Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Engagement Plot: a plan that could go horribly wrong

The Engagement Plot by Krista Phillips is a love story which seems doomed before it even begins. On her way home one stormy night, Hanna Knight rescues a stranded motorist near her father’s farm. After she arrives home, she realizes that the stranded motorist is none other than William Preston, CEO of Foster and Jones and the man who broke her heart in front of millions. They were on a show together called “The Price of Love” a show similar to the Bachelor where he chose Hanna. But later as they did the post show media interviews, one comment ruined her reputation and her life. There is a reason Will is there. His company’s sales have slipped since the show and he needs her help. He proposes a fake engagement to show the world that they are in love and doing well despite the tabloid headlines. She reluctantly agrees and soon she’s back in the spotlight as the media quickly discovers their “reconciliation.” Soon the lies and deceit seems to pile up as another plot to ruin Will’s position with the company is revealed. Will they discover who is behind the plot to destroy Will? Will Hanna and Will discover their true feelings for each other?

The Engagement Plot was a cute and predictable romance story. I enjoyed Will and Hanna and the sparks that flew as they resisted each other and tried to keep each other at bay as they proceed with their plan. Although the ending was expected and some of the plot twists were “duh” moments and the antagonist was as clear as day, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I love a good romance novel and The Engagement Plot is fun, engaging, and heartwarming. I laughed, I cheered and I smiled as I turned the last page. If you enjoy a good romance story, I recommend The Engagement Plot.

The Engagement Plot

is available in paperback and eBook

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Haggai: deep questions, hope in times of trouble and God's place in our lives

This month continues with the Minor Prophets as I get closer to the end of the Old Testament. Habakkuk was a prophet during the reign of King Jehoiakim between 612 and 588 BCE. He was prophesying during the time leading to the exile. He was troubled by what he saw and began to have doubts. Zephaniah was a prophet during the reign of King Josiah and written before the king’s religious reformation between 640 to 622 BCE. His message was filled with the Day of Judgment for those who would not repent. Haggai, a prophet, wrote his prophecies in 520 BCE when the Israelites return to their land after exile and began to rebuild their lives. He reminds the people of the importance to keep God first. Where is God when we see injustice? Is there is hope during times of wrath? Where is God placed in the priorities of our lives? 

Habakkuk was a man who sought answers and he set his questions to God. Like a child with deep questions, he came to God without fear. He came to God with heartfelt questions. Habakkuk 2:2-3 lists his questions: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help and you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not listen. Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” Ouch! The Lord’s answers were not with anger but with love. Habakkuk 2:5 records his answers that he will do amazing acts, a series of unbelievable events were coming. First, their independent and prosperous kingdom, Judah, would become a vassal nation. Second, Egypt, a world power for centuries, would be crushed overnight. Third, Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, would be so completely ransacked that people would forget when it had be. These events would happen at the hands of the Babylonians (verses 6-11). Even with these answers, Habakkuk had more complaints, more questions. He was concerned and horrified that Babylon, a nation more wicked than Judah would be an instrument for their punishment. But the Babylonians weren’t aware that they were being used by God and their pride in their victories would lead to their eventual downfall. After all his questions, God asks Habakkuk (and us) to be patient. Habakkuk 2:3, he says “wait for it, it will certainly come.” The lesson in Habakkuk is we should not be afraid to come to God with our questions and concerns. God will not punish us for questioning him. It is our limited understanding of his ways that causes our questions and doubts. God knows this and he will answer.

Zephaniah was a prophet who wrote about the Day of Judgment for those who turned from God.  A warning to those who did evil in his eyes. Zephaniah 1:2 says that the Lord will “sweep everything from the face of the earth.” Punishment against Judah for their idolatry worship and refusal to repent and return to God. Zephaniah also talks about the Great Day of the Lord. Zephaniah 1:14-18 describe a day of bitterness, a warrior’s shout, a day of distress, wrath, anguish and gloom. But the Day of Judgment is a day of cheer for those who were mistreated. These individuals will be purified and restored. Zephaniah 3:8-20 describes the day of hope. After the Lord’s wrath has been poured out and the evildoers are punished, he will purify the people and restore those who were faithful to him. One of my favorite verses in this book is verse 17 “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Imagine God as a parent, a parent whose child has returned home. A parent who rejoices that his child is back safely, a child he will hold and comfort. “Quiet you with his love” is a powerful image that I see as a parent. While a child falls and gets hurt, what is a parent’s first instinct? To pull that child into his or her arms with comfort and love. I image God enfolding each of us like a parent would a child, when we return to him. He holds us and tells us everything will be alright.

Haggai is the first post-exile prophets. His purpose was a call to the people to reevaluate their priorities and help motivate them to rebuild the temple. When the Israelites returned to their land, they focused on getting their homes in order and forgot the temple. Haggai reminded them that when God isn’t a priority, labors are fruitless. We often place a higher priority on personal comfort than on God’s work and true worship. But God is pleased and promises strength and guidance when we give him first place in our lives. I know this is easier said than done and it takes great effort. I often forget to stop and pray or to open God’s word in the hustle of life. However, when I do stop and take a moment in God’s word, even a simple passage in my devotional amazing things can happen. It is hard work to keep my eyes on God but when I do, I can truly see remarkable things happen. God also tells us in Haggai 2:10-19 that holiness doesn’t rub off onto to others but contamination can. Therefore we must careful the foundation in which we lay down. We need to repent and obey every day of our lives not just religious activities like church. We need to be careful in our daily relationships as well. This lesson is repeated in 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.” It is easier to pull someone down than to pull someone up. So we must careful who we allow to influence our lives. Look to God first and foremost and he will guide us in all other aspects.

