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Monday, June 25, 2012

15 Years Ago Today

I became a mom.

 After 5 years of infertility, he was a miracle to us.  But he was born "small for gestational age" (IUGR), and he has faced many challenges since then.  I love him, but he is not always the easiest child.  At his best, he makes me laugh with his antics...

but at his worst...well, let's just say it's been a difficult year, and many, many lives will never be the same because of it.

 Still, he's the child that God gave us to raise, placing him carefully, intentionally, lovingly into our family.  He's an answer to prayer.  He's the child who made me a mom.
And there's never a dull moment with him around...

This year, he's grown so much.  In so many ways.  And not the least of which is the very real physical surpassing of both his father and me in height.

Although that's what tippie toes are for :-).

And his laughter...his silliness...they keep me going when times are tough. 

And I just have to show you his eyes. They amaze me.  So beautiful...just like the person I know he can be...I know he is...on the inside.

Happy 15th birthday to my "tall boy".   As we learn together to consider our trials joy, I look forward to seeing more of God's plans for your life.
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Thursday, June 21, 2012

IXL Review

IXL is an online math site that offers "comprehensive, dynamic content for the left and right brain".  I've heard it being raved about by members of different homeschool groups that I'm in, in addition to seeing many ads for it on homeschool sites that I trust, so I was eager for a chance to check it out.

The site offers math practice for grades Pre-K through 9th grade (with more coming).  Below are some of the skills that are covered for the grades my kids and I checked out.



IXL Algebra

After you set up your account, your student clicks on their name and enters their password.  Then, they are taken to a screen with a list of the skills for their grade level.  They can begin working anywhere.  Start at the very beginning or just jump in at an area they need more practice at.  Below are some screen shots with sample problems.  IXL offers multiple questions on each skill with a dynamic assessment program that tracks how well the student does answering problems about that skill with a goal of earning 100 points and thereby showing mastery.   Missed problems offer the opportunity to click for a detailed explanation of what the correct answer is and why.  Thus, the program offers instruction as well as practice.

IXL Screen Samples

Below, you can see the charts students get that track their progress.  They are awarded icons for each achievement (i.e. a ladybug for practicing 5 minutes or a tree for answering 100 questions).  The right hand box offers a less "fluffy" report, giving them a breakdown of what awards they've earned, how long they've worked, how many questions they've answered, etc.

IXL Awards and Games

Certain achievements are celebrated with certificates like the one below.
IXL Certificate of Achievement

Parents are given a login as well, and detailed reporting is available.  You can see exactly how long each child has worked, what skills they practiced, what trouble spots they might have, how they are lining up with your state standards, and many, many more reports.
IXL Family Reports

The "Parents" pricing stated below is for one child.  Additional children are $2/month each or $20 more a year each.
IXL Fees

The pros:  IXL is easy to use.  It's colorful without being overstimulating.  Feedback as they answer questions is instantaneous.  The content is comprehensive-from Pre-K to 9th grade- and students can move between levels with ease.  I especially like all the reports available to parents. And best of all, I love the option to have my students' practice choices presented as "levels" instead of "grades" if I want so that my daughter who struggles with math is not aware that she's working problems 2 levels below her "grade".    Lastly, I really appreciate that practice for level Pre-K through 1st grade offers the option of having the text read aloud to the student for my 1st grader could work independently.

The cons:  The only one I have has to do with their super duper "SmartScore" system.  The way it works if I understand it (and I don't really understand it) is it's supposed to award points based on the difficulty of the problem and problems the student answers in a row without error, and a myriad of other things.  It also deducts points for incorrect answers.  100 points is meant to indicate mastery, and is the pinnacle the student is aiming for.  The problem?  Based on our experience, early answers are awarded large point values- like 8 points per question at first, and early mistakes are deducted lightly- like 1 point.  But the closer you get to 100 points, the more that reverses, until the point in the 90s where you really are gaining 1 point for a correct answer and losing 8 for an incorrect answer.  That means if you are at 99 and miss one, you must now get 9 more right to get 100 where before you were 1 point away.  This system had my "small boy" in tears.  He is such a people (and machine) pleaser, and so goal oriented, and he just HAD to get 100 points...but he'd get SO close and then miss one problem and drop so many points and then get discouraged so he'd make a careless mistake and then drop so many more points that he'd just want to give up.  It was not fun for him AT ALL!!!  Just for example, here's a tracking of MY progress trying to get 100 points in Algebra in a lesson about numbers- you know, which ones are real, rational, irrational, whole, natural,or integers.  I'm good with math, but HORRIBLE at remembering the fine lines in these distinctions (nor have I ever needed to know them one day in my life after completing all my math education).  I won't bore you with all the scoring details, just from the half way to 100 mark:
56, 61, 65, 69, 63, 67, 71, 74, 77, 80, 74, 76, 79, 4, 86, 88, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96... you get the idea.  It's very, very discouraging to DROP points, especially for children who really strive to get things right!

