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Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday's Random Thoughts

I still have almost no voice, although I can talk in a raspy voice for short increments. I am feeling a bit better though and only took a 2 1/2 hour nap today ;-).

Our fence should be installed Tuesday. I am SOOOO excited.

God has been providing in really fun random ways lately. Wednesday, our neighbor who is renting RM's house walked over to say she is moving out this weekend, and asked if we wanted her trampoline. She only has one child at home, a teenager, and she doesn't see the point in moving it. Since we are getting the fence I had thought we could either get a) a trampoline or b) a pool (the ubiquitous above ground type) but definitely not both, since neither really fall under the "home improvement" category that that money is budgeted for, but both would contribute to the kids' exercise. And now a trampoline is walking itself (okay, maybe not quite by itself) across the street into my yard tomorrow. God is good!

We have a crazy flea outbreak going on again. The pets are all treated, and there's hardly any carpet left in the house, and still there are fleas. The worst area? The bathroom!!!! Don't ask my why, because I don't know how they got there, but the seemingly unending pile of dirty clothes and the bath mat seem to both contribute flea hiding spots. Nothing like dropping trou and having a flea hop on your panties...ARGH!

I finally registered for the homeschool conference today. Nothing like waiting until the last minute. The deadline for them to mail your badges is TOMORROW. I decided not to go to the leaders' day because I don't want to be a leader anymore! Time for someone else to carry that torch. I just have to tell my group of 250+ families that.

As all of my friends solidify their homeschool plans for next year, mine are in an ever increasing flux. Scott is just soooo volatile lately that I don't know what to a last ditch attempt, I ordered him one subject in Switched on Schoolhouse to try. We'll see how it goes.

The future residents of "the playhouse" are getting bigger. They are big enough now that I can multipurpose Thumper's outdoor cage for the chicks too.

The darkest one is Scott's-Rachel, then comes Sari's-Peachy, then Mimi's-Buttercup, then TJ's-Sunny

We started a "naked egg" experiment on Monday. You take an egg and put it in vinegar. The vinegar dissolves the shell, leaving just the membrane with the egg white and yolk inside. The membrane gets rubbery too. I did this as a child, but what I never noticed then is that the egg swells in size because the membrane is water permeable.

Day one-Monday

Day Four-today

After a heinous day with Scott today, followed by a heinous evening with Scott that involved some woodshed/come to Jesus time, I needed a breather, so my uber understanding husband let me take a drive. I knew right where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to do. Enjoy!

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Latest Issue (of the magazine, that is)

Since this is a time of great flux, it might be my last cover. The magazine is for sale, and I am sure the new owners will have their own ideas about things. I am not sure if I'll fit into that picture or not-we'll have to wait and see. But for now, I can show off this cover! This was totally a snapshot-not meant to be a cover shoot at all-but that's how it goes sometimes.
I try to limit my cross-over from this blog to my photography one, but follow THIS LINK to see past covers and some of the newborn shoots I've done lately.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lesson Planet Review

Lesson Planet is a search engine site designed specifically for teachers. It features over 150,000 teacher reviewed lesson plans and 75,000 worksheets. That's a LOT of stuff! The plans and worksheets are sorted by grade levels, user ratings, and subject and you can narrow your search by any of that criteria. Lesson planet has experienced teachers "guides" assigned to each subject and teachers who review the materials on each site.

The pros: If you want comprehensive, this is it. A search of "chicken" worksheets yielded over 1200 results, and when I searched Fractions, I got 3777 lesson plans, 3222 worksheets, and 2 fraction sites. The fact that they are then narrowed for you by grade level is handy, and you can narrow the search initially too. I like that the sites the search engine sends you to have been checked out already, and I know what to expect when I get there. There is even a calendar feature that tells you what is special about today in history and gives you lessons relating to that topic. And the site has link to the state standards for every state.

The cons: The lesson plans are overwhelmingly designed for classroom teachers, and therefore not so useful for homeschoolers without some tweaking. I found I had no use for the lesson plans. But I did search for and use worksheets and found it handy that they had grade information so I could immediately know which sites were grade appropriate.

The bottom line: Of all the educational search engine sites I've seen, this is the best. But still, you are paying for information that is available for free. The question is, is the convenience of having the sites pre-researched, sorted, and rated worth $39.95 a year? That's something every homeschool has to decide for themselves, but the great thing is that Lesson Planet makes that easy for you with a free 10 day trial of their site. To check it out, go HERE. And to see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, we received a three month trial membership that the Crew shared. That membership was the only compensation I received for this review.
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I have laryngitis

So don't call. SERIOUSLY. I have NO voice, so if you need me, you will need to relay through the kiddos. Please pray this clears up quickly. I have a newborn photo shoot coming up (it was scheduled for today, but I rescheduled for Friday) AND UIP concert this Sunday, so having a voice would be a good thing. I'm pretty sure it's allergy related. I feel like I was hit by a Semi-truck, but that's what I get for sleeping with the windows open as a front moved through.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

iheart faces- Smiles challenge

Does it get more gorgeous than this? His eyes are just amazing-and totally SOOC. The only editing to this was a little compensation for the lighting.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Disney Drama

So we went to Disney today. It was a spur of the moment decision because Mondays are best for us and the weather today was gorgeous. We went with my sister and Bam-Bam. A week ago, I took three of my kids, Kiwi's daughter and Bam-Bam. Yep. Me and 5 kids alone at Epcot. Bam-Bam was never bad, but he made me CRAZY nonetheless. He just does whatever comes to mind-from climbing in and on the planters to running off to look at pins to chasing butterflies-you name it, he impulsively does it.
Fast forward to today...
We started out with Bam-Bam using the poles on the monorail as stripper/fire man poles, alternatively dancing around them or doing a flying jump (on a MOVING monorail) to the pole and sliding down it. That endears you to the others riding with you, for SURE!
We got to MK, and rode the train to Frontier Land. We got fast passes for Laur, Bam-Bam, Mimi, and TJ to Splash Mountain, and then we went and rode Thunder Mountain (Sari spent the WHOLE ride telling me how much she did NOT like this ride). At Thunder Mountain, we ran into the B family from our homeschool group. They were headed to the Haunted Mansion next, so we joined them. We were walking from Thunder Mountain to Haunted Mansion right around parade time, so it was pretty crowded. And we were 12 people moving en mass. When we got to Haunted Mansion, Scott and one of the B boys walked over to the restaurant cast member to trade pins. Everyone else went to the left to get in line.

