Sep 182017
 

This year has held many changes for us.  I thought I was prepared.  I thought I could handle it all.  I thought…

Yeah, I was wrong.

Not completely, mind you, but in the “I thought I…” part of things.  There is nothing I can do to make anything happen.  Try as I might, I can not think something into reality.  What it does bring is anxiety as you see things around you not going as you want them to.

This came to a very clear reality after my surgery in March.  Physically I healed fine and quickly, with little pain.  Emotionally I was brought to my knees.  Once I figured out it was anxiety and not low iron, blood sugar, blood volume, or internal bleeding (sitting on the couch with orders to not do anything for a few days can lead your mind down interesting paths), I knew what needed to be done.  I also knew it was not going to be a quick fix.

Part of my self-imposed routine was to start the day off well.  In the past this meant me getting up at my regular time, having two breakfasts (the first to get my stomach convinced it was actually hungry and not sick), and getting dressed.  This time however, I found myself waking up super early, unable to fall back asleep.

Unable to fall asleep one morning, I went out to the back deck to watch the sun rise and listen to the birds sing.  Within minutes I felt better.  Not perfect, but better.  I went back in to get George off to school, but then back out to the deck I went.

For a few weeks I spent hours out there every day.  We even did home education outside.  The fresh air, sun shine, sound of birds and wind rustling in the tree tops…it was peaceful and what I needed.  Well, peaceful except for the occasional emergency vehicle siren and sound of traffic during morning commute times; at those times I focused on the nicer sounds and prayed for where those sirens were going.

Another part of my time outside involved a morning devotional.  At first, reading made me nauseous, so I used an audio version of the Bible on my phone.  After being able to tolerate printed materials, I added in Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson.

Not only was this book an encouragement, but it also spoke to my love of plants and nature.  Most importantly it spoke to the “I” part of why things were not working out – it was pride.

For years I thought that my sense of peace depends entirely on me. – Hannah Anderson, Humble Roots

Daily devotionals are not something I usually seek out.  I have gone through a few different ones over the years, but find I would rather read from the original text than from someone else’s opinion of what was being said.  This is where I felt Humble Roots deviated from other devotionals – it does not read or feel like a devotional.  Instead, it felt more like a talk with another gardener, one who has been where I was at.

Humble Roots is half plant book and half Christian devotional, each half complementing the other to help demonstrate the point being made.

After spending hours out-of-doors, and not solely in this instance of healing, it is hard to not notice details of nature and take them to heart:

  • The dry creek bed filling up with water in a few minutes time, yet days after a rain storm upstream.
  • The birds singing in the middle of a rain shower.
  • Flower stalks righting themselves after being laid flat by the wind.
  • A plant, growing from a tiny seed which seemed unimpressive and unlikely to survive.

There are lessons all around us, examples of the goodness of God and His providence.

These are also things which we, ourselves, could not make happen.

Humble Roots does not come across as an author talking at the reader, but someone who is also on the journey to find peace and understanding in one’s day.   This gentle approach and easy read was much appreciated at a time when I was already being hard enough on myself.

Toward the end, I found that I did not fully agree with some of the conclusions which Hannah Anderson presented.  They felt a bit forced or abrupt.  This did not mean I could not gain something from the writing, only that I think the last chapter or two could have been edited better.

 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review.  This post contains affiliate links.

Sep 092017
 

If you have watched any television, turned on a radio, or walked past a newsstand in the last few days, you will have seen or heard about the current weather events taking place along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Ocean.

Hurricane Harvey was a massive, unexpected, force which has disrupted a huge area and hundred of thousands of people.  Hurricane Irma has been just as destructive, if not more-so, and she is not done yet.  Most consider these natural disturbances a catastrophe.

In terms of humans, I completely agree. Having lived in the Houston area, it is even harder to see the images and realize the scale, knowing that the images do not do it justice.  I was there when Katrina hit New Orleans and many of those residents fled to Houston.  Hearing their stories and seeing their struggles, literally face-to-face, did more than any news image could.

Hurricane Harvey and Irma are natural disturbances on a grand scale.  Thankfully, most disturbance of nature are that so intense.

Scaling back a little, let us take a look at a “disaster” from a different view point.

Consider a week of spring rains across the Midwestern states.  The rains have saturated the soil, thereby sending water flowing into local streams and rivers.  The streams and rivers can only move so fast, yet the water keeps coming.  Water levels rise, resulting in typical yearly flooding into fields, woods, yards, roadways, etc.

Eventually the rains end and the streams are able to carry the excess water into the rivers and down to the ocean.

What is left?

If you were to go look at the stream, you might notice a lack of sticks in the bed…you likely had to step over a line of them along the bank in order to get down to see the stream bed itself.  Perhaps the tall tree, whose roots used to stick out into the stream, is now lying across the stream, branches dangling in the water.

