Five Minute Friday ~ Ten.

Friday, July 24, 2015

He slips his hand in mine as we stroll down the familiar path on a sunny afternoon.  I smile down at him and we chat about the corn fields and how the stalks are towering now in mid-July.  So calm, so easy is our friendship.  It wasn't always so.  Not by a long shot. 

Oh, how far the Lord has brought Mama and son.  He's 10 years old this summer.  And I'm still dumbfounded as to where on earth the last decade went.  So much has happened since this surprise first-born came into my life.

As I reflect on the time since I became a Mama, I know it full well:

Every bit of joy, strength, transformation, and triumph belongs not to me but to my Heavenly Father.  The bond you see between Mama and son today - it's only because of God's glory and grace.

You see, these past 10 years have been hard at times.  Especially between my spirited first-born son and his just-as-spirited-first-born Mom.  And there are far too many days I long to erase - to do over, to burn from both our memories.  Far too many.

But, I've learned it is only Christ Jesus who can take the ashes and turn them into something breath-taking, something beautiful.  Something totally beyond ourselves.  

Only His Spirit can take the arguing and turn it into laughter.

Only His Spirit can take misunderstanding and turn into solid common ground.

Oh, how I've desired, so deeply desired, to turn time back.  To know what I know now and start again.  A complete do-over of the first 6 years of parenting?  Yes, please. 

But then I hear the sweet, soft, overwhelming voice of the One I love.  My Jesus - whispering His song of grace over my sagging shoulders... grace for the first-born son and even grace for his stubborn, first-born Mama.

TEN years it took (and still, I'm slow...) to see how wonderful the fullness of grace and biblical love poured out undeservingly feels.  TEN stubborn years to learn that love is a verb and Christ is the One who allows love to fill and spill and TEN years to learn deep down - only those gentle answers will turn away wrath.

TEN years to see clearly that my only chance at success at this thing called Motherhood is Christ in me and His love through me and my hands surrendered to His Spirit and guiding hand.  Humbled, broken, relying on Him to show me - well, everything.  And in that surrender, He is faithful, and there have been miracles.

I see clearly now how truly, deeply blessed I am to have my sweet, spirited TEN-year-old.

I see clearly now how, Mama and son, we are far more alike than anything else.

I see clearly now how what looks like a challenging child is really a child in need of deeper, stronger, more passionate love and heaps of grace.

I see clearly now how we are both learning, first-born Mama and first-born boy - how life is a forever journey of twisting paths and we're all in this together.  He needs me and, well, I need him.  Because that's the way God planned it.  All along.  Nothing surprises the God of the universe.  He knew I needed this boy.

As I scribble these words in my journal, my sleepy TEN-year-old crawls next to me and rests his head on my tummy, hugs me tight, and asks me to scratch his back.  I smile and think to myself:

"Ten is a really good number."

A Review of Tyndale's Chronicles of Narnia

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I was absolutely thrilled to review Focus on the Family Radio Theatre's: The Chronicles of Narnia audio discs.  We listened to all seven books in about three weeks!  Our children completely loved every title and we've already started listening the The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe a second time through.

Now, I should preface this by mentioning, we are big Narnia fans.  Our children (ages 10, 8, and 6) have already had the stories read to them aloud by my husband, some children, more than once.  So, I knew upon receiving the CDs, we  truly adored the stories and the meaning behind them.

Even having heard the stories before, it was a new and exciting experience listening to the dramatized versions of the stories of Narnia.   Because we listened in the car, I listened along to every book with the children and enjoyed them just as much as the children, I'm sure!

First of all, Focus on the Family Radio Theatre did an incredible job with the Narnia series.  We were all on the edge of our (car)seats as we listened to the stories unfold complete with theatrical music, believable character voices, and life-like sound effects.

To read the rest of the review and also my Hip Homeschool friend Wendy's thoughts - join me over here!  (The giveaway is over, sorry, but I really still wanted to share this review!)

Five Minute Friday ~ Free

Friday, July 17, 2015

The rain patters down outside the low country windows.  Peace fills this place and I long desperately to hold on to what I have.  Right now.  Just like this.