The bottom line:  I think IXL is one of the best online math sites I've seen, and I've reviewed quite a few.  The biggest drawback to me is the SmartScore system I mentioned above.   I wish it did not penalize wrong answers by visibly decreasing the score.  It would be way better in my opinion if it just did not ADD to the score, or maybe required more questions to be answered to get to that magical "100 points" without visibly beating up the egos of children who really take heart in getting to 100.  Or reported progress with a "pie chart" instead of numbers so missed answers weren't as devastating visually.  Anything but the way it works now!  Everything else about the site is all I hoped it would be and more.  I plan to continue using IXL with my girls, but have a feeling it will be a tough sell for my defeated-feeling son who delights in learning but dreads IXL.

To check out IXL for yourself, go to  To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, go to the Crew blog.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received a free 6 month membership for IXL for 3 children for the purpose of being able to provide my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own based on our experiences using IXL.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Pearson MyMathLab Algebra 1 Review


Each year, more and more companies recognize the growing homeschool market and jump in to meet the ever growing need for curriculum choice.  Pearson has been around for a long. long time providing curriculum for traditional grade school and higher education settings, and now they are expanding their focus to homeschoolers as well.  While they have products for every grade level and almost every subject, the one that my son and I reviewed was Algebra 1.


When you order MyMathLab Algebra 1, you get an access code.  You must have one for the student (above) and an access to MyLab for the parent (below).

With those codes, you go to their site and "set up" your course.  The interface is probably much more familiar to school teachers or college professors and students than it is to most "lay folk", but it is not too hard to figure out.  Every thing you need for your student to begin is included, but start the process a day or two before you want them to begin to allow for a) time for your class to be "set up" on their end, and b) time for you to read over the instructor materials.  Instructor might be the wrong word, because really, the classes are taught by a combination of Elayn Martin-Gay via short video clips (over 3000 of them) and reading the online text book.  As a parent, you are more the facilitator.  You can use the program completely as is, or tweak some things like the order of the lessons or the minimum score required for them to advance, etc.  Below are some bullet points that Pearson provides to explain a little more:

For parents:
  • Deliver quality instruction through videos, animations, and other presentation tools
  • Turn-key course with preloaded assignments or choose to customize the lessons and create your own personalized to fit your child
  • Easily create, edit, and assign homework assignments, quizzes, and tests
  • Assess your child’s understanding with auto-grading feature
  • Implementation Guide that includes mini-lessons for each section
  • Pacing guidance to fit your child
For your child:
  • Utilize anytime/anywhere access to the online Student Edition
  • Homework assignments provide immediate feedback
  • Increase understanding with the help of tutorials, videos, and animations
  • Receive personalized study plan based on quiz and test results
  • Student Organizer, available as a PDF download or in print, helps develop study and note-taking skills
  • 30 minute live online tutoring session for free

So how does it work?  Your student sign in to their account from any computer anywhere.  Then, their Course Compass brings up the next lesson for them to click on and start.  For each lesson, everything they need is online.  All the text is online, all the multimedia is online, all the homework is online, and all the grading is done immediately online (love that!).  So let's say one homework problem says, "Evaluate whether 5 is a solution to 3x+2=7." 
If the student knows how to do it, they can just work the problem and put in the answer.  If not, they can do any of the above-watch the assigned media, ask for help (which walks them through solving that problem), view an example (which walks them through a similar problem), check the textbook, print it out, or even ask the instructor.  The default is set for 90%, so if you leave that in place, they must score a 90% on each activity before they can move on.  Any problems missed in the homework can be reworked for a new score by asking for and completing a similar problem.

