Friday, November 28, 2014

Word Up! The Vocab Show {a review}

Word Up! The Vocab Show from Compass ClassroomI have a new favorite vocabulary program.  So do my kids.  All of them, ages 8 to 17.

Word Up! The Vocab Show is simply fantastic.

But anything by Compass Classroom is likely to be.  Especially anything that features Dwane Thomas.

This runs $15, which is $1.50 per lesson.  Totally affordable.

Each  lesson covers a single English word -- like "write" in the second lesson.  You learn the Latin root (scribo/scriptum) and the Greek root (grapho).  For each root, you learn TEN English words (proscribe, cacography).  So that is about a nickel per vocabulary word right now.  Even when not on sale, we talking $15 for the whole thing.  A bargain, I tell you.

Each lesson includes a video that is around 15 minutes in length, and it features a few characters, all played by Dwane.  After the video, you also have access to Quizlet for more workbook-ish work with the ten words for the Latin root, and another Quizlet area for the ten words for the Greek root.

Before I go further, here is the very first lesson:

How it works:

So, the "characters" in the video include:

The guy who introduces each word.  In this case, he's introducing the word "time."  This guy is definitely goofy.  In this video, he's taking his kids (off-screen) to explore London.  This segment is only around 45 seconds, before the opening credits.

The announcer.  Suit and tie, in studio, he's the guy who transitions between the various segments and provides commentary on the strange antics of the first guy.  We see him in between pretty much everything.  In this particular video, he's complaining about how much we must be spending to send that first guy to London.  He also wants to know why he doesn't have a clock anywhere in the studio.  Then we get to the meat of the lesson.

Here we have the Latin Expert.  He gives us the Latin root, always in front of cool Roman backgrounds.  He then goes through ten vocabulary words, with sometimes offbeat comments about the words, and always there is something in the background to help you to figure out the words too.  Some of the words are fairly common, some are more obscure or specialized.  Words for Tempus include temporary, contemporary, extemporaneous, temporal, atemporal, tempo, tense, temporize, contretemps, tempest.

In this lesson, he talks about how a word like tense (present tense, past tense, future tense) did come from tempus through French, and that is why it doesn't LOOK like it comes from tempus.  He tells a joke, and comments on how that joke works because tense has another meaning too (tension), and that tense also comes from Latin, but not through French this time.

After a trip back to the announcer, who now has a pink clock, we head on.

The final character is the Greek Expert.  As you can see above, you get to see the Greek root in both Greek and English letters.  That is something we really appreciate.  Again, we get great Greek backgrounds for the first part of his segment.  Again, the words range from fairly common (though not really common in this particular lesson) to more obscure.  The words included in this lesson are Chronos, crony, chronic, chronicle, chronology, chronograph, chronometer, anachronism, synchronize, and diachronic.

In talking about the various words, The Greek Expert covers all kinds of material, not just short little definitions. What shows up in the background varies a lot -- a statue of Father Time (Chronos), a photo of the White House (crony), an x-ray of a knee (chronic), a map of Narnia (chronicle), a gorgeous historical timeline (chronology), a timepiece (chronograph), another timepiece (chronometer), a Pilgrim with modern glasses and a camera (anachronism), video of swimmers and divers (synchronize), and various pages written in English from long ago (diachronic).

For many of those, there were other images too.  And The Greek Expert's explanations make the background pictures make sense.

And the end of the episode, we go back to the Announcer, who can't get his pink alarm clock to stop.

The videos are a little silly, but very memorable.  Everyone here, from the 8-year-old to Mom and Dad, love them.  Dumb jokes, fun little comments, interesting trivia related to the words, all combine to make the words stick.

Of course, then you go to Quizlet to cement that knowledge.  I do not have the 8- and 10-year-olds doing Quizlet independently.  The teens all certainly can though.

In Quizlet, you can look at a nice, dictionary-style list of the words.  You can do flashcards.  You can do various exercises that have you typing the word from the written definition, or from listening to it.

There is a test, which I really love.  You can choose what types of questions it will ask, so if I do have the younger two use this, I just make sure they don't have to do the "written questions" format, and instead they get multiple choice, matching, and/or true false.  The student can do the work on the computer, or you can print the tests.  I love that, except that then I have to grade it.

There are also a couple of games, but we don't tend to use those.

My bottom line:

I LOVE THIS PRODUCT.  Everyone needs this.  Seriously.

My kids' bottom line:

"Mom, promise you'll buy any more of these that come out."  Need I say more?  My kids have really learned the words in the lessons.  The elementary kiddos don't necessarily "own" the obscure words, but they really know the more common ones, and most of the sort of obscure ones.  The teens (who are actually more of the target audience) truly learned the words.

This is available as a download -- which I love, as I can easily put the video onto the iPad or computer -- or as a DVD.  Same $15 regular price, though you need to add shipping for a DVD. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the download of this course from Compass Classroom. This post does contain affiliate links.  I was not required to write a positive review, and any affiliate relationship does not impact my opinions. 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.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Adventures in Odyssey Black Friday!

Over the summer, I was posting about Adventures in Odyssey and the Odyssey Adventure Club.  They've got a Black Friday deal that is simply fabulous.  For $5, you get the first month's access, plus some incredible additional resources (worth $50).

Those resources include the only Imagination Station book we don't own, so you know I'm on this.  I've reviewed Imagination Station books multiple times on my blog, and I simply love them.

Check it out --


Christmas time is nearly here, and the excitement is in the air. But rather than waking up before the sun on Black Friday or having to fight the massive crowds, you could get a special present for your kids or grandkids from Adventures in Odyssey: a subscription to their online Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC)!

