Friday, February 23, 2018

Birthday and Anniversary - Life Updates

Henry and I have had some amazing years together. We will have been together 25 years this August, and this month marked 22 years married. Some years (I'm not talking about our marriage - just about life circumstances) have been spectacular; some have sucked. 2017 was not a very auspicious year in many ways. For us personally, it was great. I think that we have been married long enough to recognize each other's hot spots and we are mature enough to avoid them (hey! I was 18 when I met him - I was mature in many ways, but not in all). He really is my best friend and I still run outside every day when he gets home from work (not because I'm running away from the kids, but because I am so happy to see him).

In other ways, though, I'm happy to see a new year. The beginning of the year, for me, is always about more than New Year's Day. My birthday and anniversary fall one day apart at the beginning of February, so there is a series of new beginnings for me. My younger brother texted me on my birthday that he didn't feel so bad about turning 40 later that week when he remembered that I was turning 43. I'm guessing he'll learn what I have - the 40s are the best decade yet. I call them the "I don't give a flip" decade. I am finally learning to let go of things that really used to bother me, realizing that it truly doesn't matter. People don't like me? So what. I'm not everyone's cup of tea, but I am a very few people's perfect blend. My effort and dedication to various organizations are undervalued and overlooked? That's okay. It gives me an opportunity to be healed of the need for "attaboys." Jesus didn't get many attaboys, after all, and as I constantly remind my children - "Why are we here?" I'm not here for accolades. I'm here to know, love, and serve God. I'm not much closer to knowing him than I have been in the past, but I am definitely getting better at loving and serving him.

I have been thinking more and more about what I will do when the kids leave home. Therese will be going to college in 1.5 years. I know that time will fly by. Then, another one or two kids (in the case of the twins) will go every two years after her until, before I am 50, I will not be a homeschooling mom anymore. I am not sure what I will be. I have ideas for a few things I want to do (businesses I want to start), but no concrete plans yet. I am bemused by the idea that I am closer to having grandchildren at this point in my life than I am to having infants of my own. Am I really that old? Where does the time go?

Birthday presents - what did I get? I got an amazing and beautiful chair for my desk. I think it's technically a dining room chair. It's comfortable and it has a unique shape. I'll take a picture at some point. Nicholas gave me a new Pusheen:

Image Credit: Amazon

She joins three siblings. Does anyone else out there love Pusheen like my kids and I do? Michael gave me a cute knitting bag with cats all over it. One can never have enough knitting bags! Of course, I added to my pen and lipstick collections because hoarding collecting. I think I've decided to start swatching both of those collections. It might take me the next decade.

Three of my four children are now taller than I, and I'm not exactly short. I used to be 5'6". I'm pretty sure I've shrunk at least half an inch, though. Mary-Catherine is my only baby left. I wonder if she'll stay petite like her aunts on both sides and her cousins. 

Stay tuned for my next two posts if you're interested in my thoughts on judging people by their possessions/dwellings (bad idea) and on my most awesome Internet find this year. I've actually started blog planning because I am so bad about blogging personal things. I need to plan some impersonal posts (kidding - I just need to plan, period).

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Review of Bytes of Learning

As I'm sure I've mentioned before when talking about typing programs, my dad insisted that my sister and I learn to touch type one summer (I was about 10). It was one of the wonderful "after schooling" things he did for us. I have been determined that my kids would receive the same gift from me. Bytes of Learning is helping me get that done with its UltraKey Online Family Subscription! Now, I'm sure there are people that don't feel the need to use an actual typing program to learn to type. I have seen people type pretty quickly with just their two index fingers. The problem with this is twofold, however: first, it just looks unprofessional and, well, silly. Second, you will *never* be able to type as fast with two fingers as you will with ten (yes, 10: your thumbs operate the space bar, which you well know if you were properly taught to touch type!). I realize that I'm biased, but I prefer typing programs that teach typing the way that I was taught. Happily, UltraKey Online takes a similar approach (bearing in mind, of course, that I learned on a typewriter, so no fancy stuff!), focusing on posture and fundamentals.