The pros:  My son, who is not math inclined, who is on the autism spectrum, whom I never placed much home in understanding Algebra, is doing it and loving it.  He actually told me he will continue to do this through our summer break because "it's fun and educational".  I even made him put it in writing :-).  I like that it appeals to multiple learning styles.  The videos are frequently all you need to complete the homework but the text book is available if you need to go back and review or if you learn best by reading it yourself.  There are sample problems to work in the text before you get to the homework, so you can be sure you understand before you start working problems that "count" toward your score.  Parents can adjust a multitude of aspects in the program, so even though you aren't teaching, you can definitely control what is required.  The parent access allows you to view each lesson.  You can see how long it took your student, how many questions they had to do, how many they got right, and what their score was (see picture below).  And the parent MyLab access is good for any class(es) for 18 months, so you only have to purchase one of those accesses even if you have multiple students or your student takes multiple courses.  And they have a homeschool pricing structure that seems equitable to other things out there.  Algebra 1 is $49.97 for 18 months of access, and the parent MyLab is $30, so the course total is $79.97 (but remember the MyLab access can be used for multiple classes or students).

The cons:  The interface- the online area that you as a teacher use to set things up and that your student uses to get into their class- is not very user friendly.  It definitely is "institutional" in feel, and not intuitive for a single family unit.  And while things are "tweakable", figuring out jsut how to do that is not easy.  For example, we used the program straight out of the box- I didn't tweak anything...until I had to.  Then my son got an 86.96 in the mid-chapter review below:
 The problem?  86.96% isn't 90%...and he needed 90% to move on. 

So I clicked on the live chat button to assess my options. It turns out that, unlike the homework where you can rework missed problems, to change your score on the review, you have to retake the WHOLE thing.  Major bummer!  And not really the way it works in the the real world.  To add insult to injury, he missed one (the factors of 18) because he listed them as (2, 3, 3) instead of (2*3*3).  His answer was good enough for me, and it seemed harsh to make him retake the whole thing.  But I also did not want to drop the 90% requirement unilaterally because I believe math is foundational, and you can't move on if you don't really understand.  But after some poking around, I found out how I could essentially credit him back points on the review, so I gave him points for the one problem I mentioned above, and he was free to move on.  But that wasn't an option the online chat guy told me about, and it wasn't easy to find. 

The bottom line:  Do I love the interface?  No.  Is it hard to figure out how to change things if you want to?  Yes.  But is the online chat available to help anytime?  Yes.  And does my son love it?  Yes.  And does it require me to use that non-intuitive interface very often?  No.  So will we keep using this?  You BET!  The fact that my son is singing the praises of ANY math program is amazing.  And the videos are clear and easy to understand.  Enough instruction is given to "get it" without so much that your eyes start to glaze over and your mind starts to wander.  It's affordable, it works, and if my son keeps at it, I imagine it's what we will use for Algebra II as well. 

Click to see more of Pearson Homeschool's courses.  To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, check out the Crew Blog.  Many of them reviewed elementary level language arts, social studies, and math, and you can also see what others thought of Algebra 1 or 2.

Legal disclaimer:  As a member of the Crew, I received 18 months of access to MyMathLab Algebra 1 and MyLab for free in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed above are entirely my own (and my son's).

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Discovery Scope review

Okay, let me be honest.  I literally BEGGED to get to review this.  Really, truly, and shamelessly begged.  I had never heard of Discovery Scope before, but one click to their website, and I knew it was something I had to have!


So, what is the Discovery Scope? Well, it looks like this:

And it's sheer brilliance. It's a handheld wide-field microscope that's small enough to fit in a pocket and durable enough for a child (or a very non-microscope inclined adult) to use.


Everything you need to use the Discovery Scope comes in the basic kit ($40).  That includes the scope itself, as well as one mini-clip (the arm like thing you see in the picture above with the clip on the end), one multi-use chamber holder, two clear view chambers (you'll see one of those in my photos below), one Biology in a Bag (small baggie to place items in), one water dropper, and one quick slide for making slides to examine. 

It is beyond easy to use.  You literally just clip something to the clip (or put it in a clear view chamber, or a Bio Bag or on a slide), put your eye to the eye cup, and slide the focus tube in or out until the item is in focus.  Then you can slide the tool holding the item side to side or up and down to scan the item and see all around it.  So easy, even a child can do it!

