Book Review: Goodnight, Ark

I’m always on the lookout for good children’s picture books that are based on stories from the Bible.  I must admit, though, sometimes I’m a teeny bit nervous to review these kind of books because many of them are not very engaging.

Goodnight, Ark, written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by Jane Chapman is one of the few that has really kept my kids’ attention- it’s really funny! Sassi takes us inside of Noah’s ark… and it’s not a tame picture! The first night on the ark, Noah nestles into this bed, only to have his sleep interrupted by wild animals! How will he ever get them all back into their beds?

Moms and Dads will like this book because we can probably relate to Noah. Who hasn’t had small “wild animals” bound into bed with us in the middle of the night during a bad thunderstorm?! Kids will love it because of the catchy rhythm and rhyme, the top-notch illustrations and because one of the animals is…. a skunk. Ha! It’s pretty funny, especially for kids who think that stinkyness is hilarious (or is it just my kids?!). It ends in a really sweet, cozy way- perfect for bedtime.

Overall, this is a super cute book that is a great way for the story of Noah’s ark to really come alive instead of seeming like a story from the past that is sterile and impersonal. :) I’ve read some reviews that were disappointed because it “played with the Bible”… but my take on this is that if a book gets my kids excited about stories of the Scriptures, I’m all for it!

Enjoy this book trailer; see what you think!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

**Please note that this review was first posted on Play Eat Grow.**

How do you cope with tough days?


That’s what we’re talking about over at the Mom Mentor page this month. Tough days are kinda my thing, so I was totally able to share my brilliant response, right? Here’s to the community of mommas! (as I raise my spoonful of ice cream in a toasting gesture)

Parenting 4 kids, ages 6 and under, leaves this momma weary and tired nearly every day! After the kids are all angelically sleeping, snuggled deep into their covers, I plop down in front of my computer with a bowl of Hyvee Brownie batter ice cream and see who is on Facebook. Not only is this evening routine delicious, but it’s also life-giving to me.

I check in with a friend from Missouri to see how she’s doing and how nursing is going with her brand new baby boy. My not-so-cryptic status update regarding my rough day and need for prayer leads to an exchange of text messages and then a 30-minute phone call from a good friend in Pennsylvania.  Right before I log off for the evening, a friend from across town messages me to share a funny parenting quote and then asks if I want to meet up with her tomorrow at the park.

It’s the community of other mommas- both near and far- who encourage my tired, weary heart– their kind, gentle words and their life-giving prayers that offer the truth and love of God that my heart so desperately needs to hear.

I’m curious– what do you do to make it through those tough days?

Review: Sacred Roots

6a00e54fc7cbdb8834019b045f1b15970d-200wiEver started a book and never got around to finishing it?

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Wow, this author could have said everything they have to say in just 3 chapters. Too bad some publisher made them fluff it out.”

Or, “Well that book started out awesome but the last half of the book went downhill.”

Me. Too. That’s why I really like the FRAMES series, put out by Barna. These small books cut right to the chase and engage in some important cultural topics in a potent way. No fluff- every word counts. These little books are perfect for small group discussion and take about an hour or two to read.

What is this book about?

Sacred Roots: Why the Church Still Matters (Frames) digs into the somewhat over talked about, but under solved problem of why church attendance has declined. Author Jon Tyson doesn’t blame it on lack of morality, busyness, or general disinterest in God. Instead, he puts out a call for the church to move from “consumer centers in the Christian ghetto to provocative countercultures for the common good and renewal of our world.” (p. 52)

Often we think that if we can be more entertaining, the world will flock to our building and eventually to God. Better preaching, cooler videos, good music. Tyson wonders if perhaps that is not the answer at all. When talking about the downfall of trying to use entertainment to draw people to the church, he says, “Something happens when entertainment shapes our church. Our emotions may soar, we may have a shared sense of ‘us’, and we may resonate with the experience, but rarely does entertainment sanctify our hearts. It rarely challenges the practices that form our character or shape our lives.” (p. 45).

Why did I choose to review this?

