Friday, January 31, 2014

Awakening Faith {a Booksneeze review}

I love having a daily devotional to read that is unique, and one that actually makes me think.  Some I've tried in the past just seem so fluffy and inconsequential, or they are just trying too hard to sound smart so I can't really glean anything from it.

Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church is most certainly not fluff, nor is it trying to impress me.  The one-page devotions are pulled from the writings of the church fathers -- messages written from roughly AD 100 to the late 700s. 

Definitely not fluff.

From the publisher:
In simple, updated language, Awakening Faith by James Stuart Bell provides a year of inspiring readings drawn from the earliest teachers and writers of the church---the Church Fathers. In every reflection you will be refreshed by deep wells of wisdom and spiritual insight.
I received this towards the end of January, and my normal approach to this would have been to just start with the January 1 reading (John Chrysostom, c. 347-407, archbishop of Constantinople) and just double up until I got on track somewhere around the end of February.

However, since this is a review product, instead, I pulled the book out 4-5 times a day for a few days, and read one or two daily readings at a time.  That gave me a pretty good look at the devotions.  I also flipped to the back of the book to read about the 70 or so Church Fathers who are included in this work. Fascinating stuff.

My thoughts: I love that the readings are not over my head.  That was, to be honest, my biggest concern with getting this particular book.  Thinking about reading what Augustine, Ambrose, or Bede the Venerable have to say makes me worry that I'm just not smart enough to comprehend.

The "simple, updated language" part that James Stuart Bell brings to this volume is probably a big part of why this is so accessible. 

I'll confess that I am glad to be down to reading one page a day now, though.  A few moments of my morning leaves me with plenty to reflect on.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, January 27, 2014

Shadowed by Grace {A LitFuse Review}

I started reading Shadowed by Grace by Cara C. Putman, thinking that I could begin the book, then move on to start my day.  Didn't quite work out that way.  I finished the book in one sitting, and then staggered to the kitchen at 10:30 in the morning for my first cup of coffee.

It is fair to say that the story quickly pulled me in.

From the publisher:
She found peace in a time of war.

Desperate to save her dying mother, an American woman accepts her newspaper's assignment to travel to Italy where she takes photographs dangerously close to the front lines during World War II. But Rachel's real motive in this journey is to find the father she never knew, an artist she hopes can offer the comfort and support both she and her mother need to survive at such a desperate time.

In her quest, Rachel becomes involved with what will become the Monuments Men effort to save great monuments and works of art from the Third Reich. Soon enough she will find more than she ever imagined---in war, in love, and in God.
I'll start with the negatives about this book:  there were a few places where the dialogue was hard to follow, and it was not clear just who was speaking.  I'd have to go back, re-read it, and I'd still be confused.  In all of the cases, I decided it really didn't matter that much and I moved on.

Bottom line:  great story, and it felt oh-so-very-realistic throughout.  I love historical fiction that actually does seem accurate in the details and in the big picture.  The Author's Note at the end of the book confirmed that Cara Putnam did do her homework.

The storyline kept me intrigued.  Some of the plot twists were entirely predictable, but to me it felt like one of those situations where you know more than the characters do, and so you already know what is going to happen -- you just aren't quite sure how they are going to figure it out.  That is to say, although I knew what was coming in a broad sense, it didn't bother me, and I had fun watching the characters get to that point.

Of course, reading about all of these beautiful pieces of art made me want to go take an art history class.  Hmmm.  Maybe I can find a free online one.

Cara Putman is celebrating her latest historical suspense novel, Shadowed by Grace with a fun "Past & Present" giveaway! 


One winner will receive:
  • A Polaroid Instant Camera
  • A beautiful antique AFGRA camera (learn more here)
  • Movie passes to see The Monuments Men movie (with George Clooney and Matt Damon)
  • Shadowed By Grace by Cara Putman
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 8th. Winner will be announced February 10th on Cara's blog.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Cara's blog on the 10th to see if you won.

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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bountiful Baskets - January 25

Changes they are a'coming.  My Bountiful Baskets site is going to be switching to Friday evenings, and will only be happening every other week.  Don't know if that is happening this coming week already, or if it will be sometime past that.

I'm sad, but excited about changes too.

So, this morning, I got two baskets.  Here is a photo of one of them:

Between the TWO baskets, this includes:
  • 10 pounds of potatoes
  • 3 heads of green cauliflower, or brociflour
  • 4 bunches broccoli
  • a whole lot of Brussels sprouts
  • 2 heads leafy green lettuce
  • 16 onions
  • 30 bananas
  • 8 pears
  • 4 Asian pears
  • 18 oranges/tangerines
Most of this is not terribly challenging to use:
  • all the fruit is eating fruit. It will be consumed by the minions.
  • potatoes are a staple here, and honestly, I was getting down there.  These will just get used.
  • onions are mostly a staple too, but these probably need to get used quickly.  I'm going to dehydrate a bunch, and do onion powder or something.
  • Broccoli and Brussels sprouts will be side dishes for a few nights.
  • The cauliflower, well, I need to think on that.  I usually do up a head of cauliflower with mashed potatoes, another with alfredo sauce, and have the kids much on a third one.  But with the green color, I may have a harder time with that.  I will have to see.
 That's the scoop for this week!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Galapagos Islands {a Mom's of Master Books review}

One thing about being a part of Moms of Master Books is that I never really know just what I'll end up with in a given month.  Well, I sort of know.  I know the titles of the books that are planned for the next few months (actually, only through February at this particular point), but having a title doesn't always prepare me for what I will receive.

Like this month.

Galapagos Islands: a Different View was not what I anticipated at all.  Written by a lot of folks, with Georgia Purdom serving as general editor, this is part science text, part history text, and part biblical account -- all rolled up in a gorgeous coffee-table photography book.

