Thursday, December 31, 2015

Saint Generator

If you are looking for a new patron in 2016, be sure to check out the Saint Generator. It is a great way to find out about a saint you may not have previously known.

Happy New Year

May your 2016 be everything you hope it is.

Monday, December 28, 2015


My 20th wedding anniversary is on 2/9/16. Everyone knows that I got married the day after my 21st birthday. That was kind of handy since I honeymooned in Las Vegas - would have been awkward not to be able to drink and gamble with my husband ('cause I'm all about the drinking and gambling).

I celebrated another anniversary of sorts last week. It was a year ago that my friendship with the best friend I ever had ended. We were friends for more than a quarter of a century. There was no big blowup or anything (if we ever fought, it was only because I was petty and bitchy in high school) - just a decision that our friendship had run its course.

My wedding day is one of the happiest of my life (naturally). The day that my best friend exited my life is one of my saddest. I observe both anniversaries. One I look forward to all year. The other I dreaded all year (I just observed the first anniversary).

What's my point? Stupid Facebook, with its asinine habit of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, decided to "celebrate" the anniversary (there's that word again!) of my FB friendship with my friend's sister by showing me this picture - a picture which just happens to conflate everything!

Thanks, Facebook. You really are the gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Withdrawal, not that kind of withdrawal. The kind where, when you're discouraged or sad, you don't write anything online because you don't want to come off as totally negative. That kind. It's funny that even as I write this, another situation, um, develops. I always wonder how much of a child's "disorder" or problems is (are) tied to the way in which they interact with their parents. Yes, of course, there is a predisposition there. Chemical imbalance? Sure. Screwed up wiring? Okay. But how much has to do with those interactions? My son pushes so hard. And I push back. I wake up every morning resolved not to push back, but push back I do. There are two things at work, I think. First, there is definitely the, "You can't talk to me like that" working. I can't deny it. There is also very much the notion, though, that I have to make sure that this kid has to be able to grow up and function in society - that my ignoring his crap (as tempting as that is) will not, ultimately, do him any favors. How I wish I knew the answers.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Best Quote on Parenthood Ever

I have remembered this quote since the first time I heard it many years ago, long before I had children. If it gave me a lump in my throat then, it makes me cry now. It is so, so true. I was texting Therese late one night last week trying to explain what it is like to be a mother whose daughter is growing up and away. That prompted me to look up this quote again. It aired on ER in the second season. Dr. Lewis was talking about Little Susie (the niece she is raising until her sister reclaims her):

"I always knew you loved your children, but I never realized how much you fell in love with them. Little Susie was like a story book, every smile a new page to be poured over, touched, remembered...I loved my storybook. For the first time in a long time, I didn't feel so alone."

You do fall in love with your children, deeply in love. And you don't fall out of love with them just because they get older. Like all love affairs, the ones you have with your children hurt, but unlike most love affairs, it is very hard to express to other people what you feel and why you feel it. Also, with all other love affairs, you are constantly growing closer. With your children, you are always growing farther apart (in proximity), at least you are if you're doing it right. You have to be letting them know that it's okay to go - that they'll be fine and that you'll be fine. But it's hard...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sylvia Plath = Sublime

Mirror by Sylvia Plath

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful,
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review of GrapeVine Studies

Grapevine Studies Review

For the past month or so, the kids and I have been using GrapeVine Studies' Old Testament 1: Level 4 Creation to Jacob. The Bible study comes as a 48 page PDF (although it is also available in physical form) and covers from Creation through Jacob (maybe that's obvious?). Its focus is on introducing students to the Topical Bible, the Bible Dictionary, and the Concordance. In other words, students begin to move past just reading the Bible to actual Bible study using Bible study tools. We also received the 82 page Teacher's Guide (which covers both levels 3 and 4 - although we only reviewed level 4). The Teacher's Guide has all of the answers, including the pages of Zondervan-published resources on which the answers to questions may be found (the answers can't be published for copyright reasons).

At first it can be kind of confusing to try and figure out which level to choose. This infographic is a great place to start. GrapeVine also has very helpful Information About the Levels on its website. 

Grapevine Studies Review
Grapevine Studies Review

Once I reviewed the levels, I knew that OT Level 4 was perfect for Nicholas, Michael, and Mary-Catherine (12 and very-nearly 11 year-old twins). All three of them have studied the first half of the Old Testament narrative several times, so they are quite familiar with the story and the Catholic interpretation of it, but none of them has yet used Biblical tools like a concordance. I was really excited about the opportunity to introduce them to these tools. 

