Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: Diary of a Real Payne Book 1: True Story

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I am always in the market for new, wholesome books for the kids to read. When Barbour Publishing offered the first book in their Diary of a Real Payne series, Diary of a Real Payne Book 1: True Story by Annie Tipton up for review, I was eager to check it out. It is recommended for kids ages 8-12 and since I have two in that category, we decided to use this as a read aloud.

 photo ProductImageHandlerashx_zpsdee6635f.pngThe paperback book is 192 pages and divided into 15 chapters. Each chapter starts with a diary entry from the main character, Emma Jean (EJ) Payne. EJ is a 10 year old girl who is full of spunk and quite the character. The diary entries are written in the 1st person, by EJ, and the rest of the chapter tells the story of what was going on in their family at that time. EJ's dad is a pastor who loves God and games. Her mom is a 2nd grade teacher who has a knack for using anything handy to hold her beautiful hair in place. EJ has one brother, Isaac, who is 5 and starting Kindergarten, and they have a family dog names, Bert. The characters were easy for us to relate to and we loved that it was a Christian family.

EJ and her family live in Spooner, Wisconsin, which is a very small and boring town in EJ's mind. She dreams of leaving there for somewhere bigger and better. EJ loves to read and sometimes gets caught up in the stories she has read. I love that she chose to be Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables) for Halloween, even if people did think she was Wendy...from Wendy's Restaurant. LOL!

The story is sprinkled with Biblical truths, but living for the Lord is such a part of their family's life that it just flows with the story. This is the way I want our family to be! The parents lead by example and the kids notice and it changes the way they act.

For example: After having a contest to see who can shovel snow faster and clearing a cranky old man's driveway for him (remember that Pastor Payne likes to make things into games!), the kids start questioning why they bothered to do that when the man didn't want them there or thank them. Their dad replies, "If I'm kind only to the people who will do something good for me in return, who will treat me kind back, then that's not fully living the way Jesus wants me to." There are little lessons like that all through and we loved seeing how these "little" gestures changed the people later on in the story. I don't want to give too much away but trust me here. It's neat when it all starts coming together.

Reading while they draw the maps (and little dude runs around like crazy.
See him climbing on the chair in the background? lol)
EJ has a friend that is just mean to her and although the friend continues to be mean, EJ begins to see her differently and sometimes that is all that matters. EJ has learned from her parents that it is good to love and give, even when you don't get things in return, so is able to cook up quite a Christmas miracle.

I highly recommend reading this out loud with your family. Yes, the kids could read it alone, but we enjoyed the discussion and laughing at EJ's silliness together. I'm not normally a big "read out louder" but this one was worth stepping out of my comfort zone for. We took turns reading it to each other and even Big Daddy read a few chapters to us. It is an easy read and was a lot of fun to listen to. We also thought it was funny that there were characters named CoraLee (my mom is Coralee...she's not mean though like the CoraLee in the book - lol), Krista (my sister) and Leslie (your's truly).

P was reading to us while T drew/listened out back on a pretty day.

Diary of a Real Payne Book 1: True Story normally sells for $5.99 but is currently on sale for $4.49. We are excited to see that the next book in the series, Book 2: Church Camp Chaos is coming out in March 2014. You can follow EJ Payne on facebook too and keep up with all her adventures.


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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Growth Chart Makeover

We have been using this gorgeous growth chart for the past 8 years. It's called our laundry room wall. When we put our house up for sale last year, we decided we would just cut this wall out and take it with us when we left.  Well, the house didn't sell and we decided to wait a while to try to sell again, so just kept on drawing on that poor wall.


Until I saw some truly gorgeous growth chart rulers on pinterest and thought, "Hey! We can make one of those for WAY less than $70". And we did. About 5 months ago. And today, I finally transferred some of the dates over (at least one a year, but not all of them because goodness, I'm crazy with how often I was measuring the kiddos!) and Big Daddy hung it on the kitchen wall. 

It really was way cheaper than $70! We bought one board and used stain that we had. I ordered the numbers from my sister, who sells Uppercase Living for about $1ish each, and just used a Sharpie to draw the lines!

I love it! It is fun to compare how tall the kids were when they were the same age. And in the "not as fun" category, Captain C has been growing like a weed and has officially passed me...stinker!

We are also adding in each of our foster kids, with their name and the date they came, which will be fun to look back on.

