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Friday, January 30, 2009


Monday, we made an impromptu trip to Disney thanks to passes that my brother's generous Christmas/birthday gifts helped to pay for. We went to the Studios, which was bittersweet since it has changed so much. The kids enjoyed it. We saw Star Tours (which Sari was tall enough to ride, so we all rode, but Mimi didn't want to and then nearly tossed her cookies afterward. Sari hated it too. FUN!) We also got to do a special thing that day and be in the audience for America's Funniest Home Video. They weren't taping the show. They were screening the video candidates for the 100,000 grand prize, and Scott and I got to vote for our favorite. We got t-shirts for participating. It was fun, and the kids love that show so they were excited.
After that, we spent some time in the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Playground (which I helped open many years ago) and then caught the High School Musical show while waiting to go into the car stunt show.
Mimi said it wasn't very good because they didn't use the real people from the movie :-).
I'd never seen the car show before, and it was good, but loud. Scott was already having a horrible Sensory day, and it was not pleasant for any of us, so that show, while he did enjoy it, was not the best pick in those circumstances. We finished off with The Great Movie Ride, which we rode twice so we could do both the "A" and "B" shows. The kids all agreed that they like the gangster best. So do I, although that's where I sprained my ankle and broke a bone in my foot. It still bothers me on days I'm on my feet a lot.
We left Disney by 3:30 because we had to be home by 5. Our life insurance guy came at 5 to discuss our coverage. Our old term policy expired and we needed new coverage, so we have to revamp everything. I like our insurance guy a lot, which is good. He understands our needs (both for future provision and for being able to pay the bills now). Since my husband is self employed and I am a homeschooling mom, we feel life insurance is important for both of us so if one of us dies the survivor is not facing a huge change in life circumstances.
It was a busy day, but worth it.
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Last week-end

Last Saturday started with me going up to church with Mimi for a children's ministry work day. I slept in (woo-hoo) so I did not get there when it started, but I put in a good hour and a half. While I was there, my husband (who thinks I should now refer to him as "the Hubs"...not likely, LOL), spent the morning putting the finishing touches on the kids' Pinewood derby cars. The Pinewood Derby is a big event in Cub Scouts. REALLY BIG. You take a block of wood, 4 "axles" (more like nails), and 4 wheels and craft them into the car of your imagination. Of course, they are meant to be done "as much as is possible" by the scout. But what 7 year old uses power tools? Really? When the Derby started, the boys literally whittled their cars from wood blocks. Now? Now everything is done to optimize winning. Cars are shaped, sanded, painted, and poly-ed. Axles and wheels are sanded too to remove even the slightest burr. And then graphite is added to the wheels so they have a dry lubricant. Then you weigh them. Your initial kit weighs in at 5 oz for the block of wood and the axles and wheels, and that's the weight you want. So then you have to add weight to your finished car to make up for the wood you carved off. And you want it to be as close to 5 oz without going over as is humanly possible. Tell me what 7 year old does all this? NONE!!!! These are really the dad's events, because tell me what 7 year old wants to LOSE? NONE!!! So they will let their dads "help" in the name of winning. It's crazy, I tell you.
Anyway, to show you how crazy it is, the finish line is electronic, and measures the time to the ten-thousandths of a second. Yep, you read that right. And in some heats like the one below, all four finishers had the same time until you went to the hundredths of a second.

TJ came in second in his den by 5 THOUSANDTHS of a second. Oh, and they dropped your lowest speed, so really he won his den because his speeds were all very uniform, but the boy who won in the den actually lost to TJ when they raced each other. Lost by 5 tenths of a second. But that was his lowest race, so they dropped that score. Oh well, it's all meant to be for fun anyway.
Here's TJ's car winning one of his races.

And did I mention there were sibling races? So my husband had to do this whole process 3 times? ARGH!!!! Below are our 3 cars.

Sunday, of course, we had church. I was serving as our "Children's Ministry Counselor", or what we call the Dorcas (after Dorcas in the Bible, but our husbands have talked about getting shirts that say, "If my wife is a Dorcas, does that make me a DORK?". Tee-hee, how many can I order??? Basically, the Dorcas just takes kids to the potty, helps calm crying little ones, gets snacks ready for the toddlers, etc. It's a floating position, and I enjoy doing it. My husband was, as always, in the sound booth, although this time he ran the sound and someone else did the power point. I can't remember what we did the rest of the afternoon. Mostly little projects around the house like replacing lightbulbs that require ladders, etc.
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I hate having a lame blog

I have just been tired lately. Too tired to blog. I know, weird, huh? I sit at my computer several times a day, but actually taking the time to be purposeful in writing has not fit in with our chaotic life, so I decided to try a recap of our week.
Stay tuned for each installment :-).
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Today is the Day ... FIREPROOF Arrives in Stores!

Okay, this is lazy-man's blogging, but I need to get to Precept and I want to be everyone knows about this so I am just cutting and pasting from Fireproof's e-mail.
I know what I'm watching tonight ;-).
Four months ago, a movie opened in 839 theaters across the country. A team of 1,200 volunteers from a church in southwest Georgia came together to create an action-packed love story with a heart to impact marriages.

Then a team of passionate fans took over. While most in Hollywood didn't even take notice of the opening of FIREPROOF, Action Squads were buying out show times and purchasing enough tickets to bring it to their towns.