Here's some fun we had looking at a baby lizard and then a pill bug:

Lizard eye

Lizard toe

Teeny-tiny lizard

The pros:  It's a microscope even I can use.  That right there makes it worth the money.  But more than that, it's one my kids can use easily with fantastic results.  It uses available light, and there is virtually nothing that you can't examine more closely.  We looked at fern leaves, tree bark, carpenter ants, juvenile assassin bugs, and more flowers and flower parts than I can list.  And you can look at fingernails, and hair, and skin, and well, everything.  And it's completely portable.  It arrived in a small reusable plastic container, and that neatly holds all the parts.  And as microscopes go, it's affordable.  Finally, as a plus, my youngest child is 7, and she could use it with ease. 

The cons:  You do have to get close- really, really close to the object.  So you aren't likely to get a good look at a bee or a black widow spider...but that's not really a problem for me.  And actually, after 3 bees came inside with me courtesy of my having to cut the top off a multi-blossom sun flower, we could look at bees- the slightly squished kind (ewww).  And this is nice magnification, but you aren't going to see cellular level stuff.  We could see the defined shafts of hair, and the subtle color differences between strands, but not the scales on the individual strands.  On the other hand, I could see how very dry and flaky the cuticles of my fingers are!

The bottom line:  Every homeschool should own one.  Seriously.  I don't say that about much, but I really, really think this is cool and it's educational.  Its ease of use encourages kids to find more and more things to view- like a science scavenger hunt.  Plus, for many, it's all the microscope you will ever need, because really, you can view high magnification slides of almost any upper level science subjects (like blood cells or plant cells or bone tissue, etc.) online without owning a microscope at all.  But this made my kids WANT to look at things in more detail.  They wanted to dig deeper and see more and discover it for themselves.  It offers real, living science, and it fits perfectly in with our lifestyle.  As a photographer, I am even contemplating getting the camera base that allows you to more easily photograph the items you are examining so I can use it professionally too. 

To order a Discovery Scope for yourself, go to the Discovery Scope website.  To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, go to the Crew blog.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the Review Crew, I received a Basic Discovery Scope kit in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed were entirely my own, and the subsequent fun we had was entirely for real!

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Story Builder for iPhone Review

I don't get the chance to review many apps, and I was so blessed that this opportunity came up!  Story Builder is an app for "i" technology that helps students create stories. 


Here's some official information from the company:
StoryBuilder is designed to help children accomplish the following goals: 1) Improve paragraph formation; 2) Improve integration of ideas; and 3) Improve higher level abstractions by inference. Extensive use of audio clips promotes improved auditory processing for special needs children with autism spectrum disorders or sensory processing disorders. Story Builder offers a rich and fun environment for improving the ability to create a narrative. 

Once installed on your iPhone or iTouch, you can chose 3 levels of play.  On level 1, four questions are asked about each picture.  On level 2, seven questions are about the picture and students are asked to make inferences about what happened before or after the event in the picture occurred.  On level 3, students can make up any story they wish with no specific questions to guide them.  You can also chose to have color coded reinforcement on, off, or intermittent.  "On" means the question will have a red background like it does in the picture below. "Intermittent" means it's only on a red background while the question is being asked. "Off" means the question has the same background as the rest of the page.  Similarly, you can choose question text reinforcement on, off, or intermittent.  That controls whether the student can see the question all the time, never, or only when it's being asked. Answer introduction reinforcement can be turned on or off.  When on, a potential answer introduction will appear and be read to the student.  When off, they receive no prompting.  Students then look at the picture on the screen and away they go.  They can record their answers to the questions as they are asked and if they are happy with what they recorded they can move on to the next picture. If not, they can record something new.   At the end, they can play back their whole story.  After that, they can even e-mail the story to someone. 


