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Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11


On a night in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, as part of a plan of salvation that only the Creator of the world Himself could have thought of, Jesus, the Christ, was born that we might have hope and a future. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords took on a new name that night- Emmanuel. God with us. The hope He offers is for everyone who believes and the future He gives is eternal. As we celebrate this holiday season, let us remember the Babe whose birth was the greatest gift of all.

Merry CHRISTmas!
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The World's Greatest Stories Review

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We are a family who LOVES audio books and dramatic stories.  My children fall asleep each night listening to something.  When we travel any distance in the car, we listen to stories.  So you have to know I jumped at the chance to review The World's Greatest Stories!

The World's Greatest Stories are CDs or tapes that feature the storytelling talents of actor George W. Sarris.  Using only his voice and some dramatic background sounds and music, Mr. Sarris brings the Word of God to life.  The World's Greatest Stories aren't retellings of Bible stories. Rather, the stories' texts are taken word for word from the Bible (you have your choice as to translations-KJV or NIV).  Each volume is roughly an hour long, and contains multiple stories.  We received Volume 1: The Prophets (NIV) which contains Daniel 3-The Blazing Furnace, Daniel 5 The Handwriting on the Wall, Daniel 6- Daniel in the Lion's Den, 1 Kings 17-18-Eiljah and the Prophets of Baal, and the book of Jonah- the Prophecy of Jonah.

The pros:  These stories are amazing to listen to!  Mr. Sarris has a gift, that is certain.  His use of different voices and dialects makes the stories come to life.  He memorizes each story and knows it so well that all the subtle nuances come through.  You actually feel like you are in the story.  And yet he adds nothing to God's word that isn't already there.  I especially appreciate that this is a ministry to Mr. Sarris and his family, and the cost is kept at an affordable $7.95 for each CD or tape.

The cons:  None.  This product is exactly what it says it is.

The bottom line:  If you want to experience scripture that literally comes alive, you need to check out The World's Greatest Stories.  If you go to this link HERE, you can see all the different volumes and the stories they contain.  You can also listen to samples from each one.  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 one copy of the Volume 1 CD for the purpose of giving my honest review.  This CD is the only compensation I received.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Changed my header

Or at least the frame and photo in it...what do you think?  I miss the more ethereal openness of the other frame, but I like having each child in an independant picture that I can change out...
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This is what happy looks like!

For the past month or so, Sari had been talking nonstop about wanting to get her ears pierced.  The Sunday after Thanksgiving, we went shopping for the girls' Christmas clothes (with Nana and Pop Pop) and Sari got her wish. 
Who knew little rhinestone blue flowers could make a girl so happy?
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Monday, December 19, 2011

Finding a new normal

Back in the middle of September, I received some news that no mother ever wants to get.  The kind of news that turns your world upside down...like being washed overboard in a storm and trying to find your way back up to the surface only to find it rolling with 20 foot waves that crash over you and push you under over and over again.  Some of you readers have known the details of this situation, some have known only that we were going through something and needed prayer, and some probably knew nothing at all-except that a personal post on my blog hasn't happened since before the day I got the news...

We've spent the past 3 months now trying to find a new "normal".  And though our "Job-like" trials have been very hard, God has been very, very faithful.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  Through it all, I have sung His praises because He is worthy to be praised.  He has been the only constant in my ever changing life during this trial.  But He has used many people to help me through it, whether physically or prayerfully, and if you are one of those people I thank you for it from the bottom of my heart. 

My life will never be the same again.  That's just the reality.  But I do still have a life, and I'm commanded to live it in a way that gives glory to God.  So, I'm moving forward.  And I'm reclaiming my blog as a place for not just product reviews but the chronicles of our life.  It feels weird to do.  It's been very hard because people, well they judge you.  If you are too sad...you have no right to be that way.  This tragedy impacted many people, and another family even harder than my own, so I have no right to be upset.  But if you are too happy...you have no right to feel that way either.  You are making light of the situation.  Certainly not taking it seriously.  But God's word tells us that we awake each morning because He sustained us.  That He has a plan and purpose for our lives.  And that we are to chose JOY in the trials.  So I am trusting God.  Taking Him at His word that He has a purpose for all this, and living my life holding fast to the Word of life.  And I think that includes living victorious over these schemes of the devil and treating each day as a gift, and living it as someone who is blessed and rejoicing, and in all things trying to conduct myself in a manner worthy of the gospel- it's good news, and I want to live my life to reflect that!
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Friday, December 16, 2011

I See Cards Fractazmic Review

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I first heard of I See Cards last year when some lucky Crew members got to review another game of theirs.  Sadly, I wasn't one of those reviewers, but I See Cards had a generous offer to teachers last year, and I was able to get Pyramath and Prime Bomb, which are both great math related games that my kids love to play.  So when the chance to review another game from them came up, I jumped at the opportunity!

Fractazmic is a card game that teaches students numbers, fractions, and measurements. 

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The cards are divided into 3 "families" that are color coded, as you can see above.  The blue cards are fractions in the 12ths, 6ths, 4ths, 3rds, and halves.  The green ones are 10ths, 5ths, and halves.  And the red ones are 16ths, 8ths, 4ths, and halves.  As in the classic card game, Rummy, the goal is to make "books" out of the cards you are dealt.  However, in the case of Fractazmic, a book is a set of cards whose fractions add up to "1".  Sound easy?  Well, it's not, because the fraction card have mixed denominators and various numerators.   That means one book could contain the cards 1/8, 1/4, 1/4, 3/16, and 3/8.  There's an awful lot of computation involved in that- even for adults!  Thankfully, the cards contain very helpful graphics on them to help students (and their teachers) figure out what the value of their card is in terms of the greatest common denominator.  And it's because of those graphics that students can easily see the relationship between fractions and measuring in a "real world" way.  So, as the folks at I See Cards like to say:

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The Pros:  The cards are well made, and my other, older decks from I See Cards have stood up to a lot of use, and even some abuse.  The graphics are very cute and more importantly, very useful in the playability of the game.  In fact, once my daughter figured out how to make use of them, she was finally able to start making books and even tied with me.  My 10 year old son "got it" instantly and begs to play the game over and over.  He says it makes him feel smart, and I know it's teaching him more about fractions than any worksheet ever could.

