Sometimes The Simplest Food Takes The Most Effort: Making Gnocchi With Rosina from Until Next Sunday

Last week we toured Italy with Audry Fryer, author of Until Next Sunday. On Monday, Audry visited our podcast and shared some of the behind the scenes of writing the book. Today, we dove into the book and decided to attempt to make and share the iconic family recipe for gnocchi.

Until Next Sunday is a book about two Italian immigrants who find each other and fall in love in America during the early 1900s.

Told through the eyes of the female heroine, Rosina, the story opens with the character saying goodbye to everything she knows in Italy to board a ship to America.

The stage is set for a bit of a Cinderella story as we learn Rosina is leaving because of an evil step mother that worked her to death. She doesn’t know if she will ever get to return, but she has an opportunity to join a brother in America and have her own happiness. Though goodbyes are heartbreaking, this one came with a hopeful promise.

In America, Rosina meets Gianni, and they fall for each other. Illness puts Rosina in a sanitarium (at a time in history when bad things happened there), and the budding love has to spend the majority of its time in letters. For years, the family they have together knew nothing of the past hardships that they faced…one Sunday visit at a time…during limited visits. They couldn’t read the letters either because they were all in Italian and in a dialect hard to translate.

Until Next Sunday is an immigrant story. It is upfront about the fact that it is a work of fiction, but what I love about it is the TRUE STORY behind it. Three sisters–who were granddaughters of Rosina and Gianni–inherited a box of mementos. In that box was a scrapbook of over 100 carefully stored letters. Thanks to the sisters and their determination to know more, a translator was found who could read the difficult regional dialect, and a year of stories was unlocked for all of us to hear. Many of those translated letters are in the book.

How precious would it be if you could see a prequel of the life of your loved ones?

Rosina was a storyteller. Family gatherings on Sundays were filled with food and stories. Some of the sisters’ fondest memories were of Rosina’s Gnocchi, so they included her handwritten recipe in the book. For this review, I decided to take it on.

Making Gnocchi

Gnocchi is a potato pasta that is just three simple ingredients: potatoes, salt, and flour. The ingredients were simple. The instructions were simple. The process was not.

First of all, there is a reason that the recipe calls for a ricer. After you cook 4 potatoes, you are supposed to press them through a ricer. This would mash them evenly into fine pieces. That is extremely important as you are counting on the starch in the potato to hold everything together, but it won’t be broken down enough without a ricer.

Boiling water for gnocchi becomes the test that shows what I did wrong

In my case, I didn’t have the ricer, so I mashed the potatoes as well as possible with a masher. What I ended up with was chunks of crystal-like potatoes in the dough that would make the dough fall apart in the water, create a cloud of starchy mash, scorch the pan, and cause me to have to drain and start over multiple times.

So…use a ricer.

Despite this rookie mistake, I did get a reasonable good dough out of it, and I did transfer it to a wooden board as Rosina suggested.

The board made it easier to cut and form the pasta, but it also further revealed how unsteady it was. It was hard to make any pinch of this hold together with chunky potatoes in it.

Still, some of them did hold long enough to rise in the water and be transferred to the sauce.

Success! Gnocchi made it to the sauce.

Gnocchi is pretty plain by itself (it’s a pasta), so you need sauce. I’m sure it would be excellent in cheese, but I wanted to be as authentic as possible and make a scratch tomato sauce.

Tomato marinara from scratch

How to make marinara

If you can get your hands on home canned tomatoes, that would be best, but I used store bought. For this sauce, I started with a generous coating of the pan in quality olive oil and spices. I used Greek cold-pressed oil, Herbs de Provence, and garlic powder. The herbs are extra fragrant, so I knew they would carry a little farther than just Italian seasoning. I sautéed that oil/herb based for a minute till it browned, then I added tomatoes. I added two 16 oz. cans of diced tomatoes (one had garlic and olive oil in it that really added flavor), one 16 oz. can of tomato sauce, and one 8 oz. can of tomato paste. You need that variety to create the consistency of a chunky sauce. The paste is important too because it acts as a thickener but with concentrated tomato flavor.

You want to bring all the ingredients together stirring them in the pan till a light boil pops. Then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and let it simmer. The longer a sauce has the chance to sit and simmer, the better it becomes because all those flavors and ingredients marry each other.

Final plate: gnocchi in homemade marinara, drizzled with Greek olive oil, and topped with grated parmesan

What Cooking With Rosina Taught Me

Making gnocchi was a lesson in itself. To get to that final plate that looks and tastes so good, you have to be willing to put in extra time, effort, and patience.

I’m not a very patient cook. After 30 minutes of messing with something, I am usually over it. I am sure half of my problems making gnocchi were from trying to make this without the proper tools. Nevertheless, this recipe said a lot about the person who wrote it. Rosina had to have been a very patient, loving, and resilient woman. What came second nature to her came because of years of making it so it would become easier.

How many things in life do we practice to perfection?

How many times do we exercise patience and persist when we want to quit?

I had to laugh at myself to keep from crying as I made this first attempt at gnocchi. Next time (and there will be a next time), a ricer will be involved. But making gnocchi with Rosina the cooking grandma, made me want to know her as Rosina the young woman. Until Next Sunday lets you do that.

I encourage you to jump on the author’s website and grab a copy for yourself. It’s worth it.

A Miracle In The Making In Tin City: Wallace Christian Academy

(Previously published in The Duplin Times)

A miracle is in the making in the Tin City area of Wallace. In January 2021, Pastor Chris Jarman of Poston Baptist Church spoke to some of his church members about his vision to start a Christian school in the Wallace area. Together they visited several schools in eastern North Carolina and presented their findings to the church body. The church voted and found 100% approval to move forward with the project. By March, they had formed a committee where each person contributed the best of their expertise in the areas of construction, planning, and implementation. A three-phase plan was born to build a K-12 school. During Phase One, the school will open enrollment for K-2. In Phase Two, enrollment will extend for 3-5. In Phase Three, enrollment will begin for 6-12. By the end of the third phase, a fully functioning private Christian K-12 school will be built on 17 acres of farmland once donated to the church.

Everything you see (behind the church) that was soybeans, belongs to Poston. We decided it needed to grow children for God on this property–not just keep growing soybeans and stuff.

Assistant Principal Charles Blanchard

Right now, Phase One is enrolling for K-2 classes to begin on August 23, 2022. Phase Two with classes for grades 3-5 is expected to be ready to enroll in Fall 2023.  “Our goal is for the children we have in second grade this fall to be able to go into third grade with us the following year,” said Headmaster Steve Le Roux. “We will keep operating like that until the final building can be completed.” 

Headmaster Steve Le Roux with influential director and Assistant Principal, Charles Blanchard

Building for Phase One began last year. The church gutted its existing structure down to the floor joists and rebuilt it as a school. The church sanctuary remained intact throughout the rebuild and will serve as a weekly chapel for the school. The men of the church gave their time and talent to facilitate the rebuild and are still busy finalizing the details of the property today. Construction for Phase Two will begin later this month. “A building has been ordered and will arrive on May 17th (to begin Phase Two),” Mr. Blanchard said. “It will be a shell building that we will frame in and build up for grades 3-5. It will take us till after Christmas to get it finished.”