But then the afternoon brings the unexpected and the evening blows up and in a few mere moments the weight of protecting and raising up our children sets in and all of a sudden, I'm suffocating.

Have you felt this way?

When your love pulses so powerfully you feel you'll literally burst?  When you take on every single solitary fear and wear them as these heavy yokes and grip far too tight for anything or Anyone to ever loosen your fingers?

I forfeit my freedom for the flattening load of 'it's all on me'.  Yes, me.  I have to do it all, worry about it all, see it all, protect it all, make it all work together for good.  And if I don't?  If I don't - this little country house of cards will just come crashing down.

But all this worry - this all-consuming need to know that everything is going to be alright and that I'm the one who is in control - it's sin.  It's saying that what the Lord says isn't true.  It's blasphemous.  By choosing fear and stress and worry - I choose to say that He doesn't have the whole world in His hands - let alone my children.

See, here's the upside down truth of God's Kingdom - white knuckled gripping at control... it cages us something fierce.

Freedom leaves us when Truth is forgotten.

And when I long to be free, I remember - isn't it the Truth that sets us free?

And Truth Himself is Christ Jesus.  He said it: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life...".  And if He is the Way - the Way to the Father and the Truth and He not only gives Life but IS Life itself - I know I need Him beyond what words can express.  I know it in my soul.  Yes, He is the great King of Truth, the wonderful Prince of Light, the Way to God Almighty, the Chain Breaker, the triumphant Bringer of Freedom, the One who loosens the bonds and sets captives free.

Know Truth - Know Christ.
Know Christ - Be Free.

It's too simple but then again, that's the wonder of it.

It's the glorious, overwhelming reality that I so stupidly and easily forget.  Freedom is already mine. I choose to let it leave because I choose to forget the Truth.

Christ came and He dwells with me and only He can make me truly Free.

Free from worry.
Free from fear.
Free from needing to control.
Free from lies.

Oh, please say you know the lies?  Please say I'm not the only one who has heard them?

You're no good.
You're failing as a Mom.
You can't possibly raise up children who love and follow the Lord.
God isn't in control.
God can't protect your children, your family, you.
God doesn't have you in the palm of His Hands.

But those ARE lies and they can be nasty and yes, they can chain us right up and shackle us too.

But we know the the One who holds the Key to those shackles.  The One who brings freedom - the freedom to know and cling fast to the Truth.  

The truth of God's love.
The truth of God's grace.
The truth of His mighty hands on us, our families, our children.
The truth that Jesus loves our children more than we do and longs for every bit of good for them.
The truth that Christ Jesus wins and pain and lies lose and "all things work together for good to those who love God..."
The truth that when we grip on to control and worry - we deny God's Truth that He has our back and His loving arms are around us.
We unwillingly (and sometimes willingly) tell the Lord and King of the universe that we can take care of things better than He can.

We ignore the truth...

The life-altering truth is that when we know Him and follow Him - we are already free.

And its a gift.

He just waits for us to trust Him, reach out for His hand, and walk with Him, knowing that He has our families in His mighty grip and He will never let go. 

From Scripture:

 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.  
John 8:31-38

A related quote for Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts:

"If authentic, saving belief is the act of trusting, then to choose stress is an act of disbelief... atheism.  Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism.... Perhaps the opposite of faith is fear... I can't experience deep joy in God until I deep trust in God... trusting God is my most urgent need.  If I deep trusted God in all the facets of my life, wouldn't that deep heal my anxiety, my self-condemnation, my soul holes?  Trust is everything..."

Book Review: To The Sea by Callie Grant

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

I always feel so blessed to have the opportunity to review books.  I feel especially blessed to review board books which are filled with truths about God's nature and the world around us.  There is something profoundly special about those first books we read to our youngest babies and toddlers.  Why not choose deeply meaningful, God-honouring literature, even in the earliest years?

I love all the titles that I've read from Graham Blanchard.  This is a Christian publisher of books for young children that are created to inspire and deepen a child's relationship with God.

