Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - School Funnies

Two completely unrelated school lessons written on the board today. One of the kids pointed out the hilarity of the juxtaposition to me. Sometimes I love homeschooling. Sometimes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review of Exploring Ephesus Review is a new company to me, but it has so many unusual products that I know I will be back for more. For now, though, I get to talk about Exploring Ephesus (a DVD currently priced at $11.99), a travelogue of sorts about an ancient and hugely historically important city. For Catholics, of course, Ephesus is the location of the House of the Virgin Mary, declared a pilgrimage site by Saint John Paul II in the 1980s. Additionally, it is traditionally taught that St. John wrote his Gospel here, and that Mary may have accompanied him, preferring the more solitary life offered by Ephesus. For the majority of Christians (and for Catholics, too, of course!), Ephesus is most well-known as the site of one of the first and most important Christian communities (established by St. John, but developed by St. Paul). While in prison in Rome, St. Paul wrote one of his epistles to the church at Ephesus (N.B., I know that there is debate about whether the letter to the Ephesians was actually written to the church at Ephesus, but that discussion certainly goes beyond the scope of this review!). Review

In Exploring Ephesus, two scholars, Drs. Mark Wilson and Andy Jackson, hop in a convertible and road trip around Turkey. I don't mean to make light of the content of this DVD, because the genius of the presentation is its informal style. In a world of 24/7 Nat Geo and History Channel, FishFlix is facing some serious competition is terms of bringing an ancient city to a modern public, but they have found the perfect means of doing so. Taking two old friends and having them visit sites they know personally and academically and just talk about them with each other is inspired. You feel like you're in the backseat, along on a field trip for a college or grad school class on Biblical history. It's awesome (and it blows the cable channel shows out of the water). 

The most surprising thing about this video is its length. For being only 60 minutes long, you see so much! From the Temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) to the Roman Aqueduct (Ephesus *was* the second largest city in the Roman Empire!), from the Great Theater of Ephesus to the Island of Patmos (and, thanks to Honors at the University of St. Thomas, I will forever have Charles le Brun's painting "St. John on the Island of Patmos" in my mind when I think of that island!), you get to see absolutely everything. There is some feeling of unreality since there are definitely modern features in these decidedly ancient places, but you still get a real feel for what Ephesus must have been like when it was a crucial part of the spread of Christianity. 

The bonus features include commentary on Ephesians and on the seven churches of Asia Minor (including Smyrna and Laodicea), plus lessons we can learn today.

I watched this DVD with all of my children, and we all loved it. This topic and style of presentation is up everyone's (13, 11, 10, 10) alley! We focus heavily on Church history in our homeschool, probably for two reasons: first, I was raised by a father with a strong interest in the subject and second, I was fortunate enough to go to a wonderful Catholic university where I had the opportunity to take many classes (enough to add up to a minor in theology) in Church doctrine and Church history. I always try to tell the kids the background of a book of the Bible when we begin to read or study it. We also discuss the language of origin that the book was written in in order best to understand the modern translation. Being able to actually see one of the most significant places for the development and spread of Christianity takes the way we approach Bible study to a whole new level. 

Exploring Ephesus is only one of the unique and amazing DVDs that has to offer, and the Crew was fortunate enough to be able to review several of them. Be sure to click the banner below to read all of their reviews! Review
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Book Haul - Mostly Wordless Wednesday

My very favorite secondhand bookstore is closing (I can't blame it - heaven knows that I spend enough on ebooks), and all of their used books are 50% off (so, 25% of cover price). Additionally, I am trying to work down the hundreds of dollars of credit I have left. Now, my kids are the ones who made out like bandits a couple of days ago, but I did scoop up some horror (and a Joe Abercrombie). I have several of these books on my Kindle already, but I can't resist the heft of a really long book in my hand! (totally OT: Neal Stephenson's new book is $16.99 on Kindle. I.Just.Can't.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

So I Was Looking for Some Inspiration on Pinterest...

...and I made the mistake of searching "parenting."

Lately I feel that I have been disappointing my children a lot. I'll give myself enough credit to add that they probably would not agree with that statement, but there you go. I am pretty critical. Of everyone, but most especially of myself. I guess I was looking for one of those parenting memes that would make me feel better. One of the ones that would make me laugh and realize that everyone has been there and that it will all get better. Instead, I somehow zeroed in on the picture that took me to this article. I hate even linking it, because I really don't want to give it any more reads than I have to. Let me just quote one line:

"Let us be humble enough as parents to admit it is our fault if our kids scream, disobey or throw a tantrum. It is our fault because they have gotten away with those actions one too many times."

