Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Book Club: Book Review of Small Groups Made Easy

Small Groups Made Easy book jacket

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my Terms of Use and Disclosure Policy page. Thank you.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Small Groups Made Easy: Practical and Biblical Starting Points to Lead Your Gathering by Ryan Lokkesmoe. This 157-page paperback book helps getting one started on leading a small group through:

  • Tips to spark engaging conversations 
  • Advice for handling tough questions and other challenges 
  • 12 Bible studies that walk you through your discussions 
(from the front cover of Small Groups Made Easy)

book cover of Small Groups Made Easy; Discover the tools you'll need to lead an effective small groupSmall Groups Made Easy contains 17 chapters and a conclusion that are quite straightforward and full of very useful information for those who might want to step up in their church and lead a group Bible study or another similar group. There are four chapters that deal with practical points for you as a leader of a small group.  These points could be applied to your Bible study group or even a group you are leading in your workplace. Lokkesmoe touches upon:

  • Defining the role of a leader by examining Jesus
  • How one needs to work through logistical matters such as attendance, communication through emails, social media, etc.; co-leaders, the location and time of your meeting, and childcare for your group members  
  • How to handle personal challenges such as conflicts within the group, needy people who monopolize the groups' time, those who always take a contrarian position on topics, individuals who dominate the conversation, awkward silences, and lack of friendships or bonds between group members 
  • Spiritual concerns like how prepared one should be for Bible discussions or what happens if you, as the leader, can't answer a question 
The second half of the book provides twelve starter studies to help the leader of a small church group get started on their journey. Each chapter is laid out in the same manner with the following three sections:
  • Social
  • Study
  • Prayer 
Personally, I love books where there is a common layout or theme that helps me easily reference just what I need to find at any given time. I can scan the table of contents to look at the topics and know that—if a group is going to be examining how we can repair broken relationships—that I can see a corresponding sample prayer.

Quote from Small Groups Made Easy: Definition of grace is 'God's gift of undeserved favor'

What Do I Think? 

Ryan Lokkesmoe presents a very clear book to help those who are small group leaders. Throughout the book, Small Groups Made Easy, one finds numerous Bible and Scriptural references to help one become a strong small group leader. For example, in the starter study, "How Do I Grow Spiritually," we are presented with references to John 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and the text of Matthew 11:28-30 to help us put our faith in Jesus and learn that "placing our lives in His hands should feel like rest" (84). I appreciate that Lokkesmoe does not only give readers topics, but also provides readers the means necessary to begin a discussion in one's own small group. 

From a practical standpoint, I think this is a very economical choice for someone who needs some help as a small group leader or as a gift for a new small group leader. I could easily imagine a pastor purchasing a handful for his small group leaders to provide assistance and encouragement. I would recommend Small Groups Made Easy for those involved in the ministry and those who are or who are going to be leading small groups.

Find my review of the second book 16 Bible Studies for Your Small Group here: Book Review.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Holidays: New Year's Traditions

confetti background with Holidays: New Year's Traditions

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How does your family celebrate New Year's Eve and New Year's Day?  Do you celebrate the holidays as a family or as a couple? Do you let your children stay up till midnight or do a count down to noon?

My Memories

My memories from childhood include celebrating New Year's Eve at my aunt and uncle's house.  When the clock struck midnight, everyone in the neighborhood would go outside with noisemakers and pots and pans to bang to celebrate the new year.

New Year's Day was often celebrated at my cousin's house.  We exchanged Christmas gifts with them and shared a meal cooked by my cousin.  The Mummer's Day Parade was always on the television in the background.  Have you heard of the Mummers? The Mummers Parade has been a part of New Year's Day traditions in the Philadelphia area for 120 years.

photo by skeeze from Pixabay of three Mummers in pirate costume
image by skeeze from Pixabay

What are the Mummers?

Mummers in Philadelphia belong to one of over 40 different clubs that participate in one of five divisions:

  • The Comic
  • The Fancy
  • The Wench Brigade
  • The String Band
  • The Fancy Brigade
Each brigade has their own specialty in dance, costume, and music that makes them unique and different. They all make their way down Broad Street in Philadelphia to help celebrate the New Year and gain bragging rights if their club wins awards and prizes. After the Fancy Brigades finish their circuit on the parade route, they end up at the Pennsylvania Convention Center where they put on their performance for those who hold tickets (people can watch the entire parade along the route without tickets). 