The cons:  This game does have a learning curve- not for the rules, but for the development of the math skills to be able to easily see the "1" with so many options.  So while it teaches fractions in a fun, in depth sort of way, my non-math-inclined daughter found the game discouraging, and I had to make separate fraction charts for her that plainly showed the comparisons of each fraction family.  And my 6 year old, who generally insists on playing any game we play, was very sad to see that this game really is beyond her ability for now.  On the flip side, I am sure the more we play it, the easier it will get for my oldest daughter, and she will understand fractions in a way that eludes her now.  And my youngest will learn it through osmosis as the older kids begin to "get it" and see the "1s" more and more quickly.  The only other con I have is that the graphic for the 16th family is a half inch, which in the end, really only illustrates HALF the solution.  That confused my 12 year old more than once as she would think she had a book because the illustrations filled up the whole graphic, but forget that on those cards, the graphic is only showing half of the "1".  (For example, look at the red-rimmed card above.  The 1/4 is clearly covering HALF of the graphic, but that's not the WHOLE "1".  It takes 4- 1/4s to make a "1", but the picture seems to indicate it only takes 2.  Yet with the other two families, the graphic actually shows the whole "1" needing to be filled (a liter water bottle and an egg carton, each with 10 and 12 units respectively.)

The bottom line:  We've been very happy with all the card games we've played from I See Cards.  My kids have learned more about prime numbers from Prime Bomb than they ever knew before, and Pyramath is so versatile and gives them a math workout equal to their level of knowledge.  Fractazmic is taking a little longer to catch on, I think because it is actually just harder for my children to see fractions with different denominators and know which ones add up to one.  But I think that knowledge is important, and I can't imagine they'd rather learn it any other way. 

You can order Fractazmic (or either of the other two games I mentioned) for $6.95 per deck 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 Fractazmic for free in order to be able to write this review.  That card game was the only compensation I received.
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pitsco Seige Machines Review

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Pitsco is a company that has been around for over 40 years, and is focused on helping teachers and students succeed in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  They produce STEM related curriculum, kits, teacher guides, and classroom tools.  And when they asked the TOS Crew to review the Medieval Machines Kit, you know I jumped at the chance!

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The Medieval Machines Kit features everything you need to build a catapult and a trebuchet, as well as clay to use as your "ammunition", and a book filled with the history of the machines as well as science, technology, engineering, and math problems to work out that are related to each one.  The kit arrives as shown above.  The wood pieces have been cut through cleanly, and are easy to remove.  Once glued together (using wood glue or super glue) according to the instructions provided, the machines are quite sturdy and strong.  The finished catapult is about 6 inches long by 5 inches tall (with the arm fully released), and 2 1/2 inches wide.  It's the perfect size to pack some punch, but still be manageable but students of any age.  The trebuchet is about 10 inches long by almost 14 inches tall (with the arm fully released) by 2 1/2 inches wide.  It too is quite powerful but still a manageable size even for younger students.  The book contains activities such as comparing the mass of different sized ammunition verses the distance that ammunition is thrown by the catapult, or converting from English units (Imperial units) to Metric, or calculating averages, just to name a few.


The pros:  The catapult was very easy to put together, and was my children's hands-down favorite.  They immediately set about to create targets to land the ammunition in, an activity which delighted my 6 year old to no end.  Of course, she also enjoyed the Klean Klay that Pitsco uses for the ammunition and made full use of its modeling capabilities to craft a tea pot and tea cups...which her brothers promptly launched across the room via the catapult.  So, given that similar occurrences undoubtedly happened in history with anything that wasn't tied down becoming ammunition, I'd say we had success even before we opened the book!  The trebuchet requires a little more finesse to load and launch, so it had a bit of a learning curve, but to be honest, I think it's a WAY cooler machine!  Because you can vary the counter-weight and its placement, and the ammunition mass on the trebuchet, there are endless variables to try.  And while Pitsco sternly warns against it, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that, with 2 boys in my house, more than a few lego men were launched in the testing of these machines ;-). 



The cons:  The only thing I'd have to relay is that my husband reported the trebuchet was much harder to put together, and he felt like the instructions weren't clear enough.  I left assembly to him, but at one point when his frustration peaked, I did find myself wrapping string around the end of the trebuchet and gluing my fingers pretty nicely in the process.  Thankfully, we were using wood glue so my fingers weren't permanently stuck, but at that point, a dot of superglue would actually have probably have saved us a good of time and frustration since it is much faster acting.


The bottom line:  This kit is really, really cool.  The timing couldn't have been better for us, as my daughter was just studying simple machines in science when our kit arrived.  The experiments in the Seige Machines book are great and definitely enhance the educational value of the kit, as it suggests things I never would have thought of to do.  And the kit is very reasonable- $21.95 for both machines and the book!  Pitsco also sent us an extra box of Klean Klay, and that was very helpful as ammunition used outside tends to pick up dirt and grass, etc.  And ammunition used inside, at least in my house, tends to pick up dog hair, cat hair, or be turned into teapots :-).  I can't wait to check out some of Pitsco's other kits!


You can purchase the Medieval Machines Kit HERE for $21.95.  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 one Medieval Machines Kit and one box of Klean Klay for free for the purpose of being able to give an honest review of these products.  Those materials were the only compensation I received.
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Monday, December 5, 2011

El Espanol Facil Review

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El Espanol Facil (The Easy Spanish) and Le Francais Facile are curriculums published by Great Commission Languages- a company owned by the Sherwood family who are homeschoolers with a passion for equipping Christians to be able to carry out the Great Commission (going out to the world and proclaiming the gospel). 

The TOS Crew was offered our choice of which language we wanted to review, and I have to admit my gut was French.  I studied French for 5 years, and I know the grammar, pronunciations, and sentence structure.  But we live in Florida, and there is a large Hispanic population.  So if ever a language was going to serve us-whether for the mission field or just for understanding the people at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Spanish was the way to go!

Great Commission Languages - Spanish Level 1

 El Espanol Facil is written from a Christian perspective and includes scripture memorization in Spanish, although that is an optional component.  Here are the specifics of the program taken from the Great Commission Languages website:

•Phonetic, incremental, conversational Spanish & high frequency words


•Spanish Scripture, songs, games and coloring pages

•Great for homeschool co-op groups

•Digitally mastered enhanced CD for audio and computer

•Printable activity sheets: no purchasing consumable activity books or photocopying.

•Teaches language and grammar through literature based entertaining storylines

•Does not require prior knowledge of Spanish

•Set outline of skills per quarter

•3 year program for younger students

•1 to 2 year program for older students and 1 year Fast track option for teens

•Cultural flavor of Mexico and South America with optional projects

•Use of Tomatis and SAMONAS sound theories to facilitate learning

•Follows Charlotte Mason Method, Bloom's Taxonomy and high order theories by Dr. Jeanne Chall

•Edited by and featuring the recorded voices of Native Spanish Speakers from Nicaragua and Venezuela

El Espanol Facil can be used by students as young as 3rd grade and all the way up through adults.  It can even count as high school foreign language credit.  For young learners, it is designed to be a 3 year course, and older students can do it in one year.  Independent learners fall somewhere between the two timelines.  Each lesson features a story told in a "Spanish weave"- a blend of Spanish and English.  After the story is a vocabulary section that lists each vocabulary word introduced in the story and gives its masculine and feminine forms (if applicable).  The stories and vocabulary, as well as songs, Bible verses, and other lesson components are all recorded by native speakers on CDs that are included in the curriculum.  These CDs also contain printable materials for the course.  Once your student listens to the CD lesson and vocabulary, there are activities that go along with that lesson for them to do depending on their age.  These activities are presented in a Charlotte Mason style.  For younger students they include easy pages based on the lesson as well as some additional materials about Spanish culture and idioms for the teacher to present.  For independent learners, they are guided through their activities in a special section of each lesson.

