Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm Actually Ahead of the Game In Terms of Dinner!

So I hesitated a little about posting my unedited kitchen photo, but I am *all* about keeping it real. I don't whitewash my life because I don't think that helps anyone. Just like my favorite YouTube beauty bloggers who don't mind baring their naked faces to show me how to cover my rosacea, I don't mind baring my real kitchen to dispel the notion that I have it all together (where do people get that idea?) Thus, the flaws are definitely visible in this picture!

What I choose to focus on, though, are the bags of food in the foreground! What you are looking at is a week and a half's worth of dinners ready to be thrown in the freezer. Come the morning in question, all I need to do is throw the contents of one of those bags in the crock pot, along with a bag of frozen chicken breasts, and (8 or so hours later) dinner will be served! I am so happy about that. It was a win-win-win. I went to the grocery store and came home and didn't have to put many things away. I used them all immediately! How ingenious an idea is that?

I'm not one to hog the good ideas myself, so here are the wonderful bloggers (with the pretty pictures!) from whom I took the ideas and recipes:

There are a ton more freezer-to-crockpot ideas out there. Pinterest is our friend, people!

Now if only I could catch up on my there any help for that on Pinterest? Well, actually, considering my job is to create materials for elementary school teachers - yes!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One of Those Days

Some days I just feel that I am lacking the mother gene. I am being brutally honest here. I hope I won't be judged, but I realize that's probably hoping for too much. My nearly 11 year-old son is overly emotional. He always has been. He cried excessively as a toddler and he hasn't stopped since. I'm sure it has something to do with ADHD/OCD/Tourettes/twice-exceptionalism. Right now I don't really care. It wears me out. It's the most amazing thing: dealing with him has a physiological effect on me. I can feel myself getting completely exhausted. I can feel myself getting drained. All of a sudden there's nothing left.

After he's crazy-made me for the hundredth time. After he's been disrespectful toward me. After he's done whatever he needs to do to make his brain happy. Then he comes weeping over to me telling me he's sorry. Today he told me, "When I act like that toward you, I feel like we're two positives or two negatives and I hate that." He's talking about batteries, of course, and how they repel each other. When he's dripping tears and snot all over me, I want to feel sorry for him, but I only feel sorry for myself. This happened yesterday. It happened today. It will happen tomorrow. He's always sorry. I know he can't help some of it. I hate myself for not feeling more compassion for him. Tonight when I'm in bed suffering from insomnia one of the things keeping me up will be my guilt that I don't love him enough (or, more accurately, that I don't show him enough love - I do love him enough. I don't doubt that.).

Still, he's rebounded. I'm writing this on the verge of tears and he's throwing clean laundry around the living room with the other kids. How and when will I know how much of this nonsense really affects him?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Review of Mango Languages

Mango Languages Review
Sometimes online learning programs come along that are so amazing that you can't imagine doing school with out them ever again. I have had the extreme pleasure of using such a program for the last six weeks or so. Mango Languages has been around for the last six or so years, but the Mango Homeschool Edition is new - and it is AMAZING! 
I'll admit - I have gushed about some review products before (and believe me - I'll do it again), but you know that if I gush, it's because I really do love a program. I never gush if my kids don't love something. More than once, I have had to confess that while I really like a program, I just couldn't compel my kids to like it. That is *not* the case with Mango. My kids love this program as much as I do. Seriously. When we do multiple lessons a day, it is with their full blessing (or at least 3/4 of their full blessing - we have to make the usual excuses for the ADHD kid, don't we?). I get full oral participation and, best of all, native Spanish speaker dad is constantly saying, "Wow, guys! That's awesome!" With every Spanish program we've ever used (and there have been tons, many of which I've really liked), he has never once made a comment anything like that.
But I'm getting ahead of myself ;-)

What is Mango Languages for Homeschool?

With over 60 languages to choose from, Mango Homeschool Edition is almost anything you want it to be. It can supplement your existing language program or, as we have found out, it can absolutely stand on its own as amazingly complete language program. As with everything homeschool-related, of course, what you use it for will depend on what you want from your language program. 
Unlike many traditional language programs, Mango does not focus heavily on grammar. Instead, it focuses on getting you to speak the language right away.
That learning is accomplished in this manner: 
  • Languages are divided into "Journeys" or units.