From the site:

"Bringing a new soul into the world is a profoundly spiritual passage of life for new parents. We welcome you to a loving community of moms and dads, mentors, educators and pastors who have developed helpful resources to support your growing family’s spiritual life."

I adore the way this publisher categorizes their books into three groups - Learn, Absorb, Praise.  To The Sea is a 'praise' book about a young boy's trip to the beach and the fun he has in God's beautiful world. 

To The Sea  is written by Callie Grant with lovely, soft illustrations by Jeremy Tugeau.  The quality of the book is very high - sturdy board with glossy, smooth to the touch pages.

What a precious, beautifully illustrated board book filled with words of adoration to our wonderful Heavenly Father!  

The book is written in a rhythmic rhyming structure, with beautiful lines and captivating imagery.  The repetition of certain phrases really appeals to babies and toddlers as well.   

Immediately, my children saw a very powerful parallel in the lines of the book.  The young boy's sand castle is knocked over by the crashing water, but he then chooses to rebuild it on a solid rock he finds.  On that rock, his castle is safe.  What a beautiful image of Christ Jesus, our Eternal Rock.  He is our safe haven!  The storms of life and the crazy crashing waves and knock us down when our lives are built upon Him.  

 The last page in the book reads: The waves roll on.  Beach time is done.  God gave a good day in the sun.  The scripture reference is Genesis 1:31, And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. 

Yes, God gives every good thing and yes, a day at the beach is a gift from Him... truth for little hearts to inspire thanksgiving and praise!

Also, Graham Blanchard offers a 'Free Tips for Parents' section for this book on their website.   This offers insight and ideas for engaging further with the book.  Ideas include things like, encouraging our children to engage their senses in worshiping God for His creation, visiting the sea (or waterfront) and comparing the various aspects of the boy's day to your child's experiences, talking to children about the idea of water and how oceans, lakes, rivers, etc. cover much of the earth.  I love these ideas!

Many of the books on the site include engaging ideas like these in the Tips for Parents sections.  What a great tool for applying these books to our children's lives!

For more titles and more information, be sure to visit Graham Blanchard online.  These books are so rich and full of truth and beauty!

Join us for a Lesson - All About Reading Level 1

Thursday, July 9, 2015

This next statement won't come as a surprise to those of you who have been following my All About Reading posts-  WE LOVE ALL ABOUT READING

Our son, Alex is six.  He's working through All About Reading Level 1.  Although at first glance, I though he was beyond Level 1, I'm so glad I started him here.

I walked through a full lesson in Level 2 of All About Reading right here, and now I'd love to take you through a Level 1 Lesson.   So, here's the motivating question for this post - 

If I choose to use All About Reading Level 1 to teach my child to read (or to build on existing skills) what will it look like?  How does this program work?

Well, let's take a look!

The very first thing I want to chat about is placement.  As I stated above, when I first looked at the Placement Tests, I made the wrong choice for Alex.  I thought he would fit best into Level 2.  I made this decision based on my own ideas of what he 'knew' and how he could read through readers as well as a look at the Placement Tests for both Level 1 and 2.  What I found is that he could read some of the words and understood some of the concepts but he did not have a very strong base for his ability.  Much of his ability came from sight word recognition and memory.

I strongly encourage you, if you are starting All About Reading with a young student - consider starting with Level 1.  Alex was reading simple single vowel words a year ago, but I am so glad I started back at the basics with him because the program progresses quite quickly.  In Level 1 - Lesson 1, children are reading words like map, Sam, sap, map.  By lesson 18 they are reading:  fish, rash, dish, shut.  By lesson 33 they are reading: stick, trick, check, clock, snack.  By the end they are learning several alternate sounds for vowels.  It starts off simple, but children are reading quite well by the end of Level 1.  

All About Reading is very in depth.  When you work through this program, you cover ALL your bases.  All About Reading starts with the Pre-reading Program, then comes Level 1.  If your child is just at the beginning reading stages, I'd encourage you to look through the placement tests and if you have questions, don't hesitate to email the amazing people at All About Learning Press.

A good place to visit is the Resource Center on the All About Learning Press site.  It's very informative and helpful for newbies. 