The pros:  The program is adaptable to many ages, and the materials are not consumable.  Once purchased, the license is owned by the family, and can be used by all the students in it.  The native speakers speak slowly and clearly, and the lessons are short but focused. 

The cons:  I want to love this program, but so far, I'm just not.  I am all about Charlotte Mason, but this may be too Charlotte Mason-y for me...or at least for my child.  The stories are told in a Spanish/English blend (with both being used even in the same sentence) so the child can derive meaning, and vocabulary given after the story does give definition, but very little of the "traditional" foreign language learning methods such as verb conjugations or practice exercises are given.  Worksheets have asked for answers to vocabulary the student hasn't been introduced to yet-they are supposed to figure it out in context.  Worse still, worksheets have been wrong-asking for the names of one hermano (brother) and two hermanas (sisters) for a character that actually has one sister and two hermanos.  I caught that, but not knowing a word of Spanish besides what Dora the Explorer has taught me, I am wary of having to proofread a foreign language activity when I don't speak the language.  (I do want to say that their customer service and the owners themselves have been GREAT about getting back to me with my questions.)  I also found a mistake in the appendix.  At least I assume it's a mistake, since I don't speak Spanish, but in Appendix B #4 says, "'J' is pronounced h [jaca (pony)], but h in Mexico."  I THINK it should read,  "'J' is pronounced k [jaca (pony)], but h in Mexico."  Again, that sentence just seemed wrong to me, so I checked the pronunciation guide, but as a non-speaker of the language, I'm trusting the book to get it right!  The biggest con to me is that so far, I haven't really seen my son (who I want to note is enjoying the program and doing all the work willingly) pick up anything.  He seems unable to help me with pronunciations of his vocabulary words even after listening to them all week long.  That means I have to learn it all first, and I wasn't planning on taking Spanish this year, which is why this program and its CDs appealed so much to me!  
The bottom line:  In four years on the Crew, very seldom have I ever said, "the jury is still out" on a product, but that's how I feel about El Espanol Facil.  So far, it is Spanish, and it seems easy enough...but I don't think my child is actually learning anything, so it may just not be right for HIM.  He is happy to do it though, and I am happy to let him continue, so we will see what the future holds.  I have to say the wonderful customer service and the company's commitment toward the mission field went a LONG way toward influencing me to have my son continue on.  That and the fact that he likes it.  I just want to actually see the fruit! 

El Espanol Facil is available from Great Commission language for $139.95.  You can check out some sample lessons HERE.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about El Espanol Facil or El Espanol Facil Junior, or Le Francais Facile or Le Francais Facile Junior, go HERE.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Game of Your Life Movie Review

I remember with great fondness the times in my youth when the whole family gathered around the TV to watch some movie "special".  It seems like that hardly ever happens anymore.  But kudos to Proctor and Gamble, Wal-mart, and NBC for committing the time and resources to bring a whole new generation back to the tradition of "Family Movie Night".



Their latest offering, "Game of Your Life", premieres December 2nd at 8/7 C on NBC, and I had the chance to watch it a few days ago so I could share about it with all of you.  Here is the synopsis of the story:
When industrious high school gamer Zach Taylor lands a prized scholarship to the prestigious Digital Institute of Game Design (DIGD), his future breaks wide open. The opportunity to study under gaming legend Marcus Bentton and alongside the country’s most creative minds will certainly propel him into a successful career as a video game designer. That is, if he can pass the infamous freshman project that eliminates more than half of the class within the first three months.


Paired with brilliant yet socially awkward teammates Phillip and Donald, the trio persuades Sara Ramirez – a determined and striking team leader with whom Zach has a history (and possibly a future) – to join their team. Working off-campus in the teched-out Lincoln Alley loft, the four set out to involve the entire campus in a quirky new social interactive game. But as the group becomes entrenched in the project, Zach learns that his father Billy, a widower, is facing growing financial woes at home. To help out, Zach accepts an opportunity to work directly with Marcus Bentton on a secretive side project that seems too good to be true. The effort requires nearly all of Zach’s time and energy, which he should be devoting to the project. Struggling to keep it together, Zach is torn between his responsibility to his team, his admiration for Bentton and a chance to help his father.

Everything comes to a breaking point when Zach’s team threatens to remove him from the group and the deceptive truth behind Bentton’s project comes to light. With the guidance of Professor Abbie Lambert, Zach must make a decision that not only affects his future, but the lives and livelihoods of the people around him as well. It’s a revealing story that recognizes the magnitude behind the choices we make and the importance loyalty plays in making good decisions.
And here's what I thought:

The pros:  The movie has no foul language, no inappropriate boy-girl relationships, and no violence, outside of a virtual boxing match.  Instead, it has a strong focus on the importance of family and the real cost of the choices we make.  As Zach tries to save the day by saving his family business and home, he also violates the rules that he promised to follow.  His courageous teammate makes the hard choice and turns him in for it, even when she really doesn't want to.  That step, and his subsequent visit to home where his father reminds him that home isn't a place, but, "Home is love and loyalty.", turns his life around.  Zach has to admit his mistake and be humble and apologize to his team for letting them down, and ask them to allow him to return.  He also finds out an adult in the movie deceived him, and has to make a choice as to how to handle that.  He seeks the guidance of other adults in this, which I think is a positive message.
The cons:  I don't have any.  This really is a movie I would feel good about my whole family watching.
 
The bottom line:  I had heard good things about these "Family Movie Night" movies, and now I know why!  "Game of Your Life" airs December 2nd on NBC and I'd highly encourage you to watch it with your family.  Even my girls, who aren't gamers at all, enjoyed the story.  It's rare when a movie, especially one made for TV, comes along that upholds positive values and really is safe for the whole family, and this is definitely one of those rare gems.
 
To visit the Family Movie Night website, and learn more about "Game of Your Life, go HERE.  Or, if you like social media, you can check it out on Facebook HERE or Twitter HERE.  Several different movie trailers are available for you to watch on Vimeo.
 
