Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gratitude Challenge: My Twelve Year Old

A good friend of mine, Brenda at Garden of Learning, put together a Gratitude Challenge.  The idea is to post for every day in November about something you are thankful for.  I've done a horrible job, but... Day Thirty  -- is an easy one.

Today, my wonderful son William turns twelve years old.  It doesn't seem possible that it can be a dozen years ago that he was born.

He was due at Christmas, and things were pretty wild.  Again.  I went on full bedrest right at the end of September, only I had to go in for biophysical profiles (BPP) frequently.  By mid-November, I had to be in every 48 hours.  Only they gave me a break at Thanksgiving -- so I didn't have to come back until Monday.

My parents were in town.  Dad dropped Mom off and headed back to North Dakota sometime on Sunday.  And because Mom would be there and could drive and carry Connor around, Dale scheduled an appointment to have his wisdom teeth pulled Monday morning.

Yeah, you all know where this is going, right?

We all headed to town.  Dropped Dale off for the wisdom teeth thing, Mom dropped me off at the hospital for my BPP, and headed back to pick up Dale.  I checked in, saw my baby on the ultrasound, and watched them do all the measurements.  And since I had now had SO many of these, I was doing the math.  And I knew.  William was fading.  Fluid levels were way down, he wasn't moving enough, even after they fed me juice. 

The nurse wouldn't confirm anything, exactly, but she did finally tell me that she wasn't sure they'd insist on me having the baby today, but that she would be shocked if they let me leave the hospital.

About this time, Mom, Dale and Connor returned.  Dale with a mouthful of cotton.  I informed them we were having a baby.  The nurse rolled her eyes at me and said, "I didn't say that..."

Then the doctor came in and said, "You guys ready to have a baby today?"

Poor Dale, he hasn't been watching this BPP and doesn't know anything.  And, well, he can barely talk with all the stuff in his mouth.  The doctor conveys that this time, it won't be an emergency c-section, but that we do need to get this child out as he is starting to really go downhill.

It was really nice to actually be told what was going to happen before it happened.  And I was able to be awake for the delivery.  William was born that afternoon, and we was over 4.5 pounds.  They did not race him off to NICU, but he still did end up there for about a week.

His NICU stay was actually a bit harder than Connor's though.  We knew more.  We understood more.  And William fluctuated a lot.  He would be doing great, and then he'd crash.  He'd steadily improve, then he'd crash.  Oh, it was tough.  But how can it be twelve years ago?

I wish I had more photos, but I'm lousy at taking pictures, and I'm not usually the one with the camera.  But maybe I can put in a couple...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Blog Cruise: Talking about the extras

Blog Cruise time again, only with Thanksgiving, I totally forgot.  So this post is very last minute.  At least it is a topic I don't have to think about much.

The question this week has to do with extra-curricular activities.

We don't do a lot.  We have had a couple of times where we were.  But right now, no, not all that much.  I don't want to schedule my kids' lives so that they never get to play.  And honestly, we simply cannot afford to be spending the time or money to do most of the great looking stuff out there.

Our recurring extra-curricular activities basically boil down to Scouts and swim lessons.  We also have some non-recurring things.

Scouts.  This year, all four boys are involved.  Connor and William are Boy Scouts (a Life and First Class scout, respectively), Thomas is a Webelos, and Richard is a Tiger.  I have blathered on about the huge benefits I see in scouting once or twice on here, but in a nutshell:
  • My boys are getting the opportunity to interact with other loving, Christian, mostly homeschooling MEN.  Particularly at the Boy Scout level, but also in Cubs.  
  • My boys are getting the opportunity to interact with their peers.  Boys from loving, Christian, mostly homeschooling families.  
  • My boys are getting the opportunity to learn a lot of great stuff.  Things I am simply never going to teach them.  Like the Cubs playing Ultimate Frisbee.  Like knot-tying.  Like anything beyond very basic first aid (I am HORRIBLE with first aid).
  • My boys are getting the opportunity to learn about leadership.  That has been interesting, to say the least.
  • And Scouts is FUN.  The big two do a lot of camping, cooking, hiking, etc.  The Cubs don't have as frequent of chances to do extra stuff, but their meetings are more fun week to week.
  • And my boys are challenged.  There is always something new to strive for, something else to achieve.  Which brings up another point...
  • My boys get recognition.  They get to stand up in front of the pack or troop and be awarded new ranks, new merit badges, belt loops, etc.  
  • And we get the opportunity to participate in a lot of other things through scouting.  Community service requirements pushed us to find something that we can (almost) all do.  Care & Share lets kids ages 6 and up work... so everyone but Katrina can participate. 
The other primary extra-curricular we do is swim lessons.  We aren't always able to have the kids taking them, but we do make an effort to get them in a lessons a few times per year.  

And then we have the occasional types of extra-curriculars.  Apple Camp, summer camp, a safety day being held at the city pool, a basketball event at a Christian school in town...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Bible in 90 Days Challenge is beginning again

Some of you may remember reading my check-ins this past summer/fall as the boys and I read (okay, listened) to the Bible over the course of 90 days.  This experience was pretty amazing.  I've read through the Bible before.  My kids have listened to the entire Bible a couple times before.  But wow, going through it at this pace really gave the stories new meaning.

Well, Amy of Mom's Toolbox is starting up again.  January 3 is the big day, and the 90 days goes through April 2.  Signup just started, at this link.

I've been praying about my involvement this time around.  And I just finished filling out the form to be a mentor.  I have decided that I am not going to read through the Bible in 90 days again myself... but I am going to have Connor following the teen schedule I saw here, and I am going to have William and Thomas reading to me from the various kids' schedules.

The teen schedule has them reading 2-3 chapters a day.

The tween schedule has them reading 1-2 chapters a day.  I'm thinking William can do that.

The kid schedule has them doing a chapter a day.  I think Thomas can do that.

The little kids schedule does a story a day out of a kids' Bible I don't believe I own.  I'll substitute.  I'm actually thinking I may grab my Sonlight Basic K Teacher's Manual and plan to read from Egermeier's doing two days of SL per day for the 90 days.  We'll see.  :)

So instead of me reading something like 15-16 chapters of the Bible daily, I'll be listening to 2-3 chapters, and reading a few pages to the little ones.

And encouraging others to be plugging along and doing their reading.  This mentor thing could be pretty neat.  I'm already praying for whoever gets stuck with me.  And I will be blogging about it.  Because I'm sure I'm going to get a different perspective going through the Bible this way.

Anyone care to join me?  You can even ask for me as a mentor, though I'm not sure why you'd want to...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Review: Exploring the World of Physics

I jumped at the chance to review Exploring the World of Physics by John Hudson Tiner, for a number of reasons.
  1. I've loved his other books in this series (Biology, Mathematics, Medicine, Planet Earth).  In other words, Physics is one of the only ones we don't own.
  2. I have science nuts for sons, and they are always interested in another good book.
  3. And... to confess... physics intimidates me. I never took physics.  Ever. Because it intimidates me.
Part of the description from the publisher states:
Physics is a branch of science that many people consider to be too complicated to understand. In this exciting addition to the “Exploring” series, John Hudson Tiner puts this myth to rest as he explains the fascinating world of physics in a way that students from elementary to high school can comprehend.
Does that sound perfect for me? To continue the description:
Did you know that a feather and a lump of lead will fall at the same rate in a vacuum? Learn about the history of physics from Aristotle to Galileo to Isaac Newton to the latest advances. Discover how the laws of motion and gravity affect everything from the normal activities of everyday life to launching rockets into space. Learn about the effects of inertia firsthand during fun and informative experiments.
Exploring the World of Physics is a great tool for students of all ages who want to have a deeper understanding of the important and interesting ways that physics affects our lives and is complete with illustrations, chapter questions, and an index. 
Hmmm... maybe I can handle physics. Because yes, in fact, I did know about the feather and lead, and I've learned a lot about Aristotle, Galileo and Newton alongside my kids. So why have I avoided officially studying physics?