What is the future of the church gathering as we know it? What is the point of gathering with a bunch of people, all while we stare at someone onstage, not interacting with those around us other than the 5 minute smile and handshake time. I can listen to a sermon anytime, anywhere. I can turn on some worship music and sing to God on my own or with my family. Questions like that are on the tips of my generation’s tongue. I was eager to hear Jon Tyson’s point of view, especially since he is a pastor of a large NYC church.

My takeaway:

We’re not 100% engaged in a church community yet – bouncing back and forth between a couple locations of the same church, trying to find a way to really get to know people. As we’re working on this, we need to remember that we need to have a community that lives kinda near us– driving 30 minutes somewhere doesn’t make it easy to be engaged in others’ everyday lives, which is kinda what the church is meant to be. 

Questions I’m now asking:

  • How could our church gatherings be structured differently- with more interaction and intention?
  • What parts of the church gathering exist to meet needs of 50 years ago? What parts serve needs of the community now?
  • Tyson describes how his church community has changed from being consumer/entertainment driven (maybe not on purpose, but as a default) to being intentional about living in and reaching the communities where the church lives. He didn’t talk a whole lot about how they made that shift- I’d be really interested in hearing more about that!

Where you can go to find more: 

You can learn more about Barna Frames, and also about the author, Jon Tyson.

Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for providing this mini book in exchange for an honest review. 

**Some of the above links are affiliate links.** 


Review: Slow Family Living


Slow Family Living: 75 Simple Ways to Slow Down, Connect, and Create More Joy is a book by Bernadette Noll, mother of 4 kids, who together with Carrie Contey, PhD in prenatal and perinatal psychology, began Slow Family Living.

It is our desire to help families and individuals find ways to slow things down, not with a recipe or a prescription, but rather by questioning how things are going, and finding ways that work for them. It is our biggest intention to help families find ways to slow things down, connect and enjoy life together. (from

This book is a collection of ideas, stories, and questions that Noll shares from her experience in raising 4 kids. The Nolls are thoughtful and intentional parents who seem to be gentle, structured, loving, and a whole lot of fun.

Why did I choose to review this?

Slow Family Living drew me in by its title– who wouldn’t want some ideas on slowing down and connecting? Jake and I tend to put decent hedges around our pace of life. We’ve said “no” to sports that demand us to be somewhere multiple days a week. We nearly always eat dinner together. Our weekends are crafted to include time where we have no place to be. At the same time, the buzz of class schedule, writing deadlines, household chores, kids’ needs, homework, “homeschool preschool” activities, various once-a-week lessons, library times, etc. can make us feel a bit (or a lot) frazzled by the end of the week.

My takeaway:

Bernadette Noll is super gracious in her approach to slow living. She writes out of a place of gentleness where she is simply sharing about her family’s experiences/desires/goals. She realizes all of those ideas are not for everyone, so she encourages readers to just take what you like and discard what you don’t.

Some of her ideas that we will be or have already implemented:

  • The “Do-Over”: When someone says something unkind, impatient, or downright rude, someone says “Do-Over!” which allows for the rudeness to be called out, but in a way that gives the person a chance to make it right. This simple phrase allows for the bad attitude to be corrected right then and there, and the air to be cleared of bad, grudgy feelings for the next hour.
  • Throw the Rules Out the Window: Eat dessert first. Abandon bed time (one night only, use sparingly :)). Lift screen time limits for a whole day. Wear PJs all day long. The point of this, I think, is doing something surprising that will make a memory and foster a fun family culture.
  • What Do You Need?: In a common area, place a whiteboard where everyone can write what they need throughout the week. Perhaps it’s more Triscuits or a carton of ice cream… but maybe it’s an hour of alone time, a date night, a hug, or additional screen time. Just because it’s on the board doesn’t mean that the person gets it, but it allows everyone to see the felt needs of the family and perhaps another family member can help meet those needs throughout the week.

Where can you go to learn more?

After reading the book you can head over to their website, Slow Family Living. On it you can learn more about Bernadette and Carrie, as well as other events, websites, etc. that they recommend. And of course, if you like what you see, you can follow them on FB and Twitter.

