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Monday, November 30

Rocket Man (Elton John)

I see no need to reinvent the follow us here to our HUGE free space & astronomy unit study!!  We've got lapbooks, literature, science, physical education, math, more rabbit trails, and even music videos.  If your kids are as space-crazy as our's, they're going to love it!

On to Alabama!!!  
En route to our Virginia job, we stopped off at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.  It was a rainy day, so the outdoor activities were off the table, but a very friendly docent gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the newest section of the museum, which will open next summer.
The main exhibit is a really interesting, futuristic look at scientific applications.  We explored the role of DNA in general disease, and created our own virtual selves.  The boys also tried their hands, er heads, at mind control.
The Space Camp section of the museum will soon be open to the public for tours, and this friendly docent led us behind-the-scenes to check out all of the new stuff.  It's so new that some of it wasn't even finished yet!
While we were in town, Rocket Boy lost a tooth...and the tooth fairy brought him a gift certificate to the museum store.  Unfortunately, the one thing he wanted was not in stock, so he's holding on to it until we can find a space helmet...  (We've been to three NASA centers and still can't find one.  If you live near one, and they have one in stock, please drop us a line!)
Be sure to check out our free unit study for all things space & rockets!

Tuesday, November 24

The Good Life (Carmen McRae)

You aim to eat right and exercise most of the time, but we all stray from our healthy path every once in a while . . . and it’s a good thing.  With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, and all those yummy family feasts, you can be sure that more people will be indulging that not this week….

Allowing yourself indulgences as an exception, rather than the rule, will make you happier in the long run and make you more apt to stick to your diet.  So go ahead, and enjoy that pie!!

In fact, as an indulgence to ourselves….this week’s Tiny Steps Tuesday post is going to be very short!  Here are your action steps :
  • Skip the Workout.  Enjoy family time.  Play some cards, read a book, take a walk together.  Let your body relax.
  • Laugh.  Recount old family memories, snicker at Uncle Joe’s new toupee, or watch a funny movie.  Laughter feeds the soul.
  • Eat leftovers.  There’s going to be plenty, and you won’t have to cook.  This is a good time to teach the kids to load the dishwasher, too!
  • Pop Open the Wine.  Did you know that moderate alcohol use can reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes?  Have a glass.  Have two.  Don’t go overboard.  You don’t want to be the subject of next year’s family memories….

Sunday, November 22

Spread Some Joy with these Fantastic Christmas Reads!!

I love Christmas.  It brings out the best (and occasionally worst) in folks, and I love to see that outpouring of love.  You'll find many arts & crafts and cooking projects on our blog this time of year, but one of my favorite things is the new crop of holiday reads.  As an introvert, it's a great way to plow into the season without attending party after party... 

What a fabulous collection of new Christmas books for us this year!!!  I'm going to kick it off with children's books, because we tend to put our kids first.  Followed by fiction (always with my favorite on top), and wrapping it up with non-fiction.  There's sure to be something here for everyone on your list...and a few new classics, to boot!

Children's Books
Berenstein Bears, The Very First Christmas  (Jan & Mike Berenstein)

Join the Bear cubs as they learn all about Jesus’ holy birth. From the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary to the visit from the three wise men, join Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister, and Honey as they discover the story of the very first Christmas.

The newest Berenstain Bears book is out this year just in time for Christmas!  The story begins with the Angel coming to Mary, and ends with Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to avoid King Herod.  In the spirit of the Berenstein Bears, this book shares values and the story of Christmas itself without being overly preachy.  The illustrations are colorful and interesting, and keep young children's attention as you go through the story.  If you're looking for a new story to add to your Christmas collection, this could be the one!
Legend of the Christmas Cookie  (Dandi Daley Mackall)
The Legend of the Christmas Cookie tells the story of a young boy named Jack who learns from his generous mother the story behind the Christmas cookie. The family who began the tradition of baking the special cookies gave them to the needy and shared the story of the very first Christmas. This sweet holiday book offers inspiration for readers to become cheerful givers themselves and encourages them to share the true tale of Jesus' birth. A delicious recipe is included on the jacket flap so readers can make their own Christmas sugar cookies.

I had never heard of this story before, but I loved it!  It is simple and beautifully illustrated.  The short version is that cookies were originally made to tell others about the real Christmas story of Jesus being born.   You'll want to read the story itself, though, to see the rest of the history.  It is set during the Great Depression, and weaves that history in as well.  The end includes recipes and ideas for your own children to continue teaching through Christmas cookies.  Overall, we feel this one is destined to be a classic.