So I jumped into reading this book.  And you know what?  I get it. Tiner makes this pretty non-intimidating.  He writes like he is talking to you.  And it is in English, not geek-speek.

I was afraid as I started that maybe I was just "getting it" because I was only dealing with the old stuff.  You know, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton... simple machines, laws of motion, I can handle that. It's all the scary stuff with electromagnetism and nuclear energy that worry me.  So, after reading the first few chapters, I skipped ahead.  Surprisingly, I was still understanding him.  Even though words like "quantum," "cold fusion," and "electrostatic" were being bandied about, it continued to make sense to me.

Connor is on track to be taking high school physics next year.  I am going to thoroughly read this book, again, before he gets there.  But now I am not so terribly intimidated about helping him with his projects.  Connor will be required to read this as a supplement, or maybe I'll require it next summer.  I will also have William work through chapters of this book next year, when he is taking Physical Science. 

My conclusion?  This book is as wonderful as others in the series, maybe even moreso for me.  If you have a child in physics and you want to have a clue as to what they are studying, this is a fairly painless way to obtain that clue.  If you have a student who is intimidated by physics, this is a friendly overview of the subject.

Highly recommend. 

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group. No other compensation was received. The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fit Mommy Friday Challenge Check-In

I seem to be incapable of checking in weekly. My Fit Mommy Friday Challenge check-in, for two weeks, I guess:
  1. I will move daily.  I did do a pretty good job of this.  I've been outside walking, and when we head out, I really am focused on getting in more movement.  I've been parking way further out almost always (the exception was when I needed to park within the free wireless range) and hiking into the store at a good clip.
  2. I will drink water.  Okay, so while I'm still failing by most "expert" standards, I started every day with a big glass of cold water. I'm waking up thirsty and drinking my water.  As for the Mountain Dew, well, I have to confess... last Monday, when I had jury duty, I had a Mountain Dew with my lunch.  I really needed the caffeine, I think I needed the sugar buzz too... and I did get a small.  And I did not get a refill.  And I enjoyed every single sip of it.  (And stayed awake through the trial that afternoon to boot.)
  3. De-cluttering my environment.  Well, while I did actually meet the letter of the law goal, many days I really didn't do that much. I did have a couple of days where I really made a serious effort though too.
  4. Eat sensibly.  I'm doing a decent job.  Even Thanksgiving... we didn't end up having dessert, as I was tired of dishes, so I didn't make a pie.
  5. Working out.  <sigh>  I have to do this.  Somebody yell at me, 'kay?
  6. Check in. Yeah, let's totally blow the easy stuff, shall we?
This coming week, I am going to seriously focus on the decluttering and on working out.

Click the link above to see how some of my fellow challenge-mates are doing.  I'm sure all of them would adore an encouraging word.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Family Movie Night on NBC

Something I did not expect to do when I started blogging -- I did not expect I'd be promoting a television show.

We gave up paid television about a dozen years ago.  As of whenever all this digital stuff happened, we no longer even get broadcast signals.  So it has been a long time since we've watched regular television.  My understanding is that, in general, tv is even worse now than it was a decade ago.

But there are some bright spots.  And one of them is the reason for this post.  Family Movie Night is airing A Walk in My Shoes next Friday, December 3, at 7 pm CST.  Check out the preview:

A Walk In My Shoes - 2:33 TRLR from Moms4FamilyTV.com on Vimeo.

From the website, here's a blurb about Family Movie Night:
Walmart and P&G have partnered to create the Family Moments initiative to help moms and families better connect with each other. Family Movie Night is a part of that movement to provide meaningful entertainment for the entire family.

During Family Movie Night, you can be confident that the programming on their screens will be fun and action-packed, without the worry of having to dive for the remote to change the channel when inappropriate ads or other content comes on. Soundtracks for the films also feature top producers and artists. The day after airing,a special 2-disc DVD/CD bonus pack will be available for purchase exclusively through Walmart.

By providing this block of time, Walmart and P&G are striving to reconnect families across the country that are bombarded by busy schedules and the lack of programming that's appealing to everyone. Tune in and see what the buzz is about.
Now that is something that sounds incredibly promising. Watching television and not having to dive for the remote.  I like that.

My suggestion to you -- check out the trailer above, go visit the website, check out (and like) their Facebook page, and consider watching A Walk in My Shoes next Friday.  Obviously, encouraging others to look into it as well would be great too.

Disclaimer:  by blogging about this, I can have the opportunity to watch a special online screening of A Walk in My Shoes. No other compensation was received.  All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Old Schoolhouse and their Black Friday Sale

Many of you know that I have been involved with The Old Schoolhouse for the past year and a half (or so) as part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew.  Even before that, though, I had been subscribing to the magazine for a number of years.  I also loved using the TOS website for finding product reviews, or just for ideas.

I was a customer at the Schoolhouse Store as well.  And their store is why I'm writing this post today.  They are doing a special Black Friday promotion -- now through midnight on Monday.

They have some pretty amazing specials... and if I didn't already have so much of this one below, I would jump on it.  I wonder if I could give away the things I already own?  Hmmmm...
The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine is extending an extraordinary subscription offer to homeschool families. U.S. and Canadian residents can receive a one-year print subscription and a FREE Homeschooling with Heat tote bag, FREE Schoolhouse Planner of your choice, and FREE E-Book: Cranberry Christmas for just $19.95. One-year subscriptions start with the winter issue. It makes a perfect gift for yourself and a friend. There are a limited number of tote bags available from November 24 through midnight on November 29-once they're gone, they're gone! Hurry and grab this tremendous value today! It's over $80 in free gifts--one of them the gorgeous Cranberries & Cream tote bag.
There are doorbuster specials every day.  There are free gifts with purchases (starting at $30).  I particularly want to get that first set of gifts... Three Curiosity Files (I love these... watch for a review soon!), a Hands of a Child lapbook, an Easy Classical schedule that would go great with one I'm reviewing...  we'll have to see.

If you are like me and can't really spend anything right now, there is also a fabulous freebie page.  You at least need to go check that out!

Disclaimer: I may receive some product credit for helping to advertise this special. I may not.  Either way, I only promote things I really believe in, and The Old Schoolhouse is certainly something I believe in.

Christmas Cards. I always have good intentions.

But (I confess) I am nearly certain that we've never actually SENT cards out since we've had kids.

And when I see things like the Christmas Photo Cards from Shutterfly, I know I have no excuse.  Looking over their card selection, I am impressed by a couple of things:
  • They have designs that use anywhere from one to ten photos.  While most use one to four pictures, there certainly are options for bigger families.
  • It is super-easy to create your card.  Uploading photos from your computer is a snap, and then you can arrange and rearrange those pictures as well.
  • You can customize the text. 
  • You can at least sort of narrow things down, so you can search for only cards that allow 3+ photos.  I'd love it if that number was higher, like, say 5+.  But at least it eliminated having to look at cards that only allow one or two photos.
  • You can save your photos at Shutterfly, so you don't have to lose everything when you close it out and go get on your husband's computer to search for better photos (my computer tends to have photos of things like worm dissections.)
  • In addition to the Christmas greetings, they also have a selection of "holiday" greetings.  There is one in there I'm seriously considering.
  • And I'd love to get a couple of these desk calendars for Christmas gifts.  Dale would enjoy having one of these at work, and I'm guessing there are a couple of grandparents who would find a place to put these too.
The greatest part for me right now is that Shutterfly is doing a blogging promotion where you too can get 50 free holiday cards in exchange for blogging about some really cool products.