It was then we noticed Bam-Bam was missing. A five year old. In the MK. At parade time. Controlled chaos broke out. TJ went with Laur to look for Bam-Bam. I left Scott in line to go with the B's, and stationed Mimi at the exit to wait on him. Sari and I went to look for Bam-Bam too. We alerted every cast member along the parade route, while Laur called Lost Children (where she co-incidentally worked for a bit when she worked at MK). Since she and I both had years of experience as Cast Members, we weren't freaked out, but it is a real and serious thing to have a 5 year old missing at Disney-especially when the search area is as large as the stretch from TM to HM. And sadly, none of us last knew when we saw Bam-Bam. after about 30-45 minutes of looking for him, he was reunited with his mom. It turns our he had been with us the whole time until the boys went to trade pins and we turned to get in line-he kept walking and ended up at Peter Pan. Of course none of us went checking PAST where we were headed.

After being reunited, we went to Tom Sawyer Island and turned the kids loose with two cell phones rigged as alarms, as implicit instructions to my boys that they were responsible for Bam-Bam and to NOT board the raft without us...we then sat guard at the raft dock just to be sure. It gave us the emotional recovery time and them a chance to run off their adrenaline. That went fine, so it was off to Splash Mountain to for them to use their past passes, and then to Pirates of the Caribbean. Again, Sari was professing her dislike for the ride, so I decided to distract her with a game of "I see a..." So I say, "I see a bird, do you see a bird?". TJ joined in with, "I see a crab, do you see a crab?". Totally into the game now, Sari says, "I see dead people, do you see dead people?".

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Super Star Speech Review

If anyone knows about speech therapy, it's me. Not only did I almost major in Speech Therapy in college, I have had 3 children out of four go through speech therapy. And each with a different disfluency, so I've been through quite a bit of parental training :-).

That's why I was SO excited to get the chance to review Super Star Speech! Super Star Speech was developed by Debbie Lott, who is a licensed Speech language pathologist a with Master’s degree in Education/ speech pathology (she also happens to be a member of the TOS Crew, but I PROMISE that will have no baring on this review). Super Star Speech is available as a spiral bound book or as a downloadable book. It contains an articulation test to give to your student and information for the parent to know what to be looking for and how to score the responses. Then, the parent is given information about how that sound is formed and WHEN a child would normally be able to successfully make that sound. Finally, there are lesson plan pages and guidelines, and specific activities and word lists for the sounds your child might need to work on so that any one using this book could provide articulation therapy for their children.

The pros: This book and system is VERY easy to use. And given what private therapy costs, it is incredibly affordable. I was able to test my daughter, the last of the four and only one who hasn't had speech therapy, and found her articulation problems were actually more minute than I perceived and totally age appropriate. But even knowing that, I was able to set actionable goals for working with her to bring her articulation a little further along. Knowing that one of her problem letters was "l", I also requested the Super Star R and L book, and I would recommend these more specialized books as well, since they go into even more depth and offer even more games and activities specific to the two of three sounds they address.

The cons: There aren't any. The system is easy to use, affordable, and well thought out. Debbie Lott is not only a speech therapist, but also a homeschool mom-what's not to love about that?

The bottom line: Private speech therapy gets really expensive really fast, and unless your child has had an accident that affects their speech or you have GREAT insurance, speech therapy is rarely covered by insurance. Access for homeschoolers to public school speech therapy varies by state, and at least where I live it is only guaranteed in group settings-meaning your child does not get individual therapy, but group therapy based on their grade. And 30 minutes twice a week divided by 6 kids means your child doesn't get much time devoted to their specific articulation problems. Super Star Speech is a wonderful answer to that dilemma. I would recommend it whole-heartedly if you suspect your child has articulation problems. You won't be sorry!

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received Super Star Speech and Super Star R and L for us to use and review. Those downloads were the only compensation I received for my review.

Super Star Speech, Super Star R and L, and other targeted speech therapy books are available HERE. Super Star Speech is $22.95 ring bound, $18.95 spiral bound, or downloadable HERE for $12.95. Super Star R and L is $18.95 spiral bound and $12.95 for a download from HERE. To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about these speech books or other games available from Super Star Games, go HERE.
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Taking a moment to brag

My daughter has THE WORST handwriting. Atrocious really. It's been a point of contention between us for, well, ever, since I am the one who has to READ what she wrote. She's ten, and I know some of you have child prodigies who learned to write in calligraphy with a feather dipped in ink at the ripe age of three, so this is not impressive to you, but here is a sample of her "intentional best" handwriting from yesterday (it's her spelling lesson-did I also mention she's an equally atrocious speller???).

To compare, I offer you her "normal" chicken scratch from work earlier in the day.

I think we've made a break least I HOPE we have. I'd sure like to read more of the sample at the top-all the letters clear and made correctly-and less of the chaos of her normal work!