In conclusion, these three prophets give us important lessons. In Habakkuk, we learn that though we cannot see all that God is doing, and we cannot see all that God will do, we can be assured that God is in control. He will punish the evil and right the wrongs. Keeping this in mind can give us a comfort and hope in an evil world. In Zephaniah, we learn that in the Day of Judgment those who did evil will be punished and those who remained faithful will be purified and restored. It is a day we will all face, when we stand before God, we will be held accountable for what we have done with our lives. In Haggai, we learn that when we place God first among our priorities, he will do amazing work in our lives. When we do God’s work in our lives, we honor and worship him. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Kite and the Boy: a story of patience, forgiveness and redemption

The Kite and the Boy by Aaron Duffy and illustrated by Kary Haaland Greene is the story of a kite who longed to fly higher and higher until he learns that fly high isn’t so grand. A kite lived in the window of a toy store and each day he hoped to be taken home. Each day that hope was dashed until one day when a boy bought him. The boy immediately put his initials on the kite and took it flying. All summer long, the boy took the kite flying and the kite loved soaring and swooping in the sky. One day, the kite noticed a flock of birds were flying higher than he was and he wanted to fly higher too. But the boy wouldn’t let him. The kite continued to fight, trying to fly higher until his string snapped and he was carried away by a strong wind. At first, the kite enjoyed the new heights until he realized something was wrong. Will the boy find the kite again? Will the kite be able to fly with the boy again?

The Kite and the Boy is a beautiful, simple story of how our desires can make us lose sight of what really matters. It is a lesson that we may not always reach the heights we want to until we are ready to do so. It is also a tale of forgiveness and the beauty of redemption. I highly recommend The Kite and the Boy for any family or school library.

The Kite and the Boy

is available in paperback and in eBook

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Bigger Table: an attempt to bring all Christians to the same table

A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovitz is one man’s journey to Christianity and envisions a table where everyone is welcome. He focuses on homosexuality and the LGBT community. He opens with the feelings of the morning after the election of Donald Trump and sees the already deep divides among the American people becoming “cavernous.” He discusses his belief that the only sin in the world is exclusion. We need to love each other and leave us that way as that’s how we were made. He doesn’t really offer any ideas to bring all Christians to the table, only that we need to gather together. It seems to be a lot of talk without much thought to the action needed.

I really wanted to like A Bigger Table and gladly accepted an invitation to read it. However, I was turned off by his self-righteousness and self-congratulatory tones. I feel as a pastor, he questions the authority of the Bible and what it says about homosexuality. You cannot hand pick which verse to believe and follow and which ones to ignore. While I admit that these verses have been used as the basis for horrible and horrific treatment of the LGBT community and it is wrong. However, to ignore the clear language of the verses is equally wrong especially in the New Testament. I am highly disappointed in this book. I can see Mr. Pavlovitz’s goal to open the conversation and I can appreciate this goal. However, I feel he further pushes others away instead of trying to pull everyone in together at the same table. I do not recommend A Bigger Table.

A Bigger Table

is available in paperback and eBook

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Power of No: life lesson in boundaries

Boundaries. It is a term that everyone is familiar with but have a struggle creating them or even enforcing them. It is a lesson that I am still learning myself. It has taken me a long time to recognize how I allow others to trample over me. Personal boundaries are important to healthy relationships and a productive life. These boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that an individual creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for others to behave toward him or herself as well as how an individual will respond if someone violates those limits. The essential key to enforce our boundaries is No. No is seen as negative and usually met with anger and disappointment; however it is the power in which we can protect ourselves and show others how we deserve to be treated, respected and loved. There is power and strength in the word No.

No is often associated with negative feelings. And in a society where Yes is celebrated, it’s hard for people to hear no. However, there is a surge of strength when a person says No and means it. It is a moment of a clear choice. It is a tool and a barrier we establish and maintain (maintenance is very important) a distinct boundary. No carves and supports the space that we recognize as our personal limits. The closer we get to maintain the boundary, the stronger we are. It takes strength to say no and we gain strength by saying no (Stills 2013). No matter how gently you say it, No is a negative event and the receiver may feel bad, disappointed or even angry. No can lead to conflict which many of us like to avoid which is why we say Yes when we mean No. No tests the health, quality and equity of your relationships. If someone is willing to end a relationship with you simply because you denied their request, then he or she is not a person you need in your life. When No is used often enough and wisely, it can help you have a peace of mind about the decisions and direction of your life. You have the right to defend your life, to take care of you. You have the right to put yourself first when necessary. Unfortunately, with some people, you give them an inch and they will take a mile.

Imagine a situation when someone comes to you with a request. They ask you to do something for them and your first instinct is to say No. According to psychologist Sarri Gilman, this is your inner compass which helps you decide your morals, beliefs and other choices we face every day (TEDx Talk December 15, 2015). The ability to say No is an essential element of one’s inner moral compass. This inner compass According to organizational psychologist Adam Grant, “When you are able to say No, people are careful to come with you with only meaningful requests” (Stills 2013). Saying No and meaning it help your Yes have more meaning in the future. Saying Yes all the time will leave you stressed out, overwhelmed and burned out. Blogger Jennifer Rollin has three tips to maintain your boundaries and saying No. First, practice tuning in to your inner sense of yes and no. This is the inner compass which Sarri Gilman discusses. When we ignore our inner compass and say the opposite, it causes problems and stress. Second, learn how to tolerate the reactions of others. In other words, do not internalize their disappointment or anger when you say no. Having no boundaries in a relationship can lead to bitterness and resentment over time. Lastly, engage in acts of compassionate self-care. Self-care is essential to our well-being. We all need time to relax, to unwind, to recharge. As the adage says “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Find something that can help you relax. It could be something you enjoy like reading or going to the movies. Something in which you can turn your mind off for a while and disengage.