Legal Disclaimer:  I was given a code to be able to watch this movie in advance with my family for the purpose of giving this review.  Being able to screen the movie in advance was the only compensation I received for this review.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Read Live Program from Read Naturally Review



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Read Naturally is a company that helps students become better readers.  Their programs focus on "five essential components of reading, identified by the National Reading Panel: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension."  They do this through "structured intervention programs (which) combine teacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring — three strategies that research has shown are effective in improving students' reading proficiency."

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The program which we received to review is called Read Live, and this is how it works.  First, it's a web-based program, so I went to the login, and entered my account information.  Because this is also used by entire schools, the process for first setting up your child is a little cumbersome, but detailed instructions were provided, and I managed to get it right the first time.  If you know me, and my track record with technology, that should tell you it's not too hard!  Next, your child takes an assessment of their reading (you chose the initial level for the assessment, and then go up or down from there depending on how they do- knowing my daughter's reading struggles well, I guessed her level right off and the assessment confirmed that).  Then, after you have chosen the right reading level, your child begins the program.


When you child logs in, they are greeted with 12 stories that they can select from.  They chose the one that they would like to work on and click on it.  Before they are introduced to the story, they are given some vocabulary words and definitions that are read aloud for them, and which they are expected to read along with.  After that, they are asked to write a prediction of what the story will be about based on the topic of the story, and the vocabulary words they were given.  Next, the teacher/mom conducts a "cold timing" where the student reads the story aloud.  Errors are clicked on by the teacher (or the student if they need assistance with a word), and the words per minute score is recorded.   After that, the story is fluently and expressively read for the student a minimum of 3 times (although the teacher can change some of the programs presets), and the student is meant to read along with the story aloud.  Then, the student does a practice read aloud without the readers voice reading with them.  Once they complete the practice, they take a quiz designed to test their comprehension of what they have read.  The quiz include a retelling of the story in their own words.  Finally, the student does a "hot timing" again supervised by the teacher in which they seek to improve the words per minute score.  The teacher also awards a score for expression.  Following the hot timing, the teacher checks the retelling of the story, and can chose to have the student re-do any of the quiz questions they may have missed, and then, assuming they have met the words per minute goal, the student passes that story and chooses another story the next time.

The pros:  I have my 12 year old daughter using this program.  She has always enjoyed audio books, but has never been a strong reader.  In fact, based on words per minute, she tested in the 4th grade level on her assessment.  Her reading goal is 100 words per minute.  Her first cold timing score was 83 wpm.  Her hot timing for that story was 132 wpm.  That's quite an improvement!  And I'm watching her do a little better each time.  Three times now, her cold timing score has exceeded her 100 wpm goal...and her hot timing score the last two times has been in the 150-160 range.  Yes, 160!  That's almost twice her original cold timing!  She is learning to read more quickly, but most importantly, she is becoming a more expressive reader.  Other things I really like about the program, besides the success we have personally experienced, is that when the student hits the a point where they need the teacher, the program gives them fun vocabulary quizzes to work on while they wait.  And I love the reports that are available for the teacher to let them see exactly how the student is doing.  Oh, and the stories.  I love that, at least on my daughter's level, they are science based, and focus on different types of animals.  So it's like reading and science rolled into one.

The cons:  Let me start with a few petty ones.  First, there is a bar that highlights the reading line for the student.  It can be turned off, but my daughter likes to use it.  However, to move it down as you read, you must use the mouse, and the bar does not extend very far to the left or right of the text, so the mouse cursor tends to block the text on the edge as you try to move the bar down.  Second, my daughter doesn't love the person who does the reading, but that's probably a personal thing.  Third, when you do the cold timing, the program pronounces any word that you click on so that it can offer prompts to the student if they are stuck on a word.  But you also are meant to click on words they miss, and my daughter found it distracting that each word she missed the voice then felt it necessary to read for her.  That slowed my daughter down.  So we solved that by having her remove the headphones when she does the cold timing, so she doesn't hear the voice.  The only have two major cons.  The first would be the price of the program.  I'm sure $149 a child for 12 months is not cost prohibitive for a school, but for homeschoolers, that's a lot of money!  Schools get volume discounts that can actually drop the price per student to $15.38 each, but homeschoolers don't really have that option, because most families wouldn't ever even need the 6 student "seats" required for the first discount level.  The second would be that my daughter becomes obsessed with reading quickly to increases her words per minute-sometimes to the point of sacrificing her expression and fluency.  I have to actually tell her to slow down and read well, not just read fast. 

The bottom line:  So far, I'm very impressed with Read Live.  And I intend to have my daughter use it every day until our subscription expires.  Then I will have a tough decision to make.  I wish- I really, truly wish- that there was homeschool pricing that made Read Live a more cost effective option.  If it was $49 instead of $149, I know I'd continue it.  But for now, I'll have to see what the next few weeks bring.  For you, my readers, though, there is an opportunity to perhaps try Read Live for free for 60 days.  If you go HERE, and you have a "recognized homeschool", you can try it out.  I'd encourage you to do just that if you have a struggling reader in your home.  You won't regret it!

To learn more about Read Naturally and the other programs they have to offer, go HERE.  To see what the other members of the TOS Crew had to say about Read Live or about One Minute Readers, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free membership for Read Live until the end of the year.  That membership was for the purpose of providing this review and was the only compensation I received.
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Math Mammoth Review- Revisited

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I was introduced to Math Mammoth three years ago when the TOS Crew was asked to review a few of their offerings.  My original review is HEREI liked what I saw so much that I then bought the whole Blue Series to use as a supplement to our "regular" math curriculum.
Well, this year brought some unforeseen circumstances that meant that my "regular" math curriculum was just not going to work for us.  At the same time, the TOS Crew was asked to once again take a look at Math Mammoth.  So I happily volunteered, and when I explained my situation to Maria Miller, who wrote the Math Mammoth curriculum, she generously offered me the chance to review the whole Light Blue Series, which has been a huge blessing to our family.
So just in case you didn't follow the link above and check out my original review, let me give you a little information about how Math Mammoth works.
Math Mammoth has four different "series", all geared toward providing quality math worktexts and workbooks at affordable prices for grades 1-8.

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The Blue Series features worktexts (worktexts contain instructions in each math concept as well as exercises for practice work) organized by TOPIC, such as clock, money, addition and subtraction, and the division book you see to the left







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The Light Blue Series features worktexts also, but they are organized but GRADE level, not subject.  Each level is a complete curriculum for that grade.  In essence, the Blue and Light Blue Series offer the same instruction and practice, just organized differently.
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The Gold Series features worksheets only for each GRADE level (grades 3-8).  No instruction is given, just exercises that provide practice opportunities for review or reinforcement.  They are helpful for teachers or tutors in particular, or also for homeschool moms who know their children need a little more work in a particular area :-).

