Monday, October 29

Aztec Chocolate...

Recently, we've been studying the Aztecs (as well as the Mayans and Incans) through The Good & the Beautiful History 2.  One of our hands-on activities was to drink some yummy hot chocolate, but we decided to take it a bit further and make our own chocolates!

You'll need :
  1. Melt cocoa butter in a microwavable bowl 5 minutes on 50% power.  Stir.  Be careful as it will be HOT.
  2. Stir in cocoa powder and confectioners sugar until lumps are gone.
  3. Put back in microwave at 100% power for ten seconds.
  4. Check temperature of chocolate.  When it gets to 94-F, add starter chocolate and 1/4 tsp vanilla.  Stir to blend.
  5. Put into paper liners or candy mold and refrigerate 15 minutes to set.

For a unit study....

Pull out all the pieces and figure out which order to use them in.  Follow the step-by-step directions included in the kit.

Make sure that you whisk the ingredients well, as it makes a smoother chocolate!

We used the wrappers to make some truffles, but also wrapped chocolate around some nuts, caramel, and whatever else we could put our hands on in the kitchen.  YUMMY!

Tuesday, October 23

Fall for a New Book!

Are you a bibliophile?  Be sure to come back next month for our Bibliophile's Christmas Wishlist!

Jesus Calling : The Story of Christmas (Sarah Young)
Teach your children the story of Christmas . . . starting from creation! In Jesus Calling®: The Story of Christmas, children will discover that God always had a plan for Christmas. The Christmas story began long, long ago. Before the angel Gabriel told Mary she would have God's Son. Before the shepherds saw the angels and before the wise men saw the star. Even before the sun and the moon shone for the first time, before the first cows ever moooed and the first monkeys ever climbed! Before Adam and Even took their first walk in the Garden of Eden, God had a plan for Christmas. From the beginning of time, God had a plan to save his children. That plan was Jesus! Jesus Calling®: The Story of Christmas is a beautifully embellished jacketed hardcover with foil and glitter. Curl up with your little ones around the Christmas tree with Jesus Calling®: The Story of Christmas.

This short story has several beautiful illustrations to accompany the easy-to-read text and would be a great bedtime story or read aloud for young readers.  Unlike most Christmas books, it begins long before Jesus' birth, with the creation story, tales of Abraham, Egypt, and the journey that was taken prior to the birth, and then it culminates with the Christmas story.  There are short scriptures tucked in the pages that relate to each part of the story, and the last page has a unique 'message from Jesus' about how he is a friend to you.  The text is accessible to children - easy for them to understand the pieces of the story, and interesting and visual as well.

A Sparkle of Silver (Liz Johnson)
Ninety years ago, Millie Sullivan's great-grandmother was a guest at oil tycoon Howard Dawkins' palatial estate on the shore of St. Simons Island, Georgia. Now, Millie plays a 1920s-era guest during tours of the same manor. But when her grandmother suggests that there is a lost diary containing the location of a hidden treasure on the estate, along with the true identity of Millie's great-grandfather, Millie sets out to find the truth of her heritage--and the fortune that might be hers. When security guard Ben Thornton discovers her snooping in the estate's private library, he threatens to have her fired. But her story seems almost too ludicrous to be fiction, and her offer to split the treasure is too tempting to pass up . . . Get ready for a romantic escapade through dark halls and dusty corners that will have you holding your breath and sighing with delight as two charming characters get caught up in the adventure of uncovering the past and finding their way to an unexpected future.

A woman struggling to make ends meet, a security guard with money issues, a grandmother with dementia, and an old diary that may hold the secrets to unlocking a more secure future for them all...  This book does an amazing job of pulling together the glamorous past of wealthy 1920's with modern-day middle class.  It goes back and forth in time by using the diary entries, and we have bits of the mystery dribbled out in front of us to piece together along with the main characters.  There are twists and turns in the hidden rooms of the mansions, as well as twists and turns in the pages of the story.  If you look past the fact that Millie and Ben think they can just keep any treasure they find, despite not owning the property it is found on, then you have a book about working hard, taking care of others, struggling to find the truth, facing danger and sacrifice, and offering forgiveness.  Also, lest you get hung up on the treasure aspect, it does manage to work itself out in the end...

