Monday, April 29, 2019

Review: 12 Gates Publishing

It's time for a book review! This one is the Hamelin Stoop Series from 12 Gates Publishing. Our family received a copy of the first two books in the series:
  • Hamelin Stoop: The Eagle, The Cave, and the Footbridge (Book 1)
  • Hamelin Stoop: The Lost Princess and the Jewel of Periluna (Book 2)
So let's it break down for you:

Who read this series in your home?
I did! Initially I started Sidge (age 10; fourth grade). However, it became evident that it was just a little too old for him. 

Did you like the books?
Firstly I should say I only finished the first book and surfacely had delved into number 2 when it came tie for my review. The answer is a definite yes. It is incredibly well-written, interesting, engaging, and constantly left me waiting fo the next evening (because that is usually the only time I can read) to find out what is going to happen. 

Who is the author?
Robert B. Sloan -- a popular educator and non-fiction writer tries his hand at fiction with the Hamelin Stoop Series from 12 Gates Publishing. A father of 7 and a grandfather of 20, this is his first piece of fiction. And it's a good one! While Sloan is a Christian and has a passion for higher education and spiritual formation of young people, this book is not overtly Christian. (And honestly not even subtly.) Christians and non-Christians alike will find the good clean message of these books a ton of fun!

What ages is this series for?
While I couldn't find an exact age-number on their website, after reading all of Book 1 and getting just a few pages into Book 2, I think this series, when read independently, is set for ages 12 and up. The content is pure enough for children of all ages, however, so if an adult was reading it to children, I think it could work for kids as young as 5. That is the design behind the Hamelin Stoop Series  Many middle schoolers jump to young adult fiction but the content is usually not appropriate for their maturity. 

That's where the Hamelin Stoop Series is different. Middle schoolers can read this without worry about the content! It is designed as a middle school young adult fantasy series. I believe the idea was that it would bridge a gap by providing something that kids in the 12-16 year-old age range would love. And I think Sloan did just that. 

Will you have your kids read the book?
I sure will! My next step is actually to let my niece and nephew (who are in the middle school genre right now at 12 and 13) read the book and see what they think about it. I then think I would like to have my husband read it with my four kiddos (ages 5-11) during their before-bed-reading sessions. I really think my boys (fourth grade) need to get a little older to truly be able to read it and embrace it without their dad reading it to them. 

Don't ruin it, but what is this about?
Honestly, one book in, and I am not quite sure what is going to happen in this series, but I am excited to keep reading and find out. I am also really excited to allow my children good clean fantasy-fiction with a solid message. 

I know there is an awesome little boy named Hamelin who was named after the Stoop he was found on. He is delightful and an engaging character that you want to cheer for. While the setting seems like modern-day America and there is a reference to different States in the USA, there is an "other world" that we are still waiting to discover the details of. We know Hamelin's parents are alive. Who are they? How did his mother get where she is? Will Hamelin be able to find them? Why does Ren'dal need them exactly? 

We follow Hamelin's life in a children's home as years flow by. One of the things I really loved about this book was that while the years were flying by, Sloan did a good job really letting you participate in the years. I didn't feel like Hamelin grew up without me allowing to watch him do so. I feel I can't really put this into words accurately, but I will say this: Sloan lets the years go by quickly but still doesn't seem to have you miss out on Hamelin's aging. 

As Book 1 develops, you cheer for this young boy; you feel for him, and relate to the characters that come in and out of his life. You also know that somehow, they are all going to tie together, but you just aren't sure how. As I read I couldn't help but wonder who Charissa was and how her world paralleled to that of both Hamelin and his parents? Would her sisters factor back in or were they just a passing glance. Is Charissa fighting the same battle that the Stoop and his parents are or is her story unrelated. And who is the Eagle? 

Are there any "triggers" we should be aware of?
This is the story about loss. Abandonment (although apparently necessary) and being raised in a children's home. These things did not "trigger me" at all, but it is always important to be aware of possible "triggers" as you read something. 

