Dark Glass Ponderings

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. -1 Corinthians 13:12

Title: A Stray Drop of Blood
Auithor: Roseanna M. White
Publication Date: 2005, 2009

My rating: 4.5/5

A few months ago, I won A Stray Drop of Blood on Carman's blog.  To be honest, I had not heard of either Roseanna or her book.  The premise sounded intriguing.  Although I have to admit what truly drew my interest to this book was the fact that I had seen several comparisons to Francine Rivers, a favorite author of mine.

I love biblical fiction and Roseanna's book brings the time period of Christ to life. Roseanna's characters are so hauntingly real that you find yourself considering their predicaments long after you put the book down for the night.  They are also complex.  I found myself struggling with conflicting emotions towards each character as their actions were portrayed throughout the novel.  There are no "stock" characters here.

Roseanna writes an honest portrait of history during the time of Christ.  She neither sanitizes the characters and situations, nor does she glorify sin.  In recent years I believe we have also seen the "feminizing" of history as it is rewritten to suit our preconceived notions.  That is not the case in A Stray Drop of Blood.  The treatment of women and slaves during the time of Christ is realistic. A Stray Drop of Blood richly contrasts the cultures of Rome and Jerusalem.

As a research nut, it was clear Roseanna has tirelessly examined every detail of the novel.  Roseanna provides a companion guide to the novel on her website.  Roseanna's book is such a quick page-turner, I found I was not ready to put it down when I finished.

At the end of reading A Stray Drop of Blood I contemplated the power of the blood of Christ in my own life.  Roseanna captures the struggle between spirit and flesh when two of the main characters return to their former sinful ways.  I found myself very frustrated by the situation, much as I find myself frustrated by my own sinfulness at times.  Roseanna's is an honest portrayal of the journey we all face in our walk of faith.

I am quite surprised that A Stray Drop of Blood has not received more press.  It is an excellent debut novel and I look forward to reading more by Roseanna in the future.

Wildflowers of Terezin has been one of my favorite novels of 2010.  I reviewed the novel here:
Review: Wildflowers of Terezin.  I was fortunate to be able to ask Robert Elmer a few questions about himself and the novel.  Be sure you will read more Elmer reviews on Dark Glass Ponderings in future.

 Reading the afterword, I see you were inspired to write Wildflowers of Terezin as a result of stories shared by your Denmark-born parents.  Were there any specific incidents in Wildflowers or your Underground series that come directly from your family’s experience?

I would say the context was inspired by their stories--stories that made me dig more deeply into the historical record. My father lived in Copenhagen during the war; he was a young teen during the worst of it. He tells me stories of how he went to school, and suddenly one day three of his classmates didn't show up for class. They, of course, were his Jewish classmates. Not long after that, his Uncle Robert (the man I was named after) was riding his bicycle through the city streets, and was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle. (Remember that scene in WILDFLOWERS?) Unfortunately, in real life Uncle Robert was killed. So it was very rough in those days, particularly in late 1943 and 1944.

My mother, who lived on a more remote (and thus more peaceful) island in the south of Denmark, had an older brother who would disappear at night to take part in Resistance activities against the Nazis. He apparently was very secretive and wouldn't speak about it, however.

 I love the quotes you shared in the beginning of each chapter.  I keep a quote notebook and several of these quotes made it in my notebook.  Is there any particular figure during the World War II time period that most strongly inspires you?

The courage of King Christian inspires me. As many people know, he would ride daily through the streets of Copenhagen on his horse, seeking to encourage the people. When one of the German occupiers asked him why he didn't have a bodyguard with him, the king simply replied that his people were his bodyguards. Talk about courage!

How did writing Wildflowers as an adult novel, compare to writing your young adult “Young Underground” series?

That's an interesting question. They both started out in the same place, using much of the same research, and relied on many of the same settings. Of course, in WILDFLOWERS I could get into the heads and motivations of the adult characters much more deeply, so that would be the greatest difference. But I have to say, writing WILDFLOWERS took me back to the days when I was putting together the "Young Underground" adventures. I treasure both experiences.

I notice your books span through several genres: contemporary, historical, young adult.  Do you have a favorite genre to write?

Honestly I love them all. I love writing for younger readers, because I'm a kid at heart. But I also enjoy historicals because of the challenge of making the past come alive. I just can't decide! :-)

Can you tell me about your next project on the horizon?

Right now I'm immersed in my new position, serving as a writer/editor at a university. I'm working on helping edit a testimony/autobiography, and my idea file is percolating, so stay tuned!

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to read and review Wildflowers of Terezin I thoroughly enjoyed this book and feel I can give it the highest recommendation!

Thank you so much. This book came straight from my heart--a book I just had to write!

It seems most book bloggers fall into one of several approaches when it comes to reviewing a book they did not enjoy:

1) Brutally honest blogger: This type of blogger believes that s/he is giving the reader a service in sharing an honest opinion that might save another reader some money.  For most brutally honest bloggers, I believe they view giving their honest opinion as a form of integrity.

