Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Review- 31 Verses to Write on Your Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs

Alright, I am finally sitting down to write a review on this book. I received it in October of last year, and to be honest, I wasn't motivated to read it.

Perhaps it was the morning sickness. Perhaps I was a little bit in a funk due to life circumstances (another story for another time). Perhaps the book wasn't the cup of tea I was expecting. Perhaps a little of all.

But, here we are. 6 months later, I am now a mom of 4, and we are in a completely new season in so many ways. I think passing through that tunnel gave me a new fervor to pursue my own writing- starting with writing on somebody else's writing! ;)

So- my summary of this book is that it is a satisfactory reference/guidance book on several key scriptures that you could call "staple scriptures".

Lady Liz (it sounded cool, okay?) lays her book out with 31 chapters, a verse to go with each one. She very meticulously breaks down the verse and writes her own commentary on it. Now, this is where the book kind of bored me a bit. I LOVE  Lady Liz's laid-back, honest and fun writing style. But there was a little bit of a jerkiness to the stop and go of breaking down the verses. Informative, but it was a little difficult to settle into the book. I did, however, appreciate that the chapters were short and sweet.

At the end of each chapter, she gives a tip on how to memorize scripture, such as writing it, or walking around and saying it. I thought this was clever, and from a practical standpoint, a great instructive for people genuinely wanting to memorize theses scriptures.

The cover of the book was well done, and eye catching. A vase of pretty roses sits in the backdrop, with pretty white cursive as the title. The headers of each chapter are beautifully done also, with a black /white watercolor of roses at the top of the page.

I didn't notice any repetitive editing mistakes, however, there were some pretty bad blunders in some chapters regarding the page header- the one the says the chapter name. I hope the editing team or whatever caught this before the final draft was published.

There is a very handy study guide with questions at the end of the book. All in all, I would give this book a 7 on scale of 1-10. It wasn't mind blowing, but I would say it's a great little tool in the spiritual toolbox.

What about you? Did you read this book?
What things do you want to know about a book before buying it?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Other Benefits to Learning a Foreign Language

For many of you who know me or follow my posts, you know that I have a personal goal of being fluent in French by 2018. I took 3 years of French in high school, and did not do much with it afterwards, save for talking in my head with French phrases here and there. I was looking for a mental challenge when I decided I would return to the language about 2 years ago.

It's going pretty well. Instead of spending every day doing a little bit, I actually do a large chunk on the weekends. For some reason my brain assimilates information better this way. My sister (who is fluent in French, and has two authentic French French tutors herself), tutors me over Voxer or in person. I have also found some other excellent sources to help me in this journey. 

It has been a very good challenge for me, but I have learned a few other advantages to this process, that I wanted to share with you. 

1. It's good for your health
 Learning something new is difficult, which means our brains have to work extra hard. So what's the reward then? Studies have shown that people who learn a second language can switch between tasks more easily, can listen better, have better concentration, and have better memory. And the healthier our minds are, the healthier everything else will be.  That's just to name a few- there are voluminous articles that say much more about this. I won't repeat them here, but Google a few, and you will be impressed! 

2. You widen your perspective on the world
 As I was learning new words and phrases, I started to recognize many things that the French did differently than Americans. For example, for breakfast and lunch, you have petite dejeuner and dejeuner. Hmmm, they call breakfast "little lunch"- what is behind that, I wondered? Well, in French culture, they aren't big on breakfast. Perhaps a baguette with butter, jam, or cheese, and some coffee, and you're good to go. No sausage, eggs and heavy protein. That's because lunch is the smorgasbord of the day, complete with an appetizer, a main course, cheese, and dessert. And wine of course.  It Most people take 2 hours for lunch from work, and kids go home to eat lunch with their families. 

The point is- you start to realize there are more (or even better) ways to do things in life. Every culture has it's strengths and weaknesses, but learning about different ways to do things can give us ideas on how to change things up in our own lives for the better. 

I am actually now a little obsessed about learning about different cultures, namely the French. I find it so incredibly fascinating, and love implementing some of their habits into my own life. I have read French books on parenting, eating and watch hundreds of videos on what they do in France, and have tried to implement many of them into my own life. Which leads me to my next point...