Grapevine Studies Review

The study offers a weekly schedule, but I didn't go by that. Because my kids are older, and because our regular Bible Study has them doing timeline work daily, I didn't have them do the timeline work with GrapeVine. Although I think the stick figure aspect of GrapeVine is cute and would be great for younger kids, mine are past that stage, so I didn't have them doing the illustration work, either. I wanted this study for its meat, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it! I like that it is non-denominational, so it is possible to teach your children in the way you want to, thus taking advantage of the pre-prepared work, without worrying about the imposition of doctrine.

Obviously, you need a topical Bible, a Concordance, and a Bible dictionary. All of these things are readily available online and in various apps. BibleStudyTools is a great place to find most of what you need (including Nave's Topical Bible, used by the study). For a Catholic Concordance, we used the one found here. So, for instance, the GrapeVine study asks how many times the word "Satan" appears in the Bible. Using the Concordance I link, we found this result:

Once you start using tools like these, it's easy to get lost in the results! There are so many opportunities for discussion that arise naturally with the kids! 

Using the Bible Dictionary was one of our favorite parts of doing this study. I am always stressing to my kids that we can't read or interpret the Bible as if it were written in English because it wasn't. Our priest, Fr. Troy, is excellent about telling us in his homilies what various words mean in the original languages and how certain words can actually be translated in various ways, so my kids are not strangers to the idea that the same word can have entirely different meanings or connotations. Being able to actually discover this for themselves was new to them, though. 

All in all, we have really enjoyed using this GrapeVine study. For our purposes, there was more included than I needed, but that is because we already use a different Bible Study daily (one I am really happy with, but which really only deals with the narrative - it doesn't dig deeper). This study adds just what we lack in the other. They complement perfectly! If you are looking for a gentle way to introduce Biblical study tools to your children, I really recommend GrapeVine!

To read all of the Crew reviews for the last review of 2015, click the banner below!

Grapevine Studies Review
Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review of Critical Thinking Co.

The Critical Thinking Co. is one of those companies whose catalogs I really look forward to. Their products were some of the first I ever used, even before I began homeschooling. Everything they put out is just so good! It doesn't hurt that all of their workbooks just look so great, too. Full-color, thick pages, and with the best copyright release in the business (35 copies for one classroom per year - it's crazy). I just love this company so much! When I saw  Practical Critical Thinking and its accompanying Teacher Manual (Gr. 9-12+) come up for review, I knew that I had to try to get them for Therese.
This course, while not a complete logic course, is (like many of Critical Thinking Co.'s other great workbooks) an awesome supplement or (as I almost always use them) something that you can hand to an advanced/bored/gifted kid and just tell them to go nuts. The main book is 378 full-color pages long and is comprised of eight chapters in four units. The units are Becoming a Critical Thinker, Adding to My Critical Thinking Toolbox, Critical Thinking and Arguments, and Applying My Critical Thinking. 
The Teacher Manual contains reproducible copies of the student pages along with further explanations and discussion topics and points. The two really work in conjunction as a set, as the Student Book teaches to the student and contains the fullness of the lesson. The Teacher Manual has all of the answers and great Masters, but it does not teach to the student (even though it does contain some explanation). The fullness of the material is experienced when the two books are used in conjunction. While you can use the Student Book independently of the Teacher Manual (if you know all of the answers!), the reverse is not true.
How Therese (14) Used The Material
The first time Therese flipped through Practical Critical Thinking, her comment was, "This looks like a really good course!" Therese is no stranger either to logic, or to logic courses. She has taken a couple of logic courses in the past, plus her debate experience has taught her more practically about fallacies and such than a course probably every could. Still, she is always up for more work like this. Because Therese has done logic work in the past, I let her decide where to start this book. She began at the beginning at first, but quickly saw that it was too much review (her school time is very rationed these days because of the chronic illness with which she has been dealing for several years). Once she jumped to Unit 3, though, she was much happier with the work. She is very familiar with recognizing deductive and inductive arguments and identifying the various informal fallacies. Dare I say this "work" was much more like a game for her?

In retrospect, I would not have given this review product to Therese. She didn't need it, and even though she had fun with it, she didn't benefit from it. She has had plenty of critical thinking course material in the past, and, further, this is just how her brain works. The child of mine who really needs this course is Nicholas (12). He is a literalist to the nth degree. I think that comes as a result of his ADHD/OCD/Tourette's personality. This course *will* challenge him, and he will learn very valuable lessons from it -- but not yet. It is recommended for grades 9-12, and that is definitely the right age for it. Thus, we will definitely be bringing it out again in a few years.