Offering 24/7 access to 25 years’ worth of Adventures in Odyssey episodes, the club is a safe and fun environment where children can explore, create and imagine, all while developing their faith and learning biblical truth.

When you sign up between 11/26 and 12/1 (promo code: BLKFRDAY) not only will you receive a special introductory price of $5.00 for your first month of club membership, you’ll also receive a special gift worth $50, including:
  • Imagination Station #12: Danger on A Silent Night book (mailed to you in December)
  • A Family Christmas Volume 1 of Timeless Classics on CD (mailed to you in December)
  • Radio Theatre: A Christmas Carol digital download
  • Radio Theatre: Traveling Home For Christmas digital download
  • 101 Surefire Ways To Strengthen Your Child’s Faith ebook
Membership provides:
  • 24/7 streaming access to more than 750 Adventures in Odyssey episodes (a $1500 retail value).
  • A new, members-only Adventures in Odyssey episode every month.
  • A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine delivered to your mailbox.
  • A web quest of video stories and online activities reflecting the biblical theme of that month's episode.
  • On-the-go access with the OAClub mobile iOS app.
  • Growing access to Odyssey books, a daily devotion, access to select Radio Theatre dramas and more.
A portion of each Odyssey Adventure Club membership benefits Focus on the Family partner relief organizations such as Operation Christmas Child and Compassion International, providing parents with an opportunity to teach children about the value of giving and serving others.

This Christmas, give a present that will not only entertain throughout the year, but will provide a lifelong spiritual foundation.

Disclaimer: As part of the Odyssey Club Blogger program, I receive access to the Odyssey Adventure Club and some other resources in exchange for posting about the Club. I am not required to give positive opinions.

Monday, November 24, 2014

44 Animals of the Bible {a Moms of Master Books review}

It's that time of month again.  Time for the monthly review for Moms of Master Books.

This month, it is a cute title called 44 Animals of the Bible, by Nancy Pelander Johnson and illustrated by Lloyd R. Hight.

The illustrations in this book are fabulous.  But let me tell you about the publisher description first.

From the publisher:
Each beautifully illustrated animal includes details to help clarify its meaning for children, important cultural information, and connections between the historic world of the Bible and our world today!

God once told Job that animals are important to Him, and that they are a big part of His creation. God watches when the doe gives birth to her fawn. He makes the leopard swift to hunt its prey. He commands eagles to soar. Animals are important to God. He loves them and cares for them, and wants us to do the same. Many of the animals mentioned in the Bible are featured in 44 Animals of the Bible.

My thoughts:

Obviously, this book covers 44 animals that are mentioned in the Bible.  Each animal gets a single page.  Each includes a stunning drawing, a couple paragraphs of text, and a Bible verse that mentions the animal.

The text is brief, but interesting.  Some facts about the animal and where it is found, or other items of interest.  Most of the pages include a bit of information about how it is referenced in the Bible that supplements the verse at the bottom of the page.

One of the most interesting animals I learned about is the Pygarg.  Apparently, "many Bibles" translate this animal as "wild goat" instead of naming it, as it is nearly extinct.

There are also many much more common animals, and a few other unusual ones.

I have not used this with my children at this point, but I could see starting off each morning with my elementary aged kids and a single page of the book.  Or having them read a page to me.  Or having them use the information on one animal as an exercise in taking good notes.

Go see what other Moms of Master Books have to say about 44 Animals of the Bible.

You could win one at the Facebook party tomorrow night.  Plus some other cool prizes.

There is a Book and a Treat Facebook party coming up tonight, November 25 at 7:30 pm Central Time, where you could win cool prizes -- and discuss bugs 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.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Duck Commander Faith and Family Bible {a BookLook Blogger review}

When The Duck Commander Faith and Family Bible came up as a review option from BookLook Bloggers, I knew I had to get it for my husband.

As I mentioned in a recent post, we do watch Duck Dynasty -- though we can't stay current.  We enjoy the crazy antics, but what we really love are the more serious moments, where we see the "faith and family" aspects really shine.

This seemed like a perfect Bible for my husband, especially as I know he likes the New King James version.

From the publisher:
The stars of the hit TV show Duck Dynasty are committed to upholding five core values both on and off the screen: faith, family, fellowship, forgiveness, and freedom.

The Duck Commander® Faith and Family Bible features new stories and testimonials by Phil, the Robertson family patriarch, and his son Al, a pastor with more than 22 years of experience. Together they offer fresh wisdom on biblical values and how everyday people can apply them to their lives.
Powered by relentless dedication to sharing the gospel and celebrating Christ’s kingdom, the Robertson family has become influential to contemporary evangelism and discipleship. The Duck Commander® Faith and Family Bible unleashes the power of their practical insight into critical faith issues, founded on God’s Word.

Features include:
  • Full text of the New King James Version Bible
  • A personal welcome note from Phil and Al Robertson
  • 125 articles on the top 24 most-searched topics on BibleGateway
  • Life application and scripture references supplement each article
  • 30 days of life-changing testimonials
  • Topical index and reading plans

My thoughts:

As you can see in the image linked above, this Bible looks nice without looking all "churchy" or anything.  I like that.

This is primarily the Bible text.  There aren't thirty-seven little symbols to alert you that they are about to explain something biographical, cultural, etymological, or whatever.  Mostly, this is "just" a Bible.