Story Builders is also part of SmarTots, which will track your child's usage of this and other SmarTots apps and break out for you in a weekly report which educational subjects your child spent time on each week.
The pros:  My 7 year old LOVES this app.  She will disappear with my phone for hours on end recording stories.  She gets a big kick out of being able to play them for me, and an even bigger kick out of e-mailing them to Daddy and he enjoyed listening to them.  Playing this has taught her the importance of using complete sentences since the stories don't make much sense with them.  And it's prompted her to be more creative in how she tells stories-providing more detail and giving more back-story.  She says she likes it because, "you get to have fun while you are doing schoolwork".Photobucket

The cons:  I'm not real "techie", so I'll try to explain these as best I can.  When you open the app, if you have more than one student signed up, you choose who you want to play as.  But if you click the wrong person, or if they want to take turns, the only way to do that is to exit the app and come back in- there is no "back button".  Also, you can adjust the settings as you log in, but you can not make the settings apply individually.  What you do to one, you do to all.  So if you have students playing at multiple abilities, you have to manually reset the levels each time.  Also, since multiple questions are asked for each picture, but you only see one at a time, sometimes you answer the subsequent question without knowing it until you click to move on to the next picture.  But there is no way to skip a question.  So for example, if you answered for the question above, "The man was racing and took the turn too sharp so he crashed into the wall.", you might then find the next question to be "How did he crash?"  You just answered that, but now you have to record something more to be able to move on.  It would be nice if you could skip a question in that case.  Finally, I'd love to have a written record of what they recorded, but the only way to do that is to e-mail each story to yourself and then type what you hear.  Plus, there is no way to save stories, which is a real bummer.

The bottom line:  All the cons I mentioned are things I'd like to see changed to make this app even better.  As it is, I'd still totally endorse it.  My daughter loved the freedom this gave her to create stories well beyond her reading and writing levels would allow in the traditional way.  My autism spectrum kid is a little too old to think this is something he should do, but I'd love it if the same idea existed and slightly more mature way for him.  I will definitely be checking out more apps by Mobile Education Store!

To purchase this app for $5.99, go to iTunes.  To see what other members of the Review Crew had to say, go to our Crew blog.  Some of the Crew reviewed a different app specifically for the iPad.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the Review Crew, I received this app in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are entirely my own, or those of my children.
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Monday, June 11, 2012

Life Without Limits- FIRST Wildcard Review

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:

WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (June 5, 2012)

***Special thanks to Ashley Boyer, Senior Publicist at Random House for sending me a review copy.***


Nick Vujicic is the founder of the international non-profit organization Life Without Limbs. Nick recently made the move from Australia to California, his new home base as he travels the world speaking to a range of different groups such as students, teachers, youth, businessmen and women, entrepreneurs, and church congregations of all sizes. He has told his story and been interviewed on various televised programs worldwide, including “20/20,” “60 Minutes,” and “The 700 Club.”

Visit the author's website.


What Would Your Life be Like if Anything Were Possible?

Born without arms or legs, Nick Vujicic overcame his disabilities to live an independent, rich, fulfilling, and “ridiculously good” life while serving as a role model for anyone seeking true happiness. Now an internationally successful motivational speaker, Nick eagerly spreads his central message: the most important goal is to find your life’s purpose and to never give up, despite whatever difficulties or seemingly impossible odds stand in your way.

Nick tells the story of his physical disabilities and the emotional battle he endured while learning to deal with them as a child, teen, and young adult. “For the longest, loneliest time, I wondered if there was anyone on earth like me, and whether there was any purpose to my life other than pain and humiliation.” Nick shares how his faith in God has been his major source of strength, and he explains that once he found a sense of purpose—inspiring others to better their lives and the world around them--he found the confidence to build a rewarding and productive life without limits. Let Nick inspire you to start living your own life without limits.

Includes a Life Without Limits Personal Action Plan to help anyone determine their unique path to a successful life.

Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (June 5, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307589749
ISBN-13: 978-0307589743


If You Can’t Get a Miracle, Become One

O ne of my most popular videos on YouTube shows footage of me skateboarding, surfing, playing music, hitting a golf ball, falling down, getting up, speaking to audiences, and best of all, receiving hugs from all sorts of great people.

All in all, those are pretty ordinary activities that just about anybody can do, right? So why do you think that video has been viewed millions of times? My theory is that people are drawn to watch it because despite my physical limitations, I’m living as though I have no limits.

People often expect someone with a severe disability to be inactive, maybe even angry and withdrawn. I like to surprise them by showing that I lead a very adventurous and fulfilling existence.

Among the hundreds of comments on that video, here’s one typical remark: “Seeing a guy like this being happy makes me wonder why the hell I feel sorry for myself sometimes . . . or feel that I’m not attractive enough, or funny enough, or WHATEVER. How can I even think thoughts like that when this guy is living without limbs and still being HAPPY!?”