Charles Blanchard, a member of Poston Baptist Church, has been key in the direction and build of Wallace Christian Academy. Retired from over 40 years of service teaching and administering schools in the Duplin County Public School System, he knew exactly what steps would need to be taken to get the school running and accredited with the North Carolina Christian School Association. He will continue to serve the school in a voluntary position as Assistant Principal. “He has a wealth of knowledge,” said Mr. Le Roux. “He will be an ongoing asset for us.”

Mr. Le Roux also serves as the pastor of Rose Hill Baptist Church (which helped assist and house the Rose Hill UMC church after its fire four years ago). He is excited about the role he will play leading the school. “What Poston has already been able to accomplish in one year has been amazing,” said Mr. Le Roux. Not only did they plan for every detail of the project, but the church also raised $250,000 to fully fund Phase One. As the school grows, the buildings will continue to serve a dual purpose for the church as meeting spaces for church ministries. The final Phase Three building will also serve as a Family Life Center for the church. 

Several families have already taken the step of faith to commit to the school. We are prayerfully interviewing teachers and hope they really have the heart to see this as a mission field the way that we do.” 

Headmaster Steve Le Roux

Mr. Le Roux’s heart for ministry has been a passion throughout his life. He was born in South Africa with a skull injury that was supposed to cause him blindness and a life of pain. Corrective surgery and prayer brought him complete healing. In 2003, Duplin County Schools began recruiting teachers from England. They interviewed and hired Mr. Le Roux. “Those first few years, I was miserable and wanted to go back home. I would come and park behind that dumpster over there,” Mr. Le Roux said, pointing to a nearby convenience store. “I looked out at the field and just thought and talked to God. I had no idea I was looking at the place that would become a school I now get to headmaster.”

Mr. Le Roux’s teaching experience provided the background to know that small class size and the personal touch of reading in a circle matters. That’s why you will see circle tables in each classroom in addition to the individual student desks. The school plans to cap individual class sizes to 18 students. “We don’t plan to turn anyone away,” Mr. Le Roux said, “but we want to also keep the classes manageable.”

Starting with Abeka curriculum, Wallace Christian Academy will provide a thorough education in core subject areas, extra-curriculars, and Biblical training.

We are a Christian school, and we are going to teach a Biblical worldview. Founded on Ephesians 6:10-11, we want to empower our students to know what they believe and be able to defend it in our modern culture.

Headmaster Steve Le Roux

Efforts to teach using the latest technology were important enough to the school to budget for it. “Students will have books as well as IPads to begin their learning process,” Mr. Le Roux said. “Older students will have laptops. We also plan to have fast WiFi and smart TVs in each classroom that teachers can use for instructional purposes.” Technology extends beyond the classroom to the parents as well. Parents will be able to monitor grades and progress online using GradeLink. 

Tuition is competitively priced at $4500 a year per student and it decreases per child for families with multiple students enrolled. “We also have the Opportunity Scholarship for families within certain income brackets that want private school education but think they can’t afford it,” Mr. Le Roux said. The scholarship can cover the whole cost of tuition for approved applicants. 

On April 9th, parents and future students of Wallace Christian Academy had the opportunity to visit the campus for an Open House event. Everyone was excited for classes to start in the fall. 

Enrollment is still open for students to join the 2022-2023 school year. For more information, check out their website at https://www.wallacechristianacademy.com/ or come pick up an application at 4121 S. Highway 11 in Wallace.

Christmas With The Chosen

If you haven’t heard of it already, The Chosen is the first ever television series based on the life of Christ. It presents the Gospel in a way that makes the characters real and approachable. For example, there is a scene when Joseph comes to Bethlehem with Mary and there is no room for them anywhere. In The Chosen, Joseph gets angry at the lack of accommodations but makes the best of it in a stable. We see him shoveling out animal feces to make room for the birth of the Savior of the World. It is thought-provoking, humbling, and human.

The Chosen is intentional about this. It’s goal is to present God as a relationship not a set of rules we must follow. I will let the creator, Dallas Jenkins, explain it more. The following are the first and second Christmas specials with The Chosen. As it approaches its third season fully funded by the fans, there are a lot of reasons to celebrate.

Join us as we celebrate the Christmas season with other artists you may know on the set of The Chosen.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

A Poetic & Auditory Response to A Silent Night at Museum of the Bible

The bleak midwinter settles

in layers of flurries without and within

Crackling fire and a boy hold

a protected book in a one room cabin

Creaking floors and hinges, rattle open

Footsteps in the snow lead

lanterns to a stage floor

where percussion explodes…

Lift up your head! See

the percussion army dance, swing

wide from the shores of burning ships, sink

deep to the lost and hopeless, feel

the heart beats of hope again, watch

footsteps cross continents to bow

on National Mall in Washington DC, dare

to imagine a world where history

comes alive

celebrates The Word of light, the babe

born king, unpretentious, sets

the world ablaze with purpose.

No pit of darkness stands,

when Jesus Christ is in command.

Your army of artists surrender

Pens–Voices–Sticks–Vessels to Your hand.


For King and Country’s Christmas Special is a Partnership with the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. Tickets give you 4 hour access to the 1 hour performance. The show is available for a short time only from December 10-17.

It is a show that blends all the arts–music, theater, writing, and more–to bring to life one of the most important events in world history. Pick up a ticket online before this opportunity passes and grab your headphones for a repeat show. You don’t want to miss this in surround sound.

Beautifully and Wonderfully Made: Inspirational Recording Artist, DJ Coles

Recently, I stumbled on the cool, jazzy jams of a local artist, DJ Coles. I think it is so good that I can’t keep it to myself. Watch this short music video and see if you don’t agree.

DJ Coles Music (C) 2012

Vocally, DJ Coles is clearly gifted, but what impresses me most about him as an artist is his lyrics. As you listen to more of his work, the positive message promotes a Bible-based self image–in a way, I have never heard before. The beats are catchy. The words are uplifting. It’s hard not for these songs to get stuck in your head and linger.

So why haven’t we heard anything from this artist since 2012?

All three of DJ’s albums were recorded between 2005 and 2012. They are streaming now everywhere. Prior to, during, and following that time, the artist served in ministry as a youth pastor, military chaplain, husband, and father. While he was happy to wear all these hats, he was actively looking for a way to connect them all in one area of service and have the room to invest more energy in his family. That role presented itself in 2013 with the launch of his 501 c(3) non-profit, The 4 Day Movement.

While the music production has paused on new content, we expect it hasn’t stopped all together. Expect to see something new from DJ Coles music in the near future.

See below for a direct link to play the music on Spotify.

Source: Spotify

If you would like to connect with the artist, he is available on Facebook and Instagram.

The Power of the Written Word: Charles Martin Books

If you love a good story, get ready for a treat! Today’s post is about a modern author whose work is so good, we’ve read every one of his books–multiple times. I don’t recommend every book I have read much less every book by a specific author, so why am I giving Charles Martin this credit?

