Traveling with Kids: Games to Play

Slightly revised, but older post. I wrote this about 8 years ago.  The 19 year old is married with two kids, and we now have three kids 30 and up.  Wow.

A few days ago our 19 year old came home from work shaking her head.  She’d been listening to the radio, a Christian station, and there was a program on where the radio commentators were asking people to share their tips for enjoying their children while traveling.  One lady called in and said that the best thing her family ever did for a family car trip was buy each child individual handheld computer games and head phones.  “WE didn’t hear a peep out of them for 12 hours,” she said.

Pip, our 19 year old, was flabbergasted.  The radio hosts were a bit surprised as well.  One of them said, “Well, we do have those and my kids play with them some.  But we have found that we get some really good family time in on family vacations if we don’t allow those in the car.”  The lady was oblivious, however, and explained how when she was young, her parents had bought individual walk-mans for every child and they said it was the best thing they had ever done.

That reminded me of an article my mother read in some family magazine extolling the delights, nay, the necessity, of having an in car DVD player for long car trips.  She was so indignant (in a grandmotherly fashion) that she wrote the magazine to tell them that her daughter and son-in-law traveled with seven children all the time and they did not use electronic devices.

It’s nice that Mom is proud of me, but that wasn’t strictly true.  There are the cattle prods…….

I kid, I kid!!  We do listen to CDs (and now an iPod plugged into the radio so we can all hear it), but we do more visiting and playing games- FREE games.

One silly but oddly compelling game Pip told us about from that radio program is called ‘Banana.’  You simply watch for yellow vehicles and try to be the first to see it and say, “Banana!”  Keep track of how many you see first and the one with the most points at the end of the designated time wins.  She, our 14 y.o. and 6 y.o. Blynken have been playing it every Sunday on the way to and from church.  Several times somebody has suggested a different color and fruit to match, but as Pip says, bananas is just funnier, and for some reason it really needs to be a three syllable word.  Kumquat ought to be funny, but it just isn’t in this game, and tangerine or persimmon both have the requisite three syllables, but they aren’t as funny as banana.  We don’t know why, it just is, so we accept it in a totally zen sort of way.  Or as zen as you can be while shouting, “BANANA!”
You can also, should you just have one or two small children, have one of them clap everytime he sees a red car, and the other clap when he sees a white car.

Here are a couple other free car games:

Buzz: Count off, in order, and keep counting (driver says one, passenger says two, backseat dweller says three, etc). Only every time somebody gets to the number seven, a number with seven in it, or a multiple of seven, instead of saying the number, that person claps and says ‘buzz.’ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, buzz, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, buzz, 15, 16, buzz, 18, 19, 20, buzz….
You can change the ‘buzz’ words as needed for your children- do multiples of five, ten, or don’t do multiples at all, or use whatever number they are trying to memorize.

Categories: I name a category (later the children get to choose) and ask each child to name an item in that category- I might say flowers, and then they all have to tell me the name of a flower, or I might choose bugs and they have name different bugs. With older children we go around the car and name them in alphabetical order, trying to get through the alphabet. You can adapt this for a wide age range by allowing the smaller children to skip the alphabetical sequence.

Who Am I?- Choose Bible characters, nursery rhymes, characters from books you read or even, gulp, television shows and movies. You can give three to five clues, as easy or difficult as your audience can handle, and they guess who you are. Example: “I’m a woman in the Old Testament. I was a queen. I wore make-up. I encouraged my husband to take what wasn’t his. Who am I?” (Jezebel)

You can also play this like 20 questions. YOu skip the ‘animal, vegetable, or mineral’ question, of course, and just say, “Okay, I’m ready. Who Am I?” Then they ask questions to help them guess. We usually allow two questions for this one- good or bad? Married or single? Old or New Testament? Male or Female? Human or Animal?

HEY, COW: Only for rural areas.   Each person or team gets a side of the car and when you see cows you roll down the window and scream HEY! COW! as loud as you can. The number of cows that turn to look at you are the number of points you get.

