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Review of Analytical Grammar's Beyond the Book Report

Analytical Grammar Review
Analytical Grammar is well-known in the homeschooling community. It has one of the most comprehensive and rigorous programs out there. I have often considered it for my kids, so I was quite excited when I saw that the Crew was going to review it this year. My excitement turned to intrigue when I saw that Analytical Grammar had a program that I had somehow completely overlooked before! Beyond the Book Report is Analytical Grammar's middle school/early high school language arts curriculum, and it's ideal for 6th-8th grades.

Designed to work with Analytical Grammar, we have found that Beyond the Book Report stands quite well on its own! In fact, for Nicholas (11) it was ideal to use it on its own, as I have found a grammar curriculum that is perfect for him and, unlike my other kids, he does not thrive on having his curriculum switched up frequently (OCD, ADHD, Tourette's...take your pick). The scope and sequence of Beyond the Book Report demonstrates that it teaches so much more than its name might imply. 
Analytical Grammar Review
What is Beyond the Book Report?
Beyond the Book Report is comprised of three "seasons" (each of which costs $24.95, or all three of which can be bundled for $69.95), and includes both video lecture and printable assignment components. If you have previous familiarity with Analytical Grammar, the Teaching the Essay and Teaching the Research Paper components of the program were folded into this program.

Season One of Beyond the Book Report includes The Basic Book Report, The Pamphlet Book Report, and The News Article Book Report. Season Two includes The Poetry Book Report and The Drama Book Report. Season Three includes The Oral Book Report, The Essay, and The Research Paper.


Within the construct of each type of book report, a student learns about many different related concepts. So, for instance, as Nicky went through Basic Book Report, he learned basic literary terms like conflict, point-of-view, and protagonist and antagonist. He demonstrated his command of these terms in two ways. First, every time he has read a book since, he has loudly proclaimed who the protagonist and antagonist are, but, and more to the point, he completed the Literary Terms worksheet that is part of the Basic Book Report unit. 

For this first book report, Nicky chose (with some assistance from me!) to read Tom Sawyer. Thank goodness that wonderful book starts with Tom whitewashing (or not whitewashing, to be more accurate) the fence - I knew that scene would grab Nicky -- and it did. One thing that I did not use from Beyond the Book report (although I would have used it for a kid like Therese) was the Reading Log. The log uses a formula of how many pages a book has versus how many days you have to read it, thus giving you the number of pages you must read per day. You then log those pages each day. The grading rubric wants you to assess a 3 point penalty if it is not filled out correctly. With all of Nicky's behavioral issues, there was no way that I was going to make something this rigid a priority, although I can definitely see the benefit of using it with a kid that just needs structure or motivation. As long as Nicky is reading a book he likes, he'll read plenty per day. He's a slow reader, though, and no amount of requiring pages is going to change that.

There are two components to Beyond the Book Report - the written work (like the Literary Terms worksheet and the Book Log) and the video instruction. The video instruction is done by the mother-daughter team behind Analytical Grammar, and the lectures (for lack of a better word) are interesting and comphrehensible. Nicky enjoyed them. My only complaint is that I found the sound quality pretty inferior. It was hard to understand at times. It seems possible that these DVDs were dubbed from earlier VHS recordings or something of that nature, as the sound seemed quite muffled. Apart from that, though, Nicky was always anxious to "watch my videos" when it was time to do BBR.

Nicky's Experience with BBR

If you read my blog, you know that Nicholas is my challenging child. And challenging is an understatement. Hence, while I appreciate rigorous grading rubrics like the ones BBR includes (part of the one used for the Basic Book Report is shown here),



I only need to look at them for one minute before realizing that I can't use anything like them with him. For one thing, the use of exclamation points (Must include the ending!) just seems so...extreme. I think rubrics like this are great for parents who don't have much experience teaching writing and who have kids who don't tend to have any special needs when it comes to schooling. If you are comfortable with teaching writing and/or have a high-strung, obdurate, or otherwise difficult child, rubrics like this one are recipes for dead-end learning days.


Hence, I took a bit of a looser approach with Nicky, and he still learned a ton with BBR and, more importantly, he enjoyed the process enough to want to continue after the review period! He followed the schedule and watched the videos and completed the activities (which we printed off of the DVDs). The main difference between the program as written and the program as we used it is that I did not use the scoring rubric at all. I made him correct his spelling and grammar errors, of course, but I did not deduct points. I didn't "grade" his Literary Terms worksheet at all. I just went over it with him to make sure he understood what he had learned and could correctly identify all of the "players" in Tom Sawyer. Granted, Nicky is on the younger end of the recommended age for this product, having just turned 11 a couple of weeks ago and just heading into 6th grade, so I don't know how I might approach things if he were older. I guess much would still depend on his personality.