I prefer watching the String Bands and the Fancy Brigades with their elaborate costumes but after working with someone who was in the comics, I have come to appreciate all the performers. They are made up of a group of diverse people from all around the area with some of the more famous groups being: 
  • Quaker City String Band 
  • Polish American String Band 
  • Broomall String Band

Our Family Traditions

party hat, noise maker, plastic glass with text Holidays: New Year's TraditionsFor several years as a new family, my stepson stayed with his maternal grandmother for New Year's Eve. My husband and I didn't do anything fancy. This was just the best time for our son to celebrate Christmas with his grandmother and maternal family.

With the birth of our youngest son, we shifted when our older son visited his grandmother and we were all together for New Year's Eve. Again...we didn't really do anything fancy or exciting other than watching movies and making noise at midnight.

For the past several years, we have bundled up the kids and gone outside at midnight to celebrate with noisemakers. After a quick trip outside to welcome in the New Year and wish our neighbors (who were also sometimes outside) a Happy New Year, we would return to the warm comfort of our home to watch some of the fireworks on TV.

New Year's Day has been spent watching ice hockey for the past several years ever since the introduction of a special outdoor game. Our favorite team has played in the outdoor game twice and I have even been blessed with being able to attend one of the games (along with the minor league outdoor game and the alumni game also featured that year).

How does your family celebrate New Year's Eve and New Year's Day? 

Text: How Will You Celebrate 2020; A Mom's Quest to Teach

Friday, December 27, 2019

Creating a Dragon: Kid's Handpainting Craft

handprint dragon craft

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I love having our kids create crafts that will provide a remembrance of just how little they were at one time. Making a craft using their handprints provides such an opportunity. For my dungeon master husband's birthday, our kids made dragon cards using construction paper and paint.


dragon handprint craft


1. Gather materials.

paper, construction paper, paint

2. Prepare paper, choose colors, and have wipes nearby to clean hands.

3. You can cut out the pieces for the dragon face before or after you paint the body with hand prints. I looked through books and online to find inspiration for the dragon face. You or your children can design it however you want.

4. Paint your child's hands. Let them paint their handprints on the white paper.

hand painted pink

blue handprint

handprints in various colors

four handprints in different colors

5. Once your handprints are dry, you can attach the dragon head. 

dragon handprint crafts

Rolling Up a Character 

If your children are interested in playing Dungeons & Dragons with you and the rest of the family, there are many different options that will help you get them started on the journey of pen-and-paper role playing. My husband began playing role-playing games (RPGs) around 1981. After 30+ years of administrating and playing RPGs, he recommends folks try rules-light games that are either free or low-cost. The fastest (to learn) and cheapest games he recommends are Basic Fantasy RPG (based on the 1981-1983 iteration of the Dungeons & Dragons rules he learned from, also known as the Moldvay [or more correctly Moldvay/Marsh/Cook] version) and Swords & Wizardry Light (a very streamlined version of the original [1974-1979] Dungeons & Dragons rules). Swords & Wizardry Light can be played "as is" or later graduated from—into Swords & Wizardry Continual Light or the more thorough Swords & Wizardry Complete, which is currently free in its PDF form.

Playing games with your family is a fantastic way to spend time! You can even incorporate games into your homeschooling day if you wish. From simple games for preschoolers like Koala Capers to more complicated logic games like Cats Crimes, you can teach your children many different skills while having fun.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Book Club: The Gingerbread Pirates

cover of The Gingerbread pirates and pirate clipart

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I love reading children's Christmas books. There is a great deal of excellent choices and so many retellings of famous stories, too. Our library usually puts out books for each holiday on top of the children's bookshelves but for Christmas they have so many that they displayed them in a book rack. How exciting to pick through the books to find new ones to read with our children!

cover the book The Gingerbread Pirates and some salt dough ornaments being paintedOur son picked out The Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup and illustrated by Matt Tavares. This story is about Jim and his Pirate cookie captain that he creates with his mom. Jim and his mom bake cookies for Santa but instead of regular Gingerbread Men, they make pirate cookies!

During the night, on Christmas Eve, Jim's favorite Pirate cookie captain goes on an adventure and meets Santa. In the morning, Jim finds a wonderful new Pirate ship with a wooden captain with a cutlass and a peg leg to pilot the ship.

There are number of fun ways to expand upon the reading of the story with your children.


This year why not be creative with your cookie decorations? You can make unique characters instead of just regular Gingerbread men. Make pirates, ninjas, astronauts, cowboys and cowgirls, and all kinds of "people" using your cookie cutters.



Using the same basic Gingerbread cookie cutter, you can create your very own pirate salt dough ornaments.

