God Bless America (A Patriotic Coloring Book Review)

I have been a fan of the adult coloring trend ever since I first heard about it, and whenever I get an opportunity to review a coloring book, I jump at it.  I was excited to get God Bless America: A Patriotic Coloring Book because 1) it's summer, and all the patriotic illustrations are fitting with patriotic holidays like the 4th of July, and 2) it's an election year, so what a great time to remember all the things we hold dear in our country!

There are illustrations in this coloring book from a variety of artists, depicting everything from Monticello to man's and America's first steps on the moon.  I loved how each page showcases a different piece of American history or culture, but my favorite parts were the quotes on each page about freedom and America.

As far as the actual coloring goes, I have found that in general, adult coloring books have a tendency to get too detailed - but you also don't want the illustrations to be too simple.  This coloring book offered just the right balance of detail, while leaving enough room to add a little creative flair to the pages as well.  It is honestly my favorite coloring book, and I'm looking forward to working through all the pages!

Note: I received a copy of this coloring book for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

How Important Is It To Teach Your Kids The Books Of The Bible?

When did you learn the books of the Bible?

I am willing to bet that most adults who have the books of the Bible memorized learned them as a kid.  Kids are such sponges! It's so much easier to memorize lists of information like that as children.

I think I was probably four or five years old when I learned the books of the Old Testament.  I went to VBS at a little mountain church, and there was a teenage girl there with an acoustic guitar and long brown hair who sang the Bible books song every day.  I have no idea who she was, but I can still almost see her in my mind.  I hope wherever she is, the Lord blesses her for her service at that VBS, because it has served me well to have the books of the Bible memorized, and it all started with that song.

I am really hoping to start teaching my "big" kids the books of the Bible as part of our homeschooling this fall, but how important is it to learn the books of the Bible?  

I would suggest it's not as important as we might think.  

You can read all my thoughts on teaching children the books of the Bible, and what is more important than that, on Tommy Nelson today!  

What do you think?  Is it important for kids learn the books of the Bible?  How did you learn?  Comment here or there and tell me what you think!

The Valley Of Dry Bones (An Audiobook Review)

1.5/5 stars.

I requested The Valley Of Dry Bones audiobook from christianaudio for Derek and I to listen to on vacation.

Before I jump into this, I have to say that I have read books by Jerry Jenkins in the past, and I have enjoyed them.  He is most known for co-writing the Left Behind series, and I read another series from him that I enjoyed.  He typically knows how to keep a story moving, and I like that.  But unfortunately, this book is not representative of his books as a whole, in my opinion.  I just have to say that first.

The plot of this book follows a small group of people that stays in California after a severe, permanent drought renders it uninhabitable.  The back cover copy hints at a mystery involving possible terrorism.  Amidst all this, the leader of the group, Zeke, starts to hear the voice of God in a prophetic way.  Somehow from reading the book description and the title, I thought this would be some sort of fictional parallel of the prophet Ezekiel, in the Bible, but that's not what it was at all.  

I'm not sure how to even describe the plot because so little happened in this book.  It was mostly internal conflict and an elder election among members of the group.  It was extremely slow.  There were a lot of words to tell very little action.

The writing in this book was mostly "tell", and very little "show", and for the first time I realized why that fiction writing rule is so important.  There was no mystery at all, because we were told almost everything that was going to happen before it happened.  The story could have had a lot more suspense if it had been written differently, and that was a shame.

I was also left confused about a few things.   For example:

1) Why are they in California when it's so uninhabitable? It was supposedly to act as missionaries to the people who were left, but very little missionary action seemed to happen before the very end.  Throughout this book the characters were very concerned with hiding and keeping outsiders out of their compound. Why were they so inhospitable toward certain outsiders if they were supposed to be ministering to them?  What's the point of being there if you are just going to hole up with your own little group?

2) How did this drought happen (besides it being an act of God)?  The main character was supposed to be a scientist who saw this drought coming, and came up with scientific ways to grow food and live in this extreme desert.  I wanted to read more about that.  Instead, any descriptions of the drought were vague, the characters spent very little time outside, and there were negligible descriptions of the environment and the mechanics of existing there.  It left me feeling like this whole concept was really improbable.

