Monday, February 28, 2011

Timelines -- what do you use for High School

I had a conversation with Connor last week.  About timelines.  I told him that he does not have a choice:  he will keep a timeline for his high school years.  Period.

He informed me he does NOT want to be cutting and pasting "stupid timeline figures" into some book and he thinks the whole thing is rather idiotic. (Too bad I can't get him to tell me what he really thinks, huh?)

I explained to him my thoughts about timelines.  Basically, I want him to have a reasonably permanent record of his high school history studies, and I think there is a lot of value in having some type of book where you can be making associations between things going on in various parts of the world, or in different spheres -- what types of music might Napoleon have listened to, for instance?

He reluctantly agreed that there probably is some value in a timeline, but still insisted he didn't want to cut, paste and assemble (you do know that is what CPA really stands for, don't you?)  We agreed to spend some time next week (in other words, THIS week) researching some possibilities and picking something.

So what should appear in my inbox this morning?  A link to a new product from Janice Campbell.  TimeFrame: The Twaddle-Free Timeline for High School and Beyond.  Can you believe it?  There isn't a lot up on the website yet... but we love her English 1.  I want to see samples or something before I shell out $30-ish on this (with shipping).  But he liked the looks of it.  Twaddle-free was a big selling point.

So... what do you use?  What do you like about it?  What don't you like?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Decisions, decisions -- part 2

Okay, so a product I am going to be reviewing (SOON!) for the TOS Homeschool Crew is from one of my very favorite homeschool companies -- All About Learning.  We've used All About Spelling since before it was called that (!) and I've blogged about that, oh, a few times now.

But they are now coming out with All About Reading, and I am thrilled beyond measure to be on the list for Pre-Level 1.  Some of my crewmates have received theirs in the last couple days... not me.  It will undoubtedly show up tomorrow when I don't have time to look at it.  <sigh>

Their website doesn't even show stuff yet... but I did find a picture:

I'm pretty sure that the above picture shows basically what I'm supposed to be getting.  The description of what we are supposed to receive said, "The Teacher's Manual, the child's workbook, 2 alphabet charts, a Reading Activity Box with Picture Cards and Letter Sound Cards, CD Rom, Puppet, two readers, two audio books and a Tote Bag."

From what I've seen, Level 1 is supposed to be out in April-ish or May-ish.  I can't imagine I'll end up with the opportunity to review that (I wish!)... so after we get going with this, I'll have to decide what I want to do after All About Reading Pre-Level 1.  I don't think Trina is going to be spending a lot of time at this level, but I do know she needs work on some of the skills covered.

I hate being at the point where I'm waiting for products to come out...  but I already own a bunch of the Level 1 and 2 readers... 

A fabulous day

Okay, so I've been whining a lot lately.  Some is with good reason, I know.  But somewhere, somehow I do need to pull myself out of this slump.

So yesterday was wonderful.

I got up in the morning, and my new coffeepot WORKED.  Dale had to exchange the first one -- and since the price dropped in between, he got a working coffeemaker AND a buck back.  I know, I shouldn't base my day on whether or not I get coffee first thing, but it was so peaceful and just plain nice.

I have kids who aren't feeling all that great, but Thomas and Trina were up to heading to town with me.  We went to Target, where they were doing a kids' storytime, including giving away some gift bags.  My photos aren't fabulous, but here are a couple:

 A group shot of the reading of One Fish, Two Fish.

 A bit closer up!

And Trina checking out her gift bag!

The kids had fun and heard 2.5 books.  We shopped a bit, then headed for Barnes & Noble, where I checked out the color Nook.  Oh, wow, are those ever neat!  We also hung out in the kids' book section (I looked over some Phineas and Ferb books) and then we grabbed coffee and hot chocolate.

Then we were off to a ministry in town.  Crossfire Ministries gives out food, clothing, toiletries and Bibles... and they have a variety of other outreach efforts.  We've been involved with them in the past, but their horrid location and their very limited hours made it difficult.  They've been blessed beyond measure with a new building, and they were doing an open house and tour.  Wow, wow, wow... The new building is huge and amazing and there is parking, and wow...

And they now have Saturday hours... so tomorrow, I'll be looking into the possibility of us being able to do some volunteer work there.  Any ages... so I can get Trina involved, not just my biggest two.  Thomas was really impressed and he wants to help.

We headed over to Michael's, where we were able to pick up charcoal pencils for the art DVD we are reviewing, and also to pick up Extreme Colors colored pencils -- those are for the projects on another art DVD by the same company.  Thomas bought the Extreme Colors pencils, because he is just loving doing this.  I love their 40% off coupons.

We headed next door to the Petco, and had a ball looking over all the pets.  They even had a tarantula for sale.  We checked out snakes (no way are we getting a pet snake!), lizards, frogs, turtles, fish, crabs... and we spent a lot of time looking at mice, hamsters and gerbils.  Told Trina that she needs to prove herself with a hamster before we'll consider fulfilling her wish for a chinchilla.  We found some adorable hamsters that I don't know that I've seen before... Djungarian Hamsters.  We're thinking about it...

That is when I realized that I totally forgot that we were supposed to go to the bookmobile... and at this point, there was no way we'd make it.  We decided we better finish up though... so we grabbed a sandwich at KFC, stopped by Walgreens for potting soil, and headed to Walmart, where the kids spent gift cards, I grabbed some seeds, and we picked up some tortillas and eggs.

It was just NICE.  Yes, we ran some errands.  But we relaxed too.  It has been a really long time since I've been out just being out, and not racing from one thing to the next, not having time enough to get it all in.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Decisions, decisions

It is getting to be that time of year again... the time when all these amazing, wonderful homeschool companies start to bombard us with new catalogs filled with shiny new curricula.  Temptation, temptation, temptation...

What kinds of products are singing their siren songs to you this year?