Biff & Becka's Stupendous Vacation (Elaine Beachy)
Biff's anticipated family vacation takes an unexpected turn. How will he deal with bitter disappointment? Is his summer ruined? Will he be humiliated by his friends? In interesting twists and turns, the author takes Biff and his rabbit family through a trying time that has a surprising outcome. Engaging questions for each chapter at the end encourage lively discussion between your child or grandchild and you. The author paints a picture of a godly home to give encouragement and guidance to parents who struggle and kids who hurt. Biff and Becka's Stupendous Vacation helps your child know how to deal with disappointment. It also helps children relate to family and friends with honesty and respect.

Biff and Becka are recurring characters in a series. They are part of a family of rabbits being raised in a Christian home. I'm not sure why they are rabbits, since everything else about them is decidedly human.  Their parents speak constantly about scripture, which isn't always bad, but every.single.thing. is scripture or lesson-based.  It was a little heavy for a children's book.  That said, the content is definitely suitable for early elementary school, and there are plenty of life lessons to be learned.

Adult Fiction
Christmas Joy Ride (Melody Carlson)
Miranda did not put adventure on her Christmas list, but thanks to her eighty-five-year-old neighbor Joy, that's exactly what she's getting this year. When Joy tells Miranda that she plans to drive an old RV decked out in Christmas decorations from their Chicago neighborhood to her new retirement digs in Phoenix--in the dead of winter, no less--the much younger Miranda insists that Joy cannot make such a trip by herself. Besides, a crazy trip with Joy would be more interesting than another Christmas home alone. Unemployed and facing foreclosure, Miranda feels she has nothing to lose by packing a bag and heading off to Route 66. But Joy has a hidden agenda for their Christmas joyride--and a hidden problem that could derail the whole venture.  No one captures the heartwarming fun of the Christmas season quite like Melody Carlson. Fasten your seat belt, because it's going to be an exciting ride!

I cannot say enough good things about this book!  I will be buying extra copies for loved ones...and have been inspired myself.  This is such a fun book, with a serious underlying message, and you can't help but wish you were along for the ride!  You MUST run out an get your own copy.  Right now.

Bella's Christmas Bake-Off (Sue Watson)
Bella Bradley is the queen of television baking – a national treasure.
Her Christmas specials have been topping the ratings for years and her marriage to Peter ‘Silver Fox’ Bradley is the stuff of Hello magazine specials. But this year things are going to be different.  For Amy Lane, Bella’s best friend from school, life hasn’t held quite the same sparkle. And when Amy’s husband walks out three weeks from Christmas, it seems their lives are further apart than ever. Amy has watched Bella’s rise to fame fondly, despite the fact Bella was always a terrible cook. But when she realises that Bella’s latest Christmas book is made up entirely of Amy’s mother’s recipes, the gloves are off…  After winning a competition to appear on Bella’s TV show, Amy is going to make sure that for Bella and her viewers, this will definitely be a Christmas to remember…

This really wasn't at all what I was expecting, based on the cover and description, but it was SO MUCH BETTER!  It will make you laugh; it will make you sad; and it will make you want to call up your childhood best friend to reminisce.  This is a must-read, and I'll be looking for other books by this author!

An Endless Christmas (Cynthia Ruchti)

Christmas takes a very different turn when the guests of honor break up instead of announcing their engagement. Trapped with his family, they learn that love looks different than either imagined. Both in their eighties, Dodie and Wilson Binder celebrate every Christmas as if it were their last. This year, their grandson Micah is planning to ask his girlfriend, Katie, to marry him so they can celebrate with the whole family. But things go very wrong when she says "no." Now they are stuck. Too many people, too much snow, and too little room should be a recipe for disaster. But sometimes too much is just enough. Especially when it's Christmas...

This beautiful little novel is full of sweet surprises. Couldn't help but sigh at the tender steady heart of Micah, and hope things turned out better for him than they began. Felt for Katie with her feelings of inadequacy, afraid she may repeat her family's mistakes. Loved how creatively and meaningfully Micah's family celebrated Christmas. What a wonderful example his grandparent's were of a lifetime commitment to each other. Grace, love of family and living each day fully were themes that shined through. 

