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Monday, December 28, 2009

I Heart Faces "Hilarious Outtakes"


This week's photo contest over at I Heart Faces is "Hilarious Outtakes" and we are allowed to submit FIVE pictures. It was soooo hard to chose, but these are some good ones.



This is my daughter, who, yes, in the middle of our photo shoot decided she needed to pick her nose...NOW. And when I commented on it, she stuck both her fingers up her nose and smiled at me...She's classy, I know :-).



My Godson, from AWANA awards night. He has probably the longest tongue I have ever seen, and enjoys sticking it up his nose when you try to take his picture.


A group of my good friends got together, and something got Aunt Fanny making faces. It still make me laugh every time I see it.



It's a brave man who lets his daughter do this to him, and then lets his wife put the picture on the internet!




We were in NY this summer, and I was trying to get a nice picture of my brother and his fiancee. Unfortunately, a cheeky Junebug had a different idea. That's what hit Sheila's chin right when I snapped this shot.





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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas...a bit early

I debated about whether to do this, but this way people will get my Christmas letter on time :-). I'm still sending the hard copy and a photo, but I figured this way all the locals can read the letter too.




Merry Christmas!
Here’s our Christmas letter to share with all the world wide web-or at least those who read my blog :-). I always start with family member updates, so here goes:
My husband has, for the past few years, been working part time for a civil engineering firm called BESH, and working the other part of his time seeing private computer clients. That arrangement has been tweaked slightly, since BESH’s business has tapered off with the recession. They provide us with health insurance (that’s HUGE), but can’t afford to pay the hubs beyond that right now, so God has used this as an opportunity to grow his private computer business again. He stays quite busy and is really a Jack (and master) of all trades when it comes to computers. He has recently designed a web site for a local woman running for Congress, and also is helping a hospital integrate some local labs onto their new software. It amazes me the things he can do. He stays busy in his “free time” serving on the leadership team at our church and tackling all the projects an old house has to offer (like currently having to rewire half the house since it keeps trying to burn down on us). His website is http://www.eagcomputers.com/. Check it out!
Scott is 12 ½. Can you believe that? At 5’ 3” and growing more each day, he’s definitely not our little 4lb 5oz scrawny baby anymore! He continues to play piano, and is really quite good. I love to hear him play, although he can chose the WORST, most chaotic moments to practice. Kids! Scott also took up sailing this year, and it suits him quite well. I had a chance to go out and watch his first regatta, and it is utterly amazing to me to see what these kids can do. A friend from church is the coach for the intermediate class, and his son (who is one of Scott’s best friends) is in the class, so it’s a wonderful situation. As a family, we decided to sit this year out of scouts, but he achieved his Second Class rank before we stopped, and has earned several merit badges including riflery and, of course, sailing. He is very social-he’s never met a stranger, and he has a heart of gold…when he’s not mercilessly tormenting one of his siblings. He still has struggles academically and emotionally due to being so small at birth, but we work every day to overcome them.
Mimi is 10, and still just as petite as ever. This past year she cut off her gorgeous long curls for a second time to donate to Locks of Love, so her hair is currently shoulder length and always looks like a mop, but people still comment on how beautiful her hair is. She is ENDLESSLY creative. It can be exhausting just to listen to all her ideas, but she doesn’t let her stick-in-the-mud mother squelch her creativity, and I applaud her determination. Mimi is also hopelessly messy (must go hand in hand with creativity), so don’t try to walk in her room, but we love her anyway. This year she got her heart’s desire, and we got her a hammered dulcimer. She has a book and DVD to learn to play it, and there is a teacher locally, so we may pursue that in the coming year. Mimi is one of those girls who has a TON of friends, and she is a good friend to everyone. She’s not a gossip, and doesn’t get into the cattiness that girls this age can start doing. She has several really good close friends, and frequently the sound of young girl giggles fills our house.
TJ is 8, and he’s such a joy. He is my compliant child. He just does what you ask him to do with a happy heart. He is also a total goof ball, and his latest thing is to dance in a style very reminiscent of Schroder from the Peanuts whenever music is playing. He’s one of those physical humor kids who loves to fall down just to make people laugh. He just lost both his front teeth in time for Christmas, but he has changed the words to the song to, “Something I want for Christmas is my two front teeth” because, as he says, that’s not ALL he wants for Christmas. Very insightful for an 8 year old. TJ is also taking a break from Scouts this year, but may play soccer in January (one of the perks of living in FL-year round sports).
Sari is 4 ½. She still is the perfect completion to our family. She makes us laugh, and has a special, but unique, relationship with each of her siblings. Sari is immensely artistic too. She LOVES to color, or paint, or draw, or cut, or glue, or anything artsy and messy at the same time. Sari and my nephew Bam Bam both started Pre-K this fall (yes, we still homeschool, but my tax dollars pay for the pre-K for 3 hours a day, and it gives me a quieter work environment for the older kids for a few hours each morning). I could not love her school more. They are fabulous. She LOVES going, and it has helped her get over a rough patch of separation anxiety she was going through. It’s fun to watch Sari and Bam Bam. There’s 3 months between them, and they get along just like siblings. That they get to go to school together is just icing on the cake.
