Saturday, March 10, 2018

When It Rains...

...yeah, everyone knows how that one finishes. Mary-Catherine and I have just had one of those weeks. For starters, I found out that a decision I made was so completely the wrong one that it could have been disastrous. By the grace of God, it wasn't, but it could have been. Now I'm sitting on a similar decision and just praying that it will turn out okay.

The day after I was dealing with those issues, Henry, Mc, and I were out doing errands having a very nice time preparing Mc for her shooting competition today when we came to a known dangerous intersection. We passed through it and saw a bad situation building. I had my eyes forward, but Henry, watching in the rear view mirror, saw what happened next when a motorcyclist, trying to avoid becoming involved in an accident, jumped the median and laid down his bike while he rolled over and over before ending up face down in the street unmoving. Henry has some EMT training, so he immediately pulled over and was first over to the man. I yelled at Mc not to look. She immediately started crying and praying. I stayed with her while Henry and a few others rendered aid and I called 911. Mc and I didn't know, but the man was only unconscious. Henry knew right away that he wasn't dead because he was snoring. We had no way of knowing that, though. It was awful. Henry stayed while the ambulance, fire engine, and police came. He gave a statement to the police to describe what happened. The officer called him later to tell him that he had seen the man in the hospital and that he was going to be fine. Praise God.

Mc is shooting this morning without a coach, although an older shooter is assisting her, so she's been a nervous basket case anyway, but her anxiety has been off the charts. None of this helps. I've been dealing with so many other things, too. A close family member is very ill, a closer family member is a different kind of ill, and I feel guilty for being so beaten down because, overall, we are so unbelievably blessed. Everything could be so, so much worse.

Is anyone else guilty of playing the, "If only I can get through the next big thing, everything will begin to look up" game? That's definitely me, but it's such a fallacious approach. All of life is about the next big thing. There will always be a next big thing. *Life* is the next big thing. When you get through it, you're dead. I need to find a new perspective. If you have one that works for you when you're feeling overwhelmed or beaten down, I'd love to hear it. I also get in this pattern where I know that knitting (for example) makes me feel better when I'm down, but I'm too down to knit. It's so ridiculous. A big part of me just wants to slap myself and tell myself to grow up. If life were easy, everyone would be doing it. Er, wait a minute. That went terribly wrong somewhere...

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Review of CursiveLogic

CursiveLogic has to be one of my most recommended companies ever. Their approach to cursive is so different and so unique that it has been a Godsend to more people than just my dysgraphic son (13). We first reviewed this company in 2015 when Michael was 10. Since then, they have changed their workbook a little, but the best change has been the addition of a webinar, which is now part of the CursiveLogic Quick-Start Pack. This option includes one CursiveLogic workbook, plus six months access to the 45-minute instructional webinar which tells you everything you need to know to teach the CursiveLogic method to your own child. 

This time around, I also received a new, very awesome adult coloring book - The Art of Cursive. Those who follow me on Facebook may remember when I posted about the Kickstarter for this very coloring book! I contributed (in fact, I couldn't throw my money at them fast enough! That's how much I believe in this company and their product!) and received a few of the pages in advance of the book's publication. I loved it on sight. The book has a few instructional pages at the beginning, but it is not meant to take the place of the curriculum. It is for those who already know cursive, either through CursiveLogic, or through another method. It is a beautiful product.

As before, Michael (13) was my tester with this cursive program. Yes, he has used CursiveLogic before, and yes the program is still essentially the same, using a shape-based, multi sensory approach to learning cursive. Letters are taught by their shapes, not alphabetically. They are also taught in strings so that hand writers are actually *writing* things almost immediately, which makes writing so much more enjoyable. Most of all, CursiveLogic makes sense. The approach is, well, logical. Colors are tied to shapes, which are tied to phrases to use while writing. For someone like me, who talks herself through tasks routinely, this approach is by far the best one we've ever used.

Now, anyone who knows me very well (or who had me as a 3rd grade teacher!) knows that my love is fancy 19th century style script. My own children beat the notion of teaching it to them out of me, though. The final blow came from my dysgraphic son. His hand was just not going to make all those beautiful swirls. However, cursive is less fatiguing for his hand when writing. The cursive logic font is perfect for him. It's definitely cursive (not italic, or any such substitute), but it is reasonable - easy to learn and easy to use in daily life:

Because Michael had slipped back into print recently, I was thrilled for him to be able to refresh himself with CursiveLogic!

And that coloring book! Initially, I had taken it for myself, but when Michael's twin sister saw it, I relented and let her have it. She learned cursive way before Michael and uses it as her main form of handwriting, so she was actually a great tester for the coloring book. She had only been using it for a few minutes when she exclaimed, "This is so calming!"

She thought that the embedding of the letters in the pictures was so neat! I think she's saving the facing handwriting practice pages for Michael, though!