Okay, I'm interested. Tell me more.
Check out the Trailer for Book 1 below:

Please take the time to check out 12 Gates Publishing on:

I'd love to hear from your fellow crew members.
Well you can! Click the link below for more reviews from my fellow team members:

The Eagle, The Cave, and the Footbridge (Book 1) & The Lost Princess and the Jewel of Periluna (Book 2) {12 Gates Publishing  Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Grief: C.S. Lewis

I want to take this grief I’ve experienced this weekend and wrap it up and keep it close to my heart. I can’t feel it all the time. It’s too sharp. But to remember it. To remember how thin the veil is between Earth and Heaven. I want to go home and never stress the little things ever again. I want to remember that at anytime this life may end or it may ask me to move on without someone I love dearly in. It. 

Oh and to have a funeral for myself where people proclaimed Christ’s love as they did last night! We grieved not for Chris. We grieved for ourselves and the pain of his loss that will forever remain. I want my funeral just like that. But I want an altar call too. A chance to redicate lives for the first or last time to Christ. 

People will find and follow Jesus through Christopher’s legacy. Rest assured. 

Carrie said to the packed house at the funeral of her brother last night, “If you are without hope tonight, don’t worry. You can borrow some of mine.”

To have that kind of hope. That Jesus is real. Oh that we all could say good bye knowing that he is with the Father. 

Chris’ neighbor had a chat with Andrew, the brother of their tribe. Laced with profanities he told Andrew that Chris was the only friend he had in the neighborhood of 16,000 people. Chris didn’t care that he swore. That his house was a mess. He just cared. 

And this neighbor felt love from Chris.. 

I’m going to be flying back to TN and getting away with my family for a few days. Unplugging. If you come to my Blog and see nothing new, read these quotes on grief by C.S. Lewis again and again. And remember that this life is but s vapor. Where will you spend eternity? 


1The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me,

for the LORD has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted

and to proclaim that captives will be released

and prisoners will be freed.a

2He has sent me to tell those who mourn

that the time of the LORD’s favor has come,b

and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

3To all who mourn in Israel,c

he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,

a joyous blessing instead of mourning,

festive praise instead of despair.

In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks

that the LORD has planted for his own glory.


It doesn't really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist's chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

For in grief nothing "stays put." One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often -- will it be for always? -- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"? The same leg is cut off time after time.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

The death of a beloved is an amputation.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, hoever, turns out to be not a state but a process.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Saturday, April 27, 2019

What’s the song you can’t help but belt out?

I realized that this is the song that I HAVE to sing every time it comes on the radio. It’s not my favorite song, but I know every word and I have to belt it out when I hear it! If my kids are in the car they have to quiet down so mom can sing. (And mom can’t sing. And I don’t sing often.)

What’s the song that makes you belt it out loud?

What’s the song you can’t help but belt out

I realized that this is the song that I HAVE to sing every time it comes on the radio. It’s not my favorite song, but I know every word and I have to belt it out when I hear it!

What’s the song that makes you sing aloud?

Thursday, April 25, 2019


I've been very, very sad this week. Honestly, I am not sure I've ever grieved this hard. This picture above is of me and my Debbie. She's done my hair since I was a very tiny girl. But beyond that, her family and my family have been connected in South Florida for as long as I can remember. She has four kids just like I do. Here are her kiddos:

Those four kids: the age they were when I left South Florida. And then a more recent picture of them below that.

And then, their youngest brother dies very unexpectedly and so this is the picture we are left with:

I've searched for words to pen this post. I don't have them. Carrie (far left) has written for my Blog regularly. She is also planning to be the next couple for our Because of Isaac organization. This family is MY PEOPLE. I don't see them regularly or talk to them regularly, but I honestly believe Debbie's prayers are a major part of the reason I am a mom of four kids. She prayed me through infertility. And when I faced a return of anxiety last year, she Facetimed me multiple times to pray me through that darkness.

I love them so much. And I can't fix this. Their Christopher loved Jesus so much. He's not sad at all. He's celebrating and loving his forever. But the people on this Earth are left to grieve him.

Debbie is a hair dresser -- the owner of JeSuis in South Florida. But she is so much more. As our mutual friend Wendy Black penned recently:

Dr. Deb doing what she does best ... making hair beautiful and helping mend the broken-hearted. Many days at JeSuis ... listening to peaceful music, sipping on delicious coffee and partaking of yummy treats ... always hospitable ... always thinking of others ... at all times, leaving better than when you arrived.