And then there’s me. Wow! Have I had a crazy year or two. I continue singing with United in Praise (http://www.unitedinpraise.com/) and serving on the midweek service worship team at church. I also help in the Children’s ministry filling different needs as they come up. I was running our Ladies’ ministry until a few months ago when I handed that over to a dear friend. What a relief! I continue to lead our “little homeschool group” which has grown to over 225 families. Not so little anymore! I tried to hand the leadership over to someone else, but no one has stepped up, so I’m still doing it. Last year and this year I have served as a member of the TOS Crew-a board of product reviewers for The Old Schoolhouse magazine (probably the largest homeschool magazine in the country). I receive about 75 homeschool products a year, have 6-8 weeks to review them, and then write a review on my blog and link it to a homepage that lists my reviews along with the other members of the Crew. We’ve had the chance to check out some great stuff, and God has used it to bless us with hundreds of dollars in curriculum we otherwise would not be able to afford. But the biggest news for me this year is that my photography, which has always been a passion and hobby, has really taken off as a business. For a year or so now I have helped the hubs out with photos for his website clients. Then earlier this year I was asked to come on board a local magazine as Staff Photographer. I am in constant amazement of what God is doing with this! I’ve also done a lot of photography for our church and its new website (http://www.ccotl.org/) and because of all this; I stepped out in faith and started Snapshots of Grace Photography. My website is still under construction, but my blog (with sample pictures) is http://www.snapshotsofgracephotography.blogspot.com/ . Since officially starting Snapshots of Grace, I have had about 3 photo shoots a week. I am humbled to use this gift God has given me to provide affordable photography to people. I still can’t believe I am getting paid to do something I love.
Our family was blessed last year with a generous monetary gift for Christmas, and we used it to get Disney passes for the first time, so we have gone to Disney a lot this year. It’s great to have that freedom with homeschooling. We took our annual trip to New York to see family this year (my cousin Daniel graduated from High School while we were there). This year we drove, and hit Washington D.C. on the way up. Eric flew home, and the kids and I meandered home and saw many friends, family, and sights along the way. We can’t wait for next summer’s trip. Back on the home front, we have become quite the Noah’s ark. We started with the bunny, and then the dog, but this year we had two stray cats adopt us…and have kittens at our house. 7 kittens later (they all have homes as does one of the mamas) we ended up keeping the other mama as an indoor cat. Plus, we have acquired 3 outdoor strays who now call our yard home. Add in three goldfish…Oh, and the indoor cat escaped 2 months ago when she was in heat, so one week before Christmas we had another kitten born. It’s like a small zoo around here, especially when we add in the four far less hairy, but equally zany kids, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I hope God has blessed you as richly as He blesses us. His grace is sufficient, and His provision is exactly enough to meet our needs (and is teaching us how many things we thought were needs are really wants). May 2010 be wonderful for us all!
Love,
One Blessed Mamma and her blessings
Plus Riley the dog, Thumper the bunny, Abby the indoor cat (and Noelle her kitten), Skitter, Bobbin, and Mittens, the outdoor kitty crew, and the three goldfish…and a partridge in a pear tree :-).
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Monday, December 21, 2009

He has a new song to sing!

What are the odds of losing both your front teeth just before Christmas? Apparently pretty good for TJ. Actually, the second tooth had a little help from Presley. Seems the dental hygienist was WRONG about that root canal not affecting the root being dissolved so the tooth could come out. Whatever they filled that root with was like a rod going into the gum, so that despite the fact that the tooth would totally wiggle to stick flat out of his mouth, there are actually still a 3/8 inch long round root holding it in place. If you look carefully at the picture, you can see how it had messed up his gum (the one where you can already see the new tooth coming in). Anyway, enough of the gory details.
TJ is funny. He's rewritten "All I want for Christmas is my two Front Teeth" to be "Something I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" since, as he puts it, he wants more than two teeth for Christmas, LOL.
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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Living my dream

I'm really trying not to blog too much about the photography business HERE since I have to be more transparent about my locale on the photography blog, but I just want to say I am in a constant state of, "pinch me, I must be dreaming". I love taking pictures, and especially love capturing beautiful things and people on "film". I can't believe people want to PAY me for it. I'm having a blast, and learning a TON,and I've been very busy right now for the holidays. I feel like I'm living a dream. This is entirely God's doing, and I will rest in whatever He has for Smapshots of Grace, and for me. And I'm going to enjoy every minute of it :-).
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Maestro Classics Review



You'd think wandering the vendor halls of one of the country's largest homeschool conferences year after year, you'd have encountered almost every homeschooling product out there, but I don't know how I missed this one!