The photos are stunning, and every page has them.  All one hundred plus of them.  This book is worth the $18.99 pricetag even if you only gaze at the photography.  You can check out a book sample and see for yourself!

The text is great too.  I knew almost nothing about the Galapagos Islands except that they have lots of types of finches, as Charles Darwin noted.  Now I know so much more about their geography, climate, plants, animals... and even more about those finches and about Darwin too.

Every page I read, I found something fascinating.  Such as the various currents that impact the islands.  The three they focus on are the Cromwell Current, the Humboldt Current, and the Panama Current, though others are illustrated on the map.

But then I turn the page and read about the seven distinct ecological zones on the islands and why they exist.

This book is gorgeous, fascinating, and wow, am I glad we own it.

You have to watch this book trailer, which includes film footage from Dr. Purdom's visit to the Galapagos Islands, but it also shows some of the beautiful pages of the book itself.

I definitely recommend this book. 

You can go see what other Moms of Master Books have to say about Galapagos Islands

There is a Book and a Treat Facebook party coming up Tuesday, January 28 at 8 pm Central Time, where you could win cool prizes as shown above -- and discuss the book too. 

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group as part of the Moms of Master Books program.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Redcoats are Coming {a Tyndale Blog Network Review}

I absolutely love the books in The Imagination Station series!  I believe I've told you that before on this blog.  (Let's see, here's a review of book 2, books 3 & 4, books 5 & 6, books 8 & 9, and book 11.  I've missed reviewing a couple of them!)

That brings us up to the 13th title in this series, which is itself the first of a 3-part series, The Redcoats are Coming! by Marianne Hering and Nancy I. Sanders.

The Redcoats are Coming! is another Imagination Station adventure, and this time the cousins end up in the pre-Revolutionary War period in New England.  They have the chance to meet people like Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere and the opportunity to interact with history in a way that teaches them a thing or two that they didn't learn from their textbooks.  Specifically, they learn more about how religion, and pastors, played a role in the events of the time.  There is plenty of action -- sounding the alarm in Concord, smuggling a message to Paul Revere -- and adventure along the way.

For an adult or a good reader, this is a quick book to read, and the action keeps you turning the pages.  For a struggling reader, as I've said in a few reviews before, this series is fantastic.  The chapters are short and action-packed.  The vocabulary is repetitive -- not so much that I'd notice it when reading (except I look for it now!) but when I've had my struggling readers read other books in the series aloud to me, it stands out.

Repetitive vocabulary is so important for those struggling readers, as they really do need to see a word many, many more times than "normal" in order to truly "own" the word.  The Redcoats are Coming! strikes that balance perfectly, repeating some vocabulary often enough for the struggling readers, but not so much that it stands out to the rest of us.

Various age recommendations I've seen suggest this book for ranges as low as ages 6-9.  I think that is too narrow, and I'd suggest that it is good up to age 12 at least, and it makes a nice, quick read for teens too.  My two struggling readers are now 13 and 15, and they still enjoy the series.  One told me, "I love that I can sit down and read this, on my own, and not get bogged down.  It's a book I can actually finish, and one that is worth the effort.  Patrick and Beth aren't as silly as they were in the first books in the series either, which is great.  For other older kids who have trouble reading, I'd definitely recommend this series, especially starting around book 7."

We were given a copy of this book by a friend, and as we really don't need two of them, I'd like to do a giveaway.  Because I have a soft spot in my heart for struggling readers, there is one extra entry just for them... but this is certainly open to anyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.  The giveaway copy is one I obtained myself, and Tyndale House Publishers is not a part of the giveaway.

Monday, January 20, 2014

We're having a Social Studies-heavy Year

Homeschooling Hearts & MindsI'm joining a group of other ladies in a Virtual Curriculum Fair!  This week's topic is Exploring Our World: Social Studies and More Science.

Like last week, there are so many things I could talk about here.  My working title for this post for the longest time was "Social Studies isn't a four-letter word" but somehow that never gelled.

For some reason, this seems to be "the year of Social Studies" in our homeschool, though, so I am going to talk a bit about what my kids (from 2nd through 11th grade) are doing.

The little two are the easiest.  We are using A Child's Geography, Volume 3: Explore the Classical World.  We started using this to go along with Philosophy Adventure, that the big kids were doing last summer.  What I love about A Child's Geography is the gorgeous photos, the easy-to-follow text, and we never feel like there is too much information to slog through.  We add in a couple extra activities, but it never feels like it is taking over our homeschooling life.

We've used history programs that do take over our lives.  So this year, it is refreshing to be doing a geography/history program instead.  And it is so pretty.

My bigger guys are doing history in a totally different way than ever before too.  All three are using some online videos, supplemented with various things, and are able to be pretty independent.  William and Thomas are doing Western Civilization, and Connor is doing US History.

Do I love it?  Not really.  But it meets a need in our lives, and the kids have had so much history from so many points of view, that this is working for us.  And we are adding some other materials, mostly historical fiction and biography.

Now this is the "social studies isn't a four-letter word" part.  I know that in some homeschool circles, there is this attitude that the very term "social studies" is just horrid.  "What's wrong with just calling it history?" is what I've often heard.  And based on the above courses my children are taking, I'd tend to agree.  Richard and Trina are doing more geography than history, but honestly, I could call it either one.

The thing is, though, "history" and "social studies" were never meant to be synonyms.  History is ONE part of "social studies" and my kids are doing oh-so-very-much-more this year.

Economics: We'll be finishing up Simply Put, a 1/2-credit economics course, shortly.  This program is amazing, wonderful, and every high school student ought to work through it.  I reviewed it a couple of months ago, and I said mostly amazing things about it then.  I think even more of it now.

