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Friday, November 17

Addison Cooke....and his Crazy, Globe-Trotting Adventures!

Recently, we were sent an advance copy of the newest Addison Cooke book from Penguin Random House Publishing.  We had never heard of this series, but the cover looked intriguing (and my boys love Indiana Jones!), so we plowed on in....

“What to give the kid who’s read all the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson  books? Try Addison Cooke.”
  –Parents Magazine


Book 2 :  Addison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan
Fresh off of a victorious treasure hunt and rescue mission in South America, Addison Cooke just can't seem to steer clear of rogue bandits, pesky booby traps, and secret treasure troves. But it sure beats sitting around in school all day.  
Addison's aunt and uncle, on the other hand, are none too happy about their habit of attracting kidnappers. When they become pawns in a dangerous gang's plan to steal the most prized possession of the notorious Mongolian leader Genghis Khan, Addison and his friends find themselves once again caught in the middle of a multi-million-dollar international heist. Armed with nothing but their wits and thirst for adventure, they travel across Asia in an attempt to rescue Addison's family and stop the treasure from falling into the wrong hands.  Brimming with round-the-clock action and tons of laughter, Addison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan is perfect for fans of Indiana Jones, ancient history, and James Patterson’s Treasure Hunters series.


Our Thoughts :
Written for grades 4-7, both my youngest and oldest readers enjoyed this adventure!  We chose to read aloud together as a family, which is one of our favorite evening activities, and experience the adventure together.  However, it would be an appropriate read for anyone at at least a 4th grade reading level.  This is a fast-paced adventure, which is a good thing for keeping my boys interested, and includes a lot of geography and history facts within the pages.  There are suspensions of belief, good luck talismans, crazy storylines, and a whole host of other things that will remind you of Indiana Jones for this age level.  There are both girls and boys as protagonists, and many girls will enjoy the story, too.  As an added plus for mom, there is a lot of humor tucked into these pages, but don't worry - it's all appropriate!


Book 1 :  Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas
Twelve-year-old Addison Cooke just wishes something exciting would happen to him. His aunt and uncle, both world-famous researchers, travel to the ends of the earth searching for hidden treasure, dodging dangerous robbers along the way, while Addison is stuck in school all day.  Luckily for Addison, adventure has a way of finding the Cookes. After his uncle unearths the first ancient Incan clue needed to find a vast trove of lost treasure, he is kidnapped by members of a shadowy organization intent on stealing the riches. Addison’s uncle is the bandits’ key to deciphering the ancient clues and looting the treasure . . . unless Addison and his friends can outsmart the kidnappers and crack the code first. So it’s off to South America, where the excitement, danger, gold, booby traps, and car chases are never-ending!


About the Author :
Jonathan W. Stokes (www.jonathanwstokes.com) is a former teacher who is now a Hollywood screenwriter.  He has written screenplays on assignment for Warner Brothers, Universal, Fox, Paramount, New Line, and Sony/Columbia. Inspired by a childhood love of The Goonies and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Jonathan set out to write his first novel, Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas. Born in Manhattan, he currently resides in Los Angeles, where he can be found showing off his incredible taste in dishware and impressive  96% accuracy with high fives. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @jonathanwstokes

🎄🎄This series would make an excellent Christmas gift for tweens and teens!!  Click on the image below to purchase the Addison Cooke series.  🎄🎄
 Addison Cooke books

Thursday, November 16

Oklahoma Statehood Day!

BOOK YOUR 2017 AND 2018 FREE FIELD TRIPS TODAY! The Oklahoma Hall of Fame believes there are no limits to what is possible. Every day we celebrate the legacy of inspiring Oklahomans with all generations because Oklahomans are changing the world!

Through each of its programs and the Gaylord-Pickens Museum, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame promotes pride in our great state and honors our state's rich history by telling Oklahoma's story through its people. For 90 years, membership in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame has been Oklahoma's highest honor! Come visit us today to learn more!


FREE ADMISSION Oklahoma Hall of Fame Gaylord-Pickens Museum - 

Present this coupon for Free admission to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame at the Gaylord-Pickens Museum 

  • HOURS: Tuesday-Friday: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Saturday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. 
  • Visit OklahomaHOF.com to confirm hours. 
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  • PHONE: 405.235.4458 or 1.888.501.2059 
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Via interactive exhibits, experience Oklahoma through the eyes of its people. Not valid with any other offer. Coupon valid for up to 5 admissions.