Down in the field, you notice grasses matted down, covered with detritus and debris. Temporary rivulets left lines as the water receded, creating low areas in a once flat field.

Is this a catastrophe or a rejuvenation?

As this natural disturbance is a seasonal, regular occurrence, what might look like a catastrophe to the local ecosystem at first can actually turn out to be a much needed and depended upon rejuvenation.

Where the tree fell, more light is reaching the forest floor.  In a year, this area will be covered with plants who need more light, rather than shade, to grow.  Birds who like to nest and eat along the edges of forests increase in population, and end up eating more of the insects flying near the water.

In 5 years you will not even be able to see an opening in the forest canopy.

The sticks in the stream, which used to catch leaves and block flow are now out of the way.  The water has been able to create a smoother bed and deeper pools.  While the dangling limbs from the tree provide shade and protection, the cleaned out stream bed means there are also more crevices under rocks, more places to hide.  The deeper pools are cooler than the shallower edges, helping regulate the stream’s temperature and aiding aquatic life who need cooler temperatures.

Was this natural disturbance a catastrophe or a change for rejuvenation?

While many in the news label occurrences like this a natural “disaster”, I think that is not always the case.  Without disturbances, a system becomes too similar – population diversities decline, species who can not survive in those conditions die or become extinct, and the system as a whole may loses its ability to handle a disturbance when it does happen.

The idea that natural disasters are not always bad, or disasters, is what Seth Reice talked about in “The Silver Lining: the benefits of natural disasters“.  I had picked up his book at a library book sale, the picture of a field/forest fire on the front having caught my attention.  Yes, I was initially judging a book by its cover. 😉

What I found inside was a great explanation of what happens during a natural disturbance, how we as humans perceive the results, why these disturbances are actually needed, and the observable results of various “disasters” years later.

Even better was the flow of the book.  It was not weighed down with technical terms, but written so even someone without an understanding of the science behind it could follow along easily.  My background in biological sciences and ecology only aided in understanding further what he was talking about.

While everything he mentioned was not new to me, it was a great reminder that there is not always one way to view what is happening.  We need to take headlines with a grain of salt.  The new agencies are in business to sell papers or gain ratings, while telling a story; hence the use of catchy headlines.  After all a headline saying “Forest Utterly Destroyed By Fire” is more likely sell a greater number of (non-academic) papers than “Forest Fire Allows Pine Trees To Reseed.”

Apr 162017
 

Alexander Hamilton book

Life has been a bit crazy lately.

Okay, a lot crazy.

When I received Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life by Jeff Wilser to review, I thought, “Great! That is exactly what I need.  I can use some life tips from someone successful.  Alexander Hamilton fits the bill!”  (Yes, pun intended.)

At over 300 pages, I set out for a deep read, ready to learn and grow from the knowledge imparted by one of our founding fathers.  What I found, was not so much deep thinking, as an easy read about Alexander’s life.  The Introduction put it well:

It is not a traditional biography. Instead, it’s the kind of manual that Hamilton would have written himself, perhaps, had he lived to be an old man.  That’s a bold claim, and of course Hamilton’s actual Guide to Life would have been smarter, deeper, longer, and Founding Fatherer.

Thankfully, it was not a list of maxim of Hamilton’s, as that would have been long, perhaps a bit boring, and not really taught me about the man.  Instead, what I found were sections organized around various parts of life.  These sections were then broken down into chapters based on one of Hamilton’s maxims.  (He had many and obviously they were not all used in this book, else it would have been much longer.)

The 10 areas of life covered were: Self-improvement, Career Advancement, Romance, Money, Style & Etiquette, Leisure, Friends & Family, Leadership, Office Politics, and Honor.

Within these pages, I found a founding father who was not as I had thought him to be.  Perhaps it was due to how the author chose to portray Hamilton, or maybe it was because he really was that different from what I had expected.  As it turns out, he did not have the same pedigree background as the other Fathers, he beginnings were much more humble.  He was mainly self taught rather than attending a prestigious school or having a tutor.  AND he was never President!

Disciplined. Forges his own path. Honor bound, to a fault. Studious.  These are all words which I now associate with this man.

Coming from a very less than ideal family life in one of the colonies, he was looked on as not a “true” American by some of his cohorts. That did not stop him, though, from doing his best to share his knowledge to make the country better.  Even when others dismissed him or politics got in the way, he tried to persevere.

In the end it was his honor, his pride, that got him killed.  Something which seems silly now, but was taken somewhat seriously back then – a challenge to duel over an insult.

The point of this book was not an in-depth study of the man, and perhaps that is why I come away feeling as such.  The author was clear on his point of the book (“not a traditional biography”, “), though I did not take it as seriously as I should have.  The first indication for me that I should have taken the author at his word was when I came across a reference to a modern day game.  It seemed very much out of place and like the author was trying to force a connection. (There was another reference or two throughout the book which made me feel the same, though not too many.)

