Book Club: The Hobbit

The Hobbit, our second and very popular summer book club selection, was a winner with the children! We'd let the kids pick (via a Doodle poll) the summer titles from a collection of seven, and The Hobbit received nine out of ten possible votes.

(During this book club I was helping with the younger kids who were having fun with Marcia Brown's retelling of Stone Soup, so much of my information comes from my children.)

Can you imagine a Book Club about The Hobbit without enjoying Hobbit food? Of course not! So we met for lunch, which also worked perfectly for the Stone Soup crowd!

Scads of websites exist filled with ideas for Lord of the Rings recipes. We found these particularly helpful:

Food in Tolkien's Hobbit

English Victorian Scones

Seed Cake

Middle Earth Recipes

Music played as the children entered the "dining hall."  The luncheon consisted of Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, cold roast chicken, seed cake, another cake, hard boiled eggs, scones and jam all served with apple cider. Interesting. Very interesting!

While they ate, the students discussed the book and tried their skill at telling and guessing riddles. But after sitting for nearly an hour and a half, it was time for some action, so we moved to the gym.

First the students were divided into two teams for a game of tag between fleeing dwarfs/Hobbit/Gandolf and pursuing goblins. The dwarf company had two swords with glo-sticks taped to them to represent the elfish blades which glowed blue when goblins were nearby. If a dwarf was holding one of the swords, he couldn't be tagged, but if he had no sword he could be tagged. If the goblins  tagged all of the dwarves, then the goblins won. Meanwhile, the dwarfs had to run around, tagging certain objects. Those who managed to tag all of them were declared winners. Once all the goblins won, and another time some of the dwarfs claimed victory.

Next the kids took turns entering the "Goblin Cave" (large storage closet) to try to find the all-important ring. The ring had been immersed in a vat filled with water beads which become very slimy when hydrated.  (Try a Dollar store for these fun things!) But before they could get their hands into the vat filled with "goblin blood", they had to find it, not an easy task in the dark! About half of the students succeeded.

The younger ones enjoyed the web, too

An obstacle course modeled after the spiders in Mirkwood comprised the third activity. The kid set up paint bucket "trees" and then wound rope and kite string through to form a web. They had to try to get through the tangled web without touching either trees or web. If they did touch either, they had to restart.

Shooting Smaug (a beautiful dragon on cardboard) with arrows served as our finale.

Fun was had by all. We're all  ready for another great year of monthly book club meetings, too!

Zambia Trip Highlights

Sunset near Petauke, Zambia

Tim, Kristen, and Andrew arrived home Monday morning, travel weary, but so thankful for their time in Zambia with Tim's brother, David, and sister-in-law, Terri. What a wonderful time they had together, experiencing several different parts of this beautiful country, and seeing some of the work going on to build God's kingdom there!

Tim and Kristen have both posted pictures on Facebook, so this feels a bit redundant. But I love looking at them, so here goes anyway.

Along the Great East Road
After arriving almost a day later than expected, the group made their way to Covenant College located near Petauke in the Eastern Province.  
They took the Great East Road which was a bit rough at times. That plus all the weight of the extra passengers, ahem, put a bit too much stress on the shocks of David and Terri's mini-van. Happily, the car held out until they were back in Lusaka where it quickly went to the shop.

At Covenant College, Terri taught on Ruth at a women's conference and Kristen gave a simple lesson on darning. (Had she ever darned before? No, but that didn't stop her. In truth, she is a skilled weaver, and there is some overlap.)  David taught a number of church history classes to the students, pastors from rural areas, while Tim and Andrew wired a building on the property. A sweet missionary family serving at the College provided warm hospitality throughout their visit.

House for visiting teachers at Covenant College

Mama and baby monkey at the bus station
Traveling back to Lusaka for a day, the group prepared to head to Livingstone to see Victoria Falls. Since it was the maiden voyage of the bus they rode, all passengers received t-shirts from the bus owner who gave a speech in the middle of the trip. When the Chinese vehicle broke down during his speech, he made sure it was fixed promptly!


The falls are absolutely stunning!

David and Kristen playing in the Zambeezi River above the falls

While in Livingstone, they also visited a game park where they saw

an elephant, hippos, impalas, and bushbucks.
Back in Lusaka, Kristen was able to spend a couple of days shadowing an American doctor as she taught young physicians (equivalent to residents here) and visited the hospital. Kristen got to teach that favorite skill of nurses- giving injections.

Tim and Andrew worked on podiums for African Christian University, the new college that David is helping establish. David is heading up the seminary.

Andrew and a friend work on picture frames

Later there was a trip to a reptile farm near Lusaka.

Lots of crocs (which they'd also seen along the Zambeezi),

David and Andrew got up-close and personal with a python.

It was a jam-packed couple of weeks. I'm so thankful for David and Terri opening their home and lives to these three. We're so glad for the time and for being better to understand their lives and work in Zambia. Life at home was fine, though I find it more difficult to be separated from Tim the longer we've been married. But it does make the reunion very sweet!

Too Busy to Pray? (Prayer - Part II)

Stream at IU's Arboretum

Maybe you've heard that famous line of Martin Luther's about having so much to do that he couldn't get on without first spending three hours in prayer. "But he wasn't a mother with little ones to tend!" I've sometimes thought.

True. Martin Luther had an ultra-capable wife who not only took excellent care of their six children and four foster children, but who also managed their farm, operated a brewery, and sometimes ran a hospital! She worked hard so he was free to attend to spiritual matters. Yet the older I get, the more I understand the truth in his words. The greater our responsibilities, the greater the urgency to pray.

Feeling guilty about my lack of  prayer (or quality or consistency or whatever), though, never helped me all that much. Instead, what drove me to get serious about spending time with the Father both now and at previous times has been the recognition of my inability to do anything on my own.

Paul Miller in A Praying Life says, "If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life. You'll always be a little too tired, a little too busy."


Sometimes we think of prayer as a spiritual discipline. And that's correct in some sense. But truly it is our poverty, not our riches, our need to be with the Savior rather than go it on our own, that brings us to our knees.

Weariness should not keep us from Jesus, but draw us to Him. Remember that Jesus invited all who were weary and heavy-laden to come to Him, and He would give rest (Matt. 11:28). Mr. Miller says, "The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy."


Prayer requires abiding in Christ, and nothing causes us to run to Him better than trials. Charles Spurgeon said: "Brother, if you are to have power in prayer you must take care that you abide in Christ when the sharp knife is cutting everything away. Endure trial and never dream of giving up your faith because of it. Say, 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.'"

Moms, especially when there are many young children, are busy people. Sometimes we are overwhelmed. Weary. Heavy-laden. In every season of life, trials come, often at an increasing pace with years. Making time to come to Jesus daily is not only possible, it is vital. I'll try to give some practical tips for doing that in the next posts.

Schultüte - Take 2

Schultüte filled with post-it notes, pencils, planners, art supplies, candy, and the like.

I guess it's never too late to start a new tradition. Last year, for the first time, I made Schultute for each of the kids for the first day of school. Schultüte are basically a German “Back to School” version of Christmas stockings in which school supplies and candies are stuffed into a colorful cone instead of a sock. They were so well received that I decided to do it again, this time even including the college sophomore who was just about ready to move out of the house.

Were they offended with this childish custom, I wondered. So I asked. Not at all. My 19, 17, 16, 13, and 10 year olds all think Schultüte are a charming tradition. (OK. Maybe it was a stupid question Who wouldn't enjoy fun, fresh office supplies and a bit of chocolate?)

As I did last year, there was one component for everyone's cone which required the most thought: Bible verses written on nice cards. I puzzled over which passage would be just right for each young person, passages relevant for now and ones that I can use as I pray for each individual through the coming year. (I longed to talk with Tim about these selections, but his connectivity in Zambia has been very spotty.)

Here are the verses I choose:

Hebrews 12: 1, 2 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Romans 12: 1,2 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Colossians 2: 6,7 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

Jude 1: 20, 21 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

Psalm 17:8 
Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
Hide me under the shadow of Your wings 

Happy Back to School!

Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy

Several months ago a friend asked if I could write about good missionary biographies, especially ones that are appropriate for young readers without resorting to silliness. (YMAM has enjoyed success with their wonderful Christian Heroes Then and Now series, so they came out with a junior version with the stories written in rhyme. It just doesn't work.)

Wandering around our bookshelves for a while, I pulled out biographies that we've particularly enjoyed. I've also included a couple that I'm only familiar with. It's a fairly eclectic bunch of books, and I've tried to arrange them from those for younger to older readers.

Fanny Crosby: Queen of Gospel Songs (Rebecca Davis)
Ages 7-9. This short (107 pages) book will appeal to new readers, but the story is one that all of us will find compelling. Fanny Crosby endured numerous hardships including blindness caused by poor medical care when she was an infant. But she never let her troubles get her down for long nor grow into bitterness. Fanny developed a talent for writing poetry which she used to write hymns such as "Blessed Assurance," "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior," and "To God Be the Glory." (This book leaves out the troubling fact that Fanny and her late-in-life husband lived apart for many years after the death of their only child.)

Missionary Stories With the Millers  (Mildred Martin)

Part of the Miller family devotional series, this book contains short vignettes of missionaries. Though the Millers are fictional, the missionary stories are based on real accounts. Our family enjoyed all the Miller stories (Storytime with the Millers, Wisdom and the Millers, etc.) when our children were young. Written from a conservative Mennonite perspective.

With Daring Faith (Rebecca Davis)
Ages 12+ (Younger for RA)

Another book by Rebecca Davis, whom I had the pleasure of briefly knowing years ago when she lived in Indiana, With Daring Faith is the biography of Amy Carmichael.

It's a Jungle Out There (Book 1 of the Rani Adventure Series) – Ron Snell

Life is a Jungle (Book 2)

Jungle Calls (Book 3)

Rather than straight-up missionary stories, these three books are written from the perspective of an MK (missionary kid.) Ron Snell grew up with the Machiguenga Indians in the Amazon jungle of Peru. His growing years included episodes rafting on the flooded Urubamba River, swimming with piranhas, and introducing blow darts (and Amazonian snakes) to Moody Bible College. In the third book Ron ends up at IU - yes - Indiana University, which is in our backyard. We found his story of flooding a particular meadow on campus so he could go canoeing hard to believe, but we were able to verify the story with an elderly relative who spent his life caring for the physical plant on campus.  Humor abounds in these books, but serious matters appear as well. After reading these books you'll have a better picture of some of the issues of "Third Culture Kids" as they are usually called these days. Some of our family's favorites!

Christian Heroes: Then and Now Series (Ages 10+)

I've mentioned this series several times before, but I have to once again. I really like the bios written by Janet and Geoff Benge. This past year we read ones about C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie ten Boom and Jacob DeShazer, and we have many more on our biography shelves. These are lively retellings of missionaries and other significant Christians. Some of the content in these is not suited for younger children, and I think the 10 year old rating is probably accurate.

John Newton: The Angry Sailor (Kay Marshall Strom)

Very readable short biography of John Newton, slave trader turned pastor and hymn writer. It deals with deep topics such as slavery, drinking, swearing, etc. in a manner appropriate for children. Read this and be amazed at God's work in this once very rough young man who later composed Amazing Grace. Works well as a read aloud.

And since this is a potpourri of titles, I'm going to throw in three more - one that looks terrific, one I've only read a bit of (but would love to read the whole thing) and one that I'm not fond of. 

First - the good 

Christian Biographies for Young Readers by Simonetta Carr  

For years I've looked longingly at Simonetta Carr's gorgeously illustrated biographies. Her subjects include Lady Jane Grey, Augustine, John Calvin, Anselm, and John Knox. If my children were younger, I would be grabbing these. Note to self: These would make lovely gifts for the grands!

  News flash: A Jonathan Edwards title is scheduled for publication this October!

Warriors of Ethiopia and Messengers of Ethiopia- Dick McLellan  ($20 each; $12 goes to support Ethiopian evangelists)

These two books come highly recommended by two families who have adopted from Ethiopia.

In these two books Mr. McLellan, an Australian missionary for 23 years in the Omo River region, purposed “not to tell missionary stories, but to record the stories of the men and women of Ethiopia who took the story of Jesus into the dark places of Ethiopia.”

From the few chapters I was able to read when one of the books was accidentally left at my house, these are amazing stories of the faith of Ethiopian believers. They will challenge you to believe, pray, and live by faith. They would work well as read-alouds for children over a wide range of ages.

And, not to end this post on a downer or anything, but here's a title from a series we haven't cared much for. I find negative reviews just as helpful as glowing ones (more so, often), so here goes.

Heroes of the Faith : Augustine (thumbs down)

I was so looking forward to reading this with my youngest sons, but what a disappointment it proved! One of the things that bothered us was the amount of (invented) conversation the author creates to move the story forward. Though much of Augustine's thought life is known from his Confessions, creating all this dialogue seemed over-the-top. We gave up about 2/3 of the way through. We own a couple of others in this series, and I don't remember being all that impressed with them either.

Zambia! (Please Pray!)


My husband, Tim, oldest son, Andrew, and daughter Kristen set out on the long journey to Zambia on Saturday! They will be visiting Tim's brother, David, and his wife, Terri, who have been missionaries in that country for many years with Mission to the World. We're excited for Tim and crew to be able to experience a small taste of the African Wegeners' lives and join in their work for two weeks.

So far the trip has been, well, eventful. The first flight from Indianapolis to Atlanta was delayed a couple of hours, just long enough to miss their connecting flight to Johannesburg. .... New arrangements were made - traveling through the United Arab Emirates, this time! After boarding that flight, mechanics discovered a problem, so all the passengers sat for nearly three hours before finally taking off for Dubai. Which is where my favorite travelers are as I write. After a pit stop of about 11 hours, they will resume their journey, landing in Lusaka Monday afternoon local time, Lord willing.

May I ask you to pray? The flight problems and 17 hour delay have caused upheaval in the intended schedule. My family members plus David and Terri were supposed to head to a remote college located in eastern Zambia near Petauke on Monday morning. David will be teaching several classes there, with Terri and Kristen doing a bit of teaching as well. Tim and Andrew are lined up for some electrical wiring and work around the college and farm. David says the work in eastern Zambia is difficult for many reasons. Opposition from the enemy is fierce.

Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 

Update: Andrew, Kristen, and Tim arrived in Zambia this past Monday, safe and sound, but sans checked baggage. They headed the next day to the "bush" for the work there. David and Terri's car, overfilled with the extra passengers, took a beating on the rough roads, adding an extra hour to the trip. Not having their luggage meant that each one had only one change of clothing, but that was OK. More of a concern, the suitcases were carrying important cargo for several missionaries. By Friday, though, all of the five bags had safely arrived with everything inside intact!  

This weekend the crew, augmented by the college librarian, have made their way to Livingstone via bus. (The van is in the shop after it's eventful trip to the bush.) There they will see the glorious splendor of Victoria Falls before heading back to Lusaka. The most intrepid of the travelers were talking about hang gliding over the falls, but I don't know yet if that was accomplished or not. 

A Wrinkle in Time Book Club: Developing Discenrment

Did you read A Wrinkle in Time as a child? I was one of the zillions of glasses wearing, math loving, awkward young girls who read this book and loved it. So when I heard that author Madeleine L'Engle was going to be speaking at our public library, I hopped on my bike and took my 12 year old self to hear her. She's the only author I remember "meeting" in those years. Mostly I remember feeling out of my depths during the Q and A session dominated by nerdy young men talking with Ms. L'Engle about the speed of light, Einstein's theory of relativity, and the feasibility of time and space travel. In hindsight, it was good practice for me. Most of my college classmates were nerdy young men who were quantum leaps ahead of me in their scientific background knowledge.

Anyway. A Wrinkle in Time was our first Book Club selection for our summer sessions. It was fun. It was controversial. And it stretched our brains.

Before we even met, we moms had some great back and forth email discussion about whether or not this would be an appropriate choice for our 9-13 year olds. Madeleine L'Engle, a lifelong Episcopal, though hardly orthodox, did not like to be classified as a Christian author nor to have her books confined to Christian literature. Yet scripture and Christian themes show up all over this book. But are they consistent with Biblical theology? Hmmmmm.

In sorting through some of these questions, we read some helpful essays:

First Things: "Fantasy and Faith"

Redeemed Reader: "A Wrinkle in Time at Fifty Years" 

And check out this post which one of our moms found after we'd held the book club. (We're still discussing this book!) This Australian mom hits the nail on the head concerning the problems with the book:
A Peaceful Day : "A wrinkle in Wrinkle"
We decided that our children were ready for the thorny issues this book presents, and that it would be a good book to help them learn to form opinions beyond simply "I liked it" or "I didn't like it."  We want our children to learn to be discerning readers, and this seemed a good title to use in developing that ability.

Side note: Because of the problems this book has, I would not recommend it for independent reading unless there is significant discussion during and after.

Here's a summary of our day:

I. Book club discussion   (about one hour, which is easy with lively children)

 Note: There are SO many directions to go with the discussion of this book! We probably tried to take on too many at once. I'd recommend narrowing things down some. Here are some possibilities.

- Author Background

 - Genre - What is genre? Where does this fit? Science fiction? Fantasy? Both?

 - Techniques - type of conflict (external? internal?); irony (examples - Aunt Beast; 3 W's)

-  Literary allusions: Can you recognize the source of these allusions?
   1.   "When shall we three meet again,/In thunder lightning, or in rain," came Mrs. Who's voice.  (Ch. 4)

   2.   Mrs. Who seemed to evaporate until there was nothing but the glasses, and then the glasses, too, disappeared. It reminded Meg of the Cheshire Cat. (Ch.5)

   3. Meg's father says: “We were sent here for something.  And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”

  4.  One white-faced man in a dark suit looked directly at the children, said, "Oh dear, I shall be late," and flickered into the building.
       "He's like the white rabbit," Meg gigled nervously. (Ch. 6)

- What's a tesseract? You might watch a video demo. Here's one and here's another.

And now for the most meaty parts of the discussion!

 - Themes, values, and messages
        What themes do you see? What does the author think is most important?
        Focus on the Family has some good discussion questions here.

- Biblical content and worldviews
  Madeleine L'Engle quotes scripture frequently.  (Ex. Rom 8:28, II Cor. 4:18, I Cor. 1:25, John 1:5, and more). How does she use scripture? Does she portray a biblical perspective on good vs. evil? What is that battle like in the Bible? In WIT?

- By far the most troubling scene in the book occurs at the end of Chapter 5 when Mrs. Who says that Jesus is a fighter against evil and then goes on to list other fighters including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Gandhi, Buddha, and Einstein. (!)  (This post, already mentioned, does the best job explaining what is really going on. It's no small matter.) Talk about this.

II. Activities:

First, we enjoyed a round-robin of Wrinkle-inspired activities:
Dress like Mrs. Whatsit

Bounce a ball in time to the beat of a metronome

Make some chemical concoctions like Mrs. Murray

And then we finished off by enjoying a snack of:

The Charles Wallace:
Sliced Bread

The Mrs. Murry:
Sliced Bread (sturdy kind like sourdough)
Cream Cheese, room temperature/softened
Liverwurst (WalMart)

The Meg Murry:
Sliced Bread
Cream Cheese, room temperature/softened OR Mayonnaise
Green Leaf Lettuce
Tomato, thickly sliced
Onion Salt
Ground pepper
The Mrs Whatsit:
Sliced Bread
Tuna salad

One more resource:

A Wrinkle in Time Novel Study - blog with ideas and links