  • Each Unit is then further divided into chapters. For example, my children are currently working on "Shopping and Payment" in Journey 1 of Latin American Spanish. That chapter is subdivided into 8 lessons.

  • Each Chapter begins with a conversation which, at first reading/hearing, seems kind of intimidating!

As the readers go through the conversation, it changes from English to Spanish on  the screen (they are, of course) speaking Spanish! What you find as you go through the lessons in the chapter, though, is that as the conversation is broken down piece by piece, it is not hard at all!

For example, this slide shows how the various phrases are taught little by little. As new words and phrases are taught, previous ones are re-introduced every so often so that you don't forget what you have already learned. It is remarkable how quickly you learn and how well you retain complete conversations! This semi-immersion method of learning is so easy and effective. 

  • Grammar and Culture are also part of this program. I mentioned that this program is not grammar-focused, and it's not, but it does teach grammar. It is simply that it teaches it organically in the course of speaking the language. In the above slide, for instance, my kids were taught that they were asking a person in a formal manner if he/she had maps. Previously they had learned that verbs take different forms depending on who is being addressed. When it is necessary to explicitly address a grammar note, it is done so in the context of the lesson. 

Culture, too, is interspersed throughout the lessons (more on that later). For reasons that should be obvious based on my blog, I loved that this particular note was included:

  • Each Chapter concludes with a quiz. Students listen to a conversation and then answer questions based on what they heard.

Mango Features that We Did Not Use But That Are (or will be) Included

I have learned that in some ways I am a much more relaxed homeschooler than others. Because I am not looking for transcript credit or anything like that, and because my kids didn't need review, discussion, or anything else, I didn't take advantage of many of Mango's available features. Further, because Mango is still developing this facet of its offerings, it has many really neat things that are still in development (but that are coming soon!). 

  • Here are a few things you can do with Mango right now: 
    • Progress Assessments
    • Built-in journals, discussions, and wikis
    • Collaborative learning spaces
    • eNote messaging/chat rooms
    • Access to embedded/downloadable content
    • Support from other community members
    • Calendars to schedule meetings or study sessions
Obviously, one of the neatest things about Mango is that it can be a very group-oriented learning experience - something many homeschooling families are looking for in their curriculum!

  • Here are some things that will be introduced over the next few months:
    • Enhanced tracking and progress monitoring - including seat time (for students and parents)
    • Goals and personal lesson plans (both stand-alone and tied into Mango courses)
    • Resume and Portfolio Builder

How We Used Mango (for ages 6 - Adult)

We have been using the stuffing out of Mango! Originally, I registered to study the following languages (did I mention that with a homeschool subscription, you can study AS MANY LANGUAGES AS YOU WANT?): French, German, Koine Greek, Latin, Spanish, Korean, and Pirate (yes, Pirate). My plan was this:
  • Therese (12) - French, Greek, and Latin
  • Boys (9 and 10) - Korean
  • All  (9, 9, 10, 12, Mom and Dad) - Spanish, German, Pirate
To some extent, this is what we have done, although the language we have definitely spent the most time with is Spanish (hence, the example slides above!). Therese has worked on French independently (cool - yes, that's "cool" in French, but you have to say it with the accent!) and has spent a little time with Greek and Latin, mainly to see what they're like. They are awesome. 

Following is a succession of screenshots to show you how Mango teaches Greek and Latin. Remember, this is not a grammar-intensive language program. I have reviewed several of those on this blog (and I love a grammar-intensive Latin program!), but Mango's Greek and Latin programs pay attention to a goal that *many* homeschoolers have for learning these languages in the first place: reading works in their original languages! To that end, I think Mango makes a superb supplement to any Latin or Greek program. I can't recommend it enough for that purpose. As you look at these screenshots, pay attention to how beautiful this program is!