As with everything I have ever used from Critical Thinking Co., I can't recommend this set highly enough. The material is covered succinctly yet thoroughly. It is presented in a visually interesting and stimulating way. It was enough to keep my gifted and experienced-with-the-material 14 year-old interested, but it will be non-threatening enough for Nicholas (described above) when his time comes (gifted, but 2e). You can't really ask for much more than that. I fully anticipate using it with the twins, too.

Critical Thinking Co. provided Crew members with several things to review, so be sure to click the banner below to check all of them out! Then come back in a few days for my very last review of 2015.
The Critical Thinking Company Review
Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Review of Ann McCallum Books

So, have you heard of the Fibonacci Sequence? Me, too! Do you remember what it is? I know, I know, I have super smart readers, and a bunch of you probably do, but I'll confess that I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was until I read this adorable book.

Written by a high school math teacher, Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale by Ann McCallum Books teaches kids about a unique recursive series of numbers known as the Fibonacci Sequence. Interestingly, this sequence was first identified by a medieval mathematician who posed a question about the reproductive capacity of rabbits. Using rabbits to teach the Fibonacci Sequence is just perfect!

Of course, no kid wants to pick up an adorable looking picture book and read about *math*, right? Of course not! Fortunately, with this book, they won't be (or, at least they won't know they are!). The book sets the tone for what it is teaching right off the bat, as the main rabbit characters are Fibb and Knot and they live in the town of Chee (get it?). As rabbits are wont to do, they reproduce. Also as rabbits are wont to do, they do so at an astonishing rate. The citizens of Chee can't figure out what exactly that rate is...all except for a little girl named Amanda, that is. She cracks the reproduction code (which just happens to be the Fibonacci Sequence, naturally!).

Initially I left this book on the schoolroom table hoping that my kids would just pick it up and read it, but no such luck. I attribute that to the fact that they are 14, 12, and 3 weeks away from being 11 (twins). They probably thought it was a picture book that was on the chopping block (things that are headed out the door for Goodwill or siblings often make a pit stop on the schoolroom table). Thus, I moved to Plan B - read it to them. They loved Plan B. My kids will listen to *anything* as long as it is read to them - picture book, classic, poetry, cereal box - doesn't matter. Charming story about rabbits? No brainer.

They caught on quickly to the fact that there was a mathematical *something* going on, but they didn't get the sequence until after it was revealed. After that, though, they wanted to know more about Fibonacci and how all of this came to be, so I call that a successful lesson. Even if you're not all that interested in the Fibonacci Sequence, it's just a darn cute book. Plus, if you're the kind of homeschooling mom who loves to introduce harder concepts gently at a young age, you will absolutely adore this book.

Ann McCallum has written other wonderful books that the Crew got to review, including books with edible lessons! Intrigued? Click the banner below to read the reviews!

Ann McCallum Books Review

Crew Disclaimer

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Random Things About Me Post

It's been awhile since I did a "Random Things About Me" post (it's been two years, in fact, and if you want to read that one - click here), so why not? 

1. I have an obsessive personality. Seriously obsessive. It takes several forms, but primarily two. Number one, I can't stop thinking about things. My mind gets stuck on things and won't stop playing them over and over in my head. The noise hurts and is a debilitating distraction at times. Number two, I become very obsessive about things I like very quickly. When I take on a new hobby, I dive in headfirst with both feet (I know, but whatever). With any hobby, I reach SABLE (Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy) in an obscenely short period of time. Think cross stitch fabric, lace yarn, lace shawl patterns, ebooks, puzzle books (i.e., crossword puzzles) and makeup (especially MAC lipstick and various eye shadow palettes). I am beyond blessed to have a husband who is more than patient with me. After two decades I keep waiting for that patience to go, but it never does. I don't understand it. I have lost patience with me. As an example, he pretty much outfitted me with a custom closet to house and showcase my makeup collection. And he painted it pink.

2. I always have several projects that I am dying to get off the ground percolating on the back burner. I just don't seem to have the time or energy. A couple are homeschool related. The one I am most excited about right now is not. My primary enemy is sloth. When I have free time I want to knit or do puzzles. As it happens, though, I just don't have much free time.