There are five situations which benefit from increasing our strength to say no (Stills 2013). First, when saying No helps you keep true to your principles and values. When someone asks us to do something that would go against our beliefs, but we find it hard to say no because we want to be liked by that individual. We often say Yes because it is a by-product of the desire to be liked. But liking yourself and your decision sometimes only comes when you say No. Second, when saying No helps protect yourself from exploitation. The best way to protect yourself from those who demand and feel entitled to receive their request is by being strong enough to say a firm, clear and calm No. “No is a necessary life shield against the charming users who sniff out the softies” (Stills 2013). Third, saying No when it keeps you focused on your goals. No is a necessary tool to keep your goals in mind and to do your job instead of someone else’s. Fourth, when saying no protects you from abuse by others. This abuse can be verbal, physical or any other form. When the fear can sap the strength to say no, especially in situations when we need that power the most. Lastly, saying no when you need the strength to change course. “When you find yourself going down the wrong road, No is the power necessary to turn yourself around” (Stills 2013).

The ability to say No and maintain my established boundaries has been a struggle for me. I often hesitate saying no because I can envision and anticipate the argument for why I should say Yes. I am a person who is naturally open hearted and generous so No is an unnatural mechanism for me. It is a lesson I’ve been struggling with in recent months. Sometimes it is easy to say No and stick to it and others it causes great anxiety and physical distress. However, when I say it and mean it, I feel a surge of power and strength that I never thought I had before. “It’s exhilarating to feel ion charge of one’s self, to be the boundary setter and the decided. There’s a bonus in energy and self-confidence too” (Stills 2013). Some people will fight your No and your established boundaries. They will take it as a personal attack and challenge you to justify yourself. They may even threaten or jokingly threaten to withdraw their love and affection if you do not do as they ask. Remember, No is a complete sentence and you DO NOT need to offer any explanation other than “I cannot do that.” I’ve learned to choose my words carefully. I’ve also learned that “I don’t think I can…” leaves the door open for someone to convince you to say Yes when you mean No. Instead, a firm “No, I cannot do that” is all the response they need.

In conclusion, recently I came across this metaphor which illustrates boundaries rather well. Imagine neighborhood dogs that want to use your yard for whatever they wish. You put up a fence in order to keep them out. The dogs will still come and bark and yap at that fence. But when the fence is enforced and maintained, the dogs will accept the yard doesn’t belong to them and stop yapping so much. Dr. Henry Cloud, a psychologist who has made a career discussing boundaries, said “Boundaries are a "litmus test" for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can't respect our boundaries are telling us that they don't love our nos. They only love our yeses, our compliance. "I only like it when you do what I want." If someone truly cares for you, he or she will respect and honor your choice to say No.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Still Christian: one man's journey with Christ and the changing American church

Still Christian: Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism by David P. Gushee is his journey from a young Christian just as the Christian Right movement began to gain momentum. He chronicles his path through college, seminary, ministry, academia and then activism. He became a leading Christian ethicist who was caught in the crosshairs of those who lead the movement. He details the history and course of American Protestantism as it split into two primary camps: fundamentalists/conservatives and modernists/liberals. He is particularly critical of the Southern Baptist Convention as it was the leading charge in the changing course of American Protestantism. He also discusses the changing in the church as the political climate changed with the election of President Obama and the most recent election of President Trump. He discusses the changing role of women in the church as women were taken out of leadership roles and teaching position because it was suddenly unwise for women to be in such powerful position. He also discusses how the relationships in his life changed either strengthened or fell apart as the climate of the American church changed.

Still Christian is an honest and blunt recount of one man’s journey with Christ and the church through the changing times in America. At one point, he states that the “resurgence of a doctrinaire Calvinism in contemporary evangelisms is among the most odious developments of the last generation.” He was further critical saying that Calvinism could have only “emerged among relatively privileged, hypocognitive, compassion challenged white men.” This statement stuck out to me as I remembered when I was a young Christian in college and I was on my way to a weekend retreat with my uncle’s church. On the drive there, a young man was discussing Calvinism and when I asked what exactly Calvinism was, he replied that I wouldn’t understand it. He didn’t even try to explain it. It wasn’t until much later as I matured in my faith, I realized that he couldn’t explain it because he barely understood it himself and didn’t want to expose his deficiency. While I did not agree with all of Dr. Gushee’s statements or assertions, I found myself refreshed by his honesty and focus on Jesus instead of doctrine. I highly recommend Still Christian as a powerful, honest and helped put into words what I’ve seen in recent years.

Still Christian

is available in paperback and eBook

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cult films which I don't like, love and don't care to see

What is a cult film? A cult film is a film that has acquired a cult following known for their dedicated and passionate fan base. An elaborate subculture is created that engage in repeated viewings, quoting dialogue and even audience participation. These movies could be box office bombs which gain a fan base once released to home videos and DVDs. Most people would exclude movies that were released by major studios or had big budgets. But for my purposes, I will consider movies based on their fan base rather than their studio or budget. I began thinking about cult favorites that I really don’t care for that everyone seems to love. Movies that I love and movies that I don’t care to see despite their popularity with others. I will list the movies with a brief explanation why it is include on my list. There is no particular order and not a complete listing. It’s just a few that come to mind. And I know I might shock people by the movies which are included.