Government:  The two high school students are working on a 1/2-credit Government course from Zeezok, called A Noble Experiment: The History and Nature of the American Government.  I'm very impressed with this course.  My kids find the combination of Economics and Government to be a really good one.  Connections are constantly being made, as some of the same points are being taught. Great course.

This is another course where I really appreciate that it doesn't "take over" our entire life.  The kids watch video for about half of the lessons, they read source documents, fill out some worksheets, etc. The amazing part, though, is that they are actually learning something about Government.  That's more than I can say about my high school government course.

Psychology: Connor is just starting Homeschool Psychology.  Too early, really, to say much of anything about it, except that I loved the amount of sample material available on the website.  I took a lot of psychology in college, and this is a subject that can be really wacky depending on the worldview of the instructor.  I feel safe with this course, and from what little I've seen so far, it is thorough.  I want Connor to take the CLEP exam for psychology, so he will not have to take Psy101 in college.

So, right now, my high school junior has 2.5 to 3.5 credits of social studies this year.  My freshman has 2 credits.  The 7th grader is tagging along on most of it too.  And my little guys are doing a combination of geography and history.

Of course, one child is campaigning for me to include a high school level archaeology course soon too, so we could get even more diverse before the year is out.

We are having a VERY Social-Studies-heavy year.

Here are the other fabulous posts (posts are due to go live by noon, so if you check one and it isn't there, check back later!)

A Classical Approach to Ancient World History for All Ages by Susan @ Homeschooling
Hearts & Minds
Supercharged Science's eScience Program by Kristi K. @ The Potter’s Hand Academy
Social Studies & Science Resource Lists by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses
History and Science: Learning About the World Around Us by Leah@As We Walk Along the Road
Designing a Unit Study for History, Geography, or Science by Amy @ Eclectic Homeschooling
Virtual Curriculum Fair:  Social Studies by Joelle @ Homeschool for His Glory
Uncle Sam & You- Notgrass by Lynn @ Ladybug Chronicles
My Favorite History Books for Boys by Monique @ Living Life and Learning
Social Studies in Our Homeschool by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
A Peek into our Homeschool: The Sciences by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
Our Curriculum Choices 2014 ~ History & Science by Renata @ Sunnyside Farm Fun
Our Journey Around the World by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
My Favourite Social Studies Curriculum by Kim @ Homestead Acres
Raising Map Nuts: Learning Geography Naturally by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
The Whos, Wheres and Whys by Michele P @Family, Faith and Fridays
Exploring Our World: Social Studies and Science in our Classical Homeschool by Sharra @ The Homeschool Marm
Time Travel Throughout the World {or History and Geography in Our Homeschool} by HillaryM @ Our Homeschool Studio
Virtual Curriculum Fair Week 3: Exploring Our World – Social Studies and More Science by Stacie @ Super Mommy To The Rescue
Why We're Ditching Story of the World by Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker

If you want to link up, you can do that too!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Modern Life Study Bible {a Booksneeze Review}

While I sometimes feel guilty for having multiple Bibles in my home, I still jump at the chance to check out another one.  The Modern Life Study Bible from Thomas Nelson is an interesting addition to my Bible resources.  

This Bible is in the NKJV translation, which is a version I don't happen to own in a nice edition.  Now I do.

From the publisher:
As members of the modern age, we sometimes feel disconnected from the world of the Bible. But if we look closely, we can see that although cultures change, our basic challenges stay the same. We still struggle with issues like community, justice, economic stress, political tensions, and cultural and ethnic differences. We still wonder who God is, how to discern His will, and how we fit into His plan.

Using historical context and fresh insights backed by biblical scholars, The Modern Life Study Bible explores the timeless truths that connect the people and stories of the Bible to the opportunities and demands we face today. God is at work in our world, inviting us to experience His presence.

With innovative, full-color illustrations, maps, and diagrams, along with special information on occupations of the Bible, profiles of people and places, theme indexes, and inspirational biographies of believers who put their faith to work, The Modern Life Study Bible will draw you in, helping you to know and embrace what it means to follow Christ in today’s world.
When I received this, I read through the introductory materials that explained how this Bible is set up.  I then flipped through to check out some of the features, and I read the book of Ruth, thoroughly checking out features.

Let me tell you a bit about them, using my experience with Ruth.
  • The introduction to the book, which gives a basic overview, talks about who wrote it (in this case, tradition says Samuel) and focuses on the people involved.  Other introductions also focus on key events.
  • The first thing special feature within the book of Ruth are a couple of profiles of people (Naomi and Ruth on the first page, then later there is a profile of Boaz).  These are great, quickly summing up what is known about the person, or sometimes some things that can be inferred. 
  •  On that first page of Ruth, there is also a Focus Article.  This one is called "Good Out of Bad" and it talks about the history of Moab.  Fascinating.
  • Most of the rest of the book's special features are "Insight" articles, which aim to give you a bit of cultural context -- background into the verses, phrases, etc.  The longest one in Ruth is a over a full page about the customs and legal technicalities involved in the relationship between Ruth and Boaz.  There is background information on gleaning, redeeming relatives, inheritance, Levirate marriage, elders at the gate, betrothal, and sojourners.  Other Insight articles in Ruth show family tree information, and a map.
  • There is also a Life Study included in Ruth.  There are a total of sixty-six of these biographies of various people from lots of places and time periods.  This one is about Jane Edna Hunter, who founded the Phillis Wheatley Association in Cleveland.  Fascinating biography.
  • The only type of feature not included in Ruth is Place Profiles.  These explain important geographical information, and are really interesting as well.
So what do I think?  First off, I do enjoy reading the NKJV.  It is nice and poetic, yet I can actually understand the words.  As for the Study Bible portions, what I really appreciate is that the "Study" portion of The Modern Life Study Bible doesn't overwhelm the text.  There is a time and a place for a Study Bible where every page is more "study" than Bible. Believe me, I love some of those.

