Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason

The Blue Umbrella is the first venture into fiction from a non-fiction author, Mike Mason. It's an intriguing combination of sci-fi and fantasy and obviously the work of someone with a wonderfully active imagination. My almost 11 year old and I both read it and we both enjoyed it. Aubrey thought it was very well written. "I never could guess what was going to happen until the end." I agree with her. Often children's literature can have somewhat of a predictable plot. The Blue Umbrella kept me guessing as well.

The Blue Umbrella tells the story of a boy named Zachery Sparks who is suddenly orphaned when his mother is killed by a lightning strike. Two mysterious aunts show up to claim him and take him home with them. That's when the mystery begins.

Who are these aunties he's never heard of before? Why did they bring him home to live with them only to be cruel? Why is the town of Five Corners, his new home, bewitched? Why is he so fascinated by Sky Porter, the owner of the store across the street from the aunties' house? What are the mysterious lights coming from the second story of the store at night? And why does Mr. Porter always carry that umbrella with him? Why does Dada, the aunts' father, want it more than anything else in the world? In fact Dada wants it so much, he orders Zac to steal it from Mr. Porter who has become a friend. What should Zac do?

The Blue Umbrella combines intrigue, mystery, sinister characters, loneliness, trust, betrayal, grace, redemption, family dysfunctions, and weather phenomena into a captivating yarn. The author states in the "after words" that his intention was not allegorical or to make any kind of statement, but just to tell a good story. There are, however, spiritual parallels that can be drawn from the story. It will also captivate your child's imagination. My daughter is looking forward to a second book in the series.

*This book was given as a complimentary copy to Mama Buzz Reviewers by David C. Cook and Mike Mason, for blog tour and promotion purposes.

The Blue Umbrella: retails for $14.99

Ages 9-12

Enjoy a free excerpt of this book at Mike Mason's website.

The Blue Umbrella, by Mike Mason from David C. Cook on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Splish Splash

Lauryn (4 yo) to me yesterday: Mama, I wish I could be a mermaid.

Me: Really? What would you do if you were a mermaid?

Lauryn: I'd have fins.

Me: Yes, I know. But what would you do?

Lauryn: You know, mermaid things.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The deal I wish I had never gotten

I love clearance racks. My eye is immediately drawn to them; my heart skips a beat when I see rows of them in the back of a store.

OK, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but I have saved bookoos of money over the years shopping from them. I especially love to shop in January for the next year's winter clothing, or vice versa by buying summer clothes in August. But I digress.

A few months ago my four year old needed new underwear. She has stayed so tiny for so long that her old ones were falling apart from wearing them so long. I was in Walmart one night and saw and end cap full of clearance underwear. Great! Just what I needed.

I located a couple of different bags in her size. One had seven pairs for $5. That about seventy-one cents plus tax per pair. Sounds good to me! Right?

What I didn't realize was that each pair of these quite cute little panties had a day of the week embroidered on them! And my 4 year old can't read! And of course, wearing Wednesday panties on Saturday just can't be done. I don't know how much time I have spent hunting in the drawer for the right pair of panties! If I had it to do over again, I would have spent more money to buy underwear that would be suitable for every day of the week.

Of course, it is a little comical when she comes out of her room after a bath in the evening stark naked, asking, "What day is tomorrow going to be?" I guess that's worth something, right?

The moral of this story is: if you are going to buy underwear that is labeled with the day of the week, make sure you are buying them for a child who can read, or at least one who shares a room with an older sibling who can.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Tale of Two Seasons of Motherhood

Ten or eleven years ago, we lived in an 1100 square foot Air Force base house in Oklahoma City. When Kelly would get home from work between 4:30 and 5 pm, I would meet him at the door and start talking his ear off. I'd stand there by the entry closet as he hung up a jacket or put away his briefcase. Then I'd follow him down the hall to our bedroom (admittedly it was a short walk) and talk to him the whole time he was changing out of his BDU's (the camo uniforms) and then I'd follow him into our office and still be talking to him while he got onto the internet to check email (I'd even talk louder over the sound of the modem connecting via the phone line - remember that sound?). With a toddler and a baby at home with me, I would be desperate for someone to talk to. I'm sure Kelly was ready to put in the ear plugs by the time he got his boots off.

The last few years, by the time I get through with dinner, I think that if I have to talk to just one more person (especially if I have to look down to talk to them) I might run away. Now my problem isn't the lack of anyone to talk to, but the fact that my vocal cords are threatening to strike by dinner time. Between teaching, directing chores, talking to the toddler, answering questions, instructing my sous chef with dinner prep, I am worn out! I never, EVER thought I'd feel this way ten years ago.