3. You gain appreciation for your own culture
 I also realized that as I tried to implement some of the French habits into my own life, I just didn't have the value for what the French were trying to do. For example, food is extremely important to the French. Not just the food itself, but the process of buying it, preparing it, and eating it with other people. And in general they have a slower pace of life.  I tried to fully embrace this concept, but I learned it takes A LOT of time. Time that I was not willing to spend. I had things to do, places to be. I realized that deep down in my American DNA, convenience simply was more important to me most of the time. And I have found this mostly true with Americans in general. We love convenience- we have a goal of getting the most bang for our bucks, and that includes our schedules.

 So in one hand I held the choice of slower paced life, spending time and money choosing the best of the best ingredients for a recipe that may take an hour, and in the other hand getting to the grocery store, getting out with the best deals, and whipping up a 15 minute meal. In the end, I found I would rather have the convenience. This meant more time doing fun things with my family, blogging, or however else I decided to spend my time. To my pleasure, I have found ways to have my cake and eat it too, but when the rubber meets the road, I like convenience, and I am glad my culture is like that too.

4. You gain compassion
 It is easy as an adult to take certain skills for granted. For example, driving a car, knowing how to read, or how to use certain appliances. When you learn a new language, you are thrust into the "i don't know how to do anything" realm, and its a satisfyingly humbling experience. You stumble over words, sometimes use curse words in place of pronouns, and sound, well, dumb.

 This helps us have compassion for others who are learning new things. I am currently teaching my 6 year old to read and write. Because I'm in the middle of learning a language myself, I am completely aware of the endless grammar rules and the way it can feel confusing. Or if I am in the pool with my 4 year old- when he panics, I don't say "Come on! Get it together! It's just water!" Being in the vulnerable position of being a student serves as a  reminder that new things are a little scary and require some hand holding.

5. It is a good example for your kids
 I believe it is important to always be learning something. I don't care if its about gardening, or politics, or ballet; but I think it is incredibly important to always be challenging yourself and to be a student of life. I want my children to see that the awkward stage of not knowing everything is not just for children, but for adults too. This will help them embrace the process of learning, and not just get through high school and maybe college. 

 The learning process is played out right in front of their eyes. What will you do when you stumble? What about when you have a ballet recital? What about when you fall on your face? Will you berate yourself? Give up? If you demonstrate how to handle challenges, frustration, and failure with grace, your kids will learn to also. I personally want my kids to see that life beyond childhood is full of the unknown and learning.

 It also shows them that your life does not revolve around them. As a parent, you probably spend a significant time educating them, driving them to sports, and/or supplying them with stepping stones so they can have necessary life skills. We desire to love our children, but it's important to understand that you don't exist to serve them all the time. You are your own individual with passions and desires. The result is two-fold- you get some of your needs met, and they have a platform to learn selflessness by celebrating you as a separate person.

6. You can travel and have more experiences
 Here's the obvious one- I can go to France and speak French! Of course I could go to France and probably have a good time speaking English in many of the tourist spots, but speaking the native language opens up so many more opportunities! Perhaps I can go to a remote village where nobody speaks English! I could actually spend time with the French people and get to know them better, and have some experiences off the beaten path. 

In conclusion, even if you have never even thought about learning another language, its never too late and you will reap many benefits! 

Do you know any foreign languages? 

What has been your experience in learning a new skill?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Power of "What if.."

I am a goal oriented person, so I naturally like structure. I like to have set days where I go to the gym. I like to have set days where I meet up with friends. I believe having a system in place so you don't have to make decisions on the fly, and the important stuff is worked into the seams. (don't worry Type B people, I am learning the art of going with the flow).

But I have learned that it is really important to schedule rest. I don't just mean times during the day or week where you are sleeping, but larger chunks during the month or year where you are switching activities.

So this past week was a rest week for me. I cut out going to the gym, and I relaxed on some of my kindergartner's school. I designated the extra time to work on some art projects I had in my queue. One of them was a painting of a giraffe I had seen online.