But I appreciate that with this one, I can learn some really interesting, insightful things and make progress reading through the Bible too.  It is a great ratio of study helps to Bible text.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mere Christianity: Critical Analysis Journal {a Review}

Disclosure: many of the links in this post are affiliate links.  If you purchase any Home School Adventure Co. products through these links, I earn affiliate income.  Do not feel obligated to do that, in fact the first link is NOT an affiliate link.  Regardless of the affiliate relationship, I only give the opinion of myself and my kids here.  

Some products that I have the chance to review aren't what I hoped.  Most are really quite good.

A few completely overwhelm me -- in a good way -- leaving me so incredibly grateful for the opportunities I get as a reviewer to actually see these things.

A new high school apologetics resource, Mere Christianity: Critical Analysis Journal, falls in that latter category.  I am so incredibly grateful to Stacy Farrell for the opportunity to try out this utterly fantastic product.  I will continue to use it now, and I will be using it again with my younger children when they reach high school.

This one is a keeper.

What is this?  It is a journal based on the book Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.  Home School Adventure Co. has put together this resource so that you can discuss this fantastic book with your teens.  I used it with all three of mine, ages 13, 15 and 16.  My younger kids listened in sometimes too.

The format is such that you read a chapter of Mere Christianity, and then there are approximately ten discussion questions.  A separate Answer Key gives suggested answers for many of the questions.  A student could do this independently, but my thought on that is, "What fun would that be?"

So what we do is we read the chapter aloud (most only take a few minutes) and then I ask the questions and we discuss them.  This is so incredibly amazing.  First off, of course, C. S. Lewis is such a master, both with the English language and with theological ideas.  So just reading the book inspires great conversation.

But Stacy's questions provide more fodder for discussion.  Some of the questions are basically asking you to restate some key points from the chapter.  Some make you think a little more, but do have pretty clear-cut answers.  Some though, really get at the heart of things.  "Who do you know...?" questions can spur plenty of "What about you, or me?" in conversation.

This is also spurring plenty of, "Why didn't I ever know about this book before?" thoughts for me.  I would have benefited from this study as a teen, and I think something in a group would have been even better.

Part of me really wants to propose to my church that we get the older kids involved with this study.  Only I know I'd have to lead it.  Which would probably be an amazing experience.  I know my boys would love it, but I'm just not sure if the handful of other teens would see the appeal.  Pizza?  Homemade cookies?  Food would have to help, right?

I digress, though.  My bottom line on this Critical Analysis Journal is that I think every teen I know would benefit from working through the study, and I'd highly recommend doing it via discussions.  My kids challenge me on statements I make.  You know, like how I'm rationalizing my selfishness because I know what I'm doing violates the Moral Law.  Nothing like teens to keep you humble!

My bottom line is that this is worth far more than the $18.95 (electronic) or $28.95 (physical book) pricetag.  I am so glad I said yes to this opportunity.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A real look into my homeschool this week

Okay, I have a million things I should be doing right now, but I wanted to give you a glimpse at real-life homeschooling in my household.

First -- three different kids have puked this week.  I believe all of us are coughing.  We didn't even eat dinner last night, because it never occurred to any of us that maybe we ought to.  Sore throats, headaches, and exhaustion -- that pretty much sums it up.

Some kids feel better than others.  Mom is barely holding it together too.

All of that means -- all my beautiful plans for the week?  Not happening.  None of it.

What have we actually done?
  • Connor has been on the computer doing his calculus, or attending his Spanish class, but mostly he has slept.  Or gone over to church to help unload 800 pounds of food from Care & Share.
  • William and Thomas have watched their MathTutorDVD lessons.  And they have slept.  And slept some more.  And I think they slipped a nap in there.
  • Richard and Trina have spent a whole lot of time watching MathTacular.  Lots of time.  They've also been working in the kitchen -- reading the instructions on the pudding box and making pudding, reading the instructions on the ramen noodles and making ramen, etc.  (They are the only ones who seem to care about eating at the moment.)  They played a tiny bit with Mango Languages (and decided that they are going to learn German, because they want to understand the Nazis in WWII movies.)  They also helped with the 800 pounds of food.
That is it so far.

This post is going up simply because some people seem to think I'm doing a better job of this homeschool gig than they are.

The bottom line:  none of us have it together all of the time.  And that is okay.  My kids may not really learn much this week, at all.  That happens sometimes.  We probably won't make up for it next week.  But maybe the week after that...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Genealogy Revelations {a Review}

I went on a genealogy kick quite a few years ago (oh, okay, probably twenty-five years ago!) where I did a lot of digging and inputting, and put together a reasonably impressive family tree.  I talked with a couple of older family members, and between a few of us, we found bits and pieces of other information too.

This photo is of my great-grandma (the little girl) who we named our daughter after, and was taken somewhere around 1877.

I thought it was a lot of fun, but then there are kids to raise, meals to cook, laundry to wash... and somehow, tracking down genealogical information just never seemed to take place.

In a couple week time period though, I had the chance to review a family tree computer program, and research by Genealogy Revelations.  So my interest is rekindled.

Anna has a number of genealogy research packages available.  The one I received was a bit like the General Research Package, where she took the information I provided, and she worked on finding information for me, included a beautiful report, on acid-free paper, in a nice binder.

This photo would be of the parents of the man that little girl married, and was probably taken around that same time.  So the adults above and to the right are my great-great grandparents.