Disclaimer:  I was promised free cards in exchange for writing this post. No other compensation was received or is expected. I wouldn't do it if I didn't think this was a good product.

This and That, Thanksgiving Version

Time for another mish-mash post.  Because there are a million ideas swirling in my head about posts I should make.  So, briefly --
  • I ought to post about my experience of going grocery shopping with $3.15 on a debit card... No, I didn't keep my purchases under that, but it didn't even take a quarter more. Stuffing, eggs, cheese and creamer. I would have skipped the creamer, but it was free...  I love being able to "do" Thanksgiving and am so grateful I did get to go shopping!
  • I have not yet dared to brave the veggie section of the cupboards to see if we have any cans of sweet potatoes. I am trying to convince myself that Thanksgiving will still be Thanksgiving, with or without sweet potatoes. I'm not succeeding very well. Cranberries and sweet potatoes.  Those are my two essentials. Everything else I can live without. It was really hard to shop on Monday and not buy sweet potatoes.
  • My kids, however, vote cranberries and stuffing. They are covered.  
  • Dale probably votes mashed potatoes and stuffing. I didn't ask him, I'm just guessing. If so, he's covered too. He'd probably be upset if we went without turkey, but we have that too.
  • I have meant to post about William making First Class earlier this month. Consider this to be an announcement. I'll post something nice about it when I get my mom's pin at the Court of Honor... I'll also get my mom's pin for him making Second Class a couple months back.
  • The kids are voting on what to do with their popcorn prizes -- we allocated the popcorn sales among them so that they earned two $10 Wal-mart gift cards. I'm thinking that using it to help those less fortunate this Christmas is going to win out. Now, do we just donate the cards, or do we actually go shopping and pick stuff out? Decisions, decisions, decisions...
  • I have a lot of amazing books on my "upcoming reviews" sidebar right now. I'm having so much fun with these! I am so blessed to get the chance to write about such amazing stuff.
  • On that note, I just was notified about another Blog Tour. I really hope I get this one. It's a North Dakota author, taking place in rural North Dakota. Oh, I really hope to get this one (or did I mention that already?) 
  • Everyone in the house seems to be fighting something off. Everyone is sleeping in, or going to bed early. I sure hope we can stay healthy.
  • I alluded to this in my traditions post, but we are planning to get back to the Polish-themed Christmas Eve meals we used to do. You know, before kids.  Stuffed mushrooms, fish, potatoes, mushroom pierogies... I think I remember how to make pierogies...
  • Standardized tests. I hate them.  I'm feeling terribly incompetent as a teacher.  I know my children all know to capitalize the word "i" -- so why do they mark it as "no errors"?  <sigh>
  • I ought to just look and see if we have sweet potatoes.  If we do, I would be able to stop throwing that particular little pity party.
I'll close it off here.  Happy Thanksgiving to all...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Summit: We have a winner!

It took me awhile this morning, but I finally went to visit random.org and pick a winner for my giveaway of The Summit by Eric Alexander.

It spit back a #1.  So Sister Tipster's lucky son will be getting this book!  Is it a Christmas gift?  Hopefully we'll get it all submitted quickly so it can be!

SisterTipster said...
Hello Debra~
Enter me up~my son would like this one!


We don't have traditions. Or do we?

Blog Cruise time again, only this time, I'm having to write up the post for the TOS Blog too.  You'd think that would mean I'd write my post EARLY in the process, not wait until the very, very last minute.

The question this week has to do with holiday traditions.  That's a tough one for me, as we just don't seem to have any.  I mean, we had all kinds of ideas as to traditions we WANTED to have.  It's just that nothing ever seems to be implemented.

One tradition we had decided was going to happen pretty early on was that we were going to do a fairly Polish Christmas Even.  That would specifically include making peirogies from scratch.  We did that before we had kids.  And this, our 14th Christmas with children, will mark the second time we've done it with kids.  Not much of a tradition, eh? 

That's how most of our stuff feels on the surface.  Great intentions, lousy follow-through.

Of course, the fact that in those fourteen years of Christmases, I've been recovering from a c-section twice (two November babies), and I've been 6-7 months pregnant twice... well...  it does mess with things a bit.

So... why am I posting?  Because we DO have holiday traditions.  Just not all the traditions I'd like.

Let's talk birthdays.  For birthdays, we typically end up celebrating as a family on the Sunday before.  The birthday child gets to plan the menu for the day (within reason).  Thomas always gets the candy cane ice cream from the Schwan's man.  Connor always has pie.  We have a couple of gift bags that get used for the presents from Mom & Dad, and usually at least one of them is a "magic gift bag."  Meaning, I will have unwrapped present sitting next to me, and as the gift bag gets handed back to me after being opened, I'll slip another present into it, and a non-birthday child will slip the bag back in among the unopened presents.  The birthday child pretends not to notice.

What started as an attempt to NOT wrap presents in plastic grocery bags when we really couldn't spring for wrapping paper is now something my kids expect.

For Thanksgiving, we have a turkey dinner and hang out as a family.  What else we have with that turkey might vary considerably.  This year, I've scored a LOT of cheap Stove-Top Stuffing (I paid four cents a box for what I bought last night), so if nothing else, we will eat turkey and Stove-Top.  Richard proclaimed last night that this was going to be "the best Thanksgiving ever!"

For Christmas, we typically have Christmas with my parents in early December.  We do Christmas as just our family on Christmas Eve, sometime Christmas Day.  And Dale's mom usually visits around New Year's.  So, the kids "do" Christmas three times.  We make sure to watch our Christmas movie collection -- It's a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, The Grinch, The Little Drummer Boy, etc.  We get Christmas music randomized on the iPod and pump that through our stereo.

And we read.  We read traditional Christmas tales (Gift of the Magi, Christmas Carol).  We read Christmas picture books.  We read modern classics (The Best Christmas Pageant Ever).  And we read about the birth of Christ in the Bible.  Multiple times. 

The kids can pretty much count on a gift from us that is a book.  Quite often, a school book.  They can count on new jeans (desperately needed this year!)  The boys can count on gifts that will help them in scouts.  There is usually something that is just fun too.  

Our traditions reflect us pretty well.  Thrifty, eclectic, go-with-the-flow...

What about you?  What traditions do you have at this time of year?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: Christian Kids Explore Biology

As part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I am thrilled to have had the opportunity again this year to review Bright Ideas Press.  Last year, I reviewed their newest major project, Illuminations.  While we haven't continued to use it, exactly, I really do love the 3rd-8th grade level of Illuminations in particular.  

Bright Ideas Press has so many products that are simply amazing.  One that I have never used is their Christian Kids Explore Science series.  Can I confess something here?  (Can you stop me?)  I've never tried this series because it just looked so light, and filled with silly hands-on projects -- not real science.  I didn't want to make a jello model of a cell.  (My kids loved that though.  But I have to admit, I don't feel like they actually learned anything from that particular project.)

The series includes biology, chemistry, earth & space, and physics.  Most are intended for roughly 3rd-8th grades, but in my family, I think that range would need to be a little lower, like 1st-6th.  I'm not entirely sure that I am comfortable for these books in junior high.  Not for my kids.

