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Review: Fly Boy by Eric Walters


At seventeen, Robbie McWilliams had enough of waiting to fight the Nazis.  His pilot father had been prisoner of war for a few years now, and it was time to join the Royal Canadian Air Force and help end the war.  With a great deal of ingenuity and with the support of his friend Chip, he fooled his mother, his boarding school, and the RCAF, and entered training to become a pilot.

It was a tough world for a seventeen year old, but he aced his classes and was chosen to become a navigator, not a pilot. He was sent immediately to England to complete his training on frightening missions.  Not only his skills as a navigator were tested….

This fast-paced story for 11 and up is a favorite at our house, even for older teens and their mother.  Despite the subject matter, it is upbeat, funny, and encouraging, a hero story that warms one’s heart and leaves one refreshed and motivated.

School teacher/author Eric Walters slips in worthwhile little tidbits about the stupidity of gambling and drinking, about the value of learning and putting in the effort, about courage, bullying, and getting along with people, about loyalty, and, of course, about death.

We recommend Fly Boy as a good read as well as an excellent supplement to Canadian history studies.

This book forms part of our multi-year, literature-based Canadian History course . This review is linked to Finishing Strong , Trivium TuesdaysSaturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook.

Disclosure: We borrowed this book from the library and I am not compensated for this review.

Halfway Through the Homeschool High School Year

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Geography read aloud after lunch

As we approach the halfway mark in our homeschool year, I look at what we have accomplished and panic.  We are so far behind where I had hoped we would be! 

It’s very stressful, this being behind, and years ago I used to pass that stress on to the kids.  Let’s work harder, let’s do a bit more every day.  We can do it!

When this situation occurred a few years ago, I really stopped to think about it.  Obviously my stressed approach had been all wrong, and I wrote about what we should do instead of panicking.  One thing that jumps out at me from three years ago is to be thankful for what we have been able to accomplish.  So now I’m trying to calmly assess where we are and just continue on, grateful for God’s blessing on our learning so far.  For he has blessed it, but I had forgotten that when I got discouraged.

So, with thankfulness and hope, here is what Miss 16 and Miss 14 have accomplished so far this year, (most links are to my reviews):

Bible:  The three of us have read the Bible from Daniel to Luke, as well as Revelations, John, Acts, and Romans with my husband.  Some Bible reports have been written although not as many as I had planned.   Also, we constantly review and learn Bible texts and Psalms and hymns, and the girls study the Heidelberg Catechism at a church class. I had planned to spend the year studying the gospels in depth, but haven’t found a suitable resource for our homeschool Bible study.  Instead, during the holidays I saw Growing in the Gospel, a book of practical doctrine that looks promising.  It just arrived this week and I hope to decide by next week whether or not it will be suitable for our homeschool.  So, actually, except for the Bible book reports, we have accomplished a lot in Bible.  That is the most important thing, and I am thankful.

MathKey to Algebra, level 7 and level 2.  We switch between these booklets and Singapore Math’s NEM series but are far, far behind where I had hoped to be.  Even so, what the girls learn they do seem to learn solidly, and they have (re)gained confidence in their ability to tackle new concepts.

English Lit:  We’ve gone formal this year and are studying the Bob Jones literature guides for grades 9 and 10.  They are good (although I skip everything by Poe) and thorough, and our progress is steady although slow.  This is more organized than Omnibus or novel studies, both for the girls and for me, and that sort of organization is something we need right now.

English Grammar:  We’re following Rod and Staff, except we haven’t gotten very far this year.  I keep on reminding myself that many university students (and profs) don’t even know the parts of speech.  Still, I wish we were moving along more quickly.

English Composition:  We have not done as much writing as I had hoped, and I hadn’t hoped for much.  Still, note-taking, reports, and letters are nothing to sneeze at, and Format Writing is a good guide.  Formal and informal narration count as well, of course.

Spelling:  Some people spell easily, but some need instruction for the rest of their lives.  We’re using How to Increase Your Word Power by Reader’s Digest, focusing on lists of frequently misspelled words.  This makes it more relevant to the girls, as do the 5 problem words they get to add to the list each week.

French:  Progress is slow and somewhat steady, using French is Fun 1.  This is review for both girls, but sometimes review is reassuring and one can never review a language too much.  They know French is important but cannot find the spark that successful language learning needs.  This subject requires more discipline from me in the future—I need to insist on a little bit of work every day no matter what.  That is hard when there are health issues but a little bit of review is manageable even on bad days, and it gives a sense of accomplishment rather than failure to the whole enterprise.

