Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just light, fun reading...

Over the years, I've read Jen Turano's books as they've come out.  The first of a new two book series Apart from the Crowd is what I read last week.  Behind the Scenes centers around Miss Permilia Griswold (could she have a worse name?).

The story begins with a ball in New York City's high society--one of the events of society's season.  Miss Griswold is likable--a Cinderella of sorts surrounded by her ugly stepmother and unkind stepsister. One big difference in this Cinderella tale is that Miss Griswold's father is only absent, thankfully, and not dead.

At the ball, she overhears threats made about a man's life and she attempts to warn him.  This book did make me laugh out loud as Ms. Griswold attempted to save Mr. Rutherford when she overhears a threat on his life, but which he doesn't give any credence.

This story is a bit like high school--you have the in crowd and the outsiders.  And as the story goes on, you realize the significance of the two.  It's hard for me to imagine what it was like to live in the late 1800s.  This story is such a fairy tale, but it's a fun one.  Cinderella has always been one of my favorites.  And this story does not disappoint.

I would however recommend reading Ms. Turano's novella At Your Request first.  It sets the stage for Behind the Scenes and there's a scene in the book that makes much more sense.  At Your Request can be downloaded for free to your Kindle on Amazon.  And besides, it's just fun to read as well!  I discovered the novella after reading the first novel and wish I had discovered it first!

The writing flows in Behind the Scenes and I didn't get bogged down reading it at any point.  Permilia made me laugh and smile.  It's just simply a light-hearted, fun read!  If you have enjoyed any of Ms. Turano's books in the past, I'm sure you will enjoy this one as well!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishing for review, but these thoughts are entirely my own.  I enjoyed this book and its moments of escape!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Fun Journaling Idea Book

I asked my daughter to write a review of a new book because it was write up her alley.  These are her words...

To Moms and Teens:

Do you have a child (or are you one yourself) who loves art and language, but needs some ideas to start using their/your gifts?  If you are, then Journal Sparks by Emily K. Neuburger may be the book you need!  It combines art and writing in its ideas for journaling, fosters creativity, and inspires out of the box thinking.

Exercises include--word jars, collages, color descriptions, topic challenges, comics, observations recordings, multi-person entries, and much more!  Also, it comes wiht artsy papers and unique stickers.

But...there are some things you should know before you used this book.  First, in my opinion, no one below fifth grade should use this book.  Some fonts/font sizes would be difficult for young ages to read, and my recommended age range would be middle-high schoolers to adults.  In addition, this is not a workbook.  This si a supplement and instruction manual--a DIY guide.  It gives you ideas to begin with, but from there it is up to you.  Elementary students might struggle with it, being used to workbook formats.

Secondly, some moms may not be comfortable with a few things in the book if they have younger kids.  It contains mandalas, and a potion making idea.  My impression is that the  mandalas are intended to be pretty patterned circles, and their idea of potions is very mild, being closer to olden medieval times when potions were more herbal remedies than witchy brews.

However, if you or your child feel that the above descriptions this book would be enjoyable and useful, then by all means give it a try and I wish you fun journaling!  As for myself, I love this book and cannot wait to try some of its ideas next year.  My om gave it to me because it is perfectly suited to my interests:  I love art, writing, and am very creative.  The ideas portrayed in this book inspire me, and I like them much better than my usual writing prompts, which never allow me to draw or list new words.  If you choose to buy this book, I sincerely hope that you will enjoy it as much as I have!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Storey Books for review, but these opinions were my daughter's own opinions.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Smaller Furniture, Smaller Space

We've lived in our house for over 5 years now.  Nowadays, my goal is to fix one thing per month, but sometimes it ends up being several things in one month, like it was this month.

First, I went looking for ants under my kitchen sink and discovered water instead....which led to a visit from the plumber, a new kitchen faucet, a new outdoor faucet, and a new faucet in our bathroom.  Then, we were given some hand me down lawn furniture from our neighbor.  I was thankful for it, but wasn't sure how things would go together.  I just wanted things to match.  That led to me spray painting a black table to go with the two green chairs in the front, spray painting a table for the patio, getting a cabinet at Aldi, and another spray painting project waiting for me.  But, it also led to my patio finally having seating and looking like a patio where people gather!  Yahoo!

Then on Saturday, amidst the rain, I went garage saling.  Rain normally shuts down garage sales, but I thought I'd take a chance because the rain came on mid-morning just as I was leaving my house with my middle daughter who is a shopper and enjoys going with me.  There was a community that had a lot of garages so I took a chance and found several garage sales!  Sami and I found two baseball gloves that the girls needed to play catch for $5 (which saved me $55 and another shopping trip), a picture for our kitchen for $1, a used Vera Bradley purse/bag for my mom for $2 (which she loved), and a new Vera Bradley purse for my church bag for $2 in that neighborhood.  Sami found a really cool, fun scarf, too!  Then, we headed to a church where I found a 1950s aluminum chicken roaster with the rack in it in amazing shape.  But, my find of the day was really a table and three chairs that I found for $15.

I realized a while back that I would love to have a smaller table in our kitchen with chairs.  The table we had in it was way too large for the space and you had to squeeze by the edges to get to the back of the table.  But, it hasn't been on our radar to replace it.  Furniture can be expensive and we had something that worked--sort of.

But, when I found this table--in the rain--I asked the man how much it was.  He said $20.  I offered him $15 and he accepted my offer.  We loaded it into my van (the table and all 3 chairs) and I headed home.   When I arrived home, I waited and left it in the van.  I wasn't exactly sure how my husband was going to feel about it.  But, after a few minutes, I told him I'd bought a table and chairs.  His reaction told me that he knows how much garage saling means to me--I enjoy the treasure hunting. So, I brought the chairs and table up to the front porch and he took a look at them.

He liked them.