Let me tell you about a couple of items that are calling out to me:

Institute for Excellence in Writing has a new program for littles:  The Primary Arts of Language.  (I'll link it better when it is up online!)  There is both a Reading set, and a Writing set.  And I want both.  The reading uses poetry (yes!) and teaches phonics and whole words.  Games, farm stickers, letter stories... what's not to love?  Trina fell in love with the picture of the farm stickers.  I suspect Richard would love the poetry aspect and be willing to do it alongside her.  And I wonder if my bigger two would go through it quickly.  Not sure.  The package includes a teacher's manual, a DVD-ROM which includes video and four MP3 audios (two of which I own and love), a student book, games, and a farm folder and stickers.  

The writing package focuses on printing, copy work and composition.  It also includes spelling (using All About Spelling... you know, the program I called practically perfect!)  I wouldn't get the whole package, since I own AAS already.  But it includes a teacher's manual, a DVD-ROM (with video and two audio MP3s), and some additional MP3 audio downloads.  I've got the additional mp3s in my cart right now.  If they took Paypal, I'd have bought 'em already.

I love, love, love how IEW puts so much emphasis on teaching the teacher.  I love how they make programs that can be used by a big family.  I want this.  I really want this.  And I haven't really even seen it.  <sigh>  Monday... there is supposed to be samples and more information online on Monday.  And, I'm supposed to get to see it at a homeschool conference in a couple of weeks.

The other thing calling to me relates to a review we are doing right now.  I was introduced to See The Light when I won a Christmas DVD of theirs.  My kids -- especially Thomas -- LOVE the DVD.  And I just this week received the first DVD in their Art Class series.  Oh, wow.  Love this.  Just love it.  I like a combination of art instruction and art history that doesn't take much effort from me, and that my kids find entertaining... and possible to do.  I'm not sure I can work it into my budget, but wow, I sure want to.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Life Ready Woman Winner!

Okay, okay... I knew I had to get this posted... and I just haven't taken the two minutes to go count up entries and visit

I was giving away a copy of Life Ready Woman, and you can click here to see my review. gave me lucky number 9:

ruthhill74 said...
shared on facebook
Ruth, Ruth, Ruth... have you been paying off  I can't believe you won two of my giveaways this week!

Well, you don't need to send me your address because you just did!  I'll (hopefully) get this in the mail tomorrow when I head out to the bookmobile.  Otherwise, it will be Monday when I'm chasing around for Scouts.


Review: MathRider

Being part of the TOS Homeschool Crew means that we get the chance to try out lot of really creative and innovative math products.  Reading the website for MathRider, and how this is a math drill computer game -- one with princesses to rescue, gems, magic flowers and other quests -- well, this family was really looking forward to the chance to review it.

I may as well come out and give our bottom line up front.  We were disappointed.  All of us.  The word "lame" was used repeatedly in discussing the game for this review.

So -- my boys opinions.  First, they are ages 6-13, so a pretty good coverage of age ranges (product is suggested as best for ages 7-12).

They would have loved to have the chance to battle to save the princess instead of just ride, ride, and ride some more.  (I didn't have a problem with no battles, however!)  They thought the problems were placed in a strange place and not as easy to see as they could be.  They found the background distracting, and would want to see the elf face carved in the mountain -- and if they did that, they'd be missing problems.  Their biggest complaint, though, was that once you completed one set of quests (say, addition), all the others were exactly the same.  The only real differences (besides the math problems, obviously) is where the flower, gem, flag, etc. was placed.

(A note... the final quest is different.  The first "save the princess" quest you complete gets you a castle, and subsequent "save the princess" quests have you build on to that castle.  THIS quest I liked.  However, my kids really didn't get this far.  Mostly because they thought the program was too inane for them to spend any more time at it than I forced them to.)

Trina (age 5) would probably have really liked it, and if we had received the actual program instead of a temporary version, I probably would have invested the time in helping her to understand how to play.  I think she would have been able to at least get the flowers in addition and subtraction.  And she probably would have loved being able to keep coming back to the program as her math skills progress. However, that is all speculation on my part.

There are some aspects that we did like.  I liked that you could go in and do practice runs of specific groups of facts -- so my kids could practice their 11 and 12 addition facts (I don't particularly like that they were expected to learn those facts though) before trying to do the advanced quest in addition.

I loved that the story part of the program was read to the student.  So many math programs assume that a child is reading way beyond their math level, and my kids tend to be the opposite.

I loved that the program adapts, and if you get a particular problem wrong, you will see more of it in future quests.  I love that there is a box showing which math facts you are having more difficulty with.

Overall:  I think this program probably has more girl appeal than boy appeal.  Connor thinks that horse lovers would particularly enjoy it and not mind the repetitive storyline.  And I know that a lot of my fellow crew-mates loved the program and are planning to purchase it.  I know that my family will not be shelling out $37 to get it.

You can check out what my fellow crew-mates have to say about this program at:

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

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I was asked to spend time reviewing a limited-time demo of Math Rider. The fact that I received this trial does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How to make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

A guest post from my daughter.

Trina (age 5) decided yesterday that it was critically important that she come up with step by step instructions for making a PB&J.  I just had to blog it.  I'm trying to make the punctuation reflect how she said it all.

First, you must obtain permission.  If you are a kid.  This is critical.

Next, you get out the bread.  Don't smush it.

Next, then, you get out the peanut butter.  Crunchy or creamy, your choice.

Next, then, you get a knife and a spoon.

Next, then, you get out the jelly.  Make sure it isn't runny jelly, that's for pancakes.  

Did I already get the silverware?  Yes?  Okay then.

Okay, so you take out two pieces of bread.  And you close the bag.  People will get mad if you don't close the bag.