Amish Christmas at North Star (four novellas)

Guiding Star by Katie Ganshert : Curiosity gets the best of Englischer Chase Wellington when he investigates the twenty-five-year-old disappearance of an Amish baby. When he finds adventurous Elle McAllister in Iowa will his discoveries upend her world? 
Mourning Star
 by Amanda Flower : 
Eden Hochstetler slips from her parents’ fudge shop to investigate the death of her friend Isaac.  Who is guilty? Isaac’s handsome great nephew Jesse, an angry Englischer, or someone else?
In the Stars
 by Cindy Woodsmall : 
Heartbroken Kore Detweiler avoids North Star after Savilla Beiler rejects his love.  But when he is unexpectedly called to return home, he and Savilla must join forces to keep a family together.
Star of Grace
 by Mindy Starns Clark and Emily Clark : 
Andy Danner left North Star to join a new Amish settlement in Mississippi. His little brother devises a scheme to bring Andy home for Christmas and unwittingly unleashes the power of forgiveness in a reclusive widower’s life.

With the exception of Amanda Flower, I have read several books by each of the other authors, and love them all!  Mrs. Flowers fits in with this group well, and theses novellas are a wonderfully inspirational Christmas read.  The characters tie together well, but the stories are very different, reflecting each author's style.  In our house, it's never too early for Christmas books, and we'll be passing this one around the table to each of the women in the family.  This would make a lovely gift for a reader in your life.  It's perfectly inspirational.

All is Bright (Colleen Coble)

As manager of the Tidewater Inn, Delilah Carter has been planning a spectacular Christmas wedding for her friends at the grand hotel overlooking the ocean. While picking up still more twinkly lights and some last-minute groceries for the reception dinner, a huge truck runs her off the freezing, wet roads into the dark night. Her car stops just short of an enormous tree and the truck speeds off into the night. Delilah escapes with her life and has almost convinced herself the whole thing was an accident, but then she begins to receive threatening phone calls. With the wedding just hours away, she’s distracted and anxious. Then Sheriff Tom Bourne stops by the inn and volunteers to help.  Tom has always had a soft spot for Delilah, and he’s determined to protect her. But he is pulled away by a bizarre Christmas stunt that has the neighborhood reeling, and Delilah is attacked again.  Will Delilah have to cancel the Christmas wedding at Tidewater Inn? And will Tom’s protection be enough to save Delilah from the shadowy figure looming in the background?
I really enjoyed this book, and it was the perfect length for a gym workout! (Always a plus, in the winter.) The characters are developed and the story is well-written. There are twists throughout, and it all comes together nicely in a very short work. It's not very Christmas-y, but it's still a good mystery that takes place at Christmas. Overall, I'd look for more novellas from this author.

Twice Blessed (Barbara Cameron)
Her Sister’s Shadow : Katie and Rosie Stoltzfus work part-time in an Amish store and part-time in Two Peas in a Pod, their own business raising vegetables and fruits and canning them for sale. Although they are identical twins, their personalities are very different: while Katie has always been more outgoing and attractive to boys, Rosie has always felt in her sister’s shadow. It will take an unexpected business opportunity and one very special man to help Rosie see that she’s a unique woman of her own. 
His Brother’s Keeper : Ever since they were boys, Ben Fisher has trailed after his brother, Mark. Ben has always envied Mark because he’s always been more adventurous, but he's even more jealous now that Mark is engaged to Rachel, a woman they both love. When a terrible accident on Christmas Eve results in their mistaken identity, Ben suddenly has an opportunity to create the life he’s always wanted. While everyone believes he is his brother, who’s still in a coma, Ben finally has a chance with Rachel. But how can he realize an opportunity for real happiness if it means deceiving his kin?

This was an interesting concept...two Christmas stories about twins, and how those sets of twins' lives are interlocking. I much preferred the second story to the first, but they were both full of struggle, passion, and the strength to overcome. I would recommend this book to anyone that is a fan of Amish fiction!

The Time Garden (Daria Song)

Journey through the doors of a mysterious cuckoo clock into its inky inner-workings to discover a magical land of clock gears, rooftops, starry skies, and giant flying owls—all ready for you to customize with whatever colors you can dream up.  Cuckoo . . . cuckoo . . . cuckoo . . . When the clock strikes midnight, you’ll wonder, was it all a dream? The Time Garden features extra-thick craft paper, ideal for non bleed-through coloring, and the jacketed cover with flaps is removable and colorable. Special gold-foil stamping on the cover and spine and a To/From page make it perfect for gifting to adults and kids alike.