Wednesday, November 15

Christmas Dreaming (Frank Sinatra)


When the holidays roll around, we break out the 'Christmas Box' for special
out-loud reading time.  This is a box of books that are kept off to the side and considered special, only to be read during the Christmas season.  About mid-November, we'll pull down the box and start reading a new book aloud together as a family each night before bed.

One of my secret pleasures, too, is reading good Christmas books.  I love everything about the season, and don't just read them at the end of the year.  I've been known to pick up a good holiday read in the middle of August!  

Given our passion for reading, and for the season, we've spent some time coming up with our favorite Christmas books - both classics and some new ones that haven't been publicly released yet (hooray for Advanced Reader Copies!) - and are sharing it with you -- our favorite readers!

Download the Bibliophile's Christmas Wishlist  (fill out form below)
Broken down into five separate categories, this list includes everything you'll need to gear up for the holiday season.  It includes old classics as well as brand spankin' new reads.  The five categories include :
  • Kids' Inspirational
  • Kids' Fiction
  • Adult Inspirational
  • Adult Fiction
  • Non-fiction

If you don't have a Google account or the form doesn't work for any reason, please just drop us a line and we'll email it to you!

Twelve Days of Giveaways
Be sure to use the newsletter signup option on the entry form so that you'll be in the loop when our Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaways begins in just a few short weeks!!  Email subscribers will be the first in on the action...with some behind-the-scenes subscriber-only giveaways....




stockings
One lucky reader will receive a mystery Christmas book prize box with books from the Bibliophile's Christmas Wishlist (inspirational section)!
Enter below to win, and be sure to stop by the other giveaways that The Kids Did It and the Mommy Island have pulled together for more great chances to win!



Tuesday, November 14

November – No One Else for Now


Alone time is a pretty difficult concept for some of us to grasp. Between cell phones, email, and social media, we are spending more and more time plugged-in.  Solitude is the state of being alone with no one to communicate with, but it’s not loneliness.  You can be connected and lonely, and you can be disconnected and not lonely.  

Alone Time is Good for the Soul…
  1. Being alone gives you time to think. -- Life can be crazy sometimes, and being alone gives us the time we all need to reflect on important events and to organize our feelings about the things that have happened. Without this, we can get overwhelmed with all we are trying to juggle mentally, and this can cause extra anxiety and stress.
  2. You can get creative. -- There's nothing like putting on headphones, listening to your favorite songs, and getting down to work. Being by yourself gives you the motivation and the opportunity to open your mind and explore new ideas, then put those ideas to good use.
  3. You can recharge. -- Being around people means having to constantly be alert and aware of what's going on around you and in conversations that require your full attention. When you're alone, you can use that quiet time to recharge and regroup.
  4. You get to know yourself better. -- Spending time alone means putting yourself first, and getting a chance to explore your personality in depth. The more you get to know yourself, the more you'll find out just how awesome you are.
  5. You become more independent. -- When you're alone, you don't have the option of depending on other people for their opinions, advice, or help. You call all the shots, and even though that can be scary sometimes, it also means you become more reliant on yourself — and this is a great thing.
  6. You see and hear things you wouldn't otherwise. --  When we're quiet, we can hear and see things we don't notice otherwise. We are able to appreciate the small things in life because we’re not distracted when they happen.
  7. You get to do whatever you want to do. – You can spend all the time you'd like to doing exactly what you want to do, without compromise.  And going on your own private adventure can be exciting!
  8. You appreciate the people in your life. -- Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Taking some time away from the people in your life can help you realize how important and valuable they are to you.

How to Find the Time…
  • Set aside time each day to unplug from all the ways you connect with others. Turn off your cell phone, TV, and computer. You'll be amazed at how much more you can get done when you're not distracted.
  • Wake up a half hour earlier than everyone else in your house and use that time to create, produce, problem solve, meditate, or just “be.” 
  • If you’re at an office, close your door for a period of time and just concentrate on the tasks at hand.  If you’re a mom at home, close the bathroom door…..and good luck with that!
  • Once a week or even just a couple of times a month, commit to spending lunch with yourself. Don’t work through lunch, but take a walk, sit in the sun outside, and enjoy the time you have alone.
  • Mark off time in your day planner or calendar for spending time with yourself -- it doesn't have to be long. Any time that you can spend alone with yourself to reboot is better than no time. 


