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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

All About Reading Review


How do I love everything I've ever used from All About Learning?  Let me count the ways!  All About Learning began with All About Spelling, a product I reviewed years ago and loved at first try.  (Click here to read my All About Spelling Review.)  We still use it to this day.  Then, they began developing beautiful children's readers in anticipation of their new reading program.  I also reviewed those books, and they were such high quality and just so beautiful, I was beyond impressed.  So of course, when the chance to review their new All About Reading program came up, I basically BEGGED to be chosen to review it.

I should start by saying all 3 of my older children (who learned to read before All About Reading existed) have used the exact same reading program with fine results, but that my one complaint with that program was that it did not teach ALL the sounds a letter can make, so after learning to read, they still didn't know any of the rules for WHY words were pronounced and spelled the way they were.  But I loved the simplicity of that program, which required very little teacher prep, and I also knew I wasn't up for some of the profoundly complicated systems out there.  All About Spelling was a perfect way for them to fill that spelling void, but it meant that my older students were having to go back to remedial reading levels to learn some of the basics of spelling that they didn't learn when they learned to read.  So even though I had begun my youngest daughter on the same program her siblings had used, I knew that it wasn't ideal since it meant she too would have to backtrack.  And THAT is why it was a no-brainer for me to switch her, even mid-stream, to All About Reading.

All About Reading is everything I love about All About Spelling and more!  Each lesson is completely scripted for you, the teacher, so after you initially set up your materials, prep work is virtually non-existant.  Everything you need to know, do, and say is provided for you in the Teacher's Manual.  All the lesson specific materials your student needs are in the Blast Off to Reading book.  In addition to those two resources, the program uses manipulative letter tiles and the yellow phonogram cards and green word cards you can see pictured above to help your child learn through sight, sound, and touch.  The final component is the three beautiful, hard cover readers you can see pictured above too.

Lessons begin with students learning the initial sounds of a few phonograms.  They then learn to combine these sounds together to read simple vowel-consonent-vowel words.  Before moving on, each new lesson reviews the sounds already covered and some of the words already read.  Indexed tabs for your cards help organize them by what is not-yet-covered, what is mastered, and what needs to be reviewed. 
The Deluxe Kit (above), which I received, even has a beautiful box to keep all the cards in, as well as a tote that comes in very handy to keep all the materials together.  After your student reviews the cards with you, you move on to the new material.  Some days, it is reading a story or two from one of the readers.  Other days, new sounds are taught.  Words are built with the letter tiles (which are laminated, and can be turned into magnets and used on a large dry-erase board), making it easy to change m-a-t to b-a-t and then b-a-d, etc.  Often, there are supplemental activities in the Blast Off to Reading book, including pages of words, phrases, and sentences to practice for fluency.  The lessons are short enough not to be taxing to the student and the activities provide reading reinforcement that is so much fun, it doesn't seems like work.  The last thing your child does is places a sticker on their progress chart to keep track of their acheivement in completing each lesson.  This placing of the sticker on the chart has become my daughter's favorite thing to do!

 The Pros:  Okay, I know I'm totally not being impartial, but I LOVE this program.  See that little girl in these pictures?  That's my youngest.  You know what she used to do every day when it was time to do reading?  Cry, and whine, and say, "No Mommy, please, not reading".  Now, she's a changed child.  She loves to do her reading lessons.  She loves the activites, like the one above, that keep her practicing when she doesn't even know she's "working".  I love that the program uses the same letter tiles that my older kids are using for spelling, and the same format to each lesson, so segueing from this to All About Spelling should be totally painless when that time comes, and since their are both by the same company, there shouldn't be any backtracking needed.  That makes me a happy momma! 
 See these smiles?  They are real-I didn't tell her to smile.  She's so pleased with herself that she can read these real books with real stories.  The books are a treasure.  They are high quality, and use a non-glare paper to make it easy on the eyes for beginner readers.  The text is lightly underlined to make it easier to track in the sentences.  Each page features hand drawn illustrations and has the look of an old-time scrapbook.  These aren't toss-away readers, they are heirlooms, and they show your child through their quality that you value the work your child is doing in learning to read.  All About Reading has ignited in my daughter a love for reading!

The cons:  The ONLY thing I would say is that the program is that Level 1 moves a little fast IF you try to jump into it before your child is ready.  There is an earlier level that is for Pre-K and Kindergartners, and that would be the best choice if your child is not really ready to read.  And each child is different, so please, accept your child for where there are no matter what their age, not where you want them to be.  Of my four children, three were late readers.  I'd have loved, just once, to be the mom gushing that my 4 year old read War and Peace, but that was not God's plan for any of my children.  Because each step in reading builds on the previous one, be sure your child has mastered the idea before moving on! This was the perfect level for my daughter, but she had had some previous reading instruction and lots of "letter sound" work, so she has been able to consistantly move ahead, but I know with my oldest child, he would not have moved nearly as quickly through the lessons.