2) Empty page blogger: This type of blogger also views himself/herself as an honest blogger, but follows a different approach.  "If I don't like it, I don't write about it" is their philosophy.  It can be an excellent way to avoid causing dissension.  Also many bloggers are published authors or aspiring-to-be published authors, so they may know the pain caused by a negative review.

3) Its not my "cuppa" blogger: This type of reviewer might fall somewhere in the middle.  His/her philosophy is that  enjoyment of a book is highly subjective and dependent on many factors.  I didn't enjoy this book, but don't let that hold you back.

I think sometimes the best approach is to fit in all three categories, dependent on the time and occasion.

Recently I published what I think of as my first "negative" review:

I strive to be honest in my reviews, but also kind in my words.  Often I am an empty page blogger, however, when it strikes close to the heart I must become a brutally honest blogger.

I bring up a highly controversial subject...occasionally my integrity as a blogger demands it.   We each have certain beliefs whether in our code of ethics, religion, or any other values  that are central to us.  I believe we each must decide what these issues are.  Sometimes as bloggers I believe we can and should be confrontational...

But most of the time I believe we should be encouraging.

What about you? What is your blog review philosophy?  Does it change dependent on the circumstances?

Wildflowers of Terezin was one of my favorite reads of the year so far.  Stay tuned tomorrow for a short interview with Robert Elmer.  I would love to be able to sit down with Robert's family, as I'm sure they would have lots of fascinating stories to share.

In that vein, I've decided to dedicate this column to teaching World War II to children through literature.   As a former English major, assistant librarian, homeschool mom, bookworm, and aspiring author I naturally lean towards teaching through literature.  The second World War is one of my favorite eras to read about.  So I've decided to compile a World War II reading list.

Ages 9-12:

Dover Coloring Books Story of World War II: In my opinion the Dover coloring books are a fantastic way to teach history.  They're inexpensive and fun.

The Devil in Vienna by Doris Orgel: I remember reading this in elementary school and several scenes have planted themselves firmly in my memory.  It is a beautiful and painful story of two girls, one Jewish and one a member of the Hitler Youth, determined to maintain a friendship even as the country falls prey to the Third Reich.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: I read many books by Lois Lowry during my youth, and all were extraordinary.  Number the Stars is a favorite of mine and tells the story of a young girl's journey of maturation during the tumultuous Danish resistance.

World War II (DK Eyewitness): I have not read this particular volume, but Elizabeth really enjoys the DK Eyewitness books.  They are informative, colorful, and fantastic at answering all those "why" questions we usually end up "googling."

Young Adults and Adults:

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank: Although it seems cliche to add this quintessential World War II book I do feel it is one that every child and adult should read.  I suggest the abridged version for children as the unabridged version does have some more adult content.

The Zion Covenant series by Brock and Bodie Thoene: I enjoyed this series for its well-researched historical content and Christian perspective on the time period. 

Wildflowers of Terezin by Robert Elmer

Songs in the Night series by Jack Cavanaugh: This is a beautiful story of one pastor's heroic actions and a powerful story of restoring a marriage.

Winter Passing trilogy by Cindy Martinusen

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom: My all-time favorite World War II read.  If you have ever struggled with bitterness or forgiving someone spend a bit of time in Corrie's world.  This is a life-changing read with real characters who struggle through intense fiery trials, but ultimately triumph through their faith in the God who loves them.

I have some World War II books in the stack for which I've heard fantastic reviews: No Other by Shawna K. Williams and A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin.

Do you enjoy reading about the World War II era?  Do you have any favorite books set during this era?

Title: The Hole in Our Gospel: The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World
Author: Richard Stearns
Publication Date: 2009

My rating: 1/5

I just hate posting negative reviews!  Laura Frantz's recent post on book reviews and the multitude of comments that followed are well worth reading.  As I read the comments posted by other book reviewers, I am comforted to realize I am not alone in my viewpoint.

(As an aside, congratulations to Laura on the great review from Christian Book Distributors.  I was excited to see your book touted by the CBD fiction reviewer as I turned the pages of the summer catalog.  I can't wait to read Courting Morrow Little!)

In my mind there are two factors that necessitate a negative review :(Personally, I believe I can include a negative comment in a largely positive review.  I do like to encourage, though, and I think it is the education major in me that believes I should give four positives for every negative).

1) A publishing company has required me to post the review on my blog.  I attempt to maintain integrity as a blogger, occasionally this necessitates writing a negative review.

2) The second reason is my own personal convictions.  I believe God desires us to be "watchmen on the walls" (Isaiah 62:6).  We are called to be guard ourselves and our own lives, but I further believe we have a responsibility to protect others in the body.  I am in a small group study on the book of Nehemiah.  In Nehemiah 4, Nehemiah sets watchmen on the walls to protect the walls, especially in places where they are most vulnerable.  Each of us as believers has vulnerable places.  I believe to protect each other we are sometimes called to provide a warning service (2 Corinthians 11:4).

We recently had a high-school age neighbor ask us to sponsor her mission trip to Haiti through World Vision...and we did.  Richard Stearns is the United States President of World Vision.  When I saw The Hole in the Gospel offered as part of the review program through Thomas Nelson I was intrigued by it.