Maestro Classics offers an award winning children's series called Stories in Music performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and developed and produced by it's conductor Stephen Simon and his wife Bonnie Ward Simon . Currently seven stories are available: Casey at the Bat, The Story of Swan Lake, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Peter and the Wolf, Juanita the Spanish Lobster, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and The Tortoise and the Hare. Some, like Peter and the Wolf, obviously already have music written to go with them, but in others, Maestro Simon has written works to go along with the story. This was the case in the story we were sent, The Tortoise and the Hare.




The Tortoise and the Hare is an enchanting story, originally written by Aesop, and adapted for this musical version by Bonnie Ward Simon. The story is retold masterfully by Yadu, the narrator (whose voice reminds me very much of another story teller whose CD's we own), and the modern updates will entertain most children, and more than a few adults. In addition to the story, the CD also contains other original tracks such as a song from the story, "Pretzel Vendor of Paris", information about the story by Mrs. Simon, information about the music by Maestro Simon, fun activities for the kids, and a Pretzel Vendor sing-along.



The pros: This is a GREAT, high quality way to expose your children to music and storytelling, and their synergistic relationship. The notes by Maestro Simon are especially helpful (how often do you get the Maestro explaining WHY things sound like they do, or how different instruments are chosen to be featured), and the whole thing is immensely professional, but definitely child appropriate (the Maestro is the father of 6 boys so he has a bit of experience in this area!). And each CD comes with a small book full of activities and educational information too.


The cons: Although they are DEFINITELY worth it, I wish they were a tad cheaper because I'd love to own ALL of them.

The bottom line: My family is fortunate to live near a large city whose symphony conductor also has a heart for children's music appreciation, and every year we drive an hour to go hear them play a special educational concert. My kids LOVE it. And at $5 a ticket it's very affordable. But even that $5 a ticket makes $25 for my family, and these CD's are only $16.98 (or three for $45) PLUS you own them for life so you can relive the experience over and over. And our family is big on listening to stories in the car, so this is a perfect fit for us. I'd highly recommend you check out these CD's. You won't be disappointed.

To order Maestro Classics or learn more about them, go HERE. To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received The Tortoise and the Hare CD for FREE so that my family could review it. This CD was the only compensation I received for my review, and my review expresses my honest opinions.


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Friday, December 18, 2009

Wasn't it just yesterday...

when I speculated that my cat was preggers...


Sometimes, I hate to be right. I just didn't know how right I was!



Warning, the rest of this blog contains some graphic kitty birthing pics. We homeschoolers are nerdy that way.



If you are going to have kittens, why not get your heart set on doing it in the girls' toy box in their closet...instead of any myriad of other, safer, quieter places.

And then, by all means, give birth TAIL FIRST...I'm sure that's the way they are supposed to be born!

Everything went fine until this point...and the head was stuck. Good thing I have a little birthing experience myself, and didn't mind assisting a bit.

Our new kitten. Yes, there's only one. That's why it took so long to know she was pregnant-there was only one kitten in there. By the time I realized it, she was obviously on the cusp of delivering. Gender is unknown and unknowable for a few weeks, and the kids are desperate to name it of course. They want a Christmas related name like Coal or Noel. We'll see. They also are lobbying hard to get to keep this one, so if anyone out there wants to lean on the hubs a bit to convince him, the kids would appreciate it!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hello world!

Okay, so I've been lame lately. REALLY, REALLY lame. I know. I'm sorry. It's not that I haven't been doing anything...it's that I've been doing a LOT. God has blessed Snapshots of Grace with 2-3 photo shoots a week right now, and doing them, editing the photos, getting them to the clients, oh, and homeschooling the kids with benign neglect, have all been taking up a lot of my time. Plus we've gone to Disney several times to see the Christmas decorations and once to celebrate my nephew's birthday. And the park day, and AWANA, and sailing, and piano, and UIP, and church stuff, and the list goes on and on, as I'm sure it does for everyone this time of year.

