Category Archives: Family

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix

Miracle ManThis captivating picture book biography of Jesus tells a simplified version of his life for children up to perhaps third grade, beginning with the start of Jesus’ public ministry and ending with his resurrection. Hendrix has a colorful, cartoonish, almost psychedelic style of illustration, and one outstanding feature of this slender volume is his bold use of fonts and text placement. Words sometimes circle around the picture, or are made of stone or wooden planks to complement the story being told on that page.

Another element that sets this biography apart is that it is warmly written by a believer. In the informative author’s note at the back, Hendrix says, “The first reason I wanted to write and illustrate this story is that I am a follower of Jesus. At a very young age, I fell in love with the Miracle Man.” Although only a judicious few events from Jesus’ life are covered, the text is very moving, and the chosen stories will introduce children to the outline of the Miracle Man’s life and his teachings. Some parental explanations will be needed— preferably while the children are nestled on a lap— such as that not all of the disciples were actually fishermen, and what it means when Jesus is shown walking out of the tomb.

Very highly recommended. Do not miss it.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Gardenias

GardeniasMy mother loved gardenias. We have a picture of her as a seventeen-year-old bride, standing beside her World War II soldier, holding a cascading bouquet of white mums and gardenias. To the end of her life, they remained her favorite flower.

Last week, I went out on my back porch to water all of the potted plants, and when I ended up with leftover water in the can, I walked to the end of the porch and poured it into the wildly overgrown gardenia in the yard. Leaning forward, I examined the early spring state of the plant: healthy and covered with leaf buds. No flower buds yet. Then suddenly, I found that I was watering the shrub with my tears.

When my father died in 2004, two mourners who knew her well gave my mother potted gardenias at his funeral. She planted one in her yard, and she gave the other to me. This is the plant at the end of my porch. It sits in front of the dryer vent, soaking up the heat, never invaded by pruning shears, thanks to the ignorance of its owners. By now, it is well over my head, and it blesses us with abundant blooms twice a year. The fragrance seeps through the walls and windows into the house. Intoxicating.

Last year, at the very end of May, we went to South Carolina to see my mother in the hospital. She was about to have surgery to remove her pacemaker, since it may have been causing a serious infection. Just before we got in the car, I cut off a double handful of the last spring blooms and buds from my father’s gardenia plant to cheer her. When we arrived, the nurse was entering the room as I asked whether Mom could have flowers, and her official answer was, “No.” But when she saw the homely nature of the bouquet, she relented. “Oh. Alright.” So we stuck our offering into a plastic hospital pitcher, and the room filled with their aroma. I asked Mom if it was too much in the small space, and she said, “Oh, no. I love gardenias.”

We had no idea that night that a few days later, Mom would leave us to go back to her beloved groom, the fragrance of his gardenias in her hair.

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This Is My Home, This Is My School, by Jonathan Bean

This Is My SchoolOn watercolor and ink pages, author Jonathan Bean remembers his childhood fondly. Picture books about home education are rare, and this one is almost too realistic! There is nothing didactic here, no pictures of children in neat, little rows. The Beans’ home life is like a whirlwind: learning, eating, sleeping, and go-go-go. Mom and Dad are both involved, and Bean points out all the ways that his homeschool is both like, yet different from, traditional schools. For example, the “cafeteria lady” is Mom, and the lunchroom is their kitchen. The kids learn in the house, in the pond out back, and even in the yard in the middle of the night! One of my favorite pictures is of Mom fast asleep in a lawn chair during Dad’s star-gazing lesson out back. The house is piled with common homeschooling detritus: books (of course), science experiments, art supplies, papers, and pets of all kinds.

When Michael was about seven, we lived in a rural area in South Carolina for just a few months. One day we were out walking and found some really clear deer tracks. We ran inside and mixed up some Plaster of Paris, then went back out and were carefully pouring it into the tracks when our next-door neighbor drove by with another woman who exclaimed, “What in the world!?” Our neighbor simply said, “They’re homeschoolers.” “Ohhh.”

This Is My Home, This Is My School beautifully conveys the all-encompassing passion for learning that a loving homeschool family pursues 24 hours a day. Cozy, happy, crazy, this colorful book paints a true portrait of so many of the wonderful families I’ve known. Perfect for home educators and anyone who wants to understand them better. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book (which means I bought 49 of them). Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Destined to Be a Classic

WaitingAs you may know from my four-part series on picture books, I consider them to be the great literature of young children’s books. I read so many cute, sweet, or funny picture books each week, but every once in a while, I find one that stands out from the rest. Waiting, by the beloved Kevin Henkes, is destined to be a classic.

This large-format beauty is deceptively simple: just a row of toys sitting on a windowsill, waiting. The colors are soft—even the font is brownish, instead of black—and for contrast, Henkes used watercolors for the interior scenes and color pencils for the outdoors, which is almost wholly represented by a single tree branch showing the changes of the seasons. The pages are thick, creamy matte paper, and the book has just a few, profound words.