 The Bottom Line:  I've reviewed a LOT of homeschooling products.  And yet, through the years, I've become an affiliate for only two companies because I don't give my allegience and wholehearted recommendation lightly.  All About Learning, the parent company of All About Spelling and All About Reading, is one of those two companies.  I LOVE their materials, and they are committed to helping you and your child succeed.  In fact, All About Reading offers a "Go Ahead and Use It" one year guarantee, so you can use it for a full year and return it if it didn't work for you. You know why they can do that?  Because they know it WILL work for you.  They create "Programs that teach thoroughly so your child can succeed amazingly".  I can't recommend All About Reading highly enough, and I hope Level 2 is ready soon, because we will definitely be buying that when it's available. 

All About Reading products can be found HERE.  Just click on the "All About Reading" tab.  The Level 1 kit contains the Teacher's Manual, the student packet which includes Blast off to Reading, and three readers- Run, Bug, Run!, The Runt Pig, and Cobweb the Cat.  It is $99.95.  The Deluxe Reading Interactive Kit adds on the letter tiles, magnets for the tiles, the Basic Phonograms CD, Reading Divider Cards, Reading Review Box, Reading Tote Bag, and Smiling Star Stickers for $48.95.  The Basic Interactive Kit, which does not have the box, the tote bag, or the stickers, is $28.95.  Each Interactive item can also be ordered individually, which is handy for All About Spelling users because they will already have many of the materials needed. 

To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about Level 1 go HERE.  (Or, if you have a younger child, some Crew members reviewed Level Pre-1 last year.) 

Legal Disclosure:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received the the Level 1 Reading Kit and Deluxe Reading Interactive Kit for FREE for the purpose of being able to provide my honest review.  I also have an affiliate relationship with All About Learning because I love their products, we use them daily, and they have transformed my children's spelling and reading.
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Three Hearts Movie Review

Three Hearts is a wonderful documentary about the work of Samaritan's Purse and their Children's Heart Project.  Here's the "official" press release:
About Three Hearts:

A passionate team of people work to save the lives of three Mongolian children with life-threatening heart defects.

Graduating college senior, Cissie Graham Lynch, granddaughter of evangelist Billy Graham, takes on an internship at Samaritan’s Purse working with the Children’s Heart Project. This project is dedicated to saving the lives of children by providing medical procedures that aren’t available in many countries. Cissie is charged with supervising the arrival and surgeries of three Mongolian children suffering from fatal congenital heart defects. 

But the task is not easy and filled with unexpected challenges.  Cissie balances responsibilities as a newly married wife to a professional football player and her tasks with the internship.  Meanwhile the Children’s Heart team turns to a Texas family who travels to Mongolia for the adventure of a lifetime to help bring the children to San Antonio for their surgeries.  In Texas, two host families make sacrifices to care for these children and their mothers, while a team of doctors and nurses volunteer their time only to stare directly into the face of life and death. How far would you go to save a life?

It’s a fight for survival, a fight of faith, and a fight for a new life for these three hearts.

One Blessed Mamma says:  My kids and I watched this movie just the other day.  It is well done, and offered a wonderful view into life in Mongolia and how challenging it is for children in remote areas of the world to receive life saving complicated surgeries like the ones needed by the children in the Children's Heart Project.  It was inspiring to see how an American boy with a similar problem made it his mission to raise money for foreign children to be able to fly to the States for surgery-it really showed my kids that age is no barrier to being used by God to do great things.   It was such a testimony to how investing in one life can reap great rewards for God's kingdom, and soooo moving to watch as each family came to Christ because of the work of the Children's Heart Project.

Three Hearts is available from Christian Book Distributors HERE for $19.99.  But one lucky reader can win a FREE copy just by entering the contest below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Legal Disclaimer:
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 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
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Sunday, February 26, 2012

BeeYoutiful Lip Balm and Winter Breeze Vapor Rub Review


BeeYoutiful is a family run company that believes in providing quality natural products, "tools", that are an alternative to conventional products and medicines.  They have products that range from body and hair care items to supplements to natural baking ingredients. I reviewed a few of their products in May of 2010, and was eager for the chance to check out a few more, since I highly believe that we need to be very careful about what we put on our skin-it's the largest organ in our body!

The first product I received was their brand new lip balm.

According to their website:
Conventional lip moisturizers can be harsh and even damaging to fragile lip membranes with chemicals and fuel derived bases. Beeyoutiful’s all natural Lip Balms offer you a choice of a soothing, healing lip balm that you can be confident in the ingredients, knowing you are using the very best on your lips!
I received both "flavors"- the orange and the mint.  Both were effective, and went on very smoothly.  Typically, orange essential oil bothers my skin, but this one did not, and my children enjoyed the orange as it is different from the typical natural lip balm scents.  I enjoy mint lip balms, so that one was my favorite, and I use it anytime during the day that my lips feel dry.  I like that the mint is light, and the oils that make up the base of the lip balm provide a lot of "glide" to your lips.  My daughter, however, did not like the slipperiness as much as I did.  Overall, despite the fact that it's winter, and much drier here in FL than our typical tropical humidity of summer, my lips have been very smooth.