3. I have worked for edHelper since 2007. I started out working for edHelperBaby when Russ (the owner of both sites) solicited his subscribers for applications to write for edHelperBaby. After I had written blog posts for that site for awhile, he offered me a job creating materials for edHelper. It is the best job in the world. My hours are 100% flexible. The work is variable and rarely demanding, but usually interesting. My boss is wonderful. I am overpaid for what I do. If I thought I could give up what is essentially free money, I would do it, because I really hate being stapled to my computer 24/7 (the work may be easy, but it is time consuming). I just can't justify not contributing to our family when I have had this opportunity handed to me.

4. Almost a year ago, I lost the friendship that has meant more to me than any other in my life, apart from Henry and Analisa. It is still like an open wound. The way it ended reminds me of how unfair I have always found no-fault divorce laws. It doesn't matter how much one person may still want to be married. If the other person wants to end the marriage, that's it. It's over. 

5. Podcasts! I have written about my favorite podcasts here, here, and here. Well, it's been almost a year since I talked about them, but that doesn't mean I've stopped listening. Hardly. I have a whole batch of new favorites (but am still loyal to the old ones!). My absolute favorite is Futility Closet. I've linked to the website because it is amazing, but you can find the podcast in the sidebar. No words for how much I love this podcast.

Lore is another huge favorite. Aaron Mahnke is a guy who cares about his podcast. It's not so much creepy as it is atmospheric. I listen to these pretty much the hour they are published. I can't believe that I used to be all about delayed gratification.

Astonishing Legends can be a little hit or miss, but it has had some really interesting episodes. It definitely meets my criteria for one of my favorite podcasts, though; first and foremost is - do I get really excited when I see a new episode?

There are bunch more new podcasts in my playlist, so if you're interested in what else I've been listening to, let me know and I'll do a post on them.

So that's a few more random things about me. /procrastination

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Review of Standard Deviants Accelerate

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
If there was one product I raved about last year, it was Standard Deviants Accelerate. Well, a year may have gone by, but nothing has changed. Standard Deviants' Homeschool Courses are just as awesome as always! If you think you've seen everything that online homeschool classes have to offer, or if your kids are bored with the usual online offerings, you absolutely need to take a look at these classes. For starters, I give you your instructors:

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Intrigued yet? I was completely surprised to find out that Standard Deviants is twenty-plus years old! I would have guessed that they were brand new, but it turns out that they were producing videos long before they hit the Web. All I can say is that I am so glad that they brought their brand of instruction to the Internet. If you love your learning with a heavy helping of laughter, then this is the company for you. Even better, if you don't mind a bit of irreverence, you'll find yourself signing up for a yearlong subscription before you know it!

Standard Deviants offers 13 courses for grades 3-11+. From Arithmetic through four AP class test preps (Biology, Chemistry, US Government and Politics, and English and Composition), Standard Deviants likely has something for everyone in your family. While each course varies in length, the ones that I have sampled all follow a similar format. 

At the outset, you can see a great outline of the course on which you wish to embark. Here's Chemistry:

Each lesson has several component parts, which you can see across the top of the screen on the colored tabs. Some lessons have more or fewer parts. For example, sometimes there is a diagram to fill in. First is always the video lesson (the following two examples are from Biology):

The next tab is vocabulary from the video (back to Chemistry!):

Next comes a multiple choice quiz on the video just watched:

And finally a short answer section:

How We Used it and What We Thought

As I have already indicated, we love Standard Deviants. Because of the humorous way in which the material is delivered, my kids remember everything they learn. They are also able to deal with material that is technically probably "too hard" for them (I'm talking to you, Chemistry!). Not only don't they mind science (a subject that is neither their nor my favorite), but they beg to do it. They have their favorite "characters" (instructors), and they get so happy when they see them pop up in the various videos. Probably more than the twins (10), Nicholas (12) is in it for the science. We had started Chemistry last year, but then ended up completing Earth Science and Nutrition instead after doing Chemistry for only three month. Nicholas *begged* to get back to Chemistry this year, and was so happy when we did. He enjoys the humorous way that the material is presented, but some of the subtleties go over his head (not a surprise given his general literal approach to everything). The twins, on the other hand, are constantly on the lookout for the next big gag (which doesn't mean that they don't get the science - they do!). 