Review: Treat Yourself

So I don’t normally review cookbooks, but who wouldn’t want to have a whole book full of nostalgic treat recipes? Twinkies, Nilla Wafers, Oatmeal Cream Pies, Snowballs… just a few things you’ll find in TTreat Yourself: 70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today).


I loved that this book showcased so many traditional treat foods that come highly processed. We’ve been working processed foods out of our house, and these delicious items haven’t graced our kitchen cabinets in a really long time. I tell my kids that these treats are not actually food. They are chemicals mixed with flour. Blech.

BUT, thanks to Jennifer Steinhaur, I have a cookbook full of recipes to make from real ingredients. The ingredients she uses are simple normal, everyday ingredients, as well as the methods she uses to make them. The most unusual item she includes on the supply list is a kitchen scale, and even this she says is not necessary by any means. Just helpful for weighing chocolate :).

And, for those of you who are not into sweet foods, I would probably not recommend this book because there are only a few savory recipes (some crackers, cheetos, chips, etc.). But let’s be honest, why waste time in the kitchen making crackers when you could be making Twix bars?


The pics she includes are great… my only tiny criticism is that every recipe doesn’t have a picture. What’s up with that?! I must know what the thing is going to look like before I make it. Or I probably just won’t try it. Whatever, it’s just how I roll.

Now that I’ve told you all about this great book, won’t you excuse me while I go make myself some moonpies :)?

Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing this book to me in exchange for an honest review!  

**please note that this post includes an affiliate link!**

Review: Soul Keeping


What is this book about?

Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You is John Ortberg’s newest book, in which he shares everything he knows about the formation of the soul, in addition to letting the reader see a little bit of his own struggles with tending to the soul.

We live in a “soul-challenged world.” Maybe it’s because of pride and striving, perhaps busyness, maybe a hardness of heart, or even simple disinterest. Most of us spend our time caring for what we can see (work, family, appearance, status, etc.) and neglect the inside of us because our lack of tending is easier to disguise. Our connection to God slowly fades, and one day we wake up and realize we don’t feel connected to the Vine at all anymore, and sadly we don’t really remember how the fade happened.

Ortberg takes the reader on a journey to discover what the soul is, why it’s important, what it needs to be healthy, and how God restores it after a long fade.

Ortberg dedicates this book to Dallas Willard, who died in 2013 from cancer. Willard had a huge impact on Ortberg’s soul development, and you can see Willard’s fingerprints all throughout this book. For me this was such a treat — Willard’s writing has been formational to me, especially during college– so to see a personal side of Willard through Ortberg brought together who I am now and a bit of my college self/ambitions/expectations of myself in an encouraging way.

I think I’d like to step out on a limb and say that this may end up as Ortberg’s best book. It seems to be built on everything he has learned and written about thus far in a rich, Spirit-inspired way.

Why did I choose to review this?

I was hesitant to review this book. While I’m very interested in spiritual formation in general, I wondered if this book would be dry. Was there really that much to say about the soul? In a moment of perceived weakness, I said “yes” to the book, and I now see that it was probably the Spirit that prompted me to request it. :) This book ministered to my own soul deeply, as well as to my brain (I learned a lot!).

My takeaway:

While reading it through the first time, the chapter entitled “The Soul Needs Blessing” was most challenging. In it, Ortberg suggests that at all times, our soul is either blessing or cursing someone. He tells of a session with Willard where he really grasped this truth.

I used to think cursing someone meant swearing at them, or putting a hex on them, so it was pretty easy to avoid because I do not swear much or do hexes. But as I listened to Dallas, I realized how wrong I had been. You can curse someone with an eyebrow. You can curse someone with a shrugged shoulder. I have seen a husband curse his wife by leaving just the tiniest delay before saying, ‘Of course I love you.’ The better you know someone, the more subtly and cruelly you can curse them.

The reason we are so sensitive, Dallas said, is that our souls were made to be blessed and cannot survive without the blessing.

I began to think about blessing and cursing as it relates to Jake, to my kids, to my other family and friends, and it encouraged me to be more careful in my words and actions.

Questions I’m now asking:

  • What is my soul most in danger of?
  • How am I blessing others? Cursing them?
  • What can I do to better attend to my soul? How can I help others do the same?