What does set it apart is a couple of things:
  1. Introductory material telling you who Phil and Al Robertson are and why the Bible is important.
  2. Thirty Lifechangers stories (one page each) in the introduction.  These talk about transformed lives.  Half are written by Phil, and half are by Al.  These are located all together in the introductory materials.
  3. 52 Days...  This is the little notes, essays, whatever that are scattered throughout the Bible.  There are 52 Days with Phil, and 52 Days with Al.  Each man has essays on the topics of Faith, Family, Fellowship, Forgiveness, and Freedom.  The idea is to read one a week for a year.  Well, two years.  One with Phil, one with Al.
There is also some material at the end of the book, like a topical index and some reading suggestions.

I love that this is fairly simple.  Down-to-earth.

You could read through the Bible, using any sort of reading schedule, and just read the essays as you come to them.  You could read through the essays at a one-a-week pace, following each up with reading the appropriate sections in the Bible.  Or you could read one Phil essay and one Al essay each week in a similar way.

Each essay gives an overview, tells a story, and gives a key verse.  It then also gives links to other similar essays.  And finally, there is an "On the Hunt" section which gives a list of other Bible verses (with the verses spelled out, not just referenced) on the same topic.  And there are elegant line drawings of ducks flying across the top of the first page of the essay and the bottom of the second page.

I really like this format.

Apparently, from the publisher's info about this, the Robertson's chose what to write about based on the most-asked questions at BibleGateway.  So they are trying to address the issues that real people care about.

I think they succeeded.

My husband is liking this Bible.  He isn't really good at "all that reviewing stuff" when it comes to books, but he does appreciate that there aren't a lot of distractions, yet there is still enough additional content to justify the Duck Commander label being on it.

I find it amusing that I'm writing up a review of this particular Bible as my eldest son is preparing to go process an elk and a deer.  With his hunting buddies.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers 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.”

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A visit to the food pantry

Since I'm on a roll, I thought I'd keep it up.  I posted about food pantries in general, and the attitude that I really hate about whether or not people "deserve" the food a couple days ago.  I posted about our Mobile Food Truck yesterday.  That happens the third Friday of every month.

Today is regular pantry day.  That happens on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month.  Occasionally, like this weekend, the third Friday and 4th Saturday happen on the same weekend.  Usually not.

I took two teens over this morning, but I've got a headache (and maybe a bit of a fever, I'm noticing now) and there were LOTS of volunteers, so I took off after going through the pantry as a customer myself.  The teens are still there, carrying boxes, helping people select produce, and so on. 

I'm home enjoying silence.  And getting a load of laundry done.  And I chopped up apples and started some cranberry applesauce. 

Updating this to say:  I picked them up, and there were 84 families served today.  Eighty-four.  That is a lot of hungry people.

We can go through the pantry twice a month
That's my haul, as a family of seven.  I wish I had been thinking about posting this, as I might have made some different choices in shopping today.  Basically, though, families of four or more get 40 points to shop with.  You can see points written on top of some of the containers. 

Three points are automatically "spent" for bakery, dairy, meat and produce items.  Today, that part (for me) included one loaf of sliced bread, a package of English muffins, a blueberry coffeecake, two white onions, 10 eggs, and a carton of sour cream.  Because of Thanksgiving, there wasn't meat (there is supposed to be a turkey/chicken/ham distribution on Tuesday).

I could have taken more produce.  There were potatoes, apples and bell peppers, but I got plenty of those yesterday.  There were carrots, which I also have.  There were a few heads of cabbage, and I chose to not take one as there just aren't enough for every family coming through.

In the regular shopping part, though, you can see I got a few items.  A lot of staples there -- diced tomatoes, kidney beans, pasta, pasta sauce, soup (which you can't see in the photo), gravy, condensed milk, chicken broth, a can of yams, and jello.

That's all great, and I'm thrilled about it.  Not all of that is available each time.  What really excited me on this trip, though, was:

  • Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix.  Big container.  My kids are going to be excited.
  • Stuffing mix.  We used to see that a lot, but it has been scarce lately.  
  • Kraft Spaghetti Classics.  This is one of those "comfort foods" things for me. 
  • Almonds.  Oh.  My.
  • Craisins.  Oh.  My.
  • Peanut Butter, even if it is creamy and has a broken lid.  
  • Refried beans -- not just any refried beans, but the jalepeño ones we prefer.
  • V8 juice.  Thomas especially loves this.
  • Pace Southwest Ranch dip.  I'm sure I'll come up with a fun way to use that.
  • Lea & Perrins Marinade in a Bag -- we've had this available a LOT at pantry, for the past few months, and I love it.
  • Caramels.  
  • Sure-Jell -- so at some point, I'll get a bunch of fruit that needs to be used NOW and I'll get to make jam.
Today had a whole lot of name-brand stuff, which is a lot unusual.  'Tis the season, I suppose.   Usually, there are a lot more dented and dinged items, but at this time of year between corporate donations to Feeding America, and all the food drives, there does tend to be a lot more name-brand stuff in nice cans.

This was a great pantry trip. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mobile Food Truck

Since I posted yesterday about our food pantry in general, I thought I'd post today about the Mobile Food Truck.

Care and Share sends a truck out once a month to visit rural areas and bring mostly fresh produce, but also some bakery items, and sometimes other things as well.  They showcase our site in action at their blog.

There is a lot of food insecurity in rural areas.  Way too much.  Nearly 70 families went through today.

But there are opportunities for assistance.  And this is what my family came home with today:

We could have taken more potatoes (that's 6 3-lb bags there), and we also could have taken carrots.  But we have so many of both around right now, I just did not want more.