This would make a wonderful Christmas gift for children and adults alike!  This book is the story of a little girl and her journey through a clock integrated into an intricately designed coloring book. The words of the story are intermingled with the designs, but don't distract from them. What is really fun about this book is that you get to color the story as you go through the book, and you can make the story what you see of it by the way color the pages! The book is printed on both sides of the good quality paper, which seems to be the normal for the "story book" style of coloring book. (Soft color pencils are good, to be sure you don't have any ink bleed through the book onto the backside of the page.) The designs in this book include a number of intricate details, and I am sure I will need to keep my magnifying lamp nearby for those bits and pieces!  

Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe (Max Lucado)
Chelsea Chambers is on her own. After a public split from her NFL superstar husband, Chelsea takes a bold step out of the limelight and behind the counter of the Higher Grounds Café, an old-fashioned coffee shop in dire need of reinvention. But when her courage, expert planning, and out-of-this-world cupcakes fail to pay the bills, this newly single mom finds herself desperate for help. Better yet, a miracle.  Then a curious stranger lands at Chelsea’s door, and with him, an even more curious string of events. Soon, customers are flocking to the Higher Grounds Café, and not just for the cupcakes and cappuccino. They’ve come for the internet connection to the divine. Now the café has become the go-to place for people in search of answers to life’s biggest questions.  When a catastrophe strikes and her ex comes calling, Chelsea begins to wonder if the whole universe is conspiring against her quest to make it on her own. After a shocking discovery opens her eyes to the unseen world around her, Chelsea finds the courage to ask God a question of her own. Heaven answers in a most unexpected way.

This is my first fictional Max Lucado book, and I was not disappointed.  The underlying messages of keeping the faith alive, letting go, and having hope are just what so many of us need to be reminded of these days.  It did take me a while to get into it, and I nearly put it down before getting more than a quarter into it, but am really glad that I pushed further because it picked up and got much better!

Adult Non-Fiction  
It wouldn't be a holiday without someone getting into politics over the table...with an election year on the horizon, this year is likely to be no exception!
End of Discussion (Mary Ham & Guy Benson)
The political correctness born on college campuses has mutated into a new hypersensitivity. It’s weaponized in Washington, D.C. by a network of well-trained operatives, media, and politicians, and proliferated throughout the country. The new Puritans of the Left are quick to ban comedians and commencement speakers alike for the sin of disagreeing with them. They demand “safe spaces” while making dissent increasingly dangerous for Americans.  Ham and Benson demonstrate just how dangerous the outrage industry—a coalition of mostly liberal blowhards and busybodies—is to America. The media frenzy they create is designed to disqualify opposing viewpoints on everything from health care to education by labeling them racist, sexist, and evil. They punish speech that makes them uncomfortable, demanding boycotts, censures, and people’s jobs. They seek to win political and cultural debates by preventing them from happening.  And if you think this behavior is relegated to political fights or politicians, think again. The same activists are ready to foment outrage over your association with the “wrong” fried chicken joints, Internet browsers, breast cancer charities, pasta, children’s toys, Halloween costumes, TV shows, schools, and even comedians’ jokes.  With Ham and Benson’s help, readers can cut through the noise and find their voices again, fighting back against the rampant self-censorship and hair-trigger apologies that always make things worse, not better. With fresh reporting and insightful, occasionally tongue-in-cheek analysis, End of Discussion is a timely handbook for anyone who wants to make sure debate doesn’t meet an ugly death during the 2016 election. Despite President Obama’s frequent declarations to the contrary, the time for debate is not over.
The book is well written, and I liked the tone of the two authors - they're both funny and conversational.  I like their idea of a "coalition to chill the hell out."  That said, the book is targeted toward an audience that doesn't want two sides - they want validation for their side.  The examples they use ARE accurate, but there's no attempt at balance. A liberal audience will remain convinced that conservatives are crazy, and a conservative audience will remain convinced that liberals are evil bullies.  But the fact that the co-author Guy Benson is a gay conservative would be pretty good for discussion.  As I mentioned, these are right-leaning authors. If you want a left-leaning perspective, see Kirsten Powers' "The Silencing."
As the father of five boys (all under age 10), graphic designer Nathan Ripperger has found himself saying some rather funny, absurd, and downright bizarre things to his children, from "Stop riding that penguin, we're leaving" to "I am NOT talking to you until you are wearing underwear." He created poster-like images for each and posted them online. The response from other parents was overwhelming. With Things I've Said to My Children, Ripperger has assembled around 80 of the funniest, weirdest, and most amusing sayings and paired them with full-color, designed images that bring these outrageously hysterical quotes to life. Covering the essential parenting topics like food, animals, don'ts, and of course, bodily functions, Things I've Said to My Children is a light-hearted illustrated reminder of the shared absurdity of parenthood. Especially for those parents who've ever found themselves uttering some variation of the line, "Please don't eat the goldfish crackers you've put in your butt."
I think this will be our new coffee table know, the one that people flip through while waiting for a moment, and it sparks fascinating conversation!  (Does anyone else still do that?  Or is it just because we keep a smart-phone-free zone?)  The book is quick and lighthearted, and I found myself laughing out loud multiple times!  One or two puzzled me, but many of them have surfaced in this home before.  The author is a graphic designer, and has cute illustrations to accompany his wierd phrases.  Overall, it's cute, it's simple, and I liked it.  This would be a great gift for the new mom!
I received all of these books in exchange for an honest review.  I was not required to write a positive you can probably tell. 