Cult favorites which I don’t care for:
Labyrinth (1986): I know, I know. I can hear a few of my friend gasp in shock. I saw this film as a child and I never cared to see it again. It didn’t appeal to me then and it doesn’t appeal to me now. While researching this movie, I found reviews that tells me that I’m not the only one. For many fans, this movie holds a bit of nostalgia that I just don’t have.
The Nightmare before Christmas (1993): I know! More gasps! I didn’t see this film when it came out in theaters. I actually saw it years later and I still don’t understand the appeal. Yes, the stop-motion animation is stunning but the characters are not as beloved by me as they are to some.
The Warriors (1979): My husband loves this movie and I don’t. It’s a very simple story. One gang, The Warriors, is falsely accused of killing a leader and the other gangs are on the chase to find them. The Warriors race through the night to get to the safety of their own turf. 
Fight Club (1999): Ugh! Everyone loved this movie. They quoted the rules of Fight Club ad nauseam. When I finally saw the movie, I didn’t understand the appeal other the fight scenes for guys and Brad Pitt for women (if you happen to be one who enjoys Brad Pitt which I am not).
Office Space (1999). While in college, I worked at a local bookstore and a few of my co-workers quoted this movie and would laugh hysterically. So I checked it out and I don’t get it. There were a few funny moments and memorable characters. We’ve all seen the memes that feature the boss. But other than that, this film isn’t my cup of tea.

Cult favorites that I love:
The Princess Bride (1987): I saw this movie as a child but really didn’t fall in love with it until I was an adult. It’s filled with great moments and great lines which are still being quoted 30 years later. I love the character, The Man in Black, as the mysterious person who is chasing Vizzini and his crew. It’s a great movie to watch over and over again.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974): The film is long and filled with great quotes. I’ve always enjoyed British humor and while some jokes can be a bit crude but others are hilarious. One of the best scenes is the debate about the swallows. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.
The Goonies (1985): I will admit this movie wouldn’t have made my list years ago. However, since my husband loves this movie and I’ve watched it with him, it started to grow on me. The humor in the movie is the subtle one liners that you wouldn’t notice until one day you finally hear it for the first time.
Zombieland (2009): I normally don’t care for movies (or TV shows which feature zombies) but this movie surprised me with its humor and its heart. Starting with Columbus’s Rules for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, to Tallahassee’s search for the world’s remaining Twinkies and the fact that the entire movie is carried by the four main characters as they search for a zombie free area.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993): I know it’s not one of Mel Brooks’ best films but it’s one of my favorites. Like many Mel Brooks’ films, it is filled with great one liners and subtle twists that allude to other films. And it just doesn’t take itself too serious. It’s meant to be fun and tongue in cheek which when done right can be hilarious.

Cult favorites that I have no desire to see or finish:
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975): I tried watching this film to see what the fuss was about and I couldn’t finish it. While I normally love musicals, The Rocky Horror Picture Show just isn’t one I enjoyed. This film has a huge following in which fans will dress up and dance and sing along with the film in theaters. Yeah, definitely not my cup of tea.
Legend (1985): My husband loves this movie and wanted me to watch it one day. I tried but soon lost interest and never tried to watch it again. I don’t know what the appeal is and I feel this is anymore 80s movie that many people who grew
Pulp Fiction (1994): This movie or any other Tarantino film I never want to see. His films just don’t appeal to me and I don’t see what the big deal is. However, I don’t think I’m Tarantino’s target audience anyway.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004): I’ll admit I have never seen this movie, nor have I attempted to watch it. From the trailers and the few scenes I have seen, it just doesn’t appeal to me. I know a lot of people quote this movie like it was a hilarious film, it just doesn’t seem funny to me.
Pitch Perfect (2012): I never heard of this movie until everyone started talking about the Cup Song. So I started watching it one day and could not stand it. There is one scene toward the end where all the girls start vomiting as they stood in a group. Why? I don’t know but it grossed me out so much that I turned it off then and there. I refuse to watch it or its sequels.

In conclusion, I find it interesting that many of movies on this list people would say the movies helped defined their childhood. And I look back on the films that I watched as a child and I don’t know if I’d say the same. I think more than movies defined my childhood like climbing trees, gathering the walnuts that fell from those trees and playing baseball in the park. There are even movies that I watched as a kid that I am perfectly happy never to see again. Most of these films I grew to dislike, love and don’t want to see as an adult. It may be a little different if I grew to love them as a child. I know my husband was very disappointed that some of his favorites main my dislike and don’t want to see lists. Oh, well to each his own. And don’t criticize, hate, or belittle someone because they don’t like a movie you hold so dear. Like beauty, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Right Handed Lefty: a coming of age story about finding one's identity in this world

Right Handed Lefty by Ryan Coughlin is the coming of age story in 1983, in the small town of Boscobel, Wisconsin, as a boy with no real identity in his family history discovers you are much more than your bloodline. Ellis Sayre has had a crazy life. Orphaned as a baby, adopted then return. He spent much of his early years in an orphanage until he is adopted by Marty and Suzanne Sayre after the tragic death of their only son. When the story opens, Ellis is 12 years old and trying to figure out where he fits in with his new family, his classmates and his friends. Until one day when he, along with his friends George and Mason, witness a crime. The authorities and their parents don’t believe them. Fearing for their lives, the three boys run away and have an adventure along the Mississippi River. The search begins for the boys. One group, the concerned parents who become increasingly aware the boys were telling the truth, and one man who wants to make sure the boys never tell their story again. The stories of Ellis Abbot, a World War II vet, and an orphaned Native American boy, Two Right Feet, in the 1800s, are key to helping Ellis come to terms who he is.