So, having said all of this, yes, some of the first lessons are definitely review for Alex, considering he's been reading words like these for a long time.  However, the way the content is presented is much more thorough and multi-sensory than how he learned it the first time around.  I feel like this time, he's REALLY learning it and its really sinking in.  He is progressing beautifully and his speed, accuracy, and confidence are all soaring!  

So, here's a peek at the program.

Join us for Lesson 8 of All About Reading Level 1:

I mentioned this in my walk-through of a lesson from Level 2, but I want to re-state how much I love the Teacher's Manuals for All about Reading.  They are FANTASTIC.  I have tried so many programs (in various subjects) that promise to be 'open and go' and so often are nowhere close to being a true 'open and go' program.  All About Reading is definitely open-and-go.  No gimmicks.  

I usually try to read through (or at least skim over) the lessons before we work through them, but I really don't have to.  I have opened up the book and taught lessons I've never seen before quite successfully.  For us busy homeschool Moms, that is such a blessing!

Just a couple of the things I love about the Teacher's Manual - At the top of each lesson the needed supplies are clearly stated with check-mark boxes, every step of the lesson is clearly laid out with bold titles and lots of spacing, and the steps are actually illustrated and presented in the format they are taught.  (For example if you need your Progress Chart, there is a tiny image of the chart, if you are using the Word Cards, they are printed to look like the word cards themselves.  So easy to follow - makes all the difference in the world for keeping kids' attention and moving along.

Let's start our lesson:

First we do our Review- For Lesson 8, we started with a review of the Phonogram Cards and Word Cards we had in our "review" sections in our word box.   All the Phonogram Cards are yellow, and the word cards are green.  This pattern follows for Level 1 to 4 of All About Reading.  Here's what the word box looks like:

Then we do our New Teaching - Here we are presenting the new Phonogram Cards for 'o','l', and 'w'.   The 'o' in All about Reading will eventually have 4 sounds but for this lesson, we are only introducing 'o' as in 'otter'.  Alex was able to put his new sounds right into the 'Mastered' section, because he had already mastered them!  Way to go, bud!

Next - the Letter Board!  Alex loves playing with the Letter Tiles on our big magnetic white board.  These boards are not required for All About Reading, but I highly recommend making the investment!  (Ours was about $30 - there is a minimal size for fitting all the tiles on, I think it's 3ft across).

Here we built the word 'lid' and touched each letter tile separately to sound out the consonants and vowel and to sound out the word.  We then did this for 'wig' and 'sob'.  

Once we had the word 'sob', we played "Change the Word", which our children love.  Here we simply swap out beginning and ending consonants to create new words.  It works like this, imagine each new bullet is the new word:
  • mob
  • mom
  • mop
  • top
  • hop
  • hot
  • rot
  • pot
  • got
I will say, "Ok Alex, change 'mob' to 'mom',  now change 'mom' to 'mop'!  (And so on.)  This is a fun, easy way to play with words and practice reading.  The hands-on, tactile process works so well with my children, as I'm sure it would with most children.

Next there was an Activity Sheet to complete.  This was a word match cut and paste.  The words 'mop, dog, pot, log' were printed on the bottom of the page with pictures of each word above.  The child was to cut out the words on the bottom of the page and past them under the proper corresponding picture/illustration.  Because we had a lot of other things going that day, we did this by simply having Alex point to the right words/pictures.

Now - We Practice our Reading Words!  This is the part of the lesson where we apply what we've learned.  I took out the required Word Cards and we flipped through them together, having Alex read each word as it came to the top of the pile.  He was able to put them all in the 'Mastered" section of the Word Box!  The words for Lesson 8 were:  top, on, not, got, hot, job, dog, hop, lap, win.

We also learned the sight word, 'of'.  This Word Card has the 'Rule Breaker' illustration/hint on it to remind Alex that the word 'of' doesn't really follow proper phonetic rules.  This is the only word in which the letter f says "v".  (Don't you love English!?)

