Let’s Play Guess which is the Living Book

Dear Reader,

Ready for a game? Below are the first paragraphs from two history books I picked up for my kids’ schooling this year. You tell me which one is the living book. Bonus points if you tell me which one was published first. Spoiler: this should be super easy. Comment below with your answer. When I get the right response, I tell you what the books are. Ready? Here we go:

Book #1:

“When John Brown was born in 1800, the United States was a young and growing country. Settlers poured into the new territories of the West. They built towns and turned forests into farmland. New states were added to the Union, and the country’s population swelled. Americans were very proud of their country. Many people claimed there was more freedom on the United States than in any other country in the world. However, in the southern states, almost one million blacks wore the chains of slavery.”

Book #2:

“Gunshots cracked the cold grey dawn of October 17, 1859 in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Awakened by the noise, frightened citizens hastily dresses and gathered in the streets. “What is it?” “What has happened?” they nervously asked one another.”

Bring on those guesses!


p.s. Double bonus: tell me which one makes you want to keep reading.

Recipe: Low Carb, Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Dear Reader,

I have been slacking on the blogging. Blame it on the end of summer, vacations, and trying to prep homeschool. Also my laptop died. But to ease back into things I thought I’d give you a new recipe. I was looking for a low carb cookie to feed guests this past weekend and came up with this one. It also fits all the other dietary issues in our house: gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, chocolate-free (sadly, chocolate gives me headaches) and peanut (butter) free (which is a preference for my older son but not a necessity around here). Despite everything they don’t contain, these cookies went over pretty well.

Low Carb, Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Cookies


1 can (15 oz) pumpkin

1 tbsp vanilla

1 tbsp molasses

1/2 c soy-free shortening, coconut oil or butter

2 eggs

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 tsp xantham gum

1 c xylitol

1/2 c coconut flour

1 scoop (1/3 c) protein powder (I use egg white protein powder to keep it dairy-free)

2 c blanched almond flour (this is not the same as almond meal; it is much finer)

1/2 c almond milk (or other milk of your choice)

1/2 c finely chopped pecans


My dd chopping the pecans. I imagined bigger chunks of nuts in these cookies but they tend to get carried away with chopping so they were pretty fine.

My dd chopping the pecans. I imagined bigger chunks of nuts in these cookies but they tend to get carried away with chopping so they were pretty fine.



  1. In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, vanilla and molasses. Stir in shortening, oil or butter until well combined. Add eggs one at a time.
  2. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
  3. Stir in almond milk.
  4. Add pecans.
  5. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours.
  6. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375. Drop dough by spoonfuls on baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone liner. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes. The cookies will be soft when done but will begin to brown at the edges. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minuets and then place on wire racks to cool. Makes 4 dozen.
The batter -- we just need to stir in those pecans. This makes fairly moist, sticky batter, even after refrigerating.

The batter — we just need to stir in those pecans. This makes fairly moist, sticky batter, even after refrigerating.

Ready to bake

Ready to bake


Fresh out of the oven

Fresh out of the oven




Keeping Kids in Church: How

Dear Reader,

The issue of kids in church has come up again for me from a couple of places (one real life, one online) so I thought I’d do a couple of posts on it. I am going to start with the back-end — what should probably be the second half — and talk about the practical side: How do you train your little children to behave appropriately in service and even to learn to worship? In the next post, I’ll back up and ask why one would even want to do so.

Here then are my practical tips for training kids to sit through worship and to worship:

– Bring entertainment. Quiet entertainment. This depends upon the age of course and also to some extent what is acceptable in your congregation. In our church, having a snack is not out of bounds. I knew one family that brought pistachios in the shell because their daughter was so slow in eating them and it would keep her occupied all service. I would caution about this particular snack though as I have known a couple of situations in which one family would feed nut products though others had severe allergies. This is pretty insensitive and not a very good witness. Still, Cheerios for babies are good entertainment in my book. Books are also good, especially soft ones for babies and toddlers. Finger puppets work well too. Whatever you bring imagine it spilling all at once over the floor — how much noise will it make?

