Monday, February 29, 2016

Review of Zonderkidz

Faith Builders Bible {Zonderkidz Review}
I normally shy away from themed Bibles of all kinds for two reasons. First, because they are almost invariably Protestant, and second because they have always seemed to me to detract from Scripture. I broke with longstanding tradition when I saw the Faith Builders Bible from Zonderkidz. I mean - look at it:

Faith Builders Bible {Zonderkidz Review}

It's adorable. When I initially asked Nicholas (12) and Michael (11) what they thought of the idea (prior to receiving the Bible or even expressing interest in it), Michael told me that he was already aware of this Bible and really wanted to see it in person, so I took the plunge and got a look at this super cute Bible for myself.

Really quickly, N.B. for my Catholic readers. This is, as I said, a Protestant Bible. Hence, there are seven books missing from the Old Testament. This review is not the place to go into why there is that discrepancy between Catholic and Protestant Bibles, but these books are typically known as the Apocrypha. Just be aware that if you go looking for these books, you won't find them.

So what exactly is the Faith Builders Bible? This Bible is, obviously, designed to draw children into the Bible. It uses the NIrV, which is a simplified version of the NIV. It has 24 pages of full-color illustrations that are (you guessed it) composed of building bricks (I don't know if I can call them by the brand name, so I'm erring on the side of caution, but you know what I'm talking about!). It even has "Building Block Verses" for memory work. The Bible is 1,152 pages long, is hardback, has a very readable font size for even younger children, and is of super high quality (it is, after all, published by Zondervan).

How We Used It

When we first got the Bible, both boys just ran away with it to enjoy it for a few days. They read it during the day, they used a flashlight to read it in bed at night, they marveled over the brick-building pages (and wished for more - I bet that's a common theme with this Bible!), and they generally enjoyed it. Michael is my more, well, vocally insightful son, so I'll share his insights, formed after spending a month or so with the Bible. He didn't care for the translation, but he's used to the New Revised Standard Version, so the NIrV just seems too simplistic to him. What Michael doesn't know (and what I will teach him when he is older) is that the NIV is not a Catholic-approved translation because of the inconsistency inherent in the dynamic translation. Again, that's beyond the scope of this review, but something of which Catholics should be aware. Probably largely because of the translation, Michael concluded that he was too old for the Bible, but he said that it did inspire him to build Biblical scenes from Legos (new scope for the Lego-inclined imagination!). Michael does think that the Bible will make a great gift for several of our Protestant friends with younger children. I have to agree with him on that point.

Final Thoughts

Let me emphatically remind my readers that I am not this Bible's target audience, hence, take my observations cum grano salis (with a grain of salt). This is a Protestant Bible published by a Protestant publishing company. It does not pretend to be anything else. Having said that, this Bible is really cute. If you have younger children or "building-brick" obsessed children, this Bible would probably be a huge hit. If your children are already familiar with the NIV, this Bible is likely a no-brainer. I am guessing that if you are KJV family, you would be dissatisfied with this Bible. This is one of those products that speaks for itself. You'll know whether or not it's for you! At $24.99 it's a great deal.

Faith Builders Bible {Zonderkidz Review}
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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Best Beauty Hack Ever

You've probably seen this at Sephora or elsewhere:

Image Credit: Sephora

If you're like me, you've bought it and really liked the way it's cleaned your Beauty Blender and/or brushes. In fact, I told Henry that since he makes soap, surely there was some way he could make something like this for less than $20. Stay with me, there's an evolution coming!

So, I've heard the buzz about Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soaps for brush/sponge cleaning, of course, and I've been using the Lavender one for close to a year. I really like it. It does a decent job. I have three complaints, though. It doesn't do a *perfect* job, it's kind of messy, and it's hard (for me, anyway) to rinse out of my brushes. I *love* the rinsability and ease of the blendercleanser solid!

It was then (well, it was actually a few weeks ago when Target was having a sale and after I had just watched a YouTuber (sorry! I can't remember who!) show that the best way to get a Beauty Blender really, really clean was to double wash it - first with olive oil or coconut oil and then with Dr. Bronner's liquid soap) that inspiration hit me!

Dr. Bronner's makes a bar soap! And check out those first few ingredients! Could it work? Would it work? Had I just found something that kind of duped the blendercleanser solid, but incorporated that double washing technique -- and for 1/4 the price (the soap is $4.69/bar) but for 5 times the amount?! (1 oz for the blendercleanser solid vs. 5 oz for the soap). That would be a solid YES! This bar of soap works better than the bcs, better than the blendercleanser liquid, and better than the Dr. Bronner's Liquid soap. It.Is.Awesome. It makes my Beauty Blender look brand new (except for that little dot on the end where I pour on my foundation - I can *never* make that go away). It cleans my brushes so easily that I really enjoy washing them (no lie), and it rinses super clean and super quickly. I have honestly never been so happy with a beauty discovery in my life (and I'm hella old).