The next product I received was the Winter Breeze Vapor Rub.


Here's what their website says:
A healthy version of the vapor rub mom used to spread on your chest and under your nose, Winter Breeze uses body-friendly coconut and olive oils -- along with beeswax -- as carriers for the camphor, menthol, eucalyptus, wintergreen, and tea tree oils known for their abilities to clear mucus and help heal upper respiratory and bronchial infections
I don't know about you, but I don't want to put anything on my skin that I would put into my gas tank, and that means no petroleum products around here!  It's nice to have a natural alternative that I can feel good about.  Instead of petroleum, the base for the Winter Breeze is Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, and Beeswax.  The scent is the same as the more commercial ones you are probably familiar with, but the source of the scent is all natural.   I will say it's a bit "lighter" in scent than the commercial ones, but it's effective.  I was afraid we wouldn't get the chance to try it in good faith, but lately, we've all had bad allergy symptoms, and my youngest son developed that chest congestion and stuffiness that just screams for vapor relief.  He did not complain at all about the scent or feel of this rub, and slept my more restfully after I applied it, which was a very good thing!

The bottom line is that BeeYoutiful is a wonderful company, and I wish they carried everything natural that I need.  But their product line grows constantly, and I definitely have found some more things that I'm going to order.  I'm glad to have the lip balms ($3 each) and Winter Breeze ($18 for 4oz.), as they are certainly handy this time of year!  I think the lip balms are fairly priced, but I do wish the Winter Breeze was a little less, since I think it's a much wiser choice for your body and your health long-term than the cheaper commercial alternative.

To order from BeeYoutiful, go HERE.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.  (Some of them received other products to review-I can't wait to read about the hair shine spray, myself!)

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received the two lip balms and the Winter Breeze Vapor Rub for free in return for my honest review.  Those products are the only compensation I received. 
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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Apologia- Who Am I? Review


There are very few companies that I wholeheartedly endorse...whose products never cease to impress me and whose curriculum is actually an integral part of our schooling, and Apologia is one.  I've used their elementary and middle school science curriculums for years and found many of their other resource products to be helpful and encouraging to me as a homeschool mom.  So when I had the chance to check out their "What We Believe" series, I jumped at it!

Who Am I?  And What Am I Doing Here? is the second book in the "What We Believe" series, which is done in partnership with Summit Ministries (another company I wholehearted love).  The "What We Believe" series teaches the essentials of Christian faith, but also develops within the student the practice of using scripture as "the lens through which to view the world around them".  Who Am I?, as explained by Apologia,
helps children understand what it means to be fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of the Most High God. This study will enable students to develop a healthy self-image based on these biblical truths: God made me in His image and crowned me with glory; He has given me special gifts and a unique purpose in life; I can creatively express God's love; I am meant to think about beautiful and praiseworthy things, especially God and His Word; I must make decisions based on God's truth; I can always know the wise thing to do; I must cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in my life; I am a beloved child of God whose true identity is found in Christ.

The whole "What We Believe" series is written at a 5th to 6th grade reading level, but is geared towards students ages 6 and 14.  Each book takes 4 to 9 months to work through depending on the pace you chose.  The books are hard bound and printed on quality paper.  They have a non-denominational focus, and multiple translations of the Bible are used to most clearly express the concepts in ways even young children can "get".  For older students, the notebooking journal below is available (currently only for the first 2 books in the series) to augment the lesson application.

Also for the first 2 books there is an Audio CD of the book (perfect for audio learners or reluctant readers)

and...a coloring book for younger students to reinforce their learning.

The pros:  This book is such great quality both in physical construction and actual written content.  The chapters are rich with information on topics such as being made in God's image, taking thoughts captive, making good choices, and being an ambassador for Christ.  Each chapter also contains a comparison between Christianity and another religion.  Each chapter contains stories that not only illustrate Biblical concepts, they also teach interdisciplinary lessons to help integrate biblical learning with a Christian worldview.  Oh, and there are free teacher resources available online.

The cons:  I don't have any, but I did want to mention that one of the "other religions" that Christianity is compared to is Mormonism, and since many Mormons feel that Mormonism is simply another denomination in Christianity, they might find offense at that.

The bottom line:  I really cannot recommend this resource highly enough!  What a treasure.  This is definitely something we will continue using, which is the highest endorsement I can give. 