– As kids get older I like to think of activities which transition naturally into appropriate worship activities. For example, drawing is a precursor to taking sermon notes. (My 10yo loves to draw the preacher; she is especially excited when we have guest preachers. I am sure she looks as if she is soaking up every word because she stares at them so hard.) Looking at a book is in line with reading one’s Bible. As kids get older still, you can give them challenges which require them to listen such as “Write down three ideas you hear in the sermon” or even easier “Count how often the Pastor says _____. ” You fill in the blank. I knew one family who had a long drive home and so would always discuss the sermon on the way home. This is a good way to reinforce what bigger kids hear and to encourage them to pay attention.

– Make sure your kids are in a good place before worship begins. Make sure they have had a drink (but not too much) and a snack. Make sure they have been to the bathroom. Many kids will figure out that bathroom trips are hard to say no to and that they can get a break by saying they need to go. Be firm. Unless you are really bang splat in the middle of potty training, there is no reason they should need to go more than once a service. Make sure they are not overly tired. This can require planning ahead — don’t stay up late the night before; adjust nap times if need be.

– Make leaving service a bad ting. If they realize that acting up means that they get to go play in the nursery (and they will realize this at an astonishingly young age), what do you think they will do? Instead, if your child needs to be taken out either discipline them if they are old enough and it is necessary or just take them and sit with them somewhere else. Hold them on your lap; insist that they be quiet and still just as they should be in service.

– Worship at home. This is great preparation. The standards are lower at home and it is a good time to discuss what we do and why. Plus they will just be more used to worship and to the routine of it. Maybe they will get to know the songs etc. as well so it will make more sense to them when they are in worship services.

– Ask for help. The pastor’s wife is usually alone in the pew. Others may be as well. Or maybe both parents are there but you just have  a lot of littles to deal with. It’s okay to ask for help. Get someone else to sit with you or behind you to help keep an eye on kids, particularly if you have to take one out. Teens are great for this too.

– Sit up front. This is helpful for slightly older children especially (say 5+). There is less distraction with fewer people in front of you.

– Use the nursery if necessary. I always though ages 10 months through 2.5 years were the toughest. If you need the nursery, that is okay. But always remember that your goal is to teach your kids how to worship. Start them off in service at least and see how long they can make it.

– Let them know that you make worship a priority. It is okay to tell kids “Shh! You need to be quiet, Mommy is worshipping now.”

– Know that this is a temporary stage and that the quickest way through it is to be consistent and to get through it. My own observation (and this gets into the “why” which I will come back to next time) is that delaying by putting them in children’s church type ministries does not make them any more ready to be in worship.

Those are my tips. What would you add?


Unschooling and Charlotte Mason

Dear Reader,

I am not an unschooler and, in fact, I have some fundamental theological objections to the philosophy behind unschooling (see here), but I have often thought that if I couldn’t take a Charlotte Mason approach to schooling and had to pick another, that unschooling might not be a bad choice. I ran across an article entitled How to be a Good Unschooler recently which made me think again that there is a lot to like in this philosophy.

The biggest plus I see in this approach is that it, like Charlotte Mason’s, treats the child as a person. Both also acknowledge that education is not something the teacher does to the student; the burden for it rests largely upon the student himself. Both of these ideas are, I think, exemplified in this quote:

” . . . [the children] will build strengths upon strengths and excel in their own ways whether that is academic, artistic, athletic, interpersonal, or whichever direction that particular child develops.”

One more point of contact: both unschooling and Charlotte Mason seek to bring the child into contact with real world things, not materials that are dumbed down or reduced for them:

Bring the world to your children and your children to the world.”

I could go on with the quotes I like from this article, but really you should read it for yourself.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not acknowledge that there are some important differences. Unschooling does not consider the child’s sinful nature and the need for discipline. Nor does it acknowledge, as Charlotte Mason does, that the ultimate source of wisdom and therefore of all education is God the Holy Spirit. These are, of course, not minor considerations and they are the main reasons I could never be a true unschooler. Nonetheless, I think there is a lot of common ground in the two approaches and much that we can learn from this article and from unschoolers in general.


Book Review: What is the Christian Worldview?