So, we moved our kitchen table into the school room and set up the new table, which really brings me to the point of the whole story.  We live in a house built in the 1950s.  We have no vaulted ceilings or really large rooms.  What we do have are rooms that are smaller and when we put the new table and chairs I realized something that makes sense...  Our house is older, so older style furniture fits better in it.  The new table and chairs is significantly (!) smaller than our table that we bought fifteen years ago from Cost Plus World Market--picture larger round table (even without the leaves) and larger chairs with a tall back.  The table that had been in our kitchen was designed with a modern, newly constructed home built some time between the 1990s and the present--with large rooms and tall ceilings.  It can be deceiving to see furniture in a store.  Furniture stores are huge and have very tall ceilings!  Buying a table and chairs that was built during the time period when our home was built makes sense to me now as to why it fits so much better in our kitchen than our old table.

I checked the chairs on ebay and found that they sell for about $300 each.  They are Ethan Allen (a store that I haven't ever even set foot in because I know it's expensive).  But, the chairs and the table aren't worth anymore to me because of their worth on ebay.  Their value to me is that they fit in our kitchen and I can finally walk by the table and get the pans that I store behind the table without having to squeeze by the table!  I am grateful every time I pass by the table.  But, I'm also thankful for the lessons I'm learning about choosing furniture that best fits the space it's intended for.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Finding Safe Apps... A Great Drawing App for Young Kids!

One of my friends this week got a new iphone.  She was excited that she finally had room for Target's Cartwheel app.  But, her next comment was that her kids want her to install some apps for them.  This started a conversation about kids and apps... and in-app purchases.

Over the past few years, I have resisted installing game apps on my phone and tablet because I've been so scared of accidental in-app purchases being made.  I've read so many stories on yahoo about kids accidentally racking up hundreds of dollars in fees on apps or on cell phones accidentally.  So, I've tried to find apps that I am comfortable with my kids using that I didn't have to worry about.

Recently, I had the chance to review an app for younger kids that incorporated writing and drawing.  It was developed by Evan-Moor.

The app is available via Evan-Moor's site or itunes.  It allows 4-6 year olds to trace different animals and complete fill in the word simple sentences about the pictures.  The app fits these ages best, but all three of my kids (the oldest of whom is 13 years old!) loved it.  My 13 yo is a little unusual because her primary subject interest is art.  She was able to create several projects for her siblings to trace in the program and share these with them.  

The app isn't free.  It costs $4.  But, the peace of mind of not having to deal with ads and have a great drawing app is worth it to me.  I wish this app had been around when my kids were younger!  

Often as homeschoolers, we're looking for simple rewards that motivate kids to get their work done, but are still beneficial.  This app is one of them!  The drawing portion helps kids work on their fine motor control--which can help improve handwriting.  Kids could use either a stylus or their finger to draw.  The stationary drawing screen is something I much prefer for my kids over flashing images which don't require kids to develop a steady focus.  The minimal writing and the cloze sentences would be a good reinforcement for kindergarteners and first graders.   It's a fun, easy to use app for kids.  The last thing that I loved is that I could create a separate account for each of my children and it saved their drawings.  

If you're looking for an easy to use drawing app for your kids--I'd definitely check this one out!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this app, but that these opinions are my own.

Designing Curriculum

When one is homeschooling, there are two ways of choosing curriculum.  The first is to purchase an all-in-one curriculum.  This could be an all-in-one that integrates multiple subjects like My Father's World or Sonlight.  Or it could be an all-in-one that puts everything together for individual subjects, like Abeka, Saxon, or Christian Light.

The second way to put together curriculum is to draw from different resources.  This takes more time, but it can allow you to modify and tailor your curriculum to your child's needs and to what you want to teach.  Often this can help you save a lot of money.  I read recently on Facebook where one mom was looking for alternatives to spending a thousand dollars on curriculum for one of her children.

This second way is the way I've always put together our curriculum.  I budget around $500 per year for all three of my children together.  I purchase a lot of fiction books through the school year because our library system doesn't usually have the books my kids love, but saving money on curriculum allows me to do this.

I make a list of each subject for each child for the coming year and then go subject by subject choosing curriculum.  When I find a publisher I particularly like, then they become the place I start looking.  For grades K-6, Evan-Moor, EPS books, and Harcourt were the three publishers I looked at first.

One of the resources I've often used is books from Evan-Moor.  One example of how I've used their books is their Daily Math Practice.  I use a mastery curriculum, so my kids needed a little bit of review every day.  There are homeschool curriculums, known as spiral curriculums that switch concepts every day--like a spiral--such as Horizons, Saxon, and Abeka that build in a lot of daily review.  But, there are other popular math programs like Singapore and Harcourt that move chapter by chapter from one large concept to the next--mastery curriculum.

I've gone with Harcourt Math for grades K-6 for my kids and have loved it. Harcourt publishes consumable books for grades K-2 and then hardcover texts for grades 3-6.  I also purchased the homework book for grades 3-6 because some of my children did better if they didn't have to write the problem down and only needed to focus on doing the problems.  But, I needed some way to add some review work in every day for my kids since it is a mastery curriculum.  The Evan-Moor practice books have been my solution--give 5 problems per day, which is perfect--not too much nor too little.  They are right on grade level--with grade level appropriate instructions.  There is a mixture of math problems and word problems.

Homeschooling curriculum can add up fast and one of the ways that I've saved is by buying used public school books and purchasing the Evan-Moor books--the teacher books are reproducible, so I was able to buy one book, make two copies and store it after my first child was done, and then let my third child write in the book.  I also discovered that on the Evan-Moor website, they sell student books!  They cost far less and don't have to be copied (less work for mom!).

It's been interesting transitioning into middle school and high school math after finding such a good solution for our elementary years for my kids.   But, those comments need another post of there own...

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Learning Greek...

When I began homeschooling, I read The Well-Trained Mind and found it's ideas of classical education very appealing.  I attempted to follow this model for two years, but found that it didn't work for my oldest daughter.  I had to step back and rethink how I was going to approach homeschooling if she and I were going to survive this journey!  In that process, I found that I am more of a standards based homeschooler who loves textbooks, because they help keep me on track and hold me accountable.  I have so many things going on in my head and in my life.  Having textbooks help my children know what to do next and works for us because I have very little time to plan lessons.

Not following a classical model of education means many things.  One of them is that I don't intentionally teach my children latin or Greek.  But, I am in a position with a local group now in which I advise several families who do follow the classical model.  I like to be aware of different curriculums that they might use and how those curriculums work.