The alphabet game. One person would start with A and have to either name a word or item they see that starts with A and so on. Or you can just look for the actual letter on billboards, licence plates, and road signs as you drive.
License Plate Game:  keep track of licence plates (states) and see how many different states are represented.
car bingo: Buy one or make your own.  Put animals, cars (and colors- red car, yellow motorcycle,etc), trucks, silos, moving truck, railroad, flag,  etc and try to get bingo.

Traffic Light Speed Words: When you are stopped at a red light, say of all the words you can think of that start with the letter A. At the second light, it is all B words.  You could use parts of speech, or require 3 syllable or longer words, or words in a language you are studying, or authors, etc.

Another license plate game: Decide ahead of time that whenever you see a VW, or perhaps a yellow car or a livestock truck- whatever, that you will each try to make up a sentence with the letters and numbers on the plate.

Tell Stories- one person starts, the next person, adds, then ask one of the kids what happens next, and then ask the next kid what happens next, and so on.

The Ministers Cat, an alphabet game. One would start, The ministers cat . . . is an ANGRY cat. The other would reply, The ministers cat . . . is a BEAUTIFUL cat. And so on through the alphabet.

Choose a colour- Find 10 things you can see out the window in that colour. When you get to ten, choose another colour.

Stock up on small, cheap treats- juice boxes, gum, dried fruit, little toys, etc.  Hand them out ever 100 or 200 miles.

Pack jump ropes, squirt guns, sidewalk chalk, a frisby, perhaps a ball, bubbles- and stop at city parks for a picnic meal and make the kids (and you) do some running and large muscle playing.

One family I know of recommends looking for a metal cake pan for each child and they can keep their crayons, coloured pencils, small toys, and some magnets inside it on their laps. Keeps things organized.

What about you?  What are some of the ways your family whiles away the time while traveling- or sitting in a waiting room?

For other ideas, see this post and this one on my family’s regular blog

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Davao Diary- do we get taken advantage of?

Loose, disjointed, thoughts related to being an American in the Philippines.

Before we moved somebody asked us if we were prepared to be charged more and taken advantage of because we are not Filipino. I said I didn’t think that would happen that much, and so far, mostly I am right. I never feel taken advantage of. Well, that’s not true- I seriously did one time, and it still irks me, but it was a friend and I think part of it is a cultural clash more than anything else, so…  I’m not going to talk about that one time, but it was annoying and I will not put myself in that position again. It was, however, only the once. Because I haven’t put myself in that position again.=)

We also have one area where what we budgeted was not nearly enough and that was visas, but that’s partly because the rules changed while we were in transition so we have had to do things differently and it’s more complicated than planned.

There are a couple situations where we get charged a bit more than the locals would, but it’s not often, and it’s not much.

One of them it makes sense and I don’t feel taken advantage of at all- when I take a bike (a form of public transportation where a kind of capsule has been built around a motorcycle so the driver can take passengers)- most of the time they take 20 pesos and don’t offer change. I have been told that locals usually pay 5 pesos, but I am not certain this is always true. But I am okay with this anyway- I weigh as much as 3 Filipinos and usually when I take a bike, they won’t take on other passengers so I think it makes sense. I should add that usually the Cherub is with me, so I’m not paying quadruple, but double. And when she is with me, it takes us a long time to load up and then get out, so that’s more of their time they could be picking up passengers. So if I am paying extra (and I am not sure I really am), I really don’t mind (20 pesos is about .40 US cents).

We also have a lot of neighbors who operate bikes and sometimes on their way home at night if they pass my husband one of them will give him a ride home for free- so it evens out.

Our housekeeper thinks the man who pulls the weeds and tidies up the front area of the house once a month overcharges us. I thought about doing the work myself, but I went out one day to try and it was so hot and miserable and I was dripping sweat just standing still before I even started. Since that abruptly aborted attempt, I think he could charge us triple and I wouldn’t care. He is a neighbor, too, and if he’s overcharging, it’s only by a dollar or so and no more than once a month, and he does other things for us from time to time for free.

As often as not, actually, things work out the other way.  We might, perhaps, occasionally be subjected to the ‘American tax,’ but we are regularly and dependably able to count on getting some other perks the locals won’t.