The other languages proceed according to the method shown for Spanish above. The boys have taken a short look at Korean (mainly because they are about to test for the Black Belts in Tae Kwon Do and want to be able to speak to their instructors in Korean more often). What's wonderful about a language like that is having the pronunciation written out for you when you mouse over a word. We are definitely going to devote more time to Korean after we finish Spanish.

For the most part (with the exception of Therese's working on her languages alone, although she did join us for our group languages), we did Mango together at the conclusion of our group subjects every day. I would hook the laptop up to the TV so that everyone could see everything well. You can see the boys in front of the TV here. Typically the girls would be sitting farther back by the laptop (which is why they are out of sight!). A Mango lesson seems to take us about 15-20 minutes, so we would do 2 or 3 a day. The kids didn't complain. In fact, they were often the ones insisting that we keep going! I found that doing multiple lessons a day was a great way to make sure that they really internalized the day's lesson. I knew that we had found success when a couple of weeks ago at church, they approached their Cuban grandparents and said, "Que tenga un buen dia!" My in-laws were very proud of how naturally it rolled off their tongues!

In terms of German, we only do that subject with my husband. He works for a German company and has actually had a private German tutor in the past (he typically has to go to Germany at least once a year). I knew that he would be able to add something extra to our lessons. I was really glad he was there, because one of our first German cultural notes informed us that you don't ask a German "How are you?" the way we do all the time in English. It's just not really the done thing. You ask about the weather. That's why learning to comment on the weather was the first thing we learned. Henry thought that was great. He said how true it was. He commented that when on a phone conference with German colleagues you always talk about the weather. You never ask a casual, "How are you," or "What's up?" If you do, you will be there for a long time hearing the answer. It's just different there! I valued that insight. He told me that the Spanish cultural notes were right on (but I had some advantage there having had Spanish in school and having been married to a Cuban family for almost two decades), but for him to confirm that they were dead on about the German cultural notes too gives me such wonderful confidence in Mango Languages! I would study any language with this great program!

We don't do any writing with this program. We do everything orally but there is so much repetition that I don't feel the need to add written material. Maybe when my kids are older we'll take advantage of the things that Mango is adding all the time.

My Final Thoughts

I love Mango Languages. At this point, I can't imagine being without it. It is a visually gorgeous program, which is great, but even more than that, it works. My husband has never commented on how well the kids are learning Spanish with any other program, but he has commented many times on the effectiveness of this one. What I have noticed is that every single time but one, when I have told the kids something grammar-related based on a slide they are viewing (like a verb that they were just taught is irregular and that that will affect the conjugation), the very next slide says the exact same thing! Mango is reading my mind! Seriously, this program is a home run! So how much will this home run set you back? You won't believe how inexpensively you can learn over 60 foreign languages at one time. A one-year subscription to Mango Languages is $125 for 1 subscription, $175/2, $225/3, $275/4, or $325/5. Alternatively, you can pay by the month. 1 subscription is $18, 2/$28, 3/$38, 4/$48, 5/$58. 

Individual subscriptions allow students to have their own logins and allow you to track each of their progress, but please note that each individual subscription does have access to ALL 60+ languages! It is not $125 per year per language. In other words, pricing like this = a phenomenal deal. I have already decided that we will be using Mango Languages for the foreseeable future (probably for the duration of our homeschooling years). For one thing, I feel pretty strongly about my kids learning both Arabic and Chinese (we have to be realistic about where the world is headed), and I think that Mango is probably the best way for them to be introduced to these languages. For another, they *really* like it! Also, in the future Mango is planning on helping with figuring out high school transcript credits. Yay!

This was one review where a bunch of Crew members reviewed a bunch of different languages and undoubtedly used several parts of Mango Languages that I didn't, so please be sure to read their reviews, too. From my perspective, though, you can't go wrong with this wonderful program!

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Monday, March 10, 2014

There Was a Little Girl and She Had a Little Liver

Once upon a time my daughter fainted in church. After a full cardiology workup she was diagnosed with "Overdose of the Holy Ghost." Can I get an "Amen"?