While I am glad to have gotten to know a bit more about Hamilton, I feel as though there was a lot more left out.  Or perhaps it was the feeling of the author choosing what to share about this man. Or maybe it was the feeling of the book being written only because there was a musical coming out.

Either way, Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life is a good one for an introduction to the man, a place to start learning more.  If you already know a bit about him, then I would suggest moving on to a different book.

 

Would you like to have to chance to read the book for yourself?

 

Blogging For Books sent me an extra book which I am giving away!

As this is my first giveaway on the blog, I am going to keep it simple.  By 12 PM EST of Saturday (April 22), leave a comment below telling me what was the most recent book you read and why you would recommend it (or not).

Using the True Random Number Generator I will choose a winner and post it on Monday the 24th.  You will have till Wednesday to respond or I will choose a new winner. (If you leave your email when you leave a comment, I will email you if you win.)

Please, share this with your friends.  You will not get any extra entries for it (keeping it simple, remember), but I would greatly appreciate it!  I will post it on Facebook and Twitter, which should make sharing it easier. Thank you.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Jan 232017
 

This post contains affiliate links.
5-love-languages-of-children-clean-edgeThere are few books I read during my college years that still stick with me even to this day.  Most were academic in nature, things that I learned but did not affect me personally.  However, during that time I learned about the 5 Love Languages.

How I responded to actions and comments from friends and acquaintances, as well as how I acted towards them, began to change as I began to see them in a new light.  Up till then, I had not even realized my helping set up for a meeting or my willingness to go with them somewhere was how I expressed love.  I had assumed it was the thoughtful thing to do and that everyone did it.

I was wrong.

I learned it was how I showed and received love.  It was the form that spoke strongest to me personally.

Once my  husband and I met, it helped both of us to know our preferred love language.  While our languages are different, we are able to express our feeling in the way the other is most likely to receive it best.  We are also able to give grace when we realize they are not giving us what we need at the moment, because they do not always think the way we do.

While my husband may not always bring me flowers, he does do the dishes at times, or helps clean the kitchen.  Those are the times I feel like he is spoiling me.  He is speaking my language.

When we walk or go somewhere, we hold hands or sit close, and my husband greatly appreciates this. I am speaking his language.

Without knowing these things about ourselves and our spouse, we could have been spinning our wheels sitting in the same room together watching our favorite movies and sending heart felt cards to each other, yet never feeling truly loved.

When we added to our family, we both knew we needed to find our children’s love languages.  The problem was, how?

How do you figure out the love languages of your children when they can not even talk?  Are they the same as the languages of adults?  Are they expressed in the same way?  Do they have a primary language and a secondary language, and do they stay the same as they grow older?

Enter The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. The first parts of the book talk about why the showing love is so important in your relationship with your children.  Then a chapter is devoted to each of the various love languages.  If you have never read these books, practice a form of parenting or working with children that has not taken into account what is going on inside them, or are beginning your journey with kids, you will want to spend time in the beginning of this book, considering why this is important.

child shredding zucchini with border

It was interesting to see how these languages are felt and expressed differently in the lives of our children.  Touch, for example, may not mean holding your child’s hand like it would your spouse.  Instead, it might mean touching their back as you walk past them at the dinner table or picking them up to hold them in your lap.  Time might be shown in helping with homework or playing a game.

These love language explanations are followed by the chapter I had been waiting for – Discovering Your Child’s Love Language. Now I could figure out if I needed to keep rubbing George’s back or if Time was his main one and we should bake more together.  Did Jack appreciate me playing games with him or should I continue to do the soft touches on his arms when he sat on my lap? The conclusion?  I should keep doing all of them.

As it turns out, children’s language may change over time.  They do not have a primary one, though they might respond to various languages at different developmental stages.  So, while I will keep rubbing George’s back and playing with his hair (one way we found to almost instantly calm him down), I will keep baking with him and sitting near him for homework.

To be effective in discipline, parents must keep the child’s emotional love tank filled with love.

The next chapters of the 5 Love Languages of Children cover topics related to learning to love your children effectively which I had not thought so much about – Discipline, Learning, and Anger.

I have been told over and over, through our many (foster) parenting classes and books read, discipline is not always a negative thing.  It does not always mean punishment, but instead means guidance and teaching.  It comes from a place of love, not a place of anger and annoyance.  Sometimes easier said than done.  However, I personally have noticed a change in my kids when I make sure to love on them more, or take a deep breath before addressing the situation.  Sometimes a hug or verbal reminder is all they need – “I am right here. Please lower your voice.”  Other times, they do need firm reminders of expected behaviors.  The balance is a tough one to keep at times.