While the Hollywood blockbusters were playing on 2,500 screens or more, FIREPROOF still opened as the No. 4 movie in the country and had the second-highest per-screen average. And that was only the beginning. By the time the film ended its theatrical run, more than 4 million people had seen it, and it was the No. 1 independent film of 2008.

Starting today, FIREPROOF is available at your favorite store!
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Monday, January 26, 2009

Critical Thinking Co.'s Building Thinking Skills Review

My grandfather was an amazing man. The older I get, the more I appreciate him and wish he was still alive so my children could benefit from his influence as much as I did. He was a man of many passions, but the one that stands out clearest to me is that he felt learning to think critically and analyze a problem to find the solution was the most important skill you could develop. To that end, he constantly challenged us with brain teaser to figure out, puzzles both physical and mental to solve, and games that would force us to really think about our every move if we had any hope of beating him, or even holding our own. He was not a man to hand a youngster a win to spare their feelings, he wanted them to earn it with critical thinking skills.
Maybe that's why I LOVE The Critical Thinking Company so much. I've never met a product of theirs I didn't like. Many years ago, I received one of their books as a freebie (I think it was with my subscription to TOS :-). I was sold when I opened the first page. That book was Mind Benders, and features a bunch of those problems like "A boy, a girl, and their dad each have a pet dog. The girl's dog wears a collar and is smaller that her dad's dog. The dad's dog is not the biggest or the smallest." Then it has a chart with pictures of the dogs across the top and of the people down the side, and you fill in Y or N to figure out whose dog is whose. I worked through them with Scott back then, and he enjoyed them. I liked that the chart was already there, so all he had to figure out (at that age level) was the "yes" or "no".
Fast forward a bit to Scott's therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder. His therapist showed up each week with all sorts of pages for him to work on to strengthen his visual discrimination skills and fine motor skills. Where did those worksheets come from? Critical Thinking's Visual Perception Skill Building.
Then this past May, I picked up their Beginning Word Roots to work through with Scott because I tink he really ought to know some basic prefix/suffix/root meanings since that aids in vocabulary comprehension. We've been doing a section or so a week, and he has enjoyed it. It's not too much written work, which he really likes.

Given my love for Critical Thinking's offerings, I was thrilled to receive their Building Thinking Skills books for Level 1 (2-3 grade) and 2 (4-6 grade) to review. To quote Critical Thinking's website, through these books, "Children learn to analyze relationships between objects, between words, and between objects and words as they:
Observe, recognize, and describe characteristics.
Distinguish similarities and differences.
Identify and complete sequences, classifications, and analogies."

On the "pro" side, these books are BIG. Level one is 363 pages, and Level 2 is 408-that's a lot of bang for your buck. Both are available in software form for slightly more than the book price. There are lots of different activities in these books, and my kids begged to do "just one more page". They didn't view this as "schoolwork" at all, just something fun, like a puzzle to solve. And critical thinking skills are so vital, but something that tends to be overlooked when you just focus on the 3 R's.
I suppose the $29.99 price could be a bit of a stumbling block for some people, but these are beefy books chock full of activities. The price would be the only "con" I have. And I do want to point out that not all their books are $30. In fact, most are between $10 and $20. And they have a ton of offerings, as you can see below.

The bottom line for me is that this is a no-brainer. You must try these books. I can't emphasize enough the importance of the skills they teach. These are life skills. Things they will use in every aspect of their life. Even simple things like figuring out which product is the best deal at the grocery store use critical thinking. If you want them to manage money well, they must learn critical thinking. If you want them to do well on standardized tests, they must learn critical thinking. If you want them to develop sound reasoning skills, they must learn critical thinking. Yet it's one of the subjects we spend the least amount of time working with our kids on. These books will help you bridge the gap, and your kids will have fun doing it. I can't recommend them enough!
To see what other TOS Crew members have to say, go HERE.
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All About Homophones Review

Ready for some fun? Try saying this 5 times fast!

A fly and a flea flew into a flue,
said the fly to the flea, “What shall we do?”
“Let us fly,” said the flea.
Said the fly, “Shall we flee?”
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

Wait! There's more...What do you call bunny fur? Hare hair.

