Hitting Double Digits

Hitting Double Digits

This picture of my dad, my grandmother, my firstborn, and I was taken ten years ago. 

Ten years ago today I was hanging out in the hospital for this future Big Helper’s birth.

When you have a baby, everyone tells you to make the most of it because the time will fly.

They’re wrong.

‘Flying time’ doesn’t begin to explain how very fast the years will disappear.

While some days – some phases – seem neverending, it seems that you miss whole years when you blink a single time.

And so today that’s where I sit – lost in wonder at this big girl, this tween, this girl on the threshold of growing up.  She’s grown and changed more in the past few months than I’ve seen in the past several years, and while these changes have always been expected, I never realized how quickly they would come.

It hit me the other day that we’re more than halfway through this parenting-of-kid-under-roof thing.  She’s already lived here for ten years and has only eight left.  Eight years of becoming an adult.  Ten years with the easy lessons of walking and talking and learning to read already gone and eight mature, weighty years left.

I don’t feel old until I consider that. 

I’m quite sure that I’m not ready to be the parent of a tween or a teen or an adult.  I’m glad that there’s a little time before all of that becomes official, but this birthday has been very hard for me.

 Big Helper in Snow

My Big Helper is turning into an amazing girl.  She’s kind and helpful (obviously), complimentary and very hard working.  She’s tenacious and not afraid of trying new things, and I love spending time with her.  I’ve loved the past 9 weeks of bee school and the time that we’ve gotten to spend together.

Just as bee school is ending, however, so also is childhood – but maybe not yet.

Maybe we can still paint and play and bake together.

After all, it’s only double digits.

Backyard Bird Watching

Disclosure Pic

I remember visiting my great-grandparents as a kid and listening to them talking about the birds they were watching in their backyard.  They could see a huge tree from their rocking chairs, and they could always identify the birds they saw.  I admired how much they knew about the world around them.

On the other hand, there aren’t many birds that I can identify immediately.  Somehow bird identification never really crossed my educational radar, but my kids love it.  We keep animal identification books on hand, and they can often be seen flipping through them to find an animal that they’ve spotted through the window.

Backyard Bird Watching @ A Nest in the Rocks

It’s really coming into play lately, though.  With the weather alternately warm and seriously cold, we’re seeing large amounts of birds in the backyard.

Backyard Bird Watching @ A Nest in the Rocks

Then we realized that we could carefully sneak out the back door and onto the deck, which is elevated above much of the backyard.  From that vantage point we have been able to get some great pictures of the birds feeding all over the backyard.


Backyard Bird Watching @ A Nest in the Rocks

Can you identify these birds?

Backyard Bird Watching @ A Nest in the Rocks

Aren’t they beautiful?

Want to find some great bird identification resources?  Check these out:

Download this FREE bird coloring book from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


Studying France: A Grocery Store Scavenger Hunt

Studying France:  A Grocery Store Scavenger Hunt @ A Nest in the Rocks

Our homeschool geography fair is coming up, and so we’re embarking on a study of France.  One of our favorite ways to learn about a new place is to study the culture of food in that place, and so we headed out on a foodie scavenger hunt.

The idea is simple.  Each child loaded up with a clipboard, paper, and a pencil. Since I have two children, each one was assigned a certain side of an aisle.  They could not leave the aisle until both people were ready to move on to the next one, and they had 40 minutes to find as many French foods as they could.  The winner could choose a reasonbly-priced item to take home for us to share.

The kids LOVED this project!  They were able to find several breads and cheeses, as well as pastries and cookies, all throughout the store.  Since we’re at the beginning of our unit, we haven’t studied much about this yet, but it spurred on their interest, so much that they asked to do it again.  We’re having a rematch at a fancier store on our next trip out of town, with the same stakes and rules.

The best part? 

The kids are VOLUNTARILY, EXCITEDLY studying the foods of France in preparation for the rematch. They can’t wait to play the game again – and then we get to try more yummy French food.

Sounds like a win-win to me. 

What’s your favorite thing about studying other cultures?

Christmas Vacation

I always used to think of that week between Christmas and New Year’s as a wonderful, glorious break.  A time when there were no events scheduled on the calendar and nowhere you had to be.  A time when you could lazily explore all the new Christmas gifts, reorganize your closet and shelves to make new things fit and to clean out old clutter, and a time to rest and catch up on odd things after the craziness of Christmas was past.

I used to think of this week that way.

I don’t anymore.

