Friday, December 16, 2016

Star Struck {a BookLook Blogger review}

One of my favorite (partial) verses from the Bible is "and the stars" from Genesis 1:16.  Day four of creation talks about the sun and the moon, which is a big deal.  But it is that last little bit, in the Debra paraphrase, where the writer throws in, "Oh, by the way, while he was at it, God made stars as well."

We've been outdoors at dusk/dark here a lot lately, and while we are working at various things, we have the opportunity to look up as the stars appear.  We live in a rural area, without much light pollution, so once it gets truly dark, we can see an amazing number of stars.

The stars are fascinating.  My eldest just did a presentation about stars for one of his college classes, and he has plans for us to be out doing some star gazing while he is home for Christmas.

Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of our Cosmos, by Dr. David Bradstreet and Steve Rabey seemed like such a natural for our current fascination with the heavens.

From the publisher:
The heavens are beckoning us, telling us that this wonderful, mind-boggling cosmic display is indeed the work of the creator. And now, using rovers and satellites, we're venturing further out into the vastness of space than ever before.

In Star Struck, Christian astronomer David Bradstreet and writer Steve Rabey take readers on a guided tour of the biggest story ever, offering both intriguing science lessons and powerful spiritual insights:

As we discover more about cosmos, we understand more about the character of our Creator; The more we see the vastness and complexity of the universe, the more we experience awe, wonder, praise, gratitude and humility; Hundreds of Christian astronomers blaze the way into deep exploration of the universe today, discovering and proving God’s work in the heavens.

Combining a respect and admiration for mainstream astronomy with a zeal for uncovering new details about God’s celestial handiwork at its core, this book about stars, planets, asteroids, nebula, comets, dark matter, and the other fingerprints of God will tell you that all of the worlds around you are God’s and this world is his home for you.
This book is engaging, and some of the words from the publisher's description above really do ring true -- zeal, in particular.  I love reading about a subject from the perspective of someone who is so passionate about it, and David Bradstreet delivers there.

The book isn't about stars only, but about astronomy as a whole.  It is fascinating to read about all of this from a worldview that does include God as the Creator.  One thing I do want to point out, though, is that the millions of years timescale is used.  I don't have a problem with that, as I like to look at things from many different perspectives. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  He talks about all kinds of complicated astronomy facts and theories, but in a very accessible and easy-to-grasp manner.

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.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

We finally have eggs!

Ever since we first started looking at moving out where we had some wide open spaces, we have talked about things like getting chickens.  Our own eggs, where we know the animals are well-treated, and we know the eggs are healthier.  Sounded like a grand plan.

It only took us eighteen years to follow through, and we did get chickens last spring.

These two photos are from shortly after we finally got them moved into the chicken coop.  The coop certainly wasn't finished yet, by any stretch, but they needed to move in now.  And they got to watch the renovations occur around them.

That has to be fun, right?

Aren't they pretty?  I ought to go get a picture of them now.  There certainly is less grass in the chicken run these days (as in, NONE) as they certainly ate all of that up.

We worried a bit about the cats that adopted us, but both cat and chicken seem to hold their own against the other.

When we let the chickens roam the property, they always go check out the area where we feed the cats, and eat up whatever the silly kitties left behind.

We're not sure what we did wrong, but our hens were quite slow to start laying eggs.  I was starting to feel like a total homesteading failure.  Seriously, what kind of person can't even manage to get chickens to act like chickens?

Then the kids came in, excited as can be:

Seven eggs.  We suspect that we had missed looking at least one day, probably two, as we haven't had seven in a single day since that momentous event.

But we are starting to get 4-5 a day, pretty consistently.

It is fascinating to see the smaller eggs layed by the hens who are just getting started.  And to see the nice, big ones we are already getting from  the ones who got started first.  But one day was just wild.  I have a fairly "normal" egg, the eggs we usually see when a hen just gets started.  And the egg Trina found this week:

How cute is that little guy?

We have not cracked into it yet, but probably will do so today.

And we are loving this having fresh eggs thing.  It took us long enough, but it is still rewarding.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Radical Book for Kids {a Litfuse Blogger review}

We've been working our way through a new book, The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton.  I was a bit put off by the title ("radical" just doesn't make me think, "oh, sounds like a great theology and church history book, let's get that!")  I'm glad I read more and tried it out.

From the publisher:

A kid-sized explorer's guide to faith and life

The Radical Book for Kids is a fun-filled explorer's guide to the Bible, church history, and life for boys and girls age 8 and up. Along with examining some of the most exciting realities in the universe, the handbook is vibrantly illustrated and chock-full of fun facts and ideas. Deep truths are communicated to elementary and middle-school aged kids while stimulating their curiosity and sense of adventure within a gospel-centered framework.

This power-packed book is "radical" in more ways than you might think! It is "radical" in the sense of the original meaning of the word, "going to the root or origin." The Radical Book for Kids will take children on a fascinating journey into the ancient roots of the Christian faith. But it's also "radical" in the more modern sense of being revolutionary. Kids read about men and women who learned to trust Jesus and stand for him---displaying radical faith---even when everything seemed against them.

But The Radical Book for Kids is also "radical"---meaning fun or cool---in the eyes of a child. Kids read about ancient weapons (and how to make one), learn about jewels, create pottery, discover ancient languages, use secret codes, locate stars, tell time using the sun, play a board game that's 3,000 years old---and more.

Check out the table of contents, skip around, or read straight through. However a child chooses to explore it, The Radical Book for Kids will open new vistas for their imagination and help to make straight paths for their feet.

Our thoughts:

We are really enjoying this book!  We sit down and go through one chapter in a sitting.  I have all my at-home kids involved.  Two (ages 10 and 12) are in the intended age range for the product, which is recommended for ages 8-14.  My 16- and 17-year-olds are sitting in on it too. 