So what does that have to do with this review?
All About Homophones is an all new resource from the company that puts out All About Spelling, which I reviewed HERE. Available in both print and e-book format, All About Homophones will help you and your children learn more than you ever knew there was to know about homophones, and that's no small feat(not feet-those are what you walk on). Okay, all play-on-words aside, homophones are those words that sound alike when you say them, but are spelled differently. They can be a big challenge for beginner readers and spellers, since you just have to know which one to use depending on what the meaning is you are looking for.
At 240 pages long, All About Homophones is very comprehensive. It is divided into sections, and features everything from basic worksheets for the word and its definition to fill in the blanks to homophone cards and tons of games to play with them to crossword puzzles, limericks and tongue twisters (like the one above), and riddles.
To me, this book has lots of "pros". It's unique in its singular focus on homophones, and it covers them with far more detail than any other resource I've seen. The homophones are divided into suggested grade levels to give you some guidance as to what to introduce when. The use of crossword puzzles, tongue twisters, and riddles adds a ton of fun to something that must be learned by memory and will be a lifelong struggle if it's not. And to covers all learning styles, from visually seeing, to kinesthetic game playing, to hearing them in the riddles. It also covers different teaching styles, so if straight forward presentation is more your thing the worksheets and word/definition pages will be great for you, but if you teach in a more laid back way, the tongue twisters and riddles may be more your style.
As far as "cons" go, the biggest one I can see is the price. The print book is $29.95, and the e-book is $27.95. At 240 pages, printing the e-book, even just the pages you need, would add to the price significantly, and therefore I don't think the e-book is priced low enough. True, e-books give you a non-consumable resource, but still, I feel there should be a more sizable difference in the price. And while this resource is meant to cover grades 1-8, it still might be a hefty price for one topic in one subject, and certainly one that will be supplemental to whatever other curriculum you are currently using for language arts.
Luckily, I have a special offer if you are interested in the product, but want it at a better price! FOR THIS WEEK ONLY, you can get $10 off either version! Simply go to All About Homophones' website HERE and enter the word FUN in the customer code box when you order. This offer is only good through February 2nd, so be sure to order now to get the best deal!
So what's the bottom line? I think this is a really well put together book. It has tons of activities and I definitely need to cover this material with my kids because these are some of their most common spelling errors. BUT, I'm probably too thrifty to buy it full price. I would consider getting the e-book at the $10 off price though. I like the e-book format because there is no shipping and it's always there and you can print the number of pages you need.
To read what other members of the TOS Crew have to say, go HERE.
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Doesn't everyone have...

a bunny in a dog crate in the middle of their galley kitchen?
I should probably explain :-).
The dog was at the vet since we had been out of town and they were closed by the time we got back. And that night was going to be in the 20's. So first we set up this cozy abode for the cat, but he decided being an indoor caged kitty was HIGHLY overrated and whined until we let him back out. So I went and brought the bunny in instead. And he stayed in for 2 days. He's litter trained, and so easy and quiet and nice. Maybe we'll keep the bunny inside and throw the dog outside, LOL.
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Gotta love weather in the Sunshine State

So on Friday we went from this

And this
(That's broken up ice on the bottom of our slide...the kids used a steak knife to break it up. OIY!) This was our third hard freeze night in a row.

But by the afternoon we were doing this
Yep, that's them filling the small turtle pool with water. Their "unique" attire is from the circus they dreamed up to perform for me (it was really quite good). TJ and Sari both ended up getting wet, but by this time the temp was in the 70's and they did not seem to mind.
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

A first of many...

We went to the CC Pastor's Conference this week, and it was great. The kids LOVED the childcare programs, and even Sari went willingly into her class, which was an answer to prayer. In fact, she didn't want to go home, and said she likes that church and wants to go THERE, LOL. The volunteers who worked with the kids really showed the love of Christ, and the kids soaked it up.
We encountered what will probably be the first of many challenges with Sari's name. Those of you who know us know Sari isn't her real name. She has one of the double first Mary Jane...that always leaves people feeling unsure whether you really mean Mary Jane or whether Mary is close enough. I can totally relate. I feel the same way. Especially when the names are, well, odd. And seemingly don't go together. I mean, Mary Jane is acceptable; old fashioned and sweet. But if someone introduces their daughter as Justine Elizabeth, you know your first gut reaction is to assume that the name she is called by is Justine, and not Justine Elizabeth. Or Alexis Macaiah. Do you really call her that? And isn't one of those usually a BOY's name? But once you know the child, and get over that initial weird feeling, you realize that their name is their name, and it fits them.
Anyway, all I can say is that God gave me Sari's name. I mean that earnestly. I knew the moment that she was conceived that I was pregnant, it was a girl, and her name was to be the name she has. And neither name had every been a consideration for any of our other kids. It was a God thing.
So at the Pastor's Conference one of the wonderful teachers in her class just didn't get the double name thing and constantly referred to her by just the first name. Sari doesn't answer to that. Honestly, she doesn't even realize that people are talking to or about HER if they just use the first part of her name.
So there's the quandary. Do you correct the nice lady who keeps saying "Mary" to her instead of "Mary Jane" and writes "Mary" on her paperwork and belongings? Or do you just let it go since the other volunteers seem to get it and you are only there for a short time? For the record I did just let it go because I abhor awkward situations, but then I felt bad because I was perpetuating her ignorance. On the flip side, today someone introduced Mimi as Elizabeth, and I did correct them, and felt even worse because I abhor awkward situations and correcting another adult is one of those too.
So what to do?
Somehow I think I'm going to have lots of opportunities to figure it out over the next few years :-).
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Do you do this?

Does anyone else avoid the very thing they should be doing? I need to pack...we leave in the morning for 3 days at the CC pastor's conference...BUT, I don't want to. I hate packing. At home, the kids dress themselves. When we go away, I have to figure out what 4 children will wear for 3 days...with a cold front coming Tuesday...while they are at a "camp" with outdoor activities...oh, and all their stuff has to be labeled with our "family number" and their name...and they all need an extra set of clothes labeled too (in case the fall in the lake canoing, etc.) Add in my clothes, a sick husband who needs me to do his stuff for him, three animals who need tending too and planning for, and all the normal activities, and I just don't wanna' pack.
So I'm blogging and reading blogs instead.
Yea, that'll help :-).

Okay, off to bed so I can get up early and get it all done.

See you Wednesday evening.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Some more pics from yesterday

Being silly comes natural to this one, LOL.