My understanding is that Christian Kids Explore Biology is the easiest one in the series, and that is what my 4th grader chose to do.  CKEB is divided up into 35 weekly lessons in eight units.  The units include Biology Basics, Plants, Birds, Mammals, Humans, Reptiles, Insects, and Water Creatures.  Each unit contains 3-6 lessons.  We dug right in and started off with virtually no teacher prep.  Open and go. 

The lessons are intended to be completed in a week, in two 60-90 minute sessions.  At first, I had a really tough time figuring out what could possibly take even two hours -- but, of course, discovered I was missing a chunk.  So, let's take a lesson further into the book as an illustration of what a week is supposed to look like.  I'm skipping way to the back, because "bugs" tends to be something I get easily.  And because we missed SO much in the lessons we have completed.

Day one:
  • Review flashcards and vocabulary.  I am very impressed with the vocabulary.  For the insect unit (three lessons), it includes 19 words, some as basic as head, abdomen and thorax.  But it also includes words like chrysalis, incomplete metamorphosis, and pupa.  And it includes a person, Karl von Frisch.  But this does not need to be limited to just vocabulary.  There is an appendix (that I totally missed) with a ton of great little lists... either for information or memorization.  For insects, that includes general insect characteristics, characteristics of some specific insects, stages of complete metamorphosis, stages of incomplete metamorphosis, and a list of insect plural (like caterpillars are in an army, lice are in a flock, gnats are in either a swarm, cloud or horde, etc.)
  • Discuss the last lesson.
  • Read through the new lesson.  This is a couple pages of text, and takes very little time to read.  This was my hang-up.  I kept thinking this was the bulk of the lesson.
  • Talk about what you/they just read.
  • Fill out a daily reading sheet.  This is a reproducible form that includes some great little questions, like -- "I enjoyed learning about ____", "I never knew that ____", and "I would like to know more about _____"  I have to work with my son on scribing, as all my boys are pretty pencil-phobic, but I love that they are being trained to think about what information is new, and more importantly what they want to learn more about. That helps me figure out what direction to take when it comes to the outside reading, below.
  • Vocabulary -- create a vocabulary page or make flashcards.  Obviously, these are what is going to be reviewed in future lessons.  I'm typing words up, and having him type out the definition. 
  • Outside Reading Time -- an aspect I totally missed.  They suggest 30 minutes or more for this, and there is an appendix with suggestions.  For insects, there are suggestions by lesson that include general books like Eyewitness: Insect (DK) and The Practical Entomologist (I already put this on hold at the library -- I probably need to purchase it).  There are also books about specific bugs, including A Ladybug's Life, Sorting Out Worms and other Invertebrates, and The Life and  Adventures of Monica Monarch.  Plus, there are literature suggestions, which includes insect poetry (something else I need to look for!).  
Day Two:
  • Memory Work, again.  There is also an appendix that includes Scripture Memory work.  For the insect unit, these include Proverbs 6:6 and Matthew 6:20.
  • Hands-on Time.  This could be the activity listed in the lesson.  For the insect introduction, this involves going outside and looking for insects, with specific suggestions as to what to do and where to look.  This is one hands-on activity we will do for sure.  But the hands-on can also involve working on an ABC book (details in Appendix D), or working with some of the correlated resources from the "further reading" appendix.  For insects, they suggest things like the Bug Game from Timberdoodle, various critter kits (butterfly garden, ant farm, worm composting), and something that would have greatly appealed to ME as a kid -- a Beeswax Candle kit.
Each unit ends with a review (which can be used as a test).  There are also extensive resources available in the appendices.  I've hinted at them above, but I'm going to list stuff out again.  Because THIS is what I was missing.
  • Appendix A: Reproducible Forms and Maps.  This includes your basic blank forms -- experiment form, daily reading sheet, field trip, plant observation -- and a couple of maps.
  • Appendix B: Memorization or Reference Lists.  I mentioned this above.  All kinds of little lists for extra memory work, or just to go over for informational purposes.
  • Appendix C: Scripture Memory.  These can be copied and cut into individual memory cards.
  • Appendix D: ABC Book.  This has the instructions and clip-art style artwork to create an ABC book.  I can see my youngest son enjoying this.  I can also see my daughter loving this.
  • Appendix E: Coloring Pages.  There is at least one coloring page per unit.  And these are detailed pages.  A lot of units have multiple pages.
  • Appendix F: Recipes and Supplemental Activities.  There are ten activities in here, including three word search puzzles, some research suggestions, and recipes for play-dough, papier mache, and turtle bread.
  • Appendix G:  Answer Key.  Just what it sounds like.
  • Appendix H: Suggested Further Reading.  I referred to this above, but WOW.  About 20 pages, arranged by unit, of book suggestions.  Then another dozen or so pages of multi-unit books, nature journal resources, videos, field trip ideas, and magazines.  Wow.
Bright Ideas Press has also made a Student Activity Book available as a download.  I would highly recommend purchasing this, if possible.  This includes about 150 pdf pages -- of all the worksheet types of activities in the text, all the unit reviews, all the coloring pages, Appendices A-F, and all the diagrams (both labeled and unlabeled).  This makes it SO easy to actually USE.  I cannot imagine doing Christian Kids Explore Science without the Activity Book.  Yes, virtually all of this is available in the book for me to just photocopy.  But it is so much more convenient to print from a file.  And I love having the unlabeled diagrams (those are NOT in the book that I have found).

All in all, we are really enjoying Christian Kids Explore Biology.  By adding appendix suggestions, we can really dig into each and every lesson -- or just dig into some of them.  There is a lot more meat involved in this book than initially meets the eye.  In fact, since we got through four lessons before I realized just how much stuff we were skipping, we decided to take a break, do some of the "extra" stuff from those first four lessons, maybe do Lesson 5 (the final lesson in Unit 1), and then put it away until January, when we'll pick it up with the unit on plants.

My recommendation, though, would be to actually do some teacher prep.  At least read the "How to Use This Book" section.  Don't just skim it, like I did.  It's only three pages.  

Christian Kids Explore Biology is available from the Bright Ideas Press Store for $34.95.  The Activity Book is available for $12.95.

You can check out what my fellow crew-mates have to say about various Bright Ideas Press products at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive products from Bright Ideas Press.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book Review: The Narnia Code

I recently had the opportunity to read The Narnia Code by Michael Ward.  I had no idea what to expect.  On the one hand, the whole idea of a unifying theme to the Chronicles of Narnia is an intriguing possibility.  On the other, I'm a bit leary of the whole idea.  I've read some analysis before, and it always felt so contrived.  I expected this to be more of the same.

Maybe it felt contrived because until now, nobody had found the key.

From the publisher:
Millions of readers have been captivated by C. S. Lewis’s famed Chronicles of Narnia, but why? What is it about these seven books that makes them so appealing? For more than half a century, scholars have attempted to find the organizing key—the “secret code”—to the beloved series, but it has remained a mystery. Until now. 
In The Narnia Code, Michael Ward takes the reader through each of the seven Narnia books and reveals how each story embodies and expresses the characteristics of one of the seven planets of medieval cosmology—Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus and Saturn—planets which Lewis described as “spiritual symbols of permanent value.”
How does medieval cosmology relate to the Christian underpinnings of the series? How did it impact Lewis’s depiction of Aslan, the Christlike character at the heart of the books? And why did Lewis keep this planetary inspiration a secret? Originally a ground-breaking scholarly work called Planet Narnia, this more accessible adaptation will answer all the questions.
My take?  This was fascinating.  Absolutely fascinating. It was also a fairly easy book to read.  With the description of Planet Narnia, I was a little concerned that I was going to be totally lost in The Narnia Code.  Maybe it is partially due to the exposure I've had to Roman mythology in the past few years.  It certainly isn't because I knew anything about medieval cosmology.