Homeschool Parents : The Challenge of Finding Time
We all know homeschooling is difficult.  It is a unique type of stress we shoulder as homeschooling mothers.  But if you’re not making time for yourself, you’re going to be facing burnout…

Symptoms of Burnout
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • feeling depressed – lack of hope
  • feeling irritable & fatigued
  • considering putting children in school
  • feeling angry and resentful towards family members
  • lack of confidence
  • feeling like your kids are behind or not learning enough

 Help for Burnout
  • Stop homeschooling.  The kids won’t suffer if you take a week (or two or three) off, especially if you school year-round.  Sometimes, you just need time to be their mom, and not their teacher.
  • Quit comparing.  My kids, your kids, the kids in public school….they all have their own strengths and weaknesses.  And no matter how it appears, almost no one has a super genius kid that excels in everything.  Recognize your child’s strengths and work on his weaknesses, and take joy and pride in his growth.
  • Get outside.  Sunshine, vitamin D, fresh air….need I say more?
  • But cut down on outside activities.  Too many extracurriculars, and you’re just running a shuttle service with an endless task of coordinating everyone’s projects.  Are you the CEO or the secretary of this operation?  Get back to basics.
  • Talk it out.  Sharing with another homeschool can really help put things into perspective.  I often find that, after starting the conversation, we both have concerns and confidences, and we can help each other find perspective and balance.
  • Consider a change.  I was the mom that spent hours planning 
    unit studies and fun learning, but it was very draining!  We investigated year-long unit study programs, and found one that was similar to what we had been doing.  I still supplement and change a few things, but the pressure to create something for each day is no longer there.   And for the aggravation that it’s saved, it’s been entirely worth what we spent.
  • Spend time with your husband.  You need to have adult interaction, and maintain your marriage.  We have a three-part series here about putting life back into your marriage.  You’ll be surprised at the effect on your whole family!
  • Spend time alone.  I know that it comes off as being selfish, but remember what they always say on the commercial airlines…before applying someone else’s oxygen mask, apply your own.  If your spirit is empty, you have nothing to give to your children.  Take the time to fill up your spiritual and emotional tank.

Monday, November 13

Forbrain for Speech Therapy - Homeschool Review Crew




Our son struggles with the basic skills of speech, memory, and concentration.  We’ve been through all kinds of therapy, with minimal improvement, but the struggles stubbornly remain.  Forbrain (Sound for Life, LTD) developed the bone conduction headset to help with speech and language difficulties, brain stimulation, auditory processing disorder, reading issues, add, and ADHD.  Given the opportunity to try it out, we lunged!


About the Headset
The headset consists of a microphone, two bone conduction transducers (the part that goes next to the ear) and the dynamic filter.  (The dynamic filter is the box that has the on/off button, volume control, and a light.)  It also comes with a quick-start guide, which is handy.  It’s very easy to charge up – we plugged in the USB cable to the computer and let it sit for a few hours.  There’s a red ‘charging’ light that turns off once it’s fully charged ; that light becomes blue when the device is in use.  One of my favorite parts about the kit, however, is the hard-shelled, zippered carrying case that makes it easy for us to take it with us everywhere (all of the pieces and the guide fit into it). 

The headset can be used for exercises such as:
  • Reading aloud
  • Dictation
  • Narration
  • Recitation (especially fun reciting poems)
  • Memorization
  • Singing
  • Dialog (role playing with toys, mine did this with their dragons and legos)
  • Story telling







What is Bone Conduction?

Bone conduction is the conveyance of sound though bones in the skull to the inner ear.  When you speak while wearing the device, you are hearing yourself loudly in your head.  It gives excellent auditory feedback to the user, and is particularly useful for those with speech issues who may struggle to hear how they sound.

One thing I liked about the headset was that, while he was getting a boosted auditory signal of his own voice, it wasn’t blocking out or muffling the sounds of those around him.  He was still able to carry on a conversation with others.

Forbrain is recommended for use as a daily tool for reading, speaking, attending in class or for general use for six to ten weeks.
  • 10 minutes a day for little ones
  • 15 minutes a day for ages 5-15
  • 20 minutes a day for teens and adults
  • 30 minutes a day for seniors




Our Use & Thoughts
He used it for the recommended amount – a mere fifteen minutes a day!  I know, you’re thinking that this isn’t enough time and it should be worn for longer, but in this case, more isn’t better.  Wearing it too long can lead to headaches and fatigue.  Results really do appear with just a few short minutes each day – consistency is really the key.