I thought that we would have finished more than one book report during the review period, but one is all we have done. Still, I am happy to say that Nicky is gearing up for his second and is excited to continue (he has quite an affection for the video lectures!). Having looked ahead to the next two seasons, I am glad he is happy with the program. Season Two covers poetry and drama, teaching things like haiku, limerick, and sonnet. Students learn poetry terms and poetic devices, along with drama, melodrama, comedy, and farce. They write four different types of poems and study A Midsummer Night's Dream. Season Three covers the Essay and the Research Paper, with an emphasis on writing essays on short stories and, finally, a step-by-step process on how to write a research paper. This season includes all new video lectures.


All in all, Beyond the Book Report is a very thorough writing program that covers a wide variety of writing topics all under the rubric of the book report. It is a neat way of teaching writing in a way that makes it less "boring" for kids who might be inclined to view it that way. The best thing of all about it is that it meshes well with any other program you might be using. Yes, it integrates seamlessly with Analytical Grammar, and it probably makes the most sense to use it with that program. If you already have a grammar program that works for you, though, as we do, it is not hard at all to fit it in. My best advice would be not to get too caught up in the apparent rigidity of the program. Just because there are scoring rubrics aplenty with strict rules (1 point off for this, 1 point off for that) doesn't mean that you have to use them. They are a resource that will be great for some parents, but they are, in my mind, optional. They shouldn't put you off the whole program if you don't tend to like such things.


Beyond the Book Report was surprisingly successful here. To see lots of other Analytical Grammar programs in action, click the banner below.


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Review of Hewitt Homeschooling's Lightning Literature


We have used and loved Hewitt Homeschooling's Lightning Literature courses before, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review them again. This time around, we are studying Medieval Britain, so the Lightning Literature and Composition British Medieval Student's Guide with the Lightning Literature and Composition British Medieval Teacher's Guide was a perfect fit for Therese (13). 



The British Medieval Literature Guide is 238 pages long, is recommended for Grades 11-12, and costs $29.95. The accompanying Teacher's Guide is 76 pages long and costs just $2.95.



The literature covered in this guide includes the following:

  • Beowulf
  • Anglo-Saxon riddles
  • Piers the Ploughman
  • York Mystery Play Cycle 42, The Ascension
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Selection from The Gest of Robyn Hode
  • "Sir Thomas Becket" from The Golden Legend
  • Selections from The Canterbury Tales

The less common material is included in the guide (thus accounting for its length!). Each piece of literature focuses on teaching a literary concept (such as allegory, foreshadowing, symbolism, etc.). The course reminded me very much of my senior year in high school (which covered British literature). It is comprehensive and thorough, yet easy to teach and easy to understand at the same time. What better combination is there?

Each lesson (piece of literature) follows the same format. There is an introduction to place the piece both historically and in the canon of literature. There are questions to consider during the reading process. Then, during the course of the reading, comprehension questions are provided for consideration. After the comprehension questions, the literary lesson is presented. The concept to be considered is presented in detail. Finally, several writing prompts that allow the student to explore the literary concept presented are given. The prompts are thorough and challenging and really allow the student to synthesize the piece of literature with the literary concept.

Therese and British Medieval Literature

I have to confess that I have been disappointed in Therese's lack of enthusiasm for formal literature programs. When I was a kid, I loved reading books and answering comprehension questions (throw in some vocabulary and I would be in absolute heaven!). Maybe because Therese has lived in homeschool world, she has never really been a fan of more traditional literature approaches like the ones I grew up with. Hence, I would be disingenuous if I suggested that she jumped for joy when she found out that we were reviewing Lightning Literature again. Having said that, though, out of all of the literature programs we have reviewed, this one is, by far, her favorite. She appreciates that it is sans frills and furbelows (if you'll allow me my own literary reference) and *packed* with information that is new to her. When Lightning Literature teaches foreshadowing in Beowulf in this course, it goes into so much depth and detail that it doesn't matter how much you have learned about foreshadowing before - you will learn something new.

