi St. John, mom books,Christian parenting, Tyndale publishing

Finally, someone has put into words what I've been thinking about for so long: we need a clarion call to come back to God and His Word for all aspects of this beautifully deep and challenging journey called motherhood. We needed someone to speak the truth in love about guarding our families and our faith against the onslaught of the world, and Heidi St. John has unashamedly listened to God's calling to write a book of encouragement and challenge for moms. Real encouragement for every mom, not just new moms or old moms, birth moms or adoptive moms ~ all moms.

Last Tuesday, September 19th, 2017, Tyndale House Publishers released Heidi St John's newest book: Becoming MomStrong: How to fight with all that is in you for your family & your faith. As a part of the Tyndale Blog Network I was graciously sent one of the first copies off the press before the release date so I could read it and share with you just a little about the heart that Heidi has for other moms.

MomStrong moms know that authentic living doesn't need a platform; it is the platform. Our children see the real mom.  - pg. 132

If you have ever heard Heidi speak at a conference, or listened to one of her podcasts you will know that she is authentic: real. She is not afraid to share the good and the bad of motherhood. Even those days you thought would be perfect, but forgot to plug in the crock-pot! Heidi knows that God's grace is big enough to cover our failures and lead us to His paths of righteousness. 

Reading MomStrong I've laughed, and I've cried, but mostly I have been encouraged. Encouraged to continue to fight, with God's strength, for my faith, and my family.

I first heard Heidi speak at a homeschool conference in early 2014, and I've read two of her other books, both geared towards homeschooling moms, but this book is different. 

Becoming MomStrong is about the entire journey of motherhood, whether your children are educated at home, or at school down the street. Heidi is writing from her big heart full of God's grace and sharing with you things God has taught her along her own motherhood journey. 

When I first started reading Becoming MomStrong,  my husband Kurt leaned over to see what the book was and commented "Don't you think you should know all that by now, our youngest is 17 ?" 

Yes, and no. 

While there was no startling revelation in the book that I had not heard somewhere along this motherhood journey of my own, there was something here just for me. This book takes the best of the advice I have heard over the years from so many seasoned moms, adds Heidi's own quirky sense of humor, and wraps it all up in God's love and points us continually back to the source of our comfort, strength, and wisdom: God Himself. Whether you are a mother to a newborn, or even if your children have all left the nest for college or careers, you will find encouragement in these pages as Heidi shares from her own experiences, and reminds us that we are in this sisterhood of moms together, and together, God makes us strong. 

Heidi St John, MomStrong, Christian parenting

The rest of this review is going to be different from my usual style. This book is so much more than just a book on parenting, it is book on living an authentic, humble, God-focused life so our children can learn from us to trust God in all aspects of living that I want to give you a short summary, and then share a few of the quotes from Becoming MomStrong that I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to write down to remind myself of the truth of a mom focused on God.

The details: Becoming MomStrong is a 260 page paperback book from Tyndale House Publishers. It is also available as an E-book or as a hardcover book, depending on your preference. I always prefer a printed book to an E-book. Reading on a tablet is not relaxing or enjoyable for me long term, plus, it is easier to flip pages in a paperback to where you might have underlined something profound...says Carol as she whistles to herself ... LOL!

Becoming MomStrong is divided into 15 chapters that cover everything from Good News - Your Kids Came with a Manual to Big Girls Do Cry. Each chapter builds upon the themes that MomStrong moms go to God for forgiveness, peace, and strength - each and every day, that motherhood is a journey with seasons, and that nothing, NOTHING is too hard for God! If you are a Christian mom and cannot afford the $13 to buy yourself a copy, then ask your library to buy one, ask your church to buy a copy, or ask your own mom to get it for you for your birthday or Christmas. Moms need to hear these encouraging words, they need reminded that they are masterpieces made by God, that He has a plan, and that their dreams and their days DO matter to Him!

Now, just a few of the tidbits I gleaned from Becoming MomStrong. I cannot put them all, because it is Heidi's book, not mine. I can however say a big THANK YOU to Heidi St. John for making the sacrifices necessary to get this important message into print. It blessed me. It will bless you!