It's the little things that make me smile.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: Chess House

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Terrific T has always liked chess and plays with Princess P and Captain C sometimes for fun. I wasn't sure if he actually knew how to play though, and  know it has been a LONG time since I knew all the rules so I was thrilled to be chosen to review the Starter Chess Learning Kit from Chess House. After watching the included, awesome DVD, Elliott's Chess School #1 PAWN Level DVD with the kids, I realized that none of us knew all the rules to chess and we have had a great time learning how to play together.

 We received everything pictured (full chess set with vinyl mat, DVD, and storage bag in black or green.), here, as well as a sweet chocolate surprise (you had me at chocolate!). I was concerned that the chessboard was rolled up in the bag, but it unrolled completely flat each and every time we played. There are zippered pockets in the bag to keep the colors separated, and a place to store the mat, DVD, and paper or anything else you wanted to include. The bag is a nice quality bag and it all seems like it will last for a long, long time.

We all watched the DVD together. There is a short lesson on each chess piece (maybe 5 minutes each - they were quick!), then a few strategy sections at the end. The sections are:
  • Intro to Chess (board, names of pieces, values)
  • Pawns
  • Rooks
  • Bishops
  • The Queen
  • The King
  • Knight
  • Castling
  • Pawn shields and when to break it
  • Development
We learned a lot. Such as...I had no idea that if a pawn makes it all the way to the other side, it becomes a second queen. WHAT?!?! This gave us a reason to move and be aggressive instead of hanging back and hiding out. The  lessons were quick and to the point, showing examples of each item talked about. The videos are made by Chess4Life and feature their founder, National Master Elliott Neff. He has been coaching chess for 18 years and knows his stuff. However, he doesn't talk like someone who is better than you or arrogant. He was kind and excited about teaching in the videos and that made them enjoyable for us to watch.


 I'm really impressed with the thought process that goes into chess. You have to constantly be thinking one (or more) steps ahead and paying attention. It isn't an "instant gratification" game like electronic games. Perseverance is important too. In one game, I was beating Captain C pretty easily and he wanted to quit. Why bother playing if you aren't going to win, right? Wrong! I made him keep playing and he came back to beat me fair and square (I don't throw games...except to toddlers). He was so pumped that he didn't quit after all! T was just playing where ever he wanted to play and ignoring the strategy suggestions in the DVD (and accompanying handout). When I was pretty much kicking his hiney, he asked, "Are you using the strategies he said?" Ummm...of course I am! That was his wake up call. He started using the pawn shield and other ideas presented. It was fun!

And I really like that it is a hands on game, and not an electronic game. Having to set the pieces in the right places by themselves, and sit patiently while your opponent plays are good skills in themselves. Games can take quite a while to play sometimes and I think just sitting quietly together made for great bonding memories.

All 5 of us have played and enjoyed chess during this review. Again, who knew? Even Princess P can play, although we do have to coach her a little to keep her from making fatal moves. But she is learning. We have been using Chess as a bribe to get school done quickly. Little do they know, that they are learning while they "play" too!

I highly recommend this set to anyone wanting to learn the game. It is recommended for ages 6-12, but is appropriate for all ages, in my opinion. It is normally $49.95 but currently on sale for $39.95. It contains everything you need to start playing today. The quality of the product is great and the video is spectacular. I'm looking into getting the second DVD for us so we can learn even more!

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: Zondervan NIV Homeschool Mom's Bible

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 photo niv_zps46b5b3b8.jpgI was so excited when Zondervan offered their Homeschool Mom's Bible, NIV for review and I was chosen to review it. I was interested to see how they combined homeschooling, being a mom, and God's Word...three of my favorite things. We received the hardcover Bible, which retails for $34.99.

It has a beautiful, inviting cover and dust jacket. I'm sure it is just one of my many quirks but dust jackets scare me. I was worried that the Bible itself would have a plain cover and when the dust jacket got torn up (because it would because I have children) it would be ugly. I was so happy that it was the exact same cover under the dust jacket - yay. Still beautiful! Love it!

OK, now that we have established that the Bible is pretty, let's see what is in it.

The Homeschool Mom's Bible has 365 devotions mixed in with the entire Word of God. Each devotion is labeled with a date, so you can start anywhere. I opened up to the current date, August 28th and the devotion was about "Fresh Starts" - fitting, huh? I love how God places the right things in your path and the right time.

For the Homeschool Mom's Bible, Zondervan teamed up with Alpha Omega Publishing, a leader in the homeschool community. Janet Tatum joined up with Alpha Omega Publishing after homeschooling her 4 children for 25 years (wow!). Mrs. Tatum is the author of the devotions throughout this Bible. The devotions are both encouraging and applicable to our daily life.