First you put jelly on one piece of bread.  That's what the spoon is for.  Then you put peanut butter on the other piece.  That's why I told you to get out a knife.  Do NOT lick the spoon or the peanut butter from the knife.  If you do, Mom <eye roll> will lecture you about bacteria and stuff and it will take a lot longer to finish your sandwich.  So don't do it.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Then you just put the pieces of bread together.  With the stuff on the inside, of course.  And cut it if you want to.  I just eat it like this.

Mom's back... you notice, of course, that other than closing up the bread, there is nothing in her directions about cleaning up.  Probably good, as I don't want her telling you guys that the only reason to clean up is so that Mom <eye roll> doesn't blow a gasket...

Book Review: One Race, One Blood

One Race, One Blood by Ken Ham and Charles Ware was a pretty quick read, once I sat down to actually read it.  The book itself is 163 pages, with a lot more in the appendices.

From the publisher:
It is a rarely discussed fact of history that the premise of Darwinian evolution has been deeply rooted in the worst racist ideology since its inception. This significant book gives a thorough account of the effects of evolution on the history of the United States, including slavery and the Civil rights movement, and goes beyond to show the global harvest of death and tragedy that still finds its roots in Darwin’s destructive writings.
The tragic legacy of Darwin’s controversial speculations on evolution has led to terrible consequences taken to the deadliest extremes. One Race One Blood reveals the origins of these horrors, as well as the truth revealed in Scripture that God created only one race.
You will discover: 
• Nazi Germany used evolutionary concepts to justify the extermination of “unfit” people groups such as Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs
• The origins of people groups, the genetics of skin color, and the biblical truths on “interracial” marriage
• Eye-opening discussion on racism and its roots in the hearts and minds of millions still today.
Within these compelling pages, Dr. A. Charles Ware, president of Crossroads Bible College, and Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis examine the historical roots of racism that have permeated evolutionary thought, and the Bible’s response to this disturbing issue. This is a crucial and timely study that profoundly addresses the Christian worldview regarding “race” from a compassionate and uniquely compelling perspective.
A lot of this information was not new for me, which probably helped make it a quick read.  If you haven't read/seen other materials on evolution and racism and on the biblical view of races, you might need more time to ponder the content.

What I loved about this book was the final two chapters -- Grace Relations and New Seeds -- written by Charles Ware, which talk about what we as a church need to be doing.  Those were the chapters that made me think.  And for me, those are the chapters that make this a book to own.

One aspect I liked was the idea that as Christians we need to ban the term "race" from our vocabulary and start seeing past the little surface differences between people.  It made me laugh, though, as I thought about how difficult that is.  Even if we really want to.  It seems like everything, everywhere is constantly trying to split people up and categorize us all by what shade of brown we are.  And if you can't tell by the photos on this blog, I'm one of the people who has had all of the melatonin-producing genes bred out of me.  Except for the freckles. 

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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This is the straw...

Okay, I just can't...  I simply cannot go on.

Dale bought me a new coffeepot last night.  Isn't it pretty?  Nice, new, totally clean...

I'm sick, I didn't feel like dealing with it last night... so I figured I'd do all the washing it up stuff this morning.  I did that with a smile, honest.  Then I plugged it in, and....


I cannot turn it on. 

I'm going to cry.  I know this is petty and stupid and not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  But this IS the straw.  That last one.  I cannot take it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review: Seek Me with All Your Heart

Prior to the chance to review Seek Me with all your Heart, I had never read a book by Beth Wiseman.  I've seen some of her titles mentioned, so I when I saw I could get this for my Nook on a night I was looking for something to read, well, I jumped at the chance.

From the publisher:
What would cause the Amish to move to Colorado, leaving family and friends behind?
Some Amish are making the trek to Colorado for cheaper land. Others are fleeing strict bishops with long memories.
For Emily Detweiler and her family, the move is more personal. Tragedy struck Emily in Ohio, shaking loose everything she believed was firm, including her faith. Her family took the bold step of leaving Ohio to resettle in a small Amish community in Canaan, Colorado, where they hope the distance will help erase painful memories.
David Stoltzfus's family moved to Colorado for reasons he doesn't understand. But Canaan is turning out to be something other than the promised land they all anticipated. Fearing that a health condition will cut his life short, David plans to return home to Paradise, Pennsylvania, as soon as he can. But then he meets Emily, who stirs feelings in his heart despite his apprehension about the future.
Emily's growing love for David surprises her, but she fears that he will find out the truth about her past and reject her. But what if the truth is that they are made for each other? And that God longs to give them the desires of their hearts if only they will seek Him first?
My thoughts:

This was a great book.  A bit confusing in the first chapter, what was going on did become clear pretty quickly.  The characters felt real, and their reactions and responses seemed pretty realistic most of the time.  And I found that I really cared about them.

I loved that this story takes place in Colorado.  I'm positive I've never read any other Amish Fiction taking place in this state... and I hope there will be more coming.

Spoiler warning:  As in evident from the first chapter, Emily has some issues.  Okay, well, first -- here's the first couple dozen pages:


Okay -- so now for the spoiler.  It isn't much of one.  From reading the first chapter, I knew that Emily had been raped, definitely by someone she knew, probably someone she liked.  Honestly, had I known that was the big tragedy in the publisher's description, I probably would not have read the book, so I guess I'm glad I didn't know.

Wiseman does an amazing job of showing a variety of very real responses on the part of pretty much everyone in Emily's family.  Emily is clearly fearful in chapter one, and her road to being able to trust again is fairly rocky, with progress being made only to be lost in an instant for no apparent reason.  Anger, shame, guilt, paranoia, loss of faith... honestly, I broke down in tears more than once in the story.  I really wanted to be able to take Emily into my arms and do something so she would stop feeling like damaged goods.

Emily was far from the only character I wanted to sit down and chat with.  In a good way... I know with some books, I just want to slap the characters and tell them to get a grip.  These characters were real people though, and mostly I wanted to be able to put an arm around them and help them see a different point of view.   

I read this book in the space of about 12 hours... only because I had to sleep.  And I started re-reading the book already. 