Now, I haven't Googled or anything. It's possible (likely even) that I am the 4,212 person to discover this - I'll only claim the uniqueness of duping that double wash technique (the oil followed by the Dr. Bronner's liquid) for the Beauty Blender. But, hey, I'm not trying to claim any uniqueness. I'm just trying to share my awesome (and awesomely cheap) discovery. I hope this makes someone else as happy as it made me!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Review of

HelpTeaching Review

I'm so excited! My first review of the new Crew season, and it's a product that I already know that I can't live without...and it is so reasonably priced that I have triple-checked the price because I truly can't believe all that's included. I'm talking about the Pro Plan subscription from I have been using this amazing resource so much since I received my subscription, but it seems like every time I log on, I find something new to love!

What It Is is packed with printable worksheets, online lessons, online quizzes, and much, much more. With material for grades K-12, it is a one-stop resource for the whole family (but you still pay only one price, regardless of how many grades' resources you access). One of the best things about the website is that it is organized in so many different ways. You can search the site by Common Core standard (important to me when I wear my other hat as a public school resource creator), grade level, and subject. You can create your own tests and worksheets with such ease, using either pre-made questions or inputting your own. You can generate what seems like an infinite number of math worksheets for rote practice. You can even generate printable games.

Until now, may sound like any one of a number of worksheet websites (rest assured - it's not; I know all of them and this one is far superior to all of them), but if you're not yet convinced that is special, let me tell you about their lessons. By utilizing the amazing resources we all know are out there on the web (but, if you're like me, you never have time to actually corral them on your own in any coherent or cohesive manner), has grafted together some amazing (and amazingly complete) lessons. Combining some of their own videos, with those of Khan Academy,, Bozeman Academy, and other sites, along with using some resources of other outside sources, has created many very complete lessons that students can work through all by themselves. You can invite students to lessons via email, blog link, or other method. 

Thus, with, you can integrate it into your lesson plans by creating worksheets or tests using your existing curriculum, or you can utilize it as a curriculum of its own by using the excellent already created lessons. We have used it both ways with great success.

How We Used It

The first way I used was to create tests for books that I use with the kids that aren't technically homeschool materials, specifically our church history book The Story of the Church: Her Founding, Mission and Progress - A Textbook in Church History. Published in 1935, this book would have been used in Catholic schools, and I absolutely love using it with my kids (11, 11, and 12). We use it as a readaloud, and until now I have just orally quizzed the kids about what we read. There are questions at the end of each chapter, but they are not always the questions that I want to ask, and there is no easy way to translate those questions onto paper anyway. I mean, the kids could just copy the questions and answers onto notebook paper, but I have three kids using the book and only one small paperback book.

Enter the worksheet maker on! It makes creating worksheets so easy! It allows me to choose what kind of question I want to ask and it takes care of formatting it beautifully. What more could I ask for? 

I thought *that* was really cool...but then we discovered the self-paced lessons. This is where really sets itself apart from the pack. I truly feel like it has EVERYTHING. For example, the other day, we had two fronts come through in two days. Several of us had miserable headaches (migraine trigger - fronts!), plus there were really unusual cloud formations outside. Mary-Catherine (11) asked me what causes fronts. Okay, I know what causes fronts, but I'm a homeschool mom, right? It's not enough for me to tell her - I want to show her. I'm also lazy, though (just being real here!). I decided to check and see if had a worksheet on fronts. Oh, honey - they had so much more. There was a whole lesson on them (graded for 7th grade)! The kids started with a pre-test on fronts to see what they knew (they got all the questions right - I think M-C was playing me with her question).

After reading a short intro, taking the pre-test, and watching a video on fronts, the kids looked at animations of each type of front and then did a worksheet (which I viewed as something of a post-test). They really enjoyed it and I didn't have to do a single thing (which I really enjoyed). I love relying on Internet videos to do my job for me to supplement my teaching, but it can eat up hours trying to find quality material. I am over the moon that I don't have to anymore. I don't even have to ask follow up questions. And literally all subjects are covered!

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that Nicholas (12) is my challenge child. Well, he happens to have a fascination with chemistry right now. He is also very bright, so I didn't let it put me off at all that the chemistry lessons that I guided him to were graded for 10th grade. He had been reading about alloys, so I was delighted to find a lesson on...yep, alloys! He dove right into the lesson, confessed to not understanding all of it, but gamely declared himself up for more. 

It's not just the self-paced lessons that are awesome, though. If you're a homeschool mom, you probably harbor the same kind of doubts that I do - I know my kids are really bright (all of our kids are, right?!), but I don't know for sure that all of them are on grade level in all things. For example, Nicholas is not a reader. Sad story, but true. Hence, I worry about his vocabulary. All of my other kids have ridiculous vocabularies -it's what happens when you read voraciously. Imagine my delight, then, when I found a worksheet for 7th grade vocabulary review with coverage of 50 words. I honestly have no idea what words a 7th grader should know...but the Iowa Test of Basic Skills that Nicholas is taking in May will assume that he has mastery, so I am thrilled that I could find such a worksheet so painlessly. 