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Thursday, April 22, 2010


Why don't I do this more often? It only took an hour for the dough to rise before they needed to go in the oven. And YUM! I pulled the rolls out just before going to get Sari, and slapped a slice of cheese on it. I had a warm from the oven melty cheese sandwich (that's why there is a roll missing from the picture above, LOL).
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I bet no one else...

can say their chicks have such an attentive audience. Multiply this times THREE and you will understand why our chicks won't find themselves free-ranging much without us being around to supervise.
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Or maybe I'm just old...

I've been having this shoulder problem that extends into my neck and my arm and down my back...limits range of motion...and causes pain akin to being stabbed when its acute or just an irritating burning sensation when the nerves are inflamed.

I'm a fix it now type gal. I've popped out four kids naturally, so when I'm screaming for pain meds/death/therapeutic massage, things are bad.

All that to say I finally cried "uncle" and begged my editor, who is also a massage therapist, to massage the area.

But she said no.

She said I needed to ice it. Bringing blood into an area already inflamed is BAD. Ice is good.

I'm a fix it now type of person, but I HATE to sit and ice things...especially when it's half my body needing ice. But I did it, because I was desparate.

She was right. The ice worked.

I HATE that. I wanted the relaxing massage and not a cool date with frozen peas, but the ice worked.

Until today.

I have NO idea what happened. I slept okay, and not wonky. I woke up with my neck and shoulder doing pretty well, although my arm felt a little "heavy". But by this afternoon the pain was back to excruciating, and I can't life my arm all the way, and I can't turn my head to the right.

So I wracked my brain for the catalyst, and I think I found it.

I sneezed.


I'm. getting. OLD. Sneezing is now the cause o f bodily harm , and given that it's allergy season, I may be down for the count for a while. And here I thought it was bad that I now understand June what'- her-face's reliance on Depends while sneezing. Apparently I can leak from one end while I injure the other at the same time.

Here's hoping the rapture comes sooner rather than later. Pretty soon, I'm going to resemble Quasimodo in a diaper, LOL.
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You know the expression...

"What's up, chicken butt?

Well, no one ever told me the answer might be "pasted up poo" up said chicken butt. And that if you become the chicken mamma to four chicks, it's up to you to remove said pasted up poo or the affected chick will DIE.

My love affair with chickens has NOT begun yet, LOL.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Guess what arrived today???


is what 27 chicks looks like!!!

Of course, they aren't all mine. In fact only 3 of them were mine...but thanks to God multiplying chicks, I ended up with four-one for each child. I had only ordered 3 at first because I wanted one chick of a different type that was "unavailable" for our shipping day, but we requested that they ship one if they had one available. Since I wanted no more than 4 chickens, I didn't want to order 4 and then have the other one be available too and end up with 5.


Then my kids started talking about THEIR chick...and what they would name THEIR chick. Except that with 4 kids and 3 chicks, there wasn't a "their" chick. It was more like community chicks. So I made arrangements with a friend to buy one of her chicks...but it turns out she didn't order as many as she thought. SO then I tried to buy one from another friend who was getting 17, but she didn't want to part with a breed that I thought would work well in my covert coop.

But the more I mulled it over, the more I figured I'd just take my chances with one of the ones she would part with. Except that Presley and I were struggling to figure out which ones exactly WERE that breed. 11 were clearly identifiable, but the last of the 12 not so much. SO we counted over and over, and separated them this way and that, and still couldn't figure it out...but always got 27 chicks.

Until the last count. Then suddenly we had 28 chicks. 28. Meaning there was an extra one for me. Without having to tap into anyone else's order. God is in the details, I tell you. We have NO idea what breed it is. It may be the one I was hesitant about, but I guess we won't know for sure until it gets bigger. For now it is just yellow and fluffy :-).

The three Red Star chicks (you can see the butt of the yellow one behind)...they are under a red heat lamp, so the coloring is off. The one that's standing is Rachel-Scott's chick.

Fuzzy yellow chick-Mimi laid claim to this one. Her name is Buttercup.Here is our brooder. It was free. Scott's one friend's parents lay floors for a living, and one of their clients offered them this. They built it to transport their cats (they are snowbirds). The friend's parents grabbed it for someone they knew who has ducks, but they never came and got it and they were throwing it away one day when I went to pick up Scott. I, not at all ashamed to dumpster dive, happily plucked it from their garbage, and voila! Chick brooder!

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So because I am a mean task master...

I held my hubby to getting the carport fence finished the other night...even though it was night...even though he had horrible lighting...'cause I'm classy like that. But he finished it, with my "help" (prodding really) and it looks great!

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Alphabets Beats Review

When I learned to write my letters and numbers, my teacher had mimeographed booklets that contained a rhyme and coloring page for each letter/number. I still remember some of them to this day ("Around the tree and around the tree, that's 3."). So I was excited to receive Alphabets Beats to review, as it employs the same concept to teach today's students the correct way to write their letters.

Alphabet Beats is distributed by TV Teacher. They are DVDs that can be viewed on your TV or on the computer. The upper case letters and lower case letters are on separate DVDs. Each DVD has an intro, and then different chapters for each letter, so you can watch and learn them one at a time. Miss Marnie is your TV Teacher, and she introduces each letter with high quality pictures of words that start with that letter, demonstrations of actions or concepts that begin with that letter (my daughter LOVED the "alone" part of the lower case "a" chapter), and the actual rhyme and writing of the letter. Each chapter is 4-5 minutes long, and it is suggested that parents view it with the child the first time, so you can learn the rhyme and assist your child in making the letter correctly. The first time through each chapter, the child WATCHES the video, and does not write while watching. After that first viewing, if the child wants to write while watching, that is fine.