I was going to say that I wish I had known about CursiveLogic when my older kids were learning cursive, but I just checked its "founding" date, which is 2010. At least one of my kids already knew cursive by then, but my now 14 year-old could have benefited! Still, it was around for my child who most needed it, and for that I am so grateful. I am also so excited when I see people to whom I have recommended it bring their copies to me to show me what their kids have done with their Orange Ovals, and their...(you didn't think I would actually tell you what shape/color comes next, did you?! I don't believe in spoilers!)

Most fortunately, CursiveLogic is offering an awesome coupon for the rest of March! 

If you've been considering cursive, I don't think you'll be disappointed with this program. You don't have to take my word for it, though. Click through to the Crew Blog to read all of the reviews, some of which even include before and after pictures of real users' handwriting, changed for the better because of CursiveLogic!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Review of Drive Thru History Adventures


One of the reasons I love being on the Homeschool Review Crew is because I am exposed to so many products that I wouldn't otherwise get to see. There are just so many homeschool products out there! I'll confess that in my younger homeschooling years, I bought way too much curriculum. Sometimes I bought curriculum just to see what it was like. I wouldn't recommend that. Some curriculum I just always kind of wondered about, though. Drive Thru History Adventures falls into this camp. Thankfully, I have now had the chance to use this amazing Homeschool History Curriculum. Not only to do I love it - my main American history buff, Mary-Catherine (13) loves it. Even better, the American History Curriculum offered by Drive Thru History Adventures dovetails perfectly with the American history course she is doing right now.

There is a lot contained within this program, so before I get into what Mary-Catherine specifically has been working on, let me tell you what you get with a subscription to Drive Thru History Adventures. First, there are three full curricula: American History Adventures (12 lessons), Bible History Adventures (18 lessons), and Ancient History Adventures (12 lessons). Each curriculum is jam packed with material. Because Mary-Catherine was using the American History curriculum, I'll use that one as an exemplar, but it is by no means unique. Michael (13) watched the first adventure from Ancient History (and when he finishes some of his coursework for this year, he plans to work through the entirety of that curriculum), and I took a look at one of the lessons from Bible History Adventures because I was curious about the denominational approach (if any). All of the lessons I've seen are equally entertaining (Dave Stotts is not only funny, he's engaging. He's so personable that you can imagine having him over for a backyard barbecue. He comes across like he's living the dream. As a fellow history lover, I love that.).

Before I get into what exactly is included in an episode, or a lesson, I want to address the denominational issue briefly. There is none - no denomination, and no issue. I mean, of course, the curriculum is presented from a Christian worldview, but I haven't seen any overt anti-Catholic bias, which is always my fear with any non-Catholic curriculum. 

The American History Adventures curriculum has been very enjoyable for both Mary-Catherine and for me. She started at the beginning and has been working very slowly through it (she is using it as a supplement to her regular history, plus she got a severe case of the flu in the middle of the review period). Her thoughts on the program come momentarily. For my part, I wanted to look at a lesson further on in the program. I chose to watch Episode 8 - Early Colonial Virginia.

Each video lesson is about 30 minutes long. Dave Stotts, car lover extraordinaire, literally drives through historical locations to teach the lessons of history. In this lesson, we actually get to see the only 17th century structure still standing in Jamestown! And watching Dave drive through Virginia reminds me of how beautiful that state is and of how much I want to visit there again. I wonder if he could be persuaded to Drive Thru the Civil War...

In any case, in addition to the video lesson, there is always relevant art work (great for Charlotte Mason and classical learners) and a brief summary of what is covered in the lesson. You will also find primary source documents to enrich the lesson. In this case, it is the Articles of Capitulation from 1781:

"Side Roads" are also a feature of each lesson. These are what a lot of homeschoolers might call "rabbit trails" - those conversations we end up having that are not directly relevant to the lesson, but that are definitely indirectly relevant and bear learning. In this case, the topic is Pocahontas!

Discussion questions can be done orally or assigned as written work. Mary-Catherine would read the discussion questions for her lessons to me as I was doing other things (cooking, etc.) and then answer them. I would often follow up with another question (am I the only mom who does mean things like that?) and discussion would ensue. Hence the name "discussion questions"?

All of the particulars summarized above are included in a downloadable worksheet for those who prefer to have/keep a hard copy of all of their resources. There is also an answer guide for the discussion questions. 

Here's what Mary-Catherine (13) had to say about Drive Thru History Adventures: "I really like it. They make history that was already fun come to life. Dave is really funny! I love how I can read about something in my textbook and then watch it with Dave. The questions are just hard enough to make me think, but not too hard. I like that there are primary source readings because history is my favorite subject and I want to learn everything I can about it. There is so much in this program that there is room to pick and choose. I can't wait to do another course after I finish American History!"

