Tuesday, September 30, 2014

All the Lonely People

Today while I was at work, I noticed something I've noticed before - there are a lot of lonely people in my town. At first I thought, "Why are so many people sad?" Then I realized that they're probably not actually sad, but I think a lot of them are quite lonely. That brought to mind the Beatles' song...and the lyrics. You know which one I mean, Eleanor Rigby.

That got me thinking, what am I doing to help the people in my town be less lonely? Where am I giving of my time, my listening ear, my smile, to brighten someone else's day? Step one should be to slow down, to notice the people around me. Step two? Do something! I'm not quite sure where this will lead me to go, but I just wanted to share a peek into my journey. Maybe you'll notice the lonely people where you live. 

If you've ever been lonely, you  should know why I want to encourage and cheer those around us. For now, I'm going to make sure I look at people's faces, then when I smile, maybe they'll see it. If you're struck with ideas of how to brighten the days of lonely people, leave a comment below, maybe your idea will spark someone else to action.

If you've been lonely today, know that you are not invisible, God sees you even when no one else does, and that I'm praying for you!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fix-It! Grammar: Robin Hood - A Crew Review

Fix It! Grammar Review
Many home schooling families are familiar with the Institute for Excellence in Writing, commonly referred to as IEW, and the quality teachings of Andrew Pudewa. What you may not have realized is that IEW has a team of quality teachers and curriculum writers working together to help students improve their skills in all things related to writing. Arlene and I have been reviewing one of newest IEW items, Fix-It! Grammar: Robin Hood, written by Pamela White. If you looked at IEW's Fix It! Grammar books in the past, we invite you to take another look, as this is a complete re-do of their older grammar series.

Robin Hood is the second book in the Fix It! Grammar series of 6 books. For the review we received the Fix It! Grammar: Robin Hood [Book 2] Teacher Manual ($19) and Student Book ($15.) You will need to decide for your own family whether you want to purchase the spiral-bound printed student book, or choose to use the download of the Student Book and print it yourself. Note: The download of the Student Book is included with the Teacher's Manual, but at 132 pages, expect to spend quite a bit of time, paper, and ink if you decide to print it yourself. Once again, IEW scores bonus points for large families as they allow the printing of multiple copies for use within the immediate family. For us, we would have chosen to purchase the spiral bound version for Arlene anyway. Let's face it, this is our student who tends to misplace loose pages. . . and having it spiral bound makes it easy for her to find, and use!

Another perk of purchasing the printed version of the Student Book is the card-stock weight printed grammar review cards. Like I mentioned before, Arlene can have a tendency to misplace loose papers, so she and I talked and decided she would NOT cut out the cards as suggested in the lessons, but keep them in her book and flip back to review them as necessary.

We're going to jump over to the Teacher Manual for a bit. The Teacher Manual is an open-and-go resource. The seven page Introduction should only take you twenty to thirty minutes to read and understand. That means you can jump in and get going with your student right away. That is a new concept for me, as most Grammar programs require a lot more Teacher Prep to get ready for day 1 with your student. IEW has organized this series to take about 15 minutes a day, four days a week, for 33 weeks. The method used is "Modeling proper grammar within stories." Each week's lesson is using a small portion of the story to teach a specific grammar lesson to learn "at the point of need." We have found this method to work well for Arlene, as she is practicing the grammar skills within a story that holds her interest. At about 10-15 minutes a day, the Fix It! Grammar's style of presenting new concepts has been good for her learning level, without being overwhelming. 

For a couple years now, Arlene has been able to tell when something didn't sound right, but because of her slower learning of spelling rules, we have not forced her into a grammar program before we thought she was ready. How did we know where to start Arlene? IEW has a set of placement tests on their website that correspond to the levels in the Fix It! Grammar series. Arlene whizzed through the first placement test, but struggled on parts of the second one, so we knew she should start in book 2. Please make time for your students to take the placement tests. The exception to that would be if your student has not done any grammar, just start with book 1. Book one can be used anytime third grade or after, and since each book builds upon the previous skills learned, your student can do however many levels you think they require. If you are considering all six levels, look at the Complete Package that includes all 6 Teacher's Manuals (and the student downloads) for $89. If you are living outside the US (or have a large family,) and are planning on teaching your students English Grammar, give serious thought to getting the Complete Package at the beginning.