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Sari and I went yesterday to one of my husband's website clients to take some pictures for their website. Sari modeled some of the clothes and fell in love with this dress. She's hoping Nana and PopPop will buy it for her to wear for Easter. I have to say, I was really expecting the prices to be much higher than they were. This dress was $38 I think...not bad for a she-she shop in Downtown MD.
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Visitors from up north

We've had visitors at our house lately. They are quite messy, but we don't mind. In fact, we only get to see them once a year and we are happy they come to see us when there are so many other places they could go too.

Who are these visitors?

The Robins. No, not a family called the Robins. The birds. Apparently, they view our camphor tree as an all-you-can eat smörgåsbord. Other than the challenges in painting a wall under the tree when berries and, well, berry eating bird by-products are constantly falling on it, they are wonderful to have around. There are literally HUNDREDS of them. Their song is amazing to hear. Scott called it a symphony, and that's truly what it sounds like. Here are some pictures of a few of our friends :-).

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What will they think of next?

This is what my sister in law got the boys for Christmas. They are cars that drive on the WALLS (or ceiling, or any smooth surface). It's crazy! They sound like little vacuum cleaners, and have a membrane on the bottom that I imagine air is pulled in through to suck them to the wall. They are pretty neat.
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Friday, January 9, 2009

Thematic Photography-New

I had the best of intentions of participating in this challenge weekly, but I forgot! This week's theme is "New" and I have a million pictures I could use from our new house paint to Sari's new haircut, but I settled on the one below:

I am choosing this photo for a few reasons. First, we were at this grove gleaning and the homeowner was unaware that this hive was even was NEW since the last day or two. But also, this type of hive is apparently rare. It's an "open" hive-it has no outer walls, and it was totally NEW to me. I've never seen, let alone heard of one before. It was amazing to see. (Click on the photo to see it better.) It almost looked fake-the combs are so white-but it was very real, and they were calling someone to move the hive a.s.a.p. Open hives don't last long since they are especially susceptible to the weather so getting them relocated quickly was important for the safety of anyone in the grove and for the survival of the bees.
To participate in Thematic Photography, go HERE.
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Mitty Kitty update

Well, we spotted Mitty Kitty today. I even lured him home (under much duress) for a few minutes. It seems Mittens is a horn-dog ;-)...can cats be horn-dogs? I digress. Anyway, there is a female cat in heat, and every Tom within a 1 mile radius has come out for the fun. Mittens has obviously staked his claim, and she seems smitten with him. Hopefully this will end soon. The good news? The female cat is not mine, LOL. Although my kids are excited about the prospect of kittens. That's when having our cat not really be our cat comes in handy. I don't have any stake in the resulting offspring.
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The other side of the lens!

We have a homeschooling friend who is a photographer. She loves to be behind the camera, but DOES NOT like to be in front of it. But there's nothing she can do when the camera is MINE, LOL. Here's looking at you Bon!
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Photo fun

Fun with B&W and tinting (I wasted over an hour trying to figure out how to tint her took my husband 3 minutes to do it when he got home...ARG!)
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Sharing a favorite

This is Mimi about a year ago. Her bangs have really grown since then. I love this picture of her.
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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Our kitty is missing :-(

I know with all the bad things in the world that our missing outdoor car is not a major thing, but he's become an important part of our family in the time since he first showed up on our door step, so if you don't mind, shoot up a little prayer that we see him in the morning. The kids don't know yet, and maybe some nice family took him indoors, but apparently there is a coyote roaming around our area, so it could be we've seen the last of our precious white kitty. Mittens has never missed a meal, so the fact that we haven't seen him is suspicious.
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Writing Contest

Exciting News from TOS!

Attention writers!
Grab your pencils and get those creative juices flowing!

The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine is hosting our second Storytime Writing Contest! We have two creative fiction categories: adults (16 and up 2,500 words or less) and children (15 and below 1,500 words or less). Deadline to enter is March 16, 2009. $7.95 fee per entry.

Grand prize winners in both the adult and child categories will receive prize packages valued at over $1,000, publication in the Summer 2009 issue of TOS, and publication in our Storytime 2009 Compilation E-Book. Eleven Honorable Mentions from each category will also be included in the E-Book in addition to receiving gifts from top homeschool companies.

We look forward to reading your entries!

For a detailed list of prizes, official contest rules, to meet our judges, and to upload your story, please visit:

Need help teaching writing? We have over 200 writing products in the Schoolhouse Store!
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Just a head's up

If you are on my regular Christmas card list, I haven't forgotten you...nor have I decided not to send them...they are just going to be, ummmm, New Year's cards. Yea, that's it. New Year's cards. Or maybe Valentine's day. We'll see. My goal is to do them this week-end. The letter is written already, I just have to stuff and address envelopes.
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A more recent trip down memory lane

From our trip to NC in January of 2007. A. taught Mimi how to lay "Twinkle Twinkle" on the violin.
Mimi, A. and C.

Mimi and H. in the skate park Dec. 2006. Mimi had just gotten her Heely's for Christmas.

A. and Sari sitting on Sari's Doodlebug that she got for Christmas.
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A trip down memory lane

This (from left to right) is my sister, me, my great-grandmother that Mimi is named after, and my brother circa 1978-ish.

