Book Review: The Brainy Bunch

I first heard about the Brainy Bunch from the Today Show

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding are the mom and pop of 10 kids who have homeschooled their kids in a way that has them college ready by the age of 12. They seemed surprisingly well-adjusted on the show, so I decided to check out their book to learn more about their story in The Brainy Bunch.


It turns out that they are a Christian homeschool family, seemingly conservative in all the ways you might imagine. They believe that homeschooling is the absolute best choice and most biblical choice one could make, and also seem to buy into the quiverfull movement. I felt a bit annoyed at times when reading this book- they are the quintessential “Christian” that our media loves to exemplify as the only kind of Christian- but I was also surprisingly impressed with their courage to challenge their kids to dive deep into their area of interests, learn what they want to learn, and to take real risks, facing potentially hard things with courage and a sense of humor.

And their kids are actually doing great things at a young age and not just educated without a real job in their field. One earned a BS in mathematics at the age of 17 and is currently an engineer. Another is a celebrated architect who finished her degree at the age of 18. Another is a Navy physician and another who finished his masters in computer science at 17. Seriously these kids are amazing and obviously have parents who love them and have found a cool way to allow them to fast forward through some needless schooling. At first glance some might imagine this kind of schooling to be really pushy and stressful, but it seems to be the exact opposite. Kip and Mona Lisa cut through all the educational fluff, let the kids study what they want and don’t stress about giving tests or book reports or whatever. In fact, their method reminds me much more of unschooling than it does the ever popular classical learning that many christian homeschoolers do.

At times it does seem that the family is a bit of a closed system– not a ton of outside friends, their playmates are one another, and they like to keep it that way so that the kids stay respectful and the peer culture doesn’t rub off on them. On the other hand, some of the kids were in competitive sports leagues and the parents are pretty brave in letting some of their kids live away from them at a young age to finish up degrees in certain places when the family has to move. This book reminded me that people are really complex. :)

The writing of this book was not particularly great, but it was informative. I certainly learned exactly what i was hoping to, and it was a super fast read.

Crazy huh?

Book Review: Berenstain Bears and Blessed are the Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Jake and I memorized the Sermon on the Mount one of the summers we were dating, and it wasn’t until I hid those words in my heart did I realize how rich the words of Matthew 5 are, and how crazy often the Holy Spirit uses those words to instruct my heart many days. When I saw that Berenstain Bears just came out with a new book- The Berenstain Bears Blessed are the Peacemakers , I was super excited. I really like the Berenstain Bears- perhaps because I read so many as a young kid- and have passed this love onto the kids as well (much to the chagrin of Jake, who absolutely does not like to reread them to the kids again and again).


As soon as the book came in the mail, I handed it to Aly and she cuddled up on the couch and read it, twice. When Aly was done, Asante wandered by, saw it laying there, and decided to give it a read through (see! they can’t resist!). They both really liked it and asked for some of the other books that are pictured on the back (which are other Berenstain Bears books with an obvious Christian message). Wow! I thought. This one is a winner.

After the kids were in bed, I finally got the time to take a look myself. Sadly, I was disappointed with not only the writing but the message as well. The first issue is the message that being a peacemaker is really easy. Brother Bear and Sister Bear step in to mediate an argument between the school’s two groups (the rough kids and the smart kids) and are hailed as peacemakers. All they had to do was tout a Bible verse and the argument stopped, all involved parties humbled. Unfortunately, peacemaking is not so easy. It’s hard. It takes a long time. Most often it takes a lot more than telling someone a verse.

The second issue I have is that the writing is definitely different than the other Berenstain Bears books. It’s important to note that this is by Jan and Stan’s son, Mike. I’m incredibly thankful that he has continued to write after his mom and dad have passed, but it’s important that readers go in knowing that although the characters are the same, the writing is in a different voice, sometimes leaving the characters a bit more flat than in the older books.

I give Mike a thumbs up for trying to bring this incredibly complex reality of peacemaking to a level at which preschoolers and early elementary students can understand. Perhaps this is a starting place, or a book to start a discussion:

  • What would happen if someone was being mean to your friend? What would you do?
  • Do you think your friends would obey a Bible verse? Why or why not?
  • How would you feel if the situation happened again and again? Would you still do the same thing?

Learn more about Mike here, as well as the entire Berenstain Bears here (they have a really fun website!).

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.”

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!!!

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