When you get down to it, new mothers and veteran mothers are basically the same. We all have the same struggles and insecurities. The only difference is that veteran moms have the gift of perspective. -pg. 56

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you can refuse to let your past rob you and your family of the future God has for you. -pg. 116

Transformation happens when we allow God's truth to shine onto our suffering. It's what we do with suffering that ends up having an impact in this world. -pg. 126

God knows the hearts of tired mothers intimately because He works the night shift with us. -pg. 179

I wrestle to acknowledge my need for rest. - pg. 180

The bottom line, precious mom, is that your kids don't need you to be perfect. They need you to be present. -pg. 227

Don't let the enemy use your failure as a roadblock to the future God has planned for you... press on towards the prize of eternity. -pg. 253

God knew I needed to read Becoming MomStrong. He sent it at just the right time. He answered a prayer to pull me out of the pit I was in. It has been a hard year for me, one of my dearest friends lost her battle with cancer this summer, this thing called motherhood has entered a new season in my life, as our oldest began college, and our youngest started her senior year of high school, not to mention the everyday struggles that accompany life, but when I  look up - I see Him all around me, in every situation, leading me, and reminding me that I too can become MomStrong! So in answer to Kurt's question: Yes! I needed this book. You just might need it too. :)

I received a complimentary copy of Becoming MomStrong from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine. I am disclosing this according to FTC regulations. No other compensation was provided.

Isaiah 1:17

Scripture Writing, Isaiah 1:17

Monday, September 18, 2017

Books With Bean ~ Peter Pan

This is the second installment in Arlene's Books with Bean series. Find her review of Pride and Prejudice here.

Books with Bean, Peter Pan, book reviews by teens

Peter Pan

Author: J. M. Berrie   
Published: 1813   
Genre: Children’s Fantasy  

Summery & What I liked about it: The classic children’s tale is well known, Peter is the boy who never grew up. The story has been adapted and retold many times with one of the most famous versions being the 1953 animated Disney version. But when I saw the book at the library booksale I decided to get it to see just how the original story went, after all Disney movies are good, but being for children they can be quite different from the original stories. 
I found however that in the case of Peter Pan the movie was quite actuate, Peter really was quite the annoying character. He is full of himself and selfish, but that comes from the fact that since he hasn't grown up he doesn't understand anything more deeply then his simplistic child like mind can understand. 
However I think that in spite of this there is much to be learned from the story especially about growing up. As someone who read this the first time as a teenager and being “Grown up” to some degree it was interesting to read Berrie’s representation of the innocence and the naiveté of childhood in Peter. Because while Peter is definitely a child and his actions reflect that, Berrie also shows us that those same actions are also seen in other characters, even ones that are considered “Grown Up”.

Language: none that I can remember as I write this

Romance: Wendy does have a small infatuation with Peter  but it is not a major part of the story.

Violence: Peter has a sword fight with captain hook but nothing gory.

Magic: There is magic in Neverland of course, there are fairies, mermaids and the magic than keeps people from growing old. I view it more as the magic of childhood then anything that might be considered heavy or questionable.

Recommended Age: I would recommend this as a book that is best read a few times as you grow up. Once as a smaller kid sometime between 8-10 and then maybe again every few years. Even if you never read it as a kid I would still recommend it to read if you are older.

Books with Bean, Peter Pan, book reviews by teens

Friday, September 15, 2017

Character lessons from the Powwow ~ Part 1

character lessons, godly influences, prayers, humility

Experiencing a different culture in-depth is one of our favorite parts of attending  Native American Pow Wows. Our younger daughter and I recently attended a small Inner-tribal Pow Wow near our home. We have been here many times before, and always enjoy the opportunity. As I sat watching the pageantry and grace of the various dancers in their regalia, God started nudging me to listen more closely to what was being said by the emcee and other speakers between the dances. There were four character lessons that were repeated throughout the day. Today I want to share with you just the first one, and how God is using it to remind me that He wants it to be a character trait of our family and homeschool.

We are honored to be asked to do something

The character trait of humility is one that I need to remember to cultivate both for myself and for my children. We have worked in our family to eliminate the word pride from our vocabulary because pride brings glory to man, while humility brings glory to God. Feeling honored when someone asks you to do something shows humility. You do not expect the honor, it is given to you.

The first time this was mentioned at the Pow Wow was when one of the elders of the northern drum was asked to pray to open the ceremonies. He said he was honored to have been asked. He remembered growing up and hearing other elders pray before a Pow Wow would begin. He ended his prayer "In Jesus' name." A simple, heartfelt prayer for God the Father to bless the weekend, and also to bless any who were there who needed to know Him and His peace. He had not lost his culture when he accepted Jesus, he had enlarged it, and God had honored his faithfulness.

Heart check: how often do I feel honored when I am asked to do something instead of annoyed? 