Each book in the "What We Believe" series is $39 (book four is not available just yet), and is worth every penny.  The notebooking journal is $24.  The audio CD is $19.  The coloring book is $8.  To order any of these products, you can 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 copy of the "Who Am I?" book as well as the audio CD, the notebooking journal, and the coloring book for the purpose of being able to provide my honest review.  Those products are the only compensation I received for my review.
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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

FIRST Wildcard Review- Amelia's Journey

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Realms (January 3, 2012)

***Special thanks to Jon Wooten of Charisma House for sending me a review copy.***


Martha Rogers is the author of Becoming Lucy; Morning for Dove; Finding Becky; Caroline’s Choice; Not on the Menu, a part of a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo; and River Walk Christmas, a novella collection with Beth Goddard, Lynette Sowell, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. A former schoolteacher and English instructor, she has a master’s degree in education and lives with her husband in Houston, Texas.

Visit the author's website.


For Ben Haynes it is love at first sight, but can a Boston socialite find true happiness with a cowboy from Kansas?

Once childhood friends, Ben Haynes is taken with Amelia Carlyle when he runs into her at her sister’s wedding. Although he will be returning to Kansas and life on his father’s ranch, Ben calls on Amelia several times, and they find they have more in common than they first realized. As he leaves for Kansas, they promise to write.

Back in Kansas, Ben begins to save money toward a home for Amelia even though he has not made his intentions known. He’s relying on God to make a way. Meanwhile, Amelia is presented to society and has several young men vying for her attention.

Although Ben has captured Amelia’s heart, her parents make every effort to discourage the relationship, even forbidding Amelia to correspond with him. Amelia tells Ben that she will wait for him as long as it takes, but will the love and loss they experience along the way bring them closer or drive them apart forever?

Product Details:
List Price: $12.99

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Realms (January 3, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1616385820

ISBN-13: 978-1616385828


Saturday, August 19, 1876

Amelia Carlyle's face ached from the smile pasted on

Uit for the last three-quarters of an hour. Would this

ceremony never end? She balanced first on one foot and then the other to relieve the pain caused by the white satin pumps Amanda had insisted Amelia must wear.

Amanda's face glowed with the radiance of the love she had for Charles Scott Bishop, the man who became her husband today. If that love ever happened to Amelia, and she decided to marry, it'd be a small and simple wed ding without all this pomp and circumstance.

At last the minister pronounced them husband and wife, and Charles leaned forward to kiss his bride. Amelia's thoughts went immediately to the buffet to be served at the reception. Mama and Papa had spared no expense for their oldest daughter's wedding, and Amelia anticipated the spread of lobster, roast beef, croissants, and wedding cake.

Amanda and Charles made their way back up the aisle, and Amelia dreaded walking even that short distance in her shoes, but she put on another smile and made it to the front steps of the church where carriages waited to take them to the hotel for the reception.

Once they arrived, guests mingled and greeted the bride and groom, but Amelia found the closest table and sat down to slip off her shoes. Her white-stockinged toes wiggled in great relief to be free of their bindings. She turned her back to the room to hide her most unseemly behavior, but comfort won over decorum. She lifted her skirts to run her fingers along the arch of one foot, which relaxed in contentment. Of course if anyone asked her to dance later, she may not be able to squeeze her feet back into the slippers, but she had seen no one with whom she cared to dance anyway.

“Excuse me, Miss Carlyle?”

Amelia snatched the hem of her skirt and yanked it down to cover her legs and feet. She whirled around to find herself looking up into eyes so dark brown, they were almost black. The man towered over her with broad shoul- ders that blocked any view of the room behind him. A tingling started in her toes and progressed its way to her heart. Why had she not noticed this handsome young man before? “Yes, I’m Miss Carlyle, but I do believe you have the advantage.” His smile sent even more tremors through her bones. “I . . . I don’t recall having met you before.”

“Of course you don’t. You were twelve, and I was a skinny fourteen-year-old. Neither of us paid much attention to the other when we last met at my grandparents’ home for dinner after church one Sunday. My name’s Benjamin Haynes.”

Benjamin Haynes, of course, the son of her parents’ best friends of school days, but what was he doing in Boston? His family lived in Kansas. “Oh, yes, that was a few years ago. Have you moved back here?”

He grinned, and his eyes sparkled with amusement. “No, but my parents found your sister’s wedding to be the perfect opportunity for a return trip, and I must say now I’m glad I came along.”

Heat rose in her cheeks, and her tongue turned to mush. She simply stared back at him with what she hoped was not a stupid smile. What if he asked her to dance? Her feet crossed and rubbed against one another beneath her dress. She’d never get her feet back into those shoes.

“May I get you some refreshment?”

Amelia nodded. “A . . . a cup of punch would be nice.” As he turned to carry out the request, she groaned. Another thing she’d forgotten, no buffet table without her shoes. If she dared walk across the floor without them, her skirt would drag and give away her secret. As if in protest, her stomach grumbled and sent a wave of hunger pangs to her brain. All that food so near, yet it may as well be in another town for all the good it did her seated across the room.