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The Green Series features worksheets organized by TOPIC instead of grade.  In essence, the Yellow and Green Series feature the same worksheets, but organized differently.



But since the the Light Blue Series is what I received to review, that's what I'll focus on.
The pros:  I love Math Mammoth.  They are serious about the "affordable" part.  For example, topical books from the Blue Series range from $2-7 each, and an entire year's curriculum in the Light Blue Series is about $34.   I love that the instructions in the worktexts are written in such a way that (as long as they actually READ the text) my children were able to do the work on their own.  I was available to answer their questions, but they were able to do the bulk of the work themselves.  The Light Blue Series also includes a worksheet generator that parent can use, along with answer keys, tests, and cumulative reviews.  I could not be more happy with it!  I also want to say that the customer service at Math Mammoth is exemplary.
 
The cons:  None.  The Light Blue Series offers everything I loved about the Blue Series, only organized in grade levels. 
 
The bottom line:  Math Mammoth is great.  Whether you are searching for an affordable, full math curriculum like the Light Blue Series offers, or just wanting to review math skills by topic for extra concept reinforcement, Math Mammoth has just the right product for you!
 
To check out all of what Math Mammoth has to offer, go HERE.  They also have a Make it Real Learning series that covers real life applications for middle and high school math.  Some members of the TOS Crew received those books to review.  To see what other Crew members had to say about Math Mammoth, go HERE.
 
Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received the Light Blue Series so that I could give my honest review.  That download was my only compensation. 
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

VocabCafe Books Review

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College Prep Genius is a company devoted to helping students improve their scores on the SAT.  They offer SAT prep courses and a DVD course called "Master the SAT Class".  Now, they have added a line of fictional books called the VocabCafe series. 
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Each VocabCafe book features 300 words "that are specifically chosen to encourage the development of language skills".  The words are used in context in the stories, and the definitions and part of speech (and pronunciation guides) of each word are given on the bottom of the first page on which each word is used.  The end of each chapter contains a review of the words covered, and the back of the book contains an index with all the words listed.  The books are dedicated by the author "To my friend and Savior, Jesus Christ, without whom I could neither create nor be anything", and "these modern novellas contain no foul language, no illicit sexual themes, and no sorcery".

The pros:  My son, who is 14 and a very choosy reader, enjoyed the two books that he read, and was asking to read them all.  Although he has a few years before the SAT, we have been pulling spelling words from the lists contained within the books. The books are short, just about 150 pages, so they are not overwhelming.  And even I have learned some words from these books- I'm fairly certain I've never come across the word "inveiglement" before in my life!

The cons:  I'm going to start this with the acknowledgement that I am probably a bigger prude than most of my readers.  But I made an assumption that the dedication to Jesus at the front of the book and the "no foul language" in the description meant that these books would meet my standards, so I let my son read them without my pre-reading them.  That was a big mistake.  As I started to read I.M. for Murder (which by its very title didn't make me crazy about it, but "Dial M for Murder" is a classic, so I figured the title was a clever take-off from that), I came across a few things that stopped me in my tracks.  
Here are some examples: 
First, one of the "screen names" used while the characters are chatting on a blog is "2Hot4U". 
Second, that same character says, "It s*cks that your girl dissed you."  Except they used the whole word.
Third, 12 pages later, another character says, "That was so freaking cool."
Remember I said that I am a prude, but in my opinion, "s*cks" and freaking both fall in the "foul language" category.  Or at the very least, in the "totally avoidable and you could absolutely tell the story without those words" category.  I feel like those words and that moniker are a sell-out, and I expected better.  To be fair, it should be noted that the Crew was given this statement by the author,

***A WORD ABOUT CONTENT – These books were written with an intended audience of high school teenagers, although many parents find them appropriate for their middle school or younger students. As a family-based company, our goal is to make a quality product that can be enjoyed by everyone. Thus, these stories contain no magic, sorcery, swear words, illicit situations, nor do they encourage negative behaviors. However, we recommend that parents should read every book that they give their children (not just ours) to make sure the messages coincide with their beliefs and standards. The VocabCafĂ© Book Series does contain boy-girl relationships (non-sexual), mild violence, and mature thematic elements.

Unfortunately, I can't find anywhere on the College Prep Genius site where the public is given the same information! 

The bottom line: No one is more disappointed than I am that these books aren't every bit as wonderful as they could have been. A little less desire to meet the masses where they are, and a little more passion for integrity could have allowed the books to be great SAT vocab boosting tools that also don't compromise on values. But I also realize that there are far worse, totally NOT educational things out there for kid to read.  And I get that I am very conservative, and others may have no trouble with the things I mentioned above that concerned me.  So the best thing you can probably do is check the books out for yourself HERE.
The VocabCafe series retails for $51.80 for all four books, but is currently on special with all four books costing $38.85.  You can order them by following the link above.

To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go
HERE.  Some of them had the chance to review the "Master the SAT Class" DVDs instead of the books, so you will want to check that out! Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received all 4 books in the VocabCafe series so that I could give my honest review.  Those books are the only compensation I received.
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Keyboard Town PALS Review

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If I have one regret from my high school days, it was that I never took a typing class.  I just never thought it was that important.  I wish I had known then how much my life would depend on computers and keyboarding now! 

Keyboard Town PALS is a revolutionary way of teaching keyboarding skills to even the most reluctant learner.  Designed for students ages 6-12 or special needs children, each "home" key on the keyboard becomes a puppet character (like "Amy" for "a") around whom a story is built.  For example, Amy travels downtown to feed the zebras ("z" is the key that your pinkie strikes below the "a") and uptown to visit Qwert, who always asks questions ("q" is the letter your pinkie strikes above "a").  Each of these stories is told in 6-8 minute lessons, and the students practice typing during each lesson.  The backspace and delete keys are disabled, and exercises are not timed, so the emphasis is on creating meaningful associations, not on creating stress to preform correctly or be penalized.

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Above is Sunny, who guides the students through the lessons.

 
Here is a screen shot of Amy.

The pros:  This is a very gentle, no stress way to introduce your children to the keyboard and to where are the letters and some special character keys are.  While the puppets may seem juvenile, the stories really do build associations that help the students remember where each key is in relation to the home key typed with the same finger.  I had 3 of my 4 students (ages 6, 10, and 12) give it a try, and none complained about having to do it as the lessons are very short and not tedious at all. And short lessons mean the main keys of the keyboard are all covered within an hour's time.  I would say even I (with mediocre typing skills of about 40 wpm) benefited from the stories that help you remember which keys are where.