This is my maternal Great Grandmother (her name was Alberta Minerva...NO ONE is named after here, LOL), my mom's mom, my brother in front of her, me, my mom, and my sister circa 1981-2 ish. It's four generations of ladies in our family. Those of you who know my nephew Bam-Bam will probably see a huge resemblance between him and my sister in this picture.
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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

One of my passions

I know we all have passions...things that really get to us if they are done poorly or things we notice more than others. Keeping house obviously isn't mine, LOL, but after 10 years working for the Mouse, customer service is.
SO let me tell you a little about good, and bad, customer service.
Companies with good customer service generally make good products and stand behind them. Companies with bad customer service are out to make a buck, and once you've given them your money, your happiness is not their concern. Companies with good customer service recognize the value of human to human contact. Companies with bad customer service have endless phone trees with no hope of ever reaching a real person.Companies with good customer service believe the customer is always right and empower their employees to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy. Companies with bad customer service teach their employees to apologize endlessly for your situation, but leave them incapable to do anything for you other than offering sympathy.
I could go on, but I'll give you an example.
Today, I was on the phone for close to 2 HOURS with Sears. Yep, 2 HOURS. I got hot flashes from the heat of the receiver being held up to my head that long.
Why the long call? I realized today that we purchased our Fridge around a year ago, and that our warranty was, or would be, up soon. We've had to have the ice maker/dispenser fixed FOUR times this year, on our new, $1200 Fridge, so I was a bit concerned that things might get costly now that we had no warranty, and I wanted to know what Sears was willing to do about it. (I refuse to buy the extended warranty to have coverage-I shouldn't have to PAY extra for a warranty for a product with a proven track record of breaking.)
Turns out my warranty ran out 4 days ago. And since I was neither a) currently under my 1 year warranty or b) under the extended warranty, the general song and dance was that they could do nothing for me. Never mind that with 4 service calls in one year, the repair tech was meant to recommend they replace my Fridge, but since he didn't we are out of luck on that front. Seriously. I first called the repair department and explained that I wasn't currently having a problem, but I anticipated I would when the weather turned warmer and I wanted to know what they were willing to do. I suggested that I'd happily swap this fridge for a different one, and probably pick something more expensive, and be more than willing to pay the difference. I also said in lieu of that, I'd happily take a FREE extended warranty so Sears could demonstrate to me that they had faith in my product even though I did not.
My conversations went something like this:
Call Sears repair. Talk to phone tree (I HATE TALKING to the phone tree-some child always walks up right then and confuses the computer and I'm back at square one). Wait on hold for 10 minutes. Talk to the Hispanic lady in the service dept. who probably arrived on the boat yesterday. It was that bad. After explaining my above situation, she apologized immensely, said she couldn't help me, and transferred me to the warranty dept. Wait on hold 15 minutes. Speak to an Asian gentleman who also had a... language challenge. Explain the whole situation. Have him put me on hold for 3 minutes 3 different times, only to have him come back with, "I'm showing you purchased your refrigerator in 1993..." (Yep, I did, but not THIS one...this one was purchased last year, hence my complaint...THAT one worked FINE until it died 14 1/2 years later...I'd happily take it back now though.) Tell him he's looking at the wrong fridge. Wait for him to put me on hold twice more for 3 minutes each, only to come back and try to SELL me the extended warranty. When I said I'd love one, but I want it for FREE, he said he couldn't help me and transferred me to National Customer Relations. Wait on hold there for 15 minutes. Speak to someone who seems to have a decent command of the language, but horribly lacking a grasp on my problem. He listens to my whole story, and then tells me I need to call a department called "One Source". He patches me to them. I again wait 10 minutes for someone to answer. They listen to the whole story, apologize over and over, sympathize, but say they are unable to do anything for me. They do call the "Lemon Law" dept. who informs me that had the warranty not expired FOUR days ago, AND had I purchased the extended warranty, they could help me, but I'm out of luck without that extended warranty, lemon or no. They transfer me back to, are you ready for this? The National Customer Relations. I wait over 15 minutes, someone picks up, and must have hit the disconnect button on accident, and the line goes dead. ARGGGGGGG!!!!!
I call the home repair number again. I wait 15 minutes again. The guy answers and gives me the national customer relations number, but can't transfer me there. I want to cry. I hang up and call the NCR. Over 15 minutes later, a wonderful girl named Emily FINALLY gets my problem and gets me to the right place. She puts me through to the Blue Ribbon Department at the Executive Office where I speak to Sandra. Sandra totally feels bad about the whole thing and offers me.....

a FREE extended warranty

for 6 months

Are you KIDDING ME?????? Two hours on the phone. A $1200 year old fridge with 4 service calls already. And the best they can do is 6 months of free warranty. I am SO not buying any appliances from Sears again. Very disappointing, but at least it was something. I figure if it breaks in that time I will pursue them doing more for me. If not, we'll cross that bridge in June. At least now I know what department to ask for.

Here's an example of good customer service. TJ had a Rescue Hero whose hand fell off. I called the company, and they sent us a new one, no questions asked.
Also, we received as a gift a Little People farm. One of the chicken figures didn't get molded correctly and only had one foot, although it still worked fine. I called just to let them know there might be a problem. They sent me a $15 coupon to buy a whole new set. For a wonky looking but totally functional figurine. The company in both situations? Fisher Price. I am a customer for life. THEY stand behind their products 100%. They know what customer service looks like and then they take it to the next level.