Where can you go to learn more?

 John Ortberg is a pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, CA as well as a prolific writer on all things spiritual formation. He’s married to Nancy, who also has written at least one book that I’ve read, and they have 3 kids. You can read his blog, follow him on Twitter or FB. He has written some truly great material- interesting, significant , and very accessible. Check out his Amazon page to read about some of his books.

If you read this book, be warned that you may decide to call in sick from work for a week while you read everything by Dallas Willard that you can get your hands on. I just discovered that there is a last book out, The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God’s Kingdom on Earth– Dallas had been working on it when he died. In January 2015, Eternal Living will be released, about which I’m intensely excited.

Thank you BookLook Bloggers, for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

How Can We Help Make the Scripture Come Alive to our Kids?

Over on the Graham Blanchard Mentor Mom’s page, we’re talking about how we help make the Scriptures come alive to our kids. Here’s my contribution:

One of the great things about kids is that they love stories…and they like to read the same stories again and again… and again. There are a lot of Bibles for kids out on the market, and not all are created equally in the storytelling department. We’ve found a few staples that are beautifully written for the various ages and stages of our children. Choosing the right kid Bible is a huge part of making the Scriptures come alive to our kids.

If we need a little extra something, we like to act out the story we are reading, adding our own props, voices, and details. We talk about what we think the weather was like during the story, the everyday lives of the characters, what it smelled like, etc. Days after we act out the story, I sometimes find the kids using parts of the story in their everyday play. It’s then that I know they are trying to make sense of what we’re reading and learning in the Scriptures.

There are a ton more ideas… so head on over to check it out!

Book Giveaway: Notes from a Blue Bike

With summer just around the corner, perhaps you’re looking for a book to read. I’m working on my 52 books in a year challenge, and so far, so good! I’ve been reading some really great books, many of which I’ve reviewed right here on the blog.

A few months ago, you may remember me talking about the book, Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider.

Well, I’m happy to say that the publisher wants to give away a copy to one of you!

This is an easy entry. Just leave a comment here on the blog to let me know you’d like to be entered to win. I’ll draw a name out of the hat on Friday morning and send you an email! Winner will be posted on here as well.

Share it on Facebook or Twitter and leave an extra comment to get extra chances to win!

Happy Day!

Congrats to Nicole!!!

How we have happily survived financially for the past 9 years

Either Jake and I have been students for a long time. Nearly our entire marriage thus far (minus a couple years here and there). With one adult being a full-time student while the other one works or stays-at-home with the kids, money is always tight. The bad part of that is there is sometimes stress related to money, and a lot of time is spent figuring out what to spend our money on and what to NOT spend our money on. The good part is that we have become really good at budgeting as well as discovering creative ways to save money here and there. This year has been a pretty stress-less year when it comes to finances, so I wanted to share some of our best tips here, hopefully to be helpful to others who are in a similar situation to us!

1. Rent.

If you already own a house, this will not apply to you, but for those of you who don’t– don’t feel ashamed! Renting is actually a smart way to live when on a tight budget, especially for those who are in school or who move often. It’s easy to budget when it comes to renting- you know exactly what it will cost from month to month. When you own a home, there are more unpredictable cost items that arise that are hard to cover when you are on a shoestring budget. We’ve had many friends who have owned houses, only to find that when they sell, they lose money and the cost is very similar to them renting. So, just know that buying isn’t a necessity during this stage of life.

2. Downsize to 1 car.

If you can figure it out, having only 1 car saves a ton of money. Not only do you only have one car payment, but also one set of insurance, one set of license plate renewals, one set of repairs, etc. It also makes you get out and walk more!

3. Grocery Shop at Hyvee.

Last week I got gas for $1.59/gallon– meaning I filled up my van’s gas tank for $29.12. Unusual? Maybe a little, but I typically save anywhere from $.75-$1.00 per fill-up by grocery shopping at Hyvee. Hyvee has a fuel savers reward program that is NOT a credit card- only rewards card (just like you’d use at other major chains like walgreens, copps, CVS, etc.). Each week when you buy certain items, you get a certain amount of rewards to be used on gas. For example, the other day I was rewarded $.01/per gallon if I bought lunch-size individual applesauce packs. I bought them because we already use them. That’s a little one. But, I also saved $.25/gallon for purchasing a 2-pack of bakery french bread, which is also something I had on my list to buy anyway. I’ve begun to plan my meals around what items are being rewarded, and I end up with $.50-.60 off per gallon each week (I spend about $125/week on groceries).