The book covers a lot of different topics, most of which are familiar to us.  We've covered a lot of apologetics and the like over the years, though.  One thing we really love about this particular book, though, is that the information is presented in a way that makes sense for younger kids, and we are free to pull out some of our other resources to dig in a bit deeper.  The 67 chapters in this book give us a good outline to cover many important topics.

One topic coming up has to do with time in the Bible.  They talk about a couple of scripture references such as, "about the third hour" from Matthew 20:3, or "in the second watch" from Luke 12:38.  What do those actually mean?  I knew that the hours started counting at sunrise, so "about the third hour" would be about three hours after the sun came up.  But the details of all of that?  I certainly did not grasp that an hour did not necessarily mean 60 minutes in the same way our time does.  And I never quite grasped the whole "watch" thing.  Like -- did you know that the Jewish people divided the night hours into three watches, while the Romans had four?  So what time the second watch is would depend on whether it was a Jewish watch or a Roman one.

If you have not done much in terms of the roots of our faith, you really should look into this book.  And if these are topics you have covered, I think you'll still find information in here that is new.  Or you can use it like we are, as a roughly four month outline of study.  We're averaging four chapters a week, so that gives us about seventeen weeks of material.

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

Monday, November 21, 2016

Fallacy Detective

One of the things I think is absolutely critical in my homeschool is to teach my kids how to think. I want them to be able to take a look at all the “stuff” of life and actually be able to analyze what they are being told and decide if it makes any sense at all.

In a year like this, with a presidential election going on, there is a perfect opportunity to work with informal logic and specifically with logical fallacies. This is a great skill for wading through political rhetoric, but it is also important when listening to advertising, or when discussing theological issues.

I have two teens in high school, and they were not enthusiastic about studying fallacies.

When I told them I was reviewing The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn, they sighed and knew they were stuck.

The book consists of 36 chapters split into the following sections:

· The Inquiring Mind
· Avoiding the Question
· Making Assumptions
· Statistical Fallacies
· Propaganda

One way you could easily incorporate this into your schedule is to simply do a chapter a week for an entire year. Two chapters a week would take you a semester. We opted to try for four chapters a week, and finish it over the course of a couple of months.

The book is easy reading for a high school student, so you could easily hand this to your student and tell them to go for it. That isn’t the approach I’d recommend though.

I opted to read each (short) chapter out loud to my two teens, with lots of breaks to discuss the often silly examples. They’d take a look at the comic strips, which include all kinds of recognizable characters such as Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, and Peanuts.

And then we’d do the exercises together. And debate the answers. And argue back at the authors when we disagreed.

Those are the moments when I truly realize how much I love homeschooling my big guys.

We did not maintain our four chapter a week pace, but we are down to the final four chapters of the book. We seem to have a very hard time picking it up at this point, mostly because we don’t want this to end.

What has been truly exciting though is to be taking a look at all the people trying to sell us something and to have the words to explain what is wrong with their arguments. For example, one of the amendments on our local ballot earlier this month had to do with allowing the county government to sell internet services, or something like that.

We were reading some of the materials put out about why to vote for this measure, and one of the first reasons given was that many other counties do it, so we should too. Prior to Fallacy Detective, we would have laughed about whether or not you would jump off a cliff if your friends were doing it. So we recognized there was something wrong with the logic being used to convince us to vote yes.

After this book, though, we were discussing whether this is an appeal to the people or not. I grabbed Fallacy Detective, and we jumped ahead to the Bandwagon chapter in the Propaganda section. Basically, the idea in both is that we should do this because everyone else is doing it.

I highly, highly recommend this book. My middle school kids kept “happening” to be present when we were working in this book, and I definitely think this can work with middle or high school ages. I plan to go through it with the two younger ones in another year or so.

Trivium Pursuit has some other fantastic products you ought to check out as well.  Teaching the Trivium is one of my favorites.

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

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Thanksgiving With the Pilgrims {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

One of the greatest aspects of being a part of the Homeschool Review Crew for awhile is that we have the opportunity to revisit some of our favorite vendors.  Homeschool Legacy is one of those companies.  We have reviewed some of their Once-a-Week Unit Studies in the past, which gave us a chance to work on Boy Scout and American Heritage Girls merit badges.

Over four years ago, we worked through We the People: Getting to Know Your Constitution.  That gave us a chance to work on the Citizenship in the Nation merit badges.  This time around, we decided to try one of their Once-a-Week Micro-Studies titles, Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

There are a few big differences between the Micro-Studies and the regular Unit Study products.  The biggest two, for me, is that the Micro-Studies do not explicitly fulfill merit badge requirements and there isn't an extensive book list included.

Most of the Micro-Studies are four weeks long (Thanksgiving is six weeks), and they include three 30-minute assignments per week.  These can be done once a week, as the title indicates, or spread out over the week.

Or (and this is what we did) you could make this a one-week study by doing a week's worth of work (about 90 minutes) a day.  In the case of the Thanksgiving study, the sixth week is actually about Christmas, so I think an ideal way to use this study would be to do the first five "weeks" of work in the week and a half leading up to Thanksgiving, and then spread week six out over the week after the holiday.

And then you could start the Once-a-Week Unit Study, Christmas Comes to America.  We did that one three years ago, and in re-reading my review, I am reminded that I wanted to do this again when Trina was an Explorer so she could earn her Music Appreciation badge at this level.

The Micro-Studies are intended for grades 1-8, but I did use it with all of my children (5th to 11th grades).  It has been awhile since we truly studied Thanksgiving as a whole, and there was new information for everyone.