So there you have it. Two big brands. Two good old American companies. Two different approaches to customer service. Time will tell, but Sears hasn't been doing well in recent years, and I'm sure their pathetic customer service is a large part of that. It's disappointing, but it's their choice where they place their priorities, and customer service clearly isn't one of them.

So if you own a company, take this to heart. Treat your customers like you'd want your favorite grandmother to be treated. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Positive experiences will spread via word-of-mouth like wild fire. But so will negative ones. And you don't get a second chance, especially not in the internet age. Do what is right the first time, and your business will prosper. Don't treat your customers right and you will reap what you sow.
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Insight Technical Education Review

Wow! This is another product I had never even heard of, but when I did, I figured it would be right up my son's (and my husband's) alley. Insight Technical Education offers a series of books and/or CD-ROMs that guide students in an introduction to, and a honing of, technical art. They also offer products that teach accounting, drafting, and graphic design, but I did not look over those.
The first product we looked at was called Vision-Dexterity-Focus. It was developed at the request of parents and teachers specifically for challenged learners. It features thicker lines and less detail than their higher level products and is recommended for ages 5 and up. I can't say enough good things about this. Not just because the kids produce some really cool drawings, but because it provided a tremendous boost in my son's self esteem. He kept saying things like, "I can't believe I did it. It looks great. I'm going to show all my friends." To hear my eleven year old son say those things is amazing. To thing it is all because of a little sketch is even more dumbfounding. My son had done chalk pastels before, and produced some really nice work, but when it come to pencil and paper, he is limited to stick figures...and not good ones at that. To see him flourish as he did these technical drawing was great. The Vision-Dexterity-Focus book is a great introduction to this type of art whether your child is challenged or not, and it provided an introduction to basic shapes as well as orthographic projection, isometric projection, and perspective; all things that are vitally important to drafting and graphic design. But they are introduced by way of having students complete the sketch, so while they SEE the difference in the projections (2 dimension vs. 3, and differences in how many faces of the object you can see), they don't have to figure it out themselves, so it's not intimidating.

The other product we reviewed was the Advanced Complete-A-Sketch. This one is for ages 10 and up/middle school, and it is a CD. It does everything the Vision-Dexterity-Focus book does and WAY more. As you can see from the cover of the CD (above) the students learn to draw some really cool, and really intricate, designs. The sample page doesn't show up as well because the guide lines on these really are smaller and thinner. In addition to lots of cool machines and structures to draw, there are also 3-D models to print out and assemble. And the CD has bonus features with over 100 files to look at related to CAD (Computer Aided Design) technologies.
I can't think of any "cons" for the products that we tried. The products are non-consumable (unless you chose to consume the book). You are allowed to make copies for personal use and your child is encouraged to practice completing the shape free-handed, drawing the shape free-handed, and also drawing it using tools like a ruler, protractor and compass. My son preferred using the tools to complete the sketches. I figured he would :-).

Scott working on his sketch of a boat.

Scott's completed Blimp. The target image is in the upper left corner so they know what it "should" look like.

The bottom line for me on this one is easy. Technical art is a side of art most students never learn, or if they do, they aren't introduced to it until high school. But the fields they can go into with drafting, design, CAD, and CAM experience are almost limitless. To have an exposure to those skills at an early age is a wonderful opportunity, and for my son it has been a confidence booster like no other. I wholeheartedly recommend Insight Technical Education's products for anyone who is looking to develop their student's technical art skills, reach a reluctant art student with a genre that may appeal to them like no other, or help a challenged student build confidence, hand-eye coordination, and attention to detail. Vision-Dexterity-Focus is available HERE for $18 and the Advanced Complete-A-Sketch is $28.
To play off a popular commercial slogan, for me, it's like this:
Purchasing Complete-A-Sketch Vision-Dexterity-Focus $18
Hearing my son say, "I did it mommy! I finally found something I'm good at!" Priceless :-)
Go HERE to see what other TOS Crew members had to say about these products and some of the others that Insight Technical Education offers.
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Monday, January 5, 2009

KinderBach Review

Before the TOS Crew was given this assignment, I confess I had never heard of KinderBach...but lots of other Crew members had and they were very excited to try it out. Their excitement was contagious! But as someone with an older child who is quite a proficient piano player, I knew what some of the other more conventional piano courses on the market looked like, so I was eager to take a look for a different reason than some of my Crew mates.
KinderBach has a printed piano series, but what we were asked to review was their online curriculum. Their target age range is 3-7 and they seek to introduce them to many fundamentals of music over the course of 60 weeks of lessons which you student works through at their own pace. Each lesson involves watching a short video on the computer and usually doing an accompanying activity. The activities vary; sometimes it's a worksheet, sometimes it's clapping the beats to a song, sometimes it's playing short pieces on the piano.
My 7 year old son has been using the program for a few months now. My 3 1/2 year old daughter has "audited" it-she has done and watched much of what he's done, but she has done it on her own with no help from me. KinderBach has many "pros" going for it. First, they have hit their target audience very well in terms of how the materials are presented. I hear my youngest repeating things she's learned when she sits down at the piano to "play" just like her siblings. I'm impressed with the musical concepts she's picked up just by being exposed to the information in a very child oriented way. And my son has really enjoyed it. He does about a week's worth of work at each sitting, and doesn't even think of it as "school" but as a fun thing he gets to do. KinderBach is good about telling you what materials will be needed for each lesson, and is very multi-sensory. The kids cut and color things, march to the beat of songs, and tap rhythm instruments in addition to sitting at the piano/keyboard or at the computer for their lesson. The lessons are short enough to cover each topic but not exhaust a young child's attention span. Also, parents do not have to know anything about music for their children to be able to use this program successfully. And the price can't be beat. If you pay by the month, it is $14.95 a month. If you pay for a year at a time, it is $85.95 a year which makes is $7.16 a month. ("Real" piano lessons run between $15 and $20 a half hour.)
Some of my 3 1/2 year old's work