Dear Reader,

In looking for things in the general category of theology to give my two high schoolers to read, I stumbled across this little gem by Philip Graham Ryken. The full title of this thin work is What is the Christian Worldview?: Basics of the Reformed Faith. This is going on my “highly recommended” list. In fact, I ordered two more copies so my kids could each have their own and I could keep mine (and they’re only $4 on Amazon).

Usually as I read books, I underline a lot and write lots of notes in the margins. In this book I did none of that. There was nothing here to disagree with (and I’m very hard to please; just read my other book reviews), and if I had underlined what I liked, I would have done pretty much the whole book.

I do have one criticism which is that I think the book is somewhat misnamed. It would be better titled if the subtitle — Basics of the Reformed Faith — were the main title. That is really what this book is — a concise summary of Reformed Christian doctrine. As such, it is thorough, and I would even call it dense in the sense that it is packed with good things; there are not many wasted words here. But it is not a hard read. I think for my high schoolers, when I give it to them, I would encourage them to read it slowly and to take time to digest. But they are unfamiliar with reading such things.

I understand Ryken’s idea that the specifics of Reformed theology shape our worldview and even are our worldview, but this is not really what I was expecting from the main title. I have said many time on this blog that what we believe theologically is terribly important and informs so much of what we do and believe in other areas so I do not think that what Ryken says is irrelevant to the point of what a Christina worldview is. But I do think that if his real object were to show a Christian worldview that he could have done more to show how these things we believe work themselves out. For instance, how does my view of man (made in the image of God yet fallen) affect what I believe or how I act? Or how does a specifically reformed worldview make my life any different than that of my Christian neighbor who believes anyone can be saved if they only choose to believe?

So while I heartily recommend this little book, if you are looking specifically for discussions of worldview you may be dispaoointed in it. But you should read it anyway.



When Good Books Pay Off or What to Read at Lunchtime

Dear Reader,

I did a post recently on how you know if your CM education is working. Well, I have one more way to you can tell (and I needed ideas for another post so why not give it its own?). As I said in that earlier post, a Charlotte Mason approach to education is a long term investment, not of money, but of our time and resources. We don’t do a lot of testing and reading comprehension questions and the like. There are no grades and no multiple choice exams in our homeschool so it can be hard to see and measure progress in the ways our society usually does so. But I am finding as my kids get older that there are little hints coming through that our efforts have been worthwhile.

I usually read to my children while they eat their lunches (captive audience and all that, you know). I don’t generally choose school books for lunchtime, though occasionally a book will be set in the time period we are studying (they often pick up on this and squawk about this as being an underhanded and unfair move on my part), but prefer to choose books that are fictional, fun and possibly even literary. We have been through E. Nesbit’s books. We have found some recent gems like Mary Rose Wood’s Incorrigibles series. We have read easier books like The All-of-a-Kind Family and Rabbit Hill. We have read harder books like Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. It has gotten hard to find new books which interest us. I recently got a couple of free books on my Kindle so when we finished David Copperfield which was quite a long journey I started in on one of the free Kindle books. The first one I tried sounded good. The blurb compared it to the Penderwicks series which we love. But it was clear fairly early on that this was not on the Penderwicks’ level. It was just so very obvious. One girl is vain and into her clothes; her cousin is a more free spirited country girl. It is hard to describe here but I really just did not even enjoy reading it (which is a great test for living books, btw). So I was not displeased nor surprised when my kids asked after one sitting to drop the book. I was mildly surprised (and also pleased) when they informed me that it was poorly written.

Well, not to be discouraged, we began on another free Kindle book. This one was a little better. The kids even commented on this fact early on, as in “this book is better than that last one.” But after a week the story was just not moving along though it is a mystery and the plot itself could have promise. As one child observed, way too much time was spent describing how the characters in the story would go ice skating or tobogganing. It felt like one of those craft classes where you have to do every step along with the teacher and can’t get ahead or be creative at all. So we decided to abandon that book as well.