The Christmas Remedy (Cindy Woodsmall)
Twenty-four-year-old Holly Zook lives a unique life for a young Amish woman. Years ago, her bishop allowed her to continue her education and become the lead technician for Greene's Pharmacy, an old-timey drugstore that looks out for the Amish community--a group largely without secure healthcare plans. She knows she can't marry and hold onto her professional job. She's Amish, and she can only have one or the other, so she spurns love and works toward addressing treatable diseases--like the one that claimed her father's life. As long as Holly continues to avoid Joshua Smucker, the one man who draws her like a warm hearth in winter, she should be fine. When something unexpected threatens Greene's Pharmacy, Holly and Joshua must work together to unravel what's happened and find the "missing" patient before the Board of Pharmacy shuts them down. As the snows of December arrive, with Christmas in the air, will Holly succumb to the generous spirit of the season?

It didn't take long to understand why this one is titled with 'Remedy,' and I enjoyed the fresh perspective on Amish fiction. I love reading these stories, but occasionally you want something a bit less formulaic...this fit that bill. We've got Englischers intermixed with Amish, and some Amish who are straddling the line quite effectively. There are past relationships, struggles with finding one's place in the world, and issues with dishonestly and crime. A mixed team must work together to solve the mystery at hand, and they have to do it without getting in trouble with the bishop... Of course, love eventually comes out on top. A few things that interested me were learning about how the Amish approach healthcare and about the pharmacy industry itself, all as part of this story.

A Seat by the Hearth (Amy Clipston)

Priscilla Allgyer left the community in hopes of escaping the expectations of Amish life. Now, years later, she is forced to return to the place she thought she’d left behind forever—along with her six-year-old son. Though once estranged from her family, Priscilla is welcomed by her mother, but her father is cold and strict. He allows Priscilla to stay with them provided she dresses plainly, confesses her sins, and agrees to marry within the community. Once again, she feels suffocated, trapped, and alone. As Priscilla reluctantly completes her shunning, she catches the eye of Mark Riehl, a farmer with a playboy reputation. Wary of Mark, Priscilla barely gives him the time of day—while Mark, unused to being ignored by the women of Bird-in-Hand, won’t give up the pursuit of her friendship. Priscilla desperately needs a friend in Mark, even if she doesn’t realize it—and after Priscilla’s father and the bishop catch her and Mark in a compromising situation, the two are compelled to enter an awkward, unexpected engagement. After Priscilla and Mark marry and live as friends, affection quietly grows between them—but Priscilla struggles to open her heart and reveal the painful secrets of her past. As Mark works to earn her good faith, can they both learn the hard lessons of love and trust? And can two friends discover a happiness that only God himself could have designed? The third book in the Amish Homestead series, A Seat by the Hearth invites us back to the Lancaster community where friendships are forged and love overcomes all.

I've read a couple of other books about this same family (A Place at the Table is one), and really enjoy the way that the author takes serious issues and shows how they are present across the board. Here, we are dealing with abuse, both emotional and physical, and it was just really surprising to see it show up in an Amish's not something that I would think would happen there...but she shows that they have serious faults as well. She also shows the hard choices that many face to stay within their church boundaries, the restrictions that they cope with, and the character struggles that are common to young people everywhere. I felt like Mark was almost _too_ good to be true, but love how this story ended. I'll be interested to read the one about the final Riehl child, Cindy, and see how everything ties up for the siblings!

Happily (Kevin Thompson)
In the beginning, marriage doesn't seem as though it should be all that difficult. But it doesn't take long for trouble to seep in and for bad habits to become entrenched. Before long, many married couples may be wondering when the "worse" part ends and the "better" part starts. Pastor and author Kevin A. Thompson has good news for couples: the "better" part is always within reach when they practice eight specific commitments to each other. These commitments have the power to solve almost any problem a marriage faces, and to prevent new ones from occurring. With biblical insights and engaging personal stories, Thompson shows couples how to see their marriage as bigger than themselves, avoid both apathy and aggression, release the desire for power, make and maintain peace, endure difficult times, and more. Perfect for newlyweds and for married couples at any stage of life, Happily is the gateway to a more loving, more joy-filled marriage.