I would say there are a few "cons" too. First, and the biggest issue, is that you must have a computer and piano/keyboard very close together for this to work well. Or you can print out a keyboard template and let your child "fake it", but obviously that's not optimum. We happen to have a computer right next to the piano, so it wasn't a challenge for us, but it could be for others. Second, you must have the materials printed out ahead of time for you student to do while they watch the video. It took me a few times to remember that, and trying to print the activities while the video was running made my computer freeze up. Lastly, this is NOT a full curriculum and it uses some non-traditional ways to introduce some concepts (like calling quarter notes "walks" or beats "beat bugs"). I'm a big believer in just calling things by their real names, especially if you introduce the real name a week later anyway. We have not made it through the whole curriculum yet, but I do wonder if students would have problems segueing into a different program when KinderBach ends when you don't call things by their correct musical name.
The bottom line for me is that my son wants to continue doing KinderBach and he's never shown an interest in piano before despite (or maybe because of) having a brother who plays well. I think KinderBach is definitely best suited to the 3-7 age range, but it impressive that they even try to reach so young since many piano teachers won't take on Pre-K'ers. KinderBach is an amazing value. I know, because I write checks out to our piano teacher every month.
And KinderBach use some creative and easy to remember ways of introducing notes and their "homes" on the keyboard (see above) which has really worked for my son. KinderBach offers a FREE two week trial, so you might as well check it out and see what you think. I'm sure you won't regret it. Go HERE to try KinderBach for yourself.
To see what other TOS Crew members think, go HERE.
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Saturday, January 3, 2009

House Painting day...I don't know what #

It's kind of like the never ending project. We have a LOT of house. And in some places, it has three different levels to paint. Even with Kiwi's husband's help, we are still only about half done.
Here you can see the upper level over the roof on the right, the middle level, and the still white lowest level. It's a lot to paint...

I'm not photogenic under the best of circumstances, but I'm publishing this because it shows the level of sheer exhaustion we are at...this was about 12:30 New Year's Day. All three of us girls sat down under the quilt for a short break before going to my mom's and were asleep in no time. Oh, and I still LOVE my quilt :-).
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Kids Wealth Money Kit Review

It was funny that these Kids Wealth Money Kits were actually being discussed by several members of my homeschool group the day they arrived on my doorstep. One mother had seen them at the homeschool conference but not bought them and was now trying desperately to remember the name of the program so she could order them online. Another mother chimed in with not only the name, but a glowing review. So you can imagine I was excited to open the package and dig in when it arrived on my doorstep later that day!
I was not disappointed. Kids Wealth is exactly what I have been looking for and more. For years, I had been looking for a system of allowing the kids to allocate their money into different categories. My sister even saved her formula containers for us so each kid could have 3 piggy banks-"bank", "church", and "stuffmart". Bank was obviously for long term savings, church was their tithe, and stuffmart was for spending on whatever they wanted. The problem? I have 4 kids, and 12 formula canisters take up more room than we have anywhere. The kids were too young to keep them in their rooms without me finding money everywhere, so unfortunately, our system fell by the wayside.
Below is some information directly from their website since they explain the kits better than I ever could:
The KidsWealth™ Money Management Program is a roadmap for parents striving to teach their kids the value of money and have them form wealthy and successful habits around managing money. This program will provide you with a quick and easy three-step plan that will guide your kids toward a wealthy future – one that they deserve. The KidsWealth™ Money Kit contains everything that you need to help your kids develop successful habits that are a foundation of financial success.
Parents Guide: Teaches you the simple 3-step program to set up the KidsWealth Money Kit which takes only about 30 minutes to get started.
Kid's Guide: The Kal & Pals characters teach your children what each Account Wallet is for and how to use them properly.
Account Wallets: The five account wallets are color-coded, durable and portable; perfect for young kids getting hands on experience with real money.
Kid's Pay Calendar with Kid's Pay Stickers:
Because our program recommends parents pay their kids once or twice a month, the calendar and stickers allow the kids to keep track of their Kid's Pay days, decorated with wonderful scenes of Kal & Pals.
Kid's Pay Agreement: An agreement between you and your kids saying that you'll pay them their set Kid's Pay consistently and that they'll allocate and manage their Kid's Pay according to the Program.
The Money Kit also comes with 5 KidsWealth Pencils, a Calculator and decorative Kal & Pals stickers.