Our son recently was hired with four or five other young men to do some modeling at a new motorcyle dealership.  He is the only foreigner in the group.   They had to be there all day long and part of the time they had nothing to do.   One of the young men  asked for the wifi password so they could get online while they waited for work to start,  and he was told no.   My son grinned cheekily and said he bet he could get it and he went up to a lady employee about my age, smiled engagingly and asked for it, and she gave it to him. But that kind of thing happens to him at home in the states, too, the stinker.

Taxis will stop for us and drop us off and pick us up in places they really aren’t supposed to- but I am not totally sure if this is because we are American or because we have the Cherub with us. Maybe both.  For instance, the road in front of our church building is a super busy main highway. About a quarter of a block past the building there is an intersection and down one road is a business street.  The first two or three times we went to church a Filipino brother always came with us and as we passed our building he would point it out to the cab driver, who would nod, and then drop us off on a different street half a block away. Our friend explained the taxi couldn’t stop on the high way, so we would turn left at the intersection and get dropped off at the side of the road on that street and then walk back across the street and down the sidewalk by the highway to the building (and then down a flight of steep stairs cut into the hill to the building below.  When we came on our own, when we pointed out the building, the cab driver did a u-turn and dropped us off right in front, we were quite surprised.  No driver has ever told us he can’t stop there.    Cabs stop for us to pick us up there, too, even though the young men from the church who sometimes escort us back up the stairs try to tell us the cab cannot stop there, a cab always does, even without us waving it down.

A couple of times our son has had people cut in front of him in a cab line, but both of us think this is more often because he’s young, and just as often somebody will step back and encourage him to go ahead of them.

There is one grocery store I go to that sometimes has beggars outside asking customers for money or food when they leave. I have noticed that when I come out they will ignore the other Filipino customers and come and ask me repeatedly until one of the guards will sort of hiss at them and they will back off.

Another example where I feel like I am treated better because I am a visitor, not local- when you go into the mall and most grocery stores and department stores there is a guard and you hold out your purse for inspection. They have some kind of wand they poke inside it, I assume it detects explosive residue, but don’t really know. Half the time they don’t even look in my bag at all, will stop me from unzipping it and just wave me through. I have never seen this happen with one of the locals.   However, again, it is very hard to know whether this is because I am American or because I am shopping with a handicapped child- I have been very touched by how kind everybody is toward the Cherub- not that people are mean at home, but they don’t seem to know what to do or how to act, and here they respond with extra attentions and helps, sometimes major extra attention.  The skipper of a  boat once basically scraped its hull and docked on the walkway instead of tieing up at the side so we could get her off more easily.  Staff at a resort we stayed at once came out and offered to carry her up the stairs.  At the grocery store that has stairs between the exit and the cab line, cab drivers or grocery store staff have watched me with her on the stairs and run over to carry her down for me, or carry my groceries, not 100% of the time, but often enough that I am no longer surprised.

I was asked by a stateside friend if I thought this was connected to the fact that mostly, they take care of family at home here. You don’t send your sick and elderly and disabled to a home, you care for them.  I do think that is part of it.  I also think it’s due to the more commmunity oriented culture, and just innate hospitality.  This is a hospitable, service oriented culture.  The down side to that is that I suspect I will be an honored guest and not so much a equal friend the whole time we are here. although getting better at the language may help with that.

It is largely true that most of the people I run into do assume that because we are American we are rich. It’s complicated because in many ways of course, by some significant measurements of comparison, we are. We own a lot of stuff back in the states, stuff that would mark us as wealthy here. While here, we do have good cell phones and laptops and a nice washing machine and we pay a helper to come twice a week, and we have air conditioners which we do run, and we take taxicabs more than many of the people we know here could afford.  Our son doesn’t fit well in a jeepney or a bike, and I can’t figure out the jeepney routes and really, with the Cherub it takes so long getting in and out that I feel badly about inconveniencing all the other passengers.  So we budget for that.  But that – budgeting- also sets us apart from some and marks us as rich.

On the other hand, we’re not getting paid to work here, we’re supported by donations, so while we do own all that stuff, we don’t necessarily have as much disposable income as some might assume.