Humble yourselves, embrace the hurt, avoid both apathy and aggression, see marriage as bigger than you, refuse power struggles, live in truth, make peace, and endure whatever may come....these are the eight rules that the author tells us we should live by to thrive in a happy marriage.  The book is broken into these eight sections, and he talks about what each of these rules entails, as well as addresses some misconceptions about each.  Each rule comes with 'action steps,' ways to put the rule into intentional practice, for you to see it in daily life.  At the end of each chapter, there are also questions for evaluating your own relationship for that particular rule.  This would be a good book for those considering marriage, or newlyweds, but also has a lot to offer to couples who have been together for some time.

Parenting with Heart (Stephen James & Chip Dodd)
Parents want to be the best person they can for their children, but much of the time they may feel like giraffes on ice--clumsy, unprepared, and in imminent danger of going down. The good news is, our children don't need perfect parents. They need authentic, fully-hearted, relationally engaged parents who can mess up and move on more than parents who always get it right. In this freeing book, respected therapists and bestselling authors Stephen James and Chip Dodd invite parents to let go of perfectionism and micromanaging as they learn to parent from a place of emotional honesty and intimacy. Through their clinical experience and relatable true stories, they show parents that raising children to become capable, loving, and wise-hearted adults is far more about accepting our flaws than projecting an impossible standard to our children that we already know we can't live up to. Parents will learn how to resolve issues from their own childhoods, tune into their feelings and the emotions of their children, and be present with their families through both the best and worst of circumstances.

As parents, we experience the joys and griefs of our children as deeply as they do...and this book provides us with a blueprint for navigating the 'parent end' of that stick.  It covers situations that are both internal (knowing your own heart, as a person and parent) and external (how your heart affects those you are raising), and offers real-world scenarios for each chapter as both description of a situation and examples of how to handle it.  At the end of each chapter are questions to consider as you think ahead about how you might handle various situations.  The book will provide guidance for you, both as a person with their own struggles and as a parent guiding a child through struggles.  For many moms, our inclination is to shield our children from harms of all kinds, but that can be harmful in itself; this is a book that many parents should read today.

Bless Your Husband (Angela Mills)
Sometimes, choosing to love your husband is hard. Whether you've been married one year or 31 years, chances are he's done things that have frustrated you, angered you, hurt you, or flabbergasted you. But after arguing over how to load the dishwasher yet again, you might be wondering how you can show him that you really do love him. In as little as 15 minutes a day, you can do something meaningful for your husband and grow in your faith. From washing his car to writing a positive post about him on social media to watching his favorite movie with him, these pages are full of creative, simple, and interactive ideas on how to bless your husband. You'll discover daily Scripture verses, inspirational readings, and journaling prompts to encourage you as well!

Marriage books aren't just for folks with troubled marriages. In fact, I'd argue that they are more of a preventative so that you don't get to that state. This book is divided into several shorter periods (you can do each over a week) with challenges a specific focus. There are several different options, and you can pick and choose what works best for your situation. The crux of it is recentering your focus and remembering to put energy into keeping your marriage alive. And remember...what goes around comes around. Focus on him; he'll focus on you.