The plot line that involved Zeke hearing from God really had no biblical basis, in my opinion, aside from the references to prophesying in Joel 2:28.  Like I said, I thought there would be more parallels to Ezekiel or something of that nature, but instead there were (once again) vague references to this being some sort of signal of the end times approaching.  What this "prophesying" added to the plot was minimal, and it didn't wrap up well enough for me. I did appreciate that all the words that were supposed to be from God were actual Scripture verses.

That narrator was good, and I liked the different voices he did for the characters.  But his narration was a bit on the slow side, in my opinion.  I actually listened to most of this book on 2x the speed, and I could still understand every word.  However, I think he did a good job with a difficult story.  I think my feelings on the book being slow were more because of the writing than because of the narrating.

Note: I received a free copy of this audiobook as part of the christianaudio review program.  This is my honest opinion.

We Have A Dream Vacation Baby

Clarice is nine months old, and is officially a dream vacation baby.

We went on a camping trip to Wyoming this year, which I'm hoping to write more about, and I was prepared to end the week in a zombie-like state from lack of sleep.  But Clarice barely cried during the long hours in the car, and I would look back to see her little feet sticking out of her carseat, moving happily.  Feet can move happily, you know.  Clarice has very expressive feet. She loved the campsite, and she went straight to sleep when we laid her down at night, usually only waking up once.  I was shocked by how rested I felt each day, and it was the best vacation surprise.

Then she got her first tooth.  On vacation!  And we barely even noticed.  To say we were impressed is an understatement.  Clarice, you can go camping with us anytime.

So among the firsts this last month was first time camping (on the outside), first tooth, and first time swimming.  Clarice has also started scooting along the floor, in her own, undefined way.  I hardly ever seem to see her actually moving, but I'll turn around and when I look back she is halfway across the floor.  She has figured out how to get from laying down to sitting up by herself too.

Sleeping before vacation was so-so, on vacation it was wonderful, and since we've been home it's been not so wonderful.  She has been waking up 3-4 times each night, but in the little one's defense, she has also been sick.  She has a sniffly nose, and it's so sad to see her smiling through eyes all red and nose running.

She has taken the happy noises to a new level this month via "the happy screech".  Sometimes one of the kids will be playing with her, and I'll hear the screech and start to scold the older ones for making her cry, but then I'll realize she's laughing!  Her brothers and sister can make her laugh so easily, and I love to see their relationship develop.  Her face lights up whenever she spots her siblings.

She is loving her solid foods still, but she gets a frustrated with purees.  She will eat them, but she looks so longingly at everyone else's food.  She is most happy when I give her a piece of fruit or a vegetable that she can gnaw to death.  I'm not sure how much makes it to her stomach, but it's so cute watching her try.

She's still half nursing, half bottle feeding, and I think I'm hanging on for the night and nap time feedings alone.  Derek enjoys giving her a bottle at night because she curls in and falls asleep while she eats, and I like to nurse her still for the same reason.  She curls her little legs up against my stomach and falls asleep while she eats, and I just love it.  It's the easiest way to get her to fall asleep in my lap, and I want to hang on to it for a while longer.


Dear Clarice,

Darling, you have grown so much this month!  All of a sudden you are so much more independent.  You are happy playing by yourself, feeding yourself, and falling asleep by yourself.  But you still reach for me, sometimes when things are not right in your world, and sometimes just because you want to be with me.  It's sweet to see you grow more and more, and honey to my heart when you still reach up for me.  I love you, my sweet darling.


We Can't Pay Our Own Debts (All The Missing Girls Book Review)

I recently started listening to “What Should I Read Next?”, which is a podcast by Anne Bogel (otherwise known as Modern Mrs. Darcy).  I've been enjoying it - it's the perfect podcast for book nerds!  She puts out a summer reading guide every year, and this year I picked up a few books on her list to check out.  All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda was one of them, and I gave it a try because the story sounded interesting.  It’s a secular book, and I find that reviews of secular books need more breaking down than Christian books, so here we go.