Friday, November 20

String of Pearls (Glenn Miller)

Looking for the perfect gift for the book-lover in your life?  These fabulous NEW books are all World War II themed, and make the cut of best new books of the year.  If you have little history buffs, Jars of Hope and The Secret of the Village Fool are exceptional reads for children, while The Children's Train is geared toward teens.

Secrets She Kept - Cathy Gohlke
All her life, Hannah Sterling longed for a close relationship with her estranged mother. Following Lieselotte’s death, Hannah determines to unlock the secrets of her mother’s mysterious past and is shocked to discover a grandfather living in Germany.  Thirty years earlier, Lieselotte’s father is quickly ascending the ranks of the Nazi party, and a proper marriage for his daughter could help advance his career. Lieselotte is in love—but her beloved Lukas is far from an ideal match, as he secretly works against the Reich. Yet Lieselotte never imagined how far her father would go to ensure her cooperation.  Both Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s stories unfold as Hannah travels to Germany to meet her grandfather, who is hiding wartimes secrets of his own. Longing for connection, yet shaken by all she uncovers, Hannah must decide if she can atone for her family’s tragic past and how their legacy will shape her future.

Thoughts :
Loved it, loved it, loved it!  The book switches back and forth between generations, which can be a little confusing at times, but it becomes easier as each of the characters' 'voices' appears.  There are many twists and turns along the dark journey through WWII, as well as sinister leftovers in post-war Germany.  It's a fresh perspective on an old subject, as we visit Germany in the thirty years post-war.  One of the characters scared the bejeezus out of me....he'll make you look over your shoulder for days.

The Rules in Rome (A.L. Sowards)
With Hitler’s forces firmly entrenched in Europe, countless
heroes seek to end the madman’s reign. Bastien Ley is one of the best. Working in Italy for the Office of Strategic Services, he’s been tasked with sabotaging German convoys. When his team kills an officer headed for Rome, the man’s similarity to Bastien is undeniable, and seeing an opportunity to turn the tide of the war, Bastien makes a bold decision: he will assume the dead officer’s identity. He becomes Dietrich, an Iron Cross–wearing German officer—an ideal position from which to infiltrate the Nazi ranks in Rome. Bastien’s assignment becomes extremely stressful, and his superiors send him a reinforcement in the form of the lovely Gracie Begni, an intelligent, eager, and completely inexperienced radio operator.
With a gulf of resentment between them, these two agents must find a way to portray a couple in love. Soon their reluctant alliance becomes much more as Bastien and Gracie find themselves getting lost in their feelings for each other. But as they engage in battle against the deadliest foe the world has ever known, the pair quickly realizes their love may be doomed. As the Rome Gestapo threatens to destroy all they’ve worked for, will Bastien and Gracie survive their charade?

I absolutely loved this book, and blame it for three sleepless nights in a row!!   The action parts were very well done, and the characters shone in their individuality...even the bad guys.  Being familiar with some of the horrible ways that prisoners, and civilians, were punished by the Nazi's, I was anxious throughout the book for Gracie and Bastien.  But there was no romance for the first half, and then suddenly they’re in love!  I’d recommend this book as a main course for lovers of WWII spy stories, with a little romance on the side.  ;)  (The romance is clean, but it does have some graphic war violence.)