Defiant Joy (Stasi Eldredge)
We all spend a lot of energy reaching for happiness, but we are never quite able to hang on to it. Real life happens, and our circumstances take us on an emotional rollercoaster ride. So the Bible’s call to “be joyful always” sounds almost crazy—and out of reach. But it doesn’t have to be.  Joy is meant to be ours, a joy that is defiant in the face of this broken world. This joy is not simply happiness on steroids; it’s the unyielding belief that sorrow and loss do not have the final say. It’s the stubborn determination to be present to whatever may come and to interpret both goodness and grief by the light of heaven.  In Defiant Joy, Stasi Eldredge invites us with courage, candor, and tender vulnerability to a place beyond sadness or happiness. She shows us how to maintain a posture of holy defiance that neither denies nor diminishes our pain but dares to live with expectant, unwavering hope.
The author has been through troubling times and come out the other side of those dark tunnels; this book is her way of sharing the lessons learned from these experiences with the world.  It's written from a 'girlfriend' perspective - an ordinary woman that you could be sitting down and having coffee with - and provides real-life stories and wisdom.  She talks about the things that steal our joy - large issues such as grief and smaller issues such as daily irritations - and teaches us how to refocus our thoughts toward the joys that we can find in every situation.  There are prayers and scripture included with the text, but they aren't the focus here; it's just about how everyone struggles, and we can all find joy in the mess.  Some try to go around it, some try to ignore it, but like O.A.R. says, "I go through."  That's what the author tells us to do - go through it, come out of it, and see the hope that springs from it.
The cheer of a crackling hearth fire. Colorful cards from friends and loved ones. An evergreen tree festooned with ornaments. The golden traditions of Christmas—gifts, wreaths, stockings, carols, mistletoe, and more—infuse our celebration of the season with meaning and glowing memories. And, in ways you may not realize, they point us to the birth of Christ. Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas reveals the people, places, and events that shaped the best-loved customs of this merriest of holidays. Here are spiritual insights, true-life tales, and captivating legends to intrigue you and your family and bring new luster and depth to your celebration of Jesus’ birth. Discover how • after eighteen centuries of all but ignoring the event, churches began to open the door for believers to commemorate Jesus’ incarnation. • the evergreen tree, once a central theme in the worship practices of pagan cultures, came to represent the everlasting love of God. • the magi’s three gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—are filled with spiritual symbolism. The traditions of Christmas lend beauty, awe, and hope to the holiday, causing people all over the world to anticipate it with joy. The stories in this book will warm your heart as you rediscover the true and eternal significance of Christmas.

Slightly updated from an older version, this book maintains its simplicity in celebrating the wonder of the season.  It focuses on the traditions as being centered around Jesus and Christianity, and includes some well-known and not-so-known information.  After describing each tradition, the author explains why they should be a part of any Christian's home at Christmastime (hint : each has religious significance).  It was interesting to see that Christmas, as we celebrate it today, is a fairly new idea - developed primary in just the past couple of centuries.  The English monarchy had quite a bit to do with making it a common practice to celebrate with these traditions, thus bringing them to the British colonial regions (including America).  The popularity of these traditions was then perpetuated by marketing personnel, hoping to cash in on sentiment.  There are a lot of fascinating stories - and histories - tucked in these's definitely worth reading once!

One thing that left me hanging, however, was where the author obtained his information.  There is no bibliography, no endnotes, no footnotes, no mention anywhere of the source of this it could all be made up!  It was interesting for sure, but without that, I'm not sure how much stock I'd put into it.

The Marriage Mentor (Steve & Rhonda Stoppe)
Imagine if your good friends were a couple dedicated to help you build the marriage you've always dreamed of. Steve and Rhonda are that couple. After three decades of helping couples build no-regrets marriages, the Stoppes have compiled their success secrets into this easy-to-read, fun, and interactive book. It will help you ...learn to engage in meaningful conversation break free from regrets that hold you back renew your hope for lifelong love. Every page feels like a candid conversation with a friend. You will laugh and learn from a biblical perspective the secrets to enjoying a marriage that lasts a lifetime.

This book, divided into separate readings for the husband and wife, is a no-punches-pulled approach to marriage. It uses real-life scenarios from the authors’ marriage and talks about what they learned from each and how you can apply them to your own marriage. The authors address special situations, such as abuse and divorce, and more-common situations, such as only one partner being willing to work at the marriage. Each chapter addresses a scenario that is common to marriages, such as the feeling of falling out of love, parenting toddlers and teens, attraction and sex, fighting and a need for respect, and times of crisis. The chapters are short, easy reads that will occasionally have you laughing along with the author. Men read the parts written by the husband; women read the parts written by the wife – this format make it very easy to relate.

Feel Better Fast & Make It Last (Daniel Amen)
We've all felt anxious, sad, traumatized, grief-stricken, stressed, angry, or hopeless at some point in life. It s perfectly normal to go through emotional crises or have periods when you feel panicked or out of sorts. It is how you respond to these challenges that will make all the difference in how you feel not just immediately, but also in the long run. Unfortunately, many people turn to self-medicating behaviors, such as overeating, drugs, alcohol, risky sexual behavior, anger, or wasting time on mindless TV, video games, Internet surfing, or shopping. And even though these behaviors may give temporary relief from feeling bad, they usually only prolong and exacerbate the problems or cause other, more serious ones. Is it possible to feel better and make it last? Renowned physician, psychiatrist, brain-imaging researcher, and founder of Amen Clinics Dr. Daniel Amen understands how critical it is for you to know what will help you feel better fast, now and later. In Feel Better Fast and Make It Last, you ll discover new, powerful brain-based strategies to quickly gain control over anxiety, worry, sadness, stress and anger, strengthening your resilience and giving you joy and purpose for a lifetime.