Martin is a talented author, but it is the presence of God and the anointing he invites into his books that make me return to them as a resource.

(Part of a response I posted to a question on Charles Martin’s Facebook fan page.)

Criticism about Faith

Charles Martin is not overtly honest about his faith in his fiction writing.

Though Charles Martin is open about his Christian faith on his website, his books focus on story content and people–not religion. Some readers have strong reactions when they discover Martin is a Christian author. One threw his book in the trash and wrote to Martin that he needed to “quit all the Christian crap to get more popular”. This is how Martin responded:

First, can I just say that I’m sorry.  It sounds like some Christian somewhere wounded you.  Please forgive us.  We don’t always get it right.  Loving people like Jesus is not easy.  I fail here often.  But that book you threw in the trash is not one of those failures.  My books have a tendency to pick at scabs and that can be difficult for the reader.  I’m not saying I know you or what made you hurt, but the story in my story may speak to and bring healing to the wound you feel.  I wrote it for that purpose: because it’s only the love of The Father that can get past the tough, calloused places in us and touch our hearts where they’re still tender….

Charles Martin, Response to an Angry Reader

Martin’s Writing Process

Charles Martin maintains a strict writing structure of 500-1000 words a day–most days. Though he doesn’t go into great detail about how the magic happens, Martin does acknowledge the Source. In September, after completing his second book in the Murphy Shepherd series, Martin posted the following on social media:

Last Thursday I clicked ‘send’ on the third installment of the Keeper series…I have a whole new respect for authors who write series…this book challenged me in ways I don’t think I’ve ever experienced…I can’t tell you the number of days I doubted me, my craft, everything. 

To all you aspiring writers or artists or anyone who creates – when it gets tough, and you can’t see around the corner, and have no idea what to do next, I have 2 thoughts:

1 – just show up.  Put your butt in the seat.  Sweat it out.  Don’t quit. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. Writing is quite possibly one of the most humbling things on the planet  – Books don’t write themselves. Regardless of yesterday – and whether it was awesome or not – we show up to a blank page.  The book doesn’t care – You get no credit for what you’ve done.  So, sit down and get to work.  AND

2- most importantly, remember that the first verb in scripture is ‘create.’  It’s the first description we get of God’s nature.  It’s who He is.  What He does.  So, everyday I sit in this chair I remember where my strength comes from. The well for the words and usually before I write a word, my conversation with Him sounds something like, “Lord, it’s me. I’m back. Help. Please sit here with me today. Help me create something, which at the end of the day, whether it’s accepted, praised, thrashed or whatever, is a Roadsign to Jerusalem. That it sounds like your heart for us. That it reflects you and points people to you.”

Charles Martin, September 14, 2021 Facebook Post

Publication Schedule

Though no official schedule is posted for Martin books, all the fiction titles tend to come out once annually in June. Non-fiction titles and blog posts have no set schedule. They seem to follow the writer’s inspiration and availability.

The Books (and How To Use Them)

A Life Intercepted

A college football star headed to NFL fame has his life (and marriage) derailed when he is falsely accused of a crime and sent to prison. Can he right the wrongs dealt him and clear his name or will he be doomed to live in the shadows? This book is a sobering read for athletes and anyone at the top of their game with fame and fortune. It is a good reminder of what is important in life.

Chasing Fireflies

He survives a horrible train accident and is eventually adopted, but the shadows of Chase’s identity still haunt him as an adult. When a new journalism assignment reminds him of old questions, he will have to go on a quest to discover the truth. This story is inspiring for anyone in the adoption/foster care system. It is also a good read for writers and those wanting to make a difference in the life of an orphan.

Long Way Gone

The son of a preacher with big dreams to be a famous musician steals from his father and runs away to Nashville. Struggling on the streets, will he make it to the stage or will he find the courage to go home? This book is an award-winning modern Prodigal Son story. It’s an excellent read for musicians and especially healing for estranged loved ones.

The Dead Don’t Dance & Maggie

When Dylan’s wife goes into labor and hemorrhages, his son is stillborn and his wife goes into a coma. He takes a job teaching to pay the medical bills and connects with his students but he wrestles with God. If tragedy leaves you questioning God, this book and its sequel are for you. These books are also inspiring for teachers, gardeners, and those believing God for a miracle.

Send Down the Rain

A Vietnam veteran, a single mother with two kids fleeing an abusive relationship, an old flame, and a 45-year old secret converge on the Florida coast. This book is good for military readers, truckers, and travelers. It is also a good read for those who carry guilt over and haven’t made peace with their pasts.

The Mountain Between Us

When bad winter weather causes their last flight out of Salt Lake City to be canceled, two strangers charter a plane to get to their destination only to crash in one of the largest wildernesses in the United States. This story was made into a movie but, unfortunately, Hollywood altered the story significantly. The book is a thrilling survival story and a good read for those who like the great outdoors.

The Water Keeper & The Letter Keeper (A Murphy Shepherd Novel, Books 1 & 2)

When a young woman is suckered into a human trafficking ring, a man with a boat and spy-like connections sets out on an adventure to find her and save her before she is lost forever. This first Martin series follows the unfolding mysteries of the people affected by human trafficking. This series is good for anyone wanting to better understand how human trafficking works. It is also a good read for those who have been victimized, survived, and struggle with the trauma of their past.

They Turned The World Upside Down

This second non-fiction title uses Martin’s storytelling charm to tell the story of the first-century church in the Book of Acts. This book is good for an approachable Bible study about the apostles, evangelism, and the early church. It is also a good opportunity to discuss Christian theology and why we believe what we do.

Thunder and Rain

A modern-day cowboy and Texas Ranger has survived by developing a tough skin to life, but all that changes when a woman and her young daughter arrive in town needing his help and protection. Capturing the grit of life in the West, this book is a good read for Western lovers and tough guys. It is also good for those who thought love wasn’t in the cards for them.

Unwritten

An actress miserable in her fame, the priest who knows her secrets, and a Boatman with secrets of his own pair up to make the ultimate disappearing act. In leaving the rest of the world, they just may find what is really important. This book is a good read for those with a taste for international travel as well as those who love a good mystery. It is also good for those who live busy lives and long to get out of the rat race.

Water for my Heart

A young street-smart man finds his way through Harvard and into a lucrative business in Miami–in the illegal drug trade. He gets the chance to right his wrongs by going to Central America, but he finds more than he bargained for. This book is a good read for those who love Latin cultural influences as well as travel. It is a story of hope and redemption for even the most unlovable characters.

What If It’s True?

This first non-fiction title uses Martin’s storytelling charm to tell the story of the Gospel and Jesus Christ himself. This book is good for an approachable Bible study about Jesus Christ and why Christianity worships him as the son of the one, true God.

When Crickets Cry

A seven-year-old girl with a vivid scar on her chest sells lemonade to a stranger in a small Southern town. Her kindness sparks a friendship that leads them both toward healing. This book is an inspiring read for those in the medical field or those with a heart for sick children. It is also inspiring for anyone needing a miracle or a touch of healing.

