Book Review: "The Grace Of God", Andy Stanley

Overview:  A-
Pros:  Very readable
Cons:  Wasn't as "meaty" as I had hoped
Recommend:  Yes

I wasn't sure what to think going into reading this book, knowing little about Andy Stanley and having never read anything by him before.  But I've been pleasantly surprised.  Mr. Stanley points out very well how grace began with creation, how giving the law to Moses centuries ago was an act of grace meaning to point them and us to Christ, and how grace is not meant for good people.  This book was very well written and very easy to read and it certainly spurred me into thinking more about God's amazing grace!  A bonus is I've come to see some of the Bible's stories in a whole new light -- especially the story of the woman at the well.

So why did I give it an "A-" instead of something better?  There were parts of the book that just weren't "meaty" enough for me, if that makes any sense.  Despite thinking more about grace and seeing some Biblical characters in a new light, I still felt like this book was a "light" read.  And while I wouldn't have said it before I read the book, I guess I really was looking for "TGOG" to challenge me and I didn't really get that.  Overall, though, reading "TGOG" has been a great experience for me and I would definitely recommend it to other readers.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book for free in return for agreeing to review it.  Check out http://www.booksneeze.com/ for more information.


Summer's gone?!?

It's so hard to believe it's half-way through August already.  What a summer, though!  Most of our summer was spent preparing for our trip to Turkey.  We had a blast, although there were some hiccups back home with the kids.  John (6) suffered from severe homesickness but those who had him -- church friends the Snyder's -- did a fabulous job with him!  Elizabeth (7) also came down with strep throat while we were gone but, again, thanks to church friends - the Pituch's - and Jonathan's mom, things turned out pretty well (although it would have been nice if we could have avoided making Ms. Charissa and baby Lucas sick -- sorry guys!).  Nathan (12) and Caleb (8) were in South Carolina with my parents, Timothy (3) was with Elizabeth at the Pituch's, and Lydia (2) was with Jonathan's parents (Elizabeth joined her there after her strep diagnosis).  Again, we say thanks to all those who helped.  We couldn't have gone without you guys, obviously, and we cannot say "Thank You" enough!  (If you follow me on Facebook, there are some pictures there.  I'm too lazy to post them here -- sorry!  Maybe another day....)

Right after returning from Turkey, I jumped in (almost literally) to preparing for homeschooling.  Spent 3 hours one day ordering curricula.  Wowzers!  But I think we've got almost everything ready to go.  In fact, 99% of our stuff is here and the kids (primarily Nathan) have asked to start early!  When we homeschooled in the past, I always started the day after Labor Day and had planned to do that again.  But I think this is it....  My "plan" (ha ha!) is to sit down with them Monday and go over "stuff" plus spend some time decorating their bags I bought them from Oriental Trading to keep their books and stuff in.  Then, Tuesday, I guess we'll start.  After reading some homeschooling blogs and talking to a few homeschooling moms, I've decided we're going to try a 4-day school week.  Mondays will be kept "free" for things such as field trips, doctor's appointments, errands, and deep housecleaning.  We plan on evaluating where we're at as far as the school year goes come Christmas and if it's not working, we'll go back to a 5-day week.  My primary reason for doing this is that, while homeschooling Elizabeth (and rushing those in public school to school), I never felt like I had enough time to do housework AND school on the same days.  Seemed like the days I focused on cleaning, little school got done and vice versa.  So I hope this "fixes" that.  Elizabeth's portfolio evaluation went VERY well which has bolstered my confidence quite a bit.  Here's what we're planning on using this school year:

~Nathan, 7th grade:
*Math - BJUPress Pre-Algebra (we went with a "standard textbook" in hopes that a video series Jonathan's discovered on YouTube for free will fill in the gaps; again, we'll evaluate as we go and I have "Teaching Textbooks" and "Math-U-See" as potential back-ups)
*Science - Apologia General Science
*Grammar - Easy Grammar Plus (plus Mom's creative writing course)  :)
*History - I'm doing a history/study of the 50 states on my own, with "Draw and Write Through History" and "The Star Spangled State Book" as jumping off points