The Teachers Manual takes you step by step through how to teach each new grammar concept to your student, and then gives you a layout of how each day of your student's rewrites should look. It is a multi-step process. Week one only has six concepts, and gives them four days to learn them. After each sentence is corrected, the student re-writes the story with all of the corrections, giving them a correctly edited version of the story to read when they finish the course. The first week was pretty easy for Arlene, with the exception of the Indent rules. Those took a while to master. Arlene could do more than one day's worth of work each day, but she is enjoying just spending a few minutes a day. Since there are four days' worth of editing work each week, she usually decides to save the rewriting until Friday. You will need to decide which works better for your student, to write one sentence a day, or write all four sentences on Fridays.

I like the ease of only adding a few new skills each week. In the above photo you'll see my Teacher Manual at the top, Arlene's Student Book at the bottom. Arlene's vocal word for week 1, day 1 was reigned. She was instructed to look it up in the dictionary and then copy the definition that applied in this sentence into her notebook where she would also be writing her edited version of the story. Arlene opted for a 3-ring binder and loose-leaf paper since she didn't know how much space all of her definitions would take. The first day of each week, you work through the sentence with your student, modeling how to mark each item. Because Arlene is 14, I decided to have her try each day one sentence herself after we talked about the concept, then we continued talking about it until she had successfully marked all of the items correctly. Days 2, 3, & 4 she did on her own, and I graded each day's sentence by placing checkmarks above the ones she got correct. Because this is only the second time Arlene has had any real grammar instruction, I made sure we talked about all the items she should have marked, but missed before she moved on to the next week. Younger students might need you to take extra time each day and not save the reminders until the end of the week.

If you look in the picture above, you'll see that there are some sentences that just don't have much to mark yet. That's ok, if you look below you'll see how much more there is to mark by week 4!

language arts

The Teacher Manual (about 250 pages total) is significantly thicker than the Student Book because it has one page for each day's editing. This page gives you plenty of explanations to share with your student to help then understand what they might have missed. These pages sometimes have extra notes for grammar lovers. I'll admit that I like that they include the definitions the student should have looked up, I'm a Mom with a night job, I really don't want to spend my precious teaching moments looking through a dictionary.

Both the Teacher Manual and Student Book include a Glossary in the back. Your usage of this section will vary. Since IEW uses the layman's terms for Grammar, it can be helpful to look back here and get the technical terminology for yourself and your older students. The glossary is 45 pages of detailed information. I think the page Arlene will probably use the most is the page listing the most common prepositions.

Overall, we have found Fix It! Grammar: Robin Hood to be a fairly painless way to help Arlene learn grammar. I've been keeping up with our friends who I heard are using it for their students, and they like it too. In the Student Book, each week's sentences are one one page, and the reminders of what to mark are at the top of each page. Each time a new concept/ skill is added, the reminder is spelled out, when it is the second week or more for a skill, it is abbreviated. I have been reminding Arlene to look at he top of the page each day so she doesn't forget to mark something. Each week adds a part of speech skill, and every few weeks, a new punctuation mark and/or a general skill (like homophones) is added.

complete grammar program, editing, grammar

The Crew reviewed levels one through five of the Fix It! Grammar series. You can read all the reviews by clicking the banner below.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thankful Thursdays - 9/25/14 - Schoolhouse Review Crew

Can I just take a few minutes to tell you how thankful I am to be a part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew?! This is a tremendous group of Mom-bloggers who work to review various products (mostly educational) and who love and support one another behind the scenes. I have been so blessed to be a part of this group over the past few years. The Crew has helped me grow as a blogger, not only in writing, but  in learning about the behind the scenes work of blogging and understanding more about social media.

Review Crew

Most of what the girls are using this Fall for school books are from past Crew Reviews. Not only does reviewing give us an opportunity to experience varied curriculum choices, it gives me the opportunity to honestly tell you what we thought of the choice. Right now there are SO MANY choices our there for home schoolers that I know it can be overwhelming. I enjoy being able to help you narrow the choices by just a little. One of those ways is letting you know HOW a curriculum is designed, not just what it covers. Some of you like workbooks, some focus on unit studies, some use living books, some prefer online resources. The Crew has opportunities to review all of those options every year.

Another great thing that I am thankful for with the Crew is the leadership team. Kate, Debra, and Marcy are also home educating Mamas who want us to remain focused on our task as Mothers, not just as reviewers! The multiple ways they organize and encourage us as Moms and bloggers are too complicated for a short Thankful Thursdays post, so I'll just say this: I love them all dearly!

Soon it will be time for an invitation to apply to join the Crew for next year, I hope to return again next year, and I'll be looking forward to meeting all the new members. In the meantime, you can look forward to a couple posts about our favorite Crew review products, and which ones the girls are using this year.