I have a couple of books that follow this model that I'm going to be reviewing.  The first are a pair of books on teaching Greek.  Harvey Bluedorn, who's sons wrote the well known book The Fallacy Detective, wrote A Greek Alphabetarion:  A Primer for Teaching How to Read, Write, and Pronounce Ancient and Biblical Greek along with A Greek Hupogrammon:  A beginner's copybooks for the Greek Alphabet with Pronunciations.

Greek has always been a puzzle to me, a mystery that I didn't know how to decipher.  Like any language that one attempts to learn in addition to one's native tongue, learning Greek starts with learning the letters--how to pronounce them, memorizing their shapes, and learning how to write them.  The Greek Alphabetarion gives some vague directions on how to study the letters, but they are a little too vague for my liking.  This is where the Hupogrammon comes in.  I am very glad that the author wrote this second book with exercises for how to study the letters.  This book is well formatted and easy to navigate.  It walks the student through each letter and gives exercises which are simple and clear.  Together the two books make a great peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but alone they just aren't the same.

If I were learning Greek, I would consider this curriculum.  I have watched my husband teach two homeschooled high schoolers for the past two years.  He began with the alphabet of the language he was teaching, which took them quite some time, because it was completely foreign to their English letters.  So, I know that starting with the letters in this way is a good way to start with Greek.

I would recommend this curriculum to middle and high school students.  The workbook pages have large letters--so it would also be possible for a younger child to use the workbook if they have the propensity to do so.  The formatting of both books make these books much easier to use than many books I've seen.  The size of the font of a book can make a book daunting to a student if it is very small.

My only caveat is that you need to buy both books.  In the first book, Mr. Bluedorn writes about how to use the book and says that students/teachers must create exercises to go with the letters.  I would liken this approach to what I read in the first grade Horizons mathematics curriculum years ago when I read that I should "Teach the clock."  My mind spun--"How?  How do I teach the clock?"  I see Greek in the same way.  When a parent is unfamiliar with the language but desires to teach the material, more specific directions are needed--and that is where the second book comes in handy.  If you are interested in seeing a preview of these two books, you can find one on CBD.  Both Amazon and CBD sell these books, but a preview is only available on CBD.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of these two books from Trivium Pursuit for review, but these opinions are my own.

A fun romance to read

I have to admit that I use books as an escape.  Life can overwhelm me and so I escape into books at times.  Thankfully, I read very fast and can set down a book after reading only a few pages.  But, I really enjoy a good book.

This week I started reading Irene Hannon's Hope Harbor series.  I started late in the series, but it still made sense.  I think it is a strength of a book when you can read it as a stand alone if it is in a series. Sandpiper Cove is the third book in the series.

The book begins with Adam Stone and Lexie Graham.  Adam Stone is starting life over after getting out of prison.  He came to know the Lord while in prison through a prison ministry.  But, he's a loner, struggling to trust people and believe that he could have a different life.  Lexie Graham is a single mom dealing with her own pain.  She also happens to be Hope Harbor's police chief.  The story is really a romance more than anything else.  It follows these two characters as they come to terms with who they are.

What did I like about this romance?  It wasn't graphic about the romance and I was grateful.  The author talked about the characters' struggles.  The plot moved along at a steady pace and I enjoyed the characters themselves.  They were likeable.

Did I like it?  Yes.  Am I reading the one before it the series now?

Yes, after I finished this one, I headed over the library and picked up another book from the series...

Please note that I received a copy of this book from Revell books for review--but this review contains my own opinions!

The Value Our Culture Places on Learning Foreign Languages

A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend about homeschooling and learning foreign language.  She was asking why I thought many homeschoolers don't pursue fluency in a second language for their children.  I have noticed, as my friend has, over the years that parents and teachers have different goals when it comes to students learning foreign language.

Those goals range along a continuum from exposure, to familiarity, to basic competency, and then to varying levels of proficiency and ultimately fluency.  Even fluency in a foreign language can be rated according to different levels.  Tests have been developed to rate a person's fluency in different languages.

My husband and I do value the pursuit of fluency in a second language for our children.  I asked my husband what his thoughts were about my friend's question and he had some helpful food for thought that I want to share in this post.

He pointed out to me that in Europe and around the world, being fluent in to two languages is one of the keys to successfully getting a job as an adult.  But, in the United States, it isn't.  K-12 education is focused on preparing kids for college and getting them into college.  Many parents view sports as their children's potential ticket to a scholarship for college and they large amounts of energy into that effort.  Foreign language isn't one of those things that parents think, "This could get my kid into college."

Colleges are focused on getting students ready to enter the workforce--in the United States... not in Europe or other countries in the world.  And in the United States, being fluent in two languages is nice, but not a requirement or even needed for many jobs.

Given that we live in the United States and being fluent in two languages isn't a job requirement, why do we want our kids to pursue fluency in a second language?  What will that give our kids?  Why have we made that a priority in our homeschooling?

1.  In the past, Americans have been able to be americentric in their view of culture and language.  We live in a big country where national boundaries are not close to where many of the people live.  But, our world is increasingly connected and I believe that it will be impossible to as isolationist as we have in the past.  Learning a second language and about the culture of the countries where it i spoken breaks that mold and can help kids see a wider view of the world.

2.  Here is an article with many reasons:

In the end, we value our kids learning a foreign language because we believe it will enrich their lives in many ways!   Our kids enjoy learning French and I love seeing them enjoy it!

Friday, March 24, 2017

An Amazing Book--A Must Read for Parents

A while back, I began to read a new book that's just been published.  It's titled different: The Story of an Outside-the-box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Nathan and Sally Clarkson.  When I had seen the description of this book, I had been very curious about it.  One of my very favorite parenting books is The Journey of the Strong Willed Child by Kendra Smiley.  One of the things I love most about that book is that it includes both her perspective, her husband's perspective, and her son's.  I learned so much from seeing their different sides.  This book by Nathan and Sally Clarkson is very helpful in that same way--it is written by both Sally Clarkson, the mom, and Nathan Clarkson, her son.