On to Fluency Practice!  The last part of the lesson is our Fluency Practice sheet.  These pages are found in the All About Reading Blast Off Activity Book which comes in the Level 1 Materials Pack.
There are various parts to these sheets including, New Words, Mixed Review, and Phrases and Sentences.  These sheets will combine what children have learned in previous lessons to build on their reading skills.  You can see in the Phrases and Sentences section of this Lesson 8 Fluency Practice that words and letter sounds from previous lessons have been included for practice.

Hooray, time for a sticker on the All About Reading Level 1  Progress Chart!  Alex completed his whole lesson, so he earned a star on his chart.  This is a cherished and favourite part of the program for our children!  They love the feeling of putting that star on that chart and seeing their progress!

So - that's a lesson!  

There you have it, a walk-through of a full lesson of All About Reading Level 1.  Alex is working at a pace where he can usually complete a lesson like this one in one sitting.  This takes about 20 minutes.  It really depends on the child though because some Moms take a few days to a week to review one lesson (or longer!).  The main point is that the children are learning and there is progress!

A Peek at a 'Reading' Lesson

The lesson we walked through today was a lesson in which new concepts are being taught.  After each lesson like this, there will be a 'reading' lesson.  These lessons are ones where the child applies what they've learned by reading one or two stories from their All About Reading Reader.  Right now, Alex is reading through Run, Bug, Run! the first reader of the level.  He LOVES it.

The lesson is very simple.  The Teacher's Manual suggests reviewing Phonogram and Word cards that are in the 'review' section of the Word Box.  Then, you simply snuggle up and read together, having your child read his best through the assigned stories.  Once they have successfully read the stories for that lesson, they earn another sticker for their Progress Chart!

Grabbing his reader from its spot on the shelf...

Here is Alex reading through the story, Run, Bug, Run.  This is for Lesson 11.

And another peek at an earlier reading lesson -  This is Lesson 5, the first lesson in which the children read stories from their reader.  And... also before Alex got a Summer haircut!  *smile*

Placing a sticker on the Progress Chart after successfully reading the first two stories from the Run, Bug, Run! reader - hooray, Alex!

A Pretty Special Program...

The below photos really gives a visual for how All About Reading makes my little guy feel.  I know a great program when I find one and this - this is a very special program.

Alex LOVES his All About Reading.  In the first photo below - the top left photo shows an All About Reading Progress Chart he made himself for his stuffed tiger, Hobbes.  He has been 'teaching' Hobbes the lessons he learns.  It is so sweet to watch him sit with his over-sized stuffed animal and walk through all the steps we work though during a lesson.

I also included some candid shots of Alex teaching Hobbes and just some fun, silly photos of Alex and I after completing a lesson of All About Reading.  He knows Mama takes photos of our lessons to show other Moms and children how much we are enjoying the program.

I really believe it takes a very special curriculum to touch the hearts of children in this way!  It is fun, interactive, and effective - these three qualities make it very appealing to my little ones!

Fun, interesting, effective... we are loving our journey with All About Reading.

I love this little candid moment I managed to capture. This is Alex, completely on his own time... reading the All About Reading Reader with 'Hobbes' and walking through a lesson.  Warmed my heart right up!

Some more All About Reading Love:


We love the Flippers that come in the All About Reading Level 1 Activity Book.  Alex will take them out on his own and play with them.  These are little booklets where the letters flip to make various words with vowels in the middle an different consonants on either side.  Hands-on activities like these really encourage and inspire our kids to want to read.

Thanks for reading, I truly hope these walk-throughs and unique reviews are helpful to you as you venture to learn and grow along with your precious children.  

Thoughts from a First-time Tent Camper - and Snapshots from our trip!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

So, I did it.  After 10 years of my husband asking me to 'pllleeeaaasse?' go tent camping, we went.  Oh, yes, we went.

First and foremost, I must make a declaration.  I believe this to be self-evident - being a nature lover is not at all the same thing as being a camper.  

I know this to be evident because I myself am an extreme lover of nature.  I am a true, deep-down, genuine nature girl at heart and yet - camping?  Um... not quite so much.

Now, I will say with all sincerity - it is in no way my intention to discourage you from trying camping for the first time if you have never done so.  I actually encourage you to do it.  Try it once... and maybe twice.  I might try it twice.  Maybe. Probably not.