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

Progresso Souper You Winner!

Okay, so I was too tired to draw a winner last night for my Souper You giveaway, and woke this morning feeling really sick.  At least I know what I'm going to be eating... Progresso's Chicken Noodle Soup!

But I did finally do a drawing for a winner... and chose #12:
ruthhill74 said...
I blogged about your giveaways!
 I'm excited!  Ruth has entered so many of my giveaways...

I'll be emailing you to get the pertinent information.


Monday, February 21, 2011

When (they) Grow Up to be....

It's Blog Cruise time again... and this week, I've been humming the Beach Boys...

The question this week:  What do your children want to be when they grow up and what are you doing to help them pursue their field of interest?

I've talked a lot about what my kids are thinking right now for careers... they pretty much all lean towards science of some sort.  Thomas wants to be an archaeologist, Connor leans towards forensics.  William changes his mind all the time.  Richard wants to work at UL testing products.  Trina, well, although she seems so grown up as a 5 year old, still, she IS only five.  So this post is about my boys, mostly the three who are in double digits.

That means we've tried to make science and math pretty important in our schooling, while still focusing on communication and just being well-rounded.  I want them to be able to get into a good college, if that is what they want to do.

But maybe it is because I have this song going through my head this week... I guess I've been wondering about how we're doing in preparing them to "grow up to be a man."

Did you listen to the lyrics?  Go ahead, go up, watch the video and listen.  I'll still be here...

Okay, you're back.  The Beach Boys are often blown off as being just fluff, feel-good, and fun... and I do think that is true of some of their music.  But this song gave me something to think about.
When I grow up to be a man
Will I dig the same things that turn me on as a kid?
Will I look back and say that I wish I hadn't done what I did?
Will I joke around and still dig those sounds
When I grow up to be a man?
Should I be worrying about trying to find educational opportunities in bugs, archaeology and forensics?  Are they going to completely go for other interests when they grow up to be men?  And what is the cost?  Let's say they all decide to become literature professors (yeah, right!)... is it going to hurt them to have fairly extensive knowledge of insects, ancient ruins, or scientific crime investigation practices?  Definitely not.  Are they going to look back and wish I hadn't indulged these interests?  I doubt it...
Will I look for the same things in a woman that I dig in a girl?
(fourteen fifteen)
Will I settle down fast or will I first wanna travel the world?
(sixteen seventeen)
Now I'm young and free, but how will it be
When I grow up to be a man?
Oh, ouch.  They start their count-up at fourteen.  Yikes.  Connor will be fourteen in about two months.  I'm not always willing to think that this count-up has really started in earnest.

What is kind of funny is some of the conversations that were held (not instigated by me) in this house this week.  Brought on by Valentine's Day, no doubt.  Dale giving them advice about finding a woman worth marrying.  And how much there really is to the statement about how behind every great man is a great woman. 

Not sure what that has to do with this topic... but in thinking about preparing them for their futures as men, what is more important than finding someone who respects them, who honors them, who supports them? 
Will my kids be proud or think their old man is really a square?
(eighteen nineteen)
When they're out having fun yeah, will I still wanna have my share?
(twenty twenty-one)
Will I love my wife for the rest of my life
When I grow up to be a man?
More on the wife thing.  Are we preparing our boys to love their wives for the rest of their lives?  Am we being a good example? Hmmmm...

And really, the question about their kids sounds a lot like a respect thing too.  Will I be the kind of man my kids are going to respect? 
What will I be when I grow up to be a man?
(twenty-two twenty-three)
Won't last forever
(twenty-four twenty-five)
It's kind of sad
(twenty-six twenty-seven)
Won't last forever
(twenty-eight twenty-nine)
It's kind of sad
(thirty thirty-one)
Won't last forever
(thirty-two . . .)
Maybe it is the influence of Blue & Gold this weekend, but the other thing I keep thinking is that one of the reasons we invest so much in Scouting is that we feel that Scouting is helping us to encourage our boys in what WE want them to be when they grow up.  Men of honor, men of faith, men of courage, men of principle.  And I don't have to ever teach about maggots helping to determine time of death for them to "be" those things.

This post took a completely different direction than I expected when I first read the topic.  But I think what we are doing to help our children pursue their fields of interest has far more to do with what we are doing to encourage character than it has to do with what we are doing to teach to their interests.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Scouting Saturday on a Sunday! Blue & Gold

Okay, I meant to post last night, but I was just too stinkin' tired.  So I'm posting today instead.  Unfortunately, we didn't get as many photos as I would have liked.

For those of my readers who aren't into the whole Scouting thing, Blue & Gold is a bit of a birthday party for Cub Scouts.  It is the annual event where typically a lot of the kids are awarded their ranks.  This year, our pack chose to incorporate the Arrow of Light ceremony into the Blue & Gold Banquet, which makes for a very long ceremony, and I'm afraid by that time, most people were no longer really paying attention to those Webelos II kids and all that they had accomplished.

We went as a family -- all of us -- with two Cub Scouts, and the two Boy Scouts were part of the crossover ceremony.

We listened to a fascinating speech made by a woman whose father was involved in Scouting for 75 years, nearly from the beginning.  It was pretty amazing to hear her tell stories of her father learning from a Civil War veteran.  I had a little girl begging me to take her to the bathroom at that point, so I'm a bit fuzzy on just WHAT he was learning.

The Tigers were the first den to be recognized.  Unfortunately, my den has one requirement remaining before earning their Tiger badge, and there were only two kids at Blue & Gold.  Those two, however, were awarded a fistful of progress towards rank beads, and a Map & Compass Belt Loop.

They worked up through the dens until they got to the Webelos I.  Here's the whole group of 'em...  Thomas is on the end.

Initially, the kids were awarded activity badges and belt loops and the like.  Then a smaller group was awarded their Webelos badge.  Here I am pinning a badge on Thomas.  He actually earned it back in December, so it is the special 2010 edition of the badge.