I read an interview with Mr. Henkes concerning this new book, and he said that he had been struck by how much time children spend waiting. Here, the toys have varied personalities and are all waiting for something different. For example, the pig with the umbrella is waiting for rain, and the dog with the sled is waiting for snow. Henkes said his favorite character is the rabbit on the accordion spring; he’s not waiting for anything in particular. Just waiting.

There are so many details to discuss with a little one in these pages, and some may be understood more deeply by the adult reader. More toys come to join them. Some stay, some do not. There are poignant scenes and humorous ones. There is a toy-like death and a surprising birth: the cycle of life. I felt a nostalgic longing throughout that reminded me that children are often patiently waiting, but are usually not making the choices in their lives. They do not know why the branch outside now has flowers on it, or why there is a new person living near them, but they learn, accept, and wait for more, like toys on a windowsill: able to see, but not able to change their circumstances.

No child should grow up without this innocent, beautiful picture book. If you don’t have little ones, borrow some or at least pretend to, and spend some quiet time slowly turning the pages. If you love it, you will be glad to know that Kevin Henkes has a whole row of delightful reading experiences waiting for you.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book (although if the author wants to send me a signed copy, I just might treasure it forever). Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Colin Fischer, by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz

Colin FischerLast weekend, David and I traveled to South Carolina to see our two moms on Mother’s Day weekend. We were also happy to see other family members, including my sister and her crew. My fourteen-year-old nephew has Asperger’s Syndrome, and although he is fascinated by meteorology and amazingly gifted in music, reading has never held much interest for him. This visit, though, John was eager to share a book with me, and my sister told me that it was the first full-length book he had ever read all the way through. Go, Dog, Go! he had done, but never a complete novel. Could there possibly be a greater commendation for a book than that? I had to read it immediately.

Colin is a teenaged boy with Asperger’s leading a fairly stereotypical Aspie life: socially isolated, good at math, keeping his food separated on his plate. He is sometimes bullied, but since he doesn’t give the bullies the satisfaction of fear and panic, he doesn’t get hurt badly. In the beginning of freshman year, a bully named Wayne dunks Colin’s head in the toilet, but later in the novel, Colin overreacts to being touched and breaks another bully’s nose. So he is not helpless, just clueless. He carries around a cheat sheet of various facial expressions, labeled with the appropriate emotion being expressed, and he writes down all of his observations in his well-worn notebook, which goes with him everywhere. His friend, Melissa, has— shall we say— matured over the summer, the evidence of which Colin points out to her in graphic terms that would earn most boys a slap. Melissa understands him, though, and leaves poor Colin to figure out why his feelings toward her have taken a very confusing turn.

One ordinary lunchtime, while one of the popular girls is passing out birthday cake in the school cafeteria, a shot rings out, and after all of the screaming and scrambling for cover settles down, Colin sees a gun covered with frosting lying on the floor. Wayne, the school bully, is immediately suspended, but Colin is convinced that Wayne is not the shooter. Emulating his hero, Sherlock Holmes, Colin uses his powers of observation and deduction to try to find the real villain before it is too late for Wayne.

Written in a combination of third-person narrative, journal entries, and footnotes, this novel reveals the inner workings of an Aspie mind with compassion and straight-up realism. There is some strong language, and an understanding of sex, though nothing happens on the page. Colin has great parents, and he loves them, but he sees them with the clarity with which one adult would see another, unrelated adult. His brother, however, is probably the biggest bully in Colin’s life, despite his parents’ efforts, and it is difficult to imagine the pain of living with someone so aggressively hateful every day. Colin deals with all of this rationally, and is sincere in trying to follow all of the rules he has learned and to adjust his communication style in order to interact with the neurotypical humans around him. His desire for justice and truth allow Colin to defend even the individuals who have given him nothing but cruelty, and that purity of purpose leads to a happier outcome than most of us would expect.

Obviously, this is a terrific book for any tween or teen who needs a hero on the spectrum, but many other kids are also facing each day as another encounter with a bully. Colin Fischer will give them courage. On the other hand, aggressive kids could learn compassion in these pages, and everybody loves a good mystery. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I read the first 125 pages of this book in my nephew’s copy, and then read the remainder in a library copy. Opinions expressed are solely my own, perhaps influenced by my John’s enthusiasm, but do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Of Drugs and Dust: Conclusions of a Sort

Llama Goiter

It seems that half the women I know are on thyroid medication. If we weren’t, our necks would swell up like this.

My allergist had said that generic levothyroxine had filler ingredients that could cause hives and swelling—officially known as urticaria and angioedema. Since I had already been off the antihistamine for five days, I decided to give it a try and switch back to name-brand Synthroid, even though it was much more expensive. Amazingly, my symptoms improved a lot within two days. Imagine! The pill is so tiny to begin with, and the active ingredients—the reason I take the pill—are fine. It’s just the filler in the pill that can cause so much upset to my system. If something that tiny and seemingly insignificant can do that, what do the foods we eat do to us, since we eat them in much larger quantities?  So much to think about here.