SO here are some rambling thoughts.

I think our indoor cat might be preggers. She got out (talk to the hubs about that) several times a few weeks back, and let's just say she's either eating well to settle in for a long winter's nap or I'll be foisting kittens on people in a few months.

Disney is the coolest place for the holidays. Just sayin'.

I agree with my friend that schooling for children in puberty should revert back to kindergarten type activities. Nothing that requires serious brain power should be asked of children whose brains aren't functioning properly due to hormones...nor of their middle aged mothers who have the same problem!

I have little stock gifts I keep for the holidays for all my children's teachers for things like AWANA, etc. Have I remembered ANY of them as each of their activities have concluded for the holidays? NO, NOT a ONE! But I won't beat myself up about it. I just won't.

I made my own applesauce and apple butter last week, and I finally got it canned yesterday. Let me just say that while it's not hard at all, it is time consuming, and you get ridiculously little final product compared to what you started with! Still it tastes TONS better than the store bought stuff.

It's hard to type with a cat walking on your keyboard. Just sayin'.

I made my first batch of soap in about a year last night. AWANA was desperate for parent helpers for store, but I needed to make soap and use the lye with no small children around, so that's what I did instead. I won't feel guilty about that either. It needed to be done. My husband's one request was that I make more soap since we are almost out, and he comes first.

On the other hand, I LOVE AWANA store right before the holidays. The kids work hard to earn AWANA bucks to spend, and their store has GOOD prizes. I love the kids' excitement at buying gifts for others. They always rush home and give me a full report on what they bought for whom. It's fun to be a kid. And kudos to my kids' AWANA-they do a GREAT job.

I forgot to send my kids with money to buy their AWANA cars for AWANA grand prix, and now my kids are afraid they won't be able to buy them before the race. Does anyone in the know know if that's true? Boy, I'll lose serious mom points if they don't get to have cars!

While I'd like to pretend otherwise, we seem to have started Christmas break already here at our little homeschool Academy. I DO want to finish the Jesse Tree though. But at this point sadly, I have so much to do that as long as the kids are quiet and not fighting, I don't even try to do school with them. Sad. Can you say, "Ding! fries are done, Ding! fries are done?" Well, someone has to work at McDonalds...it might as well be my kids. Maybe I'll get free McCafe Frappes that way.

Speaking of fast food, Chick-fil-a's Peppermint chocolate chip crunch (or whatever it's called) milkshake is THE BOMB! I love for this time of year and would carry in $2 in pennies if I had to to buy my occasional treat.

I got something in the mail yesterday and I can't stop staring at it. You'll have to go to the photography blog to find out what...(but first give me time to post there)

I have more to say, but I need to get started on my day at some point. I also have a TON of pictures to share, but that will have to wait too.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mathletics Review



Everyone who knows me knows we have, and love, a math curriculum that works for us. So it always surprises me when, through the course of reviewing products for the TOS Crew, we are introduced to alternatives for math education that we find ourselves really liking. And Mathletics is another one of those surprises.

Mathletics is a website offering memberships, and has two main components. First, it is a math curriculum for students in grades kindergarten through 8.





Second, it allows students in those grade to compete with other students worldwide in real time by solving math problems.




Mathletics starts out with each student receiving an avatar (cartoon picture of "them") that they can customize a bit to make it look more like themselves...or whatever they want. As students work through their curriculum, they earn points that are usable to "purchase" upgrades to their avatar. Since this is the "public" face of your child as they compete with others around the globe, it is fun to be able to enhance their character any way they wish. Mathletics is used by millions of students in school systems and home use worldwide. There is a parent page where you can change your child's grade level, and even assign them specific lessons to work through before they can go "play" in the competition. And parents can choose to have a weekly report e-mailed to them showing their student's progress.

The pros: Math drill can be, well, BORING. And this is FUN. Really. Working through the lessons is fun because you are earning points as you do it. And competing is fun, because who doesn't want to compete with kids all over the globe! At it's most discounted rate (more on that later) it's only $1 a week, and that's a small price to pay for an effective, student motivating product. My kids begged to use it, and I liked that you could change the grade level for each child since our curriculum does not follow the standard scope and sequence.

The cons: The biggest one to me is that you have to pay for each student individually, there is no "family" rate, as I think most of their business is with schools and groups. $1 a week isn't bad...but $1 a week times each child starts to add up...especially when you figure that works out to $200 a year for me-for a drill/review product. Although Mathletics does have a curriculum component, I don't think there is enough instruction to really have it be your only math curriculum, so basically, in my opinion, this is a curriculum supplement, not a stand alone product.