We made our own ornaments using:

  • 1 cup flour
  • a little more than 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of salt 
We stirred the mixture till it formed a dough and then used a rolling pin to roll out the dough on wax paper. I recommend sprinkling a little extra flour so that the dough doesn't stick to the wax paper or the rolling pin.

salt dough ornament - goose cookie cutter being placed by small child

collection of salt dough ornaments on parchment paper - candy cane, rocking horse, goose, air plane, gingerbread man

I didn't bake the ornaments right away but let them air dry for a day. I finally baked them at the lowest setting on my oven checking them every half hour. I let them bake for about 2 hours.

Gingerbread cookie salt dough ornament painted
One of the characters in the story is called Dots. 

The next day we painted them and finally added the ribbon so we can hang them from the tree! 

Gingerbread cookie salt dough ornament hanging in Christmas tree

Family Discussion Time

After reading The Gingerbread Pirates, use the following questions to spur conversation with your children:

  • What was your favorite toy or present to find under the Christmas tree? 
  • What adventure would your Gingerbread men go on? 
  • What type(s) of cookie(s) do you leave for Santa? 
  • What are your favorite type of cookies? 

Do you have a favorite Christmas story to read with your little ones?

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Book Club: Noel Street by Richard Paul Evans

cover of Noel Street book

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Noel Street is a brand new story by Richard Paul Evans that is part of the The Noel Collection. The story is set in 1975 in Mistletoe, Utah. Similar to other books written by Evans, the main character and narrator of the story shares excerpts from their diary and relates the experiences in the short chapters which are page turners.

We meet Elle Sheen, the narrator, before Thanksgiving and follow her story through the New Year of 1976. Elle is a single mother of one child – 6-year-old Dylan. Prior to moving to Mistletoe and becoming a waitress, Elle had married Issac Sheen. Elle's mother and father were less than supportive of her relationship with an African-American man. And after Issac was killed in Vietnam and Elle discovered she was pregnant, things did not improve. She eventually left home and struck out on her own in Mistletoe.
book cover of Noel Street

Living as a single mom was not easy at all. And like most owners of used cars, there were constant problems with her Fairlane. Her latest car problems led her back to Renato's to have her clutch looked at. The cost increased —when another problem was found—to around $1,000. This was not something she could pay. While dropping off her car, she met William Smith who was a car mechanic.

William repaired Elle's car and after a scary occurrence where William relived an experience during the Vietnam War in Mistletoe, a relationship struck up between the two of them. A friendship begins between Elle and William. After a rocky start, even Elle's biracial son, Dylan, grows to enjoy spending time with William. 

My Thoughts 

Sometimes we like a predictable book, especially when it is a Christmas tale. I admit to having read quite a few books by Richard Paul Evans over the last year or so, including The Noel Stranger. With the familiarity of Evans' books, I was ready for the way the story would unfold. 


There were also many predictable points. I had an idea that William knew Elle's husband, Issac, and had served alongside of him in Vietnam. (There were hints dropped throughout the story prior to William admitting the truth.) I was anticipating the return of one or both of her parents seeking her forgiveness and a reunion. I also anticipated that one of her parents would be seriously ill (in Noel Street, Elle's father was suffering from cancer). And after William leaves Elle because things were getting too serious and uncomfortable, he returns in time to celebrate the New Year with Elle and her son. A happy ending ensued. 


If you are fond of Christmas stories, novels by Richard Paul Evans, and tales of hope and redemption, you may enjoy Noel Street. I would recommend reading Noel Street this Christmas season when you are in need of an uplifting Christian story.

Interested in More Book Reviews? 

book cover of A Cobbler's Tale

book cover of His Mercy Endureth Forever

Book cover of Steadfast Heart

24 Days of Christmas Reading Challenge logo

Reindeer Status with reindeer clipart

Friday, December 13, 2019

L is for Longstreet (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

photo of Longstreet statue at Gettysburg

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James Longstreet, the "Old War Horse" of General Robert E. Lee, was one of Lee's most trusted officers and also at the center of controversy towards the the end of and after the American Civil War. Longstreet was born in South Carolina, spent many of his early years in Georgia, and graduated from West Point fifty-fourth of sixty-two cadets. Similar to other officers who served in the American Civil War, Longstreet first saw military action in the war with Mexico and then in the Indian Wars. He joined the Confederate Army in 1861 and quickly rose in ranks.

photo of cannons at Gettysburg

Series of Battles

Longstreet participated in a number of battles including the Battle of the Seven Pines (or Fair Oaks) where verbal orders were misunderstood and Longstreet's division was on the wrong road. This led to a delayed attack. At this battle, General Johnston was seriously wounded and General Lee replaced him as leader of the Confederate Army. With the battles of Glendale and Malvern Hill a few days later, Longstreet quickly became Lee's right-hand man. At other battles such as second Battle of Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, Longstreet continued to prove his worth.