Her gaze landed on Benjamin at the serving table. Although she vaguely remembered him from his last visit, he appeared much taller and was certainly more hand- some than he had been then. His dark brown hair even curled slightly at the neckline. Of course she hadn’t been truly interested in boys at that time. Being noticed by him created a bit of delight in her now.

Benjamin returned, not only with a cup of punch, but also with a plate filled with some of her favorites from the buffet array. “I thought you might not want to cross the floor to the serving table without your shoes, so I brought it to you. I hope you like what I selected.”

Heat again filled her face. He’d noticed her shoeless feet and had sought to save her further embarrassment by being so polite. For that her stomach thanked him. “Thank you, Mr. Haynes. This will do quite nicely, but what about you? When will you eat?”

“If you’ll allow me, I’ll get my plate and rejoin you.” “I’d like that very much, thank you.” Her heart beat

in double time as he returned to the buffet and made his own selections. His broad shoulders hinted at the muscles and strength that must be hidden beneath the sleeves of the black suit he wore. The evening took on a whole new interest, and Amelia tucked her feet well beneath her skirts to keep them hidden from view.

When he returned, he sat in the chair next to hers. Miracles of miracles, no one asked to join them, and they remained alone. Her father may have a few words about that later, but for the time being, Amelia planned to enjoy every minute she could have with Mr. Benjamin Haynes.

He spread a napkin across his lap. “Tell me, Miss Haynes, what have you been doing since the last time I saw you?”

It had only been a little more than five years ago, but it may as well have been a lifetime for all Amelia could remember. Her mind a blank, she could only stare at him.

He must think her to be a complete ninny. She cleared her throat. “In school, but of what interest could that possibly be to you? I would imagine your life has been much more eventful and interesting.”

Benjamin grinned at her and sipped his punch. He set the cup back on the table and cocked his head to one side. “My life has been herding cattle and getting them to market as well as bustin’ broncos to have horses to ride.”

“Now that sounds a lot more exciting than going to school, taking piano lessons, and learning to embroider.” She pictured him herding cattle or riding a bucking horse. An appealing image.

A young man approached the table, and Amelia cringed. The last person she wanted to see wore a deter- mined expression on his face. Rudolph, Charles’s brother, wanted to dance, but his surly attitude the night before at a family dinner had frightened Amelia in a way she couldn’t quite explain.

He stopped beside Amelia and Benjamin. “Miss Carlyle, may I have the honor of this dance with you?” His dark eyes held nothing but malice even though his words were polite.

She stuck a shoeless foot out from under her dress. “I’m sorry, Mr. Bishop, but I don’t have my shoes on and have decided not to dance this evening. I’m sure you under- stand I can’t be on the dance floor in my stocking feet.”

He glared at her for a moment, then, without a word, swiveled on his heel and strode across the room. Amelia shivered, thankful she had removed her shoes.

“I must say, that was rude.” Benjamin frowned after the man.

Amelia nodded then smiled at Benjamin. “He’s Charles’s brother, and I’m glad I didn’t have to dance with him.” She picked up a pastry. “Let’s enjoy ourselves and not think about rude men like Rudolph Bishop.” Indeed, she wanted to know everything she could learn about Benjamin Haynes.

Ben wanted to know more about this intriguing young woman he’d known in childhood. Until his father decided to pick up stakes and head west to start his own ranch, the Carlyle and Haynes families had spent many week- ends together as his father and Mr. Carlyle had been close friends and schoolmates.

How thankful he was now that he had not insisted that he be left behind to help the ranch hands with the herds. If he had, he would not be sitting across from the lovely young woman in a pink dress.

“Amelia, do you remember the week my family left for Kansas? Your parents gave a wonderful farewell party for us. Of course you were only five, but I hoped you might recall that night.” If she did remember, he might find him- self in trouble as he had delighted in pulling her golden brown curls more than once just to see her reaction, and she hadn’t disappointed. She had stomped her foot and hit him each time until his mother corralled him the third time and made him stay by her side.

Amelia chewed a piece of pastry and narrowed her eyes at him. She swallowed and pursed her lips. “Was that the time you kept pulling my curls?”

Heat rose in his face. “You do remember. I apologize for my awful behavior that evening, but you looked so cute with those long curls hanging down from that big yellow bow.”

Amelia laughed. “I forgive you, but it hurt that last time, and I wanted to cry. I wasn’t about to let you see me in tears, and I believe your mother took care of you. Mary Beth and I had fun after that.”

“Yes, Mama made sure I stayed by her side, and I didn’t have much fun the rest of the evening. I’m glad you did though. Then your family came to the railway station to see us off on our adventure westward.” That had been some scene with both their mothers crying and their fathers promising to keep in touch.