I really think Michael Ward has hit on the key.  And it was predominantly his discussion in the first two chapters that convinced me.  He brought up a number of issues that have always niggled at me -- especially the more I've read Lewis's other works.  Lewis always seems so logical, so methodical.  But in Narnia, there are things that just seem to appear from nowhere.  Father Christmas?  Bacchus?  Father Time?

Having read The Narnia Code, I want to sit down and re-read the entire Narnia series.  Again.  I really do feel like I understand it more now than I have before.  Highly recommend. 

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from Tyndale House Publishers.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gratitude Challenge:

A good friend of mine, Brenda at Garden of Learning, put together a Gratitude Challenge.  The idea is to post for every day in November about something you are thankful for.

So -- Day Twenty  --

I've been so negligent in posting these.  I'm thinking about it daily, but I just don't seem to get the posting part to happen.

Today, I am grateful for amazing curriculum, books and other materials that I'm fortunate enough to review.  I cannot believe how blessed I am in this.  We are able to use things I'd never be able to afford in our schooling, and I am having the opportunity to read some incredible books.  Just as an overview, right now:
  • William is using a Latin program that seems to be a great pace for him.
  • Connor specifically asked for a computer programming course this year.  I told him I'd see what we could do.  Well, he has a full-year programming course to review.
  • Thomas started the year without any formal science planned.  He is now doing biology, and it is great for him.
  • Connor is getting the chance to read fantastic supplemental science resources.  Now that he is down to "only" one high school science course, he does really need some additional reading.
  • We just received a game that William will be getting for his birthday. 
  • Institute for Excellence in Writing.  I still tear up when I think about this coming into my life.
  • I have a book about a Forensic Geologist coming.  I mean, really, how perfect is that for me?  (Connor is very, very into forensics, William wants to go into geology)
  • All kinds of resources are pushing me, challenging me, in my faith.
  • I've got a DVD on its way.  That makes Dale happy.
  • November is always a bit tough for me.  My first baby was due on Veteran's Day.  So the audio book I'm reviewing has hinted at some healing for moms who've miscarried. 
This doesn't even factor in the amazing things I've already reviewed... and there is so much of that we are continuing to use.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review and Giveaway: The Summit

I am so excited to have the chance to read and review The Summit by Eric Alexander.  When I found out I'd be doing this, I was fortunate enough to catch Eric being interviewed by Ryan Dobson.  That got me even more interested in the book!

Eric Alexander has such an amazing story.  You can check out his blog, Higher Summits, for a bio.  This isn't normally the type of book I tend to go for, but knowing that Eric has done some work with Colorado School for the Blind made me more interested.  In fact, I nearly drove to town the day of the Dobson interview to see him at a local climbing store working with local students.  You can see a clip from that here.

Okay, so what is the book about?  From the publisher: 
It’s one of the greatest challenges one can face on Earth; an ascent to the top of the world on the slopes of Mount Everest. Eric Alexander experienced grace and a faith-empowering journey he will never forget as part of a record-setting team in May 2001, scaling the heights of Everest with his friend, blind climber Erik Weinhenmayer.
• Experience some of the most dangerous locations in the world, including abject terror on Amadablam, a blind ski descent of Russia’s Mount Elbrus, and up Kilimanjaro in Africa with four blind teens
• Gain wisdom in the application of trust, courage, innovation, teamwork, leadership, and integrity to overcome your own Everests
• Discover practical faith lessons learned on the highest peaks of six continents

Here is the powerful story of Eric Alexander and his unique life journey of guiding people with disabilities to the most perilous places of the world, including Mount Everest’s first blind ascent. In The Summit: Faith Beyond Everest’s Death Zone you will follow in their historic footsteps, and learn about faith, trust, prayer, depending on God, as well as the perseverance needed during these climbs and in your own life. Be inspired and motivated by Eric’s insight, not simply to survive but to thrive every day in God’s grace.

We have been using this book as a family read-aloud, and I have to say that I highly recommend this for boy-heavy families like mine!  One idea is that everyone has their own Everest -- what is yours, and what is your plan to conquer it?  I cannot begin to tell you what a wonderful message this is for my teen/tween boys right now.  And I am enjoying it far more than I expected to as well.  Because although this is a story about climbing mountains, it is way more than a story about mountain climbing.  It's a story of life, of faith, of conquering obstacles. 

Check out the video:

And if you repost this video (on your blog, on facebook, wherever) and fill out this form (please tell them I told you about it!), you could win a Kindle with The Summit preloaded... or you could win a copy of the book from me!  (Disclaimer -- crediting me on the giveaway form puts me into a separate contest for a Kindle!)

Yep, I get to give a book away!  Entering is pretty straightforward.
  1. Post the video, fill out the form, and leave me a comment each time you do that...
  2. You can also get an entry for telling me about your Everest in the comments here.
  3. And, okay, you can also leave me a comment if you follow my blog via Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs (two comments if you follow both ways).
Enter early, enter often...  like the Kindle giveaway, I will end this giveaway on November 22, and announce the winner on the 23rd.

Disclaimer:   I received this book, and the giveaway copy, for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review and contest! The Nightingale

What fun to be part of the blog tour for Nightingale, by Susan May Warren!

Synopsis from the publisherEsther Lange doesn’t love her fiancé—she’s trapped in an engagement after a mistaken night of passion.

Still, she grieves him when he’s lost in battle, the letters sent to her by the medic at his side giving her a strange comfort, so much that she strikes up a correspondence with Peter Hess, an Iowa farmboy. Or is he?  Peter Hess is not who he seems. Indeed, he’s hiding a secret, something that could cost them both their lives, especially when the past comes back to life. A bittersweet love song of the home front war between duty and the heart...a battle where only one will survive.

 My take:  I had a very hard time getting into this, probably because I was trying to read this while doing jury duty.  I only got through about a chapter there, and was having a really tough time keeping track of who was who in those opening pages.

At home (after the trial was over!) I finished the remainder of the book in one sitting, not even getting up for a fresh cup of coffee or a bathroom break.

I love historical fiction, and tend to be slightly disappointed in the "historical" aspects of historical romance.  This story, however, did not disappoint.  I knew a little about the POW camps in the upper Midwest, but this story certainly told me about aspects I was unaware of.  I also was vaguely aware of the fact that German-Americans sometimes found themselves in the situation of fighting for the Nazis in World War II.  As far as what life was like in East Germany (aside from Berlin) following the end of the war, I have to say that is not something I've ever really read about.  So the historical aspects, expertly woven into the story, were fascinating.

The story?  It was compelling, which is why I ended up reading it mostly in one sitting.  The characters were totally believable, flawed, complex -- real.  Esther feels completely unworthy of forgiveness.  She made a mistake and is forced to live with the consequences of that mistake.  I found her very easy to relate to. I wanted to be able to sit her down and talk to her about how Jesus came for sinners, that she can have forgiveness, that she is loved.

Some plot details are fairly predictable.  Many are not.  Layers upon layers.  It was fun to read, and I will absolutely be finding more books by Susan May Warren.  Especially if her other books also take place near to home (Susan May Warren lives in Northern Minnesota, near my godparents, actually).