I knew a fair amount of information on some of the branches of my family tree, but Anna found a whole lot more.  Which means for my ancestors, I now have at least some information going back to:
  • Wales in the 1820s
  • Sweden in the 1620s
  • Poland in the 1850s
  • Germany in the 1550s
Anna also did some research of my husband's father's family tree (which is a branch we knew very little about) and now we have information there going back to:
  • the early 1700s in Germany
  • the 1520s in Germany
  • the early 1800s in Germany and Pennsylvania
  • the early 1900s in West Virginia
What is really fun with this is that we discovered all kinds of names in the family tree that we've used with our kids.  Not totally surprising, I suppose, as for the most part, we did use family names with our kids.  But the variations on Katrina were fascinating.

I have a great-great-great grandmother Katrina.  I didn't know there were any Katrina's spelled that way in the family tree.  There are a few Kathrina's on the other side of the family that I knew about (and it is where we got the name).  But there are also two Catherina's in that family line, and a Catharina back there too.  Dale's family has two Catherina's and a Catharina as well.

I plan to do some school-y things with this new information.  I want to map out where various people were born, especially as it would be interesting to see where in Germany my maternal grandmother's family came from, and compare that to where Dale's paternal lines were.  It would be fascinating to compare their lives to a timeline of German history too, but I haven't done that yet.

This information is fascinating, and I am so glad I have it!

You can read other reviews at the Bow of Bronze blog. Many of them wrote much better reviews too. Check 'em out.

And you can win a research package too!  You really want to do that.  Go back over and check out the Genealogy Revelations website.  I can vouch for Anna's thoroughness and her professionalism. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Getting my teens ready for Algebra

Homeschooling Hearts & MindsI'm joining a group of roughly thirty other ladies in a Virtual Curriculum Fair!  This week's topic is Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and Science.

Like last week, there are so many things I could talk about here.  Since I have two students who I've been struggling with as far as being ready for algebra, though, I thought I'd focus on that.

My kids have all found that they "get" math.  The theoretical part of it, anyway, they have all found to be fairly intuitive and rather easy.

That is both a blessing and a curse, I'll tell you.  Because they understand it when they hear it, they don't think they need to practice it with real problems.  At all.  So when I'm not being consistent (if I were to have "a word" for 2014, I think "consistent" would be a good choice) and I'm trusting my kids to do what they tell me they are doing, they blow off math because it is "easy" and therefore something they just aren't going to bother with.

In the real world, what that means is that my 9th grader is at a standstill in algebra.  He understands the concepts, but he has a hard time actually doing the work.  So we are taking some time to back up and make sure the foundations are actually in place.  While I'm at it, I'm doing the same for the 7th grader.  Because I'm positive he can do algebra as an 8th grader, if he shores up these foundations.

I don't want to be spending a whole bunch of money, nor do I want to take a lot of time (especially for the 9th grader).  But it is really important to me that we make sure he has thoroughly covered those foundational skills so he can succeed in Algebra.  So I have about a 4-month plan for pre-algebra for them.

My decision, after looking at lots of possibilities?

We're going to work through some videos -- products from MathTutorDVD and Mathtacular.  We've been working through the The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor DVD, and so far they are finding that to be WAY too basic.  However, I know it will get to the point that they do need to see it.  The first four lessons are on word problems using the four operations (addition, subtraction, etc.) with whole numbers. 

With this, we are "just" watching the lectures and talking about them.  They are talking back to the TV occasionally (mostly with answers to the questions Jason asks).

Although the first four lessons are simplistic, it then gets into more complex problems, involving decimals, fractions, percents, ratios and proportions.  That is why we are working through these.  And if I didn't have sick kids last week, we would have gone through those first ones faster, but I decided to cut them some slack.  That means a lesson a day here, or three weeks in total.

I reviewed The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor a couple of years ago, and I know it did Connor and William some good then.  William just needs a refresher.

They don't know it yet, but today we are starting MathTacular 4.  The MathTacular vidoes are really wonderful.  This one is about word problems, and it involves a very silly storyline about a kidnapped pig.  There is a pretty good-sized workbook that goes with this, so the kids will be attempting the problems before watching Justin and Amber figure it out on the DVD.

What I love here is that it is silly, but they are taking you step-by-step through the problem solving process, and while it starts with very basic math (the very first problem boils down to 4+3= ?), by the end, they are working algebra problems.

That first problem isn't as easy as it sounds though, as it is pointing out one of the biggest problems I think that kids have with word problems.  Extraneous information.  You are adding goats, so you read about all of their names, which one is her favorite, how old they are, where they came from, and probably more.  But the bottom line math problem is that she had 4 goats, bought 3 more, and wants to know how many she has now.

We're starting off at a pace of three sections per week, which would mean we'd complete the whole thing in nine weeks.  We may slow that down towards the end though, we'll see.

I've owned this set for YEARS, and we've never truly used it.  That is being rectified now.

When we finish the MathTutorDVD Word Problems, we'll be picking up The Pre-Algebra Tutor: Volume 1, along with the worksheets CD that goes with it. 

This is another product I reviewed a while back, only without the worksheets.  My plan is that we'll be spending about three days per section on this.  Watch the video and do a worksheet or two the first day.  Then do a few worksheets each of the next two days.  Then move on.

There are nine sections on this DVD, covering real numbers, absolute value, the basic operations with integers, powers and exponents, and more.

The worksheet CD has over 250 pages of worksheets, and I am really looking forward to that.

Then, we'll do pretty much the same thing with The Pre-Algebra Tutor: Volume 2 and its companion worksheet CD.  This one has sixteen sections that deal with factors, multiples, fractions, variables, and expressions.  I'm hoping to do the same roughly 3 days per section pace through it, but we may need to slow down, or the kids may not be able to continue together.  We'll play that by ear.