And if you can't quite tell what's in there, we brought home:
  • 18 pounds of potatoes
  • a pumpkin
  • ten red bell peppers
  • ten fairly small onions
  • 14 big apples
  • a big pumpkin pie
  • six banana nut muffins
  • a HUGE bag of hamburger buns
  • a loaf of Sara Lee 100% Whole Wheat bread
I'm planning to dehydrate most of the bell peppers. The pumpkin will become pumpkin bread and/or cookies.  Apples, onions, potatoes, and bread all just get eaten.  I'm sure the pumpkin pie will be dessert a couple nites in a row.  The muffins are already gone.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Feed My Sheep

For the past couple weeks, it has been on my heart to post about the food pantry.  I know, I've mentioned them before on this blog.  We volunteer at the pantry -- a lot -- and that is something that has meant so much to my family.  On a day like tomorrow, which is Mobile Food Truck day, we can all get involved.

Connor is in the back, in glasses, his face hidden
  • The teens carry boxes while participants select their items, and then carry the boxes (and 50 pound bags of potatoes!) out to load into the cars. 
  • The 8- and 10-year-olds can man a station, letting people know that they can have one cabbage, or that they can get 2 apples per family member, or whatever.  They smile and give suggestions as to just what one can do with sweet potatoes.  Or they try to convince people to get another bag of potatoes.
  • I fit in wherever I'm needed.
That's me, carrying *something* outside for distribution
It is fabulous.  I've given lots of reasons I love volunteering at the food pantry in the past. What I don't tend to talk about though, and I should, is that the food is a big reason too.  Because, like virtually all of the volunteers at our little pantry on the prairie, we don't just work here.  We're also customers.

At times, I've been an "end of the day" customer... so I let other families shop first, and I only go through towards the end, getting a few things here and there, and being totally okay if they ran out of oranges before I get there.

Right now, I'm not anywhere near so noble.

All of that has me thinking about food pantries, and asking for help, and the sanctimonious garbage I often read online.  You know, people complaining because someone going through a food pantry has a smart phone.  Or their kid is playing on a Kindle Fire.  Or they have nice clothes.  Or a nice car.  They don't deserve it.  You've seen those posts and rants, I'm sure.

Fortunately, I've never encountered that personally. 

I have volunteered at a number of different pantries.  I have used services of a number of pantries as well.  And one thing that has always been emphasized is that we have to take people at face value.  If they say they need food, then they need food.  We can't decide they do or do not based on what they are wearing, what they are carrying, or what they are driving.

That probably means that we've given food to people who don't truly "need" it.  And when you are seeing so many people who really, really need food, it is tough to accept that some of the food is going to "the wrong people."

But we've also given food to hundreds and hundreds of people who did.  And that is what is important.

Jesus told us to feed the hungry.  And He did too.  When I read in the Bible about multiplying the loaves and fishes, I don't see Him instructing the disciples to make people prove they really need food before grudgingly offering them fish and bread.  I don't see Him instructing the disciples to not give food to anyone whose robes are "too nice" nor to skip anyone who arrived via donkey instead of on foot.

He tells them to feed His sheep. 

Just how would you define "need" anyway?  Some people would look at my family and say we don't "need" food.
  • We have a new car.
  • We own things like iPads and Kindle Fires.  Plural.
  • We are employed.
  • I can show up, having some of the kids dressed in spendy clothing.
  • Or people spot me at Starbucks, enjoying an outrageously expensive Salted Caramel Mocha.
But what does that have to do with a need for food?  The clothes is either gifts or thrift store finds, with the occasional purchase of something nice.  And by "something nice" I basically mean new jeans, without holes.  Or new shoes.

The car was purchased after a serious look at fuel economy, and we spend less on car payment, insurance and gas than we did on just gas for my husband to drive to and from work.

We've used birthday money, Christmas money, and serious sales to purchase the technology, and we use it extensively for school, not just to play Angry Birds.

I tend to be given Starbucks gift cards as thank you's, birthday gifts, or just because gifts.  And yes, I could go in and purchase scones or something that has some nutritive value (and I have) but usually I use that to treat myself.  Or to have a teacher-student conference with one of my kids.

Waiting for the truck

At the moment, the big thing driving our "need" for food is medical bills.  All of a sudden, we have roughly $8,000 in medical bills.  Everyone wants that paid now, or in generous installments, and just one of those payments eats up 2/3 of our monthly grocery budget.  We have three big medical payments to make (the ER, the ambulance, the hospital) and a lot of little ones too.  To meet those obligations, we have to eliminate all discretionary spending, eliminate our grocery budget, and cut our electricity use in half.  For the next year.  And that still puts us a couple hundred dollars a month short.

We can't do that.

The good news is that we can drastically cut our grocery bill.  With two trips to the food pantry each month (the max allowed) and the mobile food truck, we'll have fresh produce (especially potatoes), some dairy, some meat, some canned goods, some snacks, and lots and lots of "need to use immediately" breads and desserts.

I have stored up a lot.  Our freezer is completely full.  My mama is a war baby.  She taught me to prepare for a rainy day. 

I've survived before, feeding the family on a grocery budget as low as $35 a month.

Of course, I didn't have three teen boys then.

The point of this post though, isn't to whine about how rough I have it.  I don't.  This is a tight spot, unplanned, but I'm not seriously concerned about a foreclosure.  And pantry or not, I know I can feed my family rice and beans for MONTHS, so it isn't like we'll starve.

But the food pantry makes it easier. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Buck Denver asks... Why Do We Call It Christmas? {a FlyBy review and giveaway}

When FlyBy Promotions offered an opportunity to review Buck Denver asks... Why Do We Call It Christmas?   I did not have to contemplate it at all.  No thinking or deciding required.