One thing I loved about this study was that we spent a fair amount of time watching historical re-enactments online.  Almost as good as taking an actual field trip!

In addition to great videos and online activities, the study contains great information and gave us plenty to talk about.  Towards the end of the study, there are some cooking activities you can do (Indian Pudding, stringing cranberries, Wassail) but we opted not to do those.

My kids are pretty impressed with the studies as well, and are already in discussion about which we should do next.  One is all for pirates (Pirates or Privateers: You Decide), my Anglophile thinks that Victoria and Her World is the obvious choice, and learning that cherry pie was part of the lesson plans made Cooking up History with the Founding Presidents a top choice as well.  One thing I find really interesting is that most of the other studies have more hands-on activities, with timelines, maps, or doing things like labeling the parts of a ship. 

What I really love about these studies is that they do go into some depth without being overwhelming.  I'm not a big unit study fan, as they always seem to be too much work for not enough benefit.  These, however, are very open-and-go, and they don't suck up a lot of time.  We can take a one-week break from our regular history program and play a bit.

You can read what other Crew Members thought of their studies, as we had a total of six of them being reviewed!  Go.  Check it out!

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Catching Heat {a Tyndale House Blog Network review}

About a month ago, I read Catching Heat by Janice Cantore is the third book in the Cold Case Justice series.  It's taken me forever to write up a review for this because I just don't feel like I have all that much to say that I haven't said before.

Janice Cantore always writes fabulous Crime Fiction.  A former cop, she clearly knows her subject.  With 22 years in the field, she certainly ought to!

The first two books in this series, Drawing Fire and Burning Proof were page-turners.  Catching Heat is as well.

Like all of her books, I foolishly began it thinking I could read for an hour.


More like, I could read it until the book was done.  Bookmarks are also known as "quitter strips."  I certainly didn't need one for this title.

From the publisher:
Twenty-seven years after the deaths of Detective Abby Hart’s parents, she’s desperate to find the proof that will put the mastermind—the governor’s wife—behind bars. When she joins a newly formed task force and teams up with PI Luke Murphy, Abby is sent to San Luis Obispo to work the cold case of a murdered college student. Realizing their investigation will bring them near the town where Alyssa Rollins grew up, Abby decides to do a little digging of her own into the Triple Seven fire.

Luke is eager to help Abby close the books on a case they both have personal stakes in. But as she uncovers long-held secrets, Abby stumbles into an explosive situation, and Luke fears that her obsession may prove deadly.
Don't start here though.  Start with Drawing Fire, but go ahead and get all three.  Because you will want to be able to move on right away and find out what happens next.

Just don't have them all easily accessible immediately, or you'll be up way past 3 a.m.

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. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

CrossTimber {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews
I've always been fascinated by name meanings, or at least I have since the point where I first started reading through the Bible seriously.  I was about ten at that point, so it seems like always.  As you go through the Bible stories, there are so many times where a comment is made about what a name means.  Of course, I go looking into my name and it is b-o-r-i-n-g!  More on that later.

When the Homeschool Review Crew had the chance to review a Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse from CrossTimber, I was really excited.  For my kids.  Because, for the most part, I had done more than just try to come up with names that sounded good when we were naming everyone.  I tried to have names that meant something.

By something, I mean more than just what little Baby Name sites tell you.  We chose names that belonged to family members we admire.  My grandfathers.  My dad and brother.  My entire paternal line (with a maiden name of Williams, and a son named William -- well, he's named after simply everybody!)  Dale's grandfather (who died when Dale was really little) and the grandfather he actually knew (so a step-grandfather, I suppose).  My grandmother.  A couple of friends.

But we also looked at what those names meant according to the little baby books.  My boys pretty much all have names that include "defender" or "strength" in one of the meanings, for instance. 

CrossTimber creates name meaning products to help uplift and encourage you. 

Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews
I intended to get products for each of my kids.  It's a big year for most of them. 
  • Connor just headed off to college, and I really think he needs the grounding of a 'this is who you are' reminder. "He who seeks God's Perspective."
  • William is about to turn 18. What a perfect time for a 'this is what you are to be' gift. "One with a Desire to Protect"
  • Thomas is about to turn 16. Hello. Big year for him too. He needs a 'remember who you are' gift. "Blessed Abundantly by God."
  • Richard will turn 13 in a few months. Cannot believe I am this close to having four teen sons. I want him to be aware of the kind of man he is to become. "One with a Heart of Compassion."
  • I asked about Trina too, though 11 isn't a milestone birthday or anything. Her name echoes Connor's. "Seeker of God's Perspective." 
All of them turned out perfect for them.

I ordered the "artist's choice" frame, and John Dehnart messaged me back to find out if these would be hanging together or separately.  The idea was that he could try to coordinate frames if they were going to be all together.  I told him that the kids were probably going to be together right now, but as most of them are older teens now, it isn't for long.  I'd rather have the perfect frame for each one and not worry if they look okay as a group.  As it turns out, the boys still at home coordinate really well.  Connor's is very different.  Trina's is very different.

It is perfect.

I also told him that the ones for Dale & I will probably end up together in the long run, though I was envisioning them going up "at work" as a reminder to us in our daily lives as to who we are in God's eyes.  Bottom line was that I'd like it if ours looked good together.

I love that the frames are not identical.  Each is right for the image inside, but they do really look nice together.

These are beautiful products, and the photos I took don't do them justice.  But the best reason to support this company is the amazing customer service.

I mentioned above how I always disliked my name from the whole name meaning thing.  When I asked John about what he'd come up with for my kids, I threw in this comment as well:   "And I probably won't do anything with it, but I'd love to know what you come up with for Debra too. Everything always tells me my name means 'bee' and that is beyond boring."