Where The River Ends

When two star-crossed lovers marry against their families’ wishes, they know they have an uphill battle. They build a stronger marriage in their commitment to each other, but that commitment is tested when one of them receives a life-threatening illness. They can take it lying in a hospital bed, but they choose to take it on a 130 mile trip down the river. For anyone battling incredible odds or feeling defeated by sickness, this book is for you.

Wrapped in Rain

When one man’s brother escapes a mental facility, he is forced to face the demons in his past to find him. Along with bringing his brother to safety, he will have to find a way to make peace with the past if he wants to truly move forward. For all those struggling with mental health issues or trying to forgive things in the past, this book is for you.

How to share the books to build community

A Martin book is a great way to talk about issues in small groups. They open the door to discussion of often difficult topics as you discuss the fictional stories organically. They are also really good ways to approach discussions of faith with people strongly opposed to them in any other direct context. You can share life together with a Martin book.

My favorite person to share life with through a Martin book is my dad. He became blind and could only read through audio books. We discovered Martin after this interview.

We started reading his work, and haven’t stopped since. We read the books independently, discuss the characters, and awe over his writing together. We have both reread the books, but dad has read them at least 3x as much as I.

A message to Charles Martin

Thank you for writing such well-crafted stories. You inspire us to take writing seriously and tell our own stories in a similar fashion. We marvel at your talent and hope to write like you.

Thank you for the gift of your faith made real on the page. Thank you for your vulnerability to show how each day is a collaboration with God and, at times, a humble struggle.

Thank you for creating a safe space to talk about hard issues. Whether intended or not, your books have become tools of evangelism on the market today.

What We Can Learn About The Purpose of Art From The 52nd Annual GMA Dove Awards

I sat on pins and needles for the show. This night had been on my calendar for months. The nominees played on replay on my Spotify as I worked and drove around town. They were my jam through tough times and my celebration in moments of victory. I had researched the artists online and knew some of their stories. I followed them individually on Spotify and Instagram.

When October 22nd arrived, the excitement was palpable. I couldn’t wait to see which one of my new friends would be honored for their work. As the hours counted down to the event start, I watched the red carpet posts on Instagram. I was blown away by Lauren Daigle’s dress, so I asked who it was by. The next thing I knew, I was connecting to the designer in Italy.

Check out this red carpet pre-show for some of the fun behind-the-scenes with the artists.

When the show aired on TBN, I recorded it. I was excited to see Christian artists celebrated with poise and dignity at the level of an Academy award. For so many of us who have struggled through doubts and invisibility as Christian artists, it was a night filled with hope for me. Even the commercials fed my soul.

Too many times, artists fall in the cracks of life. They have this amazing gift to write, sing, paint, draw, dance, act, or whatever, and they don’t know what to do with it. They dabble in their craft and offer it up to the world for approval. If people don’t give their approval, if they don’t get their art, they pack it away and stop trying.

Here is the ache: it is God who gave them that talent and ability, and it is His approval that they need, not everyone else’s. If you are not serving the audience of One, you aren’t ready to serve a bigger one. God gave us the Arts to connect with him in often supernatural ways. We see visions and act on them. We capture moments of inspiration that challenge viewers to engage with the art and with God.

There are a lot of lists online about the purpose of art. Most of them agree that it is a form of human expression that often inspires social change. I would say it is so much more than that. The artist is a warrior. Artists are equipped with the ability to see the world around them in metaphors and imagery that can resonate with an audience. You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate the message of a work of art, but you do have to be curious. Curiosity allows you to explore worlds outside your own and empathize with their experiences.

Art comes from a place of purpose and vision. You can’t help but infuse the work with the emotions you are experiencing and trying to recreate in it. This is why you hear sadness in Joni Mitchell’s “Clouds” and feel the pride of accomplishment with Degas’ “Little Dancer”.

Art comes from purpose but also from faith. When an artist is unsure of their faith or angry at God, their work shows it. When they are at peace with God and intentional with their work, the art becomes a respite and a place to come and engage with God. In my opinion, the highest form of creative work is work done with this level of self-awareness and reverence for Christ.

Christian art is not overtly religious, it is suggestive and impressive professionally and spiritually. You don’t have to beat someone over the head with the Bible to lead them to Jesus.

If you missed it, the 52nd GMA Dove Awards will be broadcast again tonight, October 29th, on TBN. If you are catching this after the 29th, you can still see the love performances on recordings posted on YouTube. Here’s a link to the full program. Enjoy the show!

HelloFresh Review: Pros, Cons, & Some Pretty Cool Extras

HelloFresh is a mail order food service committed to providing sustainably sourced food to consumers in a way that minimalizes waste. In this review, we will take a look at how they do that, pros and cons of the service, bottom line recommendation, and some pretty cool extras about the company.

How It Works

HelloFresh is pretty straight-forward with how they work. First, you pick from one of six different dietary restriction-based meal plans. Then your options are narrowed to that plan, and you pick how many people you want to make for and how many meals per week. You then pick subsequent sets of meals for future boxes. When you submit the order, you commit to a subscription of auto deliveries that arrive at your home at the dates you assigned every week. Boxes can be delayed to come less frequently, but that is not the automatic choice on the website.

Pros

Pro #1: Sustainable and Eco-friendly quality goes all the way to their packaging and beyond.

The company branding is geared towards buyers who are concerned about carbon emissions and responsible stewardship of Earth.

The shipment box itself was impressive because it was a cardboard cooler with instructions on it for how to recycle it. The separate meals inside were packaged in brown paper bags. Some of the ingredients were also repackaged into paper containers. For example, two cans of black beans for one recipe came in cardboard boxes similar to grade school milk cartons.

Pro # 2: Fresh produce really was fresh.

This should seem like a given from a company with the word “fresh” in the title, but it is not easy to do. Fruits and vegetables spoil easily–especially tomatoes–but ours were firm and nice from the point of delivery to final make (roughly a week later).

If you are on a clean eating diet, this freshness is a BIG plus. Even without the dietary restrictions, I experienced noticeable improvements to my health simply by cooking with fresh ingredients.

Pro #3: Fresh ideas bring fresh fun to the kitchen.

If you have gotten into a rut in the kitchen (cooking the same stuff over and over again), mail order food services give you something new and surprising to try. It is a food gift you give yourself and your loved ones. It is self care through homemade food instead of fast, processed, or frozen food.

Though all the recipes I picked for this box were simple, there were a few techniques and ingredients I wasn’t familiar with. I found it exciting to learn new skills and challenging to try to figure out how to prep new ingredients.

Cons

Con #1 : Inaccurate timing on the recipe cards

Almost all of the recipes claimed they took an hour or less to make, but that simply was not true. I ran a stopwatch on 2-out-of-4 meals. From start of prep to plating with no breaks except to read the instructions, most recipes took 2 hours to make.

The biggest chunk of the recipe time is in prepping fresh ingredients. If you can plan ahead for the day, you can prep the ingredients and have them ready so that the actual make time is an hour or less. I really can’t imagine it getting faster than that–not even if you are Gordon Ramsey.