At night time, Jack is still in need of close physical presence, he prefers at least line of sight to an adult; even after 5 years, he does not feel safe.  It had improved to the point of me being able to sit in the living room “drinking coffee”, out of his sight, while he went to sleep; then we moved and progress went backwards at least a year.  I got really annoyed at him last night for disobeying and not staying in bed, responding harsher than I should have.  Once I realized his need and got past my “this is how it should be” thinking, things got better and we all slept (albeit two hours after he his bed time).

One point they make, and where I think some parents go wrong, even I at times, is to make requests instead of commands.  I understand saying “please” always is better then “go do ____”.  Where I used to go wrong, and where I hear other go wrong is saying, “Do you want to go brush your teeth?”  instead of “Please, go brush your teeth.”  The first is truly asking them if they want to or not, so do not get mad if they say “no” and keep playing.  One of my kids would take that question at face value then wonder why you are getting mad at him when he says he does not want to go.  The other child would understand that you really are telling him to go brush his teeth.  When wording something as a request, make sure you are willing to accept a true answer and not just the result you are wishing to obtain.

The same literal child above was reminded last week, that it was time to go and he needed to put on shoes.  The second time I said the same sentence with out any acknowledgment of hearing me I reworded the request into a statement: “We are leaving whether you  have on your shoes or not.  If you do not want your socks to get wet, you need to put on your shoes.” He was over putting on his shoes almost immediately.  No threats, but straight forward fact about the consequences of not doing what was asked.  

Parents who do not take time to speak the five love languages, but simply seed to meet a child’s physical needs, are neglecting her intellectual and social development.

We have seen the results of this in our children.  When they first came to us, their emotional ages were several years behind where they should be.  It was hard to teach them anything as they did not trust us, were hyper-vigilant, etc.  They were focused on surviving and had no mental energy left for learning.

Over time, they have learned to calm down some.  However, they are still anxious.  Anything taught to them during these times may as well be taught to a brick wall.  Their emotional ages,while improving, are still about a year behind, depending external factors and what exactly you are asking them to do (change in schedule vs. deal with a difficult person vs. doing something they would prefer not to be doing, etc.).

The last of these three – love and anger, was a chapter that unfortunately I really needed to read.  With all the changes going on in our home, emotions have been running high.  Anxiousness, sadness, happiness, excitement, nervousness, shyness, uncertainty … all these emotions mixed in with having to schedule appointments, set up services, start new school/church, continue home schooling, leaving an old job, learning a new job, finding your way around a new town, leaving friends, meet new friends, gather paperwork, organize chaos, decide what to keep and what to get rid of, finishing up activities around the house … well, honestly it leads to many days where sadly not everyone responds in the most appropriate of ways.  I see myself referencing back to this chapter in the upcoming months and days, as I am the one to set the example for my kids, helping them walk a path of appropriate handling of anger.

The last two chapters were aimed at the parents reading this book, either single or married.  They covered various aspects of parenting, of being parents, and how it relates to our children and their love/growth.  These chapters held encouragement and tips for creating a solid foundation in us and those around us.

Finally, at the end of the book were several resources: an epilogue, notes from chapters, and The Mystery Game for parents to play with their kids in order to help them determine the child’s love language.

begin to build bat house collage

One of the things I have liked best about this book are the practical examples and solutions presented. These examples helped me visualize what was being talked about, seeing ways to apply it in our home.

Another aspect I appreciated is actually something that is missing – a new parenting style.  The point of the book seemed to focus more on the relational side of parenting your children, rather than telling you how to raise them.

If you have previously read another version of The 5 Love Languages, then you will see some repeat, especially in the first few chapters.  The parts I found to be different or specific were the application area, or how it is expressed.

In the end I was glad I read this book.  It is a great addition to some of the other parenting books we have read and our (imperfect) method of parenting.  The 5 Love Languages of Children was also a great encouragement to keep moving forward even if we are not perfect in our parenting, especially because we are not.

Dec 032016
 

This post contains affiliate links to a great book.  I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss for review consideration.

This post was originally shared last autumn.  Since then I have thought of it several times.  As the holidays approach, this would be a great gift consideration for the gardener in your life … or for you.  😉  Once the moving boxes are no longer a daily decoration in my home, I plan to go back and read this book again.  Yes, I liked it that much.

This past summer we were able to take a last minute trip to our nation’s capitol.  Between visits with several different friends, we made stops at various sites around the area.  Many I had been to before, but a few were new.  For our kids, they were all new and most were about times in history they had yet to learn about in class.  A few of the sites, however, really peaked their interests.

The White House was a favorite as they had heard of it before (my husband often watches reruns of The West Wing on Netflix).  The kids found it even more interesting when we finally convinced them that the President is a real person, not just an actor, AND that he actually lives in the big white house behind the gates.

A lot of the history I know about the White House itself, which is not much, has to do with random facts throughout history that I have picked up while reading.  I love history, hearing the how’s and why’s as to events, details that make it come alive in my imagination.