The rest of the event focused on the Webelos II kids... they were presented awards, then the Arrow of Light Ceremony, and finally they crossed over the bridge to become Boy Scouts.  Their parents take off the Cub Scout parts of the uniforms (Webelos neckerchiefs, blue epaulets), the kids then cross the bridge, and the Boy Scouts on the other side put on the Boy Scout uniforms.  Here are my Boy Scouts putting on the epaulets -- William in the red hat:
And another photo where you can see Connor and William a bit more clearly as the Den Chief puts the new Boy Scout into his neckerchief:

It was a really fun day!

And I had a couple people ask if I was doing a Scouting Saturday post so they could link to it... so I am going to make that happen.  :) 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Reluctant Reader Solution by Kid Scoop

Anyone who has read my blog for very long knows that I have a couple of kids who struggle with their reading.  I'm usually pretty game to try almost anything to see if it might be the "kick" we need so that reading is no longer such an issue.

That means that when I found out I'd be reviewing something called Reluctant Reader Solution, I was obviously quite hopeful.  But in working with this product, I guess one issue became crystal clear to me.  It is more than semantics.  I don't have reluctant readers.  I have struggling readers.  My kids all want to read.  Some just find reading challenging.

This is something that I feel I have to mention up front in this review, because it clearly colors my perceptions of these materials.

So with that background in place, just what is the Reluctant Reader Solution?  Kid Scoop has created this package to help kids to want to read, to make it fun and interesting (and educational) so that kids will get in some practice every day.  The Reluctant Reader Solution package includes the following two components:
  1. 12 full color issues of Kid Scoop News online, a monthly publication intended to be done at the computer (see above)
  2. 365 Kid Scoop Worksheets, included in roughly 60 pdf files of 5-7 black and white worksheets each, meant to be printed for use (see below for one pdf file)

There are a couple basic principles behind this approach. One is that doing similar activities in two different environments (online and paper/pencil) is working different skills and will motivate children differently.

Our take:  the online newspaper is what I assumed would be a hit.  However, my kids found that a bit frustrating.  A lot of paper and pencil activities.  In the two-page spread shown above there is a dot-to-dot, a word search, and an activity to finish some drawings.  One activity on there involves putting some sequences in order, and that one is easy to do without a pencil.

What I should do is to print these out, but that uses a lot of color ink.  So, we read the articles, which we really did enjoy.  February's issue had articles on pencil carvings, authors, how pencils are made, Nellie Bly, the stock market, Abraham Lincoln, amateur/professional sports, and a bunch of individual paragraphs about a variety of things.  There was also a section on drawing a farmer and a sheep -- and "how to draw" segments are always a hit with one of my struggling readers.

The pdf files I didn't have as much hope for.  I thought they looked like busywork and that my kids would turn up their noses.  That just proves that I don't understand my children.  The idea is that the kids can do a page a day for a whole year.  What I ended up doing is to print out one pdf file (Hockey, in all the pictures) and let them pretty much do whatever they wanted in whatever order.

I thought they'd go for a couple of the activities, and I'd have to force them to do much more.  And that was the case for a couple of the topics we I chose.  But the hockey one really turned a corner... I realized that I had been choosing topics that interested them, thinking they'd enjoy doing those.  Turns out, they thought those were "too basic" (who'd have thunk it?) and they found them to be busywork.

By choosing a topic they don't already know much about, they had a blast and wanted to do everything.  Well, almost everything.

This picture shows William circling the things that are wrong with this picture -- like the hockey player with a ball, or with street shoes.  After doing that, he willingly read the intro portion of the page.

Then he flipped through and did a dot-to-dot, and a tracing activity.  He read about character.  He asked me to set a timer to see how long it would take him to find the words in the word search puzzle.

He went back and read the main article on the front page.  He pretty much avoided the writing activities.  Those I had to sit with him to get him to do... and those I was willing to adjust or change a bit so as not to overwhelm him.  One activity in the hockey pdf involves writing an alliteration about hockey... that one he actually asked to do.

We will continue to utilize these resources... the online version for as long as we have access to it, and the pdf files as well.  My kids, after having fun with a couple of these, now think the ones they already know about would be fun too.

I love the variety of topics.  Some are familiar, some far less so.  Some that William was particularly intrigued by:
  • Bigfoot  (this one has a lot of reading -- including a comic-style article on the first page)
  • Clay Play (this one is very hands-on, most of the reading involves reading instructions)
  • Fitness Fun (this one includes charts and obviously a lot of activity)
  • Heifer International (a decent amount of reading, and a money activity)
  • International Space Station (this one takes a journalism tone... who, what, when, where and why... I like this one a lot)
  • Kitchen Creativity (very hands-on and he will love this)
  • Optical Illusions (lots of activities, very little reading.  Looks very fun.)
  • S'Mores (a mystery approach, with a lot more reading than I would have expected given the title)
  • Solar Snacks (hands-on, with a fair amount of reading.  I like this one a lot too.)
  • Toys for Tots (lots of reading and some interesting activities)
  • Veteran's Day (another fairly reading-heavy issue taking a journalism approach)
Reluctant Reader Solution is available for $97.  There are other cool things to check out at their website as well.

You can check out what my fellow crew-mates have to say about this program at:

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

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

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: Speekee

Dale has been after me to teach the kids Spanish for a very long time.  Living in the Southwest especially, a basic knowledge of Spanish would be a wonderful thing.  My problem is that I don't know Spanish, and everything I look at is either:
  • expensive, usually outlandlishly so;
  • expecting a LOT from me, the teacher;
  • lame;
  • or just a hassle and not fun.
So when I had the chance to review an online Spanish program for little kids, I was very interested.