Warnings:  Nothing is graphic, but there are a number of topics introduced that I want to mention:  a one-night stand resulting in pregnancy, a few beatings, a suicide attempt, gangster violence, war and some of the grim realities associated with that, particularly issues associated with Germany before and after World War II.  This isn't a book I would necessarily hand to a tween/young teen, at least not without pre-reading it. 

You can follow the blog tour and see what others have to say about this amazing book.  And you can enter the Letters from Home Giveaway.  Susan would like you to write a letter.  One grand prize winner will receive a Flip HD Camcorder.  5 runner's up winners will win a signed copy of the book.  Go here to enter.

Disclaimer:  I received this book through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.   

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Something from my filing cabinet…

forks The things you find when you go digging through the filing cabinet looking for mis-filed birth certificates.

Not, of course, like I can imagine any reason why I would have clipped this particular photo from the Forum.  I must have just thought it was funny.

Certainly I wasn’t involved in gathering plastic forks for 2-3 months in the winter/spring of 1985.  Nah, I just thought the photo was funny.  Yeah, that’s it.

Certainly, I wouldn’t be hanging out in the dark in early April planting forks in someone’s yard.  Nah, I just thought the photo was funny.  Yeah, that’s it.

That’s my story.  I’m sticking to it.  Uh-huh.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gratitude Challenge: Our judicial system

A good friend of mine, Brenda at Garden of Learning, put together a Gratitude Challenge.  The idea is to post for every day in November about something you are thankful for.  I'm not doing a very good job of that.

So -- Day Sixteen  --

Okay, so I'm kind of struggling with this today.  As some of you know, I was summoned for jury duty yesterday, and ended up being picked for a jury.  A domestic violence charge -- assault, harassment and false imprisonment.

While the case made me feel totally icky and yucky, and while I wanted the guy to be found guilty on at least one of the charges, as a jury, we had to find him not guilty on all three counts.

So, on one hand, that means that someone who undoubtedly should be punished is 'getting off' -- it also reminds me of the basic principle of the American judicial system:  innocent until proven guilty.

And really, I do appreciate that.

Along the same lines, I was reminded that I live in a pretty fantastic community.  When people are summoned for jury duty, they tend to show up.  Our county does not issue warrants for people who do not show up, because they DO get enough bodies in the seats to handle the cases.  According to the judge who spoke to us at the beginning of the morning, that isn't the case everywhere.

So although I found my jury duty frustrating, and while I think there are plenty of serious flaws in the system, I also am grateful as I watch it work the way it is supposed to.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What I wish non-homeschoolers understood about my homeschool

Blog Cruise time again, and this week's question has had my brain going in all kinds of directions.  I think instead of directly addressing myths about homeschooling, I'm going to create my own little list of things I wish non-homeschoolers understood about homeschoolers, or at least about *this* homeschooler.  So, although I know this is mostly being read by homeschoolers, it is actually addressed to people who don't homeschool.
  1. Just because we have chosen to homeschool does not mean that we think you are wrong for choosing something else.  Believe me, homeschooling is not for everyone.  There are things my kids miss out on since they are not in an institutional school environment, and there are things your kids miss out on since they are not home.  I totally respect your decisions, at least as long as you aren't criticizing mine.  Honestly, I have enough to do without trying to second guess your choices.
  2. Just because we have chosen to homeschool does not mean that we think teachers are unnecessary.  In fact, teaching my own children has done more to make me respect the challenges that classroom teachers face every single day.  I'm grateful that so many people do care enough to take on the huge job of teaching the next generation.  I'm pretty sure I couldn't do it.
  3. My kids are not weird because they homeschool.  My kids are weird because they are kids.  And because they have weird parents.  They'd be weird if they attended a traditional school too.  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree and all.  Honestly, I haven't met too many kids that aren't weird somehow.  I never attribute it to their parents' choices in educating them.
  4. You don't have to have the patience of a saint in order to homeschool.  Homeschooling does teach more about patience than anything else I've ever done.  But you don't have to have it first.  Believe me, you'll get the chance to learn it.  And I am nowhere near having mastered those lessons.  Nowhere near.
  5. If one more person tells me that they aren't homeschooling because they can't afford it and that I'm lucky we can, I swear to you, I will throttle them.  First off, that statement generally comes after showing me photos of your annual two week vacation in Vail or Europe.  Secondly, homeschooling does NOT have to be expensive.  Eat at one less five-star restaurant on that vacation, and you've undoubtedly saved enough to have a larger homeschooling budget than we do.  Finally, we certainly can't afford to be homeschooling either.  It is a struggle.  We sacrifice a lot to do this.  Please, go back and read #1.  I don't care why you don't homeschool, just don't go making excuses for it.  Honestly, it's okay.
  6. I do resent it when people start assuming all homeschooled kids are whatever because of that one homeschooling family they know. I've probably met more homeschoolers than you have, and believe me, the only thing we have in common is that for some reason we have chosen to educate our children at home.  Or some of our children.  There is no such thing as a typical homeschooler.  Really.  I don't judge all public school families based on that one worst-case family I know.  I'd appreciate the same courtesy.
  7. If you have a specific concern about my children and can tell me about it respectfully and without insulting any of us, I'd be happy to hear it.  But if you are just throwing out random stereotypes and blathering on about socialization, please, can we discuss the weather instead?
  8. Just because traditional school kids are in class doesn't mean my kids are slacking off if they aren't.  My kids may be playing when yours are sitting in a class, but my kids are also likely to be 'doing school' at times that your children are not.  Like the science class my son attends from 5-6:00 pm every Friday.  For the record, our school year runs from January to October.  That means my kids are officially on break right now (but still in science from 5-6:00 pm ever Friday).  I don't criticize your kids for running around playing in July when my children are in school... can you extend me the same courtesy?
  9. Just because it does not look like school to you does not mean it isn't school.  Most homeschoolers I know tend to get pretty creative, particularly in areas where their kids struggle.  Blogging can be an excellent way to work on spelling, grammar and writing in general.  Facebook can be good for that too.  And just because mom doesn't publicly correct their spelling doesn't mean those errors don't go on a list to be studied.  
  10. No, my children do not always listen to me. Yes, they do make me crazy sometimes.  Yes, I desperately need to get away sometimes -- see my gratitude post last night.  None of that changes my commitment to homeschool.
  11. If you want to quiz my children, then expect that I will likewise quiz yours.  If you want to ask my children if they'd rather go to school, don't be offended when I ask yours if they would rather be homeschooled.  If you criticize my choices (especially in front of my kids), don't be shocked if I feel free to criticize yours.  Can't we talk about something more interesting? 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gratitude Challenge: Time alone

A good friend of mine, Brenda at Garden of Learning, put together a Gratitude Challenge.  The idea is to post for every day in November about something you are thankful for.

So -- Day Fourteen  --

So yesterday I had the chance to spend some time alone.  I dropped the boys off at the Merit Badge College, and then had about 7.5 hours before I needed to pick them up again.  Seeing as the event was roughly a 1.5 hour drive from home, driving home just wasn't a feasible option.

I took care of some piddly little things.  I hung out at McDonald's drinking their Caramel coffee and surfing the web.  I hung out at Starbucks, drinking a caramel macchiato, reading a book.  And I treated myself to lunch at a real honest-to-goodness sit-down restaurant, and read The Old Schoolhouse.  You know, the restaurant where they come by and ask, "Would you like another lemonade, ma'am?"


I desperately needed this time off.  Desperately.  I am so very grateful for the occasional opportunities I get to spend time with nobody touching me.