When I began reading All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America I expected to pick up a few tidbits here and there on the gardening practices used on the White House grounds and long lists of plants used.  In general I thought it would be a boring read that would require cups of coffee to help me stay awake.  What I found surprised me and showed me a new way of looking at this home that has become a symbol over the years. 

Gardening history is not something I have been exposed to previously.  In my past there were mentions of how the Native Americans planted and how the early settlers gardened to provide for the table during winter months.  I have also visited sites such as Mt. Vernon (Jefferson’s home) and the Biltmore Estate, learning about how they landscaped, invented, studied and produced tools, methods and plants that we now think are common.  However, I never had found a book that actually walked a reader through the history of gardening in a particular place and how the look of the gardens were also affected by events of the day.  As it turns out, I had exposed myself to a book that kept me up at nights, long after I really wanted to be asleep, exploring our nation’s history and the people and gardens it contained.

Marta McDowell did a thorough job of researching the various gardeners, plants, sources, designs, struggles, Presidents’ preferences that have resulted in the gardens and the house we now see today.  She showed how the political events of the day – protests about wars, the Great Depression, the war of 1812, etc.- also had a result in shaping the look and use of the gardens and grounds.  The reader was taken along a path showing the various gardening styles and philosophies, and how they flowed from one style to the next – English, Italian, french, formal, practical, native and exotic.

All the Presidents’ Gardens quickly became one of my favorite history and gardening books.  I loved the flow, the story behind the story feel, and how it all felt tied together in a smooth fashion.  It was so seamless that I often forgot when a chapter had ended and another began.  There were a few points that I wondered why they were mentioned, only to find a  few paragraphs or pages later how it was all tied together.

All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America is a book I would wholeheartedly recommend for you to read.  You will have to wait a bit though, as it will not scheduled to be released till April 27, 2016.  You are able to pre-order it now so you will be able to receive one of the first copies.

I also learned that the White House holds a free garden tour twice a year.  This past year’s Spring tour was in mid-April, so you may be able to get in on this year’s tour if you keep watch for the announcement.  (The fall tour was held in October.)

Nov 052016
 

This post contains affiliate links.  I received a copy of this book for review.

At times, it feels like we are the only ones in our community willing to stand up, offering help to children who may be in unsafe situations.

At other times, it feels like we are not doing anything; we have become comfortable in our own little family.

Neither of those feelings accurately reflect real life.  One is a very self-centered, know it all, martyr mentality that dismisses all the ways others are aiding families around us.  The other comes from our normal not being ‘normal’ any more, we are used to some of the adjustments we have made to help our kids feel safe.

While neither are accurate, both come from the same place – the feeling of being overwhelmed at all that is wrong in this world.  No one person can do it all.

Make It Zero: the movement to safeguard every child by Mary Frances Bowley dives into this issue, looking not only at the obvious dangers children may face – hunger, abuse, and trafficking; but also poverty and isolation, exploring real examples of each.  Not only are they talked about, but each chapter ends with a ‘React’ section, encouraging the reader to do something about what was just read.

Make It Zero was not about children only.  It actually began by talking about adults, parents, and teenagers, not exactly who one thinks of when talking about the children in our society.  However, by the end of the second chapter I was starting to understand.  Safeguarding the children means giving them a good foundation.  That foundation is the parent/s in their lives.  If the parent is struggling, the children will struggle.

One example is that of poverty.  If there is lack of money in the home, then the parents might have to work longer hours, resulting in not being around to raise the children safely.  The kids are more likely to make bad choices, miss out on emotional milestones, and become adults who are lacking in one area or another, who then become parents themselves.

…even a giant Redwood tree starts out as a seed…

What can we do?  Social reforms have been taking place for hundreds of years, trying to remove all poverty and hunger from our world, yet it is still around.  Child trafficking seems to only be getting worse at a time when it should be easy to keep track of people.

Isolation was one of the issues that touched me the most.  You would think having a small world, not being disturbed by others would not be such a bad thing.  But how about the child left alone for hours at home, with no one to help keep them safe or teach them how to interact with others?  Or the foster teen who ages out of the system with no support network, expected to figure it out on their own at the mature age of 18?  Or the single parent household, where all the responsibility for the family and home falls on one person?  These are all situations that lead to problems much bigger than where they began.

Wellspring Living, Hire Hope, and other programs grew out of a desire to address these issues, to help the children by helping the family address underlying issues. Realizing the solution was not a simple 3 step answer, many people came together to address the needs leading to  This aspect, working to keep the family together by giving them the resources and support they needed, was one of my favorite parts of this book.  Instead of compounding the problem by saying all children should be removed from these homes, though at times it might be needed, the reader is given ideas, links, books, and other materials to help them learn to look around their community and find ways to help.

look im helping children cutting with scissors

I came away from reading Make It Zero feeling encouraged.  Yes, there are many issues out in the world, and no one person can solve them all.  However, we can all do something right where we are.  For now, that something is going to look different than it did 5 years ago, and will look different than it will 5 years from now.  This does not mean we are doing nothing, it a different type of something.