If you are already an absolute lover of tent camping - you are a stronger and better person that I am.  Enough said.

I suppose, as someone mentioned to me - living in the country and taking (almost) daily walks in the natural paradise down the lane kind of takes away from the 'magic' of camping in the woods.  We see a lot of woods.  We see a lot of beautiful water falls, streams, rocks, views, all things bright and beautiful - yes, we see it often and we are blessed.   I personally like seeing woods and lakes and streams and glory and then, at the end of day - seeing the inside of my house with running water, plush bedding, a stove, and my very own toilet.

I will say - we had fun, and wonderful memories were made with cherished friends and our children enjoyed themselves quite a bit on many levels.  However, I think my hubby and I are in agreement - we made a corporate decision...  the work/fun ratio was just not in balance for us.  There was SO MUCH WORK to be done compared to how much time we spent enjoying our children and actually 'relaxing' (what's that?).

We would have definitely taken the exploring, hiking, caving, and canoeing minus the work of camping overnight.  Having said that, I'm glad for the time to remember how BLESSED we are to live in a house and how truly rich, rich, rich we really are.  I am also glad for the time to be reminded of truths like, "Do everything without complaining - do everything without arguing... so you may become blameless and pure children of God..."  (Phil. 2).  Can I just say, it is a lot easier to be that non-complaining Mama when things are going exactly my way?  But, when I'm all of a sudden out of my element and freezing cold and lacking sleep and trying to cook Vegan food over a camp fire - um... I need the grace of God to kick in high gear.

And of course, He was there.  He always is...

5 little tips from a first time (reluctant but trying so hard to have a good attitude) Camper Mom to another (reluctant but considering still going) Camper Mom:

  • Expect to do TONS of work.  See, I had this idyllic vision of lounging in a hammock in the mid-day sun while the children played happily by my side, food was easy and simple and good sleep was inevitable after all that glorious fresh air.  *HA*  I didn't sit most the time - It was definitely more work to camp than to be at home.  Maybe I'm doing something wrong - but, wow - I was EXHAUSTED.
  • Make sure you have comfortable sleeping arrangements.  One of our biggest pit-falls was not properly preparing for sleep time.  We just shrugged and figured, "Meh, it's 3 days, we'll cope."  NO!  Don't do this.  Please, don't do this.  Make sure you have comfortable, warm, do-able sleeping set-ups.  I strongly suggest mats on the ground and enough inflatable, good quality air mattresses for everyone.  Lots of sheets, blankets, pillows, more than you think you'll ever need.  My husband and I both stayed awake the entire first night from discomfort and cold. 
  • Bring LOTS of warm clothes.  Lots and lots and lots.  Even if it is the hottest part of summer.  We had to go home the second day because we didn't bring enough warm clothing or blankets.  Socks and runners is also a must.
  • Keep the food as simple as possible.  See, we're Vegan.  Most people just BBQ everything and eat loads of burgers, hot dogs, and grilled chicken while camping.  Food was a bit more challenging for us.  I tried to make tons of fresh veggies and warm entire meals on a tiny Coleman stove - it was hard and very frustrating.  In the future - I would (if I ever camp again) do mostly cold foods.  Salads, sandwiches, wraps, etc.
  • Bring good COFFEE.  I am being honest... if you are a coffee lover, make sure you have a proper way to make a big steaming cup of good coffee.  It will cure all after a rough night of sleep... we didn't do this and I honestly think it made my mood 3 times worse... ha!

Most of all, rely on God's grace and a good sense of humor and enjoy the moments with your children - these are memories made mostly for their sake...  so that's what kept me laughing and (mostly) smiling.  

Also - look around and breathe deep.  The Lord's glory is painted everywhere in nature and this is what kept me at peace and truly enjoying our special times in His wonderful, breath-taking world.

Some snap-shots from our trip. We were camping in Southern Ontario, near the Grand River (for those who are interested in where we were!).

Around the Camp-site...

Hiking and Caving!

Family Canoe Trip-

Hooray for memories!

Thanks for sharing our adventure with us...  lots of love.

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