War Baby (Lizzie Lane)

The war has had a devastating effect on the Sweet Family, with young Charlie Sweet, lost at sea, presumed dead, and bombs falling on nearby Bristol. Still there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon in the form of Mary Sweet's upcoming wedding to her Canadian beau. But even that has failed to rouse their father from his grief. But in London a baby has been found in a bombed out house, sheltered in the arms of his dead mother. A child to make life worth living again. 

Thoughts :

While the Sweet sisters are a little too polarized, the book itself holds together nicely with a fantastic cast of supporting characters. I won't reveal spoilers...but you can easily envision the scenes unfolding before your eyes, and feel sympathy for everyone involved in the drama. They also have some fabulous wartime recipes included!! My biggest complaint is that you are quite deep into the book before the prologue actually ties into the story...leaving you feeling as though you were reading the wrong book, and the prologue went with something else entirely.

Jars of Hope (Jennifer Roy)
Amid the horrors of World War II, Irena Sendler was an unlikely and unsung hero. While many people lived in fear of the Nazis, Irena defied them, even though it could have meant her life. She kept records of the children she helped smuggle away from the Nazis’ grasp, and when she feared her work might be discovered, she buried her lists in jars, hoping to someday recover them and reunite children with their parents. This gripping true story of a woman who took it upon herself to help save 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust is not only inspirational; it's unforgettable.  (For ages 9-12)

Thoughts :

This was a fantastic story!!! I will definitely be reading this to my elementary kids. It is simplistic enough for children to understand, yet conveys a very serious topic. And the pictures are just wonderful!

Secret of the Village Fool (Rebecca Upjohn)

Milek and his brother Munio live in a sleepy village in Poland, where nothing exciting seems to happen. They reluctantly do as their mother asks when she asks them to visit their neighbor Anton, knowing that the rest of the village laughs at him because of his strange habits of speaking to animals and only eating vegetables. Things change quickly when war comes to their town in the form of Nazi soldiers searching for Jewish families like that of Milek and Munio. Anton refuses to tell the soldiers where to find them, and then goes so far as to hide the family in his own home, putting his life at risk without a thought. Based on a true story.
What a wonderful, true story!  Over the past decade, I have seen many stories come from the WWII era...stories of heroism and bravery.  This one is exciting and uplifting.  It is on a children's level, but conveys the emotions that the characters felt at different times.  Also, there is a "what happened afterward" section in the back, with photos and stories of the real characters.  Very touching.   The pictures are lovely, too.  Well done! 

The Children's Train (Jana Zinser)
In November 1938 on The Night of the Broken Glass, the Jewish people of Germany are terrified as Hitler s men shatter their store windows, steal and destroy their belongings, and arrest many Jewish fathers and brothers. Parents fear for their own lives but their focus is on protecting their children. When England arranges to take the children out of Germany by train, the Kindertransport is organized and parents scramble to get places on the trains for their young family members, worried about what the future will hold. Soon, trains filled with Jewish children escaping the Nazis chug over the border into Holland, where they are ferried across the English Channel to England and to freedom.  But for Peter, the shy violin player, his sister Becca, and his friends Stephen and Hans, life in England holds challenges as well. Peter s friend Eva, who did not get a seat on the Kindertransport, is left to the evil plans of Hitler. Peter, working his musician s hands raw at a farm in Coventry, wonders if they should have stayed and fought back instead of escaping.  When the Coventry farm is bombed and the Nazis have reached England, Peter feels that he has nothing left. He decides it s time to stand and fight Hitler. Peter returns to Germany to join the Jewish underground resistance, search for the mother and baby sister he left behind in Berlin, and rescue his childhood friend Eva.

This is a great introductory-level novel to the Holocaust.  As someone that has had a lifelong interest in WWII and Holocaust studies, I like that  this novel gives a variety of viewpoints and experiences...Jewish, German, Nazi, Resistance, British...they're all included in a realistic account.  It is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. After reading, you have a better picture of the many devastating situations endured by Holocaust victims and survivors, as well as a clearer understanding of people’s positions and actions.  But it's still all at an introductory level.  
The novel is a little heavy for young readers, but I’d certainly recommend it for high school through adults. It's written without over-dramatizing or trying to be graphically-shocking, but the very nature of the events, even through the author’s delicate handling, could be overwhelming.