UltraKey Online is a typing program that has a bit of everything: voice support, animation, and videos. Because of the customization available, though, you don't have to partake of everything if you don't want to (for example, I imagine that the voice support would be incredibly helpful to some people, while to others it might prove to be a bit of an irritant). For example, if you have a child who is not yet a proficient reader, the voice over training is hugely helpful, because it allows this largely independent study-type program to still be independent! For older learners, like my teenagers, it is a simple matter to turn off the voice aspect of the program! 

The first thing you'll notice when you log on to the program is the vast array of customization you can employ. You can change the settings for each child in the subscription individually, or you can allow them to customize their own settings.

For my 13 year-old twins using the program, I initially had the program set to its default settings, but Mary-Catherine quickly found that she was spinning her wheels. She is actually a fairly decent touch typist (I mean, she's not going to be getting any 1950s-style secretarial jobs any time soon, but she's fine for her age), but she was having a lot of trouble with the way the program comes preset. Once I took the reigns with the settings and released them to her control, though, it was much easier. Note to self and to all of you: always spend time getting to know new curriculum even when you have self-starting kids who want to dive right in! This program is pretty intuitive and the customer service is great, but you'll save yourself and your kids some initial frustration if you take some time at the beginning to make sure that things are the way you want them.

The lessons progress at the pace of three letters per, which I think is a great pace. It is suggested that you spend about 20 minutes a day with the program which, again, I think is just right. At that pace, it would have been possible for my kids to have finished the program during this review period, but for one thing: Texas flu. This illness is no joke. It hit my house hard this season and my kids did no school for weeks. They are still not 100%. Having said that, they have been back at typing and they really like this program! We have used other typing programs, but this is their favorite for the following reasons:
  • The exercises use real words. Some programs use gibberish, I guess with the idea that your fingers should find the keys regardless. I happen to think that it is far more natural, not to mention more effective, to type actual words.
  • They can set their own goals. That allows for a feeling of achievement without having to type either super quickly or super accurately.
  • The program is fairly no-frills. My kids are not at the youngest end of the spectrum recommended for this program (8), so they felt a little trepidation about a program that would be attractive to "little kids." They needn't have worried. This one is just perfect for all ages.
Things I really loved about UltraKey Online (I tried it myself so that I could really compare it to what we've used before and to how I learned to type):
  • It really emphasizes posture, which is not all that unusual, but it reminds you to drop your shoulders! I have a huge problems "hunching." It's what I do when I'm stressed, and the reminder not to do it was so helpful to me! It also reminds you to take stretch breaks (which I'm afraid I ignored, but which is a great idea!).
  • The lessons are of the "get in, get it done, get out" variety - my favorite kind!
  • I initially wanted to jump on just to see what the program felt like to do for myself, because it's hard to get a real sense of it by leaning over my kids' shoulders, but having done Lesson 1 for myself, I'm going to finish it! I work from home, and although I type okay (you can see my screenshots below!), I would love to type faster. Who wouldn't? That is the best review/endorsement I can give this program.
  • My only point of confusion is that you have to use the shift key before capital letters are introduced, which was not an issue for any of my tribe, but could be for a neophyte typist.

UltraKey Online does ask you to do a little background work before you actually begin typing.

There is a video on posture and one on fingers, along with a couple of exercises. Only then do you begin your lessons. After each lesson there is a skill check that lets you know how you are doing vis-a-vis your goal. You can practice your skills in the Game Zone. Speaking of your goal, you can either set one yourself or have the program set one for you, based on a typing test, which is what I did.

Having been given my goal, I began the lessons. Sadly, I didn't make my goal after the first skills check. Looks like I have my work cut out for me!

Darned if I didn't get slower. Ironically, that's the same thing that has happened to Mary-Catherine over the course of the first few lessons (although, she is typing at around 27 wpm!). I think we are not used to typing "salad" and "alfalfa." That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it!

There is so much to love about this program. The report you see above can actually be saved and/or printed in pdf (and while that's not all that impressive, wait until you have several of those over the course of several children, especially if you live somewhere that requires records, which the great free state of Texas does not). 