The pros: This totally keys into the way I learned my letters. Tons of studies show that rhyme/songs help children to memorize, and these short rhymes are easy to learn and apply. My daughter can write all her letters, but until Alphabet Beats, her "a" looked like a circle with a random stick coming out of it-usually looking more like a balloon than an "a". My daughter (who is 5) really enjoyed watching the sections, and she we have definitely seen an implement in her letter writing. So much so, that I think I will make my older kids (who for some reason, even with using HWOT, start all their letters at the bottom, which makes me crazy) watch them too. The chapters are short and colorful and engaging. Marnie reminds me a bit of Miss Pattycake, but my daughter enjoyed her for the same reason.

The cons: Price, price, price. Each DVD is $35. OUCH! To get both the upper case and lower case, it is a package price of $64.99. WOW, that is steep to me. I know it's expensive for small companies to produce quality stuff, but as homeschoolers, we have such limited funds, and for me this would be much more reasonable at $15 instead of $35. Especially since you need two DVDs to cover upper and lower case (we had a choice which to review, so I chose lower case since you really write those letters MUCH more than upper case,).

The Bottom Line: I think these DVDs are high quality, and the teach concept behind them is sound. They introduce over 8 vocabulary words per letter, so there is a broader application than just letter writing. But $35 per DVD or $64.99 for the pair just is a huge stumbling block personally to my homeschool. I have 4 kids at four different levels, so to take such a large chunk of our budget on one skill for the youngest child just is not good economy of funds for us. That might be different for you, so I encourage you to check out their website and the sample lesson they have on it HERE. To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: I received a copy of alphabet beats (lower case) for my daughter and I to review. That DVD was the only compensation I received for this review.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Codename: The Playhouse

Since it's a little hard to hide the building of a HUGE chicken coop (THIS is the one we are building), we have had to come up with an alibi. We are calling it "The Playhouse". The kids are more than half hoping it ends up becoming a REAL playhouse, and my nephew has already signed on to sleep in there with the chicks. We realized today that we have to move it into the yard BEFORE the fence goes in-there won't be a way to get it through the fence if we don't. The problem is that that means it is totally in plain sight for any inquiring minds. And since the garden seems to draw the neighbors over to say "hi" and check it out, I'm really glad we have an explanation in place for what this hulking structure might be, LOL. The neighbors behind us know what our plan is, but still, we don't need to draw attention to it even more. The countdown is on until the peepers arrive!
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Let me just get it out in the open right now-I don't like veggies.


It's kind of like someone not liking liver-they are just wholly unappealing to me. I eat corn on the cob...and romaine lettuce...and potatoes, if you can count those, but really not much else.

That's why a garden is a big deal to me. My kids and the Hubs though, THEY eat veggies, but not nearly as much as they should or would if veggies were appealing to me and therefore a priority to make for every meal.

And as much as I am attracted to the idea of a garden, the work of it, especially since I don't enjoy the fruits of the labor a garden takes, just kept it from being a priority.


My friends introduced me to the Square Foot Garden idea. Now this is a garden even I can do! Of course, anything healthy seems to be ridiculously expensive to get started with-if you want to rely less on "the grid" you better be independently wealthy-but I like the look and the ease of this type of garden. We started small, with just two beds, but we are already are in the cusp of being able to harvest things-in fact the Hubs had a leaf of Romaine on his sandwich today.

SO here's what we are growing:

This box has 8 heads of romaine-we will eat the outer leaves off until we have to harvest the whole head, marigolds in all four corners to repel pests, broccoli in the middle four boxes, 16 onions (well, 13 are actually growing I think), 1 okra, 32 carrots, 2 basil, and 1 catnip.

This box has 3 marigolds, 8 sunflowers (for seeds-those are the HUGE plants in the picture), 4 tomatoes, 5 sweet peppers, and 16 peas.

Then as a bonus, I got came form my worm compost bin. I had noticed something growing int here, and when I dug it out, it was POTATOES, so now we have a box just for them:

And then there are my strawberries and blueberries. They need a permanent home, but I have to wait until the fence is in. We've been eating strawberries from our plants, and there are baby blueberries starting. YUM!

Again, my handy man Hubs built my boxes and the pest deterrents around them. He's so helpful to have around!
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Random update-fence

So, we signed the contract this week for our fence. We refinanced the house over a year ago, and kept some money out for home improvements. Then my husband's part time employer stopped being able to pay him, and suddenly, that money became the provision that was keeping us afloat each month. God's plan is perfect even if it is totally different than our own! Anyway, our finances still are awful, like most of the rest of America, but we have a dog that spends 23 1/2 hours a day crated and 3 pseudo-illegal chickens arriving this week, and the fence really has become more of a priority. After the shock of the fence being WAY more than I thought, we revised our plan a bit. We are handling part of the fence. We have a unique situation in that we have no backyard-just a side yard. The side yard bumps up to our carport, which has a 2 foot wall with a full height column every 10 feet. Those spans between the columns are what we are filling. My husband has a PLAN, as most men with power tools do, and this is what he's building:

Two of the four are done so far. The Hubs promises all of them will be done this week-end, as the rest of the fence could be in this week.
I love havin' me a handy man :-). He'd do the whole fence, but he'd need to allocate several week-ends to the project and we have other more pressing needs for his time...and a time sensitive delivery of some peepers who will need to be hidden from view before they get too big, LOL.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