The bottom line: if you have a child who struggles with math and needs review, then this is the product for you. If you have a child who excels in math and wants the world to know, then this is the product for you too. If you have a child who is fine in math but could really take it or leave it, this might spark them to love it more. If you can afford $1 a week per child then this is something I'd seriously consider.

The regular coast of a Mathletics subscription is $99 a year. They are currently running a special price of $59 a year, and if you know the Human Calculator's favorite number (it's 9), then the price drops to $49.95. That price gives you 24 hour a day/7 days a week access to the web site for 12 months. There is also a 10 day money back guarantee, so everyone can check it out to see if it is right for them. Go HERE to check out Mathletics. To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a 45 day FREE subscription to Mathletics so that my children and I could check it out. This access was the only payment I received in return for writing this review, and this review reflects my honest opinion.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tektoma Review


I have to admit, I'd never heard of Tektoma before the TOS Crew was asked to take a look at their site. Tektoma is a subscription based website that teaches kids how to program their own video games using a FREE version of GameMaker (software that you can download for free to make video games).


Tektoma takes a fairly complicated game designing program and breaks it down into a series of step by step tutorials geared toward children ages 7-17. Each step is laid out in detail for the children to be able to follow along, and there are currently tutorials to design five different kinds of games: racing, arcade, memory, platform, and fantasy. In addition, there are shortcuts available to make it easier (quicker) for children to program and play their games.


The pros: If you have a child who is interested in video games like mine is, then this is a treasure trove of information and may allow them to parlay their passion into a future occupation. The information is very detailed, but broken into small enough steps that my 12 year old could follow them. And I was AMAZED that the tutorials held his attention, as they are quite long (over an hour for most of them). I also appreciated that the initial tutorial specifically has no guns or shooting, nor does the racing game (obviously) so kids can still pursue their interest without feeding into the cultural norm of shooting and killing things for fun. I also have to give Tektoma serious bonus points for being something my eldest could do ON HIS OWN, since I break computers just by walking into the room with them, and you certainly wouldn't want me PROGRAMMING one!


The cons: (all these specs come from their site) Currently, the tutorials are for computers running Windows XP or Vista only. Macintosh versions coming in the future. You need a Broadband internet connection-this would be excruciating on dial-up. Any browser should work, but make sure it is a current version.
For GameMaker tutorials, you need a copy of GameMaker installed and the GameMaker resources folder.Instructions for downloading these files can be found on the GameMaker Tutorials page.GameMaker requires 128mb of RAM, DirectX 8 with at least 32mb of video memory, and a screen resolution of at least 800×600.

Also, the tutorials are VERY long...for some children they may be too long (between one and two hours each). And you may need to pause the tutorial at each step to go and DO in GameMaker what it is teaching you in the tutorial, which many younger student may need help with.


So what's the bottom line? This is a cool idea, and very unique in that it makes a field traditionally thought of as being for adults (or at least teen age computer nerds) and brings it down to a level that any interested child can learn. The cost ($14.95/month or $140 a year) is a little steep to maintain indefinitely unless your child really is likely to make this their occupation (or at least become a millionaire int heir teens with their first video game), but they do add new content monthly so there is always something new to learn. And you can try it free for 14 days by going HERE. And site members get access to shared files AND a moderated board where they can ask questions and have them answered.


To check out Tektoma, go HERE. To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.


As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a FREE 3 month membership to Tektoma to allow me to review their site. That membership is the only form of payment I have received for this review.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brief Update

I'm certain I've been very disappointing to my followers since there has not been much to follow lately. At least I updated the blog with a Christmas theme this morning :-). I have soooo much to say, but so many demands on my time and I'm trying to spend my time wisely. Speaking of that, I have to go clean out my car-I'm expecting to find a TON of stuff that has been missing for a while...and maybe a pachyderm or two (seriously, the piles of mess are that bad).

Tomorrow is my nephew's birthday and we are all going to Disney. He doesn't know, so I can't wait until tomorrow!
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Friday, December 4, 2009

Announcing...

Snapshots of Grace Photography.

Snapshots of Grace is a new business that the Lord is leading me into. I've always had a passion for photography, and now God has been opening doors for me to do it on a more "professional" level, so I am following His lead and starting my own photography business. Chances are that this is one of only a few posts you will see about it HERE on this blog since I am trying to keep the more detailed info about my family and our locale private, and I must be open on the photography blog, so I encourage you to go HERE to check out my work. I'd love it if you'd become a follower of that blog too. I'll let you know when the website (www.snapshotsofgrace.com) is up and running too.
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