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Monday, March 30, 2009

Recognize this cutie?

Tee-Hee ;-). It's the best birthday present I got this year. Thanks LFM for using my little one for your cover!
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Schleich Figurines Review


Without a doubt, by kids favorite products to review are TOYS. Shocking, I know! We've been fortunate to get some really cool things that fall into the "toy" category this year, too. But I have to say, these are by far my favorite!
Schleich is a German company that makes toy figurines. The company has been around since the 1930's, and has been making figurines since the 1950's. They began with popular comic figure lines, such as the Smurfs, which they carry today,
and then branched out a quarter century ago to include their amazingly realistic and hugely popular animals.
The figures, such as these meerkats, are so realistic, and are all hand painted. They are a treasure to own and to be played with. The company has an inspirational dedication to making quality children's figures and places educational value above profits.
The pros are too numerous to mention them all. Many of the figurine lines are produced to scale, and contain informational brochures with the figures so your children can learn more about the animals they are playing with. They product line is amazing in its scope-everything from farm animals to dinosaurs to knights to the American frontier. There's even a fantasy world of elves. And despite being hand painted, they are not too expensive at all. Figures range in price depending on how large and complicated they are. Some figures are as little as $2.50, while some large accessories are significantly more, such as this castle for $159.99.
Many figures that come with horses are quite detailed and impressive and are usually $14.99, such as the Gold Prospector below.
I don't have a con for these. My kids and I both think they are great. The MINUTE they arrived, my kids tore open the package, and 10 minutes later my daughter called me outside to take the following pictures (she created one venue for each figure we received, but you'll get the idea):


The bottom line to me is that these figures are not only fun, but educational. You could use them to set up a diorama about different geographical areas you are studying...or recreate certain times in history...or use them to classify animals...the list of possibilities is endless. I look forward to adding to our collection. And since these figures are not only available HERE from Schleich, but also at our local Target, they are very easy to acquire. As a bonus for us, they are also available at Epcot in the Germany pavilion, which my astute children quickly pointed out as we were browsing in the shops.
To see what other TOS Crew members had to say, go HERE.
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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Generations of Virtue Review



It's such a treat to be able to introduce fellow homeschoolers to a company I know and love. Generations of Virtue (GOV) has been a favorite of mine since I first saw their booth at our state homeschool convention a few years ago. Hearing their founder, Julie Hiramine, speak at the convention after that just solidified my views. I'm a GOV groupie! I love everything about them, from their God honoring values as a family and a company to the products they sell to the beautiful purple bags their products come in at convention :-). Here's a brief blurb from their website:
Generations of Virtue is a non-profit, volunteer-driven ministry that equips parents to empower their kids for purity in our world today. We work closely with parents and teens as we provide them with classic and cutting-edge resources to fight the battle for purity.

I was privileged to review two different products form them. The first was a series of books called Beautifully Made. There are three books in the series and they are designed for a mother to use to introduce her daughter to the changes she will experience with puberty. All the information is frank and clear, but presented in a totally Christian and God honoring light. The first book is Approaching Womanhood, and is designed to be reviewed with your daughter as she is just beginning the path of puberty. The second, Celebrating Womanhood, is for use when she begins her monthly cycle, and celebrates God's plans for women with regard to that event. The third, Wisdom From a Woman-Mother's Guide exhorts mothers that they are the ones God put int his place to teach their children, and gives them some of the tools to begin discussion so their daughter has a positive experience with coming to maturity.
I liked these books a lot. They are short, positive, pure, and to the point. They discuss the physical, emotional, and spiritual issues that arise during this time of change. They were also very matter-of-fact, and gave great advice for how young girls can handle some of the complications that can come up when they are first beginning their cycle-like unpredictability of when they might start and how to deal with it if they don't have certain items with them for that occasion. I liked that they talked frankly about pads and how to use them. And in the second book they discuss tampons and TSS and swimming and all the other concerns that come with that momentous event. But the second book also is very spiritual in discussing blood in the scriptures and how this monthly event really is a wonderful thing to have happen. The books were so full of simple wisdom, and gave me things to discuss that I never would have thought of, but that I know will make my daughter more comfortable and equipped when she reaches that milestone. I'd highly recommend this series. It's available from GOV for $18.99 for the set.