Con #2: Subscriptions are pricey and only worth it if food waste is a real problem for you

HelloFresh claims they are cheaper than buying groceries, but I was able to get all the ingredients for my family’s favorite HelloFresh dish for about the same price as what I got them from HelloFresh.

What I couldn’t do was buy in less quantity. So, for example, I had to buy a whole bag of poblano peppers instead of just two. If I don’t use them all up or prep and freeze them, I risk losing money to spoiled food.

Con #3: Repetitive ingredients and messy instructions

I’m not a big fan of mayonnaise, but it was used a lot in the recipes we had to create dips and sauces. This particular dish was lovely without it. I recommend really looking at your recipe options before you buy. Here is a link to the directory of all their recipes.

In terms of messy instructions, this is particularly in terms of how the instructions guide you to work in your kitchen. The instructions take for granted that you have all the necessary cooking tools, oils, and lots of bowls for the ingredients. Many recipes could have been streamlined into 1-2 mixing bowls.

Bottom Line

These two Latin-inspired dishes were palate pleasing and light. Which would you try? Black beans with poblanos and onions (left) or Turkey with red cabbage slaw and tangy dressing (right)?

I loved the surprise of the meals and the self-care of eating more intentional foods, but these particular meals were frustratingly long to prepare for how simple the food really was. It was also not a cost efficient way of cooking for a family of three or more.

I would recommend trying the service if you have been throwing out more food than you have been able to actually cook with. I would also recommend it if you want to try a few boxes to just play with new food and ideas. If you are trying them out for play, be proactive about your subscription. If you want to discontinue the shipments, set a reminder to cancel future boxes before they ship and charge your card.

Some Pretty Cool Extras

If you give HelloFresh a try and become an avid supporter of the product, you may want to consider a job with them. HelloFresh is a global company with active openings in multiple countries including over 300 jobs in the United States.

I don’t often look for a chance to partner with a company and promote their product. I prefer to give my readers honest journalism; there is no payment attached to this post. That being said, it is pretty cool that HelloFresh offers options for partnering with them to promote their products. From including samples and gift boxes to new employees to being an influencer plugging their product, HelloFresh will entertain proposals for business partnerships.

Happy Cooking, everyone!

Pamela Taylor’s “Pestilence: Second Son Chronicles, Volume 3”

Blog Tour for Pamela Taylor’s book, Pestilence: Second Son Chronicles Volume 3

Welcome Back!

If you are just joining us, this blog is part of a book tour promoting a new historical fiction novel by Pamela Taylor, Prestilence: Second Son Chronicles Volume 3.

Note: The author sent me an autographed copy of the book in exchange for this review.

Pamela Taylor’s book series, Second Son Chronicles, is a historical fiction series using familiar historical settings to tell the story of a family that is fictional. It is not a reimagining of actual people or events–like some historical fiction–and readers may have to remind themselves of that as they read.

The book opens with the sudden death of a beloved king and his rapid replacement by an impetuous son. It doesn’t take long to see that this new king is going to lead the realm in a downward spiral. The story is all told to us by a second son and brother of the new king who has some mysterious destiny of his own yet to be fulfilled.

This book begins mid-action with characters and plots that have been brewing for two books prior to this one. Though the writer does provide a family tree and a sketch of the kingdom at the start of the book, it is hard to understand what is happening if you haven’t read books one and two first. If you read excerpts of the books on the author’s website, linked here, you get a sense of the story without the full depth of it. This is about a family of royals where the second sons–unlikely to become kings–have value and voice. This is also a story that rarely sits still; some scheme or battle is always in the middle of happening or being plotted.

Though there are uncanny resemblances to Henry VIII in some of what happens in Pestilence, the author makes it clear that this is a work of fiction inspired by events of the past but not about any person(s) in particular. The author responds to this idea in the book:

Readers will note similarities with northern Europe, but my decision to fictionalize the setting was a matter of practicality for my characters. European history from this period and its major actors are too well known for it to be plausible that a different set of kings and nobility might actually have existed.

Taylor, Pamela. Pestilence: Second Son Chronicles Volume 3, “Author’s Notes”, Black Rose Writing: Texas, 2020. pg 218.

Pamela Taylor’s work is particularly well designed to showcase language. At one point, the narrator creates a historical record of the new king’s reign that looked and sounded like an actual document that I could research and find. The characters, too, feel real because of the depth of research behind authenticating them within their era. Taylor transitions seamlessly from formal to casual speech; she is surprisingly eloquent as a noble as well as an accented servant. I can only imagine this book series would come to life in full cast audio production.

Taylor’s work would have every right to be laden with words we cannot understand outside of the context, but she makes it a particular point not to do that. Language is intentionally modernized slightly to save readers from referencing dictionaries to understand her work. It is a subtle nod to the audience that does not affect the story but greatly assists the reader.

I greatly respect the work Taylor has put into creating this entertaining series, and I plan to order books one and two to get the full story. If you are looking for an adventurous, mysterious, historical novel full of scandal and glory, check out the Second Son Chronicles. It will not disappoint.

Charles Martin’s “What If It’s True?”

After reading Educated, I found myself really wrestling with some issues. Not only had the book wrecked me to see a child so mistreated, but it also upset me to see her worldview so warped against God.

After reading her book, I craved something happy, but not just anything good…I needed something true about Jesus. Enter Charles Martin’s book, What If It’s True?

‘What If It’s True’ — An Explanation from Author Charles Martin on Vimeo.

What we often lose in translation when we read the Bible is the why of what was done. We don’t understand why David cut off a corner piece of Saul’s robe or why a sick woman would be an outcast in society. We miss the implied meaning in the actions of the Bible because we no longer live in a culture saturated with meaning the way our ancestors did.

In the past, cultures lived with constant reminders of where they came from. These reminders were in monuments and walls you passed by every day. They were talked about in stories in school and reinforced in lessons at home. They were mentioned in required prayers prayed throughout the day. They were even echoed in the choices made concerning clothing. You might forget the details, but you couldn’t escaping the lessons of the past.

Today, we live our lives in perpetual motion. We protest reminders of the past and treat each day like it isn’t moving forward fast enough. We don’t care to look backwards at the tracks we are leaving. If something happened twenty years ago, we think it is old school or vintage. We don’t dare to dig back any further than that, so we lose the power of knowing where we came from and what, exactly, is influencing our world.

In this book, Martin writes like a millennial who has taken his face out of a phone long enough to speak plainly about the Bible. Yes, I realize as I am saying this that Martin is older than me and probably more of the Gen-X generation, but he doesn’t write like one. His words are fresh and modern; they reveal the humanity of the moment in translation to a language that can be relevantly read today.

Martin says this book is, in short, for broken people to find freedom. After reading Educated, I desperately wanted Tara to have this book. I wanted her to have this book because no matter how much we may free ourselves from the tyranny of others, we cannot free ourselves of the scars it leaves on our hearts. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can heal those kinds of wounds.

I hope that someone tells Tara about the true Jesus Christ–not the lies she was told. If you found yourself identifying with Tara’s story, I hope you will read this book too and start the journey of getting to know Jesus. This book is not a substitute for the raw material of God’s Word, the Bible, but it does do a fair job of bridging the gap of understanding between us and it. I hope you will read it.