Book Review: Taking Back Astronomy

Taking Back Astronomy by Jason Lisle is a fascinating little book that I recently got the chance to read and review.  Around 120 pages, it is filled with gorgeous photos, and text that even this astronomy-ignorant mama can understand.

I've seen Jason Lisle give presentations on video, and have always enjoyed his style.  He comes across in writing in much the same way -- intelligent, yet able to express himself in ordinary English.

This book does not delve deeply into anything, as it is intended as an overview or introduction to a young-earth Christian approach to the subject of astronomy.

I loved how Dr. Lisle was able to put some of these things into perspective in the opening pages.  He's talking about the immense size of the universe, and the closest star system to us is about 25 trillion miles away.  To put that number into context, he suggests creating a very miniature model of our solar system, with Pluto having an orbit only one foot in diameter.  The sun at the center of that orbit would be smaller than a period.  Where would Alpha Centauri be?  We'd have to place it over half a mile away.

Further into the book, Dr. Lisle explains current secular thinking about subjects such as the formation of the solar system, and then explains how that hypothesis would predict that any other planets we find in the universe should behave.  The problem is that the extra-solar planets we have discovered do not confirm the hypothesis.

I truly appreciated his discussion of how world view impacts how a person interprets the evidence.  The evidence is the evidence.  Your world view impacts what you do with that evidence.

While my children have not read this book for themselves yet, I think it would make an excellent high school astronomy supplement, and it would be great for a junior high student who is particularly interested in astronomy.

Disclaimer:   I received this book from New Leaf Publishing Group for the purpose of writing a review.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review: City on Our Knees

City on Our Knees by TobyMac.  I had no idea what to expect with this book, and I have to confess it sat on my island a long time before I began to read it.

Wow.  Separated into four sections, each consists of an intro spread with quotes and scripture passages, followed by a "blog" entry by TobyMac introducing the general topic of that section.  Those really made me think.

What follows is a series of about ten stories of people.  People from the distant past, people from the recent past, people from right now.  And people in many different parts of the world.  All people who stepped out of their comfort zone and acted in a way God was calling them to, and those actions made an impact... in their own lives, and the lives of people around them.

From lemonade stands or collecting loose change, to running for parliament or starting an international mission, these stories are fascinating.  And challenging.  I've gotten this message a few times recently.  What am I doing to reach my world?  What is it that God wants from me right now?  If we gotta start somewhere why not here is the subtitle, and the overwhelming message.

This book is not necessarily calling me to do big things.  But it is calling me to do something.  And to start now.  "Nothing ever happens on Someday."

Disclosure:  Bethany House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

Gratitude Challenge: Scouts. Again.

A good friend of mine, Brenda at Garden of Learning, put together a Gratitude Challenge.  The idea is to post for every day in November about something you are thankful for.  I blew it and didn't post the past couple of days.  But I'm just going to pick up today...

So -- Day Thirteen  --

Today, again, I am grateful for the Boy Scouts of America.  That was my first post this month... but there I was expressing gratitude for all the wonderful people who volunteer their time. I'm still thankful for them.  But today, I'm grateful for the program itself.

My oldest two are currently at a Merit Badge College at Coronado High School.  It's their second event, and they do a fabulous job.  Over 500 boys there today.  I already have next year's date on my calendar.

Let me tell you a bit about what my kids are doing today, and what they've done in preparation for today:

Astronomy Merit Badge:  William has been sketching the moon, the stars, and the planets.  He's (twice) sat out taking photos of the moon moving across the sky at night.  He presented those photos to his class.  He's looked at star charts, and researched careers in astronomy.  Today -- well, today he'll be learning a lot more... about stars, constellations, telescopes, observatories...

Gardening:  Connor won't finish this one, as he needs to grow stuff... but he did do a germination experiment in preparation, and he will be doing hydroponics to grow our family some salad... plus a bunch of veggies and flowers in the spring.  Today, he'll be learning about the nutritional value of some veggies, learning about insects, and some other things.  But the reason he is doing this merit badge is because is goes along with...

Landscape Architecture:  to prepare for this part of the session, Connor went to the church and measured a lot of stuff for the entryway.  He had to diagram what is there right now, where people are walking, where there is water run-off, and he needed to design some changes to the space.  He also had to do some research into careers in landscape  architecture.  Today, he's supposed to be visiting with a landscape architect and visiting a site he designed, along with a whole bunch of fascinating sounding things.  I didn't even know there was such a thing as landscape architecture.

First Aid:  William had to create a family first aid kit (yeah, we have FOUR scouts... "creating" a family kit is silly... inventorying it, restocking it, reorganizing it... that will have to suffice)  and today he will be working with emergency response professionals on a whole lot of first aid activities.

Graphic Arts:  Connor had to investigate careers in graphic arts for this one, and this afternoon, he'll be learning and working with the equipment in the graphic arts department at the school  This is not something he would likely be able to complete outside of a setting like this merit badge college.

So my point... I'm grateful for all of the amazing opportunities my boys get in scouting to learn about things I would never, ever think to teach them, or to give them an outlet for learning things I do want them to know.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fit Mommy Friday Challenge

I thought I checked in last week!  Oh, how did I miss that!!! My Fit Mommy Friday Challenge check-in, for two weeks, I guess:
  1. I will move daily.  I did do a pretty good job of this.  I've been outside walking, and when we head out, I really am focused on getting in more movement.
  2. I will drink water.  Okay, so while I'm still failing by most "expert" standards, I started every day with a big glass of cold water.  And I did not have any Mountain Dew.  My kids still are not making this easy. 
  3. De-cluttering my environment.  Well, while I did actually meet the letter of the law goal, many days I really didn't do that much. I did have a couple of days where I really made a serious effort though too.
  4. Eat sensibly.  I'm doing a decent job.  A birthday threw me a bit... got him an Oreo cake, but had already picked up a lemon meringue pie.  For the most part, I haven't been doing mindless snacking though
  5. Working out.  <sigh>  I hiked one day with William.  I'm not sure there is anything else that really counts as a "work out" as such.  Maybe I was too ambitious here though.  Getting moving (#1) may be all I ought to have been shooting for at first.  Or, more likely, I'm trying to rationalize. 
  6. Check in. Yeah, let's totally blow the easy stuff, shall we?
I am going to make a point of getting at least one real work-out in.  Really.  And I am starting next week's check-in post TODAY and am going to write in it EVERY DAY.  Really.

Click the link above to see how some of my fellow challenge-mates are doing.  I'm sure all of them would adore an encouraging word.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fiber One Winner!

Okay, I was going to post the random.org screen capture and everything, but that simply is NOT going to happen... so I want to just get this up here. 

I took all the comments, added the entries where multiple ways of entry were listed in one comment, and came to a total of 34 entries...  random.org gave me the lucky number of 33, so once again, the late bird gets the worm!

Brenda Emmett said...
BTW...the Oats and Caramel bars sound divine! I think I have similar tastes to you, as I would most likely like the Raisin Bran Cluster cereal as well. ;-)

Congratulations, Brenda!  I emailed you...

Thanks everyone for entering!!

Book Review: Then Sings My Soul

I love music.  I love hymns.  One of my favorite possessions is a devotional, based on hymns, that my father gave to his mother for Christmas in 1961.  That one is God's Song in My Heart by Ruth Youngdahl Nelson.  However, it is in fairly rough shape, and I worry about it too much to actually use it as a devotional.