“Oh yes, I recall how afraid I was of that big engine with its smoke and loud whistle. When it started up and began rolling on the track, I hid behind Mama’s skirt, but I saw you wave at us from the window. I thought you were so brave to move away like that with your family.”

“It was quite the adventure.” And one he would never forget. He held no regret at all for leaving Boston all those years ago.

He glanced up to see his sister headed their way. He didn’t often get to see her so dressed up with her dark hair piled on her head. He grinned when she squealed and grabbed Amelia, her brown eyes dancing with pleasure. “I’ve been looking all over for you. I should have known Ben would have you all to himself.”

Amelia hugged the girl in return. “Mary Beth, I’m so glad to see you. I spotted you at the church when we went back up the aisle. Sit down and join us.”

Benjamin shook his head and glared at Mary Beth, but she paid him no mind and plopped down in the chair on the other side of Amelia. “I’d be delighted. What has my big brother been telling you? I could reveal a few of his secrets if you’d like to hear about some of his antics.”

“We were just talking about one on the night we had that party before you left.”

“Oh, yes, that was some fun watching him get into trouble.” Mary Beth grabbed Amelia’s hands. “How I wish you could have come out to visit us, and I wish we could have come back to Boston more often. Ben almost didn’t come with us, but Pa persuaded him. I’m really sorry we haven’t kept in closer touch.”

Amelia glanced at him and grinned in a way he could only call wicked. “To think we might have missed reminiscing about old times if you’d stayed back with the cows. What a shame that would have been, Mr. Haynes.”

Again heat rose in his cheeks, but he would not let her teasing get to him. “Since we’re such old friends, call me Ben; everybody else does.”

“All right, Ben it is.” Then she turned back to his sister. “Now, tell me what it’s like living on a ranch with all those cattle and horses.”

Ben groaned. Once Mary Beth started, he’d never get a word into the conversation. He may as well just enjoy his food and listen to their prattle. At least he could sit back and show interest in what Amelia had to say without being obvious with his attraction to her.

Her chestnut hair sat piled on top of her head in an elaborate arrangement that must have taken hours to accomplish. Two long curls like those of long ago hung down in the back from the curls amassed atop her head. His fingers itched to reach over and pull one of them as he had when she was five. Now seventeen, she had become a beautiful young lady with a sense of humor and a smile that could melt the heart of any man in her presence.

He blinked his eyes and shook his head as Amelia squealed with delight and clapped her hands. He stared at his sister. “What was that you said about staying in Boston?”

“Ma and Grandmama talked with me last night, and

Pa agreed. I can stay here for the social season this fall.” “Isn’t it wonderful, Ben? Mary Beth and I can do so

many things together and have fun, and I’m sure there will be lots of parties.”

Ben narrowed his eyes. “I’m sure there will be.” This was the first he’d heard of any desire from Mary Beth to come back here. She loved the ranch, or at least he’d thought so.

“What will Ma and Aunt Clara do without you?” She’d been such a big help to them that he couldn’t imagine life without her around.

“They’ll get along just fine. After all, there aren’t any more babies to care for. Gideon, Grace Ann, and Billy are old enough to care for themselves, so they don’t need me looking after them all the time.”

That was true. With his youngest brother now eight years old and in school, no more children stayed at home needing care. Ma and Aunt Clara would manage just fine. Still, he had a difficult time believing his pa would let his oldest daughter live so far away.

Amelia and Mary Beth sat with heads close together discussing all the things they wanted to do in the coming months when Mary Beth would be presented to society just as her mother and grandmother had been before her. Then a bright side occurred to him. With Mary Beth here, that could mean Ma taking more trips to see her. Pa wouldn’t want to leave the ranch, so that would leave Ben to accompany Ma on such trips.

More trips to Boston meant more opportunity to see Amelia Haynes. Of course, he’d have to gain permission from her parents, but that shouldn’t be a problem since their families were longtime friends. The future began to look brighter and brighter. This had been the best trip he’d taken in a long time, and he looked forward to many more like it—that is, if Amelia agreed to his calling on her.

One Blessed Mamma says:  I love historical fiction, and typically a lot of it features some chaste sort of love story, just as this book did.  I enjoyed the glimpse into society life and prairie life Amelia's Journey had to offer.  But unfortunately, the love story drove me batty.  Ultimately, they come from the same "station" in society, but his family left the city and lives on the frontier in Kansas.  Therefore, he's not a suitable match because marrying him would mean she moves away from her family, and her parents just aren't okay with that.  Except that she loves him, and he loves her, and no amount of debutante party going changes that.  What is frustrating is that the WHOLE book is her parents waffling back and forth between being adamantly opposed to their courting, and them allowing it because it makes Amelia happy.  And then she waffles about whether he really loves her and he waffles about whether she really could be happy with him.  And I'm not doubting that all of that would really happen in real life, but this was soooo soap opera-ish it was painful.  I had to skip ahead (to almost the very, very end of the book) just to see if it ever reached a reasonable resolution.  I wish the book took fewer pages to dwell on the tensions of the tenuous status of the relationship and more time with the post-decision (about whether or not they should be together) storyline.  But this is a prequel and maybe the future books do that?  Anyway, if you are into historical fiction and don't mind a very dragged out conflict with regards to the relationship, you would probably enjoy Amelia's Journey.