He has struggled with speech issues since he began to talk at age three….yes, age three…a bit late to the game.  We’ve seen several different speech therapists, and each has worked hard to help improve his speech, but his issues are not your ‘classic’ ones.  He has apraxia of speech, and really struggles with certain sounds…such as the short /A/ in his name…which makes it very difficult for others to have a conversation with him.  We have tried all sorts of techniques, but he doesn’t seem to be able to hear how he is pronouncing that sound.  This device really opened his eyes to how he is saying that /A/, and while it did not “cure” the issue during the review period, he did make great strides just by the fact that he is now recognizing how his version of that sound differs.  I consider that progress.

Additional Points
  • The headset retails for $395.  That’s a steep price, but if you’re paying out of pocket for speech therapy (like we were before it became too expensive), and you see results from it, then that’s really not much.  Auditory processing issues are difficult to tackle, and this looks like it will get us over a crucial ‘hump’ so that we can progress with his therapy.
  • Some sort of pre / post-test from the company would be a nice addition.  To be honest, I’m not sure how they’d do that from afar, but it’d be nice to have some concrete results that your money had been well-spent.
Get Social!
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/forbrainLTD
Twitter : https://twitter.com/forbrainheadset
LinkedIn : https://www.linkedin.com/company/forbrain---retrain-the-way-you-process-information


See what others are saying about Forbrain at the Homeschool Review Crew!




Forbrain {Sound For Life Ltd Review}Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, November 8

Cool New Books & an Annoucement for Bibliophiles!

The Announcement...

Be on the lookout for this graphic next week - November 15th - as we kick off the holiday season with a big box of books for one lucky reader.  This will be only one of over a hundred giveaways going on...hosted right here at Gypsy Road!  Bookmark the site and be sure to hurry back next Wednesday!!

...and the books....

Kids
Finding Gobi (Dion Leonard) (Young Reader’s Edition)
Finding Gobi: The True Story of One Little Dog's Big Journey is the incredible true story of Dion Leonard, a New York Times bestselling author and athlete, who was befriended by a stray dog while running an ultramarathon through the Gobi Desert. Named for the desert in which he found her, Gobi became Dion’s closest companion for 77 miles of the 155-mile race across China. The scrappy little pup ran mile after mile alongside Dion, through treacherous conditions and across raging rivers. He let her sleep in his tent and share his food, and eventually, his focus shifted from winning to the newfound friendship he and Gobi shared.  They crossed the finish line together—not first, but together—and Dion decided to bring Gobi home to Scotland. Just before they were about to leave, however, Gobi disappeared, setting off a worldwide search for the stray. In a town of more than 3 million people, the search seemed hopeless, but this tale of friendship will surprise and delight you as you find out what happens!  Join the almost too-good-to-be-true story of hope, friendship, and beating incredible odds in Finding Gobi: The True Story of One Little Dog's Big Journey by Dion Leonard. 
My littlest is really into dogs right now, and love reading together at night, so this seemed like a good book for bedtime.  It only took us a few days to read it, and it’s a fascinating true story!  (If you really enjoy it, there is also an adult’s version, with considerably more detail, and a version for even younger children – think board book.)  Having been a distance runner, I was drawn to the main character, while my son was drawn to the dog.  There were a few things that I would have done differently, if adapting this book for younger readers myself, such as focused more on the relationship between Dion and Gobi, and their experiences with the race, while eliminating some of the ‘governmental issues’ that children don’t fully understand.  There were some governmental parts that were concerning to my son, and that led to some late bedtimes as I fumbled to explain them on his terms.  Nonetheless, it is still an excellent story – full of compassion, character, and even geography lessons!
Fiction

Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that's obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she's made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she's chosen. She's still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she's not sure she can write anymore. She's beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a "scandalous" book. And the fact that she's falling in love with her pastor doesn't make things any easier.  With a powerful voice, penetrating insight, and plenty of wit, Bethany Turner explodes onto the scene with a debut that isn't afraid to deal with the thorny realities of living the Christian life.
This was an interesting book, because you know it's fiction, but it's written so 'everyday,' and it follows an author-based story line, so it makes you wonder whether this is a true story or not.  (Or at least, based on true events.)  I could definitely see it being made into a movie.  You will laugh, you will get angry, and you will cry along with the characters...and at some points, you won't even be sure of how it will end.  I look forward to seeing more from this author...or her nom de plume...and possibly more of Sarah's story in the future!