A whole new generation

VW just couldn't leave it alone. They had to start airing commercials so that a whole new generation would embrace the "punch bug" phenomenon. And that includes my children, ho gleefully adopt any excuse for the sanctioned pummelling of a sibling.
Scott sits in the front seat though, so his pummelling has one target-me.
He was explaining to a friend yesterday how he like to hit my arm every time he sees a "punch bug", but that my arm "jiggles" when he hits it. I told him he better careful, and that some day he would have a wife, and it would not score him any points to make that observation about her. He said, "I'm planning on marrying a skinny wife". Oh, well THAT solves the "jiggly arm" problem, LOL. He also followed that up by saying he was planning on not getting fat like his daddy-so it was an equal opportunity parental bashing.
I am of course sharing this with the world so that some day, we can look back and his FAT wife and I will have a good laugh at her even FATTER husband, because I'm classy like that ;-).
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Time4Learning Preschool Review

You may remember that last year a a member of the TOS Crew, I had the chance to review You can read that review HERE, but let me summarize by saying my kids loved it, but I found it to be a little too worldly to be comfortable with my kids spending much time on the site. So I was honestly surprised to be asked to take a look at it again. But this time, our focus was on their new Preschool level, and it was really a pleasant surprise. is a subscription web site that offers educational activities for children from Pre-K through 8th grade. According to their website, "Time4Learning is a new approach that takes advantage of today's technology. It's a convenient, online home education program that combines learning with fun educational teaching games. The online language arts and math comprise a comprehensive program for preschool, elementary school, and middle school. Science and social studies programs are provided as a free bonus for most grades." The Preschool component has two levels, each with 20 topics such as number, letters, colors, shapes, on the farm, rhyme time, space, and fruits, just to name a few. Each topic has several activities to teach and then reinforce the learning. According to their parent pages:

The Time4Learning Preschool is comprised of two learning levels, based on difficulty:
•Level one includes fewer and easier commands and options.
•Level two is primarily intended for learners who can understand and follow multiple commands with a greater number of options.
This curriculum is designed so that it can be used as a one-year program, beginning with the easier activities and progressively becoming more difficult as the year continues. There are approximately twenty themes for each half of the school year, approximately one theme per week of school, for a total of about forty weeks, if a parent decides to use the program in this fashion.
Full lesson plans an descriptions of the activities are available to the parents, and parents can also check at any time to see the activities their child has tried, and which ones they have successfully completed. In case you were wondering, "The only skills required by the child are that he or she is able to use a computer mouse" and "to understand and to follow simple auditory directions, such as 'Choose . . .,' 'Which one . . . ' and 'Match . . .'"

The pros: My daughter could not get enough of this. Once I logged her in, she was able to navigate the site on her own, and explored quite a bit. I loved that as a parent I could easily see what she had tried, what she had actually completed, and also view the activities myself to see what they involved. And unlike many Pre-K computer related activities, these really did focus on academics but also were fun .
The cons: The monthly fee!
The Bottom Line: While infinitely cheaper than preschool, $19.95 a month is a lot to pay (in my opinion) each month to have a computer teach your child things you could easily teach them yourself. BUT, if you are looking for a good way to reinforce learning and you child is technology inclined, Time4Learning may be just right for you. My daughter begs to play it everyday, but honestly, it isn't in the budget to continue it once our free subscription is up. If you are a little less financially strapped, you just might want to check it out!

To check out Time4Learning for Preschoolers or even for older elementary school kids, go HERE. To see what other members of the TOS Crew have to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I was given a one month free subscription to the preschool site. That one month membership was the only payment I received for my review.
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

All About Reading's What Am I? Review

A little while back, the TOS Crew and I took a look at All About Spelling's first venture into beginning readers. This All About Reading Beehive Reader was wonderful, and the full review of that is HERE. Now, we've been asked to take a look at level 2 volume one called What Am I?
What Am I? is a collection of short stories. In the same way that the Beehive Reader I coordinates perfectly with All About Spelling Level 1, What Am I? is designed to coordinate perfectly with All About Spelling Level 2, but it also functions as a stand alone reader for those not using AAS. The book is hard cover, beautifully bound, and 160 pages long. The stories themselves are more advanced than the ones in the Beehive Reader I (this is level 2 after all). What Am I? contains ten stories about everything from robots to horses to a bus stop. They are printed on the same heavy duty non-glare paper used for the Beehive Reader I (which I understand is being renamed Cobweb the Cat) and have the same type of amazing illustrations.

The pros: This book is such high quality, there just is no comparison. The illustrations alone make the book worth buying-they are that good. Unlike other readers, these stories are actual stories, not just a poor attempt to put age appropriate words into a book for kids to practice reading. Some are even written with more poetic-type stanzas or in the style of more mature prose-they are definitely NOT your cheap-o reader from the big box store.
The cons: The one thing missing on this book that the first one had is the tiny dots under the words to help readers track their progress as they read each line. While I am assuming the thought is that as readers progress they don't need that visual clue as much, and while other beginner readers never use them, I missed them in this book, and so did my daughter who struggles to read well. The robot story, which is meant to look like it is written on notebook paper was the easiest for her to read because the notebook paper lines functioned like those little dots in the Beehive Reader I to help her keep her place as she reads.

The bottom line: You can't go wrong with this reader. This winter, an entire reading curriculum called All About Reading will be unveiled, and these readers will tie in with that series as well as All About Spelling, but again, they are fabulous as stand alone books too. I cannot recommend this book, or it's companion, or the company behind them highly enough!
To check out the Beehive Reader I (soon to be Cobweb the Cat-a more child friendly name) and any day now be able to check out and purchase What Am I? for $19.95, go HERE (the book was due out April 1st, but I don't see it on the website a of today). To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.
Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I was given an advanced copy of What Am I? to review. That book was the only compensation I received.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

The Terrestria Chronicles Review

I am an avid reader. Or at least I try to be when four kids, homeschooling, being a wife, keeping a pseudo-clean house, and life in general allow me the luxury of reading. So I have really enjoyed the fact that the TOS Crew has received a few different books to review, which has given me a reason to HAVE to sit down and read!