I can't explain her shop. Debbie's chair is like an oasis in the dessert. Her shop is a place of the Holy Spirit. One of her former co-workers wrote the following on Facebook. She said it so well that I will let her words do the talking.

Satan sucker punched her with this one but anyone who knows her knows she’s the KO lioness. She’s the definition of spiritual gangster. Start counting to three because the game is about to change.

The thing that is so wonderful about Debbie and her family is that they make EVERYONE feel like they are their best friend. I'm not sure how they do it, but they do. My Grama Huisman had that gift. And so does Debbie. Everyone feels like "Debbie is my BFF." And so you can imagine how many people are surrounding this family right now.

I'm getting ready to fly to Florida to celebrate the life of Christopher. I'm so happy for him. So sad for everyone else. It's a really hard time to leave my family and my farm. My in-laws are gone, JB is working, and we have a trip the day after I get back.

But I HAVE to be there. My friend Anni is coming to help hold-down the farm (and kids!) for me while I am gone. 

I love you Carrie. I love you Debbie. I love you Tiffany and Eddie and Andrew. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The introvert speaks: My Isaac

"Please Kindly go away, I'm introverting." Beth  Buelow

I took our wwoofer, Alena and some of my kiddos/cousin kiddos to a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Friends & Co.  I took a picture of the menu (above) because I had to tell you what Isaac said when he saw the sign outside the restaurant and the menu inside.

He looked at the menu and pointed to the part that says:

Come In as Customers
Leave as Friends

He points to the words and says, "This is what I am worried about. Are we going to have to talk to people a bunch and become friends with them?"

My Isaac. Such an introvert. He cracks me up. 

Here's a "selfie" Alena took of our group:


Monday, April 22, 2019

Happy Easter!

Here’s some photos from our Easter service. Our church has recently split into two campuses. We all met at our Afton campus on Sunday for Easter. Anni and our current Wwoofer, Alena, joined us. 

Afterwards, it was time to head back to the farm. We had planned a great sheep day in honor of Christ the lamb! Okay just kidding. Sheep day randomly fell on Easter, but it was a fun Easter activity. The Kotynski family, Jacob, Anni and Alena joined us. So many groups meant we could move through our 61 sheep very quickly. Hard to believe that this whole flock started with ten little lambs!

We checked collars, tagged, trimmed hooves, and separated males ready for processing. It went great! 

Here are some pics from our afternoon: 

Afterwards we came back to the house and had an Easter Egg Hunt. 

The Kotynski’s headed gone to eat one of our farm chickens for dinner. And since we planned so poorly, we had some eggs for dinner. We also had some of Anni’s famous “cranberry crack” coffee cake and Gramas Key Lime pie. 

After that it was time to watch the farm go to sleep for the night: 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

We Bought a Farm: When farm kids see dogs mating

I debated sharing this. I find it very funny, but I'm also a little modest so sometimes I avoid writing about these things. 

But humor can feel so so good. We've lost someone very special to our family this week. I'll be flying home to Florida for the funeral this coming weekend. But last night, I sent these funny statements to my friends Debbie and Carrie -- having just returned from a funeral for their beloved. They both told me they belly-laughed. If they belly-laughed in the midst of their grief, it's worth sharing with everyone else in hopes that someone else will get a belly laugh.

Belly laughs are needed sometimes. 

I'm really noticing that farm kids are ... different. They handle life and death very differently. When my kids see a ram mating a ewe they will innocently tell me, "Hey, I saw Captain helping the farm today!" They don't quite understand all the details, but they understand most of them. When they see an animal die, it impacts them but the facts are much more black and white. They are used to new life. They are used to death. 

So here's what happened at our farm last night.

Ritter and Arabelle mated. They didn't "connect" last time she was in heat so we were all very, very excited to see that we would probably have another little of puppies this summer. We love having puppies around here. Especially ones we aren't keeping. If you aren't familiar with dogs mating, I'll tell you that dogs that successfully mate are usually stuck together for about fifteen minutes. (Just google it and read about it yourself.)

So upon seeing the dogs "tied" together, the following conversations began to tumble forth.