The Sound of Rain (Sarah Loudin Thomas)
Judd Markley is a hardworking coal miner who rarely thinks much past tomorrow until he loses his brother--and nearly his own life--in a mine cave-in. Vowing never to enter the darkness of a mine again, he leaves all he knows in West Virginia to escape to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It's 1954, the seaside community is thriving, and Judd soon hires on with a timber company.  Larkin Heyward's life in Myrtle Beach is uncomplicated, mostly doing volunteer work and dancing at the Pavilion. But she dreams of one day doing more--maybe moving to the hollers of Kentucky to help the poor children of Appalachia. But she's never even met someone who's lived there--until she encounters Judd, the newest employee at her father's timber company.  Drawn together in the wake of a devastating hurricane, Judd and Larkin each seek answers to what tomorrow will bring. As opposition rises against following their divergent dreams, they realize that it may take a miracle for them to be together.


One of the things that I enjoyed most about this book was the setting.  The author does a great job of making you feel like you're in the 1950s...sweltering in South Carolina, breathing the thick air of West Virginia, feeling the electrified air of a rain storm in Appalachia....she incorporates the kind of sensory details that put you into the story.  Themes of knowing yourself, trusting God, and making priorities are central to the story.  It's about learning that money might make life easier, but people are what makes life better...and they are the ones to prioritize.  The main characters come through their struggles by learning to lean just a little more on their faith and putting their trust into God.  The female protagonist was my favorite character, and it's no coincidence that she's also the one who grows the most.  You'll get lost in this book, so curl up with a scone and some tea!



Beneath a Prairie Moon (Kim Vogel Sawyer)
Abigail Brantley grew up in affluence and knows exactly how to behave in high society. But when she is cast from the social registers due to her father's illegal dealings, she finds herself forced into a role she never imagined: tutoring rough Kansas ranchers in the subjects of manners and morals so they can "marry up" with their mail-order brides. Mack Cleveland, whose father was swindled by a mail-order bride, wants no part of the scheme to bring Eastern women to Spiveyville, Kansas, and he's put off by the snooty airs and fastidious behavior of the "little city gal" in their midst. But as time goes by, his heart goes out to the teacher who tries so diligently to smooth the rough edges from the down-to-earth men. How can he teach her that perfection won't bring happiness?

In a riches to rags story, the female protagonist has to reinvent herself with hard work, sweat, and tears.  She leaves her home and travels far away, submitting herself as a tutor to a bunch of roughnecks, but it turns out to be her salvation.  There are several humorous situations along the way, as the two classes (working man and rich man) clash...such as when they are forced to attend etiquette classes in preparation for receiving their mail-order brides!  The two protagonists dance around each other in a guarded game of distrust, wits, and eventually love.  As always, KVS has written another sweet, inspirational love story!

A Place at Our Table (Amy Clipston)
Along with his volunteer work at the local fire department, running his Amish farm keeps Jamie Riehl busy. He barely has time to eat at the family table, never mind find someone to date. But when he meets Kayla Dienner, he is smitten.  Kayla tries hard to deny her attraction to Jamie. After all, she’s spent the last year discouraging her younger brother, Nathan, from becoming a firefighter. The death of their older brother in a fire a year ago is fresh in her mind—she can’t bear the idea of putting her heart on the line every time the sirens blare.  Then tragedy strikes, and Jamie wants to extinguish any flame between him and Kayla. Can Kayla set aside her own fears to save the love she was determined to deny?  The first book in the Amish Homestead series, A Place at Our Table invites us to a quiet community in Lancaster County where love burns brightly no matter the cost.

This is the first book in a new series that features first responders as the protagonists.  In this book, boy meets girl when he (a volunteer firefighter) works a fire at her home.  Each of them has suffered terrible losses in the past, and is currently coping with grief, which is not the best way to start a romance.  Nevertheless, a relationship ensues and we witness what is sure to be a train wreck...  In addition to their past relationship issues, she also has a real fear of the firefighting profession (death of her brother) and is not sure she can handle his volunteer position.  He also has lost someone close to him and must cope with tragic change.  I'm very curious to see the next book in the series, to see where they are and which profession is featured next.  I don't think I've ever seen an Amish series that featured first responders, so kudos to the author for being original!  {Spoiler} As this is a happy ending novel, they do of course end up helping each other through grief and moving forward together.