I have to admit though that I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this latest assignment. The Terrestria Chronicles is an allegory series which "was written with a three-fold purpose: to honor Jesus Christ as King, to challenge young readers to love and serve Him, and to teach them to guard their hearts for Him. The focus of the series is always on the King." The allegory part was the stumbling block for me that kept me from being fully excited about the chance to curl up with a book. I prefer my fiction to be entertaining and an escape from headier things. Generally, allegory means I have to THINK and not just ESCAPE. Shallow, I know, but that's the truth. But, I'm happy to report that while I still prefer a good story-for-story's-sake, I actually enjoyed the two books I received and even found them inspiring and encouraging me.

I received the first two books in the Terrestria Chronicles to review. The first, "The Sword, the Ring and the Parchment " introduces us to Josiah, a slave of the evil Argamor. He is a cruel taskmaster who is served by Lawofsin and Evilheart and he lures his slaves in gently at first until day by day the bonds of their servitude tighten until they arrive at the place we find Josiah when the story begins; shackled and chained by the weight of guilt and desperate to escape but realizing the hopelessness of his situation.
The King comes. King Emmanuel in all His splendor arrives just in the nick of time and saves Josiah from slavery to Argamor. But not only does He save him, He makes him a Prince and takes him to His castle. The rest of the book follows Josiah's struggles to learn about His King and to learn how to yield His book like a sword and to use petitions to seek His assistance or just to offer up thanks and praise. Despite his gratitude toward King Emmanuel, Josiah is easily distracted from the King's business and each trial refines him and his faith more.

The Quest for Seven Castles starts a year after Josiah is saved, and involves him setting out on a quest for his King. He must visit seven castles-the castles of Virtue, Knowledge, Temperance, Patience, Godliness, Brotherly Kindness, and Charity (2 Peter 1:5-8). Along the way, he encounters tests that he must pass that relate to the quality portrayed by each castle he seeks. In this book, Josiah is learning to trust His book/sword and the Holy Spirit (in this case a white dove). He sees over and over again that following them keeps him safe, but ignoring them and relying on his own strength always gets him in trouble.

The pros: If you are looking for safe, God glorifying reading for your age 10+ children (or as a family read aloud), this series is it. The fact that it is written in the world of knights and castles and princes and serpents provides an engaging and entertaining backdrop for the deeper spiritual lessons (along with real historical lessons and a glossary of terms to help you understand all things Middle Ages related). These are books you can feel good about your children reading, and books that can be used to spark conversation about spiritual issues.

The cons: These books are heavy on allegory. Maybe a little too heavy. This is not the next Narnia. The allegory is much more in-your-face and obvious. But I don't feel like the story is secondary to the message as I have with other Christian evangelising book. Because allegory by its very nature needs the story to convey the message, the books are still an interesting and worthwhile read.

The bottom line: I'd recommend these books without reservation. But more than that, I have to say that they took my reluctant reader daughter and made her into a voluntary reader, if only just for one book. It might have been the castle on the front that is eerily similar to the one at Disney World, but it was enough to draw my daughter in. In fact, she didn't want to give up the book so that I could read it. That speaks volumes to me. And when we read the first book aloud, by kids begged for more. What more can I say?

The Terrestria Chronicles are available HERE. Each book is $7.99 or you can get the whole set for $39.99. The set is also available in hard cover for $73.99. In addition to the Chronicles, the author, Ed Dunlop, has written four books in the Tales from Terrestria series. These are stand alone books. He also has several other Christan children's/young adult books. All are available by following the link above. Other members of the TOS Crew had the opportunity to look at other books in the Chronicles series or from the Tales series, so I encourage you to go HERE to see what they had to say.
Legal disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received the first two books of the Terrestria Chronicles so that I could provide an honest review. Those books are the only compensation I have received.
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Is this some sort of sign?

Tuesday at our weekly park day, another mom asked me if we were "done" having kids. I said yes, as far as we were concerned we are done, but that if God can cause Sarah and Abraham to have a child at the ripe age of 100, He can surely circumnavigate a vasectomy so there are no guarantees and I'm fine with that :-)

Fast forward to last night. My husband was teaching the kids at church, and the lesson is on Patience as one of the fruits of the Spirit. As an example of being patient and waiting, he used waiting for a baby since we currently have at least 3 pregnant women at our church right now, so he knew they would all be able to relate to that. That of course prompted OUR children to ask why we weren't having any more children. Ooops! He dodged that one just by saying we thought four was right for us.

Fast forward to a few hours later. I didn't know anything about his class and their discussion, but suddenly Sari, who isn't even in that class, starts PRAYING to God for a little sister. Over. And OVER. AND OVER again.

So now I'm wondering...Is this a sign??? I just saw yesterday that Vision Forum is hosting some sort of baby conference where the focus is on unlimited family size, and the Duggars as featured speakers. I thought more power to them, but I barely hold on to my sanity any given day with FOUR...

So I'm hoping that all this baby focus is because our friends just had a baby. Either that, or I'll be searching the internet for straight jackets and the closest funny farm, LOL.
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks Virtual World Review

This product was a first for the TOS Crew- a review of a virtual gaming site. If you are at all familiar with similar sites like Club Penguin or Toon Town or some of the more adult gaming sites like World of Warcraft, you probably have a good idea of what Wiglington and Wenks is all about, but on the off chance that you are every bit as ignorant as I was, I'll share a little basic information below as well as the specifics that make Winglington and Wenks unique.