The resulting blood work from that episode showed something unusual: my baby had high bilirubin. Except that my baby was 11 and her bilirubin hadn't been a cause for concern since she was a couple of weeks old. Sure, she's always been a little on the yellow side, and sure we make sure she never wears yellow because it makes her look like a squash or a banana, but she's got that island blood in her, right? Well, it turns out that she's not actually supposed to be quite so yellow...and her eyes definitely aren't supposed to be yellow.

Follow-up blood work showed the bilirubin stayed consistently high and an abdominal ultrasound showed that her liver was abnormal. A nuclear scan showed that her gall bladder doesn't play nicely with others, either, but her pedi GI actually thinks that might be unrelated to her liver difficulties. My daughter - such the overachiever. One faulty abdominal organ just isn't enough for her.

Even more blood work later (she's to the point now where she just sticks out her arm politely, gives up ridiculous amounts of blood, says "thank you" and walks out gracefully - phlebotomists love her) - oh, and urine (yay - no dignity left for my now 12 year-old!), and it turns out that copper may be causing her trouble.

So, a week ago we found ourselves where we didn't want to be at all: Texas Children's Hospital for a liver biopsy. And now we wait. I *really* hate waiting. I think that the doctor is pretty sure about what she has (not that he'll tell us) and I think that I'm pretty sure, too (not that I'll commit it to electronic paper). If I'm right, it's 100% treatable and 100% fatal if not treated for the rest of her life. That is super, super scary to write.

For reasons about which I am not entirely clear, her liver had to travel to MN, so we won't know for a little while. She is handling things awesomely. She is spending all of her time working on debate (she wants to qualify for Regionals so badly!) and looking forward to dancing at Ballet Center of Houston this summer. She even laughed when her brother asked us what time we were going to be home from her autopsy last week (Nicholas - oh my word! He's another post. It's a testament to how much time and energy Therese has been taking that we have not dealt with his diagnosis of Tourettes AT ALL).

The upshot: if you have a moment to spare, would you say a quick prayer for my Therese? We have dealt with this in private and in silence for almost a year now, but I am at the point where I feel like some prayers would really help us.

Review of Mastering 5th Grade Math - Essentials of Fractions Review
Math is not my favorite subject. Anyone who reads my blog even occasionally knows that. Thus, I am always very excited when a math product comes up for review. On the one hand, I am a little afraid because it means that I will have to pay extra attention to math. On the other hand, I am excited because it means one more line of defense in the math war. For some reason, fractions seem to flummox even the smartest math kids, so Mastering 5th Grade Math - Volume 1: Essentials of Fractions seemed like a great product to try from Review
This 5th grade math program is available as a physical product consisting of two DVDs. The first DVD contains 16 fractions lessons covering every aspect of fractions from finding the Greatest Common Factor to improper and mixed fractions. You can see exactly what the lessons are like by watching one of them!

Each lesson has an accompany worksheet, which can be found on the second DVD. To experience every aspect of this lesson, be sure to check out the worksheet
Michael and Fractions

I decided to use this fractions program with Michael, my 9 year-old. Michael is quite good at math. He moves through any curriculum very quickly. I am very aware, though, that even the brightest math kids sometimes come to a squealing halt somewhere around Pre-Algebra. I don't know if I can lay all the blame at fractions' door, but I'm willing to be that they play a role. That's why I think it's so neat that there is an entire product dedicated to mastering fractions. What so many kids (and a bunch of parents!) don't realize is how much of higher math revolves around fractions. If you don't nail them from the start, I truly believe that you will always be running to play catch up! 

Technically, Michael is only in 4th grade math, but because he is inhaling his math curriculum, I figured he was ready for fractions. It turns out I was right. I was so right, in fact, that he did multiple lessons of this DVD each day and had no problem finishing it in the review period. He asked to do it every day (yay!). He found Jason's manner of teaching extremely easy to follow and relate to. He had no problem completing the worksheets at the end of the lessons. I didn't ever feel that the pace was too fast or that there were gaps in what was being taught. After having seen a couple of kids through fractions already (each with different curricula), I found this approach logical and complete. 