So I pulled it up to find a model (I can look and draw, but I don't have great ability to draw from my mind). As i scrolled down the page to find a portrait, my eyes were instantly attracted to a beautiful watercolor head, with colors like magenta, turquoise, and greens. That was the one. Here is my finished work:

It turned out more beautiful than I had imagined. I am fairly new to watercolor, so I was open to anything from disastrous to satisfaction. I was so pleased with how it turned out, I immediately wanted to try some other animals with my wild colors. But it got me thinking, I wonder what it is about these wild colors that I am consistently attracted to...

There is something really captivating about seeing the normal through the abnormal. Giraffes are not aqua, reds, pinks and greens. Unnatural color breaches the rules of realism, and brings the imagination to life. There is an aspect of What if?

What if giraffes were pink?

What if the sky was orange?

 What if we put this color here?

These of  course are the What if's regarding artwork, but as we know, artwork is a reflection of our spirits and souls. 

It took me several years to actually realize that there are real people who just accept things as they are. I knew that "everybody was different", and I knew in theory that people grew up with different beliefs. But it took me several years of adult life to say Ohhhh, THAT's what ____ belief produces. I am just as human, and people probably shake their head in confusion at some of the things I do.

I was blessed to have parents and other relatives who had inspiring occupations. My grandfather, dad, uncle, sister, and brother-in-law were airline pilots. They didn't work the typical 9-5 grind, and they came back with interesting stories of their travels. My step-father was the director of his own equestrian program, teaching children and adults to ride horses.What's more, I had women who had inspiring jobs. My mom and aunt were flight attendants. My other 3 sisters were lawyers, accountants and actresses respectively.  

The sky was the limits. I wanted to be a marine biologist, a geologist, a paleontologist, a fighter pilot, and actress and a horse surgeon. I had no limits to what I could be. The word "can't" was not practiced in our home.
While I learned that my passion was not flying, I remember my dad repeatedly offering to pay for my flight school, should I change my mind at the end of my fully-funded Bachelors journey to become a pilot. There was never a doubt in his or my mind that I would pursue and achieve excellence. I politely declined his invitation every time, knowing it wasn't my passion. However,  it did keep the proverbial door open for What would my life be like if I was a pilot?

So when I encountered people during my health coaching job with a "That's just the way it is" perspective, I couldn't understand it. People would be describing an issue, and I would ask them, "what do you want to do?" Some of their responses sounded something like this:

I guess that's just the way it is.
What can I really do?
You just don't understand the way things are.

I furrowed my brow at people who spoke like this. But my frustration waned and my compassion grew when God showed me that they were just doing what they knew and believed. And as for me, life happened and I began to understand. I climbed the mountains of life, fell off rocks, broke bones, was abandoned by friends, and wondered how my life looked so different than the wild dreams I had as an adolescent. I remember the one of the saddest days of my life was when the thought of I wished I had never dreamt. I suddenly knew more about how risky it can be to see another perspective. I knew what it felt like to give up, and the sad feeling of wishing I had never hoped to begin with.

Do you have a friend who sounds like this? Are you that friend?  Perhaps you need a fresh perspective on an old situation. It is scary to hope and dream. Really scary. But where the risk is, the reward is also.  

When we see the world with open doors, we have hope for change. When we encounter a problem in life, having hope means we can imagine what we would like things to be like, and then move towards it. When we have the perspective of Well, that's just the way it is, I can't do anything to change things.... we relegate our power to external circumstances. Don't get me wrong; there are circumstances that we can do absolutely nothing about. And I am also not speaking of completely ignoring the fact that God directs our steps, and seeking guidance and direction for our lives. I am also not talking about being the god of your destiny. But I am talking about the truth that God gives you more say than you may believe, and he wants you to dream.

What challenges do you face today? Perhaps it has not been just today, but for years. Can you formulate some What if's for your circumstance(s)? I will help get you started:

What if I had 3 wishes?

What if I had 1 month to do anything I wanted (paid for), what would I do?

What if I had 1 million dollars?

What if I had no fear?

Friday, September 2, 2016

Phonics for Preschoolers

I wanted to start documenting the ways I am teaching my kids, not only for myself to remember down the road when I need to repeat a grade, but for other home schoolers to draw ideas.