I was incredibly excited to get the chance to review Then Sings My Soul by Robert Morgan.  This book is also of a devotional nature, with 150 hymns and stories that go with them, including Patriotic hymns (5), Thanksgiving hymns (9), Christmas hymns (lots!), Easter hymns (a couple dozen), and other hymns (lots and lots!).

I'm reading a hymn story every day, starting with the "other" category... though I read the first patriotic entry today for Veteran's Day.  Next week, I plan to start reading Thanksgiving hymns, and then I'll be switching to Christmas ones.  I will NOT get through all the Christmas hymns in the book between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but if I extend it out through Epiphany, I just might.

Anyway -- the hymns are arranged chronologically in each section based on when the words were written.  So the first "other" hymn comes from the 14th century BC -- Numbers 6:24-26. 

In honor of Veteran's Day, though, I'm going to talk about what I love about this book using the entry I read today:  The Star Spangled Banner.

So first off, I have read/studied this song a number of times, so I didn't really expect anything new.  Each song is presented on a two-page spread, with the music printed on the left page, and a story on the right.  This song, of course, is dated 1814.  The story starts by talking about a deadly September attack on America, the casualties, the heroes.  One of those heroes being an attorney named Francis.

The story goes on to quote a verse from another of Francis Scott Key's hymns (new to me), then tell a bit more about how Key ended up where he did and how he penned the words of our national anthem.  He then quotes the last verse, asking if you have ever sung it (YES!):

Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must when our cause it is just.
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Great book.  I highly recommend it. 

Disclaimer:  As Booksneeze Blogger, I did receive this book for free from Thomas Nelson.  No other compensation was received.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gratitude Challenge: My new kitchen toy

A good friend of mine, Brenda at Garden of Learning, put together a Gratitude Challenge.  The idea is to post for every day in November about something you are thankful for.

So -- Day Ten  --

I got a rice cooker!  One of those that costs a bit of money -- but not an ultra fancy super expensive one.  Just not one of those $5 after rebate jobbies at Walgreens.

I actually got it over the weekend.  But we used it for the first time tonight.  I threw together some chicken, rice, veggies, and... well, let me back it up a bit.

Back when I lived in Minnesota, I used to cook rice fairly often.  On the stove.  It turned out decent at least 90% of the time.  It was always, at worst, edible.  Then we moved to Colorado.  I tried making my usual dishes, but the altitude just killed me.  I mastered baking fairly quickly, and gradually got to the point that I could make most things again.

But not rice.  Every. Single. Time. I cooked rice, it would either still be crunchy, or it would be mush (with a burnt crust on the bottom).  I started getting instant rice mixes -- and those would turn out edible, but not RIGHT.

I bought a cheap rice cooker.  That gave us edible rice... for about 4 times.  Then it would either be crunchy with a burnt crust on the bottom, or mush with a burnt crust on the bottom.

I thought maybe it was just me... so I tried making rice on one of our trips back to ND/MN.  It wasn't fabulous, but it WAS edible.

I keep thinking, "I'm a grown woman and am completely capable of figuring this out."  So I kept buying rice, then being afraid to use it.  You know, because it would either be crunchy or mush, with a burnt crust on the bottom.

So -- I bought a rice cooker.  A real one.  With a steamer basket, and buttons besides just on and off.

And I used it tonight for the first time... and we all agreed... this was the absolute best rice we have EVER eaten at home.  It was perfect.  Perfect, I tell you.  I can't wait to be able to make jambalaya again.  Or to be willing to stir-fry.

Maybe it won't last.  But maybe it will.  And maybe I'll finally be able to start using that 50-60 pounds of rice we own.  (I wish I was exaggerating.  WHY do I keep buying rice when I never make any?)

Review: The Write Foundation

Writing.  This is the one subject that intimidates me when it comes to homeschooling, and the one subject that makes me think seriously about putting my kids into public school.

What makes it even worse is that I have (so far) had fairly writing-phobic children.  The jury is still out on the littlest two, but the older three... yikes!   They have no problem stringing words together.  Until you put a pencil in their hand.  The Write Foundation was designed for children such as mine. 

The Write Foundation is available in three different levels:
  • Sentence to Paragraph - for ages 11-13, focusing on the sentence, by the end they are writing a two-paragraph paper
  • Paragraph Writing - for ages 12-15.  Starts with a basic paragraph, working up to the introduction of the five-paragraph essay.
  • Essay Writing - for ages 14-17.  Starts with three- and four-paragraph papers, with a major focus on five-paragraph essays.
I decided to start Connor in the Paragraph Writing level.  A few months ago, I would have started him in the Sentence Level, but after really reading the website, and after a phone conversation with Rebecca Celsor, the author of the program, we decided to try Paragraphs.  Rebecca was wonderfully helpful, and talking to her did a lot to convince me that she understood struggling writers, yet I also got the impression that she "gets" the gifted ones too.

Each level consists of 30 lessons, and those lessons can be worked over one week or two, meaning that a single level can be one or two years of writing instruction.  We tended to move at a pace of about a lesson every week and a half, just because we can never do anything exactly as designed.

Okay, so let's back up and talk about how this program came about.  Rebecca found herself teaching writing in a homeschool co-op, and was not able to find a writing program that seemed to be just right.  She wanted something that really drilled the basics, the foundation.  So she started creating her own.  That recently led to publishing the materials, which led to my opportunity to review them.

One thing that this means is that the course is designed with a co-op in mind.  There is a teacher-led lesson that sometimes includes group activities (so far, we've found those very easy to adapt for a single student).  Then there is assigned homework meant to be completed by the student before the next class period.

We found that this structure didn't really work that well for us, as I don't typically have a full hour or hour and a half to "teach" writing.  So what we ended up doing was splitting up the "lesson" part over a few days, and assigning the homework a bit as we went.  Some lessons were easier to break up this way than others, but typically, we'd spend about 30 minutes of teaching time twice a week, and the other three days, Connor would mostly work on his own for 30-45 minutes, usually getting five or so minutes from me in there somewhere.

The results?  I can't say that Connor finds writing to be his all-time favorite subject (that award still goes to science) but he is willing to do the work, without a whole lot of hassle.  That says a lot.  Really.

Now, if we could get him taking this course via an online co-op, I think he would love it.  I'm really tempted to see if this is something that I (or someone) could teach through Virtual Homeschool Group.  I think that would have some serious potential. 

So what didn't I like? Well, honestly, not much.  I think there could stand to be a bit more explanation for the teacher as to what you are doing and where you are going.  In that first lesson, things could be spelled out a bit better for someone who is totally unfamiliar with the approach.

But as far as writing programs go, particularly programs in this price range, I think it took me far less time to figure out than anything else I've looked at or used.  It just could be better.

There were also a couple of awkward moments in teaching... in the first lesson, for instance, the instructions are to highlight each sentence in a different color, when the student is actually supposed to be highlighting each idea (which could be one or two sentences) differently.  It was easy enough to explain on the fly, but I do think this program would benefit greatly from someone who is totally unfamiliar with the approach going through it and pointing out the confusing parts.  My impression is that this was mostly tested by moms of kids who had been in the co-op classes and were already at least somewhat familiar with the methodology.

That being said, my bottom line is that I plan to start William on the Sentence Level next fall.  I think this is going to be a fantastic approach for him.

The website has fairly extensive samples and a lot more information than I could stuff into a review.  And I just found out yesterday, they just started a yahoo group where you can get your questions answered too.  Levels are available for $69.95 for a complete set, or $39.95 for a half-year.

You can check out what my fellow crew-mates have to say about various levels of The Write Foundation at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive this curriculum from The Write Foundation.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.