I’m often asked that very question: “Nick, how can you be so happy?” You may be dealing with your own challenges, so I’ll give you the quick answer up front:

I found happiness when I realized that as imperfect as I may be, I am the perfect Nick Vujicic. I am God’s creation, designed according to His plan for me. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement. I’m always trying to be better so I can better serve Him and the world!

I do believe my life has no limits. I want you to feel the same way about your life, no matter what your challenges may be. As we begin our journey together, please take a moment to think about any limitations you’ve placed on your life or that you’ve allowed others to place on it. Now think about what it would be like to be free of those limitations. What would your life be if anything were possible?

I’m officially disabled, but I’m truly enabled because of my lack of limbs. My unique challenges have opened up unique opportunities to reach so many in need. Just imagine what is possible for you!

Too often we tell ourselves we aren’t smart enough or attractive enough or talented enough to pursue our dreams. We buy into what others say about us, or we put restrictions on ourselves. What’s worse is that when you consider yourself unworthy, you are putting limits on how God can work through you!

When you give up on your dreams, you put God in a box. After all, you are His creation. He made you for a purpose. Therefore your life cannot be limited any more than God’s love can be contained.

I have a choice. You have a choice. We can choose to dwell on disappointments and shortcomings. We can choose to be bitter, angry, or sad. Or when faced with hard times and hurtful people, we can choose to learn from the experience and move forward, taking responsibility for our own happiness.

As God’s child, you are beautiful and precious, worth more than all the diamonds in the world. You and I are perfectly suited to be who we were meant to be! Even still, it should always be our goal to become an even better person and stretch our boundaries by dreaming big. Adjustments are necessary along the way because life isn’t always rosy, but it is always worth living. I’m here to tell you that no matter what your circumstances may be, as long as you are breathing, you have a contribution to make.

I can’t put a hand on your shoulder to reassure you, but I can speak from the heart. However desperate your life may seem, there is hope. As bad as circumstances appear, there are better days ahead. No matter how dire your circumstances may appear, you can rise above them. To wish for change will change nothing. To make the decision to take action right now will change everything!

All events come together for the good. I’m certain of that because it’s been true in my life. What good is a life without limbs? Just by looking at me, people know that I faced and overcame many obstacles and hardships. That makes them willing to listen to me as a source of inspiration. They allow me to share my faith, to tell them they are loved, and to give them hope.

That is my contribution. It’s important to recognize your own value. Know that you also have something to contribute. If you feel frustrated right now, that’s okay. Your sense of frustration means you want more for your life than you have right now. That’s all good. Often it’s the challenges in life that show us who we are truly meant to be.

A Life of Value

It took me a long time to see the benefits of the circumstances I was born into. My mum was twenty-five years old when she became pregnant with me, her first child. She’d been a midwife and worked as a pediatric nurse in charge in the delivery room where she provided care for hundreds of mothers and their babies. She knew what she had to do while she was pregnant, watching her diet, being cautious about medications, and not consuming alcohol, aspirin, or any other pain-killers. She went to the best doctors and they assured her everything was proceeding smoothly.

Even still, her apprehension persisted. As her due date approached, my mum shared her concerns with my father several times, saying, “I hope that everything’s okay with the baby.”

When two ultrasounds were performed during her pregnancy, the doctors detected nothing unusual. They told my parents that the baby was a boy but not a word about missing limbs! At my delivery on December 4, 1982, my mother could not see me at first, and the first question she asked the doctor was “Is the baby all right?” There was silence. As the seconds ticked by and they were still not bringing the baby for her to see, she sensed even more that something was wrong. Instead of giving me to my mother to hold, they summoned a pediatrician and moved off to the opposite corner, examining me and conferring with each other. When my mum heard a big healthy baby scream, she was relieved. But my dad, who had noticed I was missing an arm during the delivery, felt queasy and was escorted out of the room.

Shocked at the sight of me, the nurses and doctors quickly wrapped me up.

My mother, who’d participated in hundreds of deliveries as a nurse, wasn’t fooled. She read the distress on the faces of her medical team, and she knew something was very wrong.

“What is it? What’s wrong with my baby?” she demanded.