Lately Chris and I have been thinking and praying about outreach.  We agree with Stearns' view that the church in America is often too internally focused.  Chris and I particularly feel our hearts led towards India as we sense a leading to adopt a child from an orphanage.  We were saddened in our heart when we realized it is not uncommon for children as young as our own to be placed in an orphanage after both parents are martyred for their Christian faith.  Sadly I don't recall Christian martyrs being touched on in Stearns book, although the numbers around the world are astounding.

I believe Stearns has a right heart.  We need to be taking more action as a church on AIDS, disease, hunger, lack of clean water, and a myriad of other issues.  Unfortunately, I cannot "get on board" with Stearns vision, because I strongly disagree with the theology that undergirds World Vision U.S.

In the introduction, Stearns states that:

"the whole gospel is a vision for ushering in God's kingdom--now, not in some future time, and here, on earth, not in some distant heaven.  What if two billion people embraced this vision of God transforming our world through them?  Imagine it.  Indeed, what if even two thousand people took their faith to the next level--what might God do?  Two thousand years ago, the world was changed forever by just twelve." (Stearns, 5)

I do not believe we can usher in God's kingdom, only God can do that.  I believe the words spoken in the book of Revelation are true and living and speak of a future time when Jesus Christ will usher in God's kingdom after the Great Tribulation spoken about in the Scriptures.

Nor can we change the world alone.  It is the Holy Spirit working in and through us that will bring about true and lasting change.  Yes, we need to work on meeting the physical needs of those around the world, as well as the spiritual needs.  In the book of Acts two thousand years ago the world was changed forever not by twelve but by Jesus Christ's indwelling of the twelve at Pentecost (see Acts 2).

I believe we are called to feed the hungry, but we are also called to witness using our words. I take objection to Stearns view we should preach the word "in Christian-majority contexts, where our witness can be fully expressed" (302).  We are called to witness to all nations.  I am a strong admirer of Voice of the Martyrs which supports many around the world who will not keep Jesus' name quiet even in the face of imprisonment and death.

I am disappointed to give The Hole in the Gospel a negative review.  I do feel that World Vision has done works of merit around the world, unfortunately after reading more about their theology, I do not feel I can support them financially any longer.

Disclosure: Thank you to Thomas Nelson publishers for providing this book for me to review.

Yesterday as a consequence for disobedience and lying, Elizabeth went to bed early.  I found her in her room crying over missing evening story hour.  I was quite teary myself by that point.

Story hour is the most blissful time of day here in upstate New York.  Elizabeth and Noah soak our bed pillows with their dripping-from-bathtime tresses.  We are all serene, laden in our most comfy pajamas.  Our bed is mounded with stuffed animals.  Mom and Dad's handwarmers are a pair of mugs with our children's pictures on them filled with a delightfully steamy cup of our current favorite tea.

Its hard to narrow down top picture books, so this will likely end up as a series spotlighting some of our favorites.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf is 2-year-old Noah's current favorite.  Warning: This story is not for the faint of heart.  My husband and I vaguely remembered this book from childhood but chuckles ensued when Noah recently received this book from his grandparents.  My 2-year-old son who has removed the curtain rod and used it as a sword to chase his sister probably loves it for this very reason.  There is no violence, but there is threatened violence in this tale of a peaceful bull whose favorite hobby is sniffing the flowers.

Elizabeth and I have long been fans of the entire If You Give a... series by Laura Numeroff.  These books are delightfully illustrated by Felicia Bond.  Our favorite is If You Give a Pig a Pancake.  There is a delightful version of this book on audiocassette read by David Hyde Pierce, however it has gone out-of-print.  We read the whole series on a weekly basis.

This is another book we read almost nightly.  I think the Frog and Toad books are excellent at illustrating for children what it means to be a friend.  I'm  pleased to see that Elizabeth really picks up on the values of the books we read.  She noticed Frog is dishonest in the first story in Frog and Toad Are Friends and it troubled her. I guess the parent has to use discernment, but I also think sometimes a story like this can create opportunity for values discussions.

The Wemmick books by Max Lucado still make me tear up.  You Are Mine and You are Special are my favorites in this series.  The lessons in where self-worth truly comes from are valuable for all ages. 

How could I fail to include the charming Beatrix Potter in my list of favorite children's books?  We are in fact currently doing a unit study on gardens in our homeschool, based around The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  The kids like Peter Rabbit, but I think my personal favorite is The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. 

What about you?  What are your favorite children's books? 

OK, I hope I'm not stealing anyone's slogan here.  I wanted to feature homeschooling on Tuesdays because it is a passion of mine.  I've decided to change the slogan to teach and  learn Tuesdays for a few reasons.  First of all, I know there are many passionate Christian parents who decide not to homeschool for a variety of reasons.  Whether or not we homeschool, I strongly believe as Christians we are called to teach our children.  

Deuteronomy 6:7:You shall teach them (the law) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

This is a daunting task.  Teaching is an incredibly humbling process.  Everyday I find myself learning something through the process of homeschooling.  Patience, self-discipline, perseverance...sometimes I truly feel as though my kids are teaching me more than I am teaching them.  