Beowulf was first up in this course. Therese has read Beowulf before, but it's been a couple of years and she was only 10. Hence, it's almost as if she had never read it. Because it is an epic poem that was meant to be heard orally, I chose to go with an audio version for most of the book. The problem was that the best audio version out there is Seamus Heaney's reading of his own translation which, for reasons undetermined, is only available abridged. Hence, I had to do a little background work to find which parts she would have to read. Most of it could be listened to, though, and I think that really delivers the true atmosphere of Beowulf.

Rather than "assign" Therese parts of Beowulf to read due at certain times, I let her listen to a section and then figure out which comprehension question sections were covered so she could answer them. That worked fine. She would listen at night and answer the questions the next day. Working this way, it took her about 3 weeks to get through the book and the questions. We then took a day to discuss the literary lesson. I gave her a week to write a rough draft of the writing exercise we chose (to analyze an example of foreshadowing in Beowulf). We went through it together and she had another week to complete her final copy. Now she is working through Anglo-Saxon riddles, which are really fun!

What We Think

I can't say that Therese loves Lightning Literature, but I can say that she doesn't object to it, and that's definitely something. However, my position as the mater et magistra has always been that the kids' opinions are essentially irrelevant -- and I *do* love Lightning Literature. Of all the literature programs I have ever seen and used, this is the one that is most reminiscent of how my Honors programs in junior high and high school approached literature (and, in case you're new to my blog, I received a STELLAR public school education). I don't think I would change a thing. 

Looking at the work Therese produced through the course of studying Beowulf, it is obvious that she *got* the material. She certainly understood the concept of foreshadowing. She answered the comprehension questions thoroughly. Basically, Lightning Literature took all the work out of it for me, as they did what I would have done if I had the time. It doesn't get better than that. I love that Beowulf was essentially the test case for this product, as I love the poem. I have great memories of reading it in high school and college. The first time I read it, it was unlike anything I had ever seen. I loved that going through it this time, I remembered things I had forgotten and even learned new things. 

Concerned that you don't know a particular area of literature all that well? Don't be. The Teacher's Guide has you covered. Not only does it include suggested schedules, but it has *in-depth* answers to all of the comprehension questions, scoring rubrics for grading the papers, and worksheets for calculating final grades. For only $2.95 it is an absolutely essential part of this course. There is no reason on Earth not to get it. Truly, I feel that I am completely capable of checking my children's comprehension questions, scoring their essays, and calculating a grade. I have a minor in English and am well-read. I write for my bread and butter. And I would not think of not buying a Lightning Literature Teacher's Guide. There is more in here than you can imagine. Don't be fooled by the low page count (it's double-sided) or the low price. You need this guide.

Because of this Crew run, I have been made aware of some of Hewitt Homeschooling's products that I didn't previously know about. In fact, some of them will be on my shopping list for fall. To read about all of the products the Crew reviewed, be sure to click the banner below.

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Five Ways You Know You're a Makeup Junkie

1. You have a drawer(s) (each) full of blush/eye shadow/foundation/highlighter, all of which you love and work perfectly for you, but you still haul new makeup every time something new is released because it just might be your new Holy Grail product.

2. You know that you can never, ever have too many brushes.

3. You realize that technically, although you can contour with bronzer, you really should be using a sculpting powder because it has the right undertones. Further, in terms of bronzer, there is no way one (or five) could be enough because you have to account not only for different shades, but also for different levels of shimmer.

4. You have paid more for a highlighter than you have for a foundation (this is all your fault, Becca!).

Image Credit: Sephora.com

5. You are either VIB or VIB Rouge at Sephora (and wonder what's the big deal with getting to that status!). Honorable mention if you're Platinum at Ulta :-)


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The Myth of the Flawless Complexion

I used to think a flawless complexion was a myth, at least for women my age. I mean, there's a lot you can do with makeup, but achieve a flawless complexion? Not so much. After playing with different combinations of products, though, I am pretty much a believer. Flawless is a pretty high standard, so I don't know if I want to claim that standard, but "skin that looks so good you can't believe it's yours" - I'll definitely go with that.

I have rosacea. That's not a secret. Without makeup, my skin is pretty pale, but with bright red splotches on my cheeks and a tiny bit over one eyebrow (I know - weird and massively attractive). You know what's ironic? In grad school I had a professor with rosacea (although I didn't know it by name then - ah, the days of ignorance and bliss!), and I always felt so sorry for her. She didn't wear makeup at all (you know female academics) and she was blond and pale, so it really stood out. She was, of course, the first person I thought of when I got my own fabulous diagnosis a few years after I got my PhD. It turns out that people with rosacea don't actually require sympathy.