I'm sure in a few years I'll miss it. But right now I'm going to get off the computer and enjoy an hour of quiet. :-)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Normal, almost

It has been so nice to spend a "normal" weekend at home. No going out of town, no half-day rehearsals for musicals. Just household chores, honey-dos, cleaning, errand running, and cooking. Best of all it will be so nice to be back at church and eating lunch with our church family. Between being sick and being out of town 2-3 weekends out of four each month, we've been pretty hit-or-miss at church since late July. AND we haven't been to a Sunday lunch since the girls' baptism feast in June! Our girls are so excited that we'll get to each lunch at church tomorrow; it's their favoratist. :-)

The only thing keeping it from being completely normal is our resident cripple. Not me, but Kora. It should be illegal for the oldest daughter of a large family to break a leg and not be able to pull her weight around here. LOL We've had to spread her chores around, though Aubrey and I have been doing the brunt of them. She makes up for it by sitting and doing all of the laundry folding instead.

When I was running errands today, I was amazed again at how almost all the things I needed for Kora's fall wardrobe I found either on clearance or at the second hand store. I'm also thankful that due to several clearance purchases at the end of last season and some clothes we've been given, she didn't need as much as she normally does. I need these small reminders that God takes care of our every need.

I also bought another large purchase of ground beef. See this post for what I mean. For several months I've been splitting the case with other families, but I decided to keep all of this one. The price is lower than it's been in months. And going into the holidays and with the possibility of surgery still looming over me, I decided to go ahead and keep the whole thing. It will be so nice to have 80 pounds of ground beef in the deep freezer either cooked up, simplifying meal prep, or in smaller portions raw, ready for meatloaves and such. So between this and all the good deals on chicken lately, my freezer will be well stocked!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

There will be days like this, Mama said.

A few weeks ago, I looked around and realized it was very quiet in my house. It was mid-morning on a school day, and it was eerily quiet. Crickets chirping, almost. When I realized the primary reason it was so quiet I had to take a picture.
Now, I post this, NOT to make you think this is how school always is at my house, just like any public or private school is not always going to be quiet. But because it was such an unusual occurrence, I had to commemorate it on film, er uh, digital images. It just so happened that the older four were all working quietly on their math. If they were wearing matching jumpers, this could be the cover shot of a home school magazine. However, usually, this is the scene:

  • Kora's in the kitchen doing a science experiment that involves vinegar, pipe cleaners, a comb, and a 1L plastic bottle. Oh, and a nine volt battery.
  • Aubrey's upstairs on the computer watching her math lesson on cd, and taking notes.
  • Brynna is sitting at the table working away, but erasing every other letter because she spelled incorrectly or wasn't paying attention. She's also probably getting in trouble for tickling someone whose love language is NOT physical touch.
  • Hailey's sitting with me on the sofa, doing great on the new sounds she's learning in phonics, but completely forgetting all the short vowels she ever learned.
  • Lauryn is trying to convince me that everything toy related downstairs is "boring" and that the only interesting toys are all upstairs (where she is not allowed to go during school time on the theory that toddlers and pre-schoolers are easier to keep track of if they are on the same floor as I am).
  • And they all need my help at the same time.
And Ashlynn? If she's not stealing papers or pencils off the school table, climbing into one of her sisters lap to "help" them with their math, or climbing on top of the kitchen table she's usually doing this:
I'm seriously thinking about changing my Facebook wall photo to this picture.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Finally, the kids' play

On October 3, the kids from our church performed "Psalty's Camping Adventure," a musical play in which the big blue singing hymnal "Psalty" takes a bunch of kids camping and they all learn a valuable lesson in trusting God. All five of my kids had at at least a couple of lines and a couple had solos.

Ever wondered what a walking, talking, big blue hymnal looks like? Here he is.Here's Kora and Aubrey dancing and singing during one of the songs.
Meanwhile, here's Lauryn off to the side with the other 4-5 year olds. They had their own special parts in the play - mainly for humor and a cuteness factor.
In fact they had their own song - here's Lauryn and a little boy singing.
Hailey's character gets into the poison ivy, so here, she's just told Psalty that she wants to go home because she's "itchy, itchy, itchy!"
More singing.
The kids' favorite pose at the end of one of the songs.
Taking a bow.
Nana giving the girls roses.
This picture was taken approximately 12 minutes before Kora broke her leg.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Crazy. Nuts. Bonkers.

The title describes my life right now. Or maybe just me. Anyway, we have had a crazy, busy couple of months, with everything seeming to happen at once. Then just as things seem to calm down to normal, the craziness breaks out again. And DON'T tell me that this is the new normal. I refuse to believe that!

Over the weekend, our oldest five girls were performing in a musical play, along with most of the kids from our church. They've been working on this since March, so this was a big deal. We rented the gymnasium of a private school, props and scenery had been built, costumes made (fortunately not by me), lines and choreography learned. My parents and Kelly's dad all came in for the performance. I plan on doing a whole blog post about the play later in the week. Right now I want to talk about the rain.