So I came up with this one when my Kindergarten child was well on her way in reading using The Measured Mom readers. I realized that most of my mental energy in the school part of my brain was devoted to nourishing my Kindergarten child's reading journey, while my preschooler played with blocks or animals. While I follow Charlotte Mason's principle of focusing on play the first 6 years, I was also wanting to slip some fun phonics in so my preschooler would have a solid foundation.

Up to thus far, my preschool "curriculum" for phonics consisted of educational videos and reading. These are both really great, but I found that videos were really addicting- for them and for me. It was all too easy to let them watch an hour plus of videos, and they were happy to oblige. They were overstimulated and bored with anything else after videos.

So I came up with this little 'game'. 

I used Dr. Suess's ABC book, and some colored construction paper. You could use any type of ABC book, but I really like this one because of the repetition and big letters.

The gist of the exercise is that the child gets to pick out a letter from the pile, unbeknownst to them, and you get to flip to the page in the book and read them the letter. I think this will really reinforce the presence of the letters forming in their minds. Especially when they are holding a letter in their hands and they are saying it. 
I will conclude the reading with "K says <kuh>" or whatever letter you chose. 
Depending on the child's attention span and how much they are enjoying it, I usually do about 5-10 letters.  
And in terms of frequency during the week, maybe 2x a week would be good, in addition to reading, educational videos, and sensory play.

If you have an older child sitting in, you could ask them to think of as many words as possible that start with this letter. 

That's all there is to it!
What do you do for your preschooler's phonics? What ABC books do you recommend?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Book Review- Rooted by Banning Leibscher you hear that? It's silence, and in my house, that means that all the little people are asleep for naps,  and that it's time to do some writing! I dedicated today to finishing Rooted by Banning Leibscher and writing my 2nd book review since joining Blogging for Books.


My short review: This book is not only excellent, but the council inside of it is crucial for the Church to be effective. 

I will start with the content of the book, and where it fits into the world. Then I will move on to more technical things.

This book is basically about 3 environments that God uses to grow you so that you can change the world with your specific calling. Throughout the book Banning uses David's life as the backdrop to the process of how, in healthy soil, a seed grows into a mature tree that bears lasting fruit, which is an analogy for our spiritual growth.

Banning's name is Irish for small, fair one (I looked it up, 'cause like, really, have you ever met an American named Banning?). I find this really amusing because if you have ever listened to him speak, his vision for change is anything but small. You can that tell the Lord has put a desire in him to ignite in other people a passion for world change and his passion is tangible in the pages of the book.

Like any book nerd, I investigated the layout of the book. How long was this book anyways? Were there cool pictures? Was the font easy to read? Are there questions at the end? 

The first half of the book is aimed at explaining WHY we need a root system, followed by the 3 soils for healthy roots: Intimacy, Serving and Community. The length of the first portion of the book actually took me by surprise. I had listened to a few leadership podcasts and watched a video that specifically spoke about his book, so I had gotten a good preview of what I was going to expect. He had explained that the first portion of the book was laid out like this, but I was expecting maybe a couple of chapters, not half the book. My first thought was Oh no, we've got a dragger... but then I saw something else. Come with me to the land of make believe...

We have 2 generations of the most informed and confident people alive together on the planet right now - the Y and Z Generation.  We are so confident, we actually need some boundaries. Let me explain.

In the last few decades, there has been an increased focus on the value of self-esteem. The 1980's was the era where this was flourishing. Nursery songs and children's books featuring themes such as uniqueness, validation of feelings, self-expression, capability and praise were becoming very popular. On the other hand, the authoritarian parenting model was fazing out. Kids were allowed more and more freedom in the name of self expression and self-esteem. I think these things are really healthy, but as with everything, it needs to be in balance with other principles.  