However, I’m still not out of the woods. For one thing, the new blood pressure medication raised my blood sugar, so we had to experiment with a third one! The hives still show up now and then, but are not nearly as overwhelming. In the week before the allergy tests, when I was not able to take any medication, I woke up at 3:00 one morning and just cried from the itching. I dabbed on so much cider vinegar I smelled like a pickle. (It actually does help a bit.)  I always felt as if I’d been scrubbed all over with sandpaper. However, I have only had to take an antihistamine one day since I went off the levothyroxine. We’ve installed anti-dust mite air filters in our vents and washed all of our bedding, comforters, afghans, and so on. We’ve purchased, washed, and zipped on a “dust mite-proof mattress encasement.” Worst of all, I have had to remove my stack of to-be-read books from my bedroom! They are now stacked in the craft room. We have to keep our house very cool and dry to vanquish the dust mites, so we’ll go broke running the air conditioning this summer. I suppose Blue Cross doesn’t cover power bills, either. They are so stingy! I am left mind-boggled that such tiny little things as dust mites and filler ingredients in pills can cause so much havoc in a human life!

After all the doctors, all the work, and all the money spent on drugs and bedding, I think my sister had the best diagnosis of all. When you’re close to your family, they know everything about you, and I rarely take a breath without describing it in detail to Karen. First of all, she followed my accounts of all of my medical visits closely, and she got so upset by my descriptions of dust mites that she went overboard while cleaning her bedroom closet and she decided to rip up all of the carpeting and padding right then and there. No, she does not have hardwood underneath. Just sub-flooring. She is serious.

Karen was also considering everything the doctors said, and she reminded me that when I had an ulcer last fall, I had to take such massive doses of multiple antibiotics for so long that I probably stripped my immune system, and things that would normally not affect me so much are now major problems. That makes a lot of sense. I have never had any problems with allergies before, but now everything makes me sick! Even though I eat yogurt every day and took a 30-day course of probiotics, it has not been enough. So, like a good librarian, I have started to read about rebuilding my immune system.

You know what this means for you, Dear Reader. Soon, I will be bringing you reviews of all the nonfiction I’ve been reading about regaining a strong immune system, feeding the huge populations residing in your guts, and my timid first encounters with kimchi. This could be a long road for me, and although life is much more bearable now than it was a couple of months ago, I won’t stop until there are no hives at all in the morning!

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Shine On!

2015-02-07 17.32.11Last week, we went to my mother’s house in South Carolina, where most of my family was gathering to visit with my brother from New Jersey. We had all the usual family activities planned: playing bridge, walking my sister’s beloved dogs, and eating huge meals. Within the last year, though, a new business has opened up in Lexington that just demanded our attention: The Moonlight Distillery. Yes, makers of moonshine, that hitherto illegal brew tucked into a wooded holler and guarded from revenuers by shotgun. Despite its checkered past, however, legitimate moonshine distilleries are becoming quite au courant, at least in the South. Since we have such a close connection to this one— my sister’s next-door neighbor’s son’s wife’s parents own it—we had to have a look-see. And maybe more than a look.

2015-02-07 17.16.53Have you ever seen such a happy group of people? And we hadn’t even gone inside yet! It must have been the anticipation of tastiness that had my extended family looking so gleeful. That and the fact that we’d all been singing Earth, Wind, and Fire songs at the top of our lungs on the way over. We quickly discovered that we didn’t actually know the words, so we just faked it until we got to the brilliant chorus: “Ba-de-ya! Dancing in September! Ba-de-ya!” What in the world does that mean, anyway?

Once inside, and after license checks all around (even my white-bearded, 66-year-old brother), the owners poured out teeny tastes of all their many flavors for the whole crew. The most amazing, to me, was the Apple Pie flavor. It didn’t just taste like apple, it tasted like apple pie. My brother liked the blackberry, but brought home the Twisted Cinnamon for his daughter, since she loves spice. We bought a Fuzzy Peach, although I’m sure it has way more sugar in it than I should have. We haven’t opened it, but later we did taste some of my sister’s batch mixed with diet ginger ale. Yum! I can imagine this concoction in the summer with lots of ice and a mint sprig. We had received the plain moonshine for Christmas and I can attest that it is very good without extra flavors. Kind of on the idea of vodka, but with a hint of a sweet flavor that I can’t quite place.

The Moonlight Distillery website is under construction, and I have a feeling that you can’t buy it online. State laws, perhaps? Anyhow, you can ask your local establishment to get it for you. In the meantime, the website now boasts its first few recipes that look absolutely delectable. And just to prove that moonshine and moonlight lead to good things, here is what we saw written on an old loading dock door just outside of the distillery:

2015-02-07 17.33.45

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