You see, we are living proof of the adage, "when it rains, it pours." Not only have we been dealing with my ankle injury, but also the death of my mother-in-law, and helping my father-in-law with details, like getting their house ready for sale. Last week we also attended my sister-in-law's naturalization ceremony (another blog post coming) and getting ready for the play, but Kora came down with a cold. Then on Friday, the day of the dress rehearsal, two more of the girls came down with it. None had run fever, so I gave them cold medicine and sent them anyway along with a bottle of Purell. Then the day of the play, another girl came down with it.

After the play, Kora (12 yo) was running around the gym, jumped over something, and landed HARD, hyperextending her knee. She crumpled to the floor in quite a bit of pain. We figured she had sprained her knee or something. Sunday morning, I wake up with a burning throat - yep, now I had the cold, as did Ashlynn. These colds always make my asthma flare up, so I am on all sorts of drugs for that too. By Monday Kelly had it, and Kora was still in quite a bit of pain, unable to put any weight on it. So I took her to the doctor. He ordered x-rays, fearing that she might have broken the top of her tibia.

We took her in for x-rays this morning, and sure enough her leg has two cracks in it, easily visible to Kelly and me, though we have no medical training. Another trip to the doctor - this time a pediatric orthopedist - confirmed this. She was able to get a brace instead of a cast which is GREAT. She is allowed to take it off to bathe, though for now she has to sleep in it.

So we spent Sunday and most of Monday all lying around either sick or with a broken bone. Our 10 year-old, Aubrey, had KP most of the time because she got over the cold first. Oh, and did I mention that I hadn't gone grocery shopping yet? Usually I go right at the first of the month, but with company and the play, I had planned on going Sunday or Monday. Well, Sunday and Monday, I could barely get off the couch, so we were definitely scrounging. One night she made scrambled eggs and toast, 'cause that's what we had! Kelly finally made it to the store on Monday and got some cereal, milk, sandwich stuff, and frozen lasagna.

Did I mention the fact that our dishwasher and one of our outdoor faucets is leaking, our toilet won't stop running, the elliptical needs the belt looked at, and the suburban needs an oil change?

Oh, and when Stouffers says their lasagna is "Large Family Size"... THEY LIE.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Random Cuteness

Photography by Hailey and Brynna Smith

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Redefining Beautiful

Recently, Thomas Nelson sent me Redefining Beauty, a book by Jenna Lucado (yes, her father is the more well-known Max Lucado), written primarily for 12-17 year olds. The paperback retails for $12.99.

When I received the book, I expected the theme to be along the lines of, "Christians shouldn't think of beauty the way the world does, we should be modest and less concerned about appearances." While all this is true, I was pleasantly surprised that Miss Lucado went further than this. When she talks about "redefining beautiful" she really wants girls to think about what really makes a girl beautiful - what's on the inside.

She calls these things on the inside which make girls beautiful "Life Accessories," such as "Security - trusting that no matter what, we have a God who loves us" and "Peace - in believing God is in control." These life accessories are what makes us attractive to others no matter what kind of clothes we wear.

The most important theme of her book is that the foundational beauty secret is a father's love, both earthly and heavenly. A girl with an earthly father who shows his daughter love, spends time with her, and teaches her to love God will be infinitely more likely to be filled with these life accessories. But even a great earthly father isn't perfect, and ultimately we all must look to our heavenly father as the source of our inner beauty. Miss Lucado also points out that this is even more important for girls whose dads are either non-existent or are abusive.

She also touches on boys, friends, authority figures, and modesty. I appreciated her approach to the modesty issue. It's easy to make a list about what is acceptable and what isn't, but she encourages her reader to think of two things when dressing: would God approve and will it tempt boys to think about things they shouldn't. She is also quite emphatic about letting boys take the lead in the relationships - they should do the approaching, the asking out - and she discourages girls from flirting.

While the book was written for teens, the tone is often a bit condescending. Though Miss Lucado is evidently in her early 20s, she just tries a little too hard to be"hip" sounding, to talk in language a teen would talk. As a result, I think it would be best for the younger end of the age range as I doubt high school kids would respond to the tone. For instance she calls Ishmael "Ishy" and the apostles "a group of guys Jesus hung out with."

I also think this book would be best used as a discussion tool with your daughter. There are several instances where the author asks her readers to make lists and to write certain things down. I think most girls wouldn't do this unless forced to, but I think an even better idea would be to use these as discussion points with your daughter. This would also give home schooling moms like me a chance to explain what she means when she talks about throwing on clothes and rushing out the door to first period.

The biggest drawback to the book is that while the truths are simple, they aren't delved into deeply. For instance, she does a good job of pointing out that we are valuable to God, called his children, etc. However, though she is evidently writing to believers, she fails to develop this idea of our identity in Christ, that when God looks at us, He sees Christ.

If you have a daughter that is struggling with insecurities about her looks and who she is, this could be used as a starting point of some good discussions. Just be prepared to delve deeper into some areas she glosses over. Thank you, Thomas Nelson, for the opportunity to review Redefining Beauty. This has definitely given me some great ideas for topics to bring up with my girls!

This review is also posted on