Her doctor would not answer at first, but when she insisted on a response, he could offer my mother only a specialized medical term.

“Phocamelia,” he said.

Because of her nursing background, my mother recognized the term as the condition babies have when they are born with malformed or missing limbs. She simply couldn’t accept that this was true.

In the meantime, my stunned dad was outside, wondering whether he had seen what he thought he saw. When the pediatrician came out to speak to him, he cried out, “My son, he has no arm!”

“Actually,” the pediatrician said as sensitively as possible, “your son has neither arms nor legs.”

My father went weak with shock and anguish.

He sat stunned, momentarily unable to speak before his protective instincts kicked in. He rushed in to tell my mother before she saw me, but to his dismay he found her lying in bed, crying. The staff had already told her the news. They had offered to bring me to her but she refused to hold me and told them to take me away.

The nurses were crying. The midwife was crying. And of course, I was crying! Finally they put me next to her, still covered, and my mum just couldn’t bear what she was seeing: her child without limbs.

“Take him away,” she said. “I don’t want to touch him or see him.”

To this day my father regrets that the medical staff did not give him time to prepare my mother properly. Later, as she slept, he visited me in the nursery. He came back and told Mum, “He looks beautiful.” He asked her if she wanted to see me at that point, but she declined, still too shaken. He understood and respected her feelings.

Instead of celebrating my birth, my parents and their whole church mourned. “If God is a God of love,” they wondered, “why would He let something like this happen?”

My Mum’s Grief

I was my parents’ firstborn child. While this would be a major cause for rejoicing in any family, no one sent flowers to my mum when I was born. This hurt her and only deepened her despair.

Sad and teary-eyed, she asked my dad, “Don’t I deserve flowers?”

“I’m sorry,” Dad said. “Of course you deserve them.” He went to the hospital flower shop and returned shortly to present her with a bouquet.

I was aware of none of this until the age of thirteen or so, when I began to question my parents about my birth and their initial reaction to my lack of limbs. I’d had a bad day at school, and when I told my mum, she cried with me. I told her I was sick of having no arms and legs. She shared my tears and said that she and my dad had come to understand that God had a plan for me and one day He would reveal it. My questions continued over time, sometimes with one parent, sometimes with both. Part of my search for answers was natural curiosity and part of it was in response to the persistent questions I’d been fielding from curious classmates.

At first, I was a little scared of what my parents might tell me, and, since some of this was difficult for them to delve into, I didn’t want to put them on the spot. In our initial discussions my mum and dad were very careful and protective ...
One Blessed Mamma says: Nick has a faith and enthusiasm that is contageous. NO ONE could read this book and feel sorry for themselves for their life circumstances-it's just not possible. Nick again and again shows readers that God has a purpose for their lives. He says, "If you have the desire and passion to do something, and it's within God's will, you will achieve it." He reminds us that fulfillment is not about having possessions, that "life isn't about having, it's about being". He also reminds us that we all have something to give, and we are happiest when we do just that. At the end of the book, there is a Personal Action Plan with life application questions geared toward each chapter. I'd highly encourage anyone who wants a spiritual pick-me-up to read this book!
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Friday, June 1, 2012

Pen Pal Kids Club Review

I never had a pen pal growing up.  I know it's a popular concept, it just wasn't one I ever pursued or my mom ever pursued for me.  But Shelley Aliotti, the creator of a relatively new website for kids, the Pen Pal Kids Club, did have a pen pal, and it made a lifelong impression on her.  So much so, that she wrote a book called My Pen Pal Scrapbook that is out of print now, but is readable at the Pen Pal Kids Club site.  It is a wonderful resource about children around the world. 

Embracing modern technology, Ms. Aliotti has now taken her love for pen pals into the virtual world, creating a site where kids can interact with other kids from around the globe.  Here's a little information from their site:
“Explore the World. Make Friends Forever.”™ Pen Pals can share digital postcards in their preferred languages and learn about their new friends' differences and similarities, their cultures and lifestyles, their hopes and dreams.
In our Exploration & Learning Library - you and your children or students will soon be learning new things about the world through Encyclopædia Britannica Kids. PPKC offers their child-friendly filtered international information on many subject matters.
Play games...Each of our games was founded in subject matter relating to world history, culture, social studies, economics, geography and government, to share knowledge about the world around you.