Because I wanted to be able to see what Michael was doing, I hooked my laptop up to the TV. That way, we could both watch the lessons and I could make sure that I would be able to answer any questions he might have "the right way." (Have you ever tried to answer one of your kids' math questions only to find out "they don't do it that way anymore, Mommy!") It turns out that Michael didn't actually have any questions, though. I think he's better at math than I am.

What We Thought

As it happens, both Michael and I *really* like this program. I think that using it as his sole math program for the last six weeks was a great idea. Focusing only on fractions has given him a very solid grounding in something that I think is vitally important for math success. Michael enjoyed doing math this way so much that he wants to continue with Volume 2 in this series - Adding and Subtracting Fractions. I am definitely going to buy that DVD set, too. Now that Michael has learned all of the basics (GCF, prime factorization, proper and improper fractions, and mixed numbers) he is set to start actually playing with fractions - the fun stuff. I don't want to deviate from what has proven to be a winning formula thus far. As I flip through one of his older sibling's 5th grade math books, fractions seem to make up, like, half of it! As I said earlier, fraction mastery is hugely important and Jason's teaching style in this DVD series just works for us.

The kicker is always the cost, though, right? It's actually not too bad, especially if you have multiple kids! I still have Michael's twin, Mary-Catherine, coming so I'll get more use out of this series, but I would buy it anyway. Mastering 5th Grade Math Volume 1: Essentials of Fractions is only $15.99 for the two DVD set. It's $14.99 if you choose to do the download, rather than the physical product. Altogether, there are four DVD sets in the 5th grade math series: three deal with fractions, while the 4th is a multiplication/division set. The grade on them is, of course, 5th, but that doesn't mean that you can't use them with a child of another age who is either ready for them or who could use some fraction remediation. has some other really neat products (both science and math!) that the Crew reviewed, so click the banner below to check out everything they've been using.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cherry Culture March Madness Sale!

An amazing sale from Cherry Culture! I'm very sad that two of my favorites (LA Girl Pro Concealer and Jordana Blush) don't seem to be available, but there are still plenty of goodies! My absolute favorite thing to play around with is Nyx Round Lipstick. There are umpteen jillion colors, and with 40% off, they are only $2.40 each. The Nyx Slide On eyeliner is another major favorite. I use the green in my waterline almost every day. It comes in at $4.80 with the discount. If you like nail polish, be prepared to go crazy! Oh, and as many times as I've ordered here, nothing has ever arrived broken. The packaging is amazing. I'm not affiliate (but I probably should be!)...just passing on the good news :-)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review of Motivated Moms Ebooks Planner

Organization is not my strong suit. I'm not proud of that. In fact, I can't stand it. I am firmly convinced that the perfectionism that has made me successful in my academic and professional lives has crippled me in my domestic life. At least that's what I'm telling myself. Needless to say, I jump at the chance to defy my disorganized side. I was thrilled, then, to be able to review one of the Motivated Moms Ebooks Planners from Motivated Moms.

In a world full of more planners than you could possibly ever explore, there are several things that set the Motivated Moms line apart from the rest.


 Be sure to click on the above picture to enlarge it, because that is the only way that you will be able to see the immense variety of planners available from Motivated Moms. If you have a planner preference, you will be able to find it with this company. If you don't know your planner preference, you will be able to determine it by looking at these samples. For example, Motivated Moms allows you to choose from half-page and full page planners, black and white and color planners, and planners that include a Bible reading plan. Altogether, there are 16 different options to choose from!


The hallmark of all of the Motivated Moms chore schedule planners is their simplicity. To begin with, the majority of the chores are scheduled for you. Unlike a zone cleaning system, the Motivated Moms system has you doing a variety of chores in different rooms each day. The idea is that by the end of the week you will have done the work necessary to maintain your home, plus you will have done some chores that you don't think of doing (dusting light bulbs!), but that go a long way to keeping your house cleaner than you would have thought possible.