The beginning of the story hooked me in. I felt a connection to Ellis and his uncertainly as he life has been anything but stable. However, when the side stories of Ellis Abbot and Two Right Feet start to intertwine with Ellis Sayre’s story, I got lost and seemed to lose interest. It reminded me of the 1986 film, Stand by Me, as a group of boys leave on an adventure innocent and return with a new perspective on life and their own identity. The story picked up again once the boys were on their adventure and the adults were on their trail to find them. It is a decent coming of age story about finding your true identity and place in the world. Right Handed Lefty is marketed as a Young Adult book and this may be its main audience; however, I feel adults would enjoy this story as well.

Right Handed Lefty

is available in paperback and eBook

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How are schools evaluated and what can parents do for their child's education

Education is something my husband and I take very seriously. As a college graduate, I know the importance of a good foundation is needed to help a child succeed. As my daughter approached school age, my husband and I were looking into the school in which she would be attending. We looked into all the information about our local school that we could. After a conversation with a friend, I realized that despite my research, I didn’t know how the school was assessed. How were schools rated? And what are the alternatives if parents do not like the local school. For this blog, I will focus on the state of California which is where I reside. I strongly urge parents to look into their own state’s educational ranting.

The Academic Performance Index (API) is a measurement of academic performance and process of individual schools in California. It is one of the main components of the Public Schools Accountability Act (1999) which was passed by the state’s legislature. The API scores ranged from 200 (low) to 1000 (high). The statewide API score was targeted at 800 for all schools. A school’s growth is measured by how it was moving toward or past that goal. Scores were calculated for all students as a whole as well as by groups i.e. race, English learners, students with disabilities and those who were considered socioeconomically disadvantaged. A school’s score was designed to be an indicator of performance level and was calculated annually by the California Department of Education. Primarily by students’ performances on the California Standards Test (CST) and the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). Due to the API’s heavy reliance on standardized testing, many critics argued that the reliability and accuracy of the API scores as weaknesses as indicators of a school’s academic achievement. The scores were suspended after the 2013 calculation and later cancelled as a new system is being devised to replace the API scores. This new system will be designed to measure progress on the Common Core Standards.

Since 1988, California has required all public schools receiving state funds to prepare and distribute a School Accountability Report Card (SARC). A similar requirement is also contained in the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965). The SARC’s purpose is to provider parents and the community with important information about a school. “A SARC can be an effective way for a school to report on its progress in achieving goals. The public may also use a SARC to evaluate and compare schools” (California Department of Education). The SARC has four parts. First, Conditions of Learning section details the student body. The number of students enrolled in total as well as by groups. The number of teachers that are fully credentialed and the types of textbooks and instructional materials used for each subject and grade. The school’s physical status is rating as Good, Fair or Poor as well as notes as to repairs that are needed and actions taken or planned to fix any issues. Second, Pupil Outcomes section details scores on statewide assessments, particularly the California Assessment of Students Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System which is given to the general education population in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11. One of these assessments in this system is the California Alternative Assessments (CAAs) for English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA) and mathematics. A CAA test for science will be piloted for this school year and is expected to be operational by the 2019-2020 school year. Third, Engagement is the schools scores on the level of parental involvement. What opportunities has the school offered as to getting or allowing the parents to be involved in the school’s operation and their children’s education? Most common opportunities are the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Back to School and Open House Nights. This section also details the school’s suspension and expulsion rates and well as the school safety plans. For example, my daughter’s school is a closed campus. Once the bell rings, the gates are locked and no one is allowed in or out until dismissal. If someone needs on campus, for example to volunteer in the classroom, it must first be arranged with the teacher and the office must be informed and the individual must check in with the office before being allowed inside the gates. Lastly, the SARC provides information about support staff such as counselors, librarian, psychologist and other non-teacher positions. This section also details the average class size, professional development for its teachers and as well the types of services that are funded and provided to its students.

What can parents do if their local school isn’t up to their standards and they do not want to send their children to that particular school? Do they have any recourse? I was in the California public school system, the districts were starting an idea that as long as a student lived in the district boundaries, he or she could attend any school in the district. However, I could not find any information that this is still the case. So, if you don’t want your child to attend the school closest to you, what are the other options? There are private schools which are usually privately funded and thus costs money. There is the option is homeschool. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, the average cost of homeschool is approximately $900 per child per year. There are ways to offset such costs. For example, if you are not going to use the curriculum again for another child and the materials are in good shape, you can sell the material to another parent. Before considering homeschool, check out the requirements for your particular state. For example, California requirements that parents who wish to homeschool establish a home based private school by filing an affidavit. There are numerous homeschool sites which can help parents with this process. Another option is charter schools. Charter schools have been in the news in recent years and little is understand about them. Charter schools are government funded but operates independently of the established state school system and in some cases are privately owned. According to the California Charter School Association, these schools are public schools which are non-sectarian (no religious affiliation), tuition free and open to any students who wish to attend regardless of where they live as long as there is space.