But that left me with the issue of what to read to my kids. I have a little time to decide as two are in camp this week and I am not reading aloud anyway. Today as we went into the library and I mentioned needing to find something new, my daughter asked me, “Does Dickens have any other books?” Of course I said yes, quite a few. Upon further inquiry it turned out this was her recommendation for the next read aloud. I had not considered it because I thought after 6 months or so on David Copperfield that they would not want more Dickens for  a while. And really if the book we had most recently rejected was too slow and spent too much time describing characters, well, Dickens might also be out. He is a wordy fellow, you know. But I am pleased that they can apparently recognize that one sort of book, while so very long, is good reading and that these others are not. This is not something we ever discussed — what makes good writing? But on some level they have picked up on this simply by being exposed to good books.

And this is really a key cornerstone of a CM education — that we spread a feast of good materials and leave the children to consume what they may. And (who knew?) it turns out it works!

Now — any good book suggestions??


Book Review: Sugar Surfing

Dear Reader,

This is a bit of a departure because I don’t blog very often about my daughter’s diabetes, but I wanted to give a book review of a book I read recently, Sugar Surfing by Dr. Stephen W. Ponder.

A little background info so you know where I am coming from: My now 13yo daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D; aka juvenile diabetes or insulin dependent diabetes) almost 12 years ago at age 19 months. I think we are fairly diligent D-parents though I don’t claim to be an expert by any means (and nothing I say here should be taken as medical advice). My dd was on multiple daily injections (MDI) of NPH, humalog, and ultralente for the first nine months after diagnosis, then pumped using the Cozmo (RIP Cozmo) insulin pump for 5 years and then when back to MDI (Levemir and Novolog currently) by her own choice for the last 6 years or so. She has been using the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) for about 18 months now.

Dr. Ponder is an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes care and has had T1D himself for quite a number of years. The main thrust of his book is to discuss how one can best manage blood glucose (bg) levels of a person with T1D using the relatively new technology of CGMs. As such it fills a much needed gap in the literature out there on dealing with T1D.

My overall recommendation is that anyone with T1D or helping to care for someone with T1D should get this book and read it. I would particularly recommend it to those new to T1D and those who may have more experience but who are using CGMs. I do, however, have some hesitations about the book which I will get to.

Sugar Surfing is written in a conversational style and begins by discussing the author’s own experiences with T1D, having been diagnosed in the days before fast acting insulins, pumps, and even home bg testing. I love these sorts of stories so I found these bits rather interesting. One intriguing tidbit arising from this part of the book is that Dr. Ponder, while clearly knowing well that diabetes care has advanced leagues beyond how it was in his youth, seems nostalgic for those earlier days. In particular, he mentions how much less stress was involved in caring for diabetes way back when because one couldn’t know or even attempt to control all the many numbers involved. I kind of get this and I think it’s an interesting observation. It could be good to think more about how the pressure on those with T1D and those caring for them (particularly parents) may have increased with the advances in care without perhaps the same degree of increase in the support and understanding these people need.

Which brings me to what I think is the biggest contribution of this book — Dr. Ponder does a wonderful job of laying out all the factors that can influence bg and of showing how very uncontrollable it can be. My own experience was that when my very small daughter was sent home from the hospital we were told “do this and this and then her bgs will be this and that.” And then we got home and she was in the 300s for the first few weeks and we thought we were complete failures. I understand why the staff wanted to make it sound simple for us, that they didn’t want us to be overwhelmed at the start. But we were also misled in many ways and the result was confusion and a sense of failure. I think this is not an uncommon experience. I really wish I had had Ponder’s book much sooner. Though over the years, I have learned how very uncontrollable T1D can be on my own, I would definitely recommend reading the earlier chapters on all the influences on bg one has to try to cope with to anyone new to the world of T1D. It may be daunting, but it is realistic and that, I think, is a very good thing.

One of the quibble I have with Dr. Ponder, however, is in how he talks about our ability to control all those numbers. I find he is a bit inconsistent of this point. On one hand, he outlines all the influences on bg, many of which we clearly cannot control (eg. growth hormones, stress); on the other, he makes statements like this:

“In fact, almost any of the ever present forces that influence one’s blood sugar level can be managed with Sugar Surfing principles.” (p. 44)

“Control” is a big word in the diabetes world. We speak of “controlling bgs” after all and doctors (and nosy family members)  ask us things like “how is your control?” The comforting part for me in the first part of this book is how Ponder makes me feel like there is so much I can’t control. But then he turns it around and really makes it about controlling again after all.