This book tackles many issues parents struggle with today: anxiety, depression, ADHD, and mental
illness.  Nathan lives with OCD, anxiety, and depression.  Sally homeschooled Nathan and his siblings throughout their growing up years, so she lived with these companions of Nathan's day in and day out.  Two of her other children also live with OCD as well.  She intimately knows what it means to struggle to love your child through the ups and downs of life.  Nathan knows what it is to live with these struggles.

This book is not meant to be a one-size fits all approach to parenting children with mental illness, rather it is meant to be an encouragement to parents who are walking through these things with their own children.  But, I would recommend this to all parents.  Why?  Why would I recommend it even if your children do not live with mental illness?

Because you will know someone who is--whether you have a friend who is living with mental illness or a friend who's child lives with mental illness.  It is important to have compassion and understanding for one another.  It is especially important to be aware of these things so that we can love people well in the church!  Medicine continues to face such stigma in the church when it comes to mental illness--so much so that it is often an impediment to people getting help when they really need it.

I want to include two quotes from the book that deeply encouraged me.  The first is from Nathan on page 186.

"The TRUTH is, we live in a deeply fractured world, and we don't always have a choice about being broken.  But we do have a choice about where we let our  brokenness lead us.

We can follow it into escape or addition.

But we can also follow it straight to God.  To the One who knows us inside and out--with all our mistakes, broken parts, insecurities, and battles--and who still loves us."

And from Sally Clarkson on page 193:

"I had to learn that God never intended me to judge my children's value by how well they fit the assembly line of cultural expectations or my own dreams of what I thought motherhood should be like."

Yes!!  I believe this to be true for every child.  I have watched my children and seen the times when other adults see them for who they are and also when adults and children have expected them to fit a mold.  There was a time when I was troubled that one of my children didn't fit the mold (and still doesn't).  But, I'm no longer troubled by it because I've seen that what wasn't seen to fit has actually now become a gift!

If you are looking for a book on mental illness, parenting, and children, I'd highly recommend reading this one.  But, honestly, I think it would be an interesting and good read for any parent!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale publishing, but these opinions are my own!

Are My Kids on Track?

Are My Kids on Track? is the title of a new book by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan.  Every parent wants to know whether they are doing right by their kids.  Are we doing enough?  Are we preparing our kids for life?  Are we loving them well?  Are we good parents?

A few years ago, I read my favorite parenting book--Growing Grateful Kids.  In that book, Susie Larson says that we can't give ourselves something we don't have ourselves--so we still need to work first on our own hearts (with the Lord's help) rather than simply focus on what we see that we want to see fixed in our kids hearts.  That piece of advice has been a huge one for me that always lingers in the back of my brain.  It also dovetails nicely with this book.

Goff, Thomas, and Trevathan tackle some of the difficult life and emotional milestones of children's development.  They give separate insight and advice for boys and girls in each chapter.  Yes, they are wired differently!  I read through various pieces of advice from this book and found that the writing
sounds like counselor's voices.  The voices don't sound like that of Growing Grateful Kids or Journey of a Strong-Willed Child.  The tone of this book is more like a textbook or a reference book.  It is focused on parenting K-12th graders.  It isn't about parenting little ones.

I really like that the authors identify both stumbling blocks and building blocks for boys and girls.
One example is what the authors wrote about the stumbling block of entitlement for boys.  There was the simple insight that boys stumble here when they believe the rules don't apply to them.  Hmm... Something to think about and something to make sure I convey to my son.

Your children or my children may not struggle with all of the stumbling blocks, but if you see some they do, the book may be helpful.    I like that the authors come back to the Word of God.  I also like that the authors continually encourage parents to look at their own patterns of behavior and responding to life and how those patterns influence their children's responses.

But, the biggest thing I would say after reading this book is that we need to love our children for who they are--not who who want them to be--or even think they should be.  As parents, we want our children to become who God has for them to be.  If you're looking for some ideas about how to tackle some emotional stumbling blocks your children are wrestling with, this may be a book worth checking out!

Please note that I received a copy of this book from Bethany House books, but that this review contains my own opinions.

When the ending doesn't work...

This afternoon I finished a book by one of my favorite authors, but I cringed.  The ending didn't work!  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

A while back, Ann Gabhart published the first book in her Hidden Springs Mystery series, Murder at the Courthouse.  I enjoyed her foray into writing a mystery.  The second book in the series was published, Murder Comes by Mail, was again a fun read!  So, I looked forward to the third book in this series when I discovered it was set to come out this spring!  Murder No Accident followed right along with the main character, Michael.

As the deputy sheriff in Hidden Springs, Michael has a pretty calm life--except the occasional murder.  There is his Aunt Lindy, the matriarch of the town, and the lawyer next door who is the grandfather of the girls he's loved since he was a kid.  The book can be read alone, but you get to
know the characters over the course of the trilogy.

In this third book, Murder No Accident, of course there is a murder that Michael must solve.  At first, he wants to believe it is an accident, but as the story goes on Michael realize that it wasn't an accident.  The story moves slowly and only picks up the pace at the very end.

But, I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first two.  I recommend the first two heartily! They are fun to read.  My enjoyment of this book, though, was diminished by the ending.  The way I read the ending someone was guilty and the response of the characters didn't make sense to me.  Then, the very, very ending of the book seemed out of character for it.  It sounded like Ms. Gabhart's other books, but not this one.  Her writing style has been different in these mysteries and I have enjoyed it.
I was so puzzled by these two things.  The climax and ending of a book can make or break it, in my opinion.  In this case, the book wasn't the same for me after I had finished the ending.

If you're looking for a fun, pretty wholesome mystery that isn't very graphic, I'd highly recommend this series!  But, I'd also recommend sticking with the first two books of the series and not the third.

Please note that I received a copy of this book for review from Revell books, but these opinions are very much my own and how I felt after reading the book!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Reflecting on This is Us

A month ago, I started noticing a bunch of posts from friends about a tv show, This is Us.  I was curious, so I opened a new tab and watched the available episodes of the show.  But, I seem to have had the opposite reaction that many people I know have had to this show.

I don't like it.

This is one of those times when I have felt puzzled and so I began asking the question, "Why don't I like it?"