The cons:  Because it is such a gentle approach, I'm not sure there is enough practice.  Yes, the stories work, and help you build those associations.  But to be able to truly type at a good pace, you have to develop the muscle memory in your fingers that only comes from practice.  And I could quickly see my 6 year old revert back to hunting and pecking even when she completed the videos.  She now knows where the keys are, but she doesn't have them down enough to feel comfortable having her fingers resting on the home keys and obscuring her view of the keys, so she prefers to hunt and peck if I don't directly supervise her.  (They do recommend you creating a word document and having your child practice typing the ABC's, but that's not the same as having more practice work included in the program itself.)  And because the program is designed to help students not get discouraged, there also is no self-checking to be sure the students actually are typing the right things when they are practicing with the videos.  My older students typed the required letters, but also just messed around while they waited for the video to more on.  Lastly, all the keyboard isn't taught.  Students do learn 30 characters-all the letters and then the "," and "." and ";", etc.  But no numbers are taught, and no shift key characters are taught.

The bottom line:  I think this is amazingly innovative.  And they have great research and testimonials to back it up.  But I think the very young enjoy the puppets and learn the stories, but don't necessarily get enough practice to reinforce the learning.  Older students may find the puppets "too young" for them, and they too would benefit from more practice than the program offers to build muscle memory.  But I do like the program, and I intend to have each of my kids go through the whole thing again to cement the stories.   I think this is a great "Introduction to Keyboarding" type program, but you will have to follow up either with intentional, supervised keyboard activities to be sure your students are incorporating what they learned, or another typing program that offers them more practice so those stories can be translated into natural hand positioning and innate keyboard knowledge. 

Keyboard Town PALS is available HERE.  The basic program is $30 for either the CD-Rom or the web-based version.   It should be noted that supplemental materials such as coloring sheets, stickers, finger puppets, and a concentration game are all available to go with the program ,but I did not receive those to review.  There is also meant to be a version of the program for even younger children called "Little Hands Can Type" and a follow up program that includes more practice called "Let's Lead", but neither of them seems to be available from the Keyboard Town PALS website currently.

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 free access to Keyboard Town PALS for 6 weeks so that I could provide an honest review.  That access is the only compensation I received.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Person I Marry Review

Some books are destined to be treasures...the kind you read to your children over and over, the kind that speak truth, faith, and encouragement into their lives, the kind you hold on to knowing that one day you will read the same books over and over to your grandchildren, and if you are lucky enough, your great grand children. The Person I Marry is one of those books.


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The Person I Marry was written in verse by Gary Bower, and illustrated with gorgeous and touching illustrations by his wife Jan.  The parents of 12 children, they have used their years of parenting and their faith in God and the truth of His word to glean the bits of wisdom they share in describing the characteristics a person should seek in the person they marry.  Without giving away too much, here is just one example, "The person I marry will be the sort that's by my side to lend support, share the burden, help me stand by offering a helping hand."  There are more examples in the video below.


The Person I Marry from Bower Books on Vimeo.

The pros:  Honestly, I don't even know where to start.  This is wisdom that everyone should have.  It's not gender specific but applicable to both.  And while the illustrations all feature younger children, there isn't an unwed person out there who couldn't benefit from reading this and embracing the concepts it shares.  This book deftly puts into words all the characteristics I want my children to SEEK in a mate, and everything they should seek to BE for their mate.  Proper emphasis is given to God being number one in the relationship, and character traits are not only expounded on in poetry, but they also provide the background for the text boxes on each page, so they are reinforced over and over.  And the illustrations are amazing.  Just darling!

The cons: NONE!

The bottom line: I really mean it when I say everyone who is single should read this book.  Parents should read it over and over to their children.  It will lay a foundation today that will serve your children well in the future-both in what they should look for and in what they should seek to be in marriage.

The Person I Marry is available for $11.99 from the Bower Books website.  To learn more about this book or other books by the Bowers, 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 received a free digital version of The Person I Marry so that I could provide my honest review.  That digital book is the only compensation I received.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Ooka Island Review

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Go on...say it.  Ooka Island.  Ooka Island.  Ooka Island.  How can you not love a product named Ooka Island?  And in this case, the game is every bit as much fun to play as the name is to say.

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Ooka Island Adventure is a downloadable reading program that includes "an e-reader with 85 leveled e-books, 24 levels in 15 learning activities, full 3D graphics, an original musical soundtracks, voice recognition, and much more."  It's an amazing virtual world designed for children ages 3-7 to teach them the phonics skills necessary for reading comprehension and fluency.  Ooka Island uses the "Ooka Method", which is explained below.
With the OokaMethodTM, children progress to the most sophisticated phonological level. First, they must understand that words are made up of individual sounds (or phonemes) that they can hear and manipulate. Second, they learn to associate these sounds with letters and blend them together to make words, thus breaking the code that speeds them through the foundational levels of reading development and beyond.


The OokaMethodTM includes the language-rich Ooka Island Book Series with comprehension and vocabulary activities. Children progress through a leveled and sequenced flow of books that follow recurring characters in familiar, every day activities. Children then bring their own language knowledge to the reading process and emerge into reading while developing vocabulary and reading comprehension.

The pros:  Ooka Island is a truly amazing educational site.  In fact, I'd say it's by far the coolest and most educational program my family has ever used.  The game is really geared toward young children, and that is evident from the very beginning with your student having a password PICTURE and not a word.  Brilliant!  As they begin the game, your student creates an avatar to use and customizes it to their liking.  Since we've been studying American History, my daughter was thrilled to make hers look like Pocahontas.  Then Zobot- a robotic character who serves as their guide- leads them through 20 minutes of purposeful "games" designed to teach them phonics skills.  After each 20 minutes of game directed instruction, the student gets 7 minutes of "free play" where they can revisit game activities or do other fun things like visit the "pencil playground" or shop for items for their avatar.  My 6 year old has totally loved every minute of this game-free time OR game directed.  She is a beginning reader for sure, and Ooka Island has definitely improved her reading skills.  She would play Ooka Island for hours and hours if I would let her, and never once feel like it's work, whereas a simple 10 minute reading lesson leaves her squirming and begging to be done.  In fact, right now the only begging going on is her 10 year old brother begging to be able to play because the game looks so cool!

The cons:  The download is 2 GB.  Really.  That's big, and it takes a LONG time depending on how fast your internet speed is.  But it's worth every minute.  The only other real con I have is that in some of the games, words are said that I feel are difficult to understand, and sometimes, I think they are not even real words.  My older kids picked up on it too, so I know it wasn't just me.  I wish I had written down the examples, but none of it interfered with the playing of the game (because the target phoneme sounds themselves can be understood even if the entire word isn't clear).  I just found it strange that in a reading program, everything wouldn't be exceedingly understandable.   Another thing to be aware of is that there are "elves" in Ooka Island, and you help free them by earning points that you get from completing each activity.  I personally had no issue with this, but I know some people aren't into elves and other similar creatures, so it's something you might want to consider.