Non-Fiction

How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself (Amena Brown)

Your soul holds a massive record collection: melodies, rhythms, and bass lines. Memories that ask you to dance and memories that haunt you in a minor key. Lies that become soundtracks to your days while truths play too softly to be heard.  Spoken word poet Amena Brown’s broken records played messages about how she wasn’t worthy to be loved. How to Fix a Broken Record chronicles her journey of healing as she’s allowed the music of God’s love to replace the scratchy taunts of her past. From bad dates to marriage lessons at Waffle House, from learning to love her hair to learning to love an unexpected season of life, from discovering the power of saying no and the freedom to say yes, Amena offers keep-it-real stories your soul can relate to.  The hurtful words of others and the failures of your past often determine what record you play the most in your mind. Those painful repetitions can become loud at the most inopportune time, keeping you from speaking up, pursuing your dreams, and growing closer to God.  Recognize the negative messages that play on repeat every day in your mind. Learn how to replace them with the truth that you are a beloved child of God. And discover how to laugh along the way as you find new joy in the beautiful music of your life.

So, I've never heard this author speak, though it would seem she has quite a following...in fact, I'd never even heard OF her until reading this book.  That said, I'll be looking into her other stuff now, just out of curiosity, since I liked the book.  Being a 'music person,' (you either are or you aren't...if you are, then you know what I mean), I cannot imagine a single moment of my life without some song or melody attached to it.  This is wonderful many times, because every melody brings up a memory that might otherwise be forgotten.  It can also be a curse...see the above reasoning.  😐 The author talks about how to 'hear' those memories without letting them completely wash over you...letting go and moving forward from the bad memories.  The book is written in a conversational tone, and would be a great read for anyone influenced by music.

Never Look at the Empty Seats (Charlie Daniels)
Few artists have left a more indelible mark on America’s musical landscape than Charlie Daniels.  Readers will experience a soft, personal side of Charlie Daniels that has never before been documented. In his own words, he presents the path from his post-depression childhood to performing for millions as one of the most successful country acts of all time and what he has learned along the way. The book also includes insights into the many musicians that orbited Charlie’s world, including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette and many more.  Charlie was officially inducted into The Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016, shortly before his 80th birthday. He now shares the inside stories, reflections, and rare personal photographs from his earliest days in the 1940s to his self-taught guitar and fiddle playing high school days of the fifties through his rise to music stardom in the seventies, eighties and beyond.   Charlie Daniels presents a life lesson for all of us regardless of profession:  “Walk on stage with a positive attitude. Your troubles are your own and are not included in the ticket price. Some nights you have more to give than others, but put it all out there every show. You're concerned with the people who showed up, not the ones who didn't. So give them a show and…Never look at the empty seats!”

This book is full of all sorts of facts about Charlie Daniels (like - did you know that's not supposed to be his name?), as well as his perspective on all that life has thrown his way.  It's part memoir and biography, part inspirational, and all authentic.  Written as a collection of stories (smashed into chapters), this feels more like a conversation with the artist than an actual book.  It covers the history of Southern Rock, how the music industry works, some of his music career (although I really would have liked to have seen more about the inner workings and behind-the-scenes of his band and stage life), and the trials and tribulations that he overcame to get where he is today.  It's actually pretty fascinating.  My biggest "complaint" about the book is knowing that there are many omitted parts -- it was a rock band in the 70s, and we know they weren't angels, so I'm not sure why they tried to gloss over those parts that could lend even more authenticity to the story.


How to Think (Alan Jacobs)
As a celebrated cultural critic and a writer for national publications like The Atlantic and Harper’s, Alan Jacobs has spent his adult life belonging to communities that often clash in America’s culture wars. And in his years of confronting the big issues that divide us—political, social, religious—Jacobs has learned that many of our fiercest disputes occur not because we’re doomed to be divided, but because the people involved simply aren’t thinking.  Most of us don’t want to think. Thinking is trouble. Thinking can force us out of familiar, comforting habits, and it can complicate our relationships with like-minded friends. Finally, thinking is slow, and that’s a problem when our habits of consuming information (mostly online) leave us lost in the spin cycle of social media, partisan bickering, and confirmation bias.  In this smart, endlessly entertaining book, Jacobs diagnoses the many forces that act on us to prevent thinking—forces that have only worsened in the age of Twitter, “alternative facts,” and information overload—and he also dispels the many myths we hold about what it means to think well. (For example: It’s impossible to “think for yourself.”)  Drawing on sources as far-flung as novelist Marilynne Robinson, basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, British philosopher John Stuart Mill, and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis, Jacobs digs into the nuts and bolts of the cognitive process, offering hope that each of us can reclaim our mental lives from the impediments that plague us all. Because if we can learn to think together, maybe we can learn to live together, too.