Our kids have a heart for others.  As much as they may add liveliness to my day, they are constantly asking if we can help someone else out.  They want to give all of our food to the school during food drives, they do not understand why we do not give money to every person on every street corner who is asking for it, and they are ready to hop on a plan to help those affected by natural disasters.  This is something my husband and I wish to encourage and direct.  We try to make them aware of the needs around us, finding tangible ways for them to help.  Make It Zero has given me several ideas of ways to help, as well as having opened my eyes to issues I did not know existed.

If you would like to learn more about this movement, I would encourage you to also checkout Make It Zero‘s website.

Oct 272016
 

This post contains affiliate links.

me-a-compendium

When looking something to add to our school day, Me: A Compendium: A Fill-in Journal For Kids caught my attention.  It looked fun, the picture on the cover intrigued me, and the idea seemed silly enough to hold the attention of my kids.

George has several variations of books such as this one, he tends towards the artistic thinking.  Jack, however, does not have any such books.  He is usually a black and white thinker, taking to artistic things only if it suits his fancy.  I was not sure how he would react to this book, though was hoping for something unexpected that he could do during the day when he was bored.  It would also act as a journal of his life at this point in time.

Me: A Compendium was picked with Jack in mind.

When the book came, I called him into the living room, handing him the book without saying anything.  The look in his eye was one of excitement, “Is this for me?!”  Seems it was going to be a hit with my practical child.  (George was a bit jealous, till I reminded him that he already had two books like this.  He still wanted to ‘help’ fill in some of the pages.)

As with any new book, I encouraged Jack to get to know the book before doing anything with it.  Starting at the most obvious place, the cover, he asked why it was blank.  “That is for you to fill in.  You write your name in the blank rectangle, either only your first or any combination of your names you choose. This is your book.”

Turning it over to the back cover, the questions continue.  The child is asked for favorites, descriptions of various body parts, and other information about likes/dislikes.

me-compendium-book-2-collage

The biggest surprise, though, was the inside of the cover.   “Super Secret Stuff” was a hit with this 7 year old.  He did not even want me to tell George or Dad about it.  “Mom, it is secret!  That is what secret means; others do not know about it.”  We had not even cracked the cover yet and he was already smitten with the book and the notion of filling it in as he saw fit.

me-compendium-book-inside-cover

Several pages were filled in the first day.  One of them surprised me, “This is what I’ll be doing when I grow up…”  Up till this point, he has always wanted to be a construction worker, or a constructions worker who works part time as a policeman.  This was the first time he said he wanted to, solely, be a policeman, “to help keep people safe”.  Being safe is a common thing he worries about, so this was not so surprising.

“As long as you do not want to be the person the police are chasing, I think it is a great idea”, a comment of mine that resulted in the oh so cute, “Mooooommmm” with the accompanying eye roll.

me-compendium-book-collageThe second picture took a bit of interpretation on his part before I understood what was going on – playing Frisbee with Dad.  Again, not a surprise, as this was drawn at a time where my husband was busy and not able to play with them as much as he, and they, would have liked.

Knowing Jack is not a huge drawer, I was very surprised and pleased to see how quickly he wanted to pick up drawing utensil and get to work filling in the paper pages.  If this is what it takes for my fine-motor activity adverse kid to draw, I will buy these books all day long.

I have no doubt Me: A Compendium will last us quite a while.  The cover is hard back and the pages are a heavy paper.  The drawing and fill-in-the-blank prompts are diverse, helping keep it interesting through the whole book.

Since drawing in it the first time, Jack has asked several times where this book was, as he wanted to work on it more.  This fact alone makes it a five-star book in my opinion, especially as it is not a particular cartoon construction worker and his builders, nor an alien race that can morph into various vehicle forms to fight other bad mechanical alien here on Earth.  This is a book that makes him stop or slow down, think, and transfer those thoughts to something outside of himself.  There are no right or wrong answers, and no grades.  So, if your police car looks more like a lump of coal, that is okay. 😉

I thought I would give Jack a chance to share his thoughts, in his own words.  Here is what I got:

Me: Jack, what did you think of this book?

Jack: (glancing over, sees the book on the screen, and gives a sly, shy smile, goes back to building his Lego creation.)

Me: Well, what did you think?

Jack: I don’t know.  I haven’t finished it yet.  I can’t tell you what I think of it till I finish it.

Me: Well, up till now, what have been your thoughts?

Jack: (silence, but smiling.)

And there you have it.  He liked it but was unwilling to put it into words, the normally accepted form of communication for creatures of our species, yet a form that Jack often does not like to use.  Hey, at least he did not spell it out in the air, as he is inclined to do at times.  That would have been harder to transcribe.

********************

As I was writing this review, I had another thought, “This would be great for a kid in Foster Care.”