Dutch:  Miss 16 is doing marvellously well.  We’re using Dutch in Three Months, Rosetta Stone, and various read alouds, and in each case we focus on oral work (although we now do have a Dutch spelling list as well).  We’ve discovered the power of foreign language narration, and I hope to write about that soon.  It’s amazing! As for Miss 14, well, she’s not too interested but seems to understand her sister’s readings anyhow.  I’m so thankful that I am able to teach Dutch in such an informal way.  It makes it much easier for the girls to learn.

Science:  We are still plodding through Apologia’s Biology and Physical Science.  They say learning something well takes time.  Perhaps, then, we are learning it well.  This biology text emphasizes memorization, but we are concentrating on learning the most important sections (the cell, the chemistry of life, genetics, etc.) thoroughly and taking a more relaxed approach to the rest of the book.  As for physical science, well, that is not going well at all.  Perhaps we are doing too many extra-curricular activities.  Perhaps it’s the headaches.  Perhaps I just need to be more insistent.  Or, and this is the most likely, perhaps both the book (first edition) and I explain things unclearly and I need to figure out a better way of explaining gravity.  (I’ve been looking at Physics Classroom.)

Geography:  The goal here was to quickly do the first 5 chapters of the BJUP world geography course for a thorough grounding in the topic from a Christian perspective and then to switch to a Canadian geography text.  Well, we’re still in the world geography book….  On the other hand, our read aloud focus has been travelling.  The Swiss Family Robinson of last summer is full of descriptions of different flora and fauna in different geographical areas.  We read a story about New Zealand and its deserted beaches.  We started Two Years Before the Mast and finally gave up (as the protagonist wanted to do, too) in the middle of months of preparing hides for shipping.  And now we are reading The Northern Magic, a modern story of sailing around the world, while the girls color relevant maps.  We also watch geography documentaries including the amazing BBC nature films.

Logic:  Miss 14 is doing Building Thinking Skills 2 and Miss 16 is studying the James Madison Critical Thinking Course.  In both cases, we do a little bit every day.  It’s not hard and requires no memorization, but it just needs to be done, so the little by little principle works beautifully.

Reading:  The goal is an hour of reading a day.  My older children read so much that I had to drag them away from their books, but once screens enter a home, things change.  Books are no longer the activity of choice and reading needs to be assigned, even if there are screen limits.  It is so rewarding when the girls pick up a book on their own, or when a book absorbs them so much that they cannot put it down!

Where we shine this year is in extra-curricular activitiesTherapeutic riding volunteer work, horseback riding, part time job, and homeschool co-op (debate, drama, finance, sports).  Each of those provides an enormous amount of learning and I need to remind myself of that regularly.  Public schools in our province even award high school credits for the hands-on learning.

So, that is where we are so far this year.  We have not gotten as far as I would want and are not even using the curriculum I would prefer, but we are doing what we can given our circumstances.  I am grateful for the opportunity to homeschool, the ability to learn and teach despite health challenges, and the beautiful world God has given us to learn about.  Especially, I am grateful that the basis of our homeschool is God’s Word, not humanism, the marketplace, or feminism with its many radical offshoots.  We can learn the truth about God and about mankind.  We can strive for excellence, truth, beauty, and goodness, not homogeneity, political correctness, or consumerism.  For this freedom, I am grateful.

So, onward we go into the second half of the homeschool year, trying to be faithful every day in the little things so that we will be able to equip our children to love the Lord their God with their whole being and their neighbors as themselves.  This is a huge calling, but it can often seem so mundane.  Both its enormity and its daily-ness are so overwhelming and obviously we cannot do this without God’s blessings.

May God give us all the dedication, creativity, organizational skills, energy, and joy that we need to teach our children.  And may he give us what we need to notice and be grateful for his good gifts in this part of our lives too.

Have you had a moment to think about how your homeschool year is going?

Review: How to Live in Fear by Lance Hahn


We and our kids live in an age of anxiety.  Most of us know someone who lives in fear, and maybe we do so ourselves.  Much of the time the fear is mild but sometimes there are panic attacks, and sometimes seemingly endless stretches of unbearable terror.  As Christians, we need to be able to support those who suffer in this way, and we need to equip our teens as well.  The first step is to understand this illness.

Pastor Lance Hahn is one of those people who live in fear, and the extreme emotion he shares with so many others has an official label, severe anxiety disorder. How to Live in Fear is his message of hope to fellow sufferers.  No, not hope of a cure in this life, although he does share practical coping tools, but the certainty that no Christian ever suffers alone, that God holds them close through the struggles and will never leave them nor forsake them. 