~Caleb, 2nd/3rd grade:
I say 2nd/3rd because Caleb could really do most, if not all, 3rd grade work.  However, he insists he "can't skip 2nd grade".  :)
*Math - MathUSee, Beta
*Science - Apologia's "Exploring Creation Through Astronomy"
*LA - "First Language Lessons For The Well-Trained Mind", level 2
*History - same as with Nathan

~Elizabeth, 1st/2nd grade:
Elizabeth was in 1st grade this past year but she's not technically ready to move on to 2nd grade in reading/writing and language arts and will probably take math a lot slower than Caleb (but that's okay!)
*Math - same as Caleb
*Science - same as Caleb
*LA - "FLLFTWTM", level 1
*History - same as Caleb

~John, 1st grade:
*Math - MathUSee, Alpha
*Science - same as Elizabeth
*LA -same as Elizabeth
*History - same as Elizabeth

So......here we go!  We wish everyone a blessed school year and hope you all have enjoyed your summer!  Won't be long and we'll be talking about Christmas (?!?).  Yikes!  :)


Birthday buddies!

May is 2 BIG birthdays around these neck of the woods!  John turn 6 on the 5th and for 13 days, I've had 2 six-year-olds!  ;)  But, alas, Elizabeth is 7 today!  I seem to have neglected to do John's birthday post 
(have no idea why!  Sorry, John!) so here they are together!


John, shortly after coming home from the NICU

Elizabeth, just shy of 2 and John, just shy of 1, at the zoo

Brownie-making helpers!  (PLEASE do ignore the messy kitchen!)

Just after Uncle Fred and Aunt Marcy's wedding, 2008


2010, just after eating Lydia's birthday cake with pink icing (and with big brother, Caleb, too!)



Book review!

I've never done this before so I don't know if there's a protocol to follow or not.  If there is and I don't follow it, you'll have to forgive me.  :)

If you use Twitter, who do you follow?  I follow Crossway Books.  In late March, I volunteered to be one of 100 bloggers to review a book for them.  And, boy, am I glad I did!  This is the book:

"The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment On Your Side Of The Fence" by Stephen Altrogge

Did you know you're at war with a conspiracy??  The world, Satan, and even your own heart are trying to get you to believe the big, proverbial lie that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  But as Christians, we're called to contentment and Mr. Altrogge does a fabulous job, IMHO, of pointing out the fact that we can truly be content while on this Earth!  It's a brutal war but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can win and find ourselves like the woman who, eating only a little bread and water, threw her hands up in the air and claimed "All this and Jesus, too?!?"  This book was hilarious at times -- left me literally laughing out loud and sharing passages with my husband and my 11 year old which is something I never do so that says a lot.  One of my favorite passages hilariously points out that sometimes we view God as a "Divine Dentist".  We know that going to the dentist is good for us but we don't particularly enjoy it, do we?  And at times, this is how we view God.  We know that He is sovereignly working everything out for our good but we often hunker down, waiting for the next bomb to drop.  We really shouldn't do that...instead, we should count our blessings.  Did you wake up this morning (obviously you did or you wouldn't be reading this!)?  Think about how many people in the world didn't get that blessing....  Did you eat today?  If you're living in America, it's likely you ate more today than someone in some other part of the world eats in a week -- or worse....  Even if your budget is tight, if you're not living on the streets, you have A LOT to be thankful for!  Counting your blessings is one way to find true contentment but another point that Mr. Altrogge pointed out is that we need to remember that we have an empathetic Savior.  This point was extremely convicting to me 'cause I have never quite thought of Jesus in this way.  He suffered worse than we can ever imagine...if anyone can empathize with us in our suffering, Jesus can -- and He DOES!  Praise God!  So next time you're suffering, try to remember that Jesus knows exactly what you're going through and that He cares!  One last point I'll share, then you'll have to go grab the book (and I highly recommend you do!).  Another point to remember that will go a long way in helping us be content is that we're not of this world.  This isn't our home.  This world and it's inhabitants will disappoint us because we're not made for this world.  Our glorious home awaits!