Right now they have a deal where if you spend $100 on groceries at one time (which we always do), then you automatically get $1.00 off per gallon on top of any other fuel saver items. I’m not sure how long they are running this, but I don’t expect to pay more than $1.00/gallon per gas for the next month or so!

4. Utilize your public library.

We currently have over 100 books checked out from our public library. We LOVE it. We rarely buy books new, and even not very often used. We know that we can go to the library whenever we want and get something to read, so why do we have to own it? There are some books we buy that we can’t find in the public library, particularly of the christian non-fiction genre, but we have been surprised by how many the library will buy if we request them to!

5. Subscribe to Netflix.

We don’t have cable or dish, but we do have netflix! Sure, they don’t have everything, but they have a lot, especially for kids.

6. Get Amazon Prime.

Amazon has some amazing deals from time-to-time, and we are happy to just order what we need without having to pay for shipping– ever. This also saves us time and money because we don’t have to drive all over the place to find items that we’re looking for, AND we just end up buying what we need, instead of getting suckered into buying displayed items that we don’t. You do have to be mindful of what the ordinary store price is for items, though, because sometimes Amazon is asking for way more than it would be in-store. Plus, you get access to lots of free videos and books on Amazon Prime- double bonus!

7. Limit your grocery shopping to once per week.

I grocery shop on Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings, and that’s it. If we run out of something on Wednesday, I don’t run out and get more at the store because I know that I’ll end up buying other things that I don’t need too. So, we just put it on our grocery list and do without it for a few days! I think that’s good for our souls too, to be able to do without something for a few days.

8. Shop at consignment sales, yard sales, and Craigslist for kid clothes and toys.

Kid clothes and toys are so expensive. I try to buy all of our kids’ next size of clothes at local consignment sales– not only are you buying locally and being green by “reusing” but you can save a TON of money. Each season I take out all the clothes I have for each child for that next season, put outfits together, and then write down how many shirts, pants/shorts, skirts/dresses, shoes, etc. that I need to buy, and if there is any particular color that I need. I take it with me to the sales so that I can be focused and not overbuy in one category.

Also, Craigslist has great deals on toys and seasonal items (coats, snow pants, boots, etc.). If I see something on there for a child in a few sizes bigger than they need, I buy it now and store it in a marked bin for later. For example, I was looking for rain boots the other day, I saw a size 13 for only $5. Yes please! They will be great for next year!

9. Shop at Old Navy. 

I have an Old Navy credit card, and I use it to buy items from Old Navy only. When I do this, I get a large discount during the sales they have for card holders 4 times per year (30% off everything). I also get rewards for the items I buy; for 2013, I earned over $50 in rewards that i used to buy those items that are best bought new (jeans for Jake and I, cardigans, and clearance kid items).

10. Sometimes it pays to use credit cards. 

That being said, I also have credit cards from Amazon and Discover– and it truly does “pay” for me. I only use Amazon card for Amazon purchases and receive significant rewards because of it. I use Discover card for all other items that I have budgeted. We probably earn over $200 a year in rewards because of this. This will only work if you ONLY BUY items that you have money for and if you pay it off every month, no exceptions. If you don’t pay for it one month and are charged a penalty, it negates the purpose. I’d only recommend this for people who are Type A and can be sure to do this each month.

11. Only eat out when kids eat free. 

With 4 kids, we hardly ever go out to eat when we have to pay for the kids. Most major chains have a kids-eat-free night. We can eat out at Chilis for $20 as a family of 6 on Tuesday Nights if we want!

12. Borrow from a friend.

Don’t buy items that you won’t use all the time. Tools, small appliances, etc. are great to borrow from neighbors. At first you may feel weird asking your friend or neighbor to borrow something, but after a couple times of asking (and offering your stuff to borrow), it’ll be catching!