The other product we reviewed it Teknon and the CHAMPION Warriors. I have been chomping at the bit to try this book for boys with our son, but the recommended age is 11 and up and he just turned 11 this past year. After getting into the book, I understand WHY they suggest that age, and I am glad we waited. Teknon and the CHAMPION Warriors is a book written in the science fiction genre, but with the intention of fostering good, Biblical values on boys. As Teknon travels on his adventure with his father, and friends of his father who are Teknon's mentors, he faces all sorts of situations that boys encounter in the "real" world such as sexual desire, pornography, impulsive behavior, the desire to fit in, etc. In each of these situations Teknon obviously has to make a choice between doing what is right, or following his sinful nature. Sometimes he chooses wisely, sometimes not, but his father and his mentors are always there to discuss his choices afterward and sometimes even to protect him from his choices as he begins to experience their consequences. And because my son and I are reading this book together, I am always there with him to discuss Teknon's choices too, and I would suggest that's how any family approaches it. My son is enjoying this book, but since it does discuss sensitive subjects I want to be sure to be able to weigh in on it and explain things he might not understand. Sex is discussed, but only in light of the idea that it is intended for a married man and woman. Teknon's dad issues him the challenge of not even kissing a girl until he gets married, and explains that while desires are normal and part of how God created us, it is a slippery slope once you give in to a small part of that desire to not give in a little more and more each time. I liked the way it was handled, but I'm glad I was right there with him as he read it.

I purchased the mentor guide for my husband and the guide for my son too. We are very excited to use it, but according to my husband the boys are supposed to have read the book all the way through first, so we are still doing that. My husband is very impressed with what he looked at so far though. The Teknon book is $13.99, and the set with the guides is $42.99
All in all, I recommend both these resources, and really everything else GOV sells, because they are fantastic ways to walk you through discussing or reinforcing your spiritual beliefs on the topics of purity. The company is committed to selling products that support purity of heart, mind, and body. We've never been disappointed with anything from them, and we have several other resources they sell too.
To visit Generations of Virtue, go HERE.
To see what other reviewers had to say about these products and two others, go HERE.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

Kittens at almost 2 weeks old

This is "Tiger"-the one Mimi is currently hoping to keep by promising to keep her room clean for 6 weeks. We'll see...

These two are like mirror image twins- on the face at least. Their bodies have slightly different black and white markings. We are currently calling them "Jack-Jack" and "Dash". Can you tell what movie the kids just watched again?

Here's Tiger sleeping on his back with his little tongue showing.
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Thumb sucking no more

Have you ever just reached your breaking point on something? Well, I did last week. I. just. could. NOT. look at my almost 12 year old with his thumb in his mouth any longer. We have spent almost $1000 on fixing his mouth so far, and his sucking his thumb undoes all that. Worse still, we've gone the extreme dental route twice already with anti-thumb sucking appliances, but still no success. So here we are at an impasse.
Until I found THESE:
Developed by a dentist, they are external anti-thumb sucking devices, so they cost WAY less than another appliance (although at $80 they are NOT cheap). There is one for each of his hands, and he must wear them 24/7 for weeks/months/years until he stops. And with his sensory issues, just wearing them has made for a few, ahem..., challenging days. But he is wearing them whether he likes it or not.
So for you locals, if you could implore your children NOT to mention them at all, and certainly NOT to make fun of him, that would be GREAT. He thinks they are way more embarrassing than sucking his thumb is. So if you could help in that endeavor by giving your kids the
"heads up" we'd appreciate it.

Here they are in real life. (And he's mortified that I am blogging about this.)
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cat update

Frequently, I rip on Mittens for not being a very cat-like cat. Not only does he NOT have the camouflage thing going for him...he just lacks any sort of stealth ability at all. The most he has ever caught, previous to this moment, is a lizard's tail. No wonder he was skin and bones when he showed up on our doorstep. But I guess he got tired of hearing me rip on him and today he decided to man-up, or would that be cat-up?, and catch a lizard. But not just any lizard. This was a 5 lined skink. Those suckers are FAST. Go MITTENS!