Why? It would help create a scrap book of sorts, a place to write things down and store memories at a time where other forms may not be available.  At times there are gaps in a child’s photographic history or “This is Me in Grade ___” papers from school are lost.  Giving them a sturdy place to record various facts from their life at this moment, a way to possibly even share them with the adults in their lives, is a great way to encourage emotional connects, a connection with their personal story, and a record of this time in their life.

Me: A Compendium does not require batteries, is gender neutral, and easy to transport.  As the holiday season approaches, if you are considering being a part of a gift-giving effort, even if not for Foster Care specifically, this would be a great gift option to keep in mind.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Aug 272016
 

book cover

We love going to the library and finding new books.  I usually do a quick browse down the “New” shelf to see what is there, grabbing a few to take home.  However, it is not too often that a children’s book stops me in my tracks and makes me think twice.

I may have been raised in a teetotal family, and am not too far from it now (I do not completely abstain, but neither do I seek out to regularly consume).  My husband grew up in a family/culture where alcohol was commonly and regularly consumed.  He has also reached a point similar to mine, he may partake every so often, but not regularly.  My point being, we are not against responsibly and moderately consumed alcohol, but also do not see the benefit of focusing our lives on it.

HOWEVER, I do draw the line at children’s books centered around a cute animal and alcohol.  There is no need to make it look fun and tempting for children.  They should be out running and playing, not thinking about how to make barrels of it fly through the air ….

… but you should never judge a book by its cover.
book cover 2

Honestly, it took me seeing this book several times before I walked over to exam it more closely.  Before then, we were short on time and this was not an important item for me to investigate further.  One day, though, I had time and curiosity was getting the better of me.  That is when I realized how much a misplaced ribbon could change the meaning of a book’s title and had a good laugh at myself.

I picked up that ‘children’s book promoting alcohol’, adding it to our check-out pile.  As it turns out, Breaking News: Bear Alert by David Biedrzycki is a fun book.  We read it several time before taking it back, the kids enjoyed the silliness of what the bears were up to after waking up from hibernation.

I would like to say I will not judge a book by its cover again, that I have learned my lesson, but I doubt that is the case.  It is so easy to do and we all do it so often without even realizing it.

 

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Aug 172016
 

A young man, camping in a National Park, is attacked and killed by a bear.  Who is at fault?  Is anyone at fault?

This is the question asked in Engineering Eden by Jordan Fisher Smith.  Instead of looking at the immediate setting or what has happened in the past few decades, which is considered fairly recent in the natural resources world, Engineering Eden takes a look beginning back at the time before National Parks were even created.  Following the path of decisions made and prominent thinking of the times, we are shown how we ended up in the world Harry Eugene Walker and the bear found themselves one late June night.

The natural world we find ourselves in today looks quite different than it did after the Dust Bowl.  It looks different than it did back at the start of our nation.  It looks different than before the Native Americans populated this continent.  So which is the true ‘nature’ we are striving towards and what is the best way to achieve that goal?  Is the purpose of nature to be our playground, being utilized to entertain us and removing the things less desirable?  Or should we take a hands off approach, even when it is very much not convenient?

In the history of National Parks, these questions and more have been debated, researched, and theorized.  At various times they have been applied in some fashion or manner, often without a full understanding of the complex interactions. For many decades, the National Parks were not even run by those interested in the interactions of nature; their goal was to make the public happy and help the process run smoothly.  As time has passed, the original picture, whatever it was, has been blurred.  We now are left with the results of actions by our forefathers.  This makes the process even more complicated.  As time has passed the study of natural resources, the interactions between different animals and plants, has grown, yet still leaves much to be desired.

I knew part of the history Smith wrote about in Engineering Eden, though a lot of the finer details and some of the players were new to me.  Along the way, side stories were explained, giving a broader explanation to the whole picture.  Rarely is any decision black and white, but often a result of many smaller decisions, interactions, and influences.  Smith  took that knowledge, weaving together the National Parks’ history and the story of Harry Walker.  The result was a smooth and natural look at broader story, not a forced and dry recall of events.  At no point in the book did I find myself bored or reading repeated sections.

If you are looking for a light, easy read this book is not for you.  There is quite a bit of research mentioned, though not in language you will need an advanced degree to read.  It will make you think and consider the view you hold. Even the look of the book, a non-slick dust jacket and pages that have a rough cut appearance, lend to a natural, real feel for the story.

While Engineering Eden ultimately is focused around the events leading up to the unfortunate encounter one June night, I believe it holds even more important truths for us all, both in regard to our interactions with nature and for ourselves. One of those truths Smith shared at the end of the book’s Afterward:

And if order prevails in nature, then it prevails in my life, and yours.  And if this is true, then the beautiful world – the care of which incited such bitter argument between the people in this book – has a purpose, and so did the life of Harry Walker, and so do ours.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  This post contains affiliate links.