My hope is that by hitting some of these problematic topics multiple times in at least a couple different ways, we'll really "get it" and they will both be truly ready for Algebra.

Ask me again in May, when we've finished all of this.

A note about why I chose the MathTutorDVD products though.  First, I own some already, so it isn't completely a new purchase.  But a bigger reason is that Jason Gibson is someone my kids can respect when it comes to math.  He had a dream job (involving physics and math) working in the space program at NASA. So my boys take him seriously when he talks about why the math is important.  For right now, that matters to me too.

Here are the other fabulous posts (posts are due to go live by noon, so if you check one and it isn't there, check back later!)

Our {almost} FREE 2nd and 4th Grade Math Program by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Supercharged Science's Mathemagic  by Kristi K. @ The Potter’s Hand Academy

Math & Logic Resources by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

How We Tackle Middle School Math, Logic & Science by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

A Peek into our Homeschool: Math & Logic by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Math and Logic: Patterns and Reasoning by Leah@As We Walk Along the Road

Discovering Science & Math w/ Apologia & Saxon  by LynnP @ Ladybug Chronicles

Make Math Fun: Your Kids Will Thank You by Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker

Our Curriculum Choices 2014 ~ Mathematics by Renata @ Sunnyside Farm Fun

My Favorite Math For Boys by Monique @ Living Life and Learning

Math--Our Four Letter Word by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

If I Knew Then What I Know Now by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Math and Science anyone? by Michele@ Family, Faith and Fridays

My 7 Favourite Math Resources by Kim @ Homestead Acres

Basic Instincts by Chelli @ The Planted Trees

Math We Love by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

2014 Virtual Curriculum Fair ~ Math & Science by Jennifer @ a glimpse of our life

Tackling Math and Science from Multiple Angles by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

If you want to link up, you can do that too!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bountiful Baskets: January 11

The first Bountiful Baskets of the year!  I am so excited to be back.

It was really early this morning, but I'll adjust again.  And it was a beautiful basket.

I just got one, so it includes:
  • 2 heads Romaine lettuce
  • 1 big yam
  • 1 yellow squash (they were short, so I volunteered to take the basket that was missing one)
  • 1 bunch plus 1 stem of broccoli
  • 4 pretty red bell peppers
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes
  • 1 big bag grapes
  • 8 Fuji apples
  • 8 Bartlett pears
  • 3 mangoes
  • 9 bananas
 I also contributed for a box of Roma tomatoes, and some organic apple cider vinegar.

What am I doing with stuff?  Well...
  • I'm making spaghetti sauce with some of the tomatoes, and I'll also add the squash and a red bell pepper.
  • I'm making salsa with some of the tomatoes, and I'll add a couple bell peppers
  • We're doing stir-fry with the broccoli, a red pepper, and some other stuff.
  • Lettuce will be used in salads, along with the grape tomatoes.
  • I need to cook up sweet potatoes as I have a lot around right now.
  • I'll probably dehydrate the mangoes, or they will be smoothies.
  • Grapes, apples, pears, and bananas will just be eaten.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Chronological Life Application Study Bible {a Tyndale Review}

A funny thing happened on the way to this review.  I received an offer to review the Chronological Life Application Study Bible, NLT version.  I jumped on it immediately.  Because I have always wanted a Life Application Study Bible, because I really loved it the year I read through the Bible chronologically, because it just looks so incredibly cool.

It showed up.  And my 16-year-old took one look at it and said, "Mom, we own one of those already."

Ummm.  Yeah.  We do.  As part of Tyndale Rewards (if you sign up through that link, you get 25 points, and I get 10!) I had saved up reward points a year or more ago so that I could get myself a Chronological Life Application Study Bible in the NLT version.  Because I have always wanted a Life Application Study Bible, because I really loved it the year I read through the Bible chronologically, because I didn't own an NLT version, because it just looks so incredibly cool.

It showed up back then. And my then 15-year-old took one v-e-r-y long look at it and said, "Mom, I would love to have a Bible like this."  And I gave it to him, barely looking at it myself, because I knew I'd rather have him reading it than me, and I knew if I looked at it much at all, I was going to resent giving it up.  (I know, I know... I sound like a terrible person for saying that.  But it is true!  And the last thing I wanted to do was to throw a pity party because I gave MY SON the Bible I wanted.)

So now we both have one.  How amazing is that?

And I was right.  I love it.  And I would have felt sorry for myself if I had looked it over too much before gifting it to my son. 

This Bible is SO COOL. 

The theme for this Bible is “A refreshing way to experience God’s story; a trusted way to apply it to your life.”

I like that.

So why do I love this Bible?  Let me give you a few ideas.
  • Chronological format.  I don't think a chronological Bible should be the only Bible on your nightstand, but I do think everyone should go through the Bible chronologically at some point.  It is amazing to read something like one of David's Psalms at the same time you are reading about him hiding out from Saul.  Context.  Yeah, you can do that with a regular Bible too, but with the Chronological one, it is right there for you.  No planning involved.  It is also wonderful to get books like Chronicles and Kings to line up, instead of reading a lot of the same stories from different points of view months apart.
  • NLT Translation.  I don't follow all of the arguments about which Bible translations are better and why.  I'm aware of some of the disagreement, but not all of it.  So if you have reason to hate the NLT, this Bible is also available in KJV.  I'm not smart enough to make sense of the KJV though.  I typically choose ESV when I have a choice, but I am finding that I really like the NLT too.  I can understand it.  I think understanding the text is a very good thing in a Chronological Bible, personally.  I can always pull out a regular KJV to use for Bible Memory if I want it to sound prettier.
  • Extensive notes.  That'd be the Life Application parts, or the archaeological evidences part, or the timelines (wow, are there ever a lot of timelines!), or the charts, or just the notes about the original Hebrew word.  Lots of notes.  I love the notes, and I'm finding they add so much to my reading.  
  • Photos and illustrations.  There is lots of color in here.  Not on every page by any stretch, but every few pages anyway.  Some are of archaeological sites, some are of things like the trumpets mentioned in a passage.  Some illustrate a key Bible verse.  
  • Maps.  Gracious, are there ever maps.  Nice ones, in color, with specific and relevant information. In the gospels, there are maps every couple of pages, so you really can see where things are taking place.
 I love this Bible.