Speekee is a video-based immersion course.  All the speaking is in Spanish, starting from the first video (English subtitles are available).  There are a total of ten videos, each 15-20 minutes long, and they are FUN!

Richard and Trina were the ones primarily watching this, and I have to say that Trina loved it more than her brother.

The basic idea is that you watch a video (we watched it several times over a week or so) and you interact with the puppets (including Speekee) when directed.  You watch several children doing various things.  And there is one main grown-up (Jim) who models correct conversation with Speekee.  Everyone involved on-screen is a native Spanish speaker, and the locations are Spanish as well.

In addition to the video, there are some worksheets that can be printed, and some suggested activities.  And -- if your house is anything like mine -- the songs will be sung over and over outside of "class time" which further reinforces the Spanish.

My perspective:  The kids were absolutely adorable, and most spoke fairly slowly and deliberately, which was perfect for this kind of a show.  The songs were catchy.  It felt a lot like watching Sesame Street sometimes, in that "clearly this is meant to appeal to the kids" kind of a way.  I learned (or re-learned) a fair amount of conversational Spanish though.

One thing that was really fun?  The kids were given Toy Story 3, which we had not seen, during the review period.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the movie, one thing that ends up happening is that the toys have to reset Buzz... and they accidentally reset him in "Spanish Mode."  That whole scene is fabulous, but the point:  Richard and Trina actually understood a fair amount of what "Spanish Buzz" said!  Not all of it, but a surprising amount.

I love that you can get this as a monthly subscription for only $7.50 per month.  No commitments, cancel any time.  So you could subscribe for a month or two for a really reasonable price.

Now, let me tell you about what my kids thought:

Trina, age 4, absolutely adored this.  She begged to watch it, and she begged to re-watch episodes.  She really didn't like the worksheets, so I didn't have her do much (if anything) with them.

Richard, age 6, liked it.  But he was totally content to watch a video once and not see it again.  He didn't beg to "do Speekee" like his sister.  But he didn't complain either.  And he clearly learned a fair amount of Spanish.

Thomas, age 10, didn't really watch on a regular basis, but what he did see, he thought was incredibly dumb.  He confessed that some of the songs were "okay, I guess" and that they did help him to internalize some Spanish.  But he was not willing to be a participant as such (I left it TOTALLY optional for the big kids).

William, age 12, and Connor, age 13, pretty much shared an opinion.  They thought it was silly and kind of fun.  They both commented on being impressed with how much Spanish they could fit into these segments, especially given that everything is repeated so much.  And they thought it was a great way to do a language program for younger kids.  They were both (Connor moreso than William) willing to sit with the little two for the videos, and they were both able to then encourage the younger ones in their Spanish use.

You can check out what some of my fellow crewmates had to say at:

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

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

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Life Ready Woman Giveaway

I intended to get this posted right after I posted my review of The Life Ready Woman, but, well, life got in the way.  Kids, school, cleaning the kitchen...

So, if after reading my review, you thought... I should check this book out... well, here is your opportunity.

Courtesy of the LitFuse Blog Tour, I have an additional copy of this book to give away.

Mandatory entry:  Leave a comment on my review, and come back here and tell me you want to be entered to win!

Additional entries:
  • Follow me via Google Friend Connect, or Networked Blogs, or both.  One entry for each.
  • Post about this on your blog, Facebook, or somewhere.  Then comment here, with a link if appropriate.
  • Enter another giveaway (currently just one for Progresso Souper You)
  • Like LitFuse on Facebook
That's it!

Okay, technical stuff... This giveaway will close around midnight MST on my birthday next Thursday.  I'll draw a winner via on Feb. 25, and if I am unable to reach them, I reserve the right to draw another name.  I think I'll be able to get to a post office on Saturday the 26th, so it ought to ship then.

Thanks to LitFuse and MomLifeToday for this giveaway!!

Book Review: Life Ready Woman

As part of the LitFuse Blog Tour, I had the opportunity to read Life Ready Woman by Shaunti Feldhahn and Robert Lewis.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I've heard Shaunti speak and was interested in reading the book based on that.

From the publisher:
"Are you a ‘Doing it all’ or ‘Do what matters’ woman?

Whether a stay at home; or working mom, an airplane-hopping executive, an empty-nester caring for multiple generations or a single juggling high demands of career and personal life, today's fast-paced modern world leaves women gasping for balance. We as modern Christian women want to look to the Bible for guidance on how to manage our lives -- but because the world of women looks so different today than it did when the Bible was written, it is hard to find chapter and verse that seems to apply to our situation today.

Thankfully, God has given us exactly that timeless, unchanging guidance for how to find peace, clarity, and God's best for our lives once we know where to look! The Life Ready Woman: Thriving in a Do-It-All World, reveals a profound biblical roadmap for how each of us can find the abundant life we are longing for, rather than the stressful, torn, how-do-I-balance-it-all life we often feel like we are trying to keep up with today. Actually being a LifeReady Woman means that you are clear about your life, bold in your faith, and able to find God’s best for you, and the end result will be that you not only survive but thrive in our do-it-all world.

God has given every wonderfully unique woman different skills and abilities, different desires, and different temperaments -- and every woman around the planet and through the ages is certainly living in different circumstances. But no matter what a woman’s life looks like, the Bible says that God has an individual mission and plan that He’s carefully designed for each of us. And He wants us to find it. Starting January 2011, The Life Ready Woman and the Life Ready Woman Video Series will help every wonderfully unique woman to thrive as she identifies and courageously pursues God's unique design and callings for her. LifeReady Woman puts you on a roadmap to make decisions that will lead to relief, delight, and fulfillment instead of regret."
From me:

The book is split into two parts.  The first is "God's Purposes and Plans for All of Us."  Here, the authors lay out exactly that -- a Biblical Blueprint of what we as women were made for and what we were made to do. 