We didn't just do science, though. On thing I really appreciate about Standard Deviants is that they teach things that I just...don't. Take English Composition, for example. Nicholas and the twins are too young for a formal course like this (which Therese (14) did last year), but there are aspects of it that are great for them and that I can use when, for whatever reason, I can't work with them. One subset of the English Composition course is "American Literary Periods." It's the kind of thing that doesn't really fit in with any curriculum that I would use, but that I find it really beneficial for the kids to know. Really, though, if I had to pick one thing that I think Standard Deviants excels at, it's making science really, really fun for kids who don't naturally love science.

When my kids sit down to use Standard Deviants, they just gather around the computer and watch the videos. It's very laid back, just like the instructors. Sometimes we do the quiz and sometimes we don't. More often than not I'll just have them narrate the lesson to me orally. This is a completely no-fuss curriculum. I really can't recommend it highly enough.

To see 69 other reviews of Standard Deviants Accelerate, click on the banner below.

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Looking Forward to the Little Things

I have often said that if you find it hard to get motivated in the morning (whether because of depression, which has been my problem since I was very young, or just because you're not a morning person), find something to look forward to. For some people, that's as easy as knowing that you'll have that first cup of coffee. That's definitely the first thing that makes me leap out of bed in the morning (it doesn't hurt that I'm basically a morning person). I also have things that I look forward to most days that are specific to those days, though. I always remember the Friends episode where Monica was explaining that just because she looked forward to Mondays because that's when her People Magazine came, that didn't mean she was shallow. I realized that I, too, looked forward to certain days because of certain little "pick-me-ups." Everyone has their own, and they change - often frequently.

For now, though, here are some of mine. I'll leave off the weekend because, well, it's the weekend!

  • Monday - it's been my favorite day of the week since I finished with my grad school classes. Monday is a fresh start, a chance to get right everything I got wrong last week. It's a chance to get a head start. It's also the day my favorite podcast - "Lore" comes out.
  • Tuesday - my two favorite emails get delivered to my inbox almost first thing in the morning: The Reader and The Lineup. The former is "Five Bookish Bites delivered to your email each week," and the latter is "where murder and mayhem is delivered daily." I know, but what can I say? I have always loved true crime. When I was around 11, I checked out the encyclopedia of murder from the library so often they just should have given me the darn thing.
  • Wednesday is the one day of the week I don't have to leave the house - an introvert's dream!
  • Thursday -- nothing to love about Thursday. Thursday is about endurance. No, wait! "Thinking Sideways" (another podcast I really like) comes out on Thursdays! New Bitmojis come out on Thursdays!
  • Friday - Henry's day off!
And so it goes. You get the idea. There are also all kinds of little ways to motivate yourself. You just have to find them. Throughout the week I can tell myself things like, "Tomorrow you can start working in a new crossword puzzle book," or "Thursday you can steal ten minutes to knit a row on your shawl." Whatever it takes to make the day palatable - to fake it 'til you make it. It's surprising how well it works. If your happy triggers get stale, find new ones. Think about what you like and start from there.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review of Apologia Educational Ministries

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

Is there anything that Apologia Educational Ministries doesn't do? Great science curriculum, Constitutional literacy, the really neat iWitness books...and planners? Yes! Apologia's The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is the most complete paper and pencil planning system I have ever seen. Available in three colors (I received and reviewed the blue), this planner has *everything* you as a homeschooling parent could possibly need.

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

If you're a longtime reader of my blog, you know that I have a love/hate relationship with planners. I sure do love to buy them. I am in love with the thought of them. I just never seem to be organized enough to stick with them. As a perfectionist, I very much feel like I have to "do" them right or not do them at all. Unfortunately, the more complicated, intricate, or complete a planner is, the more there is to "do" right. The more opportunity there is for failure. The more I am afraid and/or intimidated. The longer I sit there stroking the beautiful cover and flipping through the lovely...blank pages. Am I the only one? Please say I'm not the only one. 

The good thing about a review, though, is you are compelled to use the product, fear of failure or not! So, on to The Ultimate Homeschool Planner! The planner begins with mini-calendars that project through 2023. While it is true that you can always look up this information on your phone, it is very handy to have it all in one place and laid out, especially if you like to plan ahead for things. The next thing you encounter in the planner is an extensive User's Guide. Debra Bell, the planner's author believes that not only should some thought go into creating a planner, but she also believes that some thought should go into the planning process itself. Mrs. Bell advocates both a yearly planning retreat and monthly and weekly planning sessions. Additionally, she suggests Monday morning "tutorials" and Friday afternoon "reviews." To aid with these, the planner includes a one-year planning grid, a student goal setter, and pre-planning guides (where you can list family priorities and resources you want to use with each child).