I sent an enthusiastic YES!

We love Buck Denver here.  My kids have learned so much by watching through the 13-volume What's In the Bible set.  That's all of them, from the 8-year-old to the 17-year-old.

And Mom and Dad too.

That series is simply fabulous, so of course we were interested in a Christmas DVD.

We were not at all disappointed.

Here's the official blurb --
About the movie: Approx. 60 minutes
Cutting down trees? Hanging stockings? Santa Claus? What do any of these have to do with Jesus' birthday?  More than you'd think! 
Join VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer along with intrepid newsman Buck Denver and all his friends on an amazing journey into the world's most popular holiday! Sure, you know the Christmas story. But do you know the story of Christmas? Don't miss the whimsical, educational, Christmical party to end all Christmas parties as Buck Denver Asks … Why Do We Call It Christmas?

Contains the following topics:
  • Where do we get the word Christmas?
  • When was Jesus born?
  • What do Christmas trees have to do with Jesus?
  • Who is St. Nicholas?
  • What is Hanukkah?
  • Who is Emmanuel?
  • Luke 2 Story

What did we think?

Well, all our favorite Buck Denver and Friends characters are in here.  The basic "plot" is that Buck Denver is a bit confused about what Christmas is really all about, so he invites everyone to join him, and they all have various adventures in getting there.  Along the way, they talk about all kinds of stuff, like the list up above.

Luke 2 is shown via popsicle stick puppets, with awesome background music.  It includes a bunch of discussion about things like what angels look like (not little babies with wings) and why they always start off conversations with people by saying, "Don't freak out!  I'm not going to hurt you!"

"Getting a great deal on a new TV!  That's what Christmas is all about!" brings us into a great discussion about why Christmas is important, with a pretty clear gospel presentation in here too, in the discussion of who Emmanuel is.  Basically - We can't be perfect, and unless we are perfect, we can't go to God.  So God came to us.

"The miracle of Christmas is for everyone!"

Do you want to win one? Open to US and Canada only, must be 18 to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Snake Oil Party Potion {a Schoolhouse Review Crew review}

The Schoolhouse Review Crew had the chance to review a couple different games from Out of the Box Games.  Snake Oil (for ages 10 to adult) stayed in my house.  I gave the other to a friend, and she was sweet enough to write a guest review for me.


First, I’d like to thank Debra for letting my family have this fabulous game from Out of the Box Games. It’s called Snake Oil – Party Potion and in addition to being hilariously fun to play, it’s great for creative learning too.  It’s for 3-6 players ages 8 to adult but can be played with children as young as 6 if they are reading independently (or in our case with a partner).

Have you heard of Snake Oil?  It really did exist! It was first introduced in the United States in the 1860’s by Chinese laborers. There really was an ointment made with snake oil that these hard working men would rub into their muscles. Snake oil is still used by some herbalists in the United States. Eventually Snake Oil was commercialized.  In 1917 the U.S. Government did a study on a particular brand of snake oil and found that it contained no actual snake oil. The phrase “Snake Oil Salesman” came from the swindlers who made preposterous claims about this ointment that contained no actual snake oil. Snake Oil Salesmen came to have the reputation of selling something dubious and that’s exactly what you do in this game: attempt to sell an outrageous product to the customer. 

The game takes very little time to set up and and a game can be played in 20 to 30 minutes. Just slide the card tray out.  There are two Word Card decks.  Place these within easy reach of all the players. You can leave the Customer cards in the tray. Each player draws 6 Word cards. Choose a player to be the customer for the first round and that’s it.  For the next round the player to the left gets to be the customer. Continue until all players have had a chance to be the Customer.
Out of the Box Games Review
The Customer draws a special Customer Card and becomes that character for the round.  The other players choose two cards from their hand to put together to create a product to sell to the Customer. Some hilarious combos we came up include the “bubble chair” for the Dog. Perfect for a dog who wants to play with bubbles but just doesn’t want to move, or the “stress kitten” for the Toddler. Toddlers often can’t handle the stress of not getting her own way. The Toddler can pet the kitten and all stress just disappears. The Treasure Hunter chose to purchase the “trophy test”, a device uniquely designed to test potential treasure to make sure it was really a trophy to collect.  

Ready to Play!

The Party Potion version is a smaller version for younger players of their original Snake Oil game. The Party Potion version includes 14 Customer cards (28 Customer personas) and 112 Word Cards. Sample Word Cards include Sugar, Mug, Bus, Jewel, Smile, Nap, Spray, Bacon, Fur, and Rescue. Sample Customer Cards include Artist, School Bus Driver, Toddler, Dog, Camper, and Janitor.   Both the Word Cards and the Customer Cards are simpler vocabulary than the cards in the original version of Snake Oil. The Party Potion version also notes that younger players can switch out words from their hand that they do not know.
In additional to being fun to play Snake Oil Party Potion is perfect for creative learning. We’ve been using this with Erin to help her develop story telling ideas. She chooses her two words and then we ask her questions to encourage her to expand on the product.  Who is it for?  Why would they want it?  What does the product do? For more classroom lesson plan ideas visit the Educational Tab at

Snake Oil – Party Potion retails for $14.99.

Check out other Crew reviews here: 

Click to read Crew Reviews
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The End of Another Fabulous Crew Year -- Blue Ribbon Awards

Every year, the Crew votes for their favorite vendors from all of the vendors we reviewed during the year.  It was really challenging this year, I thought, as we had 57 different vendors to choose from and some incredibly amazing products.