His response literally made me cry.  I don't cry easily, for the record.
Oh, but Debra!  Bees aren’t boring!  Bees were designed with so many rich qualities, that there’s a host of characteristics you could apply to a name meaning!     They’re organized, industrious, hard working, precise in their communications, and they bring life to millions of plants that would otherwise die. 

Honey Bee, Enabler of Fruitfulness:
One of Leadership and Organization
Psalms 19:9  The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and altogether righteous. They are to be more desired than gold, than much pure gold: they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.

You know, you should put that on your TOS desk.  Those character qualities definitely show your skills for coordinating all these Review Crew details!
Seriously.   Dale heard that, accused the guy of flirting with me, told me he was absolutely right, and then told me I needed not just the print, but a mug as well.  Here's the result:

    All of that really got me thinking.  I never pressed my parents as to why they chose Debra.  Mom told me once that I wasn't named after anyone, but she just liked the name.  In reading what John wrote, it got me thinking about my parents.  Mom was working on her master's degree in entomology when I was born.  Her thesis had something to do with aphids and their impact on crops.  I attempted to read her work once when I was a student at NDSU, and I really didn't follow it.  The bottom line though, was that Mom was researching ways of decreasing crop losses from these nasty insects.

    Had they even looked at name meaning books or anything?  Did they know they were naming me after an insect that is all about increasing yield?  Probably not.  But I find the whole thing interesting.  And I chose an agricultural background for my framed print to remind me of all of that.

    I'm drinking coffee out of the mug as I type up this review.  And thinking more about how the ancient world had it right.  Names do mean something, and I want to be an enabler of fruitfulness.

    Before I close this out, CrossTimber is doing a huge giveaway.  Go.  Enter it.  And I highly recommend considering some name-meaning gifts for your loved ones.

    CrossTimber 2016 giveaway

    Go check out some of the other reviews.  The name meaning stories being shared are simply amazing.

    Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews

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    Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Middlebury Interactive Languages {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

    I think that learning a foreign language is hugely important, but it is something that I struggle to work into our schooling.  I need a few things in a program:
    1. I do not have time to do much (if any) teacher prep.
    2. Teacher cannot need to know the language already.
    3. It has to really teach my kids to speak that language.
    4. They have to enjoy it enough that I don't have to fight to get them to do it.
    5. Did I mention that I don't have time to learn a language ahead of them?
    Middlebury Interactive Languages actually does a great job of meeting all of these requirements.  We chose to focus on their Spanish Courses, and Trina has really been enjoying Elementary Spanish 1 (Grades 3-5)
    Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}

    Middlebury's approach to elementary languages is to teach in a "unit study" type of an environment.  There are 14 units (plus two review units) to work through.  Each unit is centered on a theme, and it includes a story, a song, 10-12 vocabulary words, and some activities to complete.  Themes include:
    • Family (words for parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc.)
    • Numbers (numbers 0-10, plus the word number)
    • Greetings (basic hello, goodbye, how are you?, good afternoon phrases)
    • Feelings (words like happy, sad, and scared)
    • Food (foods like milk, meat and corn, plus meal names)
    • Community/Professions (professions such as firefighter and doctor, plus places like the library and park)
    • Body (words such as face, ears and arms)
    • Animals (basic animal names like dog, monkey, and fish)
    • Colors (vbasic color names)
    • Clothes (words like pants, shoes and sweater)
    • Weather/Seasons (names of the seasons, plus sentences like "It is windy.")
    • School/Classroom (words like teacher, desk, and notebook)
    • Calendar (names of the days, plus day, week, and month)
    • Months (all the month names)

    How we are using it:

    Below is a photo of all the printouts I did for their current unit, (Greetings, Unit 3).  It isn't necessary to print it out, and you certainly can print in grey scale.  But learning Spanish is important, and I decided the color made it a bit more fun.  This is taken before Trina puts the pages in her fancy notebook. 
    As you can see, the vocabulary list is pretty short, which makes it easy to actually learn it all over the two weeks you spend in the unit (six lessons per unit, intended to be done three days per week).

    The story is an authentic tale from one of the dozens of Spanish-speaking countries.  During the course of the unit, you listen/watch the story a few times.  Through the images and the words you have learned, you are able to grasp the main plot, but the printout summarizes that as well.  It also walks through what is being said in the story, with the words the students should know being in green. 

    In this unit, it is a tale of how the rabbit got his long ears, and it involves the rabbit going around to multiple creatures to try to collect various items.  That involves a lot of greetings in the conversation.  So the rabbit has many opportunities to say things like hello, good morning, how are you, please, thank you and good-bye.

    The first time through, you are usually just listening to the story.  Subsequent trips have you listening for specific things, like all the greetings:

    There are a lot of other words in the story too, with translations on the printout, so Trina can easily go in and add some additional vocabulary learning when she wants to.

    What we think:

    This Spanish program does so much for us.  It is fun and interactive.  At this level, there is NO writing or typing required.  I truly love that part.  I think learning to read and speak another language at elementary ages is fantastic, but I just don't care if they can spell correctly.  Instead of writing, they do activities like this:

    My daughter enjoys Spanish and doesn't argue when I tell her to do it.  That's really a huge deal to me.  And she's using it in normal daily life, which tells me she truly is learning it.

    Having some experience with the upper levels of Middlebury's language programs, my big fear was sending kids into the Middle School or High School levels and having them feel completely overwhelmed.  I think a year of the elementary Spanish is going to put her in good shape to take on Middle School Spanish 1.  The Greetings lesson in Middle School, intended to be covered over two weeks, includes all of the vocabulary above, plus another 23 words/phrases, and she'll need to be able to type them out, including accents and all.  Already being familiar with saying at least a third of the vocabulary will put her in good shape to take on the rigors of middle school Spanish.