The planner also includes monthly and weekly planning pages. The weekly planning pages have ample space for you to write down your Bible plan, your Battle Plan, your Prayers, and your Hospitality/Outreach. You can also track the week's Memorable Moments and Achievements and Evidences of Grace. In this way, the planner also doubles as a journal, which I really like. Best of all, these pages are all undated. I have seen some fabulous planners, but given that the pages are dated, I have not bought them because the dates rarely coincide with my discovery of the planners, and I loathe losing out on those weeks or months missed. There are also many record keeping pages in the planner - for grades, reading lists, and activities. A few pages of teaching tips are included. Finally what Mrs. Bell calls a High School Planning Guide can be found at the end. I'm not sure that this is actually a high school planner, as much as it is a sample four-year schedule. Still, since this is a homeschool planner, and doesn't purport to be anything else, I am certainly not going to quibble over that! At the very end of the planner are a few pages to make some end-of-year notes. The planner comes in at a very hefty 284 pages and is comb bound and vinyl covered. This planner can stand up to a year of heavy use.

What I Thought and How I Used It

I won't prevaricate. When I got this planner, I wasn't intimidated. I was flat-out scared. I don't like things that require instructions. Instructions scare me. I don't consider myself a dumb person, but if something has directions with it, I hand it to my husband or one of my children. Now, you can tell me to research something - anything - and I'll do it - happily! Tell me to write a paper and I'm thrilled! Tell me to edit a paper and I'm all over it. Tell me to speak in public on almost any subject with no preparation and I'm fine. Just please don't make me deal with directions. We all have our things, right? Well, I'll make a confession: I didn't read the directions that accompany this planner. I am taking very seriously the homeschooling maxim that you take something and make it your own. I did try, but quickly realized that I just didn't want to devote that amount of time to planning. Instead, I dove right in and decided to use this creation as a hybrid planner/record book/journal. I didn't use the Bible Plan section, since I read the Catholic Church readings of the day found on the USCCB's website (which, I would hope it goes without saying, are all straight from the Bible). For prayers and outreach, I wrote about the things I wanted to focus on during the week, but again, used this section more as journaling than planning.

The weekly section offers six sections down the side and six across the top. Each block is divided into five lines. I used the blocks down the side for the three youngest kids (Therese is not doing school right now because of her illness), so each kid got two blocks. Subjects went across the top. I realize that this manner of utilizing the planner is a little unorthodox (and, actually, right now I have extra space using it this way), but within the next few weeks, the kids will be doing more diverse work within each subject than they are now and that extra space will come in really handy. If you have more kids than I do, you'll appreciate all this space. Even when Therese starts doing school again (very soon I hope), I won't be using this planner with her. Her curriculum has its own planning and scheduling system. 

Also, I realize that for many people, planning means actually writing down lesson numbers, etc., like "Easy Grammar p. 43-46," but this is one area of planning that has *always* tripped me up. Inevitably stuff happens and we get off track. Someone who shall remain nameless will have a meltdown, someone will get sick, I will get a headache, or whatever. Then, the planner has gone astray and my OCD goes nuts. I have learned the hard way just to write down the resource. You can see, though, that you do have plenty of room to write down as much as you want to!

Overall, this is an excellent planner. You can use as much or as little of it as you want to. You are sure to find a way to use it. I love that it easily doubles as a journal, since journaling is something that I have done less and less as I have gotten older and busier. It used to be something I reveled in. Because everyone uses planners in different ways, I really encourage you to read the other reviews written by the Crew. Just click the banner below.

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review of IEW's The Phonetic Zoo Level A

IEW Phonetic Zoo
I have been more than fortunate to review several products from Institute for Excellence in Writing. If you think that this company is simply the gold standard in writing programs, you are only partially right. They absolutely are that, but they are so much more! This time around we reviewed Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set]. This set includes the following products: five audio CDs, lesson cards with spelling words and jingles, personal spelling cards, zoo cards, downloadable teacher's guide, link to streaming video of Spelling and the Brain seminar. 