Coupled with infusing these kids with confidence was the birth of the internet age,  making just about everything accessible within seconds. We want it, and we want it now.  In short, along with the good stuff, the Generation Y's exibit symptoms of narcissism, entitlement, and impatience. We live in a time where peoples' picture albums are full of selfies, where graphic t-shirts say things like "I'm not spoiled, I just get what I want", and where seeing a beautiful swirling rainbow circle on a Mac computer makes our blood pressure rise. I know from personal experience, I am a Generation Y myself. But nobody wakes up in the morning and says "hmm, how can I be a self-centered, impatient person today?", I am merely pointing out that it is generally more acceptable to act like this and people not object to it. 
So now Generation Y is making babies, and do you know what values they are going to teach them? The same, except with conviction. They experienced what praise, affirmation, self-expression and validation feel like.  and they want to love their kids the best they know, and they know that this feels good. Generation Y's are making children's shows now. I can see these values highlighted in shows like Daniel Tiger and Curious George. (Click here if you want more info on how these values have manifested in our society.) Like I said before, I think it is healthy for children to be taught these things, but if they are not held in tension with servanthood and a healthy dependance on others, the life process could easily become about the individual and not God's purpose for their life. 

So here you have two generations of people who are pumped with passion, feel a responsibility to change the world, have no doubt they can do it and few social restrictions. Social media has enabled these groups to witness not only what is going on in the world, but showcased role models who are paving the way for them. This generation wants to have what those world changers are having, and they want it now. 

So, the length of Banning's explanation for WHY we need a root system is incredibly justified. It is natural for these generations to wonder, Why SHOULD I endure the discomfort of serving and community? I've totally got this...So I don't know if Banning intended the need to address the issue, but it is good that he did.

Although it was long, the introduction did not disappoint.  It was rich with captivating stories tucked between a neatly organized thesis. This book is not a light read and thankfully the editor...or whoever... thought it wise to separate the chapters into subheadings. I think this will enable readers to read the book in chunks and not get overwhelmed by all the information.  

Like I mentioned above, after the 'intro', the book is separated into the 3 soils to grow secure roots. I don't really have anything profound to say, but that Banning is, I believe, spot on with these things. The issues I mentioned above are not completely exclusive to Y and Z's. Believers in general avoid the conflict associated with the church. People don't really have an argument against hanging out with Jesus (Intimacy), but there is definitely some conflict in the church regarding Serving and Community. I mean, is there really anything else that gets under our skin like people?? 
That concludes my commentary on the content of the book. Now, some technical critiques and comments. Let's start with the cover of the book. 

The cover is refreshingly crisp and calm, a white cover with a simple illustration of a green sprout. A+ on this. We have WAY too much info coming at us everyday, a cover like this is likely to bring warm fuzzy feelings to a prospective buyer in the book store. 

The editors chose to have a top of the page chapter title heading; I really like this because it makes finding certain parts of the book easy. 

The font was your standard font, but the subheadings matched the cover font, which was some sort of caps sans serif font. You might be thinking, Really? I'm wasting my time reading about a font? 

Trussssssssst me, FONT MATTERS. I'm not really a font person- I don't know the names other than the standard ones and what sans serif/serif means. And I do obsess a little over the font in this blog, but can't seem to find more options than a couple. And I normally wouldn't scout out font when editing a book...but then...I read a book that had the most absurd font, and it made reading the book really difficult. There is a reason for certain fonts. Our eyes can pick out certain shapes more easily, and when  you are reading hundreds of letters a minute, boy does it count. Additionally, the last thing you want as a writer is for your reader to put your book down because of a silly mistake regarding font. Your reader will get tired with mismatched subheadings, or fonts that are hard on the eyes or not the right size. 
So, font was good. 

Here is one of my critiques. The editors chose to do one of those things where they highlighted a profound quote from the author. I normally see it tucked off to the side, like this:

But it was like this:

I found this really distracting. At first in my mind I was interpreting it as another section, but if of course wasn't. It really disrupted the flow of reading. I would recommend going with the first example. 

Another thing I wished the book had was a nice summary of the points Banning spoke about in each chapter. I was thinking Man, this is so good, I really want to make sure I'm getting this. But there really is so much information in each chapter it can be difficult to absorb it all in the reading process. I am not saying the chapters needed to be shorter, just that there is a tool for readers to effectively retain the information. 

So, that's all I really have. I will definitely be recommending this book to my friends and strangers. :) Happy reading y'all!