Um, no, Mrs. Mother of Six Pint-Sized Treasures, it is not our fault. I call bull**** on you. I am so delighted for you that you have perfect children. That must be ah-mazing for you. I wouldn't know anything about it. My children are human. They are fallible. Everyone knows about my Nicholas (ADHD, OCD, Tourette's). He's a challenge. His darling meltdowns are *not* my fault. Oh, and your crack about over medicated children later down in your article...yeah, I got your dig. Thanks to medication, my son is enjoying life more in the last few months (and yes - our family is enjoying life more in the last few months) than he has in years.

Let's talk very briefly about Therese. She's 13 now. When she was about 2, we were in line at the grocery store and she saw something she wanted. I think it was princess stickers. I had never once bought Therese anything while in line at the grocery store (ironically, it's something I do all the time now - you want gum? Sure, why not?). Still, she saw the stickers and wanted them. I told her no and thought nothing of it. She had never once thrown a tantrum. Anyone who knew her will tell you that she was a preternaturally good child. For some reason on this day, though, the fates aligned and she threw a grand mal tantrum. I was so surprised that I laughed. And I kept laughing. People must have thought I was crazy, but I told them, "She never does this!" I just told her, "No," and then ignored her. Again, that tantrum was not my fault, and it did not happen because I had given in one too many times.

I have such a big problem with articles like this that make vast generalizations and seem designed to make people feel like bad parents. Some people are bad parents. The rest of us do the best we can with what we have. When we know better, we do better. I guess that's what I have to remind myself of constantly. I would implore you not to read garbage like this, but if you do, respond the same way I responded to Therese's once-upon-a-time tantrum: laugh. Treat parenting that way in general. Laugh early and laugh often. It's what your kids need more than anything, and you'll all benefit so much from the experience!

Saturday, May 2, 2015


So what's a CCO? It stands for Cosmetic Company Outlet. Such things exist, you ask? Oh, yes, my friend...they do. And if you live in Houston, count yourself lucky, because the Cypress Outlet Stores are SWIMMING in them! For my purposes, though, there are only two that obsess interest me. One has Estee Lauder brands (yes, that would be all that's awesome in the world of makeup - Clinique, MAC, Bobbi Brown, Smashbox, and more) and one has Lancome (including YSL, Urban Decay, and a few more, include many fragrances).

Why shop at a CCO? Two major reasons - bargains (about 33% off on average) and LE finds like you wouldn't believe! The best case scenario is finding those Limited Editions that have long sold out elsewhere - for 33% off, of course! Just for example, on a recent trip, I picked up the Golden bronzer from the MAC Alluring Aquatics collection for around $20. It was originally $27.50. Yes, it's a permanent product, but that packaging! It's currently on EvilBay for anywhere from $45-$60. I also recently picked up a bunch of MAC lipsticks for $11.25 (they retail for $16). All of them were from past LE collections - one of them going back to a 2010 collection.

CCOs also stock merchandise that you can get at a regular cosmetics counter. In fact, I was just about out of my Estee Lauder Double Wear Foundation, but checked the CCO stock on a whim. You're just never sure what they'll have. Sure enough, they had my color (2C3 - Fresco)! So I got to pay $26 instead of $37. Color me happy!

One of the neat features about a CCO is that you can get past bonuses from department store promos. So, say that Clinique had a bonus that you really liked. It's possible that the CCO will have a bin of them for sale for, say, $16. You can get the cute makeup bag and the travel size products without the minimum Clinique purchase.

Now, not everything at the CCO is a great deal. At Lancome's CCO, the fragrances are about 25% off department store prices. Yes, that's a good deal, but I often feel that with various incentives (points at Sephora and Ulta, freebies at department stores, etc.), you're probably better off getting your fragrances elsewhere. Also, my CCO has a few YSL lipsticks, but they are still $30. Given that they retail for $36, that's just not enough of a discount to beat the incentives above. (Plus, if I'm going to pay that much for a lipstick, you'd better believe it's going to be a NARS Audacious lipstick!)

I'll close this post with one last awesome CCO find I had last week. I had previously purchased Urban Decay's Ocho Loco 2 set of their 24/7 Glide-On Eyeliners for $39 when it was on clearance at Macy's, but it has long been sold out everywhere. It's original offering price of $59 made it a steal.

Image Credit: Temptalia

Considering that Urban Decay's awesome eyeliners retail for $20 each, and that the equally awesome Grindhouse pencil sharpener retails for $10 (I know that sounds ridiculous, but if you have ever had a pencil sharpener eat your expensive eyeliner, you will sincerely appreciate this sharpener!), this set is a super good deal at just about any price. Well, last week I found it at the CCO for $50. Yes, it's more than I paid for it originally, but it's still a wonderful deal. I was so glad to find it again. I have been holding back on using some of these eyeliners because I didn't want to use them up -- and now I don't have to! (I also gave one to my sister, and I'm kind of glad to have it back!)

Of course, one of the best things about the CCO is that you never know what's going to be there! It's so fun to walk in the front door not knowing what you're going to find. For me, it's all about the MAC. If you ever go to the ones here in Houston, let me know what you get!