I'll just finish with this; I am privileged to be able to learn from and pray for the other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew. If you're looking for some great blogs to read, check out the list of current members, you'll be thankful you did!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thankful Thursdays 9/18/14 - Tomatoes and green beans

This week the thankful focuses on garden fresh veggies, specifically the two we seem to do the best with - tomatoes and green beans. One of the many reasons we're thankful, both keep producing all summer long. At this rate, we may have tomatoes and green beans through the end of September. 
If the weather turns colder, we'll pick the rest of the tomatoes and bring them inside to ripen. Yet, I hope Fall lingers, because no tomato tastes as good as one freshly picked off the vine, still warm from the sunshine! Green beans give me all kinds of ideas for dinner. But the simplest is just freshly cooked (or steamed) green beans as a side dish.

Hope you've had a chance to be thankful for some home-grown-fresh veggies this week. If your garden is done for the year, stop by your local Farmer's Market. The ones around us last through the end of September.

Have a great weekend being thankful for fresh tomatoes and green beans!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The 7 Minute Life Daily Planner - a Crew Review

Are you a planner? Do you despise planning? Do you wish you knew how to plan? Do you plan but not follow through? Does your lack of planning leave you feeling like you're spinning your wheels? Wherever you feel like you fall on the planning spectrum, I want to invite you to learn more about The 7 minute Life Daily Planner that I have been using this past month. The planner is from The 7 Minute Life and was created by Allyson Lewis, author of The 7 Minute Solution. While reviewing the planner, I checked out a copy of Lewis' book from our local library. If you are serious about getting your act together, and getting organized, I highly recommend reading the book, or watching several of the videos on The 7 Minute Life website. If you want to jump straight into the planner, you can see the the most relevant videos here.

7 Minute Life Daily Planner Review
Let's back up, and I'll tell you a little bit about why I wanted to review this planner.
I needed help. I have gone through stages in my life when I've been super organized, and others where I've literally spun in circles all day... and then I'd get organized again, and then life would step in the way. I wanted to see if this planner, which I believe was originally designed for business people, could work to help me get myself organized for the new school year. Let's face it, Moms juggle a whole lot of schedules and responsibilities whether you have one kid in school, or six. If you own/run a business, or work part-time (or more) or want to homeschool your children, the schedules just keep piling up. How do you organize the seeming chaos into something you can actually work with?

I had been seeing my slightly organized life unravel all Spring and Summer. First, Kurt was sick, then he needed to have his gallbladder removed, then 4-H season hit with full force, and I felt like I was treading water. The problem with treading water is that you can only do it so long before you sink. I didn't want to sink, and our back-to-school schedule was rapidly approaching. What to do?! Then, the opportunity to review The 7 Minute Daily Planner came along. Thanks Allyson Lewis for the lifesaver thrown my direction!

This planner covers 90 days, and costs $24.95. Don't balk at the price, I found it to be worth every penny, and it comes with a money back guarantee. The planner is 7.3" by 8.5", and has so much more than any other planner I've ever seen... and trust me, I've seen a lot of them. (A side note to home schooling Moms, this planner will NOT organize your student's lesson plans, but it will organize you!) I really like the smaller size of the planner, because it can go with me. My larger 'appointment keeping' planner sits on the desk, but it's too big to take with me wherever I go. The 7 Minute Daily Planner has a lot of unique features, and if you want to see some of the pages close up, you can download sample pages to look through from the tools tab on the website.

This planner is lime green, ok, maybe that's lime with a touch of kelley green mixed in, so while it wasn't my favorite color, it was always easy to spot where I left it. It has a sturdy plastic over cover, paste-board weight covers with pockets, along with a  double-wire binding. It is designed to go with you, and it has held up remarkably well. The planner is designed for adults, not kids. If you have a High School Junior or Senior who also has a job or micro business, they might want to check this out.

The beginning pages (5-19) explain how to use the planner, and then there are specific pages for prioritizing what is important to you, discovering your purpose in life, setting both 90 day personal and work goals, and pages for financial and life goals. Then come several pages for unfinished tasks... you know what I mean, the stuff that floats in and out of your brain and distracts you from getting today's work done today. For me, this was a great place to start decluttering my brain, as there are several things that need done later this month, or next month, that I needed to get off of my radar in August so I could stay focused. These pages are divided into unfinished work tasks, or home tasks. This can be where you write things like: dig canna bulbs, mulch the trees, insulate the windows. Items you know you need to do, but don't need done this week.