I didn't review many products, but I did see most of them.  My job involves getting a good look at products before the Crew run, and while my kids were hands-on for at least a bit with virtually every vendor, there weren't that many that we incorporated into our lives right now.

So here is a semi-random list of the vendors the Crew voted as best, along with some of my comments.

Veritas Press got my vote as All Around Crew Favorite, and it got the vote from the Crew as well.  We are just finishing up the Ancient History program online, and plan to move on to do Ancient Greece and Rome starting in January.  Richard voted for this for Kids' Choice (it didn't win that though), if that tells you anything about how much we have loved it.  However, it did win Favorite History Program and Best Digital Resource.  It was also a very, very close second in a few other categories.

Roman Roads Media was voted as Teens' Choice by two of my children, though it did not win that category.  We've absolutely loved learning with Wes Calihan using Old Western Culture: The Greeks.  Roman Roads did win Favorite High School Resource, and was a very, very close second in a few other categories.  Well deserved.

Middlebury Interactive Languages was the Teens' Choice vote from my other teen.  It also didn't win that category, but it did win Favorite Foreign Language Curriculum.  Thomas is LOVING his online German class.

Some other highlights of some of the winners:

Favorite Math Program was CTC Math.  My children are all using this at the moment, and I cannot say enough wonderful things about it.  I did not write a review of this, though I probably should.  Crew reviews are at the blog though.

Favorite Christian Education Supplement was The Brinkman Adventures.  Besides loving the family's name, we also really enjoy the stories.  Rumor is that a third volume is in the works.

Logic of English won Favorite Elementary Resource.  I love Logic of English, though I've never written a review.  You can see the Crew Reviews though.

Progeny Press won Favorite Literature Curriculum.  We used The Courage of Sarah Noble this year, for elementary ages.  I do really like their materials!

The winner in the Just For Fun category was Out of the Box Games.  I posted a review of this one today.

Teens' Choice winner, in an incredibly tight race, was Homeschool Piano.  I really liked this program too.  Piano lessons that don't require you to travel, as you bring the teacher to your computer screen?  Pick me.  Crew reviews can be found on the Crew blog.

That's only a handful of the categories (ten of the twenty-seven awards), and you can check the Crew Blog for the other Blue Ribbon Award Winners.

Lots of great companies, and some fabulous vendors coming along for next year.

Are you interested in joining the Crew?  With the huge influx of vendors for 2015, we are taking applications again.  Check out the information.  Love, love being part of this fabulous organization.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary {a BookLook Blogger review}

I love a good Bible resource.

Having the opportunity to review Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary excited me. 

Over 1,000 pages.

Big, hardcover book.

Fairly large type.

Gorgeous photos and diagrams and illustrations.

Seriously, I love this.

From the publisher:

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary is the most comprehensive and up-to-date Bible dictionary available. With a fresh new look and updated photographs, this new and enhanced edition is a wealth of basic study information with more than 7,000 entries plus more than 500 full-color photographs, maps, and pronunciation guides.
Features include:
  • Cross-references to major translations
  • More than 7,000 up-to-date entries
  • More than 500 full-color photographs and maps
  • Enlarged type size for easier reading
  • Visual Survey of the Bible from The Open Bible

My thoughts:

I love, love, love the photos.  There are historical photos, photos of what places look like today, photos of archaeological artifacts, etc.

My kids love the images, but I confess that I do too.  Flipping through, a ruin like this one (the ruin of a temple dedicated to Athena) catch my eye, and before I know it, I'm reading about the Greeks, and flipping back to see what they have in here about Athena.  Nothing.  But there is a great article about Athens, that includes another photo, a close-up, of The Porch of the Maidens (the statues at the right side in this photo).

Or this page, showing an artifact, and the traditional site of the tomb of Lazarus, and before I know it, I'm reading about Lazarus, and then resurrection, and...

Another aspect of this dictionary are the drawings and maps.  Like this one, giving info on Saul's Final Battle.

Not only is there the map, but diagrams that give me a feel for the terrain and what really happened.

Love it.

All of the books of the Bible have an entry, including a study/teaching outline, like this one for Matthew:

In the introductory materials, they have information about using this dictionary to study a single book.  Start by reading the book/passage.   I chose Philippians, paying attention to names, places, ideas, etc.  Then read the entry for that book of the Bible.  Philippians is a pretty short book (which is why I chose it!) and the entry in this dictionary is only about a page and a half.

Then go through again, reading the dictionary entries for those key words, names, etc. that you encountered.  And they recommend following up with the “see also” mentions.

For Philippians, I read the entry for Philippi, which includes a great photo of the agora (marketplace) and ruins of a pagan temple.  That article referenced a couple Bible passages outside of Philippians (Acts 20:16 and 1 Thessalonians 2:2) where the city is mentioned.

One rabbit trail I followed was to read about suffering (Philippians 1:27-30, Philippians 3:10).  Of course, in looking at suffering, I also noticed the entry on sun worship, and my rabbit trail got totally off the topic introduced in Philippians.

That isn’t a bad thing, I don’t think.

So my bottom line is that this is a gorgeous book, already getting lots of use in my household.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers 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.”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Classic Holiday Standards {a Family Christian Blogger review and giveaway}

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this CD free from Family Christian Stores through the Family Christian Blogger program, along with the certificate I am giving away. This post does contain affiliate links.  I was not required to write a positive review, and any affiliate relationship does not impact my opinions. 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.”

'Tis the season.  Our Christian radio station has switched to playing a whole lot of Christmas music, there is Christmas stuff up in all the stores, and I even saw a house all lit up with Christmas lights last night.