The bottom line:  Ooka Island is very, very cool.  And from as I have seen so far, it's also effective.  I can't recommend it highly enough.  It's been a huge bonus for my youngest by giving her a way to learn her phonics sounds in a fun environment that doesn't feel at all like "work".  And as a bonus for YOU, there is currently a 30% discount available to sign up, and you can try it free for 14 days!
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Regular pricing is below:
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To check out Ooka Island's website and learn more, go HERE.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about their experiences with Ooka Island, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received one 6 month subscription to Ooka Island in exchange for my honest review.  This membership is the only compensation I received.
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Christmas Lodge Movie Review



The other night, my husband and I had the opportunity to curl up together and get a jump start on the holiday season while watching Christmas Lodge on DVD.

Here's a brief synopsis about the movie:

Thomas Kinkade presents Christmas Lodge: a place where a heart-warming past and loving future meet for one remarkable group of people. During a weekend trip to the mountains, Mary (Erin Karpluk) finds herself at the now- dilapidated lodge where she spent the holidays with her family growing up. She becomes determined to restore the building to its former glory. Inspired by her grandfather and guided by her grandmother in heaven, Mary throws herself into the project, and during the process finds herself drawn to Jack (Michael Shanks), a handsome man who loves the lodge as much as she does. Historically unlucky in love, this chance encounter allows Mary to renew her faith in life and discover her one true love. For an uplifting story about the importance of faith, family and the true holiday spirit, go to the Christmas Lodge.

The pros:  The movie really is about love, faith, and family.  The characters display a strong Christian faith, and that faith (with a little help sometimes from Grandpa's wise counsel) compells them to "do the right thing" even when that's not the easy thing to do.  God blesses their faithfulness, and Mary's whole family is drawn closer because of it.  It is impressive to me to see Grandpa reading from the Bible and scripture beingwoven into the storyline.  The man/woman relationship scenes are chaste and pure, and I believe the only kiss is a short one at the end that is in the witness of the whole family and at a moment when you would expect such an event to happen.  The movie opens with Mary and her beau going to the mountains for the weekend, but this romantic getaway features separate rooms and a very modest outdoor hike.  What a breath of fresh air!  I loved Grandpa's faith.  His whole character was inspirational, as was the family's committment to attending him in his illness.  Really, in my opinion, Christmas Lodge  is almost everything a truly Christian movie should be.

The cons:  You know how above I said "almost everything"?  Well, there was one part of the movie that bothered me.  Let me explain a bit.  Mary, one of the main characters, has a deep connection to all her family, but an especially deep connection to her Grandpa, who is a widower.  Several times in the movie, Grandma, whom everyone, but especially Mary and Grandpa, misses very much, was given credit for being able to communicate from beyond the grave.  For example, Mary says, "Grandpa said  the Lord and Grandma spoke to him every time he went hiking."  Mary also tells a child in the movie, "God and my Grandma talked to me" and in another place she shares with her mom the conviction that God and Grandma had spoken to her in the woods the day of her hike saying, "they were telling me to repay Grandpa."  Her mother replies, "Maybe they were...maybe they still are."  Now I happen to know many people find comfort with the idea that loved ones somehow communicate with us from beyond the grave, and some denominations even support that idea.  And I don't at all discount that when a loved one dies that we were especially close to, we are able, because we know their character so well, to discern what they would maybe say or advise in a certain situation...if they were still alive to do that.  But scripturally, I don't think there is any evidence that deceased loved ones actually DO speak to us from beyond the grave, and certainly not that they share that voice with God himself.  I think God doesn't need any help communicating with us, and the continual use of "they said" and "they were" as if God and Grandma were the same voice I find to be Biblically off base.  It could have been said, " I feel like God was telling me (insert whatever God 's wisdom for her was)...and I'm pretty sure if Grandma was still alive, she would tell me that too."

The bottom line:  I really liked this movie, and it has so many great things going for it.  I don't think the above issue is a "deal buster", but if the concept of the dead communicating from heaven with the living does not line up with your theology, it would be a good thing to be aware of and to discuss with your family before or after you watch it. 

If you want to learn more, you can watch a featurette of the movie HERE.  You can also purchase the movie from many retailers.  To find out where, go HERE.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog.  Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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Friday, October 28, 2011

Say Anything-Family Edition Review

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Some of you may remember last year when I was fortunate enough to get to review a game called Wits and Wagers Family Edition by NorthStar Games.  My family loved Wits and Wagers then, and we still love it now.  It's one of those games that gets played very frequently in my house.  Given how much we loved Wits and Wagers, it was natural for me to jump at the opportunity to review another NorthStar Game- Say Anything Family Edition.


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Say Anything Family Edition is designed for 3-6 players, although you could probably play it with teams if you wanted to to include more people.  Although it's a "family" edition, the target age range is 8 and up since reading, writing, and sometimes understanding of current events is required.  The game starts with one player being the "judge".  The judge draws a card and reads a question from the card for everyone else to answer.  For example, "What would be the coolest thing to collect?"  The catch is, you are trying to write the answer you think the judge would pick!  You write your answer on a small dry-erase tablet, and place it face up in front of you.  After everyone has an answer, the judge uses the "Select-o-Matic 6000" to pick the winning answer in their opinion, and then, much like Wits and Wagers, all the players get to wager on whose answer the judge chose.  You have two tokens with which to wager, and points are awarded for choosing the "right" answer according to what the judge chose on the "Select-o-Matic 6000".  After that round is finished, points are recorded, and play continues as the next person becomes the judge. 

The pros:  We LOVE this game-every bit as much as Wits and Wagers.  Even my 6 year old plays, although she usually has to draw a picture of her answer and then explain it to everyone.  My kids play this literally every day.  It has never made it onto out "game shelf" in the 6 weeks we've had it!  It's fun, it's fast (you only play to 12 points, and you can earn up to 3 points each round, so games go quickly), and it's really easy to play.

The cons:  There are some questions that I think even an 8 year old wouldn't necessarily be able to weigh in on in the same way a teen or adult would, like "What's the most romantic movie?" (although my kids chose that question and all picked their favorite Disney prince/princess match up movie).  There are other questions that just are, in my opinion, inappropriate for the family version, like "Who's the best looking actress?".  But honestly, since each card has 6 question to chose from, you can just skip anything that is objectionable to you and still have plenty of playing fun, which is what we did.