13. Just say no.

We say “no” to ourselves and our kids a lot. Nope, not gonna buy that dollar item. No, we’re not buying that T-shirt. No, I’m not buying that book for myself. No, we can live with the computer that we have. We constantly remind ourselves that happiness doesn’t come with having more “stuff”, but it comes with relationships. Saying no and letting ourselves be less financially stressed causes happy feelings and a happy household all around!

12. Find small ways to make money.

Baby-sit for another family. Write for blogs/websites. Tutor the neighbor in math. Walk some dogs. Sell something you love (if that’s your thing). Help others organize their houses. Clean for other people. Make a craft and sell it on Etsy. Offer to read dissertations and copyedit. What are you good at and then find out how other people like you are using their skills to make a little extra cash! We’ve primarily done writing and tutoring to bring in some extra cash each month. A little bit really adds up!

Of course, we’ve also survived by less “cool” ways-  working many hours after kids went to bed, making presents for family and friends instead of buying them, getting student loans (although mine are now completely paid off!), and saying “yes” to helpful state and federal programs when we have qualified (healthcare, WIC, and EBT- whew, but that’s another post, right?!).

Hope this is helpful to those of you who are in a tight spot financially. It took a few years to get into the habit of doing these things, but I think we’re finding our way. In a couple years when we’re finished with school, I think these tips will still be helpful! :)

The Importance of Pretend Play

Today at Asante’s chess tournament I enjoyed some leisurely reading while he was playing against some middle schoolers (seriously, it looked really funny to see his little boy self across the table from these not-so-little-boys– they would groan when they say him– “do I have to play a little kid? This is ridiculous”. When Asante beat one of them, the guy just laughed and buried his face in his hand.)


I finished up a small book by Vivian Gussin Paley called A Child’s Work: The importance of fantasy play. Paley has worked as a kindergarten and preschool teacher for at least 37 years, most of those years spent at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. She’s seen a ton of fantasy play in her days, and has some fun stories to share and insightful comments to make about the importance of fantasy play in the development of the child.

With the disappearing of time for play in the classrooms to make more room for the three R’s- reading, writing and arithmetic, “work” has become “play” for our children (instead of the other way around). What are we losing by this shift in focus? More importantly, what are our children losing?

With story after story, Paley paints the picture of the importance of play, and how we can interpret children’s play, learn from them as they play as well as engage with them without ruining it. I came across a few ideas that were interesting to me…

1. In one classroom that Paley observed, the teacher no longer used a time out chair for punishment. When asked about this, she said, “I used to have a punishment chair. Then I saw that, although the body was restricted, the child’s mind entered many fantasies and behavior was never improved. I decided the approach did not work.” When asked what did work, she said, “Patience. And then stories of good things happening, not bad. And making the child welcome into the play of others. I watched the children and saw that all these things work.” (p 72)

2. A Russian psychologist by the name of Lev Vygotsky said that ‘in play a child stands taller than himself, above his age and ordinary behavior. It’s as if he’s climbing up a ladder and looking around at a larger area.’ (p. 82)

3. At one point in the book, the author was suggesting that every subject of study could use a little fantasy play- even math. She said, “Whenever we are reminded that there may be a story involved, our minds seem to loosen up and work better.” (p. 91) So true- I think this could be applied to the parenting/discipline arena too!

4. I hear “Pretend that you’re the mom and I’m the kid” from Ada quite often. This is not a fun scenario for me because that’s my everyday life, right? I have wondered why Ada wants to pretend this way. In the beginning of chapter 18, Paley says that, “play is the model for the life-long practice of trying out new ideas. Pretending is the most open-ended of all activities, providing the opportunity to escape the limitations of established rituals. Pretending enables us to ask ‘What if?’”?

How wonderful is that gem of information? Pretend play is not just something to pass the time, but it’s a way for our kids to explore, create, examine the world around them. By engaging in pretend play, they are being little scientists in a way!

Thankfully, Aly has been in a classroom where play is respected and valued- I’m hoping Kindergarten will be the same!

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