I'm not quite ready for Christmas for real, but since I blog a few reviews, I so have the chance to be "doing" Christmas a bit before I'd otherwise be ready.

Today, I'm reviewing some Christmas music.  Specifically, a CD called Classic Holiday Standards.

With a title like that, I was expecting something fairly traditional.  And, in a way, this was.  Song titles like:
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
  • I'll Be Home for Christmas
  • Blue Christmas
  • Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow
Sounds fairly traditional, right?  But then there are titles like:
  • Marshmallow World
  • My Favorite Things

We put this in while trying to get the kitchen cleaned up one day, and we weren't terribly impressed.  But we were pretty distracted, so I knew I had to listen again when I could focus a bit more.

I played it again while cooking dinner, and I enjoyed it a lot more that time through.  Now that I've actually heard the whole CD, I think it would work as background music.

There are some great artists on here, like Francesca Battistelli, Point of Grace, Sixpence None the Richer, Jaci Velasquez, Nicole C. Mullen, and Sandi Patty.

Marshmallow World (Francesca Battistelli) is really a lot of fun.  I'm still not sure why My Favorite Things (Sandi Patty) is on a Christmas CD, but it is beautiful.  Most of the other songs are a lot of fun too, though a couple are just a little out there.

I'm glad to have it as part of my Christmas music collection!

Would you like to win a $25 appreciation certificate, to be used at Family Christian?  Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 14, 2014

Draw-A-Saurus {a Blogging for Books review}

My middle son has been on a whole lot of an art kick lately.  He wants to draw, or paint, or sculpt, whenever possible.

He wants to take art lessons.  Which hasn't really been in the budget right now.

So when I had the chance to review Draw-A-Saurus, I knew I had to go for it.  I knew he'd love it.

I was totally right.  He absolutely did.

Before I get into what we thought, here's a blurb from the publisher:
This in-depth yet accessible dinosaur drawing guide combines humor, creativity, and the latest dino research to show artists young and old how to breathe life into drawings of their prehistoric favorites. 
Prehistoric Pencil Power!
Even though they lived some 65 million years ago, dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles continue to rule today. From movies to comics and cartoons, these ancient, giant beasts are everywhere you turn. Of course, who wants to just read about or watch these dinos when you can learn how to use pencils, pens, markers, and more to draw your very own?

Cartoonist James Silvani combines easy-to-follow art exercises with the latest, greatest dino-facts to help you create fun and cool dinosaur doodles all by yourself. With lessons on old favorites like T-rex and stegosaurus, as well as lesser-known (but still awesome) creatures like the massive argentinosaurus, Draw-a-Saurus has everything the dinosaur fan could ever ask for (outside of their very own pet dino!).


Our thoughts:

Thomas found the writing to be very funny, especially the "editor" notes.  He was constantly cracking up, and then saying, "Mom, listen to this!" then reading something out loud, cracking up the whole time.  He'd finish with, "You've got to put that in the review!"

He also found the art instruction to be very helpful.  As did the younger guys.  They all (ages 13, 10 and 8) took a stab at drawing a T. Rex using the instructions in the book.  This was their first attempt.

As you can see, some did better than others.

Thomas has tried drawing dragons (which we believe are just another name for dinosaurs) in the past and never been really happy with his results.  By practicing with some of the lessons in this book, he was then able to adapt it and create some pretty cool results.

Here's a before and after (or rather, an after and before) shot of his work:

The red one -- the after the book's lessons one -- is obviously moving and there is more of a sense of muscles and realism there. 

We've loved this book!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas {a FlyBy review}

You've been to the stores in the past couple weeks, I'm sure.  And one of the frustrating parts of this time of year is all the Christmas stuff that just seems to be out earlier every year.

I'm not ready for Christmas.

Don't get me wrong.  I love Christmas music.  I love Christmas food.  I love church at Christmas time, especially a Christmas Eve service.  I love the emphasis on "peace on earth, good will to men."  I love the chance to talk about Jesus and why He had to come.

It's all of the other stuff that makes me a bit crazy.  Wrapping paper, 'holiday trees,' gift lists, obligations, decorations, and, and, and...

As a blog reviewer, I totally understand that I'll be in a position to deal with Christmas earlier than I'd necessarily choose to.  Like checking out a Christmas CD, a Christmas DVD, or a Christmas devotional (watch for those over the next couple of days).

I'll confess that I put in to review Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas because my husband and teens were interested.  I read them the description and they thought it sounded good. 

I had looked at the cover, and thought it looked crazy.  And not something I wanted to watch.  Seriously, who wields a candy cane like a sword?

And why would I want to watch?

Here's the description that convinced my family though:

This Christmas, have your family join with Kirk Cameron’s family and dive headfirst into all the joy, dancing, celebration, feasting, imagination, and traditions that glorify the true “reason for the season.” KIRK CAMERON’S SAVING CHRISTMAS is an engaging story that provides a biblical basis for our time-honored traditions and celebrations, and the inspiration to stand strongly against a culture that wants to trivialize and eliminate the faith elements of this holy season. So take in the splendor; take in the majesty; take in the story. Take it all in… and let’s put Christ back in Christmas! KIRK CAMERON’S SAVING CHRISTMAS is in theaters for a limited engagement beginning November 14 for two weeks only!
"Put Christ Back in Christmas"

That was the line that made me willing to do this.  I like a Jesus-focused Christmas.

So we sat down to watch via a special online screening, and we were able to watch all but the last 2-3 minutes.  Something glitched, and it is one-time thing, so we couldn't get it back.  So we missed the final summary.