On the other hand (lots of hands here)- our language teacher tells us that when Americans say, “I don’t have any money,” what they really mean is, “I have not budgeted money for that and so I don’t have money set aside for that item,” and when Filipinos say “I don’t have any money,” what they really mean- and her voice dropped here and as she spoke it vibrated with emotion- is that *they have no rice.*

They have no rice.  There’s a lot of meaning packed in that simple sentence, and it hurts.

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Take some aspirin, these headlines are head-deskers.*

Netflix edits inconvenient facts about chromosomes and sex from old Bill Nye show.  Chromosomes and what they do are double plus ungood these days that we no longer believe in science, but prefer the fairy tale that gender/sex are merely social constructs.

Here’s a sad trip down memory lane into the tragic and horrific history of that theory. It’s built on abuse by a monster and it ruined lives.  It still is, actually.

“Behind every left wing hero lurks a hidden trail of pain, abuse and broken lives. The entire foundation of their ideology rests upon a mouldering, vermin infested bed of lies.”



This is funnier.  Remember the old Agatha Christie classic Murder on the Orient Express?  Remember the old movie about it?  Remember that the Orient Express was a train that never really quite made it to the orient- it got to Turey at one point, but the action on the train takes place in Croatia, and it takes place in 1930s Europe, and… okay, you do?

And so this will crack you up when it’s not making you so sad for the film critic who has apparently never read a book and does not know how to google.

“Movie called “Orient Express” – and I don’t see any Asian people on here”

But then she doubled down and said of course, she knew it was a train that went from Istanbul to Paris and had nothing to do with what she might think of as oriental, and it was based on a book set in the 1930s, but the real problem she was pointing out was just the horrible assumption that all British people are white.

In 1930’s England, in a story where not all the characters are British- one of them is a Russian princess.  And I wonder, do you think that’s as bad as assuming that a famous train called The Orient Express and a famous murder mystery set on that train and a famous movie of that famous book and the remake of that famous movie  must have something to do with Asian people?  Incidentally, the movie *does* make a couple swaps to make the racial make up a bit more politically correct and not so reflective of the passengers and staff you’d have found on The Orient Express in the 1930s.  So obviously her real issue was she didn’t have a clue what the Orient Express was, but wanted to set them straight anyway.


Comey knew Clinton broke the law and he was trying to protect her (there is no legal protection for ‘didn’t mean to leak classified emails’).  How bad was it? This bad:

On Tuesday, Comey, in fact, confirmed that the FBI had learned that classified emails were forwarded from Clinton’s email account by Clinton aide Huma Abedin to her husband Anthony Weiner so he could print them out. (This appears to be illegal, but perhaps all those immunity deals Comey was handing out came in handy.) Her computer, like other servers and laptops that Hillary’s staff tried to dispose of, hide, clean, and whatnot, were supposed to have been in the hands of the FBI.

Jimmy Kimmel and ObamaCare

Ben Shapiro has the same story.


No.  America is not The Handmaid’s Tale.


*This was not and is not medical advice.  Consult your medical provider.  Do not try head-desking at home

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Our most frugal car repair ever

I’ll tell you up front that this is not really about frugal car repairs as much as it is about relationships with the people who repair your car.  I also wrote it several years ago, and we no longer drive a big van.  In fact, currently, we drive nothing.  We walk or take a bike or cab if we need to go somewhere.


We drive a big van, and every year at the start of the summer the air conditioning needs to be reserviced.  Now, we have lived without AC in a vehicle before, but not in these same conditions- large van (12 passenger, which we need for transporting the extra two little boys we have most days, The Equuschick and her baby on Sundays when her hubs is working as usual, and the little old lady in town from time to time).  The back windows are for looking out of, for not for letting air in.  The very back windows do not even open, it’s just a couple of glass portals in the wall of the van.  The middle windows open about two inches.  In humid midwestern summers it can get really, really sick-making hot back there.

So we pay about a hundred dollars or thereabouts and have the AC serviced.  For the first two years we had the van this was free to us because the van was under warranty.   We did not really like our mechanic.  He seemed shifty.  The van always had to be aired out when we got it back because he smoked in our vehicle.  But he was the nearest mechanic covered by the warranty.   The third year, when it was no longer under warranty, we took it in to be serviced in the spring, and  the mechanic said that our air conditioner was really broken, leaking everywhere and needed to be replaced.  It was going to cost a thousand dollars.