In a world dictated by social media and the masses, the skill of wading through information and deciphering it for ourselves is a lost art.  This short narrative boils it down to several key points and tries to teach young people (who have grown up entirely in this world) as well as us old-timers how to get back to thinking objectively.  It also talks about interacting with those whose opinions differ from yours, without trollish behavior.  It gets to the basics of having a conversation, and relationship, with all sorts of people…because while the world would be boring if everyone liked the same foods, no one wants to live in a perennial food fight either.  If nothing else, this is a book that will remind you that compassion is king, an eye for an eye isn’t necessarily the best reaction, and we, as a society, have GOT to get our act in gear.



Church of the Small Things (Melanie Shankle)


Is my ordinary, everyday life actually significant? Is it okay to be fulfilled by the simple acts of raising kids, working in an office, and cooking chicken for dinner? It’s been said, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” The pressure of that can be staggering as we spend our days looking for that big thing that promises to take our breath away. Meanwhile, we lose sight of the small significance of fully living with every breath we take. Melanie Shankle, New York Times bestselling author and writer at The Big Mama Blog tackles these questions head on in her fourth book, Church of the Small Things. Easygoing and relatable, she speaks directly to the heart of women of all ages who are longing to find significance and meaning in the normal, sometimes mundane world of driving carpool to soccer practice, attending class on their college campus, cooking meals for their family, or taking care of a sick loved one. The million little pieces that make a life aren’t necessarily glamorous or far-reaching. But God uses some of the smallest, most ordinary acts of faithfulness—and sometimes they look a whole lot like packing lunch. Through humorous stories told in her signature style, full of Frito pie, best friends, the love of her Me-Ma and Pa-Pa, the unexpected grace that comes when we quit trying to measure up, and a little of the best TV has to offer, Melanie helps women embrace what it means to live a simple, yet incredibly meaningful life and how to find all the beauty and laughter that lies right beneath the surface of every moment.

Out of all the books I read this week (and I usually read ten or more each week), this was definitely my favorite! I laughed out loud so many times with the narrator....it was like we were girlfriends catching up over some coffee. She keeps it very real, but any woman of a certain age (which would be 'oh so still very young!") will be able to relate to all of these stories, beginning with her youth and progressing through the stages of parenthood. I look forward to seeing what she comes out with next, and may have just found my new go-to inspirational author!

The Beautiful Word for Christmas (Mary Demuth)
Read the Christmas story like never before with favorite scriptures hand-lettered and illustrated. Celebrate the wondrous birth of Christ with 31 devotionals that will point each day to the Savior.  Savor the season with The Beautiful Word for Christmas.  This book includes:  23 Bible passages illustrated in full color, 31 timely devotions written especially for the Christmas season, and activities to bring the heart of the season home.

With a devotion for all thirty-one days in December, this book will take you past Christmas and get you ready for the New Year! Each day begins with a short Bible verse and ends with a prayer. The illustrations are so beautiful and engaging, you'll want to leave this one out where company can pick it up and flip through it. The devotions are short - one to two minutes long - and would be appropriate for family gathering time or your morning 'alone' time. As the title indicates, they are all Christmas-themed, and will help to re-center your spirit on the true purpose of the season. In a world where holiday shopping begins in October and runs through January, this is a good book to settle in with and get back to the basics.

The Lost Art of Good Conversation (Sakyong Mipham)
Cutting through all the white noise, chatter, and superficiality our cell phones and social media cause, one of Tibet's highest and most respected spiritual leaders offers simple and practical advice to help us increase our attentions spans, become better listeners, and strive to appreciate the people around us.  In a world of iPhones and connectivity to social media and email, we are all in constant connection with one another. Then why are so many people feeling burned out, distant from colleagues, and abandoned by family and friends? In this new book from the bestselling author of Running with the Mind of Meditation, the Sakyong uses the basic principles of the Shambhala tradition--meditation and a sincere belief in the inherent wisdom, compassion, and courage of all beings--to help readers to listen and speak more mindfully with loved ones, co-workers, strangers, and even ourselves.  In this easy to understand and helpful book, Sakyong Mipham provides inspiring ideas and practical tips on how to be more present in your day-to-day life, helping us to communicate in ways that elevates the dignity of everyone involved. Great for families, employees and employers and everyone who spend too much time on Facebook, Instagram, and feel "disconnected" in our "connected" world, Good Conversation is a journey back to basics.