John: "Well, we should probably be having puppies in June!” 
Abigail: “Probably? They mated. Aren’t puppies for sure?” 
Isaac: “No. Mom And Dad mated for ten years and couldn’t have kids which is why they adopted me.” 

Seriously. He said that. Came up with it on his own. 

Later I went in to say good night to Abigail (age 7) and Hannah (age 5) who share a room.

Abigail: “Do grown ups ask before they mate?” 
Me: “Yes."
Abigail: "Do they say, 'hey do you want to mate'?"
Me: "Sort of."
Abigail: "Do they get tied together for a long time like dogs do?"
Me: "No. Not really."
Abigail: "Is it just like a one-second tie in grown-ups?"
Me: "Yes."
Abigail: "Do the dads jump on the moms back like the ram does to the ewes."
Me: "Ummmm ...."

At this point, I began desperately looking over my shoulder. I could see JB in the hallway and started doing a full-body head nod to encourage him to back me up. He instead called from the hallway: "No, you are doing just fine honey."

Really. He left me there. By myself. In the wilderness of kids and the birds and the bees. 

At this point the questions got even more personal. They involved all the details that you sort of know are coming but want to avoid about how adults can do this if they wear clothes. I will say that the questions culminated with Hannah saying, "So I have eggs inside me right now? Will they ever fall out?"

I'm blushing writing this. But it's life. It's factual. It's farm kids. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

We Bought a Farm: Sharing our Farm

This is Alena (from Germany!) with a ram born on Wednesday with an awesome grey color. Our first ever grey lamb!

I love when new people come to our farm. Each time they capture images and pictures that while I see them every day, seem to capture an angle I haven't ever quite seen. Here are some pictures Alena has shared with me during her time on our farm:

I love meeting new people. 

I love seeing how their eyes take in the familiarity of my world with new amazement. 

I love their contributions: in the kitchen, homeschooling, on the farm, in the sharing of different viewpoints and different culture. 

I pray we are always able to welcome new people despite the fact that it can be nerve-wracking, uncomfortable, scary, and overwhelming. 

I pray that when they leave our farm they say: "God was there. I may not know him completely, but I know he was there." 

I hope that when the media shows them crazy Christians they can look back at their time on the Bauernhof and say, "Nope. I met some of those Christians, and while their family was crazy, it was a good crazy."

The world is big.

It can feel crazy.

But you can care for your tiny little plot of land.

It doesn't need to be 96-acres like our's. 

It can be just your home.

What are you going to do with it? Who will you invite in? What will you share with them? What will you learn from them? 

Stop listening to our media telling you how awful this world is and see the good. 

For yourself. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Isaac wins the talent show!

Isaac finished first place in the 13 and under category. His friend Carlie finished second.
A picture of all the participants.

A few members of the choir performing. There's Ana on the left and Kari on the right.
A close-up of Isaac with his prize money! ($30!)

Isaac participated in the homeschooling talent show playing piano for the second year in a row. Despite the fact that the piano and that Moose Lodge is horrible not the best, he managed to win first prize among the younger kids. Oh and our friend Emma (pictured on the far right of the picture above in the maroon-ish shirt, finished first place for the older kids.) 

Isaac was totally shocked. Afterwards he told me he didn't realize that there were actually awards and that someone would win. His hand literally flew to his mouth in surprise when he won. Win or not, I am super proud of him for performing.

I can't help it, listening to him play the piano just makes my heart so happy!


We Bought a Farm: Meet "Patrick" the rooster

Our wwoofer, Jacob, had inherited a rooster that he had named Patrick. It resided at the previous farm he had been wwoofing at. However, that farm thought Patrick needed a new home. He was getting pretty beat up by some of the other roosters there.

So we agreed to try to host Patrick. As long as he doesn't get all "rooster-ish" on us, we will let him stay at the Bauernhof. (We don't like mean roosters. Kids love being out with our chickens, and a mean rooster can throw that all off. We work hard to only have animals here on the farm that evoke peace. You hear that Patrick?) 

We've had roosters on our farm in the past. Some have attacked humans, and we've had to say good bye to them. Others have been good roosters but were taken down by hawks. But we like the idea of having a rooster. We like the noise they make. We like their protective nature. And we like the idea that if we want, we could incubate some eggs and have some chickens.

Welcome Patrick.

Be good.