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
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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
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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

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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

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