Everyday I approach my computer with a list of topics my daughter wants to learn more about.  My 5-year-old daughter's new favorite phrase is "let's google it."  

 I want to be filled with her endless sense of curiosity.  I want a thirst for God's word that can't be satiated.  I want to take in gulp after gulp of the Bible, downing cup after cup until I nearly have heartburn,  the way I drank water during the end of my pregnancies.

It's convicting to be taught about gratitude from a 2-year-old.  Noah's prayers each night are an endless stream of "thank yous."  He notices and thanks God for the little things that happen throughout the day...simple things that often go unnoticed by my husband and I.  He thanks God that he didn't have to wash his hair in the bath and that Wegmans had apples (I've still yet to figure out why my junk food loving kids always choose the apple at the grocery store kid's club...but I'm sure not complaining).  How often is gratitude the central attitude in my heart?  

Yet my kids aren't perfect.  Far from it.  When my daughter refuses to pray for a few nights in a row...I sense the dryness in my own heart.  When my son lays on the floor writhing and screaming his new favorite phrase ("No way") I am forced to contemplate my own heart's reluctance to walk in complete obedience to God at times.  I see my own rawness and brokenness.  I pray God uses this to build compassion in me towards my children.  I pray that my words and actions towards my children would always be filled with grace and love.  

I'm convinced this is the ultimate myth of the homeschooling mom, that she's merely a teacher.  Ultimately maybe God has called us to be homeschooling moms because we have so much to learn...that can only be taught through the mirror of our children.  Because I want so much more than academic success for my children.  I want to be truly able to say "follow me as I follow Christ" to my children.

Have your kids been teaching you anything lately?

Title: The Anonymous Bride
Author: Vickie McDonough
Series: Texas Boardinghouse Brides #1
Publication Date: 2010

My rating: 4.5/5

I love reading a book that bursts my genre stereotypes!

I remember as a teenager my mother letting me borrow a series of Western prairie romances.  Now as a new Christian, I was really interested in Christian fiction.  I wanted to read books that would uplift and encourage me in my new faith.  However when I entered the bookstore all I found was a tiny section entitled Christian fiction.  Ninety percent of the books sounded like Little House on the Prairie knock-offs, the other 10% were written by Frank Peretti.  Unfortunately for many years I returned to reading secular fiction, very disappointed with novels that seemed to have the same tired plot.

My husband will attest to the fact that when I received this book I actually looked at the cover and groaned.  As a Christian I had no interest in secular romance novels and after reading these insipid prairie novels as a teenager, I could say the same for Christian romance. However, Ms. McDonough, you have created a rip-roaringly funny historical romance.

Luke Davis returns to his hometown after a decade.  When he is given a job as the town marshal, he is disconcerted to discover he is expected to take his meals at the town boardinghouse...the same boardinghouse run by widow Rachel Hamilton who once jilted him.  As a new Christian, Luke struggles with moving on...and discovers the boulder in the way is his forgiving Rachel.

Rachel's life circumstances have been most unfavorable.  While Ms. McDonough's novel is side-splittingly, wear your Depends hailarious she also deals respectfully with serious issues.  Although child/spousal abuse is not common in Christian historicals, unfortunately it has been a frighteningly real experience for women throughout history.  Rachel's guilt, shame, and healing throughout the novel were very authentic.

Throw into the mix Luke's hillbilly cousins, who decide Luke is in need of a wife and invite three different women to town to fill the "role"... and  resulting chaos is as comical as a three-ring circus with the whole town cheering on the sidelines.

I will be anxiously awaiting the second novel, Second Chance Brides...and wondering what Providence has in store for the other "brides."

Disclosure: This book was received as part of GoodReads FirstReads program.

Thank you to Wyn  from Wyn is Reading Books for giving Dark Glass Ponderings the Bodacious Blogging Book Reviewers Award.  And we are passing it on. The rules are:

If you are given this award you must first accept it by leaving a comment on the post you were nominated on. Then copy and paste the post and add it to your own blog. Make a list of the last 5 books you read and pass the award on to 5 other bloggers (no backsies!). Please also identify the blog from which you got the award and don't forget to tell them they have a blog award!

Given to each of you for all your "bodacious" posts and the frequency with which you update your site. Never a dull moment on any of these great blogs, be sure to check them out!

This award is presented to the following who are tasked with passing it forward:
Carla at Writing to Distraction

Andrea at Ask Andrea
Sally at Book Critiques
Debbie at Different Time, Different Place Book Reviews
Linda at Mocha with Linda

My last 5 books read:
The Anonymous Bride by Vickie McDonough

Wildflowers of Terezin by Robert Elmer
Stuck in the Middle by Virginia Smith
Third Time's a Charm by Virginia Smith
Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico by Lena Nelson Dooley

Technical Note: First of all, I think my husband managed to successfully fix the comment box.  So let me know if you are having any issues with it please.

Sometimes when it comes to my faith I can really be a slow learner.  At times it feels like God is teaching me the same lessons over and over again.  He simply changes the circumstances.

