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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


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 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 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 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


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. 


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:


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


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!


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


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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