This year we’ve traveled to visit family out of state.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to spend time with people we don’t see enough – including a grandmother I’ve not seen in many, many months.

So – sleep is still a rather precious commodity – catching up will have to happen later.

There are still thank you notes to write and presents to sort and put away – but we’re not home to do that, and it’s going to have to wait.

This opportunity, these people come first right now, and it’s great.  It’s cookie painting extravaganzas and Blokus tourneys.  It’s cooking together and TV football games and Christmas movie marathons.  It’s snuggle time with pajama-clad kids and (mostly) technology-free time.

So I won’t be writing here for another week or so.  I have such fun posts for you – ideas for what to do with this year’s Christmas cards, field trips to share, Bible activities for kids, and more – and they’ll be posted soon.

But right now it’s family time.  I hope you have something special happening this week and that you make the most of it.

Happy New Year!

Midweek Missions: Blessing Bags for the Homeless

Midweek Missions  Blessing Bags for the HomelessWe’ve all seen them.  People on street corners and busy intersections, holding up signs asking for food or work – or maybe both.  People who look a little bit lost and confused.

People who need some help.

Our kids first noticed them several years ago. They wanted to help, but we weren’t sure how to do that – and then we stumbled across this idea (I’d share where it came from, but I have no idea anymore – it was a long time ago!)

Now we make blessing bags several times each year to keep in our car.  We hand them out whenever we see someone who might need some help, and they’ve always been well received.

This time we made them at church and invited people at large to come and help.  We turned on some music and had a missions party!


We collected donations of small toiletry items, like soaps, shampoos, deodorants, toothpaste, dental floss, chapstick, etc, as well as socks, washcloths, and non-perishable snacks, like granola bars, snack crackers, etc.  Then we organized each item in piles on a long row of tables.

We put zip-top bags at the head of the table, and each one of us grabbed a bag and then walked – or danced – the length of the table, putting one item from each pile in the bag. 

Making Cards for Blessing Bags

We took our bag over to the next table, where we laid out small sheets of colorful paper and markers.  We drew pictures and wrote encouraging notes and tucked one into each bag.  The bags moved on to a third table, while we went back to the beginning and started all over.


When we had used all of the supplies and filled as many bags as we could, we stopped for a cupcake break.  What’s a party without cupcakes?

Blessing Bags

All told, the kids made about 55 bags in under an hour.  They’re now residing in our vehicles, ready to find homes with people who need them.

What’s one thing you can do to help someone in need this winter?

I Choose Joy!

Thank You

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“Unbreakable” by Nancy Mehl

Gentle and unassuming, Hope Kauffman has never been one to question the traditions of her Mennonite upbringing. She quietly helps her father run Kingdom Quilts and has agreed to the betrothal he arranged for her with the devout but shy Ebbie Miller.

Despite the attempts of Hope and other Kingdom residents to maintain the status quo, changes have already begun to stir in the small Mennonite town. The handsome and charismatic Jonathon Wiese is the leader of the move to reform, while Ebbie insists Kingdom must remain true to its foundation. When Hope’s safety is threatened by a mysterious outsider, she can’t help but question what she’s always been taught about the Mennonite tradition of nonviolence.

As it swiftly becomes apparent the threat Hope faced is only the beginning, the town that’s always stood so strong finds itself divided. With tensions high and their lives endangered by an unknown enemy, will Hope and the people of Kingdom allow fear and division to break them or will they draw on the strength of the God they serve? 
To what lengths would you go to protect the one you love?  Nancy Mehl explores this topic in her newest book Unbreakable.  The twist?  All of the characters are Mennonites, all people who firmly believe in nonviolence – but what does that mean?

The bizarre set of circumstances in this book don’t only provoke the townies to reaffirm their beliefs, but it will cause you to question your own, as well.  What would you do when faced with unspeakable danger – not only for you, but to a loved one?  I loved the way that Mehl presents this scenario.  She writes in such a way that you can understand each character’s point of view even though they all vary by huge amounts – and yet she never states her own position.  This open-endedness was the perfect resolution for this story – but you’ll have to read it yourself to find out how she gets there.

The issue of nonviolence is not the only dilemma that our heroine faces:  she’s also torn between the man whom her father chose and the man who has sworn to protect her.  Whom has God chosen for her?  How can she choose without hurting someone she cares about?  We often romanticize love and think that we must have palpitations for it to exist, but Mehl examines this issue, too.  She’ll keep you guessing as to her final answer on this topic all through the book, but her choice shouts wisdom and is the perfect ending.  I liked the suspense throughout the story but found the resolution quite fitting.