Before Gettysburg

On June 28, 1863, a scout of Longstreet brought news that the Army of Potomac was north of the Potomac River. In addition to the location of the Union Army, news was also brought that George Meade was the new commander of the Army of the Potomac.

cemetery ridge at Gettysburg

Longstreet felt that the Union line was too strong. He urged Lee to get between the Union Army and Washington D.C. Longstreet was a man who preferred a tactical defensive approach. There was no way that Lee would listen to Longstreet's suggestion as it would be seen as a retreat. The morale of Lee's veteran troops was at an all-time high. While discussing matters with Longstreet, Lee pointed to Cemetery Hill and said that was where they would attack the enemy. Longstreet felt there would be disaster.

statute of Longstreet at Gettysburg

The Second Day

The principal attack of the South would be left to Longstreet on July 2, 1863. He was to attack the Union left while holding the end of Cemetery Ridge.

Longstreet was the only non-Virginian holding a high command in the Army of Northern Virginia. Due to his action, or delayed actions, he was held responsible for losing the Battle of Gettysburg. Those who defended the Lost Cause blamed him for moving too slowly. Lee wanted Longstreet to attack early but he didn't get into position till 4 pm. Some blamed Longstreet for sulking and dallying but, in reality, Longstreet's two divisions had just completed two night marches and were tired.

The Union were not at Cemetery Ridge because Commander Dan Sickles had moved the troops one-half mile forward to higher ground at Devil's Den. This left the Union unconnected to the rest of the Union line and Longstreet attacked. There was fighting in locations that would become famous - the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, and Little Round Top.

photo of Devil's Den at Gettysburg
Devil's Den

There was a struggle at Little Round Top and General Gouveneur K. Warren saw the Confederate troops coming and warned the Union men. This led to the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine and Chamberlain. The Confederate assault on July 2 ended up being uncoordinated but Lee felt one more push would win the battle. Longstreet tried to talk Lee out of the attack on July 3 but did not succeed. Longstreet was ordered to attack the Union center with Pickett's division and two of Hill's divisions on the third of July 1863.

The Third Day

On July 3, 1863, in the early afternoon, there was an artillery duel of 150 guns from both the Confederates and Union. The roar of the cannons could be heard as far away as Pittsburgh. The Confederates did not do much damage to the Union line because their aim was too high.

photo of cannons at Gettysburg

At three p.m., Longstreet ordered the attack which would become known as Pickett's Charge. The three divisions of Pickett and six divisions of Hill would stretch about a mile across the field. They marched about 3/4 of a mile across an open field to meet the Union line. About 14,000 men went across the field but only half returned. Longstreet and Lee had to prepare their defenses for an attack that never came from the Union Army.

painting of Longstreet's repulse at Gettysburg from wpclipart.com
image from wpclipart.com 


Longstreet would continue to state that Lee's decisions at Gettysburg were not the correct ones. His continual opposition to Lee in regards to Gettysburg would cause problems for Longstreet after the Battle of Gettysburg and after the American Civil War. He also supported the Republican Party. The criticism of Lee and a number of other factors left him open to attacks from the Lost Cause but he was well remembered by the men who served under him.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Book Club: A Christmas Time Review of The Noel Stranger

The Noel Stranger

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Richard Paul Evans has been called "the king of Christmas fiction" by The New York Times and with The Noel Stranger we can see why he has been given this nickname. The Noel Stranger is the newest edition to the many great Christmas-themed books by Evans.

"Maggie Walther feels like her world is imploding. Publicly humiliated after her husband, a local councilman, is arrested for bigamy and her subsequent divorce, she decides to isolate herself from the world." (quote from the cover jacket)


A stranger enters Maggie's life when her friend, Carina, insists she should get out of the house and maybe even decorate for Christmas. Maggie goes to a Christmas tree lot and due to the small nature of her car, the owner of the lot, Andrew Hill, offers to deliver the tree using his truck. This starts a relationship between the two of them.

One of the things that I enjoy about books by Richard Paul Evans is the short nature of each chapter. When you complete one, it only seems natural to read one more before putting the book down. Because of this readability, I often finish Evans' books in one or two days. This is perfect considering that life seems very hectic in our homeschooling household. In some ways, the books by Evans may also be a bit predictable but sometimes it is nice to read simple tales that also have a message of hope, trust, love, and rebirth.