One continual battle in the Christian life is pride.  I know it is for me.  It can take on many faces.  In my case it often takes on the form of concern about other people's opinions.

I want to be liked.  I think I need to be liked.  It can become a form of idolatry as I begin desperately seeking the love and approval of others, instead of resting in the love and approval of my Heavenly Father.

In the mornings I am reading through the book of 1 Samuel.  The character that the Lord has been putting on my heart is Saul.  Saul shows the danger of looking for the approval of others above the approval of God.  Oh how I sometimes want to be David, a person after God's own heart...but at times I find myself in Saul, desperately seeking the approval of others.

I love the realness of the men and women of the Bible. God brings about the raw ache in our soul as we see our failings, our desperate hearts towards Him.  Then He shows us Hope.  He doesn't leave us with the raw aching wound...he tends to us tenderly as a Lamb...even during times of discipline He is ever healing.  He doesn't just bandage over our wounds but tenderly heals them up completely...until our skin (and hearts) are soft and new.

And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as [being] from ourselves, but our sufficiency [is] from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; [fn] for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. -2 Corinthians 3:4-6

God has recently recaptured in my heart the dream I have held as long as I can remember, to write.  I began a blog because I felt words tugging in my heart that needed to be expressed.  

In the blogosphere I think the temptation is great to appear as someone that has it all together.  I read blogs and am amazed at Beth (OK, this is not directed at any specific blogger, I just made up a generic name.  So please don't sue me.) who creates her own curriculum for her 10 (dressed in matching outfits, of course) children, makes all her bread from  scratch, has the stores paying her for groceries, and all the while has a home business making quilts and selling them on the internet.  The scary thing is I think there is a little part inside me that wants to be that woman.  You know, the one everyone thinks is amazing...

If you watched me inside my house today you would find my son covered in bougars.  Yes, that's about as real as it gets, folks.  We are all viral here.  I wash him down and a few minutes later he's covered again.  Chicken nuggets were on the menu this afternoon, so we have several more dirty towels because my children think its delightful that barbecue sauce resembles blood and works sort of like finger paint.  We are working through Mount Washmore...does it ever end??  I haven't even dealt with the thermometer battle, I'm just not up for that much screaming.

But for now there's a peaceful moment...kids are sleeping.  The beautiful silence was just punctuated by my husband yelling "Ow" as he works in the basement.  

Better go check for blood.


Title: Wildflowers of Terezin
Author: Robert Elmer

My rating: 5/5

Ever since reading Diary of Anne Frank in sixth grade I have been captivated by World War II and Holocaust literature.  A good book is like a double espresso shot, it keeps you up turning page after page.  A great book keeps you awake long after, placing yourself in the minds of the characters.  Yet a great Christian book is a double espresso shot to your faith: it encourages, convicts, and challenges..giving a fresh jolt of energy.  Wildflowers of Terezin takes a blue ribbon in all three categories.

Elmer excels in historical accuracy, creating a book that engages the senses.  The reader can nearly smell the stench of the deportation trains, hear the Danes singing the national anthem, feel Bela's forehead as her temperature breaks.

Each character is richly drawn.  All too often villians become cardboard caracatures, especially when World War II era Europe is the subject. I love the pointed contrast between brothers Henning and Steffen.  Henning repeatedly tells Steffen 'return to your kirke (church)."  Henning's character is found in all those who rightly criticize the church as hypocrites when we lack the action to match our talk. 

Love demands action.  Due to his love for Hanne, Steffen is willing to go to the ultimate lengths even risking his own life for her sake.

What lengths will we go to in order to demonstrate our love for Christ and for those He created?  I enjoyed watching Steffen's character evolve from a pastor who preaches through the same notes annually to a man on fire for the Lord. 

We live in a time when the Gospel message is becoming watered down by many churches, particularly in this country where we have been blessed with so much abundance.  Will each of us stand up and tell the Truth, even if it is offensive to the government?  What risks are we willing to take for our faith?  Mr. Elmer relentlessly asks us these questions, using the character of Steffen. 

Wildflowers of Terezin is a beautiful and lyrical novel that kept me self-reflecting long after I finished the last page.  Robert Elmer’s book is a must-read and I look forward to his next project.

Disclosure: I was provided this book free as a review copy from the author.  

First I loved my new template.  I feel it shows the beauty of God's creation and gives across a feeling that matches the tone of my blog.  I was just plain bored with the options blogger offered. 

However, I didn't realize how frustrating changing a format can be.  I can't figure out if there's a way I can change the size of my right-sized column.  My logos don't fit in there.  And I couldn't figure out a way to get feedburner to mesh appropriately with the new setting.  And I've heard from two people that they've been unable to write comments.

So please bear with me...I feel like such a newbie at all this stuff.  I'm hoping to get my tecchie hubby to help me figure this all out.  

I'm sorry for any inconvenience.  

Jessie Andersen of Read Between the Lines graciously passed on this award to me.  The Sunshine award is for creativity and inspiration.

Since she already received this award I would like to introduce you to Holly Jennings at one of my favorite blogs, Holly Goes Lightly.