The Planner I Chose and How I Used It

I had a bit of a hard time choosing from all of the available planners, but I eventually decided to go with the full-page color chore planner. Printed, this planner comes to 55 pages. I know that saving on ink is a major concern for some families, but my printer is excellent and even printing on draft, I get vivid color while hardly using any ink (HP OfficeJet Pro 8600, in case you were wondering!). Hence, I didn't hesitate to buy this planner. I hesitated about the best way to print this planner (all at once and comb-bind? one page (week) at a time? all at once in a binder?). I finally decided that printing one week at a time and putting it on the refrigerator would be the best option for my family. I know myself too well to print the whole thing at once. My history with planners would suggest that I would put it somewhere never to see it again. As it turns out, I know myself well! The one page at a time method seems to be best for making sure that I use the planner.

Having said that, printing this planner one page at a time definitely makes it seem less like a planner and more like a house cleaning schedule, which is perfectly fine. I desperately need one of those! This planner (pictured above) has a section that allows you to check off all of your daily chores each day (beds, dishes, etc.), but it also gives you individualized chores for each day of the week. What makes it very different from a zone cleaning system, the system with which I am most familiar (and at which I have failed spectacularly) is that tasks are broken up within rooms each day. In other words, you clean a small part of the bathroom each day rather than focusing on the entire bathroom on one particular day. I *really* like this method. The primary reason I think I stink at cleaning is that I don't ever feel that I have enough time to do an entire room justice. By only doing a small piece of each room, I feel like I can make some headway so that by the end of the week I actually see improvement. The same chores are not repeated each day every week, as there are some chores that don't *need* to be done weekly (such as cleaning out the refrigerator or doing the mending and ironing - as if I would ever do the mending and ironing ;-)  ). Conversely, some chores are, in my opinion, repeated too often - hand towels are changed in the bathrooms every other day. I would never change hand towels that often. Of course, the beauty of a chore system, like the beauty of homeschooling, is that you adapt the system to fit your needs. Thus - I just don't change the towels if I don't need to!

To summarize then - rather than letting this planner dictate my life, I have used it as a wonderful reminder to do things that I wouldn't ordinarily think of doing. Honestly, much of the time the reason things don't get done around my house is, very simply, because I don't think to do them. I am easily distracted and very busy and not that observant. To that end, this planner is ideal for me! Each morning, I look at the planner to see what special chores I am supposed to do during the day and then figure out when I can do them. Although I have the best intentions every day to check off the daily chores section (dishes, beds, etc.), I rarely remember to do so. However, getting the little nudge to do that extra thing that doesn't cross my mind (clean out one kitchen drawer, for instance) has been wonderful. It has made me feel that I am taking extra steps toward becoming more organized and neater.

The Bottom Line

I sometimes feel that all I do is scour Pintrest for planner ideas. It is time consuming and depressing because they never work! It turns out that writing down everything you want to accomplish doesn't actually get it done. Motivated Moms has showed me a new approach, though. By creating a preset group of chores, some which get done every day and others that get done on a rotating basis, Motivated Moms has made the process very simple. It works with my mentality. I do what I can and I take the planner's suggestions as just that - suggestions. For $8, the planner is a great investment. I don't feel beholden to it. Printing it out each week takes seconds, as does checking it each morning. You could make it a much more in-depth tool than I do, but you don't have to to make it work for you. The planner is very flexible. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone. If you're the kind of person who can't do without your iPhone, Motivated Moms also has an app for that!

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By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, 
in quiet and in trust your strength lies. 
- Isaiah 30:15

I feel like we have been waiting for a long time. Last April we first realized that something was not right. Things really got kicked up in November. In the last 11 months, my daughter has had more than 20 tubes of blood and a piece of her liver extracted from her body. I know that I have friends whose children have gone through much, much worse, but just as you can't make interpersonal comparisons of utility, I have only begun to realize that you also can't make interpersonal comparisons of anxiety. I am anxious. I want answers. 

I have been quiet and I do trust. I am waiting and I am calm. I know that God has it all covered. I just want to know where our next step lies. St. Bede said it quite well!

Unfurl the sails, and let God steer us where He will.
- St. Bede

My sails are unfurled...