For instance, she talks about the "be fruitful and multiply" in a way that isn't just a "breed like rabbits" mentality.  It's far more than just having kids, it is raising the next generation up... oh, let me quote the book... "Each of us is called to be a part of raising up and launching a healthy next generation that will glorify God and bear His image throughout the world."  That "each of us" is male and female, by the way.

This section took me awhile to get through, because I found myself arguing with the author about the interpretation of certain things. Overall, though, I tended to agree with most of it, at least once I actually finally read through it.  I think most everyone is going to find something in this section to be uncomfortable with.

Here's a good place to insert a video:

The second part is about figuring out what the first part means to YOU, and working through God's plan on a personal level.  This is the part of the book that makes you think.  The part of the book that made me think.  The part I am still thinking about, to be honest. 

If you are interested in winning a copy, read on... or go check my Giveaway post!  Or better yet, do both!

In celebration of Shaunti Feldhahn’s Life Ready Woman, MomLife Today is giving away 2 Weekend To Remember Gift Packs and much more!
Not only, is MomLife Today helping promote Life Ready Woman, but they are thrilled to announce that Shaunti will be joining MomLife Today as a regular contributor!!!
Weekend To Remember Get-Aways offer marriage-changing principles that you can take home and apply to your daily lives to strengthen your marriage. Whether you are newly engaged or have been married for 50 years, you will find value in the tools provided at the getaway.
Don’t miss this opportunity to receive a conference registration for you and your spouse … and more! MomLife Today will be randomly selecting NINE lucky recipients to receive one of these great gifts:
  1. 2 Weekend To Remember Get Away conference registrations for two. $259 value each pair (Two couples will receive this.)
  2. 2 Life Ready Woman DVD packs. $149 value each (Two different people will receive this gift.)
  3. 5 The Life Ready Woman books. (Book will go to 5 people.)
To enter click one of the icons below then tell your friends. Winner will be announced on March 2nd on the MomLife Today website.
Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter
MomLife Today provides encouragement, advice and resources to help YOU with your daily Momlife! Because…every MOMent counts!

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

Monday, February 14, 2011

Blog Cruise: Is it all just Mom?

This week's Blog Cruise topic:  How are your spouse, grandparents, or other family members involved in your homeschooling?

Most people seem to be posting about their wonderfully involved husbands, or active grandparents.  I'm struggling with what to say, and am tempted to not post.  But I guess I am going to go ahead anyway and at least write this.  We'll see if I post.

The kids' grandparents are not really involved in their homeschooling.  All are supportive.  But we live a thousand miles away, which makes it difficult to be involved in any real day-to-day stuff.  Same for the kids' uncles and aunt.  When we visit home, or someone comes out here, some school will frequently happen.  And grandparents have purchased "school stuff" as gifts, especially science-y stuff, or great children's books.

As we are approaching studying the 20th century again, I'm sure the kids are going to be conversing with grandparents about various events.  I remember last time we studied 20th century history, the kids had a long conversation about some "I Like Ike" buttons with their grandma.  I can see things getting a lot more in-depth this time around.  The Vietnam War ought to lead to an interesting conversation with Grandpa.  Watergate, the Carter malaise... I know I look forward to doing a multi-generation conversation about some of that.

Dale's primary role in our homeschool is to work long and hard so that I can stay home to teach.  He is also pretty good at laying down the law when bad attitudes prevail.  He has listened to a number of audiobooks during his commute that we are listening to during the school day so that he can be a part of discussions involving the book.  He has recommended some audiobooks that neither the kids nor I would have found on our own.

He is always up for watching a movie based in the time period we are studying and is able to discuss those as well.

Sometimes, he will listen to a kid read.  And if I'm totally pulling my hair out because we have a math concept that just won't sink in for a child, he'll try working through it.  By that time, the child involved has probably heard the same concept presented in 4-5 different ways, and very, very often it will just "click" when Dale goes over it.  That frustrates me, selfishly... like I'm a horrible teacher and it was so effortless for Dale.  But the relief of kiddo finally grasping it generally outweighs the annoyance that Dale didn't have to see firsthand how frustrating it had been.

He's also quite willing to figure out a way to get an iPod or other gadget when he knows it would make life a bit easier for me, or for the kids.

Probably the biggest thing he does is to not complain (too much) when school seems to have taken over the house.  Books stacked on the island, science projects all over the dining room table, books stacked in the living room, art project all over the living room floor...

Check out the TOS Crew Blog on Tuesday for more ideas as to how real families are involving adults besides Mom in their schools... I know I'll be looking for ideas!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Progresso Souper You Giveaway!

I recently received a package from Progresso soup and MyBlogSpark that included five cans of Progresso Light Soup, a yoga mat, water bottle, exercise bands, sports headband and wristband.

This is all a part of their Souper You Debut promotion where they are giving away a New York makeover.  Check out their Facebook page to enter!

Progresso now has 40 different soups with 100 or fewer calories.  I love having something around that I can throw together for a quick Low-Cal lunch.  And with varieties that include New England Clam Chowder and Zesty Santa Fe Style Chicken, it is never plain and boring.

My kids are even finding varieties they like.  And with one child who has met very few soups he's willing to like, well, that is saying something.  (He'll eat pretty much anything, fortunately.)

And this isn't part of the Progresso Light line, but we have a new family favorite: Albondigas (Meatball and Rice).  Mmmmm.  This is something we can definitely do on a regular basis.  Chipotle.  Jalepenos.  Oh, yeah, that works here.  And with recent sales and coupons (such as this one), we have stocked up. 

Would you like the chance to try some of these too?  Progresso and MyBlogSpark have generously given me the chance to give away another workout pack with a coupon for free Progresso soup to one of my lucky readers.

Mandatory entry:  Check out the Progresso website, and post a comment telling me which soup variety you think you would get with the coupon. 