We Were There of those

War in My Town (E. Graziani)
Bruna, the youngest of seven children, lives an idyllic life in a small town in northern Tuscany in the 1940s. As the Second World War unfolds in Europe her life remains largely the same, full of the preocupations of any fourteen-year-old girl. The Italian leader Mussolini's allegiance with Hitler and the distant reports of fighting seem far away. But this is not to last, as war comes to their village and Nazi soldiers occupy their town. Bruna must help her mother and sisters stand up to the occupying soldiers as her brothers are caught up in the resistance. A true story.

In the same vein as Roald Dahl's "Boy," this book was full of great anecdotes that didn't really fit together well as a complete story.  It was interesting, but dry and disjointed at times. 

The Farmerettes (Gisela Sherman)
Six girls just out of high school live together during the summer of 1943 on a farm as part of the Farm Service Force, doing the work of the men who are off fighting the war in Europe. We follow the stories of Helene, who sends her wages home to support her single mother; Peggy, a flirt who spends her time writing to her soldier beaux; Binxie, whose rich family doesn't approve of her; Isabel, who pines over her fiancé, who is off fighting; Jean, whose family farm has been taken over by the “farmerettes,” as they became known; and the mysterious X, who of all the girls feels the most out of place. Friendship, romance, hardship and heartbreak shape their summer, all against the backdrop of the World War II.

I wasn't always sure where this book was headed, but enjoyed the journey!  This was a new aspect of the War at Home for me, the characters were likable and believable, and the plot was interesting.  The sub-plot comes out in the last third of the book, and it's a good mystery.  Overall, a solid B read.

Thursday, November 19

Computer Age (Neil Young)

Short and sweet today....

We passed through central North Carolina en route from west to east, and I had the chance to catch up with an old friend.  You know how they say that the best friendships can pick right up where they left off, even a decade later?  It's true! 
E. and I were both in the same scholarship program, and had oodles of time to hang out during the mandatory 'bus ride across the entire state' excitement after freshman year.  It's a bonding experience...  We are complete 180's of each other, which always worked out nicely.
Today, he works for a company called SAS (which looked an awful lot like Google to me, from the outside).  If you're a computer person...I recommend checking it out for a job!!  Our boys were working on the Digital Technology badges for Boy Scouts (see their newly-minted page here), and I thought "Who better to help them with this than E.?"  He loved the idea...and the boys loved visiting!  I have to be honest, though, and tell you that about 3/4 of what he explained to the boys was Greek to me!!  I sure hope they understood!

At the very least, they did learn a few things this day, including what an awesome job you can have if you work hard and apply yourself.  They got to see things that I could never show them, and I got to take an old friend to lunch and catch up.  All in all, a beautiful Carolina-blue-sky kind of day!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 18

Ninjabread Craft

My mom is a Hallmark junkie.  I mean that in a loving sense...she loves their stuff!  However, my style lends itself more toward mid-century-hippie, and that shows up in our home decor.
For example, each year, we make these fun and easy ornaments with the kids.  It gives them an opportunity to make their own gifts, which they hand out to friends and loved ones.  We also save a few each year to commemorate their current likes and interests.  Last year, we created Lego Ninjago and Southwest Airlines goodies....I wonder what this year's theme will be?!

Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments

Supplies (we doubled this recipe)
  • Preheat oven to 200°F. Mix applesauce and cinnamon in small bowl until a smooth ball of dough is formed. (You may need use your hands to incorporate all of the cinnamon.) 
  • Using about 1/4 of the dough at a time, roll dough to 1/4-inch to 1/3-inch thickness between two sheets of plastic wrap. Peel off top sheet of plastic wrap. 
    • If you can't find a rolling pin, you can use a quart-sized mason jar in a pinch.
  • Cut dough into desired shapes with 2- to 3-inch cookie cutters.  Pull away extra dough, then carefully transfer cutout to waxed baking sheet with a spatula.
  • Using the spatula, straighten up any sloppy edges around the cutout.
  • Make a hole at top of ornament with drinking straw, toothpick, or skewer. 
  • Bake 2 1/2 hours. Cool ornaments on wire rack. 
  • Decorate with paint, if desired.  Add magazine cutouts with glue.  Allow to dry.

  • Using a clear spray paint or gloss paint, varnish the ornaments.  This is optional, and will make them last longer.  If you want that cinnamon smell, skip this step.  They won't last as long, but they'll smell heavenly!
  • Insert ribbon through holes and tie to hang.

  • Visit 30 days of homemade crafts to see more!