Yesterday, after leaving Bible study, I was able to articulate part of why.  We're going through the book A Praying Life by Paul Miller and our discussion was about chapter 23.  It focused on understanding that our suffering is part of God's story that He is weaving.  Mr. Miller gave some advice on how to cope with suffering and this is my paraphrased of his advice.
                 1.  Surrender.
                 2.  Look for God's story and what he's doing.
                 3.  Stay in the story.  Hang in there.

One of my friend's mentioned her childhood and the difference between her childhood and her own children's childhood.  I often think about this.  But, yesterday, I thought about it in a new way.

I thought of my mom's life while I was a child.  I loved my mom then and love her now.  She protected me the best she could and the one time she didn't, she quickly learned the consequences of that and never did that again.  My mom didn't have a college education or even a community college education, but supported me in school and college.  I was a very strong willed child, but the freedom she gave me made want to turn to her and tell her everything.  My mom's life as a wife stayed the same during her marriage and didn't improve until she got a divorce from my dad.

My childhood was tense and without laughter.  It was lonely and mostly unhappy.  I don't have that many happy memories of being a kid.  I grew up in a big house, but a big house doesn't mean someone's happy.  Never judge a book by its cover.  I was introverted as a measure of self protection.

But, my children's childhood is very different than mine and for this I am immensely grateful.  We laugh every day.  They have friends, even if only a few, they do have good friends.  And they have each other--and they enjoy playing with each other (which my brother and I did not)!  And my life as a mom is different than my mom's.  My marriage has God at the center of it, holding my husband and I together.  In the years we have been married, we have grown.  Life may not be the exact way I want it to be and I may not have all that I want (intangible things), but my life with my husband is marked by change and growth.  God has grown me.  He has grown my husband.  And he has grown us together.

There are actually several reasons why This is Us bothers me.  The first is that it's a show about self-centered characters.  Even though the show is telling the story simultaneously of the adults' childhood and their adulthood (going back and forth between the two), each of the characters is very self centered on their own issues.  The main character of the three adult children, Randall, spends the majority of all the scenes I've seen blaming his mother and being angry at her.  One predominant theme of the show is blame.

I have a teenage daughter and one who is in her tween years.  Sometimes I worry that as adults they will look back on their childhoods and wish that I parented differently.  I worry sometimes that they will blame me if they have problems as adults.  This show feeds into that fear and it's not good for me.

It's easy to start focusing on what we don't have, but rather we should be focusing on what God has given us and what He's doing in our lives.  This is what God reminded me to look at.  He reminded me this week that those things I want most--He is giving me--but they don't look at all like I wanted them to.  So, if I'm not looking for how God is working, I'm going to miss it.

I'm not a perfect parent.  I know I'm going to make mistakes.  I know I have already made mistakes. But, I'm grateful for the life God is giving me, my husband, and our children--even though it's not perfect.  It is marked by suffering of a different kind than I experienced as a child.  Our family has walked through some tough stuff--like everyone I know.  But, there is a story there--one that God is weaving even now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Escaping into Fiction

Sometimes I wish I read books a little more slowly, but other times, it doesn't bother me.  Last week, I sat down with a new book by Tamera Alexander, A Note Yet Unsung.

It is the story of a young woman returning to the south during the Reconstruction Era after the US
Civil War.  The young woman, Rebekah, has been forced to return home from Austria, where she had been living for several years.  It was not by choice that she returns home, but rather because of the death of her grandmother.  She is a musician, but at the time women were not allowed to play in orchestras.  They were a male-only profession.  This fictional story is of her attempt to play and perform.  She becomes the assistant to the local Orchestra Conductor and an invaluable aid to his work.  Due to her home situation, she was also unable to return to her mother's home where her stepfather lives, but she finds a live-in position as a music instructor.  The main plot of the story unfolds bit by bit from there.

The plot kept me engaged and I wanted to know how the story ended, though I was surprised and a bit disappointed that there were certain rabbit trails the author dangled in front of the reader, but didn't really expand upon.  I liked the main character of the story and the unpredictableness of one of Rebekah's employers.  Rebekah was very likeable.  The ending left me cringing a little though because it felt a little too idealistic and fairy tale-like given the social mores of the time.  But, that is often what Christian historical fiction is.

This book is one of a series "A Belmont Mansion Novel", but the ending didn't lead me to believe that there will be a distinct sequel.  This is actually the first book I've read by this author and it was fine.  I enjoyed the story.  I don't think I'd go out of my way to get her new books as soon as they're published, but she's a safe one.  When I'm at the library, looking for something to read, I would pick up one of the other books in this series.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher--but these opinions are my own and I chose to write this review.

My aha moment with teaching high school writing to homeschoolers!

Okay. So I had an aha moment. 

I do not use IEW and I do not follow the classical model for writing. 

I follow the model of students writing first sentences (K-2), paragraphs (3-5), then essays (4-8). when they write (I've used Write Source from Great Source for K-6) they learn many different forms: how to writing, cause and effect writing, compare/contrast, descriptive, narrative, poetry... In 7th grade, I wrote my own curriculum that focused first on Show, Don't Tell Writing (lots of printables online for free), then moved into poetry--choosing words on purpose, then into narrative writing where description naturally fits, and then into non-fiction narrative. We end that year with compare/contrast writing. 

This year, we began with summarizing, moved into when to paraphrase, quote, and summarize, and then into a research paper. The research paper was where the waters got muddy. It's an enormous undertaking and I needed to break it down. We started with how to tell what was a good source on the internet and what wasn't (found an awesome presentation on this online!) then chose a topic and evaluated several online sources for info. 

We moved towards writing the research paper, but I still felt like I was treading water a little and that was when my aha moment came! We had started outlining. First phrases and then sentence outline, but I was missing a piece and this it...

In K-8 students learn the forms of writing. Teachers explain when to use this form (and this connection should be also made when they are reading) and the structure of it. Then, in 8th grade they transition... ! 

They must now do 2 thing: 
1. They must be able to write research papers. They must take notes, and then decide what approach is best for the essay (there's a page in that Glencoe book that explains this). Then they outline based on the form they've chosen. For longer papers, you need to combine more than one approach/form ie. for postmodernism, my student is going to begin with a definition, move into a compare/contrast, and end with a cause/effect. 
2. They must read a writing prompt and identify which approach/form is best for that prompt. This is where homeschoolers tend to be weak. We don't want to teach to the test (myself included), but I realized when I started grading my daughter's tests that I have to teach her how to take tests and she does also have to do well on the SAT/ACT because that is what colleges want to see (external validation that she can do fine in college). 