 IEW Phonetic Zoo

The best way to understand the Phonetic Zoo approach to spelling is to read about it on IEW's website. To summarize, this program is different from other spelling programs in many ways. First, the program is designed to work for different kinds of learners. Students hear the words pronounced on the audio CDs, they see the words written on the lesson cards, they write the words on their paper, and they associate them with the zoo animals on the jingle/reward cards. Second, there is no formal word study or busy work with Phonetic Zoo. There is no workbook with an activity to do each day, followed by a spelling test on Friday. Rather, you present the lesson to the students using the large flash card and give the student(s) the small flash card. SThen, students listen to the audio CD (headphones are recommended for reasons explained on the webpage linked above), hear the words pronounced, write them down, and then check them *and correct them* themselves (again, via the audio CD - it has a "checking track"). They repeat the above process daily until they make a 100 on the lesson twice in a row. There is also personal spelling and a final exam.

The Twins and Phonetic Zoo

I used Phonetic Zoo Level A with Mary-Catherine and Michael (both 10). Technically, it is for 3rd grade and up, and the twins are in 5th grade-ish. They are also completely different when it comes to spelling. Mary-Catherine is a pretty natural (but very lazy because she goes so fast) speller. Michael is dysgraphic and both writing and spelling don't come easily for him. He has come very far in the past few years, though. It wasn't that long ago, it feels like, that I couldn't even recognize what he was writing as words. It didn't matter that he read far above grade level; he just couldn't translate the words in his head onto paper. Because of that issue, we have tried numerous spelling programs. So many of them just seem pointless, though. He'll study and he'll try, and something just won't *stick*. He gets so frustrated. I was very excited to try Level A of Phonetic Zoo. We have Level B (Therese used it many moons ago), and while it was okay for Mary-Catherine, it frustrated Michael. The words were just a little too hard. I wanted to see what would happen if I started them both at the beginning of the program.

The good news is that they were already familiar with the Phonetic Zoo model and they both really liked it. Further, because they had already worked through part of Level B, Level A didn't seem daunting. We started on a Monday and I taught them the words as suggested by the IEW site (basically just showing them the card and going over the words). They then sat down to listen to the CD, write the words, and make their corrections. Neither twin got a 100 on their first effort, despite thinking that this was going to be easy because it was Level A. In fact, both were a bit dismayed. That's okay, though! There's always tomorrow with Phonetic Zoo. They both like the fact that they make their own corrections, and they both insist on having an actual "grade" on their paper, regardless of the fact that I tell them that the grade is not what's important - mastering the words is. 

One thing that is really awesome about this program is that the card sets are the same for all three levels, because each lesson in each level tests the same concept. So, there are three word lists on each card. What that means for us is that because I have two levels of Phonetic Zoo, each twin can look at his/her own large card to learn the words, and each twin can collect his/her own small zoo card as a reward. Now, you can still definitely use this program with multiple children and only have one set of cards, but if you plan on using it over time with multiple children, don't be put off by the fact that the card sets are always the same. That can definitely work to your advantage and make things easier (if you have kids who each like to have their own of something (and in my family that happens rarely enough that it is worthy of mention when it does.)). In essence, it just makes the program easier to use with multiple children, either of the same age/level or of different ones.

Michael and Mary-Catherine really like Phonetic Zoo. The fact that each spelling lesson is encapsulated by a catchy jingle really aids in remembering the concept being taught (although it's amazing to me how often, at the beginning of the time period during which they are learning the lesson, they seem to completely forget that there is a unifying theme and go maverick with the spelling). I, too, like the jingles (although spelling is, thankfully, not one of my infinite number of challenges). *I* love that Phonetic Zoo is essentially completely self-teaching. There is very little that I have to do, and as I have indicated in recent posts, that really appeals to me right now. I want to spend our homeschooling time talking to my kids about history and theology, not about spelling and phonics, but I definitely want them to be continuing their study of spelling and phonics. Once again, IEW comes through for me!

As usual, the Crew is reviewing more awesome IEW products, including some I have not even heard of yet but am very anxious to check out! Join me in doing so by clicking the banner below:

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Review of Koru Naturals

Koru Naturals Review

I've reviewed Koru Naturals before, and it has been one of those companies that my family has continued to absolutely love. Their Emu Oil has changed Therese's hair vastly for the better. If you want to see the before and after pictures of what it has done for her, read my last review for this great company. Imagine my delight, then, when I found out that Koru Naturals was coming back to the Crew! This time around, I got to try three new (to me) products: Skin Clear Cream, Manuka Honey Propolis Soap, and Argan Oil and Sandalwood Hair Tonic. All of Koru Naturals products are paraben, artificial colorant and fragrance-free.