In this story, Nic Farrell returns to her hometown to help sell her childhood home to take care of her aging father - but she is haunted by proverbial ghosts of what happened there in her teens, when her best friend disappeared.  Shortly after she arrives, another girl disappears.  

The most interesting part of this book is the way the story is told.  We get a brief introduction, and then the story jumps two weeks into the future and is told backward from there.  We get glimpses of what happened before Corinne disappeared ten years earlier, amidst the current investigation into what happened to the girl who most recently disappeared.  The ending was…interesting. 


The writing in this book is pretty masterful, in my opinion.  The story was told backward.  I don’t know how you tell a mystery story backward so that it makes sense, but this author did it beautifully.  The way the author communicated her underlying themes (see below) was also done very poignantly.  You get the idea of poetry, without there actually being any poetry, and the tone had notes of mystery and melancholy, which fit well with the plot.  I got a really strong sense of characters and place, all woven into the larger story in such a natural way.  It was nicely done. 


The language in this book is pretty much atrocious.  Many uses of “d” word, “f” word, other more minor cuss words, and the Lord’s name in vain (which I do not appreciate as a Christian).  This is a completely secular book, so I expected some cussing, but it was rather dense in some chapters.

Sexual Content

Nothing explicit, but several sexual relationships outside of marriage, including some cheating.  Two of the female characters also rinse off in a shower together at one point in the story.


It honestly took me a while to sort out my feelings about the story and message behind it.  I’m going to try to tell what I thought about it without giving anything away here.

The themes throughout this book were that no one is trustworthy, everyone has an inner darkness and secrets, and if you love someone you will keep their secrets.  I would say the underlying message of this story was pretty grim, but the idea that we all have “darkness” to battle is not too far off from the truth.  We do all have sinful hearts, but that is why we need Jesus, to pay the penalty for our sins so sin no longer has the power over us.  The way this story plays out is the exact opposite of the gospel story, with darkness and secrets running rampant, and a web of lies being spun to cover it all up.  If you want a mystery/suspense book that ends in justice being done, this is not the book for you.  

The most troubling part of the way this book played out though is the idea that if you love someone, you will keep their secrets.  The storytelling style suggests that there is something beautiful about loving someone enough to keep their dirty little secrets.  I do not like or agree with that.  Is it really loving someone to let them live under the weight of their own secrets, to have their entire life tainted by what they’ve done? To take away any chance at true redemption, because in order to confess they will be exposing your secrets too?  I don’t think love was so much at play here.  Maybe initially the characters were driven by love to cover up for each other, but after that it becomes self-preservation, to not tell the secrets of others because if they do, they will have to confess to theirs as well.  That’s not pretty, and it’s not true love.  It’s not love to doom someone to a lifetime of fear that their secrets will eventually come out, and to bind them to do the same for you, because no one wants to be the person who tells.

Needless to say, the ending was not satisfying to me.  Throughout the book, “debts’ are referenced in Nic’s internal monologue, the debts that everyone must pay to each other.  A macabre credit/debit system.  But the thing is, with this story, no one truly pays off their debts.  Instead they add more and more, paying “bills” with a proverbial credit card, until I can’t honestly see how they aren’t crushed by the weight of it all.  There is no hope for redemption here, no hope for true beauty in the future, not as long as these secrets remain hidden, and that’s sad.  

This book, weirdly enough, reminded me of the hope we have in Jesus.  Maybe seeing such a stark contrast, everyone desperately trying to hide their sin, emphasized to me why the Gospel stands out as something blindingly beautiful, something you would never think of on your own.  People have always tried to pay our own “debts” but we never can.  What is missing in this book is the truth that we can't and don’t have to pay our own debts.  Jesus died to pay our debts for us, and when we confess our sins and turn to Him, He will wash the slates clean.  The cleansing comes only from Him, after the “secrets” are told.  That is where we find redemption.  That is true love.  Salvation through the blood of Jesus is the only thing that can really give someone hope for a brighter tomorrow, untainted by buried sin.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book for free through NetGalley.  This is my honest opinion.

A Summer Reading List For Homeschool Moms

This fall we will start homeschooling Wyatt for kindergarten.