Not preggers anymore :-). Here's Callie wishing I'd stop with the pictures already.
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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Alphabet Alley Revisited



Alphabet Alley is a company that makes great, quality Biblical products. We reviewed some of their products in the fall, and I was totally impressed.
Last month, we received magnetic playsets to review, but unfortunately for them, between the time they shipped them to us and the time the review became due, some interpretations of the new U.S. laws about toys changed a bit, and the selling of these magnetic sets was ceased. It's very sad, because Sari LOVES it. I love magnetic playsets too because they are so easy to take in the car or to an appointment, and are QUIET toys that self-store their pieces. I'm sad for Alphabet Alley that they have had to stop selling these sets for now, but would encourage you to check out their other products, especially with Easter coming up!
To see my fall review of a few of their games, go HERE.
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Saturday, March 21, 2009

More fun :-)


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Horsin' around



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One of our favorites


Our very favorite non-homeschool friend came for the week-end. We are sooooo excited to have her here. So of course, I made her sit for pictures, LOL.


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Monday, March 16, 2009

Homeschool in the Woods New Testament Lapbook Review


This is one review that might need to start with an explanation of just what the product is in order for it to make sense. "Lapbooks" ( a phrase coined and trademarked by Tobin's Lab-and I'd include a a cute little trademark sign if I could figure out how) are a way of taking information that your child learns ON ANY SUBJECT and breaking it down into smaller important pieces that you then record in fun little books that you can make of any size and design. These books are then glued into some sort of binder-whether it's a file folder, a notebook, or a a display board, although the idea is that they are, well, lap sized :-). Another name for Lapbooks is Notebooking, and Dinah Zike has several books on making Notebook Foldables. The above picture shows the outside of this New Testament Lapbook by Homeschool in the Woods that we were given to review, and the one below shows an example of the inside.


I want to start out by saying I may be a little bit bias. I LOVE Homeschool in the Woods. I have loved them for years. A family business run by Amy and Ed Pak, Homeschool in the Woods began when Amy sought to teach her kids History and knew the idea of a timeline resonated with her. She had trouble finding accurate and quality clip art though, and decided to put her artistic background to good use creating AMAZING timeline figures. I own their CD of timeline figures, and I LOVE it.
Now Homeschool in the Woods has branched out into other history related products including these Activity Pak Lap Books, and Amy has put her artistic talents to good use again. This product has many "pros" to it. This New Testament Lapbook is stunning and comprehensive. The illustrations in this lapbook are top notch, but there are also plenty of opportunities for your children to contribute their original artwork. Similarly, you have the choice of printing out the text that goes into each little book, or allowing your student the opportunity to fill it out themselves. If you've never done a lapbook before, this is DEFINITELY the way to go, although it is soooo beautiful, it may spoil you into thinking they will all look this gorgeous. There is no doubt this lapbook will come together exactly as you want it to as all the instructions are included and necessary supplies are listed. It is truly as if someone is holding your hand to ensure success if you've never done a lapbook before, but it also is so stunning that experienced lapbookers will be thrilled with the results.

The New Testament lapbook covers everything from the lineage of Jesus to His ascension and the experiences of the apostles after that, as well as many events in between. The lapbooks has 15 different activities including the Fruits of the Spirit, The Beatitudes, and Paul's Missionary Journeys, just to name a few. It also includes two bonuses that don't go "in" the lapbook, but continue on that theme. One is the Armor of God, and the other is "The New Testament News". Both are great activities.
The only "con" I would mention is that while it is "New Testament", it is not comprehensive. It's organized into the 15 activities, but every book in the NT does not receive focus. My kids are currently doing Revelation in Precept, and I was really hoping for some lapbook related activities, but there were none for Revelation in this Pak...I guess that Revelation would really be a lapbook in and of itself though!
The bottom line is this is an amazing lapbook. It really takes away all the fear from anyone who might be new to lapbooking and wondering "how to do it' as this is totally laid out for you. Yet I think experienced lapbookers would enjoy it too since it is so beautiful and comprehensive. At $18.95 for the downloadable version, and $19.95 for the CD, it is well worth the price, since this is something your kids will look at for years to come. Check out this Activity Pak, and other offerings by Homeschool in the Woods HERE. And follow the links to what other TOS Crew members had to say on our blog HERE.
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Part Black Lab, Part Austrailian Shepard, Part...

mole???

Riley likes to dig...a lot. Here he is standing in one of his holes.

See that tail sticking out? Yep, that's how deep he has dug so far. He's standing up in the hole, digging further when I took this. And all you could see was the tip of his tail.