Back to the point at hand. I won't say it will work for everyone, but I have been flabbergasted at how well it works for me. Here is my flawless complexion regimen:

1. Estee Lauder Double Wear Foundation (my color is 2C3 - Fresco)

Image Credit: EsteeLauder.com

I have applied this with both a Beauty Blender and a flat-top buffing brush. I think the coverage is sheerer with the Beauty Blender, so for more flawless, I use a brush. This is good stuff. Yes, it's $37.00, but you don't need much at all. In fact, you really should only blend one part of your face at a time (I mean, dot foundation on one part of your face, blend, then dot on other part of your face, blend, etc.) because it is easy to overdo and get cakey, plus this stuff sets fast (as does most long-wearing foundation. I was really surprised that I was such a dark color - I am used to being the lightest in any foundation (for example, in MAC Pro Longwear, I am an NC15), but I got matched at an Estee Lauder counter, and this color really does work well. I only mention this to say that you shouldn't assume you know your color - get matched in person if you can. You can also get a generous sample when you're matched to make sure you like the way it wears before you commit to a whole bottle. 

2. Set the foundation with It Cosmetics Celebration Foundation (my color is Light-Medium)

Image Credit: It Cosmetics


I got both of these products from QVC, so I got better deals than are on the It Cosmetics website, but the compact and brush above are $49.50 and the brush below is $48. I realize that this is technically a powder foundation, and it works amazingly for this purpose. In fact, used over a BB cream, it is medium coverage and works just fine on an average day. When I am using it that way, I use the brush above. When I am using it for the flawless look, though, I use the brush below. I can't express my love for this brush enough. It's stellar. 


 Image Credit: It Cosmetics


3. Bronzer, blush, eyes, highlight, etc.

4. Finish with Ben Nye Rose Petal Powder - the magic step.


Image Credit: BenNye.com

If you are into makeup at all (and if you're not, I can't imagine how you read this far without your eyes rolling so far out of your head that you can no longer see!), you know about Kim Kardashian and her Ben Nye Banana powder. I'm here to tell you that not everyone can wear that powder (I'm also here to tell you that not everyone thinks her makeup is flawless or attractive - at least one person in the world disagrees with that seemingly universal opinion, but I digress). If you're fair skinned and cool toned, you will likely look, well, silly if you try to copy her look. 

Having said that, though, Ben Nye powders are the best thing I have discovered since watching beauty videos on YouTube. They are inexpensive and beautiful. I use Cameo to set my under eye concealer and I use Rose Petal to finish my entire face. It's the last step before I use setting spray. I am convinced it is what creates that flawless look. In fact, the first time I used it, Henry commented that my skin looked unusually even. He says even, I say flawless. You know all the hype about the Ambient Lighting Powders? I'm not immune to it, but neither am I about to pay $45 for one powder, especially when the reviews are so incredibly mixed. For less than $3 on Ebay, I got a 10 gram sample of the Ben Nye Rose Petal powder. I have been using it almost every day and I haven't made a dent. I apply it with my Real Techniques Powder brush (another absolute gem). It doesn't take much, but it instantly just...blurs everything. I can't explain it. It does what the Ambient Lighting powders claim to do. I am going to buy the 85 gram size of this powder ($20) and I plan never to be without it. I still can't get over the size of that jar. It's huge. I already know it hardly takes any, which makes it an ever better deal.

So, there you have it. My recipe for a flawless complexion. If you have fewer skin issues than I, I would imagine you'd be golden with this routine (or, if you're cool toned like me, pale pink). If you have more problematic skin, I would definitely add a concealer. I only conceal under my eyes (a routine unto itself - I'm the dark circle queen) because the Double Wear is amazing enough to deal with my rosacea on its own most of the time. If I need a little extra help, I use the LA Girl Pro Concealer, which is terrific and costs $2-$3. I only use it when I absolutely need it, though, because I am already layering two full-coverage products.

I have rambled enough. Just one clarification. I recently found out from a friend who reads my makeup posts that she thought I may be getting paid or compensated for promoting certain products. Not at all so! I talk about the things I love, all of which my dear husband's money has purchased (some of which he even knows about - ha!). There are no affiliate links in any of my blog posts, ever. If I ever add one, it will be blaringly obvious.