This is huge for me, because I need to make sure that my children can write in all these forms and now I see the big picture of why I'm teaching them how to write all these different ways to begin with!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book #2... Waiting for #3

I find that it is hard to keep track of series of books when one has to wait several months between their publishing.  But, sometimes I happen upon the first and then subsequent books in a series.  Honestly, I prefer to read a series when it has all already been published--because then I don't have to wait!

Last year, I began reading the books by one particular author, Susan May Warren.  She had written two different series set in Deep Haven, Minnesota.  One was about a fictional family, the Christiansens.  The second was several interconnected stories about people who lived in that same town.  I enjoyed the stories more than I enjoy most stories.  So, I looked forward to the books in her new Montana Rescue series.  A few months ago, I reviewed the first novel of the series: Wild Montana Skies.  Then, a week ago, I got to read the second book in the series, Rescue Me.

Rescue Me follows two characters that appear near the end of the first book, Sam Brooks and Willow.  I didn't remember much about these two characters from the first book, so my opinion is that this second book is fine as a stand alone novel.  Of course, the ending leaves the reader with questions, and waiting for the third book.  

This story begins with Willow, a girl who's path has not been a traditional one.  She never graduated from high school, but loves the youth at her church with a passion.  Her sister Sierra is dating the man, that Willow has had a crush on for years.  But, in the story, Sam and Willow end up on an adventurous hike together with some youth.  And the story goes from there...

I like Ms. Warren's characters and her writing.  She isn't too graphic in how she writes romantic scenes and I am glad for this.  Her books are very easy and quick to read.  I have to admit that I read her books simply for fun.  They are light-hearted Christian fiction with some drama thrown in!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell Publishing but that these opinions are entirely my own.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Easy to Use Art Curriculum

Where I live (Maryland), art is a required subjects for homeschoolers in grades K-8.  What counts as art?  That's a good question.

Art appreciation is art.
Arts and crafts is art.
Drawing is art.
Painting is art.
Photography is art.
Interior Design is art.
Lettering and calligraphy are art.
Graphic Design is art.
Sculpture is art.
Cartooning is art.
Stop animation is art.

What parents choose to do for art depends on what they want and the importance they place on art.  I remember when my oldest daughter started drawing.  I didn't think much of it.  She could draw.  I signed up for a few random art classes.  But, as she grew older, I realized that she could take an assignment and run with it.   My husband and I saw that art needed to be a priority in our family, particularly in her case.

I've used a few different curriculums over the years.  I love Laura Chapman's older art textbooks for grades 1-6, because they incorporate both art appreciation and art projects.  My favorite arts and crafts books are Williamson Kids Can Books.  They're inexpensive to buy used and they use supplies you usually keep around the house.  For a video drawing curriculum, I loved See the Light Shine's video art curriculum.  It was an investment for the set, but we would do one lesson each week and practice that lesson the following week--which extended the length of the set for us.  There are a bunch of free resources on their site that are worth checking out.  This year I am teaching art to a group using one of Laura Chapman's book along with Animation Lab for Kids, which they are enjoying.

But, what if you're in the same place I am--trying to figure out how to fit everything in and art isn't a huge priority?  Or you want a simple art appreciation curriculum to use along with an arts and crafts curriculum...  Well, I was recently sent a curriculum to review that I really like.  I like the focus of the curriculum and how simple it would be to use.

The curriculum is titled A Child's First Introduction to Art:  What do you see?.  It was written by Laurie Bluedorn.

It is only available as an ebook, but you can print the pages of questions so that you can view the art on a computer or tablet at the same time.  This curriculum has three volumes so far.  Each ebook is $2.99 on Amazon.  The first volume is focused on center of interest and includes ten pictures with questions for each.  I liked what the author did with the questions and in choosing a focus.  This curriculum would be easy to use in a multi-age setting with kids in grades K-8.  I would discuss one picture a week and use it along with a practical art curriculum to help children learn how to look at art and think about what they are seeing.  I think the discussion of each picture would take between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on how much your children love to talk.  After finishing a book, you could go to an art museum with your kids and look at the art, discussing what the center of interest is in each picture to apply the lessons from this book.  The second volume is focuses on artists' use of primary colors and the third on light.

Many art curriculums have a high price tag or they are complicated to teach.  I like What Do You See? because it is so simple and straightforward.  Ms. Bluedorn did a wonderful job with it.  For students who have an artistic bent, this curriculum can provide an easy way to foster appreciation for other artsists' work.

Would What You See? be enough to satisfy my state's art curriculum requirement?  Yes.  If it meets your goals for them, then it is.  I think that getting through 1-2 volumes plus a trip to a museum (either virtual or in person) would be great exposure to art.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this curriculum for review from the author, but that these opinions are my own and I look forward to using it with my own children next year as part of our curriculum!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Alaskan Historical Christian Fiction

My mom told me recently that she loved Tracie Peterson's series set in Alaska.  It told her about an area of the United States that she didn't know much about.  She enjoyed the characters and plot.  My mom reads many Christian fiction books, so for one series to stand out to her--it had to be very enjoyable!

Tracie Peterson is now publishing another Alaskan Fiction series with a co-writer, Kimberley Woodhouse.  The Heart of Alaska begins with Book One:  In the Shadow of Denali.  The story
begins with team of men on a harrowing climb up Denali.  That's the prologue.  Skip ahead.  The team's guide and his daughter are working at a resort near Denali and the son of one of the men on the team comes to work there.  The story follows the son, Allan, as he tries to understand the mountain, the truth about his father's business, and the true character of the guide, John.

Ms. Peterson always writes easy to read novels that flow well.  There are the usual twists and turns, romantic involvements, characters who have faith in God, and those who struggle with their faith.  The novel doesn't jump around, which after reading so many books, I've grown to appreciate.  This book isn't too heavy, but there's a few suspenseful scenes.