    I am pleased with this course.

    Go see what others had to say about Spanish, and also about German, French and Chinese.  Crew Members used various levels with kids from K-12!

    Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}

    Social Media Links:
    Twitter:   @middinteractive

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    Tuesday, October 25, 2016

    Cold-Case Christianity for Kids {a Litfuse Blog Tour review}

    Some reviews are really easy to write because I love the product so much that the review practically writes itself.

    Some reviews are really hard to write because I love the product so much and I know I will never convey how strongly I feel about it.

    This review, of Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, is both of those.

    We first learned of J. Warner Wallace when watching a series of lectures from Summit Ministries.  Connor and I really liked what we saw, and Connor got the chance to see him in person at the Summit Student Conference last May.

    In fact, he came home from that conference with a copy of God's Crime Scene (another J. Warner Wallace title), and received Cold-Case Christianity as a graduation gift from one of our pastors that weekend.  After he read it, I borrowed it from him.  And then with us talking about it (and seeing Wallace in God's Not Dead 2), everyone else (my husband and the other two teens) were interested too.  So I bought the Kindle and Audible versions.

    And then... I learned about Cold-Case Christianity for Kids.  I begged to be on this review, and I even ended up buying a second copy of the book.

    It truly is that good.

    Before I describe the book, let me just say this.  If you are a Christian parent, and you have children between the ages of 8 and maybe 15, you really do need this book.  If you have teens, you need to get Cold-Case Christianity.  If you have kids in both ranges, get them both.

    From the publisher:
    Between the ages of 8 and 12, kids often start to wonder if Christianity is true.

    In Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, detective J. Warner Wallace draws readers into the thrill of high-stakes investigation by showing them how to think rather than telling them what to think. In this children's companion to the bestselling Cold-Case Christianity, detective Wallace gets kids excited about testing witnesses, examining the evidence, and investigating the case for Christianity. Includes author illustrations and links to a website where kids can download activities, fill in case notes, and earn a certificate of merit.

    Detective Wallace gets kids excited about testing witnesses, examining the evidence, and investigating the case for Christianity.
    Doesn't that sound great?

    The best thing about this book might be that it goes along with the adult book so well.  I have my teens reading the adult book, and we are working through the "for Kids" book as a group.  The Adult Leader Guide helps me to know exactly what meshes between the two books and gives me help in making this work for all of us.

    And that might be the best thing about this book -- the website.  There is so much more than just a book.  Here's a screenshot of Chapter 3:

    Each chapter consists of a few different parts.  We are using all of them.
    • There is the chapter itself, which includes plenty of visual appeal.
    • A notebook sheet (the red link above) that you can use for taking notes on the chapter.
    • An activity sheet (the blue link above) that includes something like a crossword puzzle, to review the concepts.
    • CSI activities in the book that get you into the Bible to investigate.
    • A 4-5 minute video that addresses some of the main points of that chapter.
    • The guide I mentioned above, which includes information on the corresponding adult chapters, a general overview of the main points, and discussion questions.
    Doing this as a family is simply wonderful.  The teens and I are getting far more information, but the "for Kids" book is fantastic at getting the main points put into fairly simple language.  And the book includes two mysteries to solve... one involves Jesus, and whether or not the stories in the Bible about Him can possibly be true.  The other involves a skateboard.

    We are working through the evidence for both cases in a similar way.

    Even my teens are interested in the skateboard mystery.

    I think for kids who have heard a lot of apologetics types of things, the skateboard mystery helps to keep them interested and aware.  And for kids who haven't done much in the 'how do we know this isn't a fairy tale?' aspect of Christianity, the skateboard mystery helps to bring a today's-world example to help explain the processes.

    Go buy a copy.  And enter this giveaway.


    At the crucial age between 8 and 12, many kids begin to wonder if Christianity and the Bible are true. Help your kids become truth-seeking detectives with the help of J. Warner and Susie Wallace's Cold-Case Christianity for Kids. Detective Wallace gets kids excited about testing witnesses, examining the evidence, and investigating the case for Christianity. The book includes author illustrations and links to a website where kids can download activities, fill in case notes, and earn a certificate of merit.

    Encourage your kids to investigate the case for Christianity by entering to win a faith examination kit and a copy of J. Warner and Susie's new book.


    One grand prize winner will receive:
    Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on November 4. The winner will be announced November 7 on the Litfuse blog.


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

    Sunday, October 16, 2016

    MyFreezEasy {a Schoolhouse Review Crew review}

    My life is crazy.  Between schooling four kids, working for the Schoolhouse Review Crew, church, activities, (and did I mention work???) I just always seem to come to the end of the day realizing that I never once thought about dinner. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

    I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that one of the reviews this year was going to be for MyFreezEasy.  Thrilled.  At other points in life, I have used freezer meal prep to make it so that we do actually get dinner at night, but that always required a long day in the kitchen and a whole lot of planning.  With the Freezer Meal Plan Membership, though, it really, truly is EASY.

    I need easy.

    We came home from church today and everyone was STARVING.  You know those days, right?  Well, I had pulled out the Frito Pie bag a couple of days ago.  That meant I dumped the bag into a skillet to warm up, split up the Fritos, and started topping them with the meat mixture, cheese and sour cream.

    By the time everyone (but me) changed clothes, lunch was served.  And everyone loved it.

    That is something I can get used to.

    How does this work?

    Each month, you get access to eight meal plans.  There are lots of options there, including:
    • General ones containing a variety of meals (traditional, gluten-free, clean eats, 20 Meals)
    • One by style of cooking (slow-cooker)
    • Some by type of meat (all chicken, all ground beef, all pork chops) Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

    For most meals, you don't cook the meat (most of the ground beef meals do involve browning the meat first) and most meals are put into zipper bags.  Everything is all together, so when you want to serve a meal, you thaw it and cook it.  Most of the prep work is complete, though you may need to add an ingredient or two.