Another favorite blog of mine that has already received this award is Nora St. Laurent's Finding Hope Through Fiction.

I would like to accept and pass on to the following blogs:

1) Roseanna White of Writing Roseanna

2) Laura Frantz

3) Cathy Bryant of Word Vessel

4) Emily Ann Benedict of Benedictions

5) Steph at The Creative Side of Me

 The rules for accepting the award are:
1) Put the logo within my blog or on my post
2) Pass the award onto 12 fellow bloggers
3) Link the nominees within my post
4) Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog
5) Share the love and link to the person whom you received this award from.

Homeschooling is one of my passions.  I hesitate to write about the subject of homeschooling because I know I am far from being an expert.  I've had many people ask why I decided to homeschool.  Some are merely curious, a few are supportive and I think most are skeptical.  Unfortunately, its my understanding that some Christians in the church have suffered from the opposite.  They truly love the Lord but do not feel a calling to homeschool.  And they too are undergoing grief from those who should be supportive.  

I'm curious for those that do homeschool, how did you make that decision.  I was an education major in college and the odd thing is I sort of ended up homeschooling because it became a hobby of mine when my daughter was a baby.  The main reason I homeschool are to shelter my children (which has become a dirty word in this society).  I do believe in teaching our children about other worldviews, but I believe children need to have a thorough grounding in their own faith first.  

The other reason I homeschool is that these days just go too quickly.  I want to cherish each moment.  I want my children to be each other's best friends.  

I love that we can start each day off with the Bible.  Elizabeth asks all the questions she wants.    It is not popular to ask too many questions or raise your hand too often, but Elizabeth doesn't struggle with any of those fears.

I love that we can study our "collections" and call it school.  Elizabeth gets so excited about finding a mushroom or a different type of bug.  

Though those are the main reasons I homeschool, I think it all began with a passion that built slowly.  During naptime, as I cleaned the house I would listen to a homeschool podcast.  My mother-in-law told me about Old Schoolhouse magazine and I would devour the issues, keeping files of ideas to use for the future.  Homeschooling became a bit of a hobby to me (much as writing is a passion in my life).  Choosing my homeschool curriculum is like Christmas.

If you're a homeschooler and have not been to this site, you'll see what I mean.  Send for a catalogue.  Rainbow Resources.  Its the size of a phone book.  When God gives you a passion for something you just can't get enough.

Is there anything God has given you a passion for?  How did he build this passion in you?

I'm the type of person who seldom sends out greeting cards.  I suppose its mainly because I'm a snob.  You see  I  like to fancy myself as a writer.

In the rare occasion that I must purchase a card for you...be warned.  I will stand in the aisles of CVS for 15 minutes wincing as I pick up each card.  OK, family members ignore this next line.  Sometimes I just ask Liz which one looks the prettiest.  Because none of those cards express what I want to say.  I mean if you can't outsmart Hallmark, how sad is that?!

So it feels lame to write a tribute to my mother now.  My poor husband couldn't get away with proposing to me on Valentine's Day, for instance, and he knew it darn well.

I'm going to take the plunge and risk sounding all sentimental and sappy and cliched.

Since we're so much alike, I know your face looks like a beet right now, Mom.  Bear with me. 

Here in no particular order are seven things I admire about my mom:

1) When you're in a pinch, she's always there.

Like that afternoon when I started having major panic attacks during Moving Nightmare 2009.  We closed on the house we were selling and were in limbo with our new house.  Mom came over right away and helped me write a list of our options.  All while she was in the midst of helping my grandmother who had just had a stroke.

Which leads me to...

2) My mom gives practical solutions. 

Whether its driving my newlywed Grandma and her husband to cancer treatments, packing up her trailer for endless drop-offs during our move, or providing my kids with M&Ms to keep them entertained on a train ride she always steps up to do "the next thing" that is needed.

3) My mom is one smart lady.

I am a research nut.  I admit that I "google" anything and everything whether it be the latest Christian fiction releases or my children's health issues.  Before my children were born I worked in a library.

I'm convinced that my mom's "research" hobby kept my father alive for several years.  During his treatments for liver cancer she researched anything and everything medical.  As a result she became an advocate for my father (and developed a strange love for quantum physics...a love which I do not share...sorry, Mom).

4) My mom and I share the "shopping" love language.

I think I could fill a room with the plastic bags of various and sundry things I leave with every time I visit her house.  Usually these contain clippings of comics with computer nerds that remind her of my husband, other clippings which made her think of me (scary, at times), some sort of food item for the children, and maybe an item that no longer fits her decorating scheme. 

I get it, Mom.  I love to come home with "just becauses" for Chris.  Shopping at a different Wegmans is an "outing" for me.  My idea of the perfect day would involve an hour in Borders.  As my kids dump the stuffed animals on the floor one by one my husband sings the Dora "Clean Up" song.  OK, if you know him imagine Chris singing this in a nasal sarcastic tone.  No, wait, if you know him you can picture exactly how he would sing this song.