After that come 12 undated monthly calendar pages. This planner is designed to work by the quarter (90 days) but realizes that some of your plans will be longer-term. It also has 90 day and annual calendar pages (much smaller boxes of course.) 

Next comes the heart of this planner, daily progress report pages that are divided into several sections. On these pages, I adapted some of the more business-focused sections to better meet my own needs. The first section is the daily contacts list. Think of this as making calls/ sending emails to business clients. I appropriated this section into prayer requests. At first, I was covering the title with Washi tape for each day, then I moved on to just using my correction tape to re-label the section.  Next to this comes the true heart of this planner, the "What will I do...5 before 11" section. This is the area where you prioritize the 5 most important tasks to get accomplished each day. (FYI- you are supposed to fill this out the night before, right before bedtime, so you make sure they are really your priorities.) I will admit, that even though these are supposed to be done before 11 a.m., I work nights, so these were my 5 before 11 p.m. tasks. 

There are also sections for daily appointments, unfinished tasks, life connections, thank you notes, and voicemail. Plus, a lined section just for daily notes. Each day has a two-page spread. The planner has a few pages just for notes, and some meeting planning pages. After each 30 days of daily pages, there is a monthly progress report with a page just for notes for planning the next month.

If you are in business, you are going to adore this planner. If you are a Mom or Dad who needs help getting organized and staying organized, you should want to get this planner ASAP. If you never do anything, and have no goals in life, then this is not for you. I think many people will realize how much smoother their lives run when they prioritize, organize, and simplify with The 7 Minute Daily Planner and will get it again and again. Right now, I'm thinking about purchasing another copy when this one is almost finished. I've been reviewing it for almost 6 weeks. I spent the whole first week reading and re-reading the introductory pages and working on the goal setting sections. You really DO need to take time to work on these, even if you can't fill in all the blanks, you will have a plan to start with. 

This is an undated planner, so you can start any day of any month, of any year. Another bonus of the undated part, if you are going to be gone (let's say vacation) and don't use it for a few days, you haven't wasted any pages. If life were to interrupt in a major way (major medical emergency or a storm takes out the power,) you can still go right on with your planner... or you can take a few days off. If you've been faithful to write down your unfinished tasks, you won't lose them. They'll still be right there waiting for you.

7 Minute Life Daily Planner Review
A critical point this planner has in its favor are small checkboxes next to the lists, and a section at the bottom of each day to keep track of your water consumption, sleep, exercise, reflection, and reading time, and what you ate (3 meals plus 2 snacks.) Then comes the most telling part of each day "Did I do what I said I would do today?" with two small boxes, yes, or no.

This planner has helped me turn my large goals into daily micro-tasks that can be done one at a time. It has helped me find what I should be focused on in the midst of the chaos, and set myself on the right path to accomplishing more goals. One of my favorite sections is on the daily progress report. It is the "Unfinished Tasks" section. It lets me keep a running list of what didn't get done that week that still needs completed. An item that might not make my 5 before 11 section on Monday, usually gets put here because I know it needs finished by Thursday or Friday. I have taken all of those various to-do lists from around  the house and put them all in this portable book.

Does it really work? Oh yes. On the days when I didn't plan the afternoon or evening before, I found myself waking up without a plan, and not much got accomplished. On the days where I spent 5-7 minutes planning, a lot got accomplished. I still have a lot of unfinished tasks on those beginning pages, but I have a planner that is helping me stay organized. I think you should get yourself a copy and get organized yourself!

If you're still on the fence, I challenge you to watch the videos and download the sample pages. I think you'll be quite happy you did!

You can learn how the planner worked for other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew by clicking the banner below.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thankful Thursdays - 9/11/14 - Potatoes

Today we are thankful for potatoes. New, fresh, potatoes we grew ourselves.

There were not a lot of potatoes when we harvested them last week, but it was a great learning experience, and has left us planning again for next year.

I had seen the 'potato box' idea online, and tried to follow it...but of course life got crazy along the way, so we didn't follow all the directions to the letter. Our original plan was to use the box for potatoes this year, and make it a planter for something else next season. I'll need to do some crop rotation planning this winter so I can reuse all that lovely dirt.

I think we'll make another potato box for next year, or maybe two. What we did learn, we want to plant more potatoes for next year, and put the box closer to the spigot for the days when we need to water them. I think we would have had more large potatoes if we had watered them more often.