 Koru Naturals Review

The Skin Clear Cream is composed primarily of Manuka Oil and Manuka Honey. It also contains Kawakawa and Harakeke (two traditional Maori remedies for skin conditions), Burdock Root, Thyme, and Canadian Aspen Bark. The Skin Clear Cream is designed to promote skin elasticity, and while it's designed for acne-prone skin, it's really great for all skin types. It is suggested that you use the cream twice daily as a day and night cream.

As someone with rosacea, I am cautious about any new thing I use on my skin, so it was with mild trepidation that I approached this cream. However, I have never had anything but stellar experiences with Koru Naturals, and this product was no exception. I am lucky to be someone who has always had really good (albeit, in the last five years, red) skin, so I didn't approach this cream as an acne solution. I just figured that I would swap it out for my regular night cream and see what I thought (I didn't use it in the morning because I always use something with a high SPF - the necessary precautions of someone with very fair skin. 

The cream comes in a very generous 4 oz. jar (a standard face cream is 1.7 oz.), and it comes with a plastic spatula. That's great news for people who don't like to put their fingers into their products for fear of bacterial contamination. The consistency is on the thinner, rather than the thicker, side, but it's not too thin. It's just right (shades of Goldilocks?). It absorbs easily and is greaseless. The only caution is the extremely sweet scent. If you are sensitive to fragrance in your products, this cream is probably not for you. As to performance, this acted as a great nighttime moisturizer. Because I don't have acne, I can't comment on that property, but it is a great price for a moisturizer with great ingredients, and for that I would probably repurchase it.

 Koru Naturals Review

The Honey and Propolis soap comes prettily packaged as you see above and is almost 5 oz. Although slightly smaller than many bath-size bars of soap you would typically buy at the store, this soap lasts a long time when used as a bath/shower soap. Even better, it is *ridiculously* moisturizing. My skin is very, very dry. When I towel off after a shower, that is evident. I am not willing to pay a lot for a soap or body wash that prevents the horrible drying effects of most soaps, and so I just deal with it. This soap, though, does not cause that drying. I am guessing it's the honey, but it is so moisturizing. Not only does it not feel drying as you're using it (as most soaps do for me), but the moisturized effect lasts through the day. 

I don't read reviews on websites prior to writing one of my own, but since writing this one, I was checking my links and happened to see a review for this soap that mentioned it was good for psoriasis. Nicholas (12) has that, so I'm anxious to see how the Honey and Propolis soap works for him. The conundrum, of course, is that that means that I have to share...but, hey! I know I'm going to be placing another order with Koru Naturals soon, so there you have it! If you suffer with dry skin, I would say that this soap is one you definitely want to try.

 Koru Naturals Review

Finally, I have been using the Argan Oil & Sandalwood Hair Tonic. Now, I am no stranger to Argan Oil. Like many followers of skincare/beauty trends, I have been using it on my face for awhile now. I had not, however, used it on my hair. My hair is, like the rest of my body, dry (thank you, Hashimotos!), though, so I am always happy to try something new to bring some moisture to it. Ironically, I had originally wanted this product for Therese's dry frizzy hair, but she is loyal to another Koru Naturals product (their Emu Oil), and she didn't even want to try it (when you have a Holy Grail product, you have a Holy Grail product!). 

This Hair Tonic says to use a few (as in 2-3) drops, and it is *not kidding* about that. The first time I used it, my hair was waist-length (I've since cut 4-5"), so I used about six drops. It was too many. My hair looked and felt a bit greasy. The problem with 2-3 drops is it is really hard to work that through as much hair as I have. So I changed my approach. Originally, I used this in place of the oil I normally use in my hair after I wash it. As I said, it didn't really work that way. Instead, after a couple of tries, I used it on my dry hair as more of a finishing oil (for smoothing and shining). I had better results this way, although I still had the problem of the right amount not being enough, but any more being too much. Having said that, the ingredients on this tonic are great. From the Koru Naturals website, they are as follows: Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Oil*, Santalum Spicatum (Australian Sandalwood) Oil*, Helichrysum (Helichrysum) Essential Oil*, Citrus Bergamia (Bergamot) Essential Oil, Citrus Paradisi (Pink Grapefruit) Essential Oil. *organic ingredient

For someone with shorter hair than mine, or for someone with different hair than mine, I think this will be a great fit. As for me, out of the six or so Koru Naturals products I've tried, it's the first that's not a great fit, so that's saying something!

Crew members reviewed other amazing products from this unique New Zealand company, so be sure to click the banner below to read all of their reviews. That's what I'll be doing as soon as I post this one!

Koru Naturals Review

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