Mom, can you tie my shoe? 

Honey, can you call the bank for me today? 

Can you help serve at our event?  

If humility is winning in my character, I can feel honored that these people trust me enough to do these things well for them. If humility is not present, I just get discouraged or annoyed that they would be asking for help again. We cannot expect our children to grow up and learn the character trait of humility if they never see it in our own lives.

If we are homeschooling because we think we already know everything, and this particular teaching style or curriculum is the only and best way to teach our children, then we are operating from a place of pride, not humility. This home education journey takes a lot of hard work, a lot of prayer, and a huge dependence upon God to lead us. Understanding our need for God humbles us. Better to be humble than prideful.

If this is your first year homeschooling and you have not yet had a day when you cry out to God for His help right this very moment, let me assure, it will come soon enough. Parenting takes time, and so does education. If your goal is to equip your children with Godly character, there will be struggles along the way. Some struggles will be small, others will be huge, but they will all be real. This goal of ours, to train our children to walk in the footsteps of Jesus is more important than which math book they use or whether or not they ever learn to diagram a sentence. This is training them up for the life eternal. Remember Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36? “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (ESV) 

The next time you are tempted to feel annoyed because so many people are asking you to do something, check your heart. Let God remind you to be humble, to remember this is an opportunity to serve Him by serving others. May you feel honored when asked to do something for others.

Next time, character lesson #2

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Unauthorized from Chara Games ~ a Crew Review

strategy games, history, board games
Do you enjoy playing strategy games? Are you wanting a game for your teens to play with their friends that does not last 3 hours? Are you looking for a fun pocket-sized game that can entertain a large group of people? Then let us introduce you to Unauthorized from Chara Games! We received Unauthorized, a strategy card game for 6-12 players ages 12 and up to review for the Homeschool Review Crew.

There is a bit of a learning curve while playing Unauthorized with new people, but it is worth the effort. Since the entire game only takes about 30-45 minutes to play, it is easy to play more than one game in a sitting. We found that with a larger number of players it ran 45 minutes, while playing with only 6 players was nearer the 30 minute mark. The game is recommended for ages 12 and up, but could be played with mixed ages as well. I think it would work best with ages 10 and up, as there is a lot of strategy involved. While there is an exception to play with only 5 players, one of them playing two hands' worth of cards, we found it worked much better, and was more fun, if you had at least 6 players. 

Unauthorized is a social deduction card game, based upon the experiences of the underground church.   In the game, each player assumes a role, either for the church, for the state, or as a neutral player, depending which of the role cards they are dealt. Play begins with each person having seven experience cards which will tell the neutral players if they are either for the church or for the state, all depending on how the cards are dealt. The pastor (there is always at least one) begins with all church cards (green experience cards) while the police begin with all state cards (red experience cards.) Inside the rule book you will find a handy chart telling you how many pastor and how many police cards to use based upon the total number of players. As the game progresses, you will use your cards to try to influence others and win them to your side of the struggle. There are also wild cards which give you more options.

Christian board games, history, strategy

During our favorite afternoon game of Unauthorized, the girls had friends over and there were a total of 8 players, so there was one pastor, two police, and five neutral players. The goal is to sway the players with different loyalities over to your side by how you play your own cards during the four short rounds of the game. Each of the Role cards includes a special role power that they can exercise to influence others, of course, if you are imprisoned, who you can influence is limited. When the girls played with their friends, the policemen decided to use the public execution option... and it backfired on them ... the player they "executed" used her final words to sway two players for the church.

history, strategy, board games

There is an  instructional video on Chara's website that helps you understand the basics of setup and beginning play for Unauthorized. I would suggest watching it once, playing the first time, and then watching the video again. Once you have played a few times it gets easier and the game flows better.

We had a question about the fourth and final round. I contacted Patrick at Chara Games, and got the information I needed. If you end up with questions, use the Contact Us tab on Chara's website. They are really good about quick responses and giving more details if needed.

So how interesting is Unauthorized? The eight teens played the entire way through and I did not see anyone pick up their phone. There was a LOT of laughter, and smiling, and scheming, and laughter. Definitely one to get and play with your friends. Or, get it and invite over some new people!

This is the third game we have been blessed to review from Chara Games. You can read our reviews of Three Seeds and Commissioned to learn more about the first two games. These are all quality games that have found a place on our game shelf for game night. I wonder what they are working on next?

Connect with Chara Games on Facebook or Twitter.

Unauthorized {Chara Games Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer