The One Thing That Has Brought Our Family Together: {Review & Giveaway}

UPDATE: The winners of this giveaway are Mrs. R., Colleen B and Erin K.

I have two kids in junior high now, three in school.

And I feel like I owe all parents of kids age 10+up, a big fat apology.

Because. Y’all. We have spent years trying to parent intentionally, slowing down our lives, limiting extracurricular stuff. Then this season started and I’m looking at the calendar in shock. With just one after-school activity each and church stuff, it looks like it’s going to explode.

And I’m so thankful the ignorant, naive Kristen from years past, started one very important habit.

If there has been one thing that has strengthened our family and kept us together, around the table, around a chair, around each other, it’s reading together.

Not only have our kids fallen in love with reading (yes, they are the ones with flashlights under the sheets because they just need to finish the chapter, Mom), they have fallen in love with reading together.

We’ve gone on wild adventures and learned about different cultures together. Books have led us into deeper community with each other. They have urged us to ask hard questions, press into our struggles. They have been a catalyst to richer family life.

We read around the table after dinner regularly. We also read individually with each of our kids. We pat the space next to us and say, “Let’s read, together.”

And as my kids have grown, the books have grown with us. But no matter how old they are, they want to read.

I have to tell you about the latest one that has captured my family, all of us.

My husband reads to our first grader every. night. She loves it and looks disappointed when I step in to substitute. I love that they love this time together. She is reading on her own (you know the sweet first grade KIND OF READING THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO STICK A FORK IN YOUR EYEBALL), but there’s just something about reading a chapter book together that is special.

Plus, it’s a lot quicker.

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Begin, the first book in the Growly Series by Phil and Erin Ulrich started out as their book. It’s an epic adventure about a little bear named Growly and my daughter begs for another chapter every time they finish one. Last night they finished chapter 17. What’s funny is I can tell you every single thing that’s happened in the adventure so far and so can my son. We just couldn’t not listen! It’s wholesome family reading at it’s best and it’s also illustrated beautifully.

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The vivid descriptions make it easy to imagine exactly what’s happening in the story. It’s a great book to read to your 4-7 year old and children 8-11 would enjoy reading it on their own. We can’t wait to read what happens next to Growly! It’s sure to be adventurous.

The other night it was getting late and my hubby was busy with work, so I picked up where they left off. A few paragraphs in, my husband found us cuddled up reading and asked us what had happened so far. I handed over the book and smiled.

I’m not sure who loves Growly more! You can get your own copy here for $8.99

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The author Erin, who is also my blog designer and a sweet friend, sent us a copy to read together and today she’s giving away three copies. Hop over and check out the book and the amazing pictures and leave a comment here to be entered.

And please, make time in  your crazy busy lives to read together. You won’t ever regret the adventures it takes you on!


WFMW: All About The Books on My Table

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One of the happiest things about being a writer is getting to know other writers. It’s a weird when the online world collides with real life and bloggers become friends. Do you know what’s even better?  Reading your friends’ books. Here are three new ones on my bedside table.

[Click on the images below to visit *my Amazon affiliate links to learn more about these fabulous books.]

Reading on my own: A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P Freeman
I would never consider myself an artist. Actually after one day in art class in the 7th grade, I realized I’d made a grave mistake when the teacher asked us to draw the proverbial fruit in the bowl and mine looked more like an assortment of minions. But after reading Emily’s book, I’m convinced I’m an artist. I still shy away from sketching, but I’m living daily art. We all are, a daily living sacrifice. This book is for the person who wonders if what they do matters. It’s an important book. It changes the way you see your everyday living. It reminds you of your purpose and of our ultimate goal: to glorify God. The world is a canvas and this book is your guide to make art right where you are.

Reading with my teen daughter: Speak Love: Making Your Words Matter by Annie Downs
When my teenager and I sit down with each other and read together, something powerful happens: we connect. Even after long days where we struggle to get on the same page, when we come together (literally on the same page), it deepens our relationship. We are loving Annie’s new book, Speak Love. I don’t always speak lives with my words and at one point in the book, my daughter and I apologized to each other for using words as a weapon against one another. I love the way Annie writes to teen girls. She’s real and funny and challenges the reader to speak into our own lives and into the lives of others.

Reading with my little girl: Audrey Bunny

I read this sweet picture book to my 6 year old and she has been acting out the story ever since. Not only is it beautifully illustrated by a talented young girl, Angie’s powerful story of life after loss is felt with every page. We all feel a little different at some point in our lives, marked if you will, like Audrey Bunny. This beautiful story reminds our children (and us) that we are loved and accepted exactly like we are.  It’s a special book.

I love reading and I love books, they work for me!

What are you reading lately?


WFMW: Just Beat It

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I live in a noisy house.

And I don’t just mean I come from a long line of yellers.

There’s always a dog barking, kid crying, laughing or arguing hysterically (pick an emotion), washing machine humming and piano banging.

When my kids were younger, it was pure chaos and when my parents would visit they always mentioned the noise level. It was so typically loud, I didn’t even know what they meant, until I had the house to myself. Lo, the silence was deafening.

Besides being born loud, God decided to grant my children musical ability. We have a flute player who plays her flute for fun after practicing for hours, a budding drummer who rap, tap, taps on EVERYTHING and likes to exceed his practice minutes by oh, around 425.

My 6 year old walks around the house strumming on her plastic guitar, playing songs she’s “written in her head.” It’s adorable and all, because you can’t hear it

When Staples asked if our family would like to try a pair of Beats by Dr. Dre, I said yes.

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I was mostly thinking now that my kids are back in school and the band practice is GAME ON, it would be a great way for them to listen to their music in their EAR HOLES and not all over the house.

My kids like to do homework at the dining room table, but often disturb each other. Now they are taking turns wearing the headphones and it’s really helped!

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We weren’t very familiar with Beats headphones and now I can understand why they are so popular. The quality is amazing! I like wearing them around the house, too. It’s funny HOW QUIET these brilliant headphones make a noisy home. Thanks, Dr. Dre. I’m impressed.

Unless my hubby is wearing them in bed, nodding his head and I’m talking up a blue streak thinking he’s agreeing with me.

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Disclosure: This post is a sponsored review. I received a lovely pair of Beats by Dr. Dre, but all the opinions and noise are my own.

Beats work for us!


WFWM: A Different Kind of Piano Lesson

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My kids love music, which might be a nice way of saying they are noisy people {wink}.

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We have a flutist and percussionist in the school band and they both love playing on the piano with their little sister.

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We stopped piano lessons once they started focusing on their school instruments (because momma only has so much music money).

[side note: Want to know how to get your children to practice the piano for their lessons? Take them out of lessons. I can't keep my kids off the piano now!] They can each play a couple of songs and by a couple I MEAN CHOPSTICKS.

My son begs every week to take piano lessons again. Lord, have mercy.

When I was asked if I wanted to review the QuNexus by Keith McMillen Instruments, a portable keyboard that is re-infusing life into what has been known as the dreaded piano lesson, I jumped at the chance. Because apparently, I LIKE NOISE.

But really, I love the music my kids make and how it’s made them better students and given them an identity in school and made them feel great about their musical gifts.

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It’s so cool! With  25 pressure-sensitive silicone keys and LED illumination, it makes the QuNexus uniquely interactive and fun to play. (System requirements)

We are still figuring it out, but my kids are excited to try their hand at composing music and I really love that it’s more than a high tech toy. It’s interactive with educational music apps and it’s improving my kids keyboard ability and they have been making (more) music.

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There are some great online tutorials for installing and playing the keyboard.

User tip: If you’re an Apple computer or iPad-user like me, you will need to use music software such as: Reason, Kontakt, Ableton Live, Logic, Arturia software synths, AudioMulch, Animoog, and GarageBand. While it plugs right into our mac and works with GarageBand, you’ll need the camera cord set from Apple to make it work on an iPad.

Disclaimer: We were sent the QueNexus for free to review. All the opinions expressed in this post are mine.

Music works for us!


The Best Book I’ve Ever Read. Period.

Imagine a 6 year old child ripped from his mother’s arms during an outdoor church service.

He along with other boys from his community were taken away at gunpoint to a military camp and forced to become child soldiers in Sudan.

I have a 6 year old and the very thought makes me tremble.

But this child with the help of some older boys (he calls angels) runs away from the camp.

He runs for days and weeks. He runs for his life.

And spends the next 10 years surviving in a refugee camp along with thousands of other lost boys without parents or siblings. But he has God and his love for running and he thrives…..

His life takes an unexpected turn when he is 16 years old. I’ll give you a clue…it’s leads to the USA Olympic team. Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games is a riveting true story of one Lost Boy of Sudan who beat unthinkable conditions of danger, hunger and poverty to become a present-day US Olympian. This book will make you laugh as he tells of coming to America, it will make you cry as you read about him returning to Sudan as an adult. It will take your family on a journey that just might change their life. It has my family asking some pretty amazing questions right now.

I’ve never felt so strongly about a book (which is why I’ve mentioned it a few times). I urge you to read it for yourself, to your family. It’s the perspective change we needed this summer. It’s a heartbreaking, inspiring true story of courage and of a mighty God.

This book is written in an engaging way and my kids begged for more at the end of the chapter.

This is a God story.

This review is not compensated and I was not asked to write it. I simply loved this book and can’t stop talking about it. Part of the proceeds from Lopez Lomong’s book go to his foundation to help the people of Sudan.

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I’ve also updated my list of 80+ Books to Inspire and Encourage Your Family (affiliate links used)