It’s tricky, this business of using God’s word to comfort people with mental health issues, because so often ‘comforters’, like those in the book of Job, put the blame for all illness on the sufferer, his sin, his lack of faith, or his deficient prayer life.  And even when they don’t, it is easy for the ill person to hear such blame even when it is not intended.

As a sufferer, Lance Hahn understands this.  Therefore he shares his own story, placing himself firmly beside others who deal with severe anxiety disorder. He understands the tension of ‘preaching about the peace that passes understanding and that guards our hearts and minds while having a panic attack’ and spends much of the book explaining how faith can co-exist with panic in this broken world.

Next he shares the practical things he has learned in his fight against this condition, analysing catalysts and triggers, accepting responsibility for allowing certain thoughts and triggers, discussing the value and acceptability of medication, and learning to discipline thoughts to reflect what is true (vs Hollywood).  Of course, there are also other factors such as exercise, sleep, nutrition, relaxation, and outside time.

Finally, as a pastor Lance Hahn discusses the spiritual aspects of severe anxiety disorder, and this comforting section can bless any Christian, even those who do not struggle with fear. He points out that God’s promises are true, whether or not we are able to believe them at the moment.  He points out that often we think things we should not be thinking.  He states explicitly, “If we truly believed that God is good and He is sovereign, then we would be able to rest in these beliefs as facts.  But we don’t….  I struggle just like you.”  One of the reasons for the struggle is that the things we believe with our minds have not yet influenced our hearts and emotions.  He also deals wisely with the issue of healing through prayer and with the concept of spiritual warfare.  And finally, he shares the three most powerful tools God has given to combat fear:  Scripture, prayer, and worship.

Some thoughts that struck me:

God changes people through their challenges and suffering, and this can be a blessing to the sufferers as well as to others.

“God is watching over you. You are not alone.  You are not forsaken or abandoned.  He does care deeply about you and your situation.  When you are tempted to ask why He doesn’t help more or just fix your fear, remember that it’s not the best scenario yet.  Once it is, He will. Until then, we are to trust He is aware and knows exactly what he’s doing.” P 197

“…truths must be embraced not just cognitively, but emotionally.  This requires investing time into soaking them in.” p 197  This idea is something that the modern church does not seem to understand well and seems to be what David, for example, meant when he talked about meditating on God’s Word.

Throughout the book I also noticed, over and over, the negative effects of Hollywood and the media on anxiety. I noticed a similar theme in Captivating by the Eldredges (link is to my review). It is so important to watch what we put into our minds and the minds of our children. 

I have never known severe anxiety disorder myself, but I know people who suffer from it.  Lance Hahn’s book gives me insight into their struggles and practical ways of supporting them.  It also reminds me that in my life, too, God is always there, will always be there, and will never leave or forsake me.  This is a message we can never hear too often, whether our life is hard or easy.

If you or a loved one is suffering from anxiety disorder, do read this book.  You will benefit from it.

Note:  Apparently anxiety can be treatable with Seligman’s positive psychology methods.

This is yet another book in the in the 2017 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, What to Read Wednesdays and The Book Nook.  For more encouragement see Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell it to Me Tuesday.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book courtesy of Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers.

Memorize Romans, Walk 10K Steps, and Organize Nighttime Notes


Over the decades, New Year’s goals have changed my life.  Late each year I begin to think and pray about them, carefully trying to choose goals that will have a positive impact on the rest of my life.

This year I have three main goals and achieving them would be transformative.

First of all, I plan to memorize Romans.  Yes, the entire 16-chapter letter of Paul to the church in Rome, full of both deep comfort and some of the Bible’s most difficult concepts.

Why would anyone who owns several Bibles, including an ebook and audio version on her phone, bother memorizing what she could look up any time?  Well, here’s why:  As I was learning more about Romans for our women’s Bible study, I came across a story of a seminary professor who offered all his New Testament students an A if they memorized Romans, even if they did nothing else.  Intrigued, I started experimenting with chapter 1 two months ago and can already echo what William Tyndale wrote in his 1534 English New Testament:

No man verily can read it too oft or study it too well; for the more it is studied the easier it is, the more it is chewed the pleasanter it is, and the more groundly it is searched the preciouser things are found in it, so great a treasure of spiritual things lieth hid therein.

F.F. Bruce, who wrote a commentary on Romans, included this warning:

There is no saying what may happen when people begin to study the letter to the Romans.  What happened to Augustine, Luther, Wesley, and Barth launched great spiritual movements which have left their mark in world history.  But similar things have happened, much more frequently, to very ordinary men and women as the words of this letter came home to them with power.  So, let those who have read thus far be prepared for the consequences of reading farther….