    Right now, we have a lot of chicken in our freezer.  We butchered a couple dozen, plus I already had a fair amount frozen.  Thawing chicken in order to add ingredients and refreeze it doesn't sound like a great plan, so I chose to do the All Ground Beef Menu Plan.  I looked at the August Menu and the September Menu, and ended up doing both.  That's 20 meals, allegedly for my freezer.  Didn't turn out that way, as we ate one meal the first day we prepared meals, and we ate another meal on our second day of preparing meals.  Eighteen meals in the freezer isn't bad either, though.

    Here are some of the pages that come with the September All Ground Beef Meals Plan.  I printed the entire thing this time, but in the future, I wouldn't necessarily need all of the types of pages.  The pages include:
    • Contents, which lists out the recipe titles.
    • The actual recipes (most plans include five recipes, and you make two meals of each).
    • Various shopping lists, including options for purchasing everything or purchasing just what you need on the meal prep day, and including options for by recipe or by store section.
    • Assembly instructions, with options for it to be by-recipe or for the entire plan
    As a family of six, including two adults, two teen boys, an almost-teen boy, and a tween girl, a meal meant for four people isn't going to cut it.  So I actually ended up taking each individual recipe multiplied by three, and then splitting it between two bags for the freezer.  That gives us six servings per bag, and so far, that has been pretty much spot on.  We even have leftovers occasionally.

    With the Premium Annual Membership, you can create your own meal plan, and that gives you the option to adjust the serving size.  I wanted to try this with just the plans as outlined by the program, and that did work quite well. 

    To prepare the meals, I had William cook the ground beef for each recipe, while I assembled the other ingredients for the bag.  We had a really good system going there, as I would usually finish getting everything else together just in time for him to split the browned meat between the two bags.  We chose to make five meals one day, and five the next, and we did a mix-and-match from the two month's plans each day. 

    At this point, we have tried most of the meals and everything we've tried has been a hit.  We've had:
    1. Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff
    2. Sloppy Dogs
    3. Lazy Lasagna Bake
    4. Baked Swedish Meatballs
    5. Frito Pie
    6. 5-Ingredient Chili
    We still need to try:
    • Spanish Rice Skillet
    • Swirly Taco Pasta Skillet
    • Bacon Cheeseburger Chili
    • Chickpea Beef Chili
    My plan right now is to watch for pork chops to go on sale, and then to do up a month or two (or three!) of meals there too.  October's Pork plan sounds wonderful, with meals like Cornbread Pork Chop Casserole, Asian Orange Pineapple Pork Chops, Cashew Parmesan Pork Chops, Apple Juice Brined Pork Chops, and Slow Cooker Pork Roast with Sauerkraut.


    The Crew loved MyFreezEasy, so you should go check out their reviews!  Lots of great photos to make you hungry. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

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    Tuesday, October 11, 2016

    I'm no domestic goddess

    My son has been off at college for nearly two months now. I had the opportunity to send him a care package a couple weeks back, and I just couldn't get things together enough to do that. 

    But a neighbor is heading that way today, so I did get a box together.  Gave it to her Sunday.  Filled with little things like, oh, his new glasses. Those might come in handy. And I should have just mailed them three weeks ago when I picked them up. Or sent them last time she was headed that way. 

    But I can't get anything right. 

    So this time, I decided, I'm going to do it right. I even baked cookies. 

    As you can see, that was a roaring success. 

    I can't even bake cookies. 

    My kids have made it clear (well, not quite all of them) in various ways this week that I'm doing a pretty lousy job of this whole mom thing. The cookies were just the visible warning to me of what this week would be like.  I should have headed to bed and not gotten up until next weekend, as it went downhill from there.  And it is only Tuesday.

    I told one child yesterday, after he said a whole lot of not too nice things about my failings, that I think one of the absolute worst parts of homeschooling is that we spend so much time together. If the kids were off in school all day, I could better hide my faults from them. I mean, obviously, they'd still figure out I'm not perfect, but they wouldn't be able to -- at a moment's notice -- put together a brilliant Roman numeral style outline, complete with supporting details for each flaw/point, of the top ten ways I suck as a mom. 

    That hurts. 

    I have never wanted my kids to think I'm perfect. So I guess I succeeded in something.

    This parenting gig, and this homeschooling gig -- it isn't all sunshine and roses. 

    Friday, October 7, 2016

    Everyday Education {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

    Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}
    This has been an interesting year for me.  My oldest son headed off to college, and that has made me rethink a whole lot of things about how I did -- or didn't -- do a good job of preparing him for the real world.  Or for the college world, which isn't the same thing at all.

    Five years ago, I reviewed a program from Everyday Education, LLC.  Excellence in Literature's first program, English I: Introduction to Literature, was fabulous, and a great introduction to writing for high school.  I really loved the focus on classic literature, and such wonderful selections are included in the series.  Janice Campbell never made me feel guilty for things like using audiobooks for my struggling readers, and that is huge from someone pushing rigorous, honors-level English.

    The Homeschool Review Crew is currently checking out the most recent product in this series, Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers.  Janice combines forces with Ian Johnston on this title, and oh, my!  The first thing I did was to make sure my college kid had a copy of this to start looking over before he left for school.  I didn't think I'd really be able to use it with my others, but this handbook is truly for high school and college.  There is a fantastically detailed table of contents that makes this easy to use as a reference tool as he is writing those college papers.

    Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}

    This isn't a book that is filled with lesson plans or anything like that.  But in reading through it, I am able to apply the things to other assignments that my teens have.  For instance, one of the very first sections in the handbook is titled Trivial Arguments over Matters of Established Fact.  We're in the middle of a program that is teaching the kids to write essays in their history work, and I was able to expand on the commentary in that program about picking a thesis statement with my kids.  I didn't pull out the handbook and read it to them, nor did I assign them to read it (my statement above about struggling readers applies!) but I could informally cover the concept with them in a way I simply could not have done before reading this Handbook.

    I was never truly taught this stuff, at least not explicitly.  Most of the "good writing" that I did in high school and college was just that I happened to more-or-less figure out a few good principles on my own, and I just kept re-writing until it sounded good to me.  Nobody told me to narrow down my thesis statement, or that it should be an opinion.  I cannot remember ever getting any advice at all about how to create a thesis statement, actually.  Just skimming through this handbook would have made my college life so much easier.

    Because my writing abilities are mostly intuitive, it-sounds-good, I-think-that-works types of things, having this handbook helps me to understand the logic behind some of my feelings.  For my teen boys, I cannot be teaching them to write by telling them to make it "feel right."  They stare at me like I am completely insane.  In just a couple of months, I've had multiple opportunities to go beyond feelings with them and to explain WHY.

    A conversation about an essay on the fall of Rome, for instance, gave me the opportunity to talk about how you want to choose reasons for the fall of Rome that will be interesting to write about.  It isn't interesting to write about something where everyone agrees, and it is even less interesting to read.  Think about the writing assignment, narrow down your focus, and take a stand. 

    In the foreseeable future, this isn't going to be a resource I can just hand to my kids.  This is a resource I will continue to read over myself, and I can use the principles in teaching all of my kids, from the 10-year-old on up to the high school students.  By the time they are off to college, my hope will be that they can use it as a reference tool themselves.

    You can head over to the Crew Blog to see what other members had to say about this handbook, or to see what they had to say about two other products we reviewed.  Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting and Working it Out: Poetry Analysis with George Herbert were also reviewed by the Crew.

    Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}

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    Monday, October 3, 2016

    NKJV Word Study Bible {a Booklook Blogger review}

    My baby boy is growing up.  He decided that he needed a NKJV Bible, and it couldn't be one of these "for kids" or even "for teens" types of thing.  He needed a serious Bible that treated him like an adult.

    NKJV Word Study Bible cover
    I can't say no to that.  So I showed him the NKJV Word Study Bible, from Thomas Nelson.  He determined that would be perfect, and he was really interested in the idea of studying the Greek and Hebrew words.

    His summary of this Bible boiled down to three main points:
    1. The words of Christ are in red.
    2. There are all these great translations of Greek and Hebrew words.
    3. There is an English word index in back, so I can find the words I want.
    He thinks this Bible is really great, and he really loves going through and reading the entries about the original words.  He discovered today that there are also Aramaic words included, so he immediately went hunting to find those.

    Richard getting into the van with the NKJV Word Study Bible, ready to head to youth group

    The publisher's description included a couple more points than Richard's.
    The NKJV Word Study Bible includes in-text subheadings and 1,700 easy-to-use word studies with select Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek words explained in every chapter from Genesis to Revelation, helping you dig deeper into your Bible study. By looking into these ancient texts we are able to read scripture as it was originally written and passed on from generation to generation, bringing these words to life and allowing you to almost hear Jesus teaching on the hillside or crying out to God on the cross. As you study you will discover the richness and significance of the original languages of the Word of God and experience scripture in a whole new way
    Features Include:
    • NKJV paragraph-style text with in-text subheadings and translators' notes
    • Book introductions
    • Words of Christ in red
    • Word studies
    • Indexes
    • Concordance
    My thoughts?  If he gets tired of this particular Bible, I'd love to use it.  I've always been a bit of an etymology enthusiast, and one thing I'm constantly doing in sermons or even just when reading the Bible is to be looking up the Greek or Hebrew and trying to figure out if things mean what the English words make me think they mean.  Having the ability to do that easily within an actual physical Bible would be pretty amazing.

    I'm more excited about the fact that Richard is doing that though.

    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.”

    Friday, September 30, 2016

    Why aren't you in school?

    I know full well that I'm not the only homeschool mama who ends up with that clenched up, here-we-go-again, why today?? feeling when I total stranger asks her kids, "Why aren't you in school?"

    This isn't something I've experienced much lately, but that question brought back so many memories of being bombarded with oh-so-many opinions that I really didn't ask for about how badly I was screwing up my kids by not letting them socialize.

    You know those moments, where you stand there thinking that you probably shouldn't say what you are thinking, right?  In the midst of a tirade, I usually want to say something snarky.  Like commenting on how public school obviously did wonders for YOUR ability to pleasantly interact with complete strangers in the grocery store.


    So, to back up.  This week, the little two had eye appointments.  Trina desperately wants glasses, and the doctor did write her a prescription.  I'm thinking that we are not going to fill that though.  We'll be trying some other things.  But she did find frames she really, really wants.

    Then we headed to Sam's.  The plan is to cook and freeze 20 meals for an upcoming Crew review, and we needed to do some shopping.  Pleasant trip, kids were hugely helpful.  We're having a very nice day.  We get up front to check out, and all the lines are 4-5 people long, except one.  We head for it, and right as we get there, a cute little old man (I'm guessing early 80s) walks over behind us.  With a book.  I immediately told him he had to get in front of us in line, and he starts chattering away with me, and with the kids. 

    Sweet guy.  He tells about how much he misses kids, how he drove a school bus for years, and regales us with stories about the kids on the bus.  We're inching up in line, and an older (mid 70s) lady gets in line behind us.  My kids offer to put her items up on the belt for her, and chit chat with her for a few minutes.