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.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Creating a High School English Course (or two)

Homeschooling Hearts & MindsI'm joining a group of thirty-some other ladies in a Virtual Curriculum Fair!  This week's topic is Playing With Words: The Language Arts.

There are so many things I could talk about here, but since I have two high school students with very different-but-same-looking English courses this year, I thought I'd touch on how I create a high school English course.

First, my students.  Connor, my 11th grader, has been reading anything and everything you put in front of him for about a decade.  He was a bit slow to start, but once he was reading he was reading.  He has displayed that same behavior with all "word" skills.  He didn't talk much until he was nearly four, and then he spoke in grammatically complex sentences, with great vocabulary.  Writing, foreign languages, same thing.  I keep praying spelling is too, but I'll confess I'm losing hope there.

William, my 9th grader, is severely dyslexic.  He loves reading, he just struggles a lot to do it.  A year ago, we got him the new Kindle with the immersion technology, so he can read the Kindle book while listening to the Audible book, and the Kindle highlights the text as it is read.  That resulted in a HUGE explosion in his reading skills, and it opened up a lot more possibilities to us as well.

Two very different kids, obviously.  So what I did with Connor in 9th grade doesn't fit William at all.

My history with high school English is that so far, we've really just muddled along.  I haven't wanted to use one of those English textbooks out there, though at times that seems much easier.  This is the first year I've felt really confident about our program.

My theory on high school English is that the "course" consists of a few things:
  • First, if your child is in high school and is doing English "stuff" at a level that challenges him, that is "high school English."
  • English is not something that should take just an hour class period a day for 174 class days (or whatever your state mandates).  Most of the time, reading should be "homework" as should some writing.  The only class I really had homework for in high school (aside from studying for tests and a bit of math) was English.  Almost all the literature reading happened on "my time" as did about 80% of the essay writing.  I think "class time" should mostly be instruction or discussion.
  • High school English should include literature, writing (essays and research papers), and "other stuff" as well.
  • "Other stuff" is going to depend a lot on the individual teen, but could include vocabulary study, word root study, spelling, reading instruction, grammar, fiction writing, poetry writing, or other stuff I'm not thinking of right now.
You may have different opinions, especially regarding homework, but those are mine, and I wanted you to know that as you read what we're doing.

So, literature first.  We've done a number of things in the past, but were blessed this year with the chance to use Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings.  I have all three of my teens using this (Thomas, aka Teen #3, is in 7th grade) at different levels. What I love is that it uses the three books of the Lord of the Rings trilogy as the primary literature texts.  I was able to get the recommended book for Connor, and then the Audible/Kindle combination for both William and Thomas.  In addition to the LOTR books, though, we also get into poetry (Tolkien's), epics, Arthurian tales, etc.  And it certainly holds the attention of my boys.

In the past, we've used Lightning Literature, Progeny Press, Excellence in Literature, Sonlight, and probably a couple other things.  I like them too, but this year is less stress for Mom.

I think the key is to find a good mix between literature that grabs the child's attention and literature that is a bit outside his comfort zone, and to have something that helps you work through it.  And Lit Analysis is fun, though I certainly didn't think so in high school.  Maybe the difference is that I'm focusing on different things than my high school English teachers did (or even could, really).

Our literature analysis took shape from Adam Andrew's Teaching the Classics series.  So we're not just talking about an author's use of symbolism, or trying to find obscure, high-brow literary techniques.  We're looking at a work and using some of the literary "stuff" to talk about big issues.  It's a conversation, not another mindless essay.  "Is Frodo being a realist, or a pessimist?" launches a whole long discussion that comes up for days afterwards about the importance of attitude.  Or whatever.  Literature is a great way to talk about what makes a person a hero, to talk about temptations faced, or to talk about the importance of making good choices.  Real life stuff.  It was true with books like Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, and it is still true with high school "literature" -- the big difference is that now I'm using more of those "lit" words.

Writing is the other big thing.  And while I could have the kids writing about literature (and Connor does sometimes) that isn't my preference.  As an adult, how many times have I needed to write about how Shakespeare uses animals to symbolize something-or-another in his play As You Like It?  (I think it was As You Like It anyway!)  After my first year of college?  That'd be NEVER. 

How many times have I needed to write up something that would fall under the category of a personal essay, persuasive essay, research paper, or other essay?  Fairly often, actually.  I'm not saying writing a literary analysis essay is a total waste of time. But with my writing-resistant kiddos, I'd rather expend effort on something they see as more applicable to their lives.

What that means this year for my high schoolers, is that they are doing different things for writing instruction.  Connor is working with Essentials in Writing, a fantastic, grade-based writing program on DVD.  He's working with the 9th grade program, just because that's what we decided to use.  William is using the Student Writing Intensive Level B from IEW, along with Thomas.

Essentials in Writing is really nice for Connor because the daily lessons are clearly defined, and we know when he is done for the day.  No guesswork, straight-forward, Connor can do it with minimal input from me (until I need to grade something).  The instructor has taught English for years, and he tends to sound like an English teacher.  Connor needs some of that.  We like the guy, and Connor is definitely learning.  The focus in high school is on various essays and on research papers.  We do choose to use our own essay topics, for the most part, so that does overlap with his other subject areas.