I quote below is direct from the Wiglington and Wenks site because I think they probably can explain their site WAY better than I can.

The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks Virtual World is an exciting new massive online virtual world for kids where players can travel to places around the world, through time and space, meet famous historical people, play fun enriching games, make new friends, own exotic islands, build culture-inspired houses, wear all kinds of cool clothing and costumes, explore secret locations, solve ancient mysteries and become a legendary traveler!

Probably the most massive virtual world for kids to date, The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks features more than 100 fun-filled educational real world and imaginary locations from the past, present and future.

Parents can look forward to a safe site for their children where they will be learning about history, geography, landmarks, famous people, inventions, the environment, animals and more.

And for the children, they can expect hours of fun-filled exploration.

The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks was originally a children story book series by John Bittleston, later adapted into a virtual world for kids by creative entrepreneur Aldric Chang and Ngo Chee Yong

Here is the basic way Wiglington and Wenks works: First you set up an account. Because Wiglington and Wenks is meant to be played by children ages 7-14, the parent (whose e-mail is required when the account is requested) has to approve the account. Once the parent gives permission, the child can go on an create their avatar (online player)-do this carefully, I breezed through it and since your avatar is permanent once you are done, I am forever a male on WW. After you create your avatar, you go to Wiglington Town and need to make your way to the Learning Hall where you can explore around. You have to take a quiz before you can begin your real travels, and the clues to this quiz are meant to be found in the Learning Hall...although more than a few people have problems figuring out the answers, as evidenced by the fact that you can find the answers on various "cheat sites". Once you pass the quiz, the basic gist of the game is that you can travel to different places via an "airbus". Once at your chosen location, you will find some "famous" person who seems to have lost their memory. To help them recover their memory, you have to find certain articles for them that are hidden throughout all of this virtual world. Once you find all their articles, they miraculously recover their memory and reward you with a gift. Along the way, you can collect "wikis"-I have NO idea what the purpose of collecting them is, but it's something to do. You can also play games that reward you with virtual currency to spend on virtual things for your virtual world. Oh, and you can BUY a different kind of virtual currency to spend on virtual things for your virtual world. Playing in this virtual world is free, but you can upgrade to an Elite Traveler membership which has a monthly fee and have access to a few places and figures that are not available to the basic players. You also can buy some items that the basic Free membership does not give you access to.
The Pros: Wiglington and Wenks is fun. My kids have enjoyed playing it, and would play it for hours is they were allowed. And as technological entertainment goes, it has some educational value. You do meet "famous" figures from history or mythology or literature. And once you restore the memory of the famous person, they are able to tell you a little about themselves. You do collect wikis and as you collect them, you are given information about the item you collect. You do travel to places around the world, and if you talk to the guy who take you to those places, you can learn a bit about the location. Also, sometimes talking to the people you encounter in each place will give you some information about it.

The cons: Hold on, this may be a long list! The site and the game are NOT intuitively obvious. Sometimes your next step is unclear. Some of the items you are supposed to be looking for are next to impossible to find. That's what lead me to cheat sites to get help in finding items my kids and I just couldn't find. In doing that, I discovered the disturbing fact that there are a great number of adults out there who have an obsession with Wiglington and Wenks. And while they seem mostly harmless, if not a bit out of touch with reality, I think parents should be very clear that this site designed for 7-14 year olds is being played by a lot of people WAY beyond that age bracket. The most disturbing part of the whole experience, in my opinion, is that the chat feature in this game is unlimited. That means you can say ANYTHING. Oh, sure, the rules say no cursing, and of course, they strive to exclude numbers that might be addresses or phone numbers from being exchanged, but based on the experience of several of my fellow crew members, at least in terms of the cursing, your children may be exposed to things you don't want them to be exposed to. Any word can get by with a little st*r in it...and even the full word gets by until a player is reported to a moderator (which I NEVER encountered the whole time I played, and I have solved all but one of the quests). I forbade my children from chatting to anyone, and since there are several servers to chose from to play on, I always made them choose the least full server to minimize the chance of that happening to us. And WW is responding to some of the parents who have expressed concern by rolling out a new limited chat feature for children under 13 where they are limited to a predetermined script of things they can say to each other. Finally, as a Christian, I take issue with some of the historical figures on the quest and some of the information given about different places. Evolution is mentioned as fact in the Grand Canyon of the USA. Darwin is one of the historical figures. Other than Saint Patrick, who was added for Saint Patrick's day, there is no Christian presence among the historic figures the game creators have chosen. And while there are all sorts of cool places you can see on the WW site, many of them are not available yet, so some of the claims the site is making about "more than 100 locations" are not currently true.

The bottom line: I'm not a virtual gamer, so I am probably biased, but I found WW to be intermittently fun and exceedingly boring. I enjoyed the quest when the items were hidden well but in plain sight, but the ones where only a small sliver of the item was visible were not fun to try to find. WW is visually cluttered with stuff EVERYWHERE (see the picture above), so finding an item that is almost entirely hidden is like finding a needle in a haystack. I don't see the point in the Elite Membership-there just isn't enough extra bang for the buck. It runs $5.99 a month, $16.99 for 3 months, $29.99 for 6 months, or $59.99 for a year. If you are into this sort of thing, I would allow you children to play the free site in a main room of your house where you can keep an eye on their activities and I would be strict about banning chatting, but that's just me. My kids will probably continue to play under those very conditions. But it should be noted too that you should not be deceived about the educational value. If your child just wants to play the quest, they might, as mine tried to do, just ignore the informational blurbs and come away without learning much at all. I ended up requiring mine to mark on a map the locations they visited and to fill out short informational pages about each historical figure.
To check out Wiglington and Wenks, go HERE. To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I was given a one month Elite membership fo rthe purpose of writing this review. That was the only compensation I received.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Breakfast of champions?