Oh, okay, I have to share one more point that I've already shared on my Facebook page -- complaining is like putting God on trial and accusing Him of abuse or abandonment.  When we complain, it's like telling God that we don't agree with His plan for our life, that He doesn't really know what is best.  We don't get what we want (or worse -- what we feel like we "deserve"), we complain, our level of contentment plummets, and God is not glorified.  *ouch*  This point has kept popping up in my head these past few days as I've found myself complaining.  I'm prayerfully trying not to have a spirit of complaining which will be a looooong process, I'm afraid.

Thanks, Crossway, for letting me read this book!


Homeschool Convention 4 -- Michelle Duggar

I've saved the best for last but that's just because it was the last thing we went to that day.  Candace & I were in line by 1:45 for this 2:30 event and I felt very sorry for the conference that was actually attempting to go on while we were all lining up outside.  Anyway, we got in the junior ballroom a little after 2 and found it quite hilarious at the people trying to track down the various Duggar children for autographs and pictures.  Bless their hearts, they were trying to do their jobs!  They were trying to pass out a few goodies to us all -- a picture of the family, a 2-sided sheet that had information on one side on the difference between flattery and praise and how to appropriate praise our children and on the other side, a chart of different character qualities they try to stress with their children.  There was also so information handed out on the plan of salvation and some information on the curriculum they use from a place called "The Advanced Training Institute" or ATI.  About 2:15, Jim Bob Duggar was spotted and a line quickly formed.  They started relatively close to on time (surprising for Duggars, if you watch their show!).  Jim Bob introduced his wife and then Michelle took the stage.  She opened with prayer and then encouraged us to pray for her because she said a crowd this size made her weak in the knees (she joked how she's used to speaking to groups of about 20 -- ha ha!).  Then she told a story that I know will stick with me forever.  She asked if there was anyone in the group that 2 or more children under the age of 6 and lots of hands went up...then she moved on to 3 children under 6, 4 children under 6, and 5 children under six.  There weren't many hands left up at that point but then she asked if anyone had 6 children under six.  I think she counted 2 hands....Then she recounted how she had 6 children under 6 and was pregnant with her 7th when she had a spiritual moment that changed the direction of her life. She was up at 1 AM doing laundry when she began sobbing, mostly from exhaustion.  And she said God the Father spoke to her and asked "Michelle, it's easy to praise Me when things are going well.  Will you praise Me when things aren't going well?"  And then, she said, she threw her hands up in surrender and the only thing she could think to say or do was to sing "The Joy Of The Lord Is My Strength" which she sang for us (she has a lovely voice!).  6 short hours later -- at 7 AM -- they were at piano lessons.  She made sure to tell us all to never schedule piano lessons for 7 AM!  Anyway, while falling asleep during piano lessons, her children's piano teacher asked if she was okay and, long story short, this sweet piano teacher has come to do their laundry for 13 years!  Michelle's point was that God knows what we need and when we need it and if we're surrendered to Him, He'll give us or somehow send us the help we need!  QTS (question to self):  How often do I actually live my days surrendered to Him instead of trying to work things out on my own?  She talked quite a bit about surrender -- perhaps we need to surrender our idea about how much sleep we need (boy, that hit close to home!) or perhaps we need to surrender our idea of a perfect family or perfect homeschool....  She interjected the need for a schedule with the thought being that they don't always meet their schedule but at least there's a goal, at least they have something to shoot for.  Then she moved on to anger and talked about another "epiphany" (my word, not hers) of teaching her children about meekness.  She, feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit, apologizes to her children (still 6 under 6 at this time) for yelling at them and makes the commitment to whisper when she feels the urge to raise her voice.  And then she told the funny story of this new-found commitment being tested almost immediately.  She was changing a diaper when an older child asked if they could have the half a can of pineapple left out on the counter for snack.  "Yes you may," she tells the child, "but you have to wait on Momma to get it for you."  That child didn't wait on her and tried to help his/herself and ended up making a GIGANTIC mess.  Instead of yelling, which was her gut instinct, she asked the child to go wait for her in the bathroom while she thanked God for giving her such a huge mess to clean up so she could calm down before "chastening" (her word) that child.  And she made the point that when we're tempted to yell "WHAT DID YOU DO?!?!", we should stop, keep calm, and instead ask "What did you do wrong?".  Make sure you get the child to acknowledge what he or she did that was wrong so you can make sure that child understands because, in this situation, when she asked what that child had done wrong, the child replied "Spilling the pineapple and juice" when the real issue was the disobedience of not waiting as he/she had been told.  (Personal interjection -- for more info on getting to the heart issues with your children, read "Sheparding Your Child's Heart" by Paul and Tedd Tripp.)  There was another thing that she brought up and I desperately wish I had been taking notes -- she talked about having one-on-one time with her children and always asking 3 questions, of which I can only remember 2.  First was "How are you?" and the 2nd was "Is there anything you haven't told Momma and Daddy that you want to tell me about now?"  I really wish I could remember that 3rd question.  Such a great idea when you're alone with your kids, things I've never thought about.    