When my daughter was entering school, I felt I had to find the right school for her to enrich her and help her thrive. I realize now that school is only one tool to do this. Her education begins and ends at home. What my husband and I do is more important than finding the school with the best scores, the best teacher-student ratio, etc. Parental involvement can turn any low performing school around by simply getting involved, being a voice for your child. I understand this could be difficult for working parents; however, there are simply ways to so do. And start early, my daughter learned her colors and numbers while riding in the car. She learned her shapes, animals and food with grocery shopping. And oh, bad TV! But don’t discount preschool TV programming, they can make learning fun and engaging. My daughter loved Disney Junior’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Nick Jr’s Team Umizoomi and many others which taught problem solving, shapes, patterns, etc. In the two months my daughter has been in kindergarten, she has grown by leaps and bounds. Within a month, she was writing words other than her name. She is reading short sentences and eagerly wants to read anything she can. I love her teacher and her school. Bottom line: DO NOT be the parent who drops their child off at the school gates and says “OK! She’s your responsibility for six hours!” No! Your parental responsibility doesn’t end at the school gates. You are your child’s first and greatest teacher. It begins and ends with you.

In conclusion, there is no test that the state can devise which will accurately measure what a child has learned. One test given on one day cannot possibly be the only tool we can use to measure this. Every standardized test, assessment test is supposed to be better than the one it’s replacing. The SARC is a useful tool to get a picture of how the school is doing and other important but it is only a snapshot. Your involvement is still key to your child’s success. If you are curious about your local school, set up a meeting with the principal, discuss your concerns and any questions you may have. If you have any concerns about your children’s education, contact his or her teachers, set up meetings and voice your concerns. Be your child’s strongest and loudest advocate.

California Charter School Association www.ccsa.org Retrieved October 15, 2017
California Department of Education www.cde.ca.gov Retrieved October 14, 2017

Home School Legal Defense Association www.hslda.org Retrieved October 15, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Girl in the Tower: the exciting sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden is the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale and second book in the Winternight Trilogy. It picks up right after the first book ended with the aftermath of the final events. A band of bandits are terrorizes villages, burning them to the ground and taking young girls. Dmitrii, Grand Prince of Moscow sets out to investigate along with Sasha, the priest. At the same time, Vasya is starting to blaze her own trail, determined to make a life on the road as a Traveler. She is continually visited by Morozko, the frost demon. His help comes at a cost as the people will view her as a witch. When events puts her in the path and favor of Dmitrii, she must tread lightly to avoid being discovered as a girl as she is taken to Moscow. Little does she know that someone is plotting against her and each day she gets closer to discovery or escape. Will Vasya be discovered? Who is behind the plot against her?

I thoroughly enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale and I eagerly waited for the chance to read The Girl in the Tower. This book did not disappoint. From page one, it was a nonstop adventure, with a bit of romance mixed with the thrill of the mystery surrounding Vasya. My favorite quote from the book is spoken by Morozko. He tells Vasya “Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other: of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet.” It is a very poetic statement about the ‘what ifs’ in life. I also eagerly await book three. I highly recommend The Girl in the Tower. A rich adventure story that you cannot miss. If you haven’t checked out The Bear and the Nightingale yet, I highly recommend that you do, you will not regret immersing yourself in this beauty story.

The Girl in the Tower
will be available on December 5, 2017
in hardcover and eBook

The Bear and the Nightingale
is currently available

in hardcover, paperback and eBook

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Common phrases that misquote or misrepresent Bible verses

After a recent conversation with a friend of mine, I wanted to right about many misquoted Bible verses as well as sayings that are not in the Biblical. I found some phrases which were taken out of verses but removed portions of the verse that it doesn’t give the full message of what the verse is trying to convey. Some verses aren’t Biblical at all but since the phrase references God, many people are lead to believe that they appear in the Bible. I have chosen a few out of the many I found online. These are the most common verses or phrases that I found across the board.

  • The Lion shall lay down with the lamb. This phrase doesn’t not actually appear in the Bible. The closet verse is Isaiah 11:6 which says “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” Despite the misquotation, the image is still the same. While saying the lion will lay down with the lamb is technically wrong, the image is still powerful and conveys the same message as Isaiah 11:6. The once predators will be at peace and live in harmony with the once prey. It is a time when nature will return to its intended balance and harmony. The time of Christ’s second coming and his established earthly kingdom.
  • Money is the root of all evil. This is a bad misquotation of 1 Timothy 6:10 which says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” When this verse is quoting many people leave out certain key words: love, a, and kinds. Greed can lead to all kinds of trouble. However, money itself is not the root of all evil. Money is a necessity of life. We need it to live, eat, pay for our homes and clothes. If you go to the previous verse, verse 9 states “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction {emphasis mine).” Money should be handled respectfully and carefully.
  • Spare the rod, spoil the child. This is a paraphrase of Proverbs 13:24 which says “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who lives their children is careful to discipline them.” This phrase has been the justification for physical discipline. However, the verse is not stating that a parent has the right to beat their child into submission. The verse states that discipline is a nurturing guidance for child. Without correction, children grow up to be adults without a sense of right or wrong. The phrase was actually coined by Samuel Butler, a 17th century British poet in a satirical poem Hudibras: “What medicine else can cure the fits/ Of lovers when they lose their wits?/ Love is a boy by poets styled/Then spare the rod and spoil the child.” In the poem, a love affair is compared to a child, and spanking is mockingly applauded as a way to make the love grow stronger.
  • All things work together for good. This phrase is taken from Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God works in all things for our good, not just isolated occurrences. When evil occurs in our lives, God is able to turn every situation into a good. We may not see the good until much later. God is not working to make us happy or make all things right. He does it to fulfill his purpose and for those who love him. Also this promise isn’t for everyone, the verse specifically states it is for those who are called according to his purpose. Those who have received Jesus and been touched by the Holy Spirit. Those who love him and trust in him.