Kids Wealth is a totally different idea from any other money system you've ever seen. The idea is to actually teach kids how to manage their finances from an early age. Their five wallets are divided as follows: Wealth-30% of their money goes into a wallet (and then eventually into some investment mechanism of your choice) for long term provision, Learn-20% goes into their Learn wallet and is meant to be spent every month on some educational based product like books or zoo tickets or field trip souvenirs, etc., Fun-20% goes into their Fun wallet for them to spend on whatever they want like a new toy or candy at the checkout line, etc., Plan-20% goes toward planning for a "large ticket" purchase-something they have to save up to buy, Angel-10% goes toward an Angel fund whether it's tithing to your church or giving to a favorite charity or buying a toy for Toys for Tots, etc. All these wallets, and the calculator, pencil, and other program materials fit into the portfolio so they are stored neatly. Each child MUST have their own Kit for this to work.
Initially, I felt like the one "con" I could see was that the money they are allocating into these wallets is meant to come from YOU, and is supposed to be half of what you normally spend on your child's "wants" each month. They give you a list of these wants in the Parents Guide. I wasn't sure this program would work for us because we don't give the kids any allowance, they don't get money from relatives for birthdays or holidays, etc., and I felt like I don't really spend much on them that isn't necessary. Plus, we are a one income, six person family and we don't ever get to the end of a month thinking, "hmmm, here's an extra $400, what should I do with that?" The examples given in the parent guide was a tad unrealistic I felt, since their easy reference charts are for $50, $100, and $150 a month-NOT going to happen in my house! But the more I reviewed the Kids Wealth list of wants, and then spent a week or so really evaluating my habits, I realized that I DO spend small amounts of money on my kids a few times a month. When we go to Sea World, I typically buy them a snack to share when we are leaving. At JoAnns, I sometimes allow them to get a piece of candy when we checkout. And from time to time we offer financial incentive for helping with extra tasks around the house. But that doesn't amount to much, so my husband and I prayed and decided $10 a month each was do-able. We also are adding to Kids Wealth's program and offering an extra $10 bonus each month for being consistent for a whole month with some task of our choosing-keeping their room clean for a whole month is the first one, but no one has earned it yet.
We are loving the Kids Wealth system and so are the kids. It is so freeing to be able to say "Yes" when they ask for something...but then follow that up with, "How much money do you have in your "..." wallet. Usually for us it's them asking for a toy or candy, and so they have to see if they have enough money in their "Fun" wallet to afford it, and if that is really what they want to buy with that money. Typically, they decide that emptying their wallet for a piece of candy is NOT the best use of their funds. And that's the beauty of this system, it teaches them at an early age the skills they will need for financial security and maturity as an adult.
I can't recommend the Kids Wealth Money Kits highly enough. They are available HERE for $39.93 each. While that may seem like a lot, this is a tool for a lifetime, and $40 now may save you a small fortune in the future! It really is essential that each child have their own kit too, but I think in the long run it is well worth it.
To see what other TOS Crew members had to say, go HERE.
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Thursday, January 1, 2009

A different list of 100 things

Copy, paste, and bold what you have done!

1. Started your own blog

2. Slept under the stars

3. Played in a band

4. Visited Hawaii

5. Watched a meteor shower

6. Given more than you can afford to charity

7. Been to Disneyland

8. Climbed a mountain

9. Held a praying mantis

10. Sang a solo

11. Bungee jumped

12. Visited Paris

13. Watched a lightning storm at sea

14. Gone rollerskating

15. Adopted a child

16. Had food poisoning

17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty

18. Grown your own vegetables

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France

20. Slept on an overnight train

21. Had a pillow fight

22. Hitch hiked

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill-I had to call in sick for my WEDDING...they did not give me the day off when they did the schedule!

24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb

26. Gone skinny dipping

27. Run a Marathon-I worked the Disney one for several years-I walked the same mile over 26.2 times, but I've never run one :-)

28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice

29. Seen a total eclipse

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run

32. Been on a cruise

33. Seen Niagara Falls in person

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors-I'm with far back and on all sides or just one? I'm into geneology, so I've done all the US ones and have been to England too.

35. Seen an Amish community

36. Taught yourself a new language

37. Acted in a play or performed on stage

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person

39. Gone rock climbing

40. Seen Michelangelo's David

41. Sung karaoke

42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt

43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant

44. Visited Africa

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight

46. Been transported in an ambulance

47. Had your portrait painted

48. Gone deep sea fishing

49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling

52. Kissed in the rain

53. Played in the mud

54. Gone to a drive-in theater

55. Been in a movie-no, but a music video and some ads/publicity stuff

56. Visited the Great Wall of China

57. Started a business

58. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment

59. Visited Russia

60. Served at a soup kitchen

61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies

62. Gone whale watching

63. Got flowers for no reason

64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma

65. Gone sky diving

66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp

67. Bounced a check

68. Flown in a helicopter

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial

71. Eaten caviar

72. Pieced a quilt

73. Stood in Times Square

74. Toured the Everglades

75. Been fired from a job

76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London

77. Broken a bone

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person-I don't think flying over it counts.

80. Published a book -well, my 3rd grade gifted class did, and I have a story in it-does that count?

81. Visited the Vatican

82. Bought a brand new car

83. Walked in Jerusalem

84. Had your picture in the newspaper

85. Read the entire Bible

86. Visited the White House

87. Won money

88. Had chickenpox

89. Saved someone’s life

90. Sat on a jury-but I tried...I just didn't get chosen

91. Met someone famous

92. Joined a book club

93. Had to put someone you love in Hospice Care

94. Had a baby

95. Seen the Alamo in person

96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake

97. Been involved in a law suit

98. Owned a cell phone

99. Been stung by a bee

100. Read an entire book in one day

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