 

Tara Westover’s “Educated: A Memoir”

Today I had the opportunity to finish a book that wrecked me.

The book was Tara Westover‘s memoir, Educated.

tara-westover-800

I won’t tell you how the story ends, but I will tell you that it is about a girl who grows up in a stifling environment with parents who never believed in giving her a high-school education. When she was finally old enough to fight for an education, her choice would often come between her and her family.

I could not deny the truth of the book. I knew it was true because it echoed too loudly the voices of the students I teach every day. I teach adults who didn’t finish high school, and the stories of why they never finished can be shocking.

One student walked for two hours to be here because it was the only way he could get to school. Any other time he came, he said, his dad would find out he was here and come and drag him out of class. I tried to picture his fragile frame being dragged down the hallway, legs flailing, while teachers stood agape in the doorways. I tried to imagine a time when any of my peers would have let that happen to him…on government property…where we should have at least held the upper hand. If I knew him then, I like to think I would have said something. I would not have just watched. But by the time I did know him, it was too late. He was too convinced he was worthless. I never saw him again.

Another student came to me with his arms folded and his nose held high in the air. He was determined not to work with his classmates on any group assignments that I gave him. He said he was “better than them” because he “needed his education more”. He had been homeless for years. He had lived in tents in the woods. He had lived with his family splintered when poverty finally caused his mother to suffer mental illness and not be able to recognize her own children. When I finally got this student to see his classmates as friends, he became one of the best tutors I have ever seen. He could explain material better than I could teach it with all my elevated degrees. He completed his high school degree and, later, his college degree while also tutoring strangers in the community. Education changed his life and gave him options he would have never had without it.

When I read Educated, I thought of all the students I have seen and continue to see that suffer a likewise fate. I have treated my job as a battlefield on which I am doing the very real work of saving people from the tyranny of ignorance. I have treated education as the saving grace that would get them out of the mess they are in. I still believe education is the key to a successful future, but I have to wonder if education isn’t also educating the educated on those who don’t have it as well as they do.

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a book in the 1850s that would change forever the way we looked at slavery. Jacob Riis’s photography exposed the harsh realities of poverty vs. the gilded age of wealth in 1890s New York. Could Tara Westover’s book cause a likewise revolution in how we look at and treat uneducated people in America today?

As much as I wanted to believe the book was ground-breaking, I struggled with the fact that Tara returned to her abusive environment year after year even when she knew better and had every opportunity to stay away. I reasoned that the family couldn’t possibly be that bad if she would return to them. Then I remembered another one of my students. This student had been abused in every possible way by her father before the government stepped in and took her away from him, yet she still tried to call him and reach out for him from foster care. When she finally graduated high school as an adult years later, it was her abusive biological parents she was proudly introducing me to.

Why would any educated, abused person return to the place of their torment once they know better?

I can’t really answer that question, but I believe it lies in the importance of the bonds we make in our childhood. It seems that no matter how good or bad your parents are, you still seek their approval. You still want to make them happy. It is just something innate in us as human beings.

That leads me to another question: why didn’t anyone who knew what was going on, step in to make a difference at an earlier time in their childhood?

In Tara’s story, I think no one intervened because of the sheer force of the person they would have had to come against. He was scary. On the other hand, the family was so isolated that not many people knew anything about the truth of what happened until her book came out. Now the decisions that saved her–the decisions to educate herself and develop her own identity–would come in adulthood.

Like so many of the students I see every day, Tara had to wait till adulthood to take charge of bettering her life. Waiting that long, however, has left deep scars and regrets and ideologies that are hard to shake loose even with the elevated degrees she now holds. I can’t help but feel it would all be different if someone said something or did something earlier. If someone helped her as a child, could she have lived in more freedom today?

I think the real challenge of this book is the challenge for educated people to learn about people unlike themselves and challenge themselves to pay more attention to the people around them. Poverty and ignorance are everywhere; if we all got more involved, we could make a real difference in ending injustice before it becomes a lifetime of trauma for an adult to unwind.

The Road Less Travelled: A Reflection on my Master’s Degree and experience at East Carolina University

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim…

 

–from Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”

 

My Experience

If I could characterize my graduate school journey by any one thing, I would have to say it is a lot like Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. I started my master’s degree with one clear-minded goal to teach full-time in college. At the time, all my advisors pushed me to get my master’s in Adult Education. After the first few classes, I quickly realized that a degree in this field would lead to management not teaching. I looked into open teaching positions and researched what a college professor would need to teach English at my local community college. I confirmed my findings with the Department Head. I needed a master’s in English not Adult Education.

I expected the change to be relatively easy. I’d fill out a form and change my major and be done with it. I started taking English classes right away while I was still an Adult Education student. I didn’t think twice about the paperwork until I was almost done with all the English classes for the degree. When I went to fill out the paperwork, I discovered that it was a great insult to enter the program that way. I was informed that I had to apply for the program like everyone else and I “hadn’t given enough reasons to justify” my acceptance into the program.

I was shocked and really scared that all my hard work and money would be lost. I contacted a friend of mine who is an Assistant Director of a program at Appalachian State University. I knew I could talk to him freely and get good advice about how to plead my case. He encouraged me to take ownership of my mistakes and plead my case addressing all my correspondence by their Doctorate degree. Addressing the head of admissions to the TPC program as Doctor seemed to be the added push I needed. I begged for her to accept me despite my mistakes, and she did. I’ve called every professor by their Doctorate name since then to be safe.

My entire college career has been a journey I have excelled in and loved every minute of. I always had good grades and did exemplary work. I always had instructors who were more like friends and remain friends to me today. That was my expectation coming into a master’s degree at ECU, but that was not what I got at all.

How It Was Different

The biggest difference came in the way I approached my instructors. I expected to be able to come to my instructors as mentors and ask for their advice and guidance. However, very few instructors invited us to communicate our emotions, and most treated any such dialogue as a sign that we hadn’t read the material. Anytime I asked a question about anything, I was referred to the website. At one point, I was specifically told by an advisor to go read the manual for the program because I had “no more excuses (to say that) I didn’t know (anything) anymore”. I remember a few instructors who graded discussion forums based on our use of direct references to the textbooks. There was no room for letting the work move and change us; we were supposed to absorb the work like robots. As you can tell, I have not learned that lesson yet.

Instead of feeling like I could come to my instructors with pride and thankfulness, I grew to fear them. I was constantly afraid I would say the wrong thing and hurt my grade. The dark cloud of how I entered the program was always hanging over my head as were the words of the administrator that reluctantly let me enter it. Later, when I suffered the loss of a loved one and my GPA fell below 3.0, I lived with the devastation of feeling like I was as worthless as the way I had been treated. I was kicked out of the program and took a year off per the Department Chair’s recommendation. I begged my way back in. Still, I worried that my academic record would mark me as a failure before I could even be given a chance. My overall experience with my instructors made me scared to offer anything more than an edited version of myself.