Legal Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book so that I could provide my honest review.  That book is the only compensation I received.
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Friday, February 10, 2012

Cooper and Me and the Military Book Review and Giveaway

Cooper is a fun loving black lab, and Cooper and Me is a series of books about the adventures of Cooper and his little girl.  They teach kids how to handle the emotions and challenges of everyday living.  The Cooper and Me books are created by a mother-daughter team (Monique and Alexa Peters) and the daughter is only 13-in fact, Alexa was 11 when she wrote the first Cooper and Me book! 

Here's the "official information" on Cooper and Me and the Military:

Meet Trooper, Cooper’s best friend, and learn how he was adopted by Gracie and Joe and their parents, who both serve in the military. Find out how this family stays close despite being separated.

A must-read during patriotic holidays and for anyone with friends and family in the military, this book helps children know, that even when loved ones aren’t with us, they still love us and think about us. This book, along with all the other books in the Cooper and Me series, includes these interactive features:

• A Special Memory Creation

• Life Lesson

• Connections

• Learning Together

In addition to a fun adventure, each Cooper and Me story teaches an important Life Lesson and features interactive materials at the back of the book to drive the message home. Included are activities that help children name and process their own feelings about what they’ve read.

One Blessed Mamma's thoughts:  Cooper and Me and the Military is a delightful picture book.  The story is written in rhyme and confronts the real emotions of children whose parents serve in the military, without overdoing it and being "heavy".  The illustrations are done by Alexa Peters and Melissa Peterson, and they are very child engaging.  I like that there are questions in the back of the book to guide parent/child discussion about the emotional aspects of the story, as well as reading comprehension questions, and a "life lesson" section about the importance of staying connected.  There is also a template for your child to use to write a letter to a member of the military.  Oh, and a portion of the proceeds from the book sales goes to charity, which is impressively altruistic for such a young author.
For information about Cooper and Me and the Military, or about the other Cooper and Me books, go HERE.  If you Facebook, here's the Cooper and Me link.  Tweet?  Here you go! 
As a special bonus, one of my readers can win your own copy of Cooper and Me and the Military.  Just follow the instructions below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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 16 CFR, Part 255:
"Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Classical Astronomy Celestial Almanack Review


Okay, let me confess that the night sky and I have never quite understood each other. I can admire its beauty, but when it comes to identifying anything other than the moon, I am hopeless.  So when I had the chance to review The Classical Astronomy Celestial Almanack, I had a choice...face my astronomical deficit head on, or run screaming in the other direction!  I chose enlightenment :-).


The Celestial Almanack is published monthly and is available from CurrClick.  Each month's Almanack focuses on the night sky and celestial events specific to that month.  The one I received was for this month, February 2012. 

First, I should admit that after committing to review this and thereby committing to learning for myself about the heavens, I promptly tried to pawn it off on my husband.  Classy, I know.  But he LIKES stargazing, and I figured he would have a better knowledge base to start from.  Alas, God had a different plan, and we have had a solid WEEK of cloudy evening skies (which is profoundly uncommon here in the Sunshine State).  So no real lessons in stargazing for the children and I, but lots of reading for me in the Almanack. 

Let me start by paraphrasing from a Disney song- I learned things I never knew I never knew!  On the first page alone, I learned why February has less days than than the other months, and that before the popular moniker "leap year" was introduced, the year with the extra day was known as the "bisextile".  I learned the sun actually makes a figure 8 like pattern in the sky called an "analemma" and that the sun really only rises in the (due) east and sets in the (due) west on the vernal equinox.  And after explaining the daytime, sun related phenomena, the Almanack shifts to the night skies.  I think I have learned how to find Orion's Belt and look forward to searching out Taurus's red eye (Aldebaran) when we finally get a cloudless night.  But what I really am looking forward to the most is following the tracking of Venus and Jupiter.  I got some nighttime pictures a while back of Jupiter when some other celestial event happened that they chatted up on the news (it would have been good to have this Almanack then so I would have understood it) , and you can actually even see a moon or two of Jupiter's.  So now that I have the Almanack, and know what to look for, and where to look, (and have a remote shutter trigger so I don't blur the pictures when I press the shutter) I look forward to getting pictures this month of Jupiter and Venus.