Brownie with lightly sweetened cream cheese and fresh fruit all carefully crafted to look like an Easter's what all the fashionable people are eating...for BREAKFAST.
Some battles just aren't worth fighting.
Besides, being honest, isn't that what YOU would choose for breakfast too?
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A little self-promotion

In trying desperately to keep my two lives separate, I realized I don't share some things here about the photography business, when this is really the only spot some of my relatives and friends check.


Go HERE to visit the website of the magazine I am shooting for. You can see my latest cover, and if you flip through the pages, you will see more of my pics scattered throughout the magazine (the ads for Stanley Pond Farms and the vet and obviously my own ad featuring last month's cover shot, the family picture pages, and a certain someone's birthday photo-plus the birthday photo of the small red-headed boy in that page.) Be sure to leave a comment on the Magazine's site saying how amazing their cover is...just kidding...the owner reads my blog too, so she'll know I shamelessly solicited comments, LOL.
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Random Ramblings

My cat is a horn dog...if that's possible. She's in heat AGAIN. I think she is in heat every two's exhausting. Tonight, someone left the back door open, and I came into the kitchen and sure enough! horndog and her kitten were both outside and the horndog was, ahem, having relations with one of our male "stray turned outdoor pet" cats. NICE! Kittens in three months anyone?

You know how you have totally unimportant things on your to-do list? Well I got one of them done tonight. I painted my toe nails. It's been so unseasonably cold that my toes haven't seen the light of day in a while, and so I just never repainted them...but they had grown out enough that there was no longer polish on any of them but the top quarter inch of my big toes...definitely time to apply some purdy polish, LOL.

My kids have eaten their body weight in sugar today.

Semi-illegal chicks should arrive in about two weeks, and so far we have no fence, no coop, no heat lamp, no feed, no plan of any sort...

Actually the fence people came out to give us an estimate on Friday. Or at least that's what I THOUGHT they were coming to do. The guy who came out had gotten into some poison oak at the house he went to on Thursday, and so he took measurements and headed off to the doctor with one scary looking arm...he promised to get us the estimate by Saturday. He didn't. I'm a bit perturbed, but I keep reminding myself I should practice empathy and PRAY for the poor guy.

Five people at church today shared how they know that Jesus is alive, and they all had GREAT stories. I need to hear things like that from time to time. Not that I don't know Jesus is real, or alive, but that I am very guilty of getting caught up in my own little world, and their stories remind you of all the things other people are going through that you may never know about. And seeing God work in the lives of others is a beautiful testimony.

Don't you just love the squeaking noises newborns make? One of the sharers today just had that they had with them, and one that is still in the hospital. They were sitting behind me, and, oh, that little squeaking that babies make, it's just soooo cute.

My daughter told her Aunt today that she is going to be playing soccer. Her Aunt replied, "So is B. And he's starting gymnastics, and he just started swimming." How wretched am I that that cuts me to the quick? I know B has some special needs and they are just trying to find the right outlets for him, but to say that to my 10 year just sounds like, "That's nothing dear, money grows on trees on our backyard, and so your cousin is doing soccer and SO much more." There you go...just keeping it real and letting you know how shallow I am.

Nana and PopPop got all the kids Easter baskets. They had fun little gifts inside, but the three youngest kids (Sari, B and Bam Bam) all got Dora/Diego themed whistles that are also meant to be bubble blowers. They only work half way. Any guesses as to which part works? It's NOT the quiet bubble part. The person who thought that would be a good idea should be shot...or have to spend the afternoon with 3 four/five year olds with great lungs and huge determination that if they just blow hard enough they will get to see a bubble eventually.

On Friday, I purged some stuff that my mom had saved for me. She had every record back to my KINDERGARTEN report cards. I'm NOT kidding. They were an intersting read. Apparently, I've always been the person I am, and always had the same flaws. Funny to watch teacher after teacher say, "She's a wonderful student, a joy to have in class, if only..." There were slight variations on the theme, but in general, the "if only" related to my lack of desire to complete work on time and apply myself up to my potential. I still struggle with the same issues...especially the completing work on time thing...but oddly enough, I've managed to become a healthy member of society in spite of that. As and interesting aside, I found out my IQ was higher than I thought it was, and I was struck by how LITTLE it matters at all. How I test on some human scale, whether it's IQ or report card or SAT is no assessment of who I am as God created my to be. I am definitely flawed, but I'm a work in progress. I was when I was 5, and I will be at 105. It goes back to that PBPGINFWMY thing...God's not done with me. And somehow, I think that even when He is, and I am perfected in my glorified body, I still wouldn't meet the world's standards of a life lived up to it's "potential". And I'm more than okay with that.

There are never enough hours in the day. SOOOO much to do, and probably plenty of time to do what matters, but I chose to do the frivolous instead. I really have to overhaul some things in my life and how I spend my minutes is one of the biggies I have to address.

Speaking of, there are a million other uses for my time, so I'll sign off. Happy Easter y'all. The LORD is risen!
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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Join me?

In a TOILET revolution. I don't know how much these are, and money is awfully tight, but THIS is priceless! Blue Cricket Design is one of my new Favorites! Check out the plastic egg idea while you are there-we just did that and they look great.
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They say everyone has a twin...

Here's my daughter's...and they are in the same class together at Pre-K. I guess given we all go back to the same two decendants-Adam and Eve-and even more recently to Noah and his boys, it is inevitable that even two people who aren't directly related can look so alike, but even I get confused if I just see one of them from a far.

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