Recently I found out we do not both speak the "Goodwill" language.  I think my mom has been to a Goodwill in every city in this country, or at least it seems that way.  I take after the OCD tendencies on my father's side of the family.  My mom and I recently went to a Goodwill store in the Chicago area where I spent the whole time trying to herd two preschoolers around without having them put anything on their head.  I next proceeded to rub antibacterial wipes on every square unclothed inch of my childrens' bodies.  Sorry, Mom.

5) Even the little holidays were special growing up.

I remember how everything in our lunch was heart shaped on Valentine's Day and how you used to make a Jack O'Lantern face out of M&Ms in our oatmeal.  These are the things I try to keep up in my own family.  The best holidays seem to involve chocolate, don't they?

6) You didn't give up on us.

7) You chose to sacrifice your career to take care of our family in an era when all my friends parents had careers. 

From you I learned there are seasons and what I can give to my family right now is much more important than any outside contribution I could make.  I homeschool my kids because I don't want to miss a moment of it all.

Thank you, Mom.

Title: Stuck in the Middle
Series: Sister-to-Sister #1
Author: Virginia Smith

My rating: 3/5

I enjoyed Third Time's a Charm (Sister-to-Sister #3) and was really interested in getting the perspectives of the other sisters.  Stuck in the Middle is a fun read that incorporates romance, humor, caregiving...and of course, the adventures of the zany Sanderson sisters.

What I really enjoy about this series is that it manages to be a fun, light read, yet still deals with some heavier issues.  I was devastated as Joan's illusions were shattered about her father, for instance.  I think Allie's knowledge of the true reasons for the divorce and even feeling the need to keep this secret to protect her sisters is typical.  Knowledge can become a burden that's not always so easy to bear for the eldest.  

"Stuck" is an adjective that's so descriptive of Joan's life.  She feels stuck at a dead-end job as a manager of a rental store.  I think so many can relate to this feeling, especially in a less than stellar economy.  Joan feels that she is caught in the middle between her mother and grandmother.  I felt it was unusual for Joan as the middle daughter to be the one in a caregiving  position.  In my family, this role has typically been held by the eldest child, as my father took care of my Alzheimer's-laden grandmother...and my mother grew up with her grandmother living in an inlaw quarter in her house.  She is literally stuck in the middle between her sisters.  And I think most children of divorce must struggle with feeling stuck between two parents, even when one parent is obviously at fault.

Joan also feels stuck spiritually.  She has attended the same traditional church every week of her life, even made the designated altar call.  Yet as she listens to a missionary from the Middle East speak she realizes her faith has not had a practical impact on her life.  I think this is also very realistic, especially in our generation.  I appreciate Joan's surrender which is clear-cut, yet not preachy.

I also appreciated Ken's no compromise attitude in a culture where "missionary dating" is common.  Although Ken was interested in Joan, their first date doesn't take place until after she has surrendered her heart to the Lord.  

On the downside, I wished for more detail in some areas.  I would have loved to see even more development between Mike and Ken.  I have a heart for troubled kids and would have loved to see even a whole book devoted to Joan and Ken working kids from the apartments.  I also wish there was more attention devoted to Joan's relationship with her mother and father. It was clear that the revelations about her father were devastating to Joan and I would have loved more exploration on the impact.

All things considered, I have really enjoyed the Sister-to-Sister series.  It would be fun to read this along with Kevin Leman's Birth Order Book.  I look forward to reading Allie's saga as a stay-at-home mom and eldest child myself.

I'll admit it.  I broke one of my cardinal rules of reading: MUST read books in a series in the proper order.  When I saw this book was the pick for April for ACFW Book Club, I really wanted to read it but knew I wouldn't have time to finish the first two books in the series first.  ACFW stands for American Christian Fiction Writers, a fantastic group with all sorts of support resources for published and non-published Christian authors.  You can be a member of the ACFW Book Club without joining ACFW, though.  In fact you don't even need to be a writer, just a lover of Christian fiction.  What I appreciate about ACFW is that you have the opportunity to discuss the book you are reading with the author. You can also find out the latest on interviews and giveaways on the blogs of many Christian fiction authors.  I have been unable to find a face-to-face group that reads Christian rather than secular fiction, so I was excited to find this group.  As an aspiring author, I also enjoy learning about style through reading other's fiction.  If you are interested in checking out ACFW here is some more information:  ACFW Bookclub.

Anyway to get off my soapbox...I found Third Time's a Charm to be a fun read.  I would consider this to be in the genre of "women's fiction."  Sometimes I think the title of "chick lit" or even "women's fiction" can be used in a derogatory way implying a book with lack of substance, but that's definitely not the case here.      Smith deals with some serious issues such as drug abuse and the myriad of issues related to parental divorce.   

Although, or perhaps because I have never had sisters, I have always had an interest in reading books about sisters.  Third Time worked fine as a standalone, although I wished I had read the whole series in order.  I'm currently reading book #1 Stuck in the Middle and enjoying reading a different perspective.  I hope to have a review up in a few days.

I think this is a series that would be very appealing to many 20- and 30-somethings because of the life issues the characters face.  Oldest sister Allie leaves behind a career to be a stay-at-home mom. Middle daughter  Joan is still living at home and is a caretaker for her grandmother.  This book centers around Tori, the "baby" of the family. 