While they seek to be a place where children from around the world can interact, they also adhere to high safety standards, as set forth in the Child Online Protection Act.  Parents can decide how much a child can share, and can even login as the child to see exactly what they have been up to. 

The pros: This site looks really cool and has tons of potential.  I think technology has definitely shown us that it really is a small world after all, and I love the idea that children around the globe are invited to share with each other what's the same and what's different about their lives.  And the site has no outside advertisers, so it is completely self contained and you're kids can't "click away" to another site.

The cons:  I only had a week to look this over before having to offer this review.  Unfortunately, I think the site is not widely used yet, and in that week I had the chance to get my daughter set up and request some pen pals, but not really interact with any as many that looked promising via shared interests had not been active in a while.  I was disappointed to see there isn't any sort of age grouping that I found.  After all, it's not really practical for my 7 year old to be a pen pal with a 14 year old.  I wanted to be able to easily find younger pen pals for her, and older ones for my older kids.  And now, for some reason, I can't get into our accounts at all :-(.  They are still active, but I can't get in.  (Edited to add: After several days, I contacted PPKC about my problem and was told the site was down to fix some bugs, but now it's a day and a half later and I still haven't been able to get in.)

The bottom line:  I don't know.  I want this to be a great site, but my experiences so far have been lacking.  I definitely would not pay for it based on what we've seen so far, but I've been locked out, so we hardly had the chance to give it much of a try.  If you want to check it out, it is free for your first 30 days.  After that, it's $2.99 a month, or $29.99 a year. 

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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Dive Into Your Imagination- What Makes a Fish a Fish? Review

My youngest daughter has fallen in love.  With a DVD.  An educational DVD at that!
Dive Into Your Imagination was created by Annie Crawley and they specialize in "everything ocean".  I was privileged to be able to review one of a series of DVDs by DIYI created using images from "Ocean Annie's" undersea explorations.  Annie Crawley has a passion for educating all people, and children in particular,  about the beauty and wonder found in our oceans.  Her Dive Into Your Imagination series is geared toward elementary students, but is educational for students of any age.  What Makes a Fish a Fish? teaches students just that- what traits qualify an animal as a fish.  But beyond that, it showcases the diversity of fish found in our oceans.  The DVD has 3 audio tracks- English, Spanish, and a music only track.  Also available to accompany each DVD in the series are Educator Guides focused specifically on PreK-K or 1st-3rd Grade.

The pros:  Ocean Annie has a passion for educating kids about our oceans and years of underwater photography and cinematography and it shows.  The footage is just beautiful.  My daughter has watched it over and over and over again.  She loves the music, she loves the fish, and she loves the peak into our gorgeous underwater world.  She loves it so much she got all her siblings to watch too.  She can sing the theme song.  We may well wear out this DVD, if that's even possible.  We're no strangers to sea life- living in Florida, having Sea World passes for years, spending hours at the Seas pavilion at Disney.  But she has still learned a lot from this DVD, and the Educator Guide is a treasure trove of information to enhance the learning even more. ( If you'd like to see these DVDs for yourself, you can watch a clip here.)

The cons:  I have none, other than the fact that I wish had the whole set of DVDs :-).

The bottom line:  Annie Crawley is inspiring.  You can read more about her on her personal site.  She has such a passion for children, and it shows in these videos.  As homeschoolers, you have an amazing opportunity right now to get any of these DVDs ($19.95 each) with free shipping through the month of June.  Just go to Annie's site to make your purchase.  I can't recommend these highly enough.  This is hands down my daughter's favorite DVD ever.  As a photographer, I can tell you the images in the videos are every bit the quality you would expect from some of the biggest names in nature cinematography.  And Annie is offering, just for homeschoolers reading our reviews, to allow you to have the Educator Guide for any video you order for FREE.  Just note in the comments section of your order that you are a homeschooler.  The guides will allow you to turn one DVD into an entire unit study, and sell for well more than the cost of each DVD, so you are getting an incredible deal. 

To order any of Dive Into Your Imagination's products, go to Annie Crawley's site.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say (some of them reviewed other DVDs in the series), go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free copy of What Makes a Fish a Fish? for the purpose of giving my honest review.  This DVD was the only compensation I received, and the opinions expressed are entirely my own.
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