Thanks for reading. If you happen to already use (or try!) any of these products, I'd love to hear about it!

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Review of Apologia's Flourish

Flourish Book Review
Apologia Educational Ministries is pretty much the first name in homeschooling. If it's not one of the first companies you learn about when you start homeschooling, you likely don't have a computer. Or a friend - because friends tell friends about Apologia. It seems entirely appropriate, then, that it is Apologia that brings us the book Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms by Mary Jo Tate, because Mrs. Tate talks to her readers as if they were her friends.

Flourish Book Review


Simply reading the sample of this book available on Apologia's website spoke to me, as Mrs. Tate talks about something that I think about every day. She notes that there are great resources on the market for homeschooling moms - guides and planners that include schedules for school and home maintenance - but that these planners don't take into account the needs of working moms! Now, she speaks specifically of a home business. My work (freelance writing) isn't really a home business, but it is definitely a more-than-part time job, and I can't fit my life into someone else's schedule. In fact, it is axiomatic with me that I have time to do 2 out of 3 necessary things in an given day. Every day I need to teach the kids, work, and take care of the house. I can get two of those done, but never three. Right off the bat, Mrs. Tate seemed to "get" that conundrum. Needless to say, I knew I had to read this book!

What is Flourish?

Flourish is many things rolled into one book. Think of it as a self-help book, a motivational guide, a planner, a workbook, and something more that is ineffable. To give you some idea of what is in the book, here is the Table of Contents:


1. An Invitation to Flourish

2. Change Your Mind to Change Your Time

3. The FREEDOM Toolbox

4. Where Did My Time Go? (Me - Don't we all ask that?!)

5. Aim High: Setting Goals

6. What Do I Do Next? Seven Essential Planning Tools

7. We Interrupt This Program

8. It's Time for an Attitude Adjustment (Me again - I always forget that this is half the battle!)

9. Oxygen Masks and Monkey Bread Days

10. Training Your Children

11. Making Memories

12. Managing Your Home

13. All of Life is Learning

14. Solo Act: Flourishing as a Single Mom (me: I'm so glad for the inclusion of this chapter. There are so many women in this situation, and too few books in the homeschooling world address their needs.)

15. Home Business

16. Moving Ahead


Not only are these chapters almost compulsively readable, but each chapter is followed by time for reflection. I appreciated this forced stop at the end of the chapter, as I read fast and if I am not compelled to slow down, I won't. This book is one that is meant to be digested slowly, though, and not gobbled in one sitting. Of course, how you read is up to you, and you certainly can gobble. Doing so will cause you to miss so much, though, not the least of which are the exercises at the end of the chapters! Mrs. Tate has clearly anticipated her audience well, as she requires you to consider what she has told you in each chapter before you move on to the next. Because each chapter builds on the previous one, this step is necessary if you truly want to glean something from her book.

So what are you supposed to take away from Flourish? I think more than anything, Mrs. Tate's message is one of hope and encouragement. First, you have more time than you think (part of the process of the book is keeping a time log - that is *always* a painful process. It's like wearing my Fitbit - I learned that, for the most part, I *am* realistic about where my time (calories) go, but there are those cases where things get away from me.). Seeing those discrepancies is important - if not always enjoyable!

Second, it's okay not to be perfect. Whenever I read a book like this, I always worry that I will be smacked over the head with my own inadequacies over and over again (like anyone could do that better than I!), but Flourish does not do that. If anything, it does the opposite. Mrs. Tate encourages you to be at peace with the fact that the reality does not live up to the ideal. As a perfectionist, I balk at that notion, but as a WAHM who homeschools 4 kids (including one who is...difficult), it is a message I need to hear over and over again.

Third, organization can work. One great perk of buying Flourish (a bargain at $15) is that you then get access to bonus downloads including scheduling forms. Honestly, it's a work in progress (the organization, that is!), but that is no justification for giving it up altogether. I read some books and feel like throwing in the towel. When I read Flourish, I felt just the opposite.

Whether you are organized or not, work from home or don't, are a single mom like Mrs. Tate or an old married lady like me, Flourish has something to say to you. It is written for all moms and would be enjoyed by all moms. Click the banner below to see what other Crew moms thought.