The next difference came in my grades. Many times I would pour hours into a project, turn it in expecting an A, and get it back with a C. The harder I tried to make an A in a class, the further I got from it. If I dared to tell an instructor that I was trying to get an A in their class, I was often graded more harshly. On rare occasions, a professor would work with me but still make me earn it. In the children’s literature course, for example, I went through multiple revisions of documents before they met Dr. Tedesco’s standards for an A. I had to make several trips to meet her in person for that, but I will always thank her for being willing to work with me so diligently. Very few of my other instructors were willing to work with me in this way. One instructor, in particular, failed me when I asked for an incomplete. In my entire academic career, I can’t remember ever failing a class until grad school.   

The next difference I experienced was scheduling. I expected all classes to run on the understanding that the week starts and ends on a specific day. For example, it would start on Monday and end on Sunday. What I found, instead, was that every instructor measured time differently. Weeks started and stopped as they wanted them to; no two class calendars were the same. Different calendars meant that class deadlines were constantly changing and overlapping. That was especially true with instructors that taught through external websites outside of Blackboard. Eventually, I had to take the entire outline of each class calendar and add the events to my own personal Google calendar to keep track of my deadlines. Additionally, I checked the websites daily for revisions and updates. I was always worried about falling behind, but this helped me stay ahead enough to find time for other things in my schedule too.

The final difference I experienced was in technology. Most of my experience as a student and as an instructor with education had been face-to-face instruction or instruction using the same uniform learning platform. As a graduate student, I experienced learning through WordPress, Blackboard, and a variety of other external websites. Every instructor had a different approach to how a course should be taught, and those approaches came through onion layers of technology. I had to learn to navigate my way to websites within websites and documents within documents. The only thing I could expect for certain was that every class would have a discussion forum. The rest was fluid. It was hard to get used to that much flexibility, but it was that flexibility that would ultimately inspire my CAP project.

Specific Course Feedback

My experiences with instructors at East Carolina University was diverse. The instructor I had for English 6715 and 7701 was particularly impossible to please. I made countless revisions on work for him, gave him material strong enough for publishing, and got back disgusted remarks and failing grades. I took one of his courses twice because he failed me out of the course the first time while I was going through a personal family crisis. If anyone professor could be responsible for my negative experience and resulting Academic Probation period, it was him.

Not all TPC instructors were like that. In English 6721, I learned a lot about formats, fonts, headers, and copy-editing in his classes. The instructor was very helpful and kind–I almost needed a translation chart to get through the punctuation marks–but I wish I could grade my papers by his marks. It would definitely be a lot more efficient use of my time.

Another professor introduced me to teaching through WordPress. I learned a lot from him and started my own blogs on WordPress because of what I experienced in his and other instructors’ courses. My main blog, rebeccawhitman.wordpress.com, has been active for four years. I have been visited over 2000 times and have accrued a following of 240+ followers through simple word-of-mouth marketing. I post weekly to the site and will be more aggressively marketing it soon. Additionally, I started a blog for educators at whitmansacademics.wordpress.com. I’ve received a lot of recent recognition on that blog for my accomplishments with Google Classroom and my interviews with successful students and educators. One recent interview garnishes 50 views in less than 24 hours.

While most of the textbooks in my TPC classes did not have much relevance for me, I did find some that were applicable to other situations. For example, in the English 7721 Editing class, we read Richard Hamilton’s Managing Writers: A Real World Guide to Managing Documentation. While the book was very specific to the field of TPC management, it was also metaphorically significant for other leadership roles. For example, the sections talking about management philosophy and work environments could be applicable to any job.

Of all the TPC instructors, I learned the most from Dr. Frost. Her Health and Medical Rhetorics class challenged me to see the value and aesthetic beauty of medical texts. I did not enjoy most of the texts, but I was inspired to see works like Michel Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as intriguing. I was particularly moved by Skloot’s book and the raw candor of medical history and racial experience that she expressed. As I was reintroduced to it later in the Dr. Frost’s Writing Public Science course, I realized it would be an excellent textbook for my students. Another book introduced in the writing course, Andy Weir’s The Martian, became my second textbook for the course I created: Science Through Literature.

Far and away, my top favorite classes were the ones in writing and multicultural literature. That’s not surprising considering that my BFA was in Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington, and I am an English teacher now. I’m always more attracted to literature than the mechanics behind it.

In English 5890, the instructor was highly knowledgeable about scriptwriting and the filmmaking business in general. I remember being excited about his use of special collaboration software to allow us to virtually contribute to writing workshops. Nothing was quite so exciting as hearing my work and my characters read and discussed by my peers. I wrote a lot of notes and made a lot of revisions. I didn’t follow through with completing the script, but it meant a lot to me that the instructor invited me to continue working on it with him in another course. (An honor he did not give unless he saw promise in the work.) His choice of textbooks was equally helpful. We read Syd Field’s The Foundations of Screenwriting. The textbook was not as important as the work we were doing and discussing creatively, but it was particularly helpful about the field of screenwriting itself. It was not overly scholarly; it was practical. For example, I remember it discussing how much a film budget could expect to be based on the length of the screenwriter’s manuscript. It never occurred to me that overly wordy text could cost thousands to millions of dollars somewhere else. Now it makes sense why so many scenes are cut before they can even be shot.  

In English 7005, I was challenged to read text from different cultures I would not have normally read. I particularly remember reading Adichie’s Americanah and having a negative review of the author afterward. The instructor was always inspiring. He shamelessly pleaded with students for feedback and course enrollment through mass emails. He also made discussion boards competitive by sending us response letters featuring different students who stood out to him on the boards. I remember wanting to get featured in his letter and trying harder to comment intellectually on the boards to earn it. The instructor’s clever marketing ploys were part of what got me motivated to come back and finish my degree after a period of academic suspension. They were also what inspired me to enroll all my students in a free texting app, Remind, where I frequently send out prodding texts for their attendance and class participation.

It has been on my heart to write a particular children’s series, The Bohemian Princess. I was not quite sure how to flesh it out, so I really wanted to take a children’s literature course. I contacted the children’s literature instructor, and she created a custom course for me. A respected voice in the field of literary criticism about children’s literature herself, Dr. Tedesco challenged me as a reader and a writer in English 6515. I read more children’s books and books about children’s books than I knew existed. Many of them became so personally relevant to me that I bought my own small library of their work and continued reading them long after the class was over. I was particularly fond of the criticism of Maria Tatar, a well-respected voice in the realm of children’s literary criticism. Tatar dove into the layers of meaning in fairytales and challenged my approach to writing them. She made me think about the pedagogy going into my approach to writing children’s literature. On Dr. Tedesco’s recommendation, I read Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl and fell in love with the whole Books of Bayern series. I was equally inspired by the books we read and discussed like R.J.Palacio’s Wonder, Limony Snicket’s The Bad Beginning, Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. Be Eleven, and E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. I never realized the depth of character and work that went into writing books for children. Charlotte’s Web, for example, had a far more dark discussion of the cycle of life and death than I remembered when I read it as a child. Overall, I cherished getting to know new authors in the field and reading criticism about children’s literature in general. It is something I still collect and read, and it is a field of writing I will soon join. When I have my own children’s books, I hope they will be ones that Dr. Tedesco would have approved of.