If you enjoyed Ms. Peterson's other series set in Alaska.  I'm sure you'll love this one.  Because this is book one, it is stand alone novel that can be read alone and it doesn't leave you hanging like the first books do in some series.  I'm sure my mom is going to love this one!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethan House publishing, but my opinions are my own!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Not what I signed up for...

Something I think that we all struggle with at different points in our lives is disappointment.  But, sometimes that disappointment settles in, takes root, and can lead us down really harmful roads that damage the relationships we do have with our friends and family.

Over the past two weeks, I read three novels by Sally Johns: Ransomed Dreams, Desert Gift, and Heart Echoes.  Yesterday, I finished Desert Gift.  I enjoyed Ms. John's writing and the stories.  There was a theme in these three books that I was grateful to see addressed.  That theme was "This isn't what I signed up for".  Over the years, when I've spoken with couples getting divorced, this theme (idea) is something that I've heard.

I know that sounds like a strange theme--I could call it disappointed expectations or resentment or bitterness.  But, really, "This isn't what I signed up for" sums it up better.  It's the idea that what I (you, he/she) wanted when we took a given job, got married, or even had a child--wasn't supposed to be the way it is.  I deserve for life to be the way I (you, he/she) wanted it to be and it should be that way because what we wanted was a "good" way.  We would be happy if life was the way we wanted it to be and because life isn't, then we aren't happy, satisfied, or fulfilled.  

I was reading in Job yesterday about his plaintive calling out to the Lord, the Lord's response, and Job's friends' response.  He could have said "This isn't what I signed up for", but he didn't.  He says to his wife at the beginning--

Job 2:10 NIV   He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

I've been wrestling with the idea that if something is good and we want that good thing--shouldn't we have it--isn't it okay?  If God doesn't take away the desire, doesn't that mean that He condones and supports that desire?  Someone said this to me and it didn't sit with me.  There are many good things that I've wanted in my life and God hasn't given me.  Does that mean that I should take things into my own hands and do what I can to get them myself?  Should I push?  

I have been trying to think through this idea "This isn't what I signed up for" and formulate a clear, biblical response to it.  I've come to a couple of conclusions.

First, God is sovereign and everything is in His control.  He opened my womb and closed it.  I have three children, but I had a miscarriage before I had my oldest daughter.  I have seen Him use that in my life many times over, though it was so painful.  He knew me before I was born.  I trust that He knows better than I do what is best for me.  

Second, not all of God's gifts and how He takes care of me is going to feel good.  
Romans 5:3-5   3Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character;and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.…

Third, sometimes God gives us desires that we need to sacrifice and surrender to him.  We need to sacrifice what we have wished for in order to love our spouses, children, and family better.  We choose them over what we want.  That is something that God uses to teach us not to be selfish.  Are we listening to them?  Thinking of them?  Loving them or ourselves first?  Tit for tat is a destructive cycle.  

Our pastor painted a picture yesterday at the beginning of the sermon that fits into this discussion well.  He explained that there is certain protocol about how we should receive and respond to gifts when we open them.  Imagine someone opening a gift, frowning, and saying "This isn't what I wanted."  or "I don't want this--can you return it and get... which is what I want?"  or simply "I don't like this.  It isn't what I asked for."  Sadly, some people really do say these things when they receive gifts.  

Once I did when I was a senior in college.  I opened a gift from a relative and didn't know what it was.  I was struggling to have enough food to eat, pay my bills, and my feet were cold (I asked for socks and a room heater that Christmas).  Because I didn't know what the gift was, I cried.  The giver thought I was a selfish brat because she thought I had more than ample financial resources and didn't know what my life was really like.  It wasn't until years later that I had the chance to explain and apologize for my reaction.  The giver understood and forgave me for my response.  

But, when people say things like that in response it comes from the heart.  Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there are heart will be also...  What comes from our mouths reflects our hearts.  Can you imagine saying those things about a gift to God?  

God, this isn't what I wanted.  I don't want it--take it back and give me the life I wanted.  This isn't the life I expected, so change it.  Now.  

No!  We probably would not talk like that to God out loud, but sometimes our hearts can feel those things when we start telling ourselves "This isn't what I signed up for... and it isn't what I want."  Isn't it the same thing, but with different words?  

I don't want to be that ungrateful receiver--when it comes to God or anyone else in my life.  No, my life has not turned out the way I expected or wanted it to.  Yes, it is very hard at times.  Very hard.  All of our lives are hard at times.  

But, we all have a choice when that thought creeps into our minds... "This isn't what I signed up for..."  

We can say to ourselves, "So I'm going to get out."  or "I'm going to get what I want myself".  

Or we can say to God, "Thank you for what you've given me because I know that you know me better than I know myself and you know what I really need.  What I want isn't as important as what I need."  and choose to focus on being grateful instead of resentful.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inspiring Creativity

When my oldest daughter received her ipad for her birthday, she discovered iMovie.  Within a few weeks, she had created a few fun trailers that made us all laugh.  Then, my son asked to use my camera to make a stop-motion lego animation movie.

I began the search for resources to help them pursue this new interest of theirs.  I found two great books for their specific interests. 

The first is titled Animation Lab for Kids by Laura Bellmont and Emily Brink.  Ms. Bellmont and
Ms. Brink are artists and art educators.  This book is perfect for art educators trying to teach a small class or a small group of students about animation from the base up.  

But, I am not an art educator.  I was a classroom educator and am now a homeschooler.  Is this a good book for me?  for other home educators like me?  Yes, but it isn't one that you can just pick up and run with.  What I know about homeschoolers is that we become students of our students.  We often have to learn how to teach our children what they want to know or explore new things together with them.  Animation is one of those things for me and I suspect it is for many parents!  

This book had tons of great directions and activities in it.  The children in the pictures of this book look to be about ages 6-8.  But, I think that the activities in this book would be much better suited to children ages 8-12 years old.  

I did several of the activities with my children who are in that age range.   I learned several things.  The most important of which is to do each activity yourself first.  The authors include basic directions, but in order to teach students how to do these projects it would be wise to make each of the projects yourself first and see what makes a project work or not work.  For example, with the zoetropes--project #1.  I learned in doing the project that it needed to be done in pen, pencil wasn't dark enough.  There also needed to be a progression, not a back and forth.  My kids enjoyed the project and so did I.  To introduce the project, I showed a video about Pixar's Zoetrope that was very interesting!