We did not have the money, so we saved, skimped, scraped, and saved some more, avoided afternoon driving whenever  possible, and went all summer without air conditioning.  Happily, it was a mild summer.  We kept on scrimping and saving, and the following season, by about late sprint, early summer, we had enough money to pay his price.  But we still did not like him much, and we decided that if the unit was as broken as he claimed, then it seemed likely he had been kicking the can down the road the previous summers while the vehicle was under warranty and not doing a good job with it, and he seemed sleazy.

So.. we took it to a different town to a mechanic we went to church with.  We had not gone there before because he wasn’t covered by our warranty, he was in another town 45 miles away, and he was slightly more expensive than the sleazy dude in our tiny hometown.

He kept the car a week, and came back and told us, “I hate to say that other guy was dishonest, but I have run every test I can, and I’ve done it over and over, and I cannot find a leak in your van AC.  It’s in great shape. You just need some Freon…”

So we’d saved up something like a thousand dollars for a repair that ended up being a tenth that.  Yes, he charged maybe five dollars more than the old mechanic had for the freon servicing, but you know what?  He saved us nearly 900 dollars.  The added inconvenience of taking a vehicle 45 miles away and the small extra bit he charges is completely worth it to us because we trust him and he does honest, good, work.

It seems to be a mantra of sorts with the crunchy frugalistas (which I rather flirt with being myself), to shop local, and we have tried that.  But one thing we have found is that in our small town of 5,000, 45 miles or more from anyplace bigger (it is the county seat), what this means is that many of the small, local, independent operators act like each time they do business with a customer it’s the last, they are never gonna see that customer again, so it’s not necessary to build a relationship, to gain a reputation for quality, honesty, or commitment.  They figure nobody has a choice, I think, because it is a small town in a forgotten pocket of America and 45 miles seems too far to go most people here.

It saves us money, aggravation, and even resources to skip these local monopolies and go the larger town for car repairs, and it’s totally worth it to us.  Now, this is our small town.  Not all of them are like that, thank-goodness.  But ask around, wherever you are, and get good word of mouth recommendations from several people.

In our case, we were blessed because our mechanic sits on the pew in front of us at church every Sunday.  If you don’t go to church, you could rely on word of mouth among friends.

What about you?  What areas have you found that having a relationship with person with whom you do business compensates for any added cost?    How do you find a mechanic you can trust?

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Books Read in April

A Rock in the Baltic by Robert Barr- this is free on kindle and I downloaded it ages ago and only just got around to reading it.  I loved it.  Download it. I think most of you will enjoy it. Published in 1906, it is a frothy, funny love story/adventure along the lines of Prisoner of Zenda but far funnier and sweeter, and also, I think, better written.  I don’t know why Prisoner of Zenda, exactly.  Dated?  Slavic intrigue, Russian police, spies, a prison, a love story, anarchists- but so charming and amusing.

Foundation, by Asimov: I think I will have to go back and revise my previous review of Corrosion.  It’s even better than I thought.  Corrosion, you may or may not recall, is a pastiche of Asimov’s Foundation Series, and I really think the two books should be read together to see just how well the Corrosion author did what he did.  For one thing, Corrosion stands on its own as well Foundation does, even though you know they are both the beginning of a series.  For another, Asimov’s basic premise, the predictive capability of this field he created called psychohistory, based on a thorough understanding of human behavior and psyche just was never that believable to begin with and it has not aged well.  Corrosion’s foundation (see what I did there?) may not be more believable (AI that become self-aware), but it is a more interesting premise, at least to me, and the potential problem of a society built on a baffling and now decaying algo-rhythm is right out of this week’s news.

Grave’s End, a Magical Thriller, a magical witch, an undead detective who doesn’t know why he’s undead, a mute ghost who knows exactly why he’s a ghost,  the Aztec god of the dead, the goddesses Nyx and Lyssa and a few other bizarre characters are some of the reasons most of my readership may not want to read this one, and others will love it.  It’s very, very funny, and also dark and sad and did I say funny?  I think this would transfer well to screen.  I can just see the wisecracking gumshoe skeleton roaming LA in his Indiana Jones hat and trenchcoat.   I got my copy free a couple years ago in a book promotion.  The author’s website is here– again, if you didn’t like Harry Potter you’ll hate this and even if you like HP, this one is far more realistically occultic, so if you are among my readers who would be concerned by that, pass on this one.  AS funny as it was, I feel a bit squeamish about telling y’all I read it.