Jul 182016
 

Over the course of my gardening life, I have read several different gardening books.  I have learned new methods for forming garden beds, which plants work well together, how to garden in small locations, and other useful tips.  After reading the most recent book, one which I would encourage every gardener to read, I can tell you that I now look at my garden with a new set of eyes.

What do I see?  My garden is a failure.  It is neglecting to attract one of the most important visitors a gardener can ask for, the bee.

When I first opened The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn I was not exactly sure what to expect.  Perhaps a list of plants which bees like to visit in order to make honey? After all, their subtitle is “Design an abundant, flower-filled yard that nurtures bees and supports biodiversity.” Is not the main purpose of bees to make honey? (hint: the answer is NO!)

Looking around my yard I thought I was doing well in the flower department.  In the spring I have tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, lilies, bleeding hearts and other flowers, as well as strawberries and early garden plants.  The maple and hack berry trees in the yard also produce flowers in great abundance. When summer begins to appear the tiger lilies start to make an appearance, hostas and rose bushes bloom, and my garden begins to with fill with tomato and blackberry blossoms.  In the fall, the clematis presents a 6 foot wall of blooms behind the rose bushes.  All of this is in addition to any potted annuals and hanging baskets I am able to add to the garden.

I felt confident I was doing my part to attract bees and other pollinators to the garden.  As I read, I realized there were several obvious aspects I was neglecting to address.  These were actually keeping my garden from attracting the much needed insects. Specifically I did not have enough blooms at one time, nor consistent blooms throughout the year, to make my garden inviting enough for the pollinators I have been wanting to appear.  Thankfully, I found out these issues could be easily addressed.

Before finding out how to address the issues in my own garden, I had to learn more about what it meant to have a garden the various species of bees find attractive and what aspects may hinder their appearances.

Frey and LeBuhn began The Bee-friendly Garden talking about, well, bees.  My knowledge of entomology is pretty basic, though it is broader than the average person.  I know the terms and various genus and families, but am not intimately familiar with the various aspects of each.  Having this knowledge helped understand the beginning chapters, though I still found myself learning new things.  If you had no knowledge to begin with, I believe you could still easily understand this chapter.  They made it clear and simple for almost anyone to use as a foundation for the rest of the book.

The next few chapters talked about various plants which would be good additions to your garden to attract bees.  They covered both edible and non-edible gardens.  I appreciated the authors taking into account visual appeal for humans, as well as attractiveness for the insects.  A plant may hold a great appeal to the insect you want to attract, but if it Is a nuisance or difficult to take care of the gardener is unlikely to actually plant it.

Chapter 5 talks about garden designs. The authors again presented the information with a very practical approach – we do not all have perfect gardens, nor the means to make them so.  What the reader is presented with are ways to work with what they may have, encouragement to think outside the box or to step back and take a new look.

The final chapter is fairly short, encouraging the reader to go beyond their backyards and find ways to encourage bees in their communities.  The authors have provided several resources already organized in working toward this end.  I have participated in a few over the years and found myself encouraged to take part again in the upcoming year.

Following the final chapter is a list of resources and regional plant lists.

I greatly enjoyed The Bee-friendly Garden and think every gardener should take time to look beyond the visual appeal, to humans, their gardens provide.  You may have the best soil and the newest hybrid of your favorite flower, but it will not do really well if you are not also attracting the much needed pollinators.

Aspects of the book I liked:

  • You are not only told how to do something, but also why.
  • Suggestions are given for less than perfect gardens, as well as various gardening styles.
  • Photos of actual yards and gardens, across various climates, are shown and described.

Aspects of the book I did not like:

  • Some repetitive nature.
  • While it may be good for the beginning reader to go over certain aspects, there were things explained that I already knew.

After reading through The Bee-friendly Garden I learned:

  • There are 46 species of bumble bees in North America. Some other families contain hundreds of different species.
  • Honey bees are not the best pollinators.
  • Most bees do not live in large colonies.
  • Many make their homes in the ground, which makes using a weed barrier a determinant.
  • Some plants require the specific resonance of the bee’s vibrations to pollinate.
  • Flowers do not mean only the perennial and annual broad leaf plants, but also grasses and trees.
  • The presence of flowers is not the only factor, you also need volume. (1 flower does not seem very attractive, but 50 does.)
  • Bees tend to visit patch of flowers rather than hop from this flower to that flower.

The last two points were the ones most practical to figuring out how to solve my problem of not enough pollinators.

As I walk out into my garden, I notice the abundance of green and the lack of color signaling pollinators to come to my garden beds.  Like other aspects I have adjusted over the years, I will begin to change this by taking small steps at first, working in one part of the garden and spreading to other areas.  Thanks to The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity I have a great guide to improve my garden and help it thrive.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  All opinions are honest and my own.

This post contains affiliate links.