(I am willing to count one paper as filling multiple course requirements.  The "writing" side of the paper counts for English.  The research and content parts of it counts for history, science, economics, or whatever.  Or I'll grab a scholarship application's essay prompt and use it for the personal or persuasive essay prompt and he'll submit that for the scholarship.)

William using the IEW materials is perfect too.  Andrew Pudewa just has a way of talking to these struggling students, and he motivates my guys to really try.  I chose to do the Level B (intended for 6th-8th grades) as that is an easy one to adapt up or down, and honestly, he's better off with something a bit easier right now.  Well, and since this isn't so self-directed (at least not for these two children), I need something that involves both kids.

The final component of my high school English courses is "Other Stuff."  Again, this looks really different for my two very different children.

Connor is doing spelling, because he needs it.  He is working through Vocabulary from the Classic Roots.  He is working through a workbook called Analogies.  He is doing some handwriting too, as his is atrocious.  None of this takes a whole lot of time.  This is in addition to the extensive vocabulary work in the Lord of the Rings study.

William is working through Logic of English with me, to try to firm up some of his reading skills.  He is doing spelling and handwriting too.  We're working through Bridgeway English for explicit grammar instruction.  His English "class" takes a lot more time than his brother's ninth grade English did, but that is based on his needs.

What will High School English look like next year?  I have no idea.  But it will still include literature, writing, and "stuff" and I'll do my best to make it the 10th and 12th grade English that these young men need.

Here are the other fabulous posts (posts are due to go live by noon, so if you check one and it isn't there, check back later!)

3 Reasons to Read to Your Teens by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Language Arts {Virtual Curriculum Fair} by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

A Classical Take on 6th Grade Language Arts by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

The Power in a Word by Michele@ Family, Faith and Fridays

The Latin Road to English Grammar Volume 1 by Kristi K. @ The Potter's Hand Academy

Starting a Foreign Language in Elementary School by Amy @ Eclectic Homeschooling

These are the words we say by Christa @ Fairfield Corner Academy

A Peek into our Homeschool: Language Arts by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Our Curriculum Choices 2014 ~ English by Renata~Sunnyside Farm Fun

Virtual Curriculum Fair: A World of Words by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

It Starts with the Alphabet by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Playing w/ Words - Charlotte Mason Style by Lynn P @ Ladybug Chronicles

2014 Virtual Curriculum Fair ~ Playing with Words: the Language Arts by Jennifer @ a glimpse of our life

Our PreK - 1st Grade Language Arts Mix by Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker

Fun (or Not) With Spelling by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Word Nerd Love by Lisa N@Golden Grasses

Our Favourite Resources For Teaching Elementary Language Arts by Kim @ Homestead Acres

Unconventional Reading Lessons While Homeschooling by Lori@My Journeys Through Life

My Favorite Writing Curriculum for our Boys by Monique @Living Life and Learning

Virtual Curriculum Fair: Playing With Words - Language Arts   by Stacie @Super Mommy To The Rescue

Fun With the Language Arts by Mary @ Winecup Christian Homeschool

Our Grammar Path by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

Virtual Curriculum Fair !!! by Jessica @ Modest Mama

Language Arts in Our Homeschool This Year by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

If you want to link up, you can do that too!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Rest Not in Peace {a Kregel Book Tour}

I've had the chance to review a couple other books in Mel Starr's The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon series, and I really enjoyed them.  So I certainly jumped at the chance to review book number 6, Rest Not in Peace

The description from the publisher:
Another slice of medieval skullduggery from the surgeon-turned-sleuth
Master Hugh, surgeon and bailiff, is asked to provide a sleeping potion for Sir Henry Burley, a friend and guest of Lord Gilbert at Bampton Castle. Sir Henry—with his current wife, a daughter by a first wife, two knights, two squires, and assorted servants—has outstayed his welcome at Bampton.
The next morning, Sir Henry is found dead, eyes open, in his bed. Master Hugh, despite shrill accusations from the grieving widow, is asked by Lord Gilbert to determine the cause of death . . . which had nothing to do with the potion.
 The sixth tale following Hugh de Singleton, Rest Not in Peace is sure to find its place among fans of detective and medieval historical fiction.
My thoughts:

I have loved everything I've read in this series!  You can see my reviews of A Trail of Ink (Book 3), Unhallowed Ground (Book 4), and The Tainted Coin (Book 5).  I think thee books are more fun if you've read the previous titles (I did go back and find books 1 and 2!), but this one -- like the others -- does stand alone.

Hugh de Singleton shines in this book too, of course.  Master Hugh is charming, thorough, kind... and always seems to end up in the middle of some not-so-great situations.  Of course, when he is in the middle of solving yet another murder mystery, we shouldn't be surprised that he encounters some unsavory characters.

Mel Starr clearly has done plenty of research of the time period and the places.  I love the detail, and although I'm not remotely an expert on medieval England, the settings, word choices, characters, etc. always ring true for me.

One challenge with this book (which I've mentioned in previous reviews too) is the medieval language.   The first chapter or so is usually pretty challenging reading, with all kinds of words you just aren't used to (check the glossary!).  After a chapter or two, that isn't as noticeable though, as you've learned (or re-learned if this isn't your first Hugh de Singleton Chronicle!) what words like maslin, pottage, and solar mean.  Basically, what I'm saying here is:  the first couple chapters might take a bit more mental energy, but it is worth it.

One thing I have loved about all of this series is that Master Hugh ends up in situations where it would be easier to leave things be, to go along with the rational assumptions being made by others.  And he knows that life would be simpler, as he struggles internally with doing the right thing vs. doing the easy thing.  It's those moral and ethical dilemmas that really intrigue me.

Love this series.  Can't wait to read book 7.

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