The Highway Man, by H.C. Bailey- Oh, I loved this one.  No caveats.  It’s historical fiction written at the turn of the last century but set in the time of the Pretender and the last illness of Queen Anne.   The main character is penniless and without any pretensions to grandeur nor aspirations to become much more than a steward. Currently he is a sort of tutor to a young heir the same age as he is. He marries hastily, then repent almost as hastily, there is family intrigue and political intrigue and some of them mix and mingle and there is humour and pathos and real life as well, and since I am reviewing this book and telling you that you should read it, you can imagine, more or less, what happens in the end. Really, a positive review from me is a spoiler in and of itself, right?

Hitchhiking Killer for Hire This is .99 now, it was free when I downloaded a few years ago.  It’s the kind of story often used as the pilot episode for an adventure series, but it is well done and enjoyable.  Ex Military sharpshooter and special forces guy is getting out and heading somewhere to lay low and just be alive for a while.  ON his road-trip of the soul, escaping from the violence of his old life, he runs into trouble with local bad hombres through no fault of his own, and he manages to extricate himself with his military training and wits and in the process he also saves the girl and does the right thing and it was a very enjoyable excapist read.

This is book 0 in the Sharp Shooter series, and as a kind of backstory and a sample taste the author hopes you will like well enough to come back for more, it’s only 43 pages.   I like the way the ending is handled- the story is definitely wrapped up, no cliff hangers here, but you also have no doubt this guy will be involved in other stories.   However- I don’t know what happened, because there is only one other book in the series, set in the new future post America break up. IT’s 2.99.

The Lonely Island, the Refuge of the Mutineers: by Ballantyne.  This is a telling of the Mutiny on the Bounty and the mutineers who settled on Pitcairn Island.  It seemed fictionalized to me, but it was interesting anyway, and when I looked it up on Wikipedia the main events are pretty much as described in the book, including a mass conversion to Christianity some time after half the adults had murdered each other.  The book is old, so the use of the ‘n’ word is prevalent and some of the attitudes are frustrating, although the story also points to some of those same attitudes has having contributed to the violence and bloodshed.  While the story as told here is true and very touching in the end, regrettably, years later, some time after the events in the book, the islanders rather fell apart.

Hilda Hopkins, Murder She Knit: This is a free kindle book, the first in a series about serial killer Hilda Hopkins, an elderly woman with a passion for machine knitting who knits little figures of her victims. In this first book, the story is clearly riffed from the old Cary Grant movie Arsenic and Old Lace.  Her victims are her boarders, all elderly gentlemen with nobody to miss them- or their pensions. She’s not as sweet as the aunties in Arsenic and Old Lace. She’s quite clever and proud of her cleverness, but a bit short sighted in self awareness, which makes for some of the more amusing episodes. The book is short- all of them are around 80 or 90 pages, and most of her reviewers think she’s funny and likable. I was less fond of her, but she is sometimes amusing and I would not mind reading others in the series if I could justify buying more light fiction just now.  It was a light, escapist read, and the writing didn’t make me flinch.


Jesus Himself, by Charles Murray- more of a booklet than a book, but well worth reading.   Amazon’s About the Author: South African pastor and author Andrew Murray (1828 1917)

was an amazingly prolific writer. Murray began writing on the

Christian life for his congregation as an extension of his local

pastoral work, but he became internationally known for his

books, such as With Christ in the School of Prayer and Abide

in Christ, that searched men’s hearts and brought them into a

deeper relationship with Christ. With intense purpose and zeal

for the message of the gospel, Murray wrote numerous books

even after his “retirement” at age seventy-eight.


How Can I Know That The Bible Is From God  (Moments that Matter, Apologetics Press)- just 16 pages.  Helpful resource, not comprehensive, of course, at only 16 pages. From time to time I find these for free and that’s when I download them.