Since I figured there's be some skeptics out there, here's Sari exploring the hole:
Taking the first step

About half way in

All the way down

Have I mentioned the dog was my husband's idea? It's good I love our friends at Sonlight Garden so much, or I might hold this...ehemmmm...half dog half mole against them, LOL. If you come to my house, be sure you don't walk around the yard in the dark. And if anyone needs a trench dug, and doesn't need it to head in any specific direction, let me know...I have a dog you can borrow to dig it for you.
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The best part about living where we do

especially with the shuttle program coming to an end, is getting to see the launches from our house. Here are some pics from tonight.



Seconds after launch.

After the separation of the solid rocket boosters. The top dot is the shuttle, the other two are the boosters falling back to earth.

The contrail at sunset is the BEST. The colors are soooo cool!
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Bonnie Terry Learning Review

The one thing about doing reviews is that you end up with products you never would have bought yourself...sometimes because you never heard of it before, and sometimes because the product isn't something that is a good fit for your family. But sometimes, I've found, the products that I like the best are the ones I had never heard of before AND would have assumed were not a good fit for us, but it turns out they are really great. That's what happened with Bonnie Terry Learning's Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills and Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills.
I'm not much for self help books. Not that I don't need them, but after years of buying them, reading them, being impressed with their life-changing information, but then never implementing it, I have decided to stick to the Bible for self-help and admire all the other things from afar, knowing that with my track record, they are a waste. And based on the above titles of the Bonnie Terry Books, I thought they were "self-help" sort of stuff. But they aren't. At least, not in the "all text, not easy implementation" sort of way. In fact, these have very little in the way of tedious instruction, and TONS of easy to use helps.

First, let me talk about Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills. Again, let me admit my own folly. I read the title and thought, "We don't need this." See, we are kind-of laid back homeschoolers. Definitely not the "recreate school at home" sort. And "study skills" just smacks of school or at least a school like approach. Boy, was I wrong. Instead, it has a TON of easy to use forms that student can fill out to aid in reading comprehension. They are short, and they are...well...fun. At least a lot more fun than the stuff I did in school. And there are a myriad of forms across the grade levels to challenge the students to look deeper and deeper. There are book report forms, compare and contrast forms, text book note taking forms, research paper forms, letter writing forms, and several other that I can't even describe, but are really useful. These forms make it easy for students to organize and keep track of the information they are reading. They aid in comprehension, and train students to develop better "study skills", which really equates to better retention of what they read. In the back of the book are rules for capitalization, spelling, punctuation, etc. and also tips on writing (citing resources, etc.). VERY COOL. And the book comes with a "Read this First" page that helps you jump right into using it effectively. At $37, it is a little high priced, and that would be my only "con", but if you have no other resource like this, then it might be a wise investment.

Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills confused me at first. I suggest you definitely get the teacher's manual and READ the first few pages of that first :-). It's not hard to use at all, but I opened and looked at the student book first and couldn't figure out WHAT to do with it...then I saw the teacher's manual and it all made sense. The ides of this book is that it presents a page full of words that all have the same sound in them (say short "e" for this example). It looks very much like a spelling list, but the students look at it and read the words. You give your student 3-4 minutes to read as much of the page as they can first. Then, you give them a minute to read as many words as they can aloud to you. You record (on charts in the teacher's manual) how many words they read (which gives you a words-per-minute calculation) and how many words they read incorrectly. You then have the child repeat the exercise each day until master is achieved (the instructions on this are all included in the teacher's guide and the handy "Read this First" page). The goal is for the child to progress to reading on grade level in terms of speed to increase their fluency. With greater reading pace comes greater retention, and with greater retention comes more enjoyment from reading. I have two cons to this book. First is the fact that the words they are to read are separated into phonetic sounds with small spaces in between. While I am sure this can aid some students to easily recognize the sounds, it may puzzle others as it's hard to read fluently a word that appears dysfluent on the page (so instead of "growth" it says "g r ow th" and instead of "south" it says "s ou th"). The other con is again price. For the teacher's manual and student book, it is $60. Individually, they are $37 and $32 respectively. That's a bit much to frugal little me, but you COULD get by with just the teacher's manual, as the student pages are included in there as well, with the addition of word number tallies on the side of the page to make it easy for the parent to see how many words a child read. I am confident this is NOT the way Bonnie Terry Learning would encourage you to do it, but the reality is money is tight everywhere, and if your child struggle with fluency, but $60 is beyond your reach, you could really get by with just the Teacher's manual for a little more than half that.
The bottom line is that I really was pleasantly surprised by these products, and they met my family right in a place of need both in fluency and in being able to organize on paper what they have read. I am VERY glad to own these products and foresee years of use from them. But I'm cheap too, so I have to say that I am not sure if I would have bought them on my own...But that's a decision you have to make. To order these books, or check out the many other resources offered by Bonnie Terry Learning, go HERE. TO read what other TOS Crew members had to say (some of them reviewed other books), go HERE.
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Kittens!