    I'm still talking with the Book Guy.  The kids come back.  And then,

    "Say, why aren't you two in school today?"

    My first thought is, "This was such a pleasant time, and I. Just. Can't."

    The kids put on that same look I feel myself putting on.  You know, smile and pretend this isn't a question you dread discussing with strangers.  One of them says, "We're homeschooled." And I am saying, "They had eye appointments today, so we're taking the day off."

    And Book Guy says, "Really?  You homeschool?"  And he proceeds to go on for two-three minutes about how he thinks everyone should homeschool these days instead of subjecting their children to godless evolution rammed down their throats, and that schools today aren't what they used to be.

    I breathe a sigh of relief.  And the checkout person asks Book Guy for his Sam's card.

    While I didn't agree with him, the encounter didn't leave me feeling attacked.  And I wondered a bit about my response to the question, and my assumption that we were going to be criticized.  It has been awhile since random strangers have attacked my education choices out of the blue, but I still have flashbacks to some of the worst of those conversations.

    Some days, I definitely need the reminder that not everyone who asks, "Why aren't you in school?" is going to lecture me.

    Monday, August 8, 2016

    Living a Mighty Faith {a BookLook Blogger review}

    My husband decided a while back that we needed to all start getting up with him in the morning (at WAY too early-thirty) and go for a walk, eat breakfast together, and do some Bible reading. 

    At that early hour, though, we felt like we were floundering a bit on the Bible portion of that routine.  And then then I had the opportunity to review Living a Mighty Faith by Angus Buchan.

    This has been a great answer for us. 

    Angus Buchan is the man behind Faith Like Potatoes.  If you haven't seen the movie version, you need to do so.  Fantastic story.  He's a very real, farmer/evangelist, and reading his devotionals has been a wonderful experience.  He isn't out there spouting lofty, complicated words. 

    Practical.  Real. 

    The entries in this devotional are dated, and each starts with a Bible verse.  For today, August 8, the verse is Philippians 4:9.  The devotional is titled "Looking for a Hero" and begins like this:
    WHAT ARE the characteristics of a hero? Young people especially look for a hero who is a winner, someone who is successful in his or her field. But a true hero should be humble and meek, since meekness is controlled strength. He must know where he's going and be prepared to get there whatever the cost. He must also be holy -- honest and reliable; sincere and dependable. He is an overcomer; one who rises to the challenge; and one who is fearless, irrespective of the mountain before him.
    The book itself just feels hefty, with quality pages.  Love it. 

    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.”

    Sunday, August 7, 2016

    Restore my Soul {a Tyndale House Blog Network review}

    Adult coloring books are certainly all the rage lately, and with some of the amazing patterns and designs I've seen, I certainly can understand why.  Many of the books I've seen have a bit of a new age-y feel to them.  I was pretty excited to pair up devotional readings with coloring pages, with Ann-Margret Hovsepian's Restore my Soul.

    Each of the 2-page spreads starts with a Bible verse.  There are a few paragraphs of devotional text, ending with something to think about as you color the facing page, or instructions of something to do on the page.

    The coloring pages vary a bit in detail, and definitely in topic.  Some are flowery, some are more technical.

    Using pencils works very well on these thick pages, but the card-making pens I tried definitely bled through.  I'd rather color with good colored pencils anyway.

    I'm loving this devotional coloring book.

    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, August 1, 2016

    Star Toaster {a Schoolhouse Review Crew review}

    Orphs of the Woodlands at Tanglegate Review

    Last year, the Crew had the chance to review a really neat online program from Star Toaster.  A couple of my boys worked on that, and one of the things I really liked about it was that it encouraged them to read the story carefully in order to complete various tasks in a game-like environment.  One of the things I didn't like so much was that the readings were quite lengthy for my struggling readers.

    In the past couple of months, we've had the chance to work with a new interactive book, Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree, as an iPad App, and that has been phenomenal.  This is essentially a prequel to the story that takes place in the online program.

    As a Crew Leader, I really needed to know how this program worked, so I sat down and worked through the entire story over a couple of days.  My 10-year-old daughter saw me doing it, and she begged to have a chance as well.  I also set up my 12-year-old son.

    This is at a slightly easier reading level than the online subscription, and the big key for us is that the individual chapters are significantly shorter. 

    The basic idea of this program is that you are reading a story that incorporates all kinds of knowledge.  After most of the chapters, you can go and get a "job" that uses some of that knowledge and other skills, in order to earn the currency you need to purchase supplies for the orphaned creatures you are reading about in the story.

    For instance, in chapter 2, you read about the homonyms foul and fowl, and you also read about thunder.  If you click on the highlighted words, you can see a text lesson on homonyms, and you can watch a presentation on thunder and lightning.  Once you "go" to town, you have the opportunity to do some jobs that relate to what you've been learning.

    One thing I really love is that you do have to be paying some attention to what you are reading in order to correctly answer the questions.  One job involves watching some paintings float down the river, and then being able to recall which ones you saw.

    There are lots of great little phrases and tips as you go along that relate to basic study skills.  "Picture something in your mind if you want to remember it." Or “Learn to listen and listen to learn.”

    The jobs cover all sorts of areas.  You get the chance to work for the newspaper, which could involve choosing the correct word, or identifying nouns.  At the Critter Cafe, you learn nutrition and recipes.  Some activities involve science, some involve math.

    As a parent, I can check to see how many chapters my students have read.  I can see some details about the jobs they have accomplished and how they did.  I can add more students, so everyone can work on their own account.

    The biggest complaint here is how quickly we got to the end.  The good news there is that the next part, Thornwood, says it is coming soon.  The adventure will continue.

    See what other Crew members have to say!  And go check them out in social media.



    Orphs of the Woodlands at Tanglegate Review

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