(Warning: if you don’t like religious talk, skip this bit.) One of the things I say on this blog is that our worldviews (though I hate that term) are important; they affect everything we do and even in a book on something as seemingly practical as bg control, they seep through.  A big part of what I have learned from my dd’s T1D is that I cannot control everything — not even these things that are very essential to keeping my child alive. It is not that I say “Oh, I can’t control it therefore I am not going to try.” I do not use the fact that these things are so hard (or even impossible) to control as an excuse for bad bgs.  Instead, I do everything I can and leave the rest to God. Because He can and does control everything. My take on this book would be that Dr. Ponder has looked at these same factors which make bg so hard to control and he comes away still trying to control them. How does he do this? Well, on one hand he has certain principles and tricks he uses (which he gets to in the latter half of the book). But he also relies on himself:

“Ultimately, you must believe in yourself and your equipment. Tapping into your “Power Within” is a driving motivational force behind Sugar Surfing.” (p. 114)

If there is any statement in this book I disagree with, it is this one. It all comes down to who is ultimately in charge. In my view, it is God who ultimately causes my best efforts to either succeed or fail. In Ponder’s, despite how long he spends telling us how very much in T1D is uncontrollable, he is still in control. One more little quote before I move on — Dr. Ponder says at one point that “I no longer fear [diabetes] like I did in my younger days” (p. 47). I think this is a very telling statement. One gets the impression that it is this (quite understandable) fear that has driven him to be where he is today. All of which is to say that while there ia a lot to recommend in this book, I have some fundamental problems with the worldview that underlies it.

Now, to stop psychoanalyzing strangers and return to the main point — in the latter part of the book Dr. Ponder gets to specifics of how he manages his T1D. In general, I wish the tips and tricks he uses were laid out a little more clearly. I do like his use of his own CGM readouts; the visuals are very helpful. Personally, there were only  a few specific things in this book that I found new. Others I had either encountered on the internet previously (eg. the idea of waiting for the bend to begin eating) or somehow managed to stumble upon myself (Ponder’s i-chain method of bolusing for high fat meals is much like what I was doing anyway). More than specific methods, however, I was inspired to be more diligent in addressing bg numbers when they begin to stray from our target zone rather than waiting till they actually cross those lines.

A few more notes on the practical details in this book:

  • Ponder says that his methods work for both pumpers and those on MDI. As someone who uses MDI I really appreciated this. It feels like there is a lot for pumpers out there. On the flip side, there were times when he presents techniques that work for pumpers but left me still frustrated looking for a way to do the same things with MDI (of course if I could get my dd to pump again, that wouldn’t be a problem).
  • As the parent of a teenage girl, I was left wanting more info on dealing with the effects of hormones on bg. Of course, Ponder is giving us info based on his own experience and he has never been a teenage girl so the oversight is understandable. Still one must not expect to find answers to every question in this book.
  • Ponder spends a chapter on dealing with kids with T1D the main point of which is to say that his techniques can’t all be applied to children. I could easily see how this book might provide more frustration than help for parents whose kids due to their age or compliance are not going to be able to make use of most of the techniques herein.
  • Discussing the issue of kids and compliance, Ponder says that “for some reason which I don’t understand” teens who don’t comply “are still allowed to wear an insulin pump” (p. 116). I completely disagree with the idea that insulin pumps are somehow a reward for good diabetes behavior or that bg control and/or compliance will somehow be improved by taking away a kid’s pump.
  • Ponders’ advice on calibrating your CGM, specifically saying to only calibrate in the middle of one’s bg range, is contrary to other advice I have heard.

To draw things to a conclusion, while I would definitely recommend Sugar Surfing and think it fills a great need in the diabetes community, both with its portrayal of the realistic challenges of managing T1D and with the specific methods it presents, one should not expect that this book will answer all questions or solve all the problems associated with T1D nor can I agree with Dr. Ponder’s fundamental assumptions about how much control we are able to have.




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