The bottom line:  We love this game.  I can't say that enough.  It's fun and easy to learn and play, so you can take it to gatherings of family and friends and NOT have to worry about getting bogged down in explaining the rules for half an hour before you ever get to play.  With Say Anything, everything you need is in the box, you explain the simple rules, and the game begins.  I would totally recommend this game to anyone looking for a chance to gather round the table and have some family fun!  Say Anything Family Edition retails for $19.99, and can be found at places like Amazon.com and maybe even your local Target store or other retailers.  Say Anything is also available in a non-family version as well.

To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about Say Anything, go HERE.  Some people also received Wits and Wagers, and you can read about their thoughts HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free version of Say Anything Family Edition for the purpose of giving my honest review.  That game is the only compensation I received.
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Friday, October 21, 2011

The Mighty Macs- A Movie Preview

Recently, I got the amazing opportunity to review to check out The Mighty Macs- a movie that is coming out in theaters on Friday the 21st. 



Just in case you haven't seen the previews, here's what the movie is about:
It's 1971. Cathy Rush is a woman ahead of her time ... and she's about to embark on an adventure for the ages. A new era is dawning in the country and in collegiate athletics, where a national champion will be crowned for the first time in women's basketball.


In the lead up to this historical season, major universities are preparing their game plans to win that first title. Meanwhile a tiny all-women's Catholic college in Philadelphia has a more modest goal: find a coach before the season begins. Providentially, Cathy Rush is about to find Immaculata College.

Recently married, Cathy is dealing with the aftermath of a truncated playing career. While cultural norms would have her staying at home, she's willing to do the hard work necessary to help her new team reach their goals—or perhaps she's just trying to achieve her unfulfilled dreams through them.

From the beginning, her challenges are as imposing as the big-school teams Immaculata will face on the court. Cathy learns there is no gymnasium on campus, she receives little support from the school's Mother Superior, and the school is in dire financial straits. To top it off, she may not even have enough players to field a team!

While it appears the Macs don't have a prayer, all hope is not lost. With the help of Sister Sunday—a spunky assistant coach—and the support of a booster club of elderly nuns, Coach Rush creates a new game plan that just might bring the team—and the school—together.

Will this pioneer buck cultural norms and spur her rag-tag team to unexpected heights? Or will her hard-driving ways create a wedge between the coach and everyone around her? One thing's for certain: there's never been anyone like Cathy Rush at Immaculata!

The pros:  My whole family liked this movie.  I'm not even a big sports person, but the story is so well written, and the coach's inspiration is so amazing, that it was really a great story to watch.  It's wonderful to watch what happens when the coach dreams big, and the players learn to believe that it's possible.  And the fact that it's based on a true story was the icing on the cake for my kids.

The cons:  The movie is rated "G", but apparently "G" allows for things I wouldn't think it did.  I'm fairly certain at one point the coach mentions "a cold day in h*ll", but she says the real word.  And as a Christian, I know h*ll is a real place, but not a word I expect to hear in a "G" movie.  It also had some scenes and innuendo that made me cringe with my kids in the room, like when the coach and Sister Sunday stop off in a bar, and a man buys them drinks.  Since the Sister is not in her habit, he hits on her (well, really he hits on them both), and she says she is in a relationship.  He asks what her significant other does, and she says he's a carpenter.  The guy then makes a comment about her significant other "being good with his hands then".  Ummm, I know I'm prudish, but that's God we're talking about!  And I don't appreciate the "good with his hands" reference in a G rated movie my kids are watching.

The bottom line:  Despite what I said above, the movie is really very good.  It has a very strong Christian message, as well as always emphasizing a focus on the "team" not the individual.  It reminds us that where we come from and what we have (or don't have) is NOT what defines us.  Nor are we limited by what other people believe us capable of.  And it shows how the Lord really works in mysterious ways.  I would definitely recommend it, but I'd keep in mind that it might not be suitable for some children (although I have to say the things I mentioned went right over my kids' heads- I was just disappointed they were even included in the movie).

For more information about The Mighty Macs, you can visit their website, or their Facebook page, or twitter, or watch this preview from YouTube:

Legal Disclaimer: As a reviewer for Propeller, I received the ability to screen The Mighty Macs at home for the purpose of writing this review.  That viewing was the only compensation I received.
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

E-Mealz Review

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I'm in love.  Completely, head-over-heels in love.  With an internet meal plan service.  That's the strange part, but it's completely true!

E-Mealz offers you a mealtime makeover.  They put together the shopping list, tailored to specific stores around the country or "any store" if you don't want to be penned in.  Then they also give you a meal plan for a week's worth of dinner meals.  As a bonus, the plan takes advantage of whatever specials the store you are signed up for is offering, so your weekly shopping trip feeds a family of 4-6 dinner for a week for about $75.  Oh, and specialty menus are available for gluten free, low fat, low carb, portion control and vegetarian.  Plus, if your family size is smaller, there is an option for 1-2 people to accommodate you.  And it really is as easy as the steps below:
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You can't really read it well, but this is a good example of that the meal print out looks like.  The shopping list is the one behind the meal plan.
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The pros:  This is an answer to a prayer I never knew to say!  Every week, I get a menu tailored to the specials at Publix, my store of choice.  The food has been great.  My kids have loved every single meal.  And we have been eating more complete, well balanced meals.  As a family of 6, I have to say I wondered if the meals would really be enough, but they are plentiful- in fact we usually have left-overs.  In fact, between left-overs and a busy schedule, we never need all 7 meals, which has allowed me to skip over the meals I was not sure would go over as well in favor of the meals I knew we would enjoy and still have my entire week or meals planned out for me. 

The cons:  Okay, so shopping does take me a little longer since I find myself looking for things I don't buy regularly.  Luckily, the folks at Publix are happy to help.  And there is almost always one meal that I know we wouldn't enjoy-mostly because there are almost always meatless meals, and I'm not big on veggies.  And I have found that I've made some substitutions.  For example, I may not eat veggies, but I'd rather feed my family frozen green beans than canned green beans any day.  And I've skipped out on the Cajun seasoning in two recipes in favor of something less spicy.

The bottom line:  Dave Ramsey endorses this program, but more than that, my husband is so enamored with me having a dinner plan for every evening, he's willing to pay for E-Mealz forever.  As a homeschooling mom, it takes a HUGE burden off me to have a dinner plan and homeschool 4 kids and attend to all our comings and goings.  It's worth $1.25 a week to save at least that in eliminating the need for fast food on evenings when school ran long and post-dinner activities leave us without enough time for me to come up with a last minute plan.  E-Mealz is $15 for 3 months.  To learn more, you can go HERE.  As for me, I'm going shopping off my newest E-Mealz menu!

To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.  Some of them reviewed other stores or specialty menus that might be of interest to you!

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a FREE 3 month trial of E-Mealz.  That trial is the only compensation I have received for this review.
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