In my former life, I was a counselor, and this would be the kind of book that I would pull out as both a reference and recommendation for clients.  Divided into seven separate sections, the book breaks down the concepts of nourishment, attachment, love, rationality, and inspiration as they relate to the brain.  It also covers the basic neurology of the brain and what it terms the "X-Factor," which was lessons learned from brain scans of patients, along with their patient histories.  Finally, there is a section with FAQs, a quiz / checklist, information about common blood tests from the doctor (as they relate to the brain), and a long list of resources and works cited.  If I had to choose only one section for the busy person to read from this book, it would be the N-Nourishment section, as improper nourishment is often the root of many Western problems.  My biggest gripe with the book is the overuse of or two make it easy to remember steps, but several just get confusing.

I received some of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Monday, October 22

We Didn't Start the Fire (Billy Joel)

I'm no stranger to fire.  Back during my high school years, our boarding school burnt slap up.  We'd had several fire drills, but in the 'heat of the moment,' it was a different animal.  Some of us had the flu.  It was bedtime.  Some were in the showers.  It was the same time of the month that we usually had drills.  All of these factors added up to a few people blowing off the "fire drill," and just trying to get some rest.  
Luckily, one of the security guards came through the hall and ensured that everyone was safely out.  We may have stood around outside for hours in a towel, but we were safe.  Afterward, thirty girls were left homeless, and the only place to put us was in the guest apartment, conveniently located in the boys' dorm!  Don't worry.....we made the most of it.  *wink*  See those clothes....other girls at school donated their own clothes, and they became "new to us."  (Incidentally, as we passed things around, it also generated the phrase "Smells ok; it's clean to me!")  We shared a lot over the next month or so, bonded quite a bit, and came back to a new & improved hall the next year.

Would you know what to do if a fire started in your home? Would your kids? Take the time now to review fire safety facts and tips so your family will be prepared in the event of a fire emergency in your home.

Fire Unit :
Fire Safety Precautions :
These memories were stirred up, and the need for fire safety precautions brought to the forefront at our home recently, when the (quite large) shop caught fire and burned down within an hour or so.  It was a total loss, but no one was hurt.
Who'd have thought that something so large would come down in so short a time?

Our son was excited that he wouldn't have to mow the lawn anymore!!

Even the metal items were so badly scorched that they disintegrated as we tried to move them.

Inside, we found a few remnants of tools leftover from the 1930's-1960's.  These were "family heirlooms," passed down from one carpenter to the next.

They're just things, and most things can be replaced.  But not all of them.  There are a lot of memories in this building....

Wednesday, October 10

Sister Golden Hair (America)

If you've ever thought to yourself, "Man, I sure wish she'd show some more pictures of her family, and less of the places she visits....well, today is your lucky day!"

As you've probably noticed, the beach is a special place for us Okies to visit...but one beach in particular is extra special, because that is our family time.

We visit the Pumpkin Patch and pick out pumpkins for the kids to carve for autumn...

We also hit up the Fall Festival and see the local artisans and crafts.

There are always a few trips up Jockey's Ridge...

......followed by trips to the seashore....

....although the kids have varying degrees of fondness for the water....

Some of us look a little rougher around the edges than others, but we make up one, big, happy family!

The kids dig for shells, go wave-diving, and get soaked!

This is where the kids almost always elect to have their school year photos done.  It's not professional-grade, but still just as good!

At Jockey's Ridge, they also discovered this sand castle...

All grown up (at least, in age), with kids of our own!

Being an airplane family, a trip to the Wright Memorial is a must....

Back to the beach!

This month-long trip is capped off with a night of trick-or-treating, followed by the mandatory candy sorting event.  

From the oldest to the youngest, each child brings something unique to the table.  We're blessed to have the opportunity to spend a huge chunk of quality time with family members who live so far away.....Octobers are sacred!