  • God works in mysterious ways. There is no actual verse which states this and there are several verses that allude to this idea. For example, Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” Another example is Romans 11:33-34 “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” In both verses, the authors are telling believers that we cannot know why events happen the way they do for we do not think the way he does. Where this phrase originated from has been debated; however, one source is thought to be a hymn written by William Cowper in 19th century "God moves in a mysterious ways; His wonders to perform; He plans His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm."
  • Pride comes before the fall. This phrase is taken from Proverbs 16:18. However, it is a bad paraphrase as it takes out the middle of the verse. The verse actually says “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Destruction is the end result of pride. A haughty spirit is the sense of arrogance, superiority and being disdainful. Pride and a haughty spirit leads to an over sense of self-confidence and the feeling that one does not need God. This attitude leads to carelessness and eventual destruction and fall. In contrast, Proverbs 15:33 states “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom and humility comes before honor.” So it is not just pride which leads to the fall, it is a haughty spirit. Pride isn’t necessarily a bad thing; however, when pride is boastful, self-centered, and blinds you to your own faults and limitations can lead to very bad results.
  • God helps those who help themselves. It is a phrase that emphasizes the importance of self-initiative and action. This phrase doesn’t appear in the Bible at all. The phrase originated in Ancient Greece and is illustrated in the fable Hercules and the Waggoner as well as Ancient Greek drama. However, there are verses which have been used to support the claim that the idea of this phrase is in the Bible. One example is 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul writes “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’” Paul is speaking against laziness and skirting responsibility. Paul is telling them and us to be responsible and get back to work. I think using this verse to support the phrase is a bit of a stretch.
  • Cleanliness is next to godliness. This phrase does not originate from the Bible. In my research, I found claims that the phrase originated from an ancient Babylonian and Hebrew proverb; however, I’ve been unable to find proof to this claim. It was first used in English by Sir Francis Bacon in Advancement of Leaning (1605) where he said “Cleanliness of body was ever deemed to proceed from due reverence to God.” It was further popularized by John Wesley in a 1778 sermon. The Bible does not speak to outward cleanliness with a connection to godliness. In Matthew 7:18-23, Jesus makes it clear that it is man’s hearts that are unclean. Many of the online responses and comments I came across seem to interpret the phrase as cleansing in the body, mind and in spirit through physical washing, meditation and confession. It’s not a bad phrase to live by; but it’s not in the Bible.

In conclusion, it is very easy to take a verse from the Bible and turn it into a catchy, feel good phrase that makes everyone warm and fuzzy. As we’ve seen with a few of the phrases I’ve highlighted, taking key words or phrases from the verse removes the whole picture of the main message. People misquote phrases all the time, especially with a certain phrase being repeated for centuries, it becomes a part of our lexicon. However, what astonishes me is that many of these phrases are quoted by people who claim to have Biblical knowledge. If you are going to quote anything, the Bible or another’s work, make sure you understand the context in which it is given. It makes a world of difference in some cases. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Enchanted Isle: a story of mystery and family redemption

Enchanted Isle by Melanie Dobson is the story of one family’s dream turned into a nightmare when one man is accused of murder. A mystery hovers over the family and the village as the decades pass. The story opens in Lakeland, England, 1935 as Gilbert Kemp high on his recent marriage proposal to his love, Liz. He heads to the island amusement park that his brother created and runs. He comes across a scene which shocks him. His brother, Simon, is standing over the dead body of his partner, Curtis Sloan. Fast forward, 1958, a young girl named Jenny Winter is staying with a family friend in the village. She is almost twenty one and having her last hurrah before heading home to marry the man her grandfather has chosen for her. She soon becomes fascinated with the Enchanted Isle, the amusement park which now lay in ruins and no one is allowed in. She soon befriends Adrian Kemp and his sister, Emma as she learns more and more about the mystery that the town tries hard to ignore. Can she discover the truth behind the murder of Curtis Sloan? Will the Enchanted Isle ever reveal its secrets?

Enchanted Isle is a wonderful story of a mystery whose truth can redeem a family’s past or continue to haunt their lives. This is the second book I’ve read of Ms. Dobson and she is an amazing storyteller who weaves an intriguing tale with self-discovery and the power in become who you are truly meant to be. I love Jenny’s story as she’s trying to discover her place in the world and find the strength to stand up to her grandfather’s life plan for her. I enjoyed Adrian and felt for him as he’s trying to overcome of the shadow and rumors of what his family’s past. I highly recommend Enchanted Isle for its mystery, its uplifting self-discovery story and a cast of great characters.

Enchanted Isle

is available in paperback, eBook, and audio CD

Saturday, October 7, 2017

My reflections on Hispanic Heritage Month

As I begin my final post for Hispanic Heritage Month, I reflect what it means to me. I grew up in Southern California in a highly Hispanic and Latino area. My best friend from junior high and high school is Hispanic/Latino. Her parents graciously opened their home to me so I could graduate high school with my friends. Her mother taught me how to make taquitos and fried burritos. To make chile and refried beans. It is no surprise to me that I would fall in love and marry a Hispanic man. I’m often wondering, especially with the high tensions in society right now, how does the Hispanic community view me?