Optional additional entries (leave a comment for each):
  • Follow this blog through Google Friend Connect and/or Networked Blogs
  • Share about the giveaway on Facebook or your blog
  • Leave a comment on another post and come back here to tell me about it
Entries will be accepted through midnight MDT on February 21.  I will use to draw a winner sometime on Washington's Birthday.  If I cannot figure out how to contact you, or you do not respond within 48 hours, I will draw a new winner.

Disclosure: Progresso and MyBlogSpark provided me with the free prize pack, and the gift pack to give away.  No other compensation was received, and I was not required to write a review, much less a positive one.

Wrapping up the week

I'm too scattered for a real post, so some things that have happened here lately, with links to people more coherent than I am.  And maybe even a picture or two.

We're reviewing a really great book by a really fun person -- Mystery of the Missing Mountain by Kim Jones.  You have to go check out the Mystery Rangers Fun Zone, and look for the kid who has "flipped" over the book...

I'm hoping to get the review done this week, but it is slow going.  Because William is insisting on doing every single hands-on activity.  And, to be honest, because the code-breaking activities are fairly challenging for him.  At least for this many.  I, on the other hand, am pretty happy that he wants to get to the volcano building and everything else, so he is forcing himself to work through the hard-for-him stuff.  Though I got the author's permission to let him skip a couple of the codes if he gets too burned out.<grin>

Of course, it doesn't help that we started working through Greek Alphabet Code Cracker either.  Poor kid.

My itty-bitty Tiger den is so cute.  We're not going to make it to earning the Tiger badge by Blue & Gold (next weekend) because we are short one activity.  We're currently voting -- everyone took forever to get back to us, so we ended up with three parents arranging for three separate opportunities -- do we go to see the newspaper down at Fort Carson?  Or do a tv station tour?  Or tour the local Christian radio station?  Decisions, decisions, decisions...  Waiting to hear if any of the proposed days do NOT work, and then we'll make a decision.

But we did go to the Pioneer Museum yesterday.  I have lived here for over sixteen years, this museum is FREE, and I have never been to it.  Right now, they have a WWII POW exhibit going, in addition to all the cool stuff they usually have.  I would have loved to have spent more time in that.  Two six year old boys, though, well -- they had other ideas (only half the den was able to attend).

This picture is of Richard and D goofing off.  None of the serious pictures really worked.  In their laps are the scavenger hunt sheets -- we went through the museum trying to find the items listed.  We only really needed help with one that we just couldn't locate.  The kids were given great bookmarks as prizes -- one says "I love history" and the other had something to do with history as well.

Thomas went along too, but managed to get out of this photo...

I mentioned the other day that I've been trying to deal with my winter blues... a friend wrote an excellent post today that pretty much covers what I've been considering.  I think this post is a great read, even if you aren't feeling down.  At this time of year, a lot of people around you are...

Oh, in addition to going to the museum yesterday morning, my two boy scouts were participating in an Eagle Court of Honor.  This mom is who I want to be when I grow up, I'm telling you.  But I will never, ever have the attention to detail required to pull off such coordinated events.  Ever.

Anyway, this is the second of their boys to make Eagle, and it was so much fun to be there.  Even with a pipe bursting before the ceremony -- so mostly dads got that cleaned up, water shut off, bathrooms blocked off... so it didn't go without a hitch, but close.  William got through his reading.  I was glad of that.  I thought he'd freeze up.

The picture is pretty lousy though -- but this was at the end where they recognized all the scouts in the troop and how a young man doesn't make Eagle without a strong troop behind him.

One huge upside to this is that Connor talked with a couple of the assistant scoutmasters about his road to Eagle... and since this mom is sick of him having five Eagle-required merit badges partially completed with him putting NO effort into any of them at the moment, that bit of news was wonderful.  I know he could knock out two of them if he spent about an hour and a half getting things together and just *met* with his merit badge counselor.  The other three would take a bit more effort. 

Oh, and then I checked my emails at the gas station -- and had an email from Kinderbach.  Apparently, I get to review that again this year, with a three month subscription.  We loved it last year and I was certainly hoping... 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Just Read!

I have the world's greatest library, I'm telling you.

We missed the bookmobile last week due to snow (it left early!) so I didn't see that it is time, once again, for the 7th Annual Adult Reading Program.  I mean really, why should the kids be the only ones getting prizes from the library.  I adore my Reading Program mugs... can't wait to get a couple more this year!

This year, it is called Just Read! and it runs from Feb. 7 to April 4.  If Dale & I (we're both signed up) read four books by March 14, we not only get a prize but we also are entered into some drawings.  They give away incredibly cool stuff!  Including <gasp> a Nook this year.  Yeah, I already own one.  But I know Dale would make use of one.  Or the kids could share it.  Oh, it would be nice...

And reading 8 books by April 4 gets us another prize and an entry into the grand prize drawing.

I'm just not sure which prize includes the coffee mug, probably the second one.  There are also Burger King coupons, gift baskets from Chick-fil-A...

Anyway, I am going to track my reading on my blog.  Just because.  I lose those silly forms, so this way, I can store it away, and only pull it out to update it before I take it in.

  1. The Stones Cry Out by Sibella Giorello.  Feb 10, I think.  Fabulous book.
  2. Seek Me With All Your Heart by Beth Wiseman. Feb. 16-17.  Reviewed here.
  3. In the Shadow of Evil by Robin Caroll.  Feb 23.  Reviewed here.
  4. A Trail of Ink by Mel Starr.  Feb 23-24.  Reviewed here.
  5.  One Race, One Blood by Ken Ham & Charles Ware.  Feb. 9-24.  Reviewed here.  
  6. Demolishing Contradictions, edited by Ken Ham.  Feb. 24-25.  Reviewed here
  7. The Mountains Bow Down by Sibella Giorello.  March 1-2.  Watch for a review later this month.
  8. (Bankruptcy of Our Nation by Jerry Robinson -- started Feb. 7); or
  9. (A Murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner -- started Feb. 7)