The topics of the devotions are perfect for homeschool moms - I loved Sept. 28 that was titled "The Great Pretender" about Hebrews 4:13, which says, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."  Mrs. Tatum tied this into homeschooling by explaining how if we pretend to know all the answers, our kids will see right through us. It's ok to say you don't know (or "let's 'google' that" in my case). And God knows when we are pretending too. Nothing can be hidden from Him. She reminds us that God knows our hearts! Each devotion ends in a prayer, then tells what page to find the next devotion on.

I have enjoyed the devotions a lot. They are short, but powerful. A great addition to your daily time with the Lord. I do wish the devotions were placed near the actual verse they reverenced. That August 28 one I posted above was located in Isaiah, even though the scripture referenced was in 2 Corinthians. However, I do like how they flow with the year, which I'm sure is how they decided which day to match them up with. "A fresh start" was just about the beginning of the school year, Sept. 11 was on "Tragic Memories" with a poem about 9/11 and others were seasonal too, so I guess you can't have everything - lol.

There is a great topical index in the back so you can find devotions on specific topics easily. It would be handy if they added a list that said what page each date's devotion was found on too to minimize the flipping.

There are also some footnotes/cross references on the bottom of the pages. This isn't a study Bible (I have one of those that I use for my normal daily devotions) but it is nice to have this extra info on there for when I was looking up the verses discussed in the devotions and reading the passages around them.

All in all, I really enjoyed this Bible. The devotions were easy to read and relate to my life. They take only a few minutes and can be added in easily any time you have 5 minutes for a boost of the Word and encouragement during the day. I often found myself reading other devotions later in the day after I had already read the one for that day.

I even took it on our trip to Branson and enjoyed His Word on the patio while the kids slept.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Do "wub!"

One of the things I have been working on in my life for the past few years (I'm clearly a slow learner!) is to see people like Jesus sees them, and to love people like Jesus loves them. He is really teaching me a lot with foster care. Not with the kids. We have only had 2 so far, but both have climbed right into my heart with no looking back. They are super easy to love!! I'm learning to not be judgmental and to try to see the parents like Jesus does.

I've been praying for our little dude's mom every day. I can't imagine how sad she is to not have this awesome guy with her. At our visit this week, I left just heartbroken for her. She loves him. I know it, but "feels hopeless" (quote from the case worker). I am praying that someone (us, if possible) can show her that there IS hope, but it's only found in Jesus! Unless she finds that Hope, she will continue to be hopeless, even if she gets this sweet boy back.

People keep saying that we are such a blessing to him. Maybe that's true, but he is more of a blessing to us. We are LOVING having him here. I talked before about how while it will be super hard to let our foster kids go (and it was - we cried and grieved when Little Miss left, then pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and asked for another), it is so very worth it to get to have them in our lives. He fits right in around here and the kids love him and are so good to help care for him.

Our kids' hearts are growing and they are also learning to love like Jesus loves. We aren't in this gig to get something out of it and that is against the norm in today's world.  Our pastor wrote a great book called, "Do Love" and he has been teaching/leading us in learning how to truly love for the last year or so. This is a chance for us, as a family, to do love. And we are loving it.

While you hear complaints all the time about "the system" - I've been known to complain myself a time or ten - we aren't doing this for the system. We are doing this for the kids...and for the moms who need to be loved so they will know how to love in return. Every time you think of us, will you pray not only for little man, but also for his mom? When you see people struggling, will you try to see them like Jesus does instead of judging? Unless we have "walked a mile in their shoes," do we really know enough to pass judgement? When we got this little man, I learned the facts and started being very judgmental to his momma, but God has changed that. I so wanted to hug her at our visit last week but was afraid I would freak her out...or get tased. Instead I am showering her with grace and kindness at each visit and hoping she will begin to let her guard down.

And to wrap up my ramblings and end on a cute note...we are teaching Little Dude sign language. He picks it up so fast and copies everything we teach him. Here he is signing "love" - this is my favorite.This is why we do it.

We "wub" because He first "wubbed" us. - I John 4:19 {2 year old emphasis mine} 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Shine down on me

I saw the kids out back in the hammock doing Bible this morning, so I went out to take a picture. The sun came out from behind the grey clouds and caught the top of the picture. I loved the visual of God shining down on them as they work to learn more about Him and His world.