UltraKey Online has packages for families of 3, 5, and 8 users, so there is sure to be one to fit your family! And because families of all sizes have been using this product for the last month, be sure to read the Crew Blog for all the reviews!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Promiscuity - 1955

I have a new obsession. I don't know how I lived without this site, and I don't know where I've been that I didn't know about it. It is exactly the kind of site I can get lost in for hours. I suggest you do the same. is amazing. Just to give you an idea of where I'm coming from - the first purchase I ever made on eBay was an issue of Photoplay from the 1950s. Finding this site is like a dream come true. Anyway, while noodling around, I came upon an article about the five reasons women become promiscuous. As noted above, the piece is from Coronet Magazine, a general interest digest that ran from 1936-1971.

(Image Credit - Google - doesn't it look fun?!)

I was struck by the fact that the five (apparently somewhat revolutionary) reasons that women become promiscuous seem pretty darn close to the reasons that women sleep around today. Now, I know that many people will want to call me out here (yes, I realize that somewhere between 1955 and today there was a "women's movement," but I don't think that women have really changed all that much. I still think that women, at heart, invest meaning in sex, and most don't set out to be of loose moral character (N.B., there are many other ways that I could say that, but I'm settling for keeping it ladylike).). I don't know that #4 is in play much, but worded slightly differently, it could be. It's more along the lines today of, "women are just like men." Of course, as I alluded to a second ago, they're not at all. The genders are very much hardwired differently. In any case, what do you think? Have things changed all that much in the last 70 or so years?

Here's the article in its entirety if you're interested:

And if you like old magazines, I *strongly* encourage you to check out the website. Just don't do it when you have other things to do!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Pardon My Mess... my blog undergoes some construction! I have been looking at the same template since I started blogging (well, almost since the beginning!), and it is wearing on me. My blog needs new clothes! For the next few weeks, I will be tinkering with things. While I wish I were clever enough to design my blog from the ground up, I'm not. So please bear with me while I move things around and try to freshen it up some. Therese started a book review blog (Absolutely Booked) and it's beautiful. She made me realize two things: first, my blog is tired and second, maybe I ought to move to WordPress. The second realization is too daunting to consider right now, so I chose to address the first! My first review (for a typing program!) posts near the end of February, so be sure to check back!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Kindle Oasis

I had already received amazing Christmas presents (I'm looking at you, beautiful pink Coach purse), and many of my family had chosen to buy Kindle Paperwhites with Christmas money, when Henry told me to order myself a Kindle Oasis for my birthday, but to open it now.

Photo from

I have been eyeing the Oasis since its first incarnation, but couldn't imagine spending so much on a Kindle (which is actually kind of ironic, since I was an early adopter of the Kindle and spent more than half the cost of the Oasis on my first Kindle Keyboard!). I have owned just about every Kindle since then, including the Fire (multiple Fires, in fact). Now, I love my Paperwhite, but as a left hander, I have to make certain adjustments when reading it (actually, I'm largely ambidextrous, but when you read anything for hours, your hands get tired!), namely, if I want to hold it in my left hand, I have to stretch my hand a bit further over to hit the screen for a page turn. Then there's the fact that I read so fast that those page turns can get awkward and annoying. Still, it's a wonderful, wonderful device. The Oasis, however (I'm speaking specifically of the 2017 version), is reversible! In other words, if you flip it upside down, the whole screen flips and you can just hold it in your other hand! Left handers rejoice! Also, while you still have the choice of a screen tap to change the page, the Oasis has actual buttons (under the dude's thumb in the picture) to change the page - no more manipulating hands in the right position to change the page! Again, when you're a very fast reader, the little things make a huge difference. Also, see how this Kindle is wider where you hold it? It's also (how do I say this?) raised in the back there, making holding it a very natural feeling thing. I can't read on the Paperwhite without a case. It doesn't feel right just holding it. The Oasis feels very natural just holding it. Oh, and the 32 gb storage? Awesome. Don't ever ask me how much I spend on books. There are some facts of life I just can't face: that's one of them.

So, is the Kindle Oasis worth its luxury price tag, especially given that during the holidays you could get a Kindle Fire for something like $29? I would say that if you are an inveterate, passionate reader, yes. If you read for hours a day - definitely yes. If you buy the majority of your books on Kindle (or Nook - I don't discriminate - I just go for the lower price and then run it through Calibre to convert it to the proper format), you might want to consider it. For me, it's definitely worth every penny. If you are a casual reader, but still want a back lit Kindle, I think you'll absolutely love the Paperwhite - mind was well-loved for years.