And then we commenced on our project!  Our zoetropes were successful.  I learned that 1.  Don't draw the pictures in pencil--they must be drawn in color or black ink to be easily seen.  2.  It is helpful for kids to draw the number of pictures they need on a separate sheet of paper first and then on the zoetrope paper.

Over the following weeks, we've done several more projects.  I've noticed a couple of things.  My artist daughter runs with the projects.  (It's her zoetrope above.)  Last week, we made a downshoot animation project.  Below are my oldest daughter's pictures.

There were several more pictures in between that when strung together form an animation sequence.  In doing this project, I noticed several things about this book.  My daughter ran with this project.  The projects in this book lend themselves to huge creative explorations.  The projects plant seeds of how to do things.  My daughter thought of changing the size and angle of the girl on the bird in the pictures.  I didn't tell her to do that.

After seeing my daughter run with this project, I realized that this book was written by art educators--and so art educators will read these directions in the book and run with them-- like my daughter did.  For me, someone who loves art but isn't trained as an art educator, I needed to do the projects ahead of time and still need to be flexible when I hit snags with a project.  Doing the projects helped me see what extra directions I needed to give and what set up I needed to do before class.

I love this book because it is the perfect low-tech jumping off point to introduce my kids to animation.

In the case of my son, his creativity is focused on legos.  So, I found an animation book at his level focused specifically on Legos.  For Christmas, we gave him The Lego Animation Book: Make Your Own Lego Movies! by David Pagano and David Pickett.  My son is only in 3rd grade so this book was perfect for him.  He had checked out Brick Flicks! from the library, but that book is written at a high school/adult reading level.  He sunk his teeth into that book, but it was tough for him--which is why I went looking for another book.

The Lego Animation book, on the other hand, was perfect.  The formatting and directions on how to make a Lego movies.  There were even pictures to show how to build some things and pictures to show simple sequences.  That is something that was missing from the Animation Lab for Kids Book.  I think this book is perfect for kids 8-13 years old.  It's very accessible and easy to follow.  The formatting makes the text easy to focus on and understand.

Please note that I received a copy of Animation Lab for Kids from the publisher for review, but this review is my own opinion.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Finding Books to Read... Aloud

When I started teaching, there was a book that was recommended to all new teachers--The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  The beginning of the book is really a treatise on why reading aloud matters.  But, most homeschooling parents don't need to be convinced.  The ones I know and have met have all believe reading aloud is a good and important thing to do.  But, if you're looking for a book on why one should read aloud, The Read Aloud Handbook will explain why it is important and "how" to do it.

Most parents, like my husband and I, want to read aloud books to our children, but struggle at times coming up with books we want to read aloud--especially at the younger ages.  So, we search.  We look for lists of books for independent reading and we look for lists of books for read alouds.  I live in a house of very avid readers so I am always on the lookout for new book lists!

One friend suggested that I check out a popular blog titled the Read Aloud Revival.  It is written Sarah Mackenzie and some other young moms.  I think it's kind of funny that it's called a revival--because school teachers have been reading aloud to children for decades, as have homeschool parents.  Ms Mackenzie and her staff all have young children (age 12 or younger) and the book lists on her site clearly reflect this.  There are very few true Middle School books in her lists or books for advanced readers.  Her lists and blog are heavily bent towards younger children.   I found her lists to be very narrow and with some big holes for all ages.

At about the same time, I read through the list The Classical Reader: A Comprehensive Reading Guide by Dr. Christopher Perrin.  I took issue with this book (and wrote the lone 2 star review for it on Amazon).  I didn't agree with the author's leveling of the books and felt that he had inaccurately leveled books on several occasions.  I was also concerned that there was no modern realistic fiction included in the book.  Surprisingly, Dickens' novels are considered realistic fiction by this author, though I would disagree and assert that they are now historical fiction.   By high school, even in the classical model, students should be reading books that give them a well rounded understanding of the world we live in today.

Yet, in my searching of both this book, the Read Aloud Revival Website, and other lists on the web, I always simply looked for lists of books to read.  I didn't separate books for reading aloud and independent reading.  I had concluded that if one was good for one, then it must be good for the other. But, then I came across a book that specifically lists books good for reading aloud.

Nathaniel Bluedorn, one of the authors of The Fallacy Detective, wrote a book titled Hand that Rocks the Cradle:  400 Classic Books for Children.  It is a list of the books his mom read to his siblings and him when he was growing up--with some additions by his brothers, sisters, and him.  At the beginning of the book, he gives a very short explanation about the books included and what children gain from hearing stories.  One interesting thing to not is that all of the books included in this list are fiction.

As I read through the list, I enjoyed reading the book descriptions and seeing what books were included.  I found more than a few that I look forward to reading with our children in the future.  As my husband and I discussed the list, I brought up a few that I thought were missing.  My husband pointed out to me that he didn't think the books I mentioned would be good for reading aloud.  I think this is because there are some books when savored and read alone, one can get lost in the book differently than when it is read aloud in the presence of others.  It is a rare list that includes many books that I haven't heard of and I'll be honest, this book had several books that I'll be purchasing to read to my children.  This was quite a pleasant surprise to me!  The descriptions included made me curious about many of the books.  I appreciated particularly that they were rated by age range at which they were appropriate.  A simple, 1/2/3 system, not specific grade levels.  Most families have multiple children and ages that they are reading to, so I think this would be very helpful.  For personal reading, Honey for a Teen's Heart also rates books by both age and maturity level with similar guidelines.  I have found this to be very helpful with my advanced readers.

This book is a welcome addition to our homeschooling reference books and is going to occupy a revered spot alongside my two faithful reference books by Gladys Hunt (Honey for a Child's Heart and Honey for a Teen's Heart).  I love both of these books and they are two of essential books I'd recommend to homeschoolers because of the author's discussions of reading, book descriptions, and book lists.  But, Hand that Rocks the Cradle: 400 Classic Books for Children is an important companion because reading aloud and reading independently are different!

Please note that I received a copy of this book from the author for review, but that these opinions are all my own.