Part of what The Noel Stranger offers is the typical snow of Utah, the idea of a white Christmas, and also a holiday vacation in Los Cabos, Mexico. Maggie takes a risk going on vacation with a stranger – a Christmas tree salesman – and learns more about him. As she finds out more will she be able to trust Andrew?


Even with a few threads that seemed to go nowhere (for example, the story of the Stephenses and what happened to them), I recommend The Noel Stranger for those who enjoy Christian fiction, Christmas tales, and stories of hope.


Please check out some of my other book reviews here:

A Defense of Honor Book Review

Lady of a Thousand Treasures book review

Day by Day through the Gospel of John Book Review

Sunday, December 8, 2019

K is for Kansas-Nebraska Act (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

outline maps of Kansas and Nebraska

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my Terms of Use and Disclosure Policy page. Thank you.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed by President Franklin Pierce on May 30, 1854. According to James McPherson in The Battle Cry of Freedom, it "may have been the most important single event pushing the nation toward civil war" (121). Just how did it come about? And what did the act actually do that was so important to American history?

One could say that the Kansas-Nebraska Act completely finished off the Whig Party in American politics and allowed the creation of an entirely northern Republican party. It opened up territory that had been previously closed to slavery due to previous bills, acts, and compromises. The Kansas-Nebraska Act also demonstrated the idea that popular sovereignty was actually a false idea and would not be true in reality in the Kansas or Nebraska territories. Abraham Lincoln also came to the forefront in politics as he argued against the Act.

Westward expansion image from USHistoryImages.com
image from USHistoryImages.com

Expanding West 

In the 1850s, Americans were looking westward in greater numbers. Land speculation, the gold rush, the building of a transcontinental railroad, and more factors pushed Americans westward. People wanted to build roads and a railroad to California but the land between the East and West also needed to be settled. But who would settle the land? People from the North or the South?

Two Democrats from Illinois, William A. Richardson (House of Representatives) and Stephen A. Douglas (Senate) pushed for westward expansion. They introduced bills to organize the Nebraska territory. While it was passed in the House, it was tabled by the Senate.

outline maps of Kansas and Nebraska

There were four southern men in the Senate who did not want Nebraska to be organized as free. If this land was organized as free land, then Missouri, which was a slave state, would be surrounded by free territory. These four southerns were:

  • James M. Mason (chair of the foreign relations committee) 
  • Robert M. T. Hunter (chair of the finance committee) 
  • Andrew P. Butler (chair of the judiciary committee) 
  • David R. Atchinson (president pro-term) 
Atchinson told Douglas that the ban on slavery needed to be repealed. So the bill was rewritten. One of the versions, from January 1854, stated that the people would determine if Nebraska was pro- or anti-slavery (much like that of Utah and New Mexico). This change was not enough for the Southerners. 

Douglas altered the bill again to organize two territories: Kansas and Nebraska. There would also be repeal on the ban of slavery North of the 36˚30’. As one would guess, there was a lot of anger when this new bill was introduced. Anger from President Pierce, Free Soilers, Northerners, and Whigs. But this did not matter. The repeal had to be in the bill to appease the Southerners. 

In the Senate, the discipline of the Democratic party pushed the bill through to the House. The Northern Democrats of the House were concerned because they faced reelection. People would not be happy in the North if they passed a bill that repealed the ban on slavery north of 36˚30’. The bill was still pushed through with a vote of 115 to 104. And not surprisingly only seven of the Northern Democrat Representatives who voted Aye were reelected. The passing of the bill also left divisions in the Whig Party. 

drawing of Lincoln from WPClipart.com
image from WPClipart.com

What Did Lincoln Say About the Kansas-Nebraska Act? 

While calling himself a Whig, he spoke out in October of 1854 in an anti-Nebraska speech. He argued that the Founding Fathers had opposed slavery. It was only tolerated temporarily and—through many of the actions of the Founding Fathers—they showed that they wanted to prevent the spread of slavery. With the Northwest Ordinance, the prohibition of the slave trade in 1807, and the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the expansion of slavery was slowed and stopped. There was an example of gradual emancipation with the state of Maryland. Lincoln was expressing the new platform of the Republican party: The Union must be saved and it must be worth saving. Slavery must be cut out.


In theory, the people living in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska were to decide the fate of their states. Would they be pro- or anti-slavery? From 1854 till the start of the American Civil War, there was bloodshed spilled to determine the answer to this question. In fact, we have the term Bleeding Kansas due to the violent outbreaks that occurred as pro- and anti-slavery men fought to achieve their aims. The events of this 'war' would help push America towards the Civil War.


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