In one of my last courses at ECU, an instructor reignited my poetic voice. We read authors like Layli Long Soldier, Kaveh Akbar, Joan Kane, and Elizabeth Alexander. During this whole discussion, the instructor never related the fact that she has her own published collections. She let us freely discuss the work we read and invited some of us to write our own poetry responses to it. The freedom to read and discuss poetry was the most liberating class experience of my whole degree. I did not love all the choices–I hated some of them passionately–but the experience gave me a chance to remember why I started writing poetry at a young age, pursued a BFA in poetry, and had several poems published.

The Story Behind the CAP Project

My experiences with so many different online learning environments made me want to offer a similar experience for my students. In particular, I wanted to offer my students a customized learning environment. However, that seemed like an impossible goal because the laws governing funding for Adult Basic Skills Education, where I work, require us to rely on instructional software that has time capturing features embedded into the programs. The programs are fine, but they don’t follow all the changing standards for content that we are required to follow, and they don’t teach material in the most engaging way for students. Most premade content requires a lot of reading and writing with little to no video instruction. In my English classes alone, it requires one-three 100 word essays at the end of every reading assignment. Essays intimidate the students and require a lot of grading from the instructors. In most cases, the learning can be adequately judged by a multiple choice self-grading test instead.

As I thought through all these problems, I began to explore other learning platforms used in the curriculum departments of my college. At Wayne Community College, instructors teach online through either Moodle or Google Classroom. Both require student logins through student email accounts. Both allow instructors to post content any way they want to for the students. Both allow discussion forums, video content, pdf attachments, etc. Both are similar to Blackboard, and Google Classroom has a fully functional app version for access on mobile devices.

I discovered that we could potentially use the same learning environment of Moodle or Google Classroom if we could have approved proxy hours to count for the work completed. I found the Google Classroom to be the most efficient of the two, so I started building courses in it. At the time, I was working as an adjunct with as many as 80 students in one class at one time. I wasn’t paid for the extra time to create the project, but I was able to use it in my classes to field test it. I created and field tested a Google Classroom class in all the areas of instruction I was responsible for teaching. I submitted my work to the North Carolina Community College System Office for approval for proxy hours. State auditors visited and loved it. I was asked to give a webinar about my work and, later, teach other teachers about it at Appalachian State University. After two years of waiting, the state office finally sent us back official approval to use the work as I outlined it. You can read more about the Google Classroom project here.

My CAP project will be used as a course website in the same way that some instructors have created external websites for courses in this program. It will have all the content for the course, and instructors will use Google Classroom to monitor student work in a similar way that graduate school instructors use Blackboard to monitor work. Since the course outline was approved by the state, this website will be shared with programs across the state who are using my outline to create course material for their programs. I am excited about what this means for the world of Adult Basic Skills Education and my footprint in it.

Final Thoughts

My experiences with ECU were not as inspiring and kind as I had hoped, but they were educational. As you can see from the highlights included here, not every instructor was a discouragement, but part of finding encouragement in my learning came from learning to make lemonade from my lemons. I have to say that falling so far off my academic pedestal taught me more than I could have learned from my degree. It taught me that my self-worth can’t be dictated by a classroom or a grade point average. It taught me that when you really want something, sometimes you have to articulate your need and fight for it. I may never use my degree for a career in Technical Writing, but I will always be able to use how it taught me to fight and how it taught me to read and write critically.

What Happened to the Lost Boys: A Discussion About Abandoned Children in J.M. Barrie’s Neverland and Beyond

…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:40, NIV

I’ve always been a bit curious–and sad–about what happened to the lost boys in Neverland. Were these poor children abandoned by their parents? Were they kidnapped? Were they orphans? And when Peter Pan leaves the island, do they feel abandoned once more? In this post, we discuss the issue of orphaned children and what we can do to make a difference in their lives.

There are several versions of the classic J.M. Barrie tale and the adventures of Peter Pan. According to the author, the lost boys are children who fell out of their strollers when their nannies weren’t looking and were then whisked away to live in Neverland after they were unclaimed for seven days. These lost children were always boys because, according to Barrie, girls were too clever to get lost that way (though they do in some of the stories).

I think the idea that a child could be missed for seven days suggests the child likely was an orphan.

There are several stories that suggest the boys come and go off the island as they show signs of growing up or desiring to do so. For a full history of the story as it has been told through film and prequels like the Starcatcher series, check out this website.

Though J.M. Barrie wrote about the lost boys based off of real boys he had befriended personally, I have to wonder what happens to the lost boys–and girls–today. What happens to orphans when they become orphans?

I’ve heard horror stories of orphans being abused and neglected first by their biological parents and then by the guardians and system of care that is supposed to protect them. These stories were shared with me firsthand by the orphans themselves as adults in my classroom.

One child remembered being taken from her abusive parents in the middle of the night with nothing but a black trash bag to hurriedly gather her belongings. She didn’t understand that her addicted parents were doing something to her that they shouldn’t. She didn’t know she was being neglected. Therefore, she spent a lot of years bouncing around the system and trying to call her abusers every chance she could get. They would try to manipulate her into getting the money and supplies to continue their addictions. Even when she realized that they were asking her to do something wrong, she still called them. She so desperately wanted their validation of her worth.

Another child remembered being removed from a neglectful home only to end up in a foster home where the fosters pocketed their government aid, kept too many children, and provided minimal food and necessities for them. In this scenario, the heroes became villains as well. Children were left to grow up fast and find creative ways to provide for themselves.

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

Psalm 127:3-5, NIV

How many times do adults treat children like burdens, free labor, or worse with little to no consideration of the heritage they are building in them?

How many times do we see examples of adult selfishness playing out on the values of younger generations we see in the groceries stores and streets today?

Many of the orphans I have talked to describe their feelings like being on a rollercoaster. They lash out at people that treat them kindly because they don’t know who to trust and they fear being abandoned again. Because a child’s sense of safety and self-worth comes from their parents and these kids had toxic parents, many of them never found the understanding and sense of belonging they needed to become healthy, balanced adults.

What could we do to make a difference in just one life like this today?


There is good news! Not every lost boy and girl stayed in that place of abandonment.

I have a friend that grew up in a Christian orphanage not far from me. He doesn’t talk about his birth family, but he talks about life in the orphanage and the people that poured into him. You can read more about him and his story on his blog. 

Despite what others experienced, my friend was loved in his orphanage. Employees that saw their job as an opportunity to minister gave him hope and life when his own life “sucked”. He found hope and faith in Jesus, and he became a Christian. Then he realized that he wanted to be a pastor.

Two weeks before his sixteenth birthday, he was adopted by a prominent pastor and his wife. His new family showed him love and kindness. He found a sense of belonging and purpose through his faith and his adopted family. The family mentored him in the career path he would later pursue and introduced him to the woman who would later be the wife and mother of his children. God was looking out for this little lost boy!

Do you know a lost boy or a lost girl?

What can you do to speak hope and life into their world today?