We did enjoy the viewing though.

I'm not sure how to describe this, except it was really what I expected.  In a good way.  Basically, Kirk's sister is throwing a huge Christmas party, and her husband is uncomfortable with all the trappings -- gifts, trees, Santa, Jesus wasn't born in December, etc. -- and he and Kirk have a big, long conversation about the origins of some of these things.  Only Kirk's side of the conversation usually involves people acting out the story.

Most of that was entertaining, informational, and thought-provoking.  Connor (17) commented that this went deeper than most "Christmas apologetics" he's seen before.  Santa coming from St. Nicholas wasn't the story of him dropping dowry money into the stockings of three unfortunate sisters (it was sort of assumed you already knew that story though) but it talked about Nicholas as a bishop, and the First Council of Nicaea.  You know, where they hammered out the Nicene Creed.

There were a couple things that bothered me, maybe because of my work with food pantries and food shelves.  Since we only got to see this once, I didn't get the exact quote, but at one point the brother-in-law is talking about all the money spent on gifts that are played with for a month and then ignored, and asking how many people (children?) could we feed with that money.  Or how many wells could be dug?

The answer had to do with how our Heavenly Father likes to shower gifts on his children, much as we like to give gifts to our kids.  And while I do agree with that to a point, I also think that it rationalizes greed and selfishness.

I want to buy the biggest, best, coolest toy ever.  And I can justify it because God wants me to have blessings too.

Meanwhile, seriously, how many families could you feed instead?  Or how about toning down the gifts just a bit and going out and blessing some of the least of these?  Or if you are talented at throwing parties, why not call a homeless shelter or food pantry and see about throwing a party there?

Okay, so that is me going off on a tangent, I know.  So back to Saving Christmas.  One statement Kirk made was how we need to take a look at these Christmas symbols and traditions, and that "you just need to see it with new eyes."  There definitely are things I will be looking at differently, like Christmas tree lots, and the swaddling cloths.

Check out the preview:

Saving Christmas is in theaters starting tomorrow, November 14, for a two-week limited run.  I love the idea of seeing a real defense of how Christmas is really about Christ on the big screen.  I think the biggest take-away for me was the idea of taking some of these symbols and traditions and using them to point back to Christ -- even if not quite the way Kirk does.

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive the opportunity to view a screening of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Open Your Eyes {a Family Christian Blogger review}

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Family Christian Stores through the Family Christian Blogger program. This post does contain affiliate links.  I was not required to write a positive review, and any affiliate relationship does not impact my opinions. 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.”

It's time for another review from Family Christian! Before I talk about the book, I'm hoping you'll indulge me as I do some reminiscing. 

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to live fairly close to a cousin of mine.  We were in the same grade, at the same school, and even though we really weren't anything alike, people were always getting us confused.  I have "Good Job, Diane!" written in the corners of most of my piano books.  Undoubtedly, she has "Practice some more, Debra!" written in hers.  Our teacher could never get us straight.

We took piano lessons from the same teacher.  We played softball on the same team, The Executioners (okay, she played.  I was mostly a benchwarmer).  We had a lot of the same classes.  We took golf lessons together.  We attended different churches, but sometimes we went to activities together at one or the other of the churches.

When we were eleven, her family was vacationing in California, and I probably don't have all the details correct, but my recollection is that she was walking across the "street" to go to a store (the "street" being 3-4 lanes in each direction, speed limits around 60) when she was hit by a car.  She spent at least a couple weeks in a coma in CA, and her prognosis was never particularly good.  They didn't expect her to live, and they definitely never thought she'd be mobile ever.

Eventually, she was on a special flight home to Fargo, and I remember how excited I was to finally go see her in the hospital.  She was barely awake, and mostly I sat with her and rubbed her back or tried to tell her stories.  The doctors had a whole list of "she'll never" for us all.

Diane, however, had other plans.  Never wasn't a word she particularly liked, and she definitely liked to prove people wrong.  She went from being pushed around in a wheelchair, to pushing herself around in the chair, to a brief stint with a walker, to pushing her wheelchair around.  And she walked across the stage at our high school graduation.  To a standing ovation.  Well, I wasn't standing.  I was bawling in my seat (and I'm crying as I type this).

This picture was in the Fargo Forum when we graduated, along with a story about her and another handicapped student in our graduating class.  The story was filled with descriptive words like "stubborness," "determination" and "successful."  And it talked about her post-high-school plans to go camping, fishing, and how she wanted to water ski again.

As I started reading Open Your Eyes  by Jake Olson and McKay Christensen, I couldn't help but remember my cousin.  I think the two of them would have gotten along fabulously.  Even with thirty years between them, they'd have had so much in common.  Jake's determination to golf -- blind -- mirrored that determination to water ski. 

Jake Olson has had different -- yet similar -- battles.  His relate to vision.  He lost one eye to cancer as a baby.  He had years of chemo and radiation.  At age 12, he had to have his other eye removed, leaving him blind.

Jake isn't a victim though. 

Not at all.

This book tells some of his story, which is totally inspirational.  But it isn't just autobiographical.  It is more of a motivational how-to when it comes to stick-to-it-iveness, perseverance, and going after your dreams.

If you have ever had obstacles to overcome -- whether something huge like losing your eyes or being hit by a car at 60 mph, or something smaller like most of the rest of us -- this book can help you to think differently about life in general.

One section that really hit me had to do with happiness.  Happiness rubs off on those around you, as does unhappiness.  "One thing is certain: the happier we are, the happier the people in our lives become."

That is something I need to remember.