I was homeschooled myself, from 4th grade through high school.  I wrote a series a few years ago about my experience as a homeschool student and why it was good for me (you can read all the posts here).  Homeschooling has become more and more popular since I was a kid (some estimates say it is growing by 2-8% annually over the last several years, with 2.3 million children currently being homeschooled in the US), and there are resources galore!

But that doesn't make the idea of teaching your own children at home any less overwhelming.  In fact, when I first started trying to prepare for homeschooling my kids a few years ago, I got a little stress-paralyzed (name that movie!).  There are so many resources these days that it is difficult to narrow it down and figure out what to read, where to start.

So I thought I would share my "homeschool mom summer reading list" with you, as a mom who has not actually jumped into the day-to-day work of homeschooling yet.  These are the books I am reading to prepare, books that I have found helpful so far in narrowing down my philosophy, and books I want to read to give me a solid foundation as we get started.  

What these books are not: they are not a how-to guide to homeschooling.  I have yet to find a sufficient how-to guide, that will tell you exactly what to do, what to say, and when.  There is plenty of curriculum that attempts to do this, but I have found it more helpful in this preparation stage to just focus on why I want to homeschool, and read books that will help develop my philosophy as I approach the education of my children.

The truth is that if you are starting with kindergarten, you really shouldn't worry too much about the mechanics of homeschooling, not yet.  Kindergarten is about teaching very basic reading, writing, arithmetic.   If you are able to read this post, write letters, and add up your purchases at the grocery store, you are qualified to teach kindergarten to your child.  What seems more important to me at this point is nailing down my philosophy so I can build a proper framework for what I want to teach my children in all the years to come.

So without further ado.

The Why

When I Rise Up: A Covenantal Approach To Homeschooling by R.C. Sprout Jr. - This book is a must-read for any Christian homeschool mom.  No matter your reason for thinking about homeschooling in the first place, if you are a Christian you have to have a strong biblical foundation for what you are doing in homeschooling your children or the rest is meaningless.  I have not read this entire book yet, but the first couple chapters are excellent.

Dumbing Us Down/ Weapons Of Mass Instruction by John Gatto - These are two books that go hand in hand.  John Gatto is an award-winning public school teacher who quit his job and then wrote about his concerns with the public school system.  These are great books to read to build your confidence that you can do better by your kids than the system - not because public school teachers don't work hard (they do), but because the system in which they must work is flawed.  Very interesting reads so far.

Narrowing Down Homeschooling Philosophy


Free To Learn: Why Unleashing The Instinct To Play Will Make Our Children, More Self-Reliant, And Better Students For Life by Peter Gray - How's that for a title?  I have already read through most of this book, and this is probably the most non-traditional book I am recommending.  It's coming from a decidedly secular philosophy, but it addresses problems with classroom learning and presents an alternative model of giving kids freedoms and tools to teach themselves more about the things that interest them.  If you have heard of "unschooling" or Montessori learning, or read that article about kindergarten in Finland, this idea is similar.  I found the whole thing very interesting, and it made me think about ways to give my kids that margin in their schooling to not just learn the things they have to learn, but the things they want to learn.

Charlotte Mason

A Charlotte Mason Education/More Charlotte Mason Eductaion by Catherine Levison - I started with "More Charlotte Mason Education" by Catherine Levison, and now I want to read the prequel book this summer as well.  These books give a very manageable overview of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, which I knew nothing about prior to reading Levison's book.  I really like a lot of the practical ideas in these books, and there were several pieces of the CM philosophy that I liked and want to incorporate.

Classical Education

The Core: Teaching Your Child The foundations Of Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins - I was most skeptical about reading more about Classical education because they whole thing just seemed so overwhelming, but this book breaks down the underlying philosophy of the Trivium, and gives an overview of practical applications of this method.  I am still reading this one, but I am finding the idea of Classical education less intimidating after starting to read this book.