Tori is a high-powered marketing executive who is "married" to her job.  Tori's boss Kate is eerily reminiscent of the "bully boss" played by Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.  I think many women in all age brackets can relate to the tug-of-war between a demanding career, dating relationships, and family.  I have not worked in a corporate atmosphere, so find that I related more to Allie.  I'm looking forward to reading #2 Age Before Beauty to find out Allie's perspective.  

Tori and I are from very different worlds.  I am a stay-at-home mom who is comfortable in jeans priced closer to $30 than $300.  I am not the type of person who thrives in a high-pressure atmosphere, so I can't see myself choosing a career in public relations.  I have one brother and came from a loving home atmosphere. Yet I still found myself able to place myself in Tori's world, which is the mark of a good author, in my opinion.

Third Time's a Charm manages to be a fun and light read while still covering a few heavy topics very appropriately.  I have seen the effects of divorce in the lives of others and I felt Smith showcases issues children of divorce might struggle with realistically.  It is the search for Tori's father that leads her to see her heavenly father in a new light.  I am not a fan of conversion scenes that feel forced and unrealistic, but in my heart I found myself hoping the book could continue on as it seemed Tori was just beginning to make realizations about the true and living God.  

I would recommend Third Time's a Charm as a humorous and fun read that deals with finding balance, finding love in the right places, and finding and giving forgiveness.

My rating: 4.5/5

Arrived in Rochester at 12:41 a.m.  Chris (I've yet to think of brilliant blogosphere names for my family members) generously wiped the drool from all of our sleeping faces with wet wipes before we left the car.  Just jesting, although I was in a medication-induced coma for the last leg of the trip. Yes, we managed to drive Chicago to Rochester in one day, driving noon to midnight with two preschoolers in the backseat.  Yes, we are nuts.

Aside from the regular chores of unpacking the various useless goods we collected at various points along the way, hitting Wegmans for enough food to make it through the weekend without cooking, and vaccuuming a monster box of cheeziks as my kids affectionately call them from the floor of my Honda...we are resting. 

I decided to ask each family member their personal high point on the trip to Chicago.

Chris: "Coming home."  While we were touring the city, Chris was learning how to error-proof his data.  The more boring his job sounds, the prouder I feel of him.  Seriously, my husband is one smart guy. 

Elizabeth: "Seeing T-Rex." Seeing the infamous Sue at The Field Museum made for our most stressful day in Chicago, but it was worth it to hear my children gasp as we walked around around the most (add adjective...Sue's name is followed by a list of superlatives on the placard) Tyrannosaurus Rex. 

Getting to Sue was an adventure.  First we drove 10 miles to the nearest train station.  We watched the train pass as we pulled into the parking lot, so spent the next 45 minutes pacing through the outdoor station and herding children away from the tracks.  Then we spent 50 minutes on the train from Elgin Station to Union Station.  Its amazing the amount of sugar a mom will resort to in order to keep said children quiet on public transport.  There was not a single child on the train...except for mine, of course.  i noticed Chicago is not a very stroller friendly city. Traveling on public transport with strollers, a diaper bag that weighed nearly as much as my son ,and a purse stuffed with everything we didn't feel comfortable leaving in the hotel resulted in several glares as I desperately tried to fit it all in the 6-inch alloted space for my person.  I hunted out some nearby security to find out how to get to our station without using the giant staircases.  Then we took two separate buses into the city.  On both buses I eventually brought out the M&M packets.  Finally we were at the museum.  The ride home involved more of the same except it was rush hour and we were out of M&Ms.  On the 50 minute train ride I finally resorted to allowing my kids to do a seat dance while listening to kid songs on my iPod, as the suit-laden newspaper commuters glared. 

After studying dinosaurs in homeschool this last month, Sue was a must and worth every minute of the fuss.  After all, any mom can tell you, hearing that excited gasp makes almost anything worth it.  And as any homeschool mom can tell you, being peppered with questions from an excited learner makes absolutely anything worth it.

Noah: "Eatin' ice cream."  What can I say??  My two year old loves to eat and appreciates the finer things in life, especially if they include sugar.  I'm inclined to say that a Valrhona brownie with homemade coconut ice cream probably comes pretty close to the highlight of my trip, too.

Julia:  I'm inclined to agree with Liz that seeing a T-Rex skeleton for the first time was definitely the highlight.  Although I have to admit as a confirmed foodie and bookaholic I enjoyed shopping: Trader Joes, Whole Foods Market, The Olive Oil Place, Half-Price Books, and Lakeshore Elementary School Store. 

And of course I found some great books I'm hoping to review soon at Half-Price books, including several by fellow ACFW members.

So, in conclusion, if you plan on traveling with small children in the future...make sure your stash of sugary snacks is sufficient.

Julia M. Reffner

About Me

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Christ-loving bookworm & homeschool mom of 2 stealing the rare quiet moments to pursue that all elusive writing dream. I also write book reviews for Title Trakk and The Historical Novel Society.


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