Considering we planted 4 left-over organic potatoes that had sprouted in the fridge, we didn't do too badly. In the end, we're thankful for all we learned, and our yummy potatoes. We had some already this week with a roast - yum!

What vegetable are you most thankful for this week? Leave a comment, maybe I'll get some ideas for next time!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


I thought you might need a smile today, so here are some pansies ... with their funny little faces. Have a wonderful day!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Under Drake's Flag - 2 Cd Set - A Crew Review

Many people have heard about G.A. Henty and the many (122) books he wrote to tell the story of history. We've seen several of Henty's books and heard praise for his works. What intrigued us was a chance to review the dramatized Audio Theater of Under Drake's Flag from Heirloom Audio Productions. 

audio theater, audio drama, G.A. Henty

For this Schoolhouse Review Crew run we received the 2 CD set, which includes a small study guide and the Prayer of Sir Francis Drake. The CD set includes 2 hours of dramatized audio and retails for $29.95. Emily, Arlene, and I listened to the CD's in the car over the course of a couple days. We agreed that the amount of dramatization was just right. It adds to the story, without being overwhelming or making it difficult to hear the dialogue.

If you're not familiar with Henty's Under Drake's Flag, it is a story about Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596) and his life as a privateer under Queen Elizabeth of England. The Spanish considered Drake a pirate, the English considered him a hero. 

The small study guide included with the CD set can give you questions and topics to discuss with your children. When you purchase the CD's you can also download the full study guide as a 28 page PDF file. The full study guide goes more in-depth and asks you to spend time listening to and thinking about each part of the story. It also includes vocabulary words that you and your children can look up and discuss.

This audio drama is designed for ages 6 through adult, but I would suggest you pre-listen before sharing it with your children under 10 or 11. While there are no words or scenes that are inappropriate for young listeners, the topics of slavery, warfare, and the Spanish Inquisition are covered during the story. As a parent, I would have had a difficult time explaining these to the girls if they were 8 or 10, and I would have wanted time to think through my responses before the questions were asked. Now that they are 14 & 16, this was an excellent open and go story, and a great conversation starter. After listening to the CD's a couple of times, the girls and I talked about pirates/privateers, the Spanish Inquisition, English rule under Queen Elizabeth, and what happened in Europe for the 300 years following Drake's lifetime.

At two hours, this is obviously an adaptation of Henty's original book. I haven't yet read the book, but I liked the audio drama. Arlene commented that is was as well done as a movie, but without the pictures. Emily and I discussed the implications of the war between England and Spain and how the gold and silver Drake captured went back to Queen Elizabeth, and how it might have funded other English endeavors. 

The story presented in the CD's focuses on Drake's Christian faith, and is intended to help build character, while teaching about making wise choices. 

After listening to the CDs a few times, we discussed the differences between true faith, and using the church for personal gain. I believe the story does a decent job of not going too in depth on touchy subjects, leaving those for your family to discuss. For example it is enough to know there were runaway slaves to understand the story, while  you decide how in-depth your family wants to go with discussing specifics of slavery and mistreatment of other people.

I enjoyed Henty's way of telling the story of Sir Francis Drake through the eyes of Ned and Gerald. I frequently read historical fiction because I find that a well-written historical fiction novel can teach me more than a dry history book just stuffed with facts. Listening to this CD Set has encouraged me to consider adding some Henty books to the girls' schoolwork for later this year.

Overall, we were impressed with the quality of the audio, and the adaptation of the story. If your children (or you) enjoy a swashbuckling good story, grab you family a copy of Under Drake's Flag today. Your next car ride can be an adventure you'll all enjoy!

Heirloom Audio Productions is working on another  G.A. Henty title In Freedom's Cause, the story of Wallace and Bruce, due out later this Fall. It is currently on pre-order status, but they expect it to be available sometime in November. Maybe I'll get it for my birthday, and share it with the family.

Under Drake's Flag Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

Thankful Thursdays - 9/4/14 - A Thankful Mash-up

Today I am thankful for a lot of things. While I had an idea at the beginning of the week for today's theme, I realized that there are SO MANY things to be thankful for this week. I have decided to give you a glimpse into my thankful mash-up.

This week I've been thankful for:
A quality mechanic
Working internet
Educating our daughters
The power of prayer
God's perfect plan
The Body of Christ in action
Our chiropractor
The Schoolhouse Review Crew
Our mailman
Grocery Sales
To-do lists
Long talks
A clean kitchen
Indoor plumbing

If I were a graphic artist, I'd draw you a mash-up picture, but I'm not. Just know that I'm thankful for every day God grants me!