I married my husband 8 years ago. At our wedding, one of my husband’s cousins came up to us as we said our goodbyes and told him: “Hurt her and you will not only have to answer to her family but yours as well.” It’s a statement that has stayed with me ever since. I felt truly welcomed into the family. Even while we were dating, I felt overwhelmingly accepted by his family. It may have been because he finally found someone. Sometimes though I feel like an outsider looking in. I often wonder if my efforts to learn their culture, their family history, to participate and understand their culture, I’m seen as trying too hard, an outsider trying to atone for sins of the past. In my head, I know this is not true because my family has only been in California since the 1940s and grew up knowing that my family truly never treated anyone differently because of the color of their skin. However, is my family lumped together with the Anglo-Americans who oppressed Hispanics and other minorities? I don’t know. I’ve never asked.

I do know that my husband has been given disapproving looks and even comments because he married a white woman. He’ll have comments made to him about my cooking Mexican food along the lines of “Not bad for a white woman.” As if my skin color would affect my cooking ability or my ability to follow a recipe. I do know that we still gets looks when we are out in public especially when we are with our daughter. The looks are especially harsh from Hispanics from an older generation who probably believe we should all stay with our own kind. I would love to learn to speak Spanish fluently; however I am self-conscious about my accent and horrible pronunciation. It keeps me from trying. My fear of ridicule from native speaks if I were to make a mistake. I do feel I’ve proven myself worthy of the family as I love and adore my husband. It is obvious that we care very deeply about each other. And I have taken good care of him. Stood by him in good times and especially in the bad.

I feel we need to understand the truth in history. Acknowledge and embrace the Hispanic and Latino influence in our state, our country and our lives. As well as other cultures that have helped make America who we are. To ignore their contributions would be to ignore everything about our great country. We eat the food but criticize the people who brought it here. Hispanics and Latinos have touched every aspect of our lives and may not be aware of it. They are award winning authors who open our eyes to a different point of view. They are musicians who touch our hearts with their music. We may not understand the language but it can speak to you in so many other ways. They are the actors and actress who make us laugh, make us cry, and makes us cheer for those have overcome. And in many, many areas of life that we may never know their names. How do we move forward? We acknowledge and learn from the ugly truth in our history, we work on the present and focus on the future. We cannot fix the past but we can shape the future.

In conclusion, I will continue to embrace my husband’s heritage as it is a part of my daughter’s heritage too. The common sentiment I have read in Latino literature is the sense that they are straddling two culture and not truly belonging to either one. I want my daughter to know and be proud of both sides of her heritage. I want her to know her ancestry and where her family has come from and been through to get to America. I remember in school, America was called a melting pot of different cultures. I see now that statement is not true. Throughout history, those in power have taken bits and pieces of other cultures as a way to prove we are a blend. I see now that we are more of a mixed salad. Multiple cultures together in the same bowl. Cultures blending together where possible but still distinct. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Space between Words: healing powers of connecting the past with the present

The Space between Words by Michelle Phoenix is a story of where the past meets the presents and helps offer healing to a deeply wounded woman. The story opens in 1695, France as the Baillard family is being persecuted. Why? For being Protestant and not converting to the king’s religion. Fast forward to the morning of November 13, 2015 where Jessica Jackson wakes up in Paris with her friends, Patrick and Vonda. They are trying to decide what to do on their last night in Paris. The next thing she knows, Jessica wakes up in the hospital, wounded from the terrorist attack at the Bataclan theatre. As she recovers, her friend Patrick, convinces her to continue with their plan to travel through France. They arrive in Balazuc of the Ardeche region of southern France where Jessica finds an antique sewing box. Soon she is on the path to discover what happened to the original owner, Adeline Baillard. Will she discovered what happened to the Baillard family? Will she truly find peace and renewal from her terrifying experience? Can she find the good in the bad?

The Space between Words is a powerful story weaving one woman’s recovery from the Paris attacks and one family’s attempt to flee persecution and certain death in 17th century France. There were some great quotes in the story that many of us read to remember. One of my favorites is “Life goes on and people forget.” So true with the speed at which life goes. Many of those who do not experience the events soon forget. The story is also a reminder of what Christians in history and power have done to other Christians simply because they differed over doctrine. It is always what Christians have done to non-Christians, but a reminder of what they have done to each other. I highly recommend The Space between Words.

The Space between Words

is available in paperback and in eBook

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Harvard Square Mob: a war protest and its unforeseen aftermath

The Harvard Square Mob by Neil Mahoney is the story of one group of individuals plan a radical heist to protest the Vietnam War and the aftermath. It’s 1969 and the Vietnam War still ranges on and the Harvard Coalition is growing tired of the lack of progress of Washington listening to their protests and concerns. A group of five individuals, four students and a professor, break off from the Coalition to plan their own protest, a type of protest that will grab the attention of the nation. Frank, the professor and the story’s narrator, recounts the events which changed their lives forever. The students of the group: Total, Abigail, Nathan and Harry, all have their own motives and reasons to participate. When the plan is successful, it is the aftermath that threatens to tear them apart and expose them as the culprits. Will they figure out a way to stay silent and still bring attention to the cause? Will they be found out and their protest be for naught?

The Harvard Square Mob is an interesting story about a turbulent time in our country when a war ranges on and no one supports the cause. Frank has the age that has seen the change in the country. As Frank puts it a country that “sees ourselves as a heroic people with a high historical purpose” and a country that “invented the national paranoia of the communist menace” and made “national pride a religion.” These quotes and many others hit home for me as they are eerily familiar to what is going on today. However, the story itself is less about the war protests but about these people who are bound by a secret and a paranoia when they think they will be found out. The story started off slow but picks up quickly once the heist occurs. It is a story of how a group of people protest for a greater good but get caught up in their own individual concerns. I recommend The Harvard Square Mob.

The Harvard Square Mob

is available in hardcover and eBook