More Exploration (If I Have The Time)

Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder By Richard Louv - This book looked interesting to me.  I think we all agree that children today could spend more time outside.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason - The first book written by Charlotte Mason that addresses the early years of education, so it would obviously be appropriate for this stage.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide To Classical Eduaction At Home by Susan  Wide Bauer - THE classical education guide.  I wouldn't read the whole thing this year (once again, Classical can quickly get overwhelming), just the section that pertains to K-5th grade.

Obviously a lot of these books contradict each other in some way, but my goal for homeschool reading this summer is to start to figure out which philosophies I can relate to, and what I like about them.  I want to be able to articulate my own philosophy for educating my children, and these books are good ones to start with as I work toward figuring exactly how we are going to approach schooling in years to come.  I am sure I will be reading more books than these in future years, and I'll share more as I do!

Homeschool Moms - what should I read next?

I hope to write posts in the near(ish) future about my initial feelings about our homeschooling philosophy and maybe share what books/curriculum we will be using for kindergarten.  Stay tuned!

How I Am Marking The Years (A Gift Idea For Moms)

 (Note: I received the keepsake bracelet featured in this post from Teresa at The Keep Collective in exchange for an honest review.)

Do you have a way of marking the years?  

This month is my birthday, and I’ve been thinking a lot about different ways of marking the passage of time.  I think of myself five years ago on my birthday, and my life looked totally different.  Even my attitude was different!  You know how they say you don’t know how much you don’t know?  I don’t think that’s completely true.  I’m on my way out of my twenties, the decade of the “know-it-all”, and I realize more now how much I used to think I knew, but I really didn’t.  There is some wisdom in knowing what you don’t know, and not pretending you do know what you can’t, and I’m slowly learning that.

There is one thing I can always know - God’s Word is true.  On that I can stand.  Everything else changes as I age, until I sometimes shake my head at myself “x” amount of years ago.

But there are some external signs to the fact that I am not the same as I was five years ago.  I was a first time mom then, and now I have four kids.  The skin on my face is a little less smooth, the stretch marks more prominent.  The years pass, and each one looks a little different, and I start to want to mark them as they go by; to mark the years, the children, the memories.  All of it being used by God to show me how I need to grow and to teach me more about Him.  

I think that is what is behind the desire to mark the years.  I want to have something to remind me of all the ways the Lord has worked in my life, to help me tell of His faithfulness to future generations.  I want to have records, symbols, to remind me to pass these stories on to my children. 

This year, I want to mark the years a little better, to remember the grace of God in where I’ve been and where I’m going.  I might do this in different ways - maybe journal a little more, maybe work on actually filling those photo albums.  But I’ll tell you right now - I stumbled on a really fun way recently to remind me of God’s blessings as the years go by!  

A lovely reader, Teresa, introduced me to The Keep Collective, which is a customizable designer jewelry line.  You start with a “keeper”, which is a band of genuine leather or metal.  Then you can add different “keys”, unique little charms that you can add to your keeper band. 

What I like about Keep Collective is that you can create each piece with as much or as little symbolism as you want.  They have an amazing selection of keys, so you can go trendy and just get something pretty, be practical with a watch key, or you can choose pieces to represent different events or areas of your life.  The keys are removable, and the keepers are reversible, so you can customize it to be exactly what you want. There are all kinds of images on Pinterest, and also in this inspiration gallery, if you want to see the different ways you can change up your collection - but I warn you, it will make you want to buy everything!  Teresa was so helpful and showed me mock-ups of different keys and bands when I was trying to decide what I wanted (she can do the same for you if you are interested - email her at tkohnert05@gmail.com).

I was looking for something that I could build on in the future, so I chose this gorgeous rose gold colored double keeper.  I picked the “blessed” key to add to it, because that is what I want to be reminded of each time I look at it - how many blessings the Lord has given to me.  My plan is to add a key with each of the kids’ birthstones, because my little family is my greatest gift from God aside from Jesus sacrifice on the cross!

Definitely check out Keep Collective if you are looking for a meaningful and versatile piece of jewelry, or if you want a gift for someone else that will be a keepsake that can be built upon.  These pieces are gorgeous, and I know I’m going to enjoy mine for years to come.

Do you have any favorite keepsake jewelry?  What are some ways that you mark the years?

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