The curriculum alone is worth the price of admission to Drive Thru History Adventures, but there is so much more to this website. There are new articles published all the time. For example, two of the most recent were on the Transfiguration - very timely. One was Evidence for the Mount of Transfiguration and one was Location for the Mountain of Transfiguration. Another on the History of President's Day came just at the right time. You can also get a behind the scenes look at the Museum of the Bible. Even better, in addition to blog-style articles, there are also expert articles. Since I took an entire course on parables and sayings of Jesus in college, I really enjoyed the article titled "Parables in the Ancient World and the Gospels."

If you're not into the idea of a curriculum, or if your kids are too young for a formal curriculum, don't write Drive Thru History off! Adventures TV is for you! Here's where you'll find all of Dave's videos in one location for easy access. All of the fun, all of the cars, and all of the history with none of the extraneous material - it's pure documentary-style learning fun! And like the picture below shows, you can get it on just about any platform you can think of!

My family will be using Drive Thru History Adventures for the duration of our subscription, and I would love for you to be able to check it out, too. If you purchase an annual subscription now, you'll get a free Gospels DVD! Alternatively, on page 19 of the Winter Edition of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Drive Thru History is offering readers 20% off an annual subscription to its site! It's a great time to check out this company!

Other Crew reviewers focused on other areas of curriculum, so you'll definitely want to read the Crew Blog to see what they had to say!

Wordless Wednesday - Anniversary Present(s)

 I may have a slight obsession with BOBS for Dogs by Skechers...Henry augmented my collection by two pairs for our anniversary :-)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Judging People by Their Covers

My dad has given me so many valuable pieces of advice over the years that I wish he had written a book. Many of them were given under such particular circumstances that I remember them vividly. For example, when I was in elementary school, my friend's family got a very expensive new car. I was quite impressed and commented (to my dad) that her family had a lot of money. He told me that I had no way of knowing that - that you could never judge someone's circumstances, be it their finances, their marriage, or whatever, from the outside looking in. He told me that they could be in debt up to their eyeballs (for the record, I don't think they were) - we just didn't know. I have never forgotten that lesson. You would think that this is kind of "duh," but you would be surprised at how often I feel judged by my "things."

My house is almost 20 years old - Henry had I "built" it (you know - new neighborhood, we chose the floor plan and the finishes - that kind of building) in 1999. Now it is looking a little small and dated. Back then it was large and gorgeous. Back then we had no pets and no children. Now we have a lab and four teenagers. We consciously made the decision not to "upgrade." The house was perfect for us once upon a time, and we'll size back down into it again in no time. It will be paid off. We love it. Recently, though, someone commented to Therese that he knew that she was (I can't remember the exact wording, but it was essentially this) poor because he had looked up her home value on the appraisal district's website. I was first angry and then, very quickly, bemused. You can't judge a person's finances based on their home value! So many decisions have gone into our keeping the home we bought when I was 23 years old, and not a single one of them is that we can't afford a more expensive one, although one is definitely that we don't choose to purchase a more expensive one.

Not helping the appearance of my being "poor" is, I'm sure, my 13 1/2 year-old minivan! Darn those Hondas...they go forever! We have been so blessed not to have had to pile the miles on the car we bought before the twins were born. My 2004 Odyssey has 125K miles on it, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Now, the paint job on it had something wrong with it (there was a recall and we got it redone, but it didn't last), so the clear coat is peeling. It looks awful. The automatic door locks are broken on both passenger side doors. One-by-one the dashboard lights are dying on us. Little things that aren't worth fixing are giving out. The big things are hanging on, though, and does anyone really *want* to buy a new car, especially when family size dictates that you have to buy a bigger (read - more expensive) car? I sure don't. Now, Henry has said that we will be buying a new minivan in the next few months simply because I have to have a reliable car, and cars with that many miles just can't be counted on, so...I guess at least part of me will look a little more prosperous.

The point is, prosperous looking people don't always have money in the bank, and people who live in older, smaller neighborhoods driving old cars aren't always skint. People have different preference orderings. Some people like having money in the bank and in the 401K more than they like living in it and driving it in the here and now. Some people are more now-focused and assume the future will take care of itself. I am sure that some people have it all, and a whole bunch of people have nothing. Don't make assumptions, or if you do, keep them to yourself because you're probably wrong.

One last story to illustrate the importance of not making assumptions: when I was a kid, my dad made large donations of food to our food pantry at church (the same pantry over which he is now the director - which means it's actually a completely different pantry at the same church, but whatever). He would buy entire cases of peanut butter at Kroger when it was on sale. One time, the manager at Kroger came out and said, "I just had to see how fat the man was who was buying all this peanut butter!" I'm sure she meant it as a joke, but really? Assumptions galore at work there. Another lesson learned for me. A few years later when I worked at Kroger, I had customer after customer justify their groceries to me, a lowly checker. They were embarrassed about what they were buying. I made it my mission to put every customer at ease. Their groceries were none of my business (although I did have to break it to my younger brother's friend that he couldn't use food stamps to buy cat food).

Everyone knows what they say about assumptions and it's not very flattering. It does, however, tend to be true.

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!