That's just the kind of site is. You think of something you really need or wish you had and BOOM! There it is.

We have been loving this site. I so encourage you to go check it out. I also encourage you to go ahead and fall in love, because the Pro Plan is only $24.95/year. I already know I'll be renewing.

Don't take my word for it, though. Click the banner below to read many more reviews of people who have been using for the past month or so. I have been loving seeing what they have had to say!

HelpTeaching Review

Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, February 21, 2016


So these are just a couple of things I retweeted from the Spring Tournament this weekend. Who knew NCFCA kids were so darn clever? I think it's kind of funny. The picture caption you can't see says, "Therese and Andrew think this tournament is just one long date." The other tweet refers to their semis round. Funny, I wanted to start live tweeting NCFCA tournaments pretty much since we started. I had no idea it was such a thing...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday Sundries

1. Another tournament upcoming this week. I'm not dreading it like I dreaded the last one, likely because it's not the first one. How's that for circular reasoning? I do myself proud sometimes.

2. Scalia died. I cannot even bear to go into what this may mean, which leads me to...

3. My father has been telling me the same thing for decades now: take care of your own and let the rest of them go to hell. I get flack every time I say that, mostly from evangelicals who tell me that that is not what Christ would say. I think people are missing the point, though. Anyone who knows me (no - I mean *really* knows me, so probably two of you) knows that I don't just casually discard the world and care only about my family and their needs. What my grandfather and father are saying is to stop taking on the world's troubles. I internalize *everything*, much to my own detriment. I allow all that is going on in the world to bring me so low that I almost can't cope sometimes. Back in the day before social media, I would get into it with people in person and argue so passionately about, well, everything about which I felt passionate (in high school that would have been primarily abortion and the role of women in society and family). I would be miserable because I so wanted people to understand where I was coming from - why I felt the way I did and why I genuinely thought I was right - not right for the sake of being right, but (in that specific case) right because I cared about babies and (gasp!) about women. Guess how many people's minds I changed? I'm sure it was none. Guess how sick I made myself? Very.

Fast forward to the misery that is Facebook. Nothing has changed. People can't see my face, can't read my tone. Even people who know me in real life seem either to deliberately forget what they know of me or to intentionally misread me and my intentions. (This sounds like a pity trip - it's not. I promise, when I'm feeling sorry for myself, you'll know it. I'm exceedingly good at it.). Why on Earth would I try to engage anyone in civil discourse? I can think of two people on all of my FB who don't share my politics and religion to whom I can genuinely talk. But I don't, for various reasons.

So, back to the point. Letting the rest of them go to Hell doesn't mean not ministering to people in need. It doesn't mean that at all. It means not trying to solve the world's problems. It means not taking them on. It means that every generation's sky has fallen in one way or another, some more seriously than others. It means that nothing I say, do, or think about Scalia's death is going to change jack-sh*t. God help me, Trump may actually get the Republican nomination (although Henry assures me that can't happen), regardless of any hand wringing I do. On my home front, I have my own problems. They more than consume me. My job is to raise good Catholics and good citizens. I *can* affect (and effect) that. I'll try to put the rest in the hands of God and His Blessed Mother. There's really not a heck of a lot else I can do.

4. I got a job solicitation/expression of interest via Linked In. I ignored it. As much as I would love *another* part time job, I just can't.

5. Last week was my 41st birthday and 20th wedding anniversary. It all passed not with a bang but a whimper. We just don't have time for it right now. Maybe in the spring (or, more realistically, summer) we can go somewhere alone for a few days. I passed the mirror a few times this week and noted somewhat abstractedly that I am looking old. It's not that I care, it's more that it is interesting.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday Sundries

Another week, another post of random-ness.

1. The Broncos win the Superbowl, which means my weekend wasn't all bad.

2. Okay, my in-laws celebrated my birthday yesterday and I love them dearly, so that part was good, too.

3. Jack's test results came back. He has a benign fatty tumor, so he's okay. That's good news.

4. I was throwing puns so fast today that they were all getting missed. There is only one person who could have kept up.

5. Have you ever had a weekend that seemed to last three years? And it sucked horribly? Yes, that was mine. I am so happy tomorrow is Monday. Monday is my favorite day of the week. Fresh start. A chance *not* to be behind - at least for a couple of days.

6. But I can't complain too much. I got so many stellar products through The Crew last week that I have no right to complain at all, actually. I should count my blessings instead of complaining. I'm going to work really hard on that. A friend gave me a lovely journal for my birthday (with our Lady of Guadalupe on it). I think I'll start counting my blessings in that.