This was such a blessing!  I was soooo convicted at some of her points, especially concerning surrender and anger, and I cried quite a bit (although I managed to not blubber like a baby which is what I usually do once I get started) so I probably wouldn't have been able to take notes after all!  :)  If I ever get the chance to hear her again, I know I'm going to jump on it!  Our culture needs much MORE women like Michelle and far FEWER strong-willed and outspoken women, amen?


Homeschool Convention 3 -- Activities (?) and exhibit hall

Saturday, 11:30 AM "Field Tested Suggestions And Activities For Infants Through School-Aged Children"
Carolyn Schulte, "Flowering Baby"

Well, you can't win them all, right?  This one is definitely chalked up to a loss!  She was the sweetest "little old lady" (and I mean that in a flattering way!) but by the time we got through her experience as a public school teacher (in California, no less!) and all about her daughter and especially her grandson, we got very little, if any, suggestions for activities!  By the time she flew through the Powerpoint presentations on actual activities, I was too tired and too cold to write them down.

After that hour-long session, Candace and I split up.  I went to the exhibit hall.  WHOA!  In the program for the convention, there are 4 solid pages of vendors listed.  Page 1 alone had 81 vendors so that means there was probably somewhere around 320 vendors!  Now, not everyone of those vendors was a homeschool company.  There were TONS of colleges (secular & not), there was a Mennonite family-run KitchenAid stand, Lego was there, many places that sold used books, 1 vendor that did only art supplies, and 1 vendor that did t-shirts and things like that (I got a purple tote bag that says "Homeschool Mom Of 6" for $5!).  I picked up a few catalogs, actually picked up and looked at a few books I'm thinking about using next year, and other than my tote bag, I made 1 other purchase.  A friend of mine (thanks, Beth!) had sent me an email earlier in the week with many links on it and I noticed that a place called Knowledge Quest had National Geographic maps 25% off for the weekend.  After I went to Knowledge Quest's founder, Mrs. Johnson's, 8:30 session, I then found a social studies book I was interested in buying called "The Star Spangled State Book".  I stopped by their booth and bought the map I wanted for $17 and that book for $19.  Bonus -- it was TWO maps for that price.  One of the world and one of the US.  They're huge and came laminated!  I've hung the world map on the wall behind our kitchen table and used shipping tape to put the one of the US on our table.  Could have spent hours there going through the booths with used books but, alas, I only had what I thought was 2 hours before the session featuring Michelle Duggar.  Thankfully, my tummy got a hold of me and told me to eat around 1 or I would have really been hurting!  Not finding anything in the exhibit hall that interested me, I followed my nose to the cinnamon almonds up on the 3rd floor but, sadly, didn't buy them and bought a pretzel instead.  At this point, it wasn't even 1:30 yet and the line for Michelle's session was already forming!  So I ate my pretzel while in line for me & Candace.  Michelle's session was the highlight of my day but that's another post that will be on it's way shortly (I hope!).