 
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Review of HomeSchoolPiano

Homeschool Piano Review

I often reflect on technology and think about Alvin Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock. Naturally, I didn't read the book in 1970 (more like 1996), but I am often struck by how right Toffler was about so many things (technological overload = psychological breakdown). I find myself longing for the pace of life to just slow down and for technology to let up already! Of course, I have selective enforcement in my little world because when it comes to homeschooling advancements and technology, I always say, "Bring it On!" (yes - in caps, no less!). I'll explore my contradictory nature in another post, but for this one I get to tell you about the best piano lessons I have seen online anywhere...and I've seen a few. HomeSchoolPiano offers the equivalent of private piano lessons in your home (minus the personal feedback, but with great customer service) at a fraction of the price of non-online in-home lessons. The HomeSchoolPiano Complete Set of Books that we have been reviewing has blown me away with, yes, its basic lessons, but even more with its emphasis on improvisation - what a novel approach!

Homeschool Piano Review

The Important Details

HomeSchoolPiano is for kids of all ages and has two different payment options, both of which give you lifetime access to all of their amazing online content, including the following:

  • CorePiano - over 30 lessons to teach you the essentials of piano playing.
  • Book 1 - for beginners, includes six original songs and lessons in how to read music and improvise.
  • Book 2 - works through music reading, technique, rhythm, songs, and improvisation. 
  • Book 3 - focuses on learning how to create piano arrangements.

Lifetime access (for 5 children) to the material costs $299, which can be paid all at once, or over the course of 3 months as three payments of $99.97 each. Each plan also includes access to all of the bonus material, which is comprised of a jam track download, sheet music (great to print out and bind as a workbook-style accompaniment for the lessons), and, best of all, the ability to download all of the material - including the video lessons!

How We Have Been Enjoying HomeSchoolPiano

I have had two kids in particular really liking this program (and another who can't wait to use it, but whose schedule is a little busier with school right now). Therese (almost 13) took piano lessons for a couple of years and was very sad to stop, so she has been quite happy to be taking lessons again. Since she has had lessons before, it has been a bit of an adjustment for her to get used to another teacher and style, but that adjustment has hardly been something that has compromised her learning experience. If anything, it has galvanized her to work more on the piano than she otherwise would. Not only has she been learning with HomeSchoolPiano, but she has also picked up practicing her previous material, so she has actually been learning piano on two fronts. She has not really had a "set" time to do HomeSchoolPiano this summer. Rather, she decides when she wants to work on it, and then she sits down and does so. I started her with Level 2, which was a hard decision. Technique-wise it was too easy, but because of HomeSchoolPiano's focus on improvisational work, it was where she needed to be. 

Michael (9) is perhaps a better look at HomeSchoolPiano in our home, simply because he started at the beginning. It's not that you can't start in the middle - you absolutely can - but I think HomeSchoolPiano is like a lot of curriculum: when you begin at the beginning, you are better able to get a feel for the curriculum.

Michael has never taken piano before, despite a sincere interest in doing so. Hence, he started with CorePiano and "scheduled" lessons. He was a little offended, as both Therese and Nicholas (11) have taught him the basics of piano (Middle C, scales, very, very basic music reading), but he wasn't quite ready for Book 1 yet (and with a Lifetime Subscription there is no need to rush! Yay!). 



With HomeSchoolPiano, Michael simply gets my iPad and sits down at the piano to work. It is completely student-friendly. Apart from printing the sheet music, there is nothing I have to do. Brilliant! Best of all, Michael really enjoys it. The overhead view of the piano keys (which I hope is apparent in these pictures) is the best way that I have yet seen to teach an online piano class. The orientation is exactly what the student needs to see. There are no distracting characters, cartoons, or cuteness. Such things may be nice for really young kids, but for kids the ages of mine, they are annoying and they result in the perceived loss of legitimacy for the program. 

Why HomeSchoolPiano is Different

There are several different options for piano lessons online, so it's important to understand why HomeSchoolPiano is different (better) than the others. First, you are purchasing lifetime access for up to five students. That makes this program almost ridiculously affordable. And these are *legitimate* lessons. You can sign up for a free lesson on the website to see what I mean, but you won't be disappointed. Second, and this is the biggie for me, Willie Myette's, the vision behind HomeSchoolPiano, inclusion of improvisation makes this program unlike any other. 