If you like books that make you think, then Unbreakable is a must-read for you.  
You can read other reviews on this blog hop here.  Click here to begin your Unbreakable journey now.
Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Norman and her very active puggle, Watson. She’s authored fourteen books and is currently at work on a new series for Bethany House Publishing. All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch – something for your spirit as well as your soul. “I welcome the opportunity to share my faith through my writing,” Nancy says. “God is number one in my life. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t believe that this is what He’s called me to do. I hope everyone who reads my books will walk away with the most important message I can give them: God is good, and He loves you more than you can imagine. He has a good plan for your life, and there is nothing you can’t overcome with His help.” Readers can learn more about Nancy through her Web site: www.nancymehl.com. She is also active on Facebook. 
I received a free copy of Unbreakable from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“Deadly Disclosures” Review

Win the Complete Dinah Harris Trilogy Here!

Have you ever been contacted by an author directly?  I haven’t been – until a few months ago when Australian author Julie Cave wrote to me about her new trilogy, a series of books featuring Dinah Harris, FBI detective.  She offered me a set of books to keep and one to giveaway in exchange for a review.

Now, realize that at this point I was nearly bouncing out of my chair with excitement over hearing from a real, live author. (Actually, I may have bounced around the living room a few times – let’s be honest.)  I was worried about the subject, though – a mystery/suspense book sounded right right up my alley, but one about apologetics?  I didn’t know much about that subject, and just how exciting could it be?  Since that’s a topic that I’ve been wanting to learn more about, I decided to go for it – and I’m so glad I did.

Here’s why:

Dinah Harris is a down-and-out FBI agent who’s survived a family tragedy – barely.  Once a rising star in the Bureau, she now struggles to get through each workday until she can drown in her favorite wine.  When her former partner pushes buttons and removes her from her day-to-day teaching job and gets her reinstated to agent status, can she keep it together to find the missing Secretary of the Smithsonian?

I love real characters.  You know the kind I mean – the kind with the sort of flaws that we’ve struggled with personally, the kind that the guy down the street has or that we see in the carpool line at school.  Dinah Harris is such a character.

Following a huge personal tragedy, she falls into a deep depression and tries to numb the pain with alcohol – which only adds an alcoholic’s problems to her original ones.  It doesn’t help that she’s been demoted to a teacher at the FBI academy and lost her dream position of star agent.

The story opens as her partner returns, having gotten permission for her to work the case of the missing Smithsonian secretary, and you can feel Dinah’s pain as you read.  Knowing that she was once totally different than she is now, you can’t help but cheer her on through this rare second chance.  As she makes mistake after mistake and you learn more of her story, you just want to hand her a box of tissues and give her a big hug.

If Deadly Disclosures were only the story of Dinah Harris solving a high-profile case, it would be a good one.  What makes it even better is the other side of it – the shady political deals happening behind the scenes.  While I’m about as political as a slug, I found this fascinating, mainly because I learned so much from this part of the story.

Thomas Whitfield, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, was a devout evolutionist – until the day he became a Christian.  With Whitfield interested in Creationism before he disappeared, Dinah finds herself in a no-holds-barred search for the truth – as bodies begin to appear and her own downward spiral continues.

I feared that a story where the author had a distinct desire to teach something would be preachy, but Deadly Disclosures is anything but.  With politicians and heads of organizations interviewed throughout the book, the information is shared at just the right pace for a newbie to understand, and, better yet, both sides of the issue are explained.

Cave uses natural dialogue and the twists and turns of the case to educate the reader about creationism.  It is clear that she stands on a distinct side of this issue, but scientific information is shared to support all premises.  Both sides of the issues are very well explained and inherent to the story, making it come across as a really well-researched suspense novel.

Now, with that technical stuff out of the way, this is a really awesome start to a great trilogy.  It’s fast-paced, action-packed, and a dramatic mystery that makes you feel for the main character even as you try to solve the mystery before she does.  (I liked it so much that I read the whole series in two days.  I can’t wait for Cave’s next book!)

What could be better?