100 Cupboards
And both sequels, Dandelion Fire and The Chestnut King

Let me say first of all, that having read these books, you will never feel the same way about the man-bun again, at least, I don’t, and I liked the man-bun.  He’s ruined it for me.  And that was not even the main point (although I suspect he hates them and that’s why he did what he did with them, even though it is a very, very insignificant plot point).  There is a whiff of Narnia here, with more horror. He speaks to the horror aspect of his children’s stories here.    There’s an adoption sub story that won’t make some adoptive parents happy, and it might be hard for some adoptive kids.  Lots of fantasy, magic, amusement (the overly bureaucratic faerin are hilarious even when annoying) and an interesting hero.  I love that he still throws up in fear and torment before going on and going where he needs to go and doing what he needs to do, instead of puffing out his chest and just holly ho wading in, sword swinging.

A Cast of Stones by Brian Carr- this is the first of a trilogy in the Christian fantasy genre.  The Christian part is there, and I appreciated it, but it’s done deftly, and in this world the characters go by other names (Deas, his son whose name escapes me, and the mysterious Auraurae), and I really think somebody not well versed in religion might overlook it (I went to college with adults who had read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and had no idea it was Christian), but that would be their ignorance, not the book.

The world in which this book is set is medieval in style and technology. There is a priestly cast which has similarities with the Catholic church in Europe in the middle ages. There are healer women who are not much loved by the priests, but do much good in the every day world, helping people with their herbal remedies, as well as members of the Guard, the aristocracy, traders with their caravans, and your every day salt of the earth yeoman farmers who are not quite what they seem. There are also occasional Malus, demon spirits who hate this world and would do what they could to destroy it if they were not constrained.

The book begins by introducing us to Errol, an orphaned teen-ager who has been steeped in alcohol since the death of the man he had believed to be his father.  He is hired to deliver a package to a hermit priest because he is the one who knows the way, and he needs the money for ale. Along the way, somebody tries to kill him, and his message is lost and he himself barely survives the attempt.  And so it begins- a new phase in his life, a journey, some new discoveries, growth, mysteries which unfold, only to bring new questions.

The book is the first in a trilogy, so you know you are not going to get all the answers. You do get quite a few, and you aren’t left with a cliff-hanger, which I appreciate. I would love to read the next two books in the series, but will have to wait to read them when it costs less money.

If you liked the Hobbit and books of that sort, I think you’ll like this. If you liked Eragon, this is a much better story and better told.

Cold Case Christianity-  The author is a cop who specializes in cold crime scene homicide investigations. He was an atheist who decided to investigate the claims of the gospels on the same basis or standards he uses to investigate other crime scenes.  What makes this book a little different than other apologetics books of a similar vein is that he approaches it by explaining the logical terms for various aspects of an investigation, and using real murder cases as his examples.  I would use this with a teen who wasn’t going to be horrified by details from crime scenes.  He’s not graphic, but some kids are more delicate than others. I don’t think he always hits it out of the park.  There are a couple areas that I thought were weaker than others. but I believe ultimately, whether you believe or disbelieve is a matter of faith, not 100% evidentiary facts, anyway.


The Green Ember –   I know these are wildly popular among my homeschooling friends, and all the rage.  I would rather not review it at all because I know just how much some of our friends love it.   I was mildly disappointed.   I can’t really put my finger on why,  so maybe my hopes were just a little too high. Or maybe it’s because I am not reading it with children.  The plot should be all one would want, adventure, secrets, escapes, drama, treachery.  I wasn’t really surprised by anything, though. I saw the ‘twists’ coming. The descriptions just went on and on.  The writing is not awful, but it drags in places, many places.  At first I had it on audible, and that was really, really hard to listen to. I enjoyed it a lot more reading it to myself. But still.  I reread the Hobbit and the Narnia books and Little Women from time to time- I don’t think I’ll ever reread this one.    It certainly could be far worse, and I would not call it a badly written book and it is definitely not twaddle.  It’s a fun story for kids of a certain age, and it’s free of the sorts of things most homeschooling parents would want their kids’ books to be free of.  If I had kids at home, I’d make it available for them to read. I just would beg not to have to read it aloud.  I’m sorry.  If you loved it, please forgive me.


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