Knowing how to play music is half the battle, but how much more adept a player is the one who can sit down and take off on a song and make it their own? Learning with HomeSchoolPiano will allow your child to master that skill. It is the part of the program that Therese enjoys the most. She is really excited to learn more. I think everyone has heard someone playing a familiar song on the piano and then taking it in a new turn. Being able to do so is what sets them apart from the crowd. In order to be able to do that, you really have to understand how to play, rather than just memorizing notes. The fact that HomeSchoolPiano can teach that just blows me away. I find this program so impressive. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that my kids like it, but they would be doing it even if they didn't.

I actually do think about technology and its limits all the time (and I do recommend Future Shock - it's a funny combination of quaint and percipient and, in an odd way, timely), but when technology can bring Willie Myette and his piano lessons into my home, I'll cope with my own future shock for awhile longer.

Obviously, I'm a big fan of HomeSchoolPiano. To see what other Crew families, thought, please click the banner below.

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Living with Chronic Pain

Please forgive my absence. Please also forgive the repeat topic posting. I know I've posted on this issue before, but because it is so ever-present in my life, I think there are things I've said that bear repeating. Living with chronic pain affects everyone around you. There are many different kinds of chronic pain and some are more debilitating than others. In case there is one person on the planet who doesn't know mine, I suffer from severe migraines. When I say severe, I mean the kind that puts you to bed for days at a time. I was about 8 when I was diagnosed, but I have had them since I can remember. It's just that migraine is not a common diagnosis for a kid (and I had to have all of the "rule out" tests to make sure I wasn't actually dying, which is what it felt like). Sometimes I have nausea and vomiting (I know - savory), but not always. It's not a requirement for a migraine, contrary to popular belief. In any case, here are four things to keep in mind if you live with someone with chronic, debilitating (as in it compromises their ability to live a normal life) pain:

1. They don't enjoy it. I know that some people say that they would love to spend a day in bed like I "get" to once or twice a week (or more). No you wouldn't. I'm not getting extra rest. I'm in pain - sometimes so much pain that I can't move a muscle, sometimes so much that I writhe. When the headache breaks I'm much more exhausted than I was before it started...and guess what exhaustion can lead to? Yep - migraines.

2. They hate what their pain does to their families more than they hate what it does to them. In my case, my migraines meant that Therese (10 days away from being 13!) knew how to change diapers on infants when she was 3 (and she was good at it!), could make lunch for toddlers when she was 3.5, and could be trusted to monitor a toddler's crib and twins' swings for signs of activity/irregularity at the same age while I was passed out on the couch. Now that everyone is older, it means that the kids do school by themselves some days and carry on quietly while I exist in my quiet, dark bedroom. Sometimes they miss their activities. I often feel that my life is slipping away while I am lying in bed.

3. They are not faking it. I know that sometimes it is tempting to look at someone with pain issues and say, "Really? Man up for Pete's sake...it's just a headache/other ailment!" I am quite sure that there are people out there who do milk their suffering for sympathy, but there are far more who don't. Just because you can take two Tylenol and be rid of your headache does not mean that someone who is not that fortunate is faking it or not trying hard enough. Many people with severe migraines can take some serious drugs and have absolutely no pain relief at all. I'm in that category, so much so that I have a cabinet full of impressive sounding drugs that I wouldn't even consider touching when I have a headache - there's just no point.

4. Pain can seriously impact a person's life. I often think about the fact that I don't think I could hold a "real" job. As it is, I often find myself scrambling to keep up/catch up with my work-at-home job. I have a wonderful boss who doesn't blink an eye if something is a couple of days late (primarily because of my long history with him and the fact that I have never not delivered something I said I would deliver), but there are times I have had a deadline and I have had to drag myself up to pull it together. There are many times where I have had to let something go that I have wanted to do because I couldn't make it with a headache. On days that I *don't* have a headache (and it's rare that I don't have some kind of headache, but most days I can at least function), I have to get as much done as I can so that I can hedge my bets for those headache days. Sometimes, though, I just can't get ahead because I have so many stacked consecutively. Then the dominoes start to fall...

I absolutely don't want this post to sound like I'm complaining - I'm not! In fact, I have a very Catholic view of suffering. I consider it a gift (read the article - I promise I'm not just saying that!), and on my better days I am truly thankful for the opportunity to share in the tiniest way in Christ's suffering for me. Plus, as I remind my children migraines aren't fatal, and as long as we're dealing with something that's not fatal, we'll all be okay. I just think it's so important for people not to jump to conclusions about others and to keep in mind that just because you can't see at a glance what someone is going through, it doesn't mean that they are not going through something quite impactful.

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