That warning resonates with me.  Yes, in immersing ourselves in God’s Word we are risking change and upheaval—as I have discovered in the past—but we are also growing closer to God and that is, after all, the very purpose of our lives.

Then there is the next goal, walk 10,000 steps every day, on average.  Aiming to walk this much each day has changed my life over the past decade, and I remake this resolution every year.  With dozens of daily decisions I have regained much strength each time after a major health setback.  Last year was difficult for me, health-wise, but I am back to about 7500 steps a day, on average.  My goal is to slowly get back to the full 10,000, knowing that each step is an investment in health and thus also in my ability to fulfill the duties God has given me.

And finally, the one other goal that would change a lot:  get organized about my nighttime notes.  I do have a very organized binder with customized sheets that I regularly adapt to meet different aspects of my life, but I also have many, many little bits of paper.  You see, when I think during the night I grab a tiny notepad and write things down in the dark, very quietly so as not to wake my husband.  (If I don’t write them down I end up staying awake to remember them, which is even worse.)  Some nights are quite productive—to do lists, blog posts, homeschooling ideas, grocery lists, snatches of poetry, the perfect line for a review, another name for my prayer list, an idea to ponder, just the right words for an email….

However, if the next morning is busy I don’t always have the time to finish copying these things onto my main to do list or into an appropriate Word document.  And so it is that all over my desk I have growing piles of little white papers, covered with almost illegible nighttime writing.  This has got to stop.

Once all of my nighttime writing has been copied into its appropriate place, both my mind and my desk will be clearer and more peaceful and I will forget fewer important things.

So, these are my three goals for 2017.  Will I achieve them?  Only God knows what will be possible this year and what dreams have to be given up. However, I am convinced that each of these goals is valuable in his sight and that striving to meet them will be worthwhile in itself even if I never complete them.  Thus each day I will

  • spend some time with Romans,
  • remember to take those extra steps, and
  • go through that night’s notes, as well as some older ones.

In regards to 2016’s goal of catching up, well, it didn’t happen in the sense I had planned but God used poor health to give me space to catch up in a different way.  However, 2015’s goal of connecting has become a vibrant part of who I am and has changed more lives than just mine.  Both mindsets, connecting and catching up, are still part of my life, as they should be.

How about you?  Are you setting goals this year?  Whether you do or purposefully don’t, I wish you God’s blessings as you get to know him better in 2017.  May he be close to you and fill you with his gifts of love, joy, and peace.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 


Skillpower, Willpower, and New Year’s Goals


In Disease Proof, Katz argues that most people do not accomplish their goals because they do not have the skills to do so.  It isn’t that they are lazy or unmotivated or bad; it simply is that they have never learned the basic steps to choosing goals, losing weight, exercising, and so forth.  This book, based on decades of disease prevention work, is his answer to that problem.

Yes, Disease Proof is a book about health, and as such it covers some of the main New Year’s resolutions people have, but it is also a practical study of choices, motivations, identifying obstacles, learning to overcome obstacles, and increasing one’s ability to accomplish one’s goals.  Complete with tables to learn how to make decisions and to understand one’s motivation, this book focuses on personalizing the choices one makes.  Katz also talks about specifics, like food and exercise, without sensational hype, fully convinced that’s what’s best for us does not change from week to week.

Rather than deciding, for example, to lose weight and to leave it at that, with Disease Proof one identifies reasons, clarifies obstacles, prioritizes which obstacles to overcome first, and learns skills to overcome the obstacles one at a time.  Skillpower, according to Katz, is much more important than willpower, so he focuses on teaching the skills people need to accomplish their goals.  This is a novel approach in the area of popular health books, perhaps, but it is also a common sense one that mirrors research in other fields.

If you remade goals this year that you did not manage to stick with in previous years, it could be that you did not have the skills to own your goals or to overcome the obstacles.  Disease Proof may just have the answer.  Highly recommended, especially for those with health goals involving eating or exercising, but also for those who are interested in the process of setting and accomplishing goals.

I am still thinking about my goals for 2017—all of them, not just health-related goals—and with the methodical approach to obstacles that this book teaches, I suspect that I will be able to meet most of them, Lord willing.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention books and other helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

Disclosure:  I borrowed this book from the library and am not compensated for this review.

For more about books, see 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Semicolon, The Book Nook, Booknificent, and Literary Musings.  For more reading to support goals, see The New Year’s Resolution Challenge.

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