What the world needs now is a little less technology, and a little more human interaction.  Being able to truly connect with others, on a base level, would go a long way...and that is what this book is about.  It's not about how to get everyone to agree with you, or how to like everyone, but rather about how to connect with others in a positive way, in spite of any differences you may have.  This is exactly the book we need right now!  There are five sections to the book, each with an area for self-reflection.  The sections address the act of conversing, the basics of true communication (not only verbal), the need to be present and open-minded in a conversation, the possibilities that stem from good communication, and the best practices of conversationalists.  If it sounds dry, it's not -- told from a mentor's perspective in a caring way, this book seeks to soothe a tired and disconnected world.


I received some, but not all, of these books in exchange for an honest review.



A Freebie for you from The Good & the Beautiful!

We've tried A LOT of different curricula on for size....and they all kind of fit, but nothing has ever clicked for every family member (including mom) until we tried The Good & the Beautiful.  It all started when my friend posted this video on her blog last year....

This video is about the History curriculum, but I liked it so much that I began to dig into their other products.  What we discovered was a streamlined curriculum that really fit our needs!  

As an even sweeter bonus, it is SO affordable, I'm even going to let the kids write in the books and not give it a second thought - because they're that affordable!  The older one can write in it, and I can buy a new one as the younger one advances.  (And 'affordable' isn't a word I often use beside 'curriculum'...)

In a nutshell....

Pros :  

  • Affordable (seriously so!)
  • Multi-child teaching (do all your grades together...promotes family cohesiveness, too)
  • Teaches good character
  • Combines subjects into one well-rounded book (particularly with Language Arts)
  • Beautifully illustrated (also covers Fine Arts)
  • Did I mention affordable?
  • Great customer service
  • Children enjoy it (this is a biggie!)

Cons : 

  • None that we've found yet!


A little more about The Good & The Beautiful....  

The language arts programs cover several different subjects at once - including character, literature, geography, spelling, writing, reading, art appreciation, and grammar.  Both of my children - the advanced one and the special needs one - have benefited greatly from using this.  The readings are wholesome, clean, and full of teaching moments.  It is similar to the Lamplighter Books - old-fashioned at times, but so much better than the junk that's made readily available to impressionable minds these days.  

My husband and I have both commented on the change in our children's attitudes as we've made the switch in their readings.  It's a whole lot of small things that come together to create a beautifully-designed curriculum.

Levels 1-5 are available as free downloads, so that you can check it out and see if it's right for you, but I promise that it's a lot cheaper to buy their print version!  This is hands-down the most affordable curriculum we've ever seen.

If you do decide to download only, and then want to print it yourself later, we recommend the Homeschool Printing Company.  You can see more about that here (there is also a discount code).

See Language Arts Levels 3 & 5 above....these are Levels 4 & 7.  (Level 7 is approximately 8th-9th grade...they are not done by grade level.)



In the classical style, this is a four-year program that wraps around to begin again after completion.  Each year comes with four different sets of printable pages, spanning kindergarten to twelfth grade, with age-appropriate work.  There are timelines, audio adventures, craft projects, and Charlotte Mason-style read-alouds.  

One of the things that makes this different from a traditional classical curriculum is that each of the four historical eras (Ancient, Middle Ages, Early Modern, Modern) is covered during each year.  Each year, however, a different aspect of that era is covered.  (ie, for Ancient : Year 1 = Egypt, Year 2 = Greece)  

The curriculum was created to be used together by the family, and this is the only thing that all of our students will be doing together this year.  Years 3 and 4 have not been completed, but are currently in the works - you can see the progress here.

The children are both really enjoying the hands-on aspects, as well as the audiobook component (it all comes with the set...no surprise add-ons).  There is also a game for fun reinforcement of facts.  I love that it is one curriculum spine that can be re-used several times.  The accompanying workbook covers every level from preschool to twelfth grade....just print the correct grade level for the year.  The work is age-appropriate and comprehensive enough to count as a full credit.

Year 1 & Year 2

When is handwriting not just handwriting?  When it pulls double duty by reinforcing other subjects!!  The handwriting courses include artwork, poetry, Bible verses, and quotes that support character qualities. The courses also help provide practice with drawing skills.

Interestingly, some of the very activities given in the handwriting books are the same ones that my son's occupational therapist have assigned as homework activities to improve fine motor skills!
The Good & the Beautiful also offers Science and Typing programs, but we have not used them, so I cannot speak on them.  Currently, the high school program is being written and projected to come out within the next year or two.

The company is offering our readers a free download of their recommended book list (typically purchased) from today until November 11th.