The Pros:  Because it's published monthly, the information is very timely.  Pictures are included to show where to look and what to look for.  And tons of detail is given to explain everything.  Activities are suggested for all ability levels, so if you already can spot Orion, don't dismiss this as unnecessary.  In fact, I would think the more you know, the better this resource would serve you.  It really is "celestial" encompassing both the day and night skies and the activities of the planets too.  The Celestial Almanack is Christian, which I love, but is completely usable by anyone of any faith background, as way more of the information pertains to the skies than to anything faith based.

The cons:  This is the part where I get to admit my ignorance.  Remember how I said you'll learn things you never knew you never knew?  Well, maybe "learn" is wrong.  "Learn OF" might be more correct in some instances.  I read the whole thing, but I understood about half.  I'm a visual learner, but I also prefer to have someone physically show me something in lieu of reading something totally foreign to me and trying to figure out what it means.  Sometimes, I just didn't "get it".  And sometimes I think I got it, but I'm not sure.  Being totally unfamiliar with terms like the sun's azimuth and declination, I could have used a "dummy's guide" or at least a glossary.  Several times, I just needed to ask someone what the thing I just read actually means (for example, "the Sun doesn't keep perfect time like an artificial clock, but 'runs fast' at some times of the year, and 'runs slow' at others"- how does the object WE revolve around "run fast" or "run slow" when we are the ones moving?), but of course, being a printed reference, there is no one there to ask. 

The bottom line:  The Celestial Almanack is only $3 to download, and is packed with WAY more than $3 worth of information.  Even with all that I didn't understand, I think it's a worthwhile reference and I did learn a lot.  While I might not check out every month until I am willing to commit to astronomy being our course of study, I would probably use it selectively for months with big celestial events in them.  Jay Ryan, who creates the Celestial Almanack, also has a homeschool astronomy curriculum called Signs & Seasons and I am certain the Celestial Almanacks pair nicely with that curriculum.

To download The Celestial Almanack from CurrClick, click HERE.  For other astronomical resources from Classical Astronomy, go to their website.  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 download of the February Celestial Almanack for free for the purpose of providing this review.  That download is the only compensation I received. 
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Friday, February 3, 2012

KinderBach Just Keeps Getting Better!


As a member of the TOS Crew, I've had the chance to check out KinderBach twice before.  The fact that I would check it out a third time speaks to how much I like it.  I've thoroughly explained how their online piano lessons worked in my previous reviews HERE or HERE, so I give a brief review and then hit the changes.


KinderBach is an online or DVD based beginning piano program.  Currently, it is 60 weeks long, with four 7ish minutes long lessons in each week.  There will be 10 more lessons coming soon.  We have reviewed the online version only, but my understanding is that they are the same as the DVD offerings.  KinderBach is targeted toward children ages 2-7 and is available for home or classroom use.  Included with the online version and on the DVDs are the workbooks that go with the videos and help reinforce the lessons.  They are covered in the course of watching the video to ensure the student understands.  You can view a video at this link about how KinderBach works.


The Pros:  I've never, ever met someone who regretted learning to play piano and to read music.  And KinderBach begins teaching these lessons in a way children can understand easily.  My almost 7 year old LOVES KinderBach and will do a week's worth of lessons at a time because she can't get enough.  Everything you need for these lessons is right there, and all the glitches I experienced in my past reviews were gone.  I downloaded the entire workbook and printed it out first, so the pages were at hand, and I had NO problems with the videos loading in and running promptly.  But the best "pro"?  KinderBach keeps getting better.  The largest stumbling block in the past to having KinderBach be really successful was the fact that you had to have a computer very close to your piano, or have a portable keyboard that you could move close to your computer.  But the folks at KinderBach are working toward making their videos "smart device friendly" and you can already watch all the lessons via iPad.  So now, you can just set the iPad on the piano and watch the lesson right there.  It's brilliant!

The cons:  I don't have any.


The Bottom Line:  My daughter loves KinderBach.  She runs around the house singing the songs and begs to do more lessons.  In terms of value, KinderBach can't be beat.  If you pay by the month, it is $19.99 a month.  Paying by the year takes that down to $7.99 a month.  As someone with an older child who took piano for years, I can tell you his lessons were $20 for 30 minutes and each book was about $8 (there were 4 books per level).  So you can do the math, but you can't beat KinderBach's value.  Will your child be a virtuoso when they are done?  No.  But they will have a great background in piano theory and they will know, by the end of the program, where the notes are on the keyboard and when the next set of lessons is out, they will even know where they are on the staff, (i.e. be able to read music).  And the icing on the cake is a special discount code just for YOU, my readers.  If you use "TOScrew2012" you will get 30% off any order!  The code is good for a YEAR, and can be used for either the online or DVD versions!!!

To learn more about Kinderbach's piano program for young children follow the link.  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 online access to KinderBach so that I could provide this review.  That limited time access was the only compensation I received.
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