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

“The Company” by Chuck Graham

A meteor strike plunges the world into darkness. A stranger to the village of Brigos Glen restores power and light, supplied by three businesses, known as “The Company,” located beyond the forbidden mountains. The stranger reveals a plan so the Brigons can maintain the power and share the light with outlying territories, which remain shrouded in darkness.
Now, seventy years later, The Company summons six Brigons, including the young engineer Sam Mitchell, to attend a conference in the mountains of the forbidden Outlands. 
Responsible for compiling a report about Brigos Glen from his five companions, Sam learns how managers and villagers largely ignored the plan or compromised it to self-interest, forsaking their duty to share the light. They also took for granted The Company responsible for generating and transmitting the power.
In an ordeal fraught with failure, revelations, and judgment, Sam discovers the true identity behind The Company and learns the fate that may befall Brigos Glen . . . that is, unless he can stop it.
The Company is a futuristic allegory full of wonder and suspense.  At times the comparisons are easy to spot, at others more obscure, but throughout the book the actions of the other characters keep you on your toes.    One minute predictable, the next explosive, it was their own changing attitudes that paint the confusion and scenery of this story.  
Reminiscent of The Giver and Dekker’s new Mortal series, The Company plants you in the midst of a selfish, greedy world that has lost sight of compassion and kindness.  With a new, mysterious regime in charge and enemies at every turn, it is a bit difficult to relate to parts of the story – and yet this is exactly what makes certain characters who fight this mindset so appealing.  
There are many lessons to take away from a reading of The Company – lessons of kindness, forgiveness, compassion, honesty, truth – and that doesn’t begin to touch the true moral of the story, an understanding of the Trinity.  
Graham has written a complex first book – and I look forward to reading the next installment of Sam’s story, The Rise of New Power.
You can order your own copy of The Company here.
I received a free copy of The Company from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.
Chuck Graham’s legal career as an attorney in private practice spanned more than thirty-one years. He represented many local, national, and international clients, acquiring intricate knowledge about the often-overlapping structures of the corporate world. He also worked against those seeking to create racial division, including the Ku Klux Klan. He has served as a member of the state bar of Georgia since 1979 and an instructor to attorneys and judges through the Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE). He received the Medallion of Appreciation from ICLE.
Chuck is also a speaker and the author of Take the Stand (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996) and the compilations, A Year of Encouragement (Xulon Press).
In 1997 he founded Ciloa (Christ Is Lord Of All), a ministry devoted to sharing God’s encouragement with the world and teaching those who follow Him how to encourage others. Today Chuck serves as executive director and principal author of A Note of Encouragement, a weekly e-zine reaching 175 countries.
He and Beverly, his wife of thirty-four years, have lived in Lawrenceville, a suburb of Atlanta, for fourteen years. God has blessed them with three children. In his free time, Chuck enjoys backpacking and hiking (especially on the Appalachian Trail), playing the guitar, dabbling in photography, and reading extensively about the Christian faith. 

Quick & Healthy Stir Fry

This stir fry is something that our whole family enjoys.  With whole grain rice and lots of veggies, it’s very healthy and low in fat.  My Little Man, who is not yet a Chinese food fan, can eat this and not be overwhelmed by strong flavors (that’s his bowl in the picture – mine had more in it!).  Best of all, it comes together very quickly.

Quick &Healthy Stir Fry
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2633 calories
461 g
202 g
25 g
137 g
6 g
1313 g
1162 g
4 g
0 g
14 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 2633
Calories from Fat 222
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 25g
Saturated Fat 6g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 7g
Monounsaturated Fat 7g
Cholesterol 202mg
Sodium 1162mg
Total Carbohydrates 461g
Dietary Fiber 36g
Sugars 4g
Protein 137g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. 1/2 - 1 lb. lean meat - chicken or steak, cut into strips or bite-sized pieces
  2. 4 c. prepared whole grain rice
  3. 2 bags of Birds' Eye Steamfresh Asian medley veggies
  4. a few tablespoons of teriyaki sauce
  5. dash of olive oil
  1. Prepare rice according to package directions.
  2. 2. Cook the meat in a hot pan with just a dash of olive oil. Stir until cooked through, then sprinkle liberally with teriyaki sauce. Reduce heat and cover.
  3. 3. While the meat is working, pop one bag of veggies in the microwave at a time to steam. (While I usually prefer to prep my own veggies, I tried these once after stumbling upon an amazing sale - and they're really good! Now, when the price drops, I stock up - and when life gets crazy and I need a veggie for dinner, I have a variety of quick options.) Leave closed until ready to serve.
  4. 4. Add rice to the meat and toss to add a light coating of teriyaki to the veggies.
  5. 5. To serve, add some rice to each plate and spoon meat and veggies overtop. Voila!
  1. We like to serve this with egg rolls - yum!
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What’s your favorite go-to fast meal?