So Callie went missing all day yesterday. She didn't come eat in the morning...she didn't come eat at night. We knew she had to be having her kittens are were seriously disappointed that she wasn't doing it at our house. Worse still, she wasn't anywhere where we could find her. ANYWHERE. We searched and searched. We called her name throughout the neighborhood morning, noon, and with a flashlight by night. We couldn't find her anywhere. We were worried that she might not have the best "mamma" instincts and leave them...or worse. And there are lots of stray cats, raccoons, and other vermin around that could cause harm to a defenseless little kitten.
This morning, as we were trying to skee-daddle out the door for church, she shows up...noticeably NOT pregnant. But no kittens in sight. sigh. So the girls and I decided to skip out on early church and try to follow her back to where ever she went. 15 minutes before we HAD to leave, I called Mimi out to follow her if she left so I could go brush my teeth, etc. Callie had hung around that whole hour before that soaking up the attention. Of course, I go in and she heads out...but the minute she went over to our neighbor's house and started sniffing at a non-screened square breathing hole in the crawl space, Mimi came running in to declare, "I know where she is, I know where the kittens are." But of course, when I get out there, there's no Callie to be seen, and a flashlight search of the crawlspace (done on the down-low since it was out neighbor's house and we didn't ask or notify them) yielded no cat or kitten sighting. So off to church we went.
Church rocked, as always, and I spent the whole time doing the "seriously happy dance" at a new wireless speaker that allows me to hear the service even in the fellowship area where the CMC serves. YEA!!!!!
Anyway, home again, and that afternoon Callie shows up again. SO this time we do follow her, and indeed, she did go through the hole under the neightbor's house. This time we did it right, and asked them if there was an entrance to the crawl space, and if we might go in and search for kittens. They obliged (they had been aware of our search the day before and could sympathize with the kids' impatience to see the kittens). Mimi went under their house...and NO CALLIE. But we SAW her go in there. So then she goes over to an addition to the crawlspace and through a small crack in the cinder block wall, she can see Callie and kittens. She screamed in delight, and the neighbor opened a separate door to that area, and we brought out Callie and her THREE kittens. We have relocated her to a large dog cage that is currently unused because the person borrowed it from wanted it back for some foster dogs she was getting, but then never called me back about it. I guess I'll relocate them again if I need to, but I suspect that she doesn't need it after all.
Here's a bad picture of Callie with the three kittens nursing. She has two black and white kittens and one solid blackish-gray one. They are hard to see next to their calico mamma.


This is a little better as you can see the three of them lined up.

This is the one Sari is calling "Lucy". Who knows if it's really a girl or not, but how do you explain that to a four year old? I told The Hubs that it is a bad sign that she's named one already.
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For that special math geek in my life ;-)

Happy Pi day to you
Happy Pi day to you
Happy Pi day Aunt Fanny
Happy Pi day to you
and many more....
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Friday, March 13, 2009

More accolades

Mimi finished the math curriculum too, and both she and Scott started our new level today. I LOVE our math...have I mentioned that a thousand times?
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The Hubs goes to Disney ;-)

Would you believe we were parked in row 40? God has a sense of humor :-).

Eating out as a family is a rare treat. This is the first time the kids had ever been to a Japanese "steakhouse" (where they cook the meal in front of you). They LOVED it. Well, most of them. Sari sat there with her fingers in her ears the whole time he was cooking. She really doesn't like loud noises. Scott ordered sushi... and liked most of it! TJ and the hubs had shrimp (which I never make since I'm allergic to shellfish). We had a good meal and a good time.

The kids were dying to show daddy the "Nemo ride". It's weird for him and for me since we remember it as The Living Seas with Sea Base Alpha. I like how they've redone it, but I miss the old theming too.
I made the hubs wear his birthday pin (he tried just sticking it in his pocket), and even added the "40th" on it thanks to a nice Guest Relations host with a sharpie ;-). Disney really has done a great job of encouraging cast members to make you feel special on your birthday. I can't wait to go for the other kids' birthdays later this year.
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