Review of A+ Interactive Math

A+ Interactive Math Review

A+ Interactive Math has two different, but completely complementary, programs to choose from online. We reviewed the Adaptive Placement Test and Individualized Lesson Plan. I don't usually start with the best stuff at the beginning of the review, but because A+ Interactive Math is having a HUGE sale 5/4/15-5/18/15 (40-50% off), I'm going to lead off by saying that my younger kids really love this math program. We have used their CDs in years passed (the CDs are nearly identical to the online program), and my kids were THRILLED to find out that we could use A+ Interactive Math again. 

A+ Interactive Math Review

So what is so wonderful about this program? Well, the idea that you can take subject-specific tests (it's all math, obviously, but I mean money, time, number sense, multiplication, etc.) and see if you are on or below grade level in that area, and then have the program direct the lesson plans more specifically toward your weaknesses is a really great idea!

Here's how it works:

When you buy the 3 month subscription to the Adaptive Placement Test, you end up with a dashboard that looks like this (Mary-Catherine's is for 4th grade):

Your first step is to take the placement tests to see if you are working at grade level in the various subject areas.

Obviously, Mary-Catherine (10) has a wee bitty problem with multiplication, as in it's the bane of her existence. It doesn't matter how many times she learns it - when faced with a "test," It flies right out of her brain. That's okay. We have time before the SAT. So, without her knowledge, I present to you what it looks like when you do not score at or above grade level on a subject area test:

Because she scored so low, A+ Interactive Math has created her individualized lesson plan to include the entire 4th grade multiplication curriculum:

Fortunately, if you refer back to some of her other tests, you can see that she is working at grade level. When she finishes a test and demonstrates proficiency, this is the message she receives:

Right now, then, Mary-Catherine's individualized lesson plan consists of doing the section on multiplication. Mary-Catherine completed A+ Interactive's 3rd grade math CD and is still really enjoying them for finding the holes in her 4th grade math. Because we have their 5th grade math CD (love those sales!), we will continue to use this program for both the twins.

Therese (13) has some observations about the Adaptive Placement Test approach of A+ Interactive Math. She is in Algebra, so she was interested to see what her holes are vis-a-vis Pre-Algebra (I would have hoped for none, but oh, well!). Her placement test screen looks like this:

Based on her placement tests, the following lesson plan was created for her.

When expanded, the exponents part of her lesson plan looks like this:

This graphic illustrates Therese's first concern with the program: even though she understands most of the concepts revolving around exponents, the "individualized" lesson plan starts her at the beginning of the exponent lesson. Thus, she is required to "learn" the parts of exponents that she demonstrated knowledge of in the placement test (I, of course, pointed out to her that she could just skip those sections of the lesson, but she wanted me to point out in the review that the lesson plan is not truly individualized if it doesn't account for what one has already demonstrated proficiency in).

Further, Therese told me that although one can retake the placement tests as necessary, the questions do not change. Hence, she could technically have just written down the answers (a, c, b, d, etc.) and then "passed" the test. She would not have done so since it would have been completely self-defeating, but she did tell me that she had to let time pass between attempts because she remembered the correct answers and needed time to forget them. 

In terms of the lessons themselves, you are not required to watch them before doing the "Interactive Q&A," or the quiz at the end of the lesson. So, if you feel you know the material well enough, you can skip the lesson and go straight to the quiz. All of my kids complain about the fact that you can't select an answer to the quiz question before all of the answers have popped up on the screen. 

So, essentially, my kids fall into two camps. My twins (10) who have used it before really like it and are going to use it for 5th grade math. They used the 3rd grade CD and enjoyed it, but have been using something else (well, various things) for 4th grade. Mary-Catherine was excited to see her 4th grade holes using the Adaptive Placement Test, and plans to complete her individualized lesson plans before moving on to the 5th grade CD, which we already own. 

Therese was initially very excited about the idea of the Adaptive Placement Tests and Individualized Lesson Plans, but for the reasons explained above, her excitement waned. That's actually fine, since A+ Interactive Math only goes through Algebra I and there is no level appropriate for Therese anyway!

While we reviewed the Adaptive Placement Test and Individualized Lesson Plan, A+ Interactive Math also offers their Family Math Package, with options ranging from 1 to 10 student subscriptions. If you are looking for an online math program, A+ Interactive has something for you!

In fact, A+ Interactive Math has many freebies on their site for your to explore so that you can find out for yourself if it is a good match for you:

Free Math Placement Test:

Free Family Math Packages:

Other Freebies people love are:

Free Software Download:

Free Single Grade Level:

Free eBook:

As always, there are many other (99) reviews for you to read on the Crew blog, so click the banner below so you don't miss any of the details!

A+ Interactive Math Review

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