Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wordless Wednesday - Shopping in my Garage

What I can find just by going and digging around in my garage for a couple of minutes:

From l-r: An old copy of National Velvet, 3 back issues of puzzle magazines (three of about 300 that are in my garage - no hyperbole), a Geography coloring book, a white binder and a spiral notebook (from my bin of school supplies)

Review of CrossTimber

Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews
If you're still wondering what to get that special someone in your life, wonder no more because CrossTimber has the perfect gifts. What is that one thing that is truly special and unique to everyone? Their name. Now, most people have some idea of what their names mean, but I promise that a CrossTimber gift will tell you more about your name than you currently know. CrossTimber offered the Crew a Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse, but allowed us to apply the cost of that plaque to another gift (and had us pay the difference). If you click on their website, you'll see how tempting that offer was! 

Now, the Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse is beautiful, so if you're not sure what you want, it's a great place to start. It includes a name origin, a "Life Meaning," and a relevant Bible Verse - in fact, it includes everything on it that the front of the gift I chose does, so read on to see how I decided to take CrossTimber's gift to the Crew up a notch!
Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews
I was like a kid in a candy store, but I finally selected a Name Meaning Music Box as a Christmas gift for my mother-in-law. Each music box contains a name and meaning, but it also contains so much more! On the front of the box, in full color, the music box has the name, name meaning, cultural, historical, or linguistic meaning of the name, a "Life Meaning" (or how the name meaning can be applied spiritually or Biblically), and a relevant Bible verse. The music box is 6.5" x 8.5" x 3" (including the feet on the bottom of the box). When you open the music box, you can see the music box movements on the right side of the box. It's a beautiful touch!

The ordering process for the music box was so easy. Everything is very well laid out on the website. There are over 200 options for the primary design, with another set of options for the tune your music box will play when it is wound (my mother-in-law's plays "How Great Thou Art"). You can add extras such as a printed verse or greeting on the inside of the music box, too.

Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews

It was easy for me to choose a music box for my mother-in-law because it was the perfect size to hold either the jewelry that she wears every day and places on her mantle at night or her Rosary beads. I can easily see her using this beautiful keepsake for either. However, I plan to return to CrossTimber before Christmas to shop both for myself and for others (I just wish my name weren't quite so pedestrian! Even so, I know that John and Katie at CrossTimber will dress it up a little!).

Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews
I have been eyeing the coffee mugs for Henry and me (and maybe even for my Dad - for years we kids gave him coffee cups for holidays). Note in the graphic above that CrossTimber is offering a discount for multiple purchases made at the same time! Regardless of what I eventually choose, I look forward to interacting with John via email again. He is such a great guy to communicate with. It's obvious that he has a passion both for his business and for his customers. It makes me want to support his business!

This is one time when you will definitely want to click the banner below to read all of the reviews. Crew members ordered all kinds of goodies from CrossTimber that you're going to want to get a closer look at!
Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews
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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review of Middlebury Interactive Languages

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}

Because Therese (15) is in high school now, I am well aware of the need to be filling out a transcript and crossing those "t's" and dotting those "i's." She has had some Spanish and some Latin, but she has not yet had what I can actually put down as an actual course, so I was thrilled to be able to review Middlebury Interactive Languages' Spanish High School Year I
Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
This is what each Middlebury Spanish I unit includes:

*Start the unit learning a new set of vocabulary words
*Type what is dictated to you
*Match vocabulary words to the corresponding pictures
*Watch videos about certain aspects of the culture
*Read a passage in Spanish and answer questions about it
*Watch videos concerning grammar
*Record yourself repeating phrases on the screen
*Take quizzes at the end of the unit

Each unit is supposed to take around 2-3 days to complete. It takes Therese 2.5-3 hours to complete one (she's a binge worker - she prefers to do multiple "days" of work at a time rather than doing Spanish each day). Working at her own pace in this manner, she has reached Unit 6.
As you can see from the following screenshots, the style of the course is colorful and engaging without being distracting.

Because Therese is the one actually using this program, I decided it was far more expeditious just to let her summarize her own thoughts: 
"I really love the organization and formatting of this program. It has a perfect blend of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation practice. There is a nice variety in the types of exercises that must be completed. They have very interesting videos concerning different aspects of Spanish culture. The content itself is amazing. However, the website has multiple problems. For instance, sometimes it will only let me click on one of the possible answer choices. The correct answer will be "true," but it will only let me select "false." Of course, this is very frustrating. Also, one time it wouldn't let me click on anything located in the lower right half of the screen."
From seeing how Therese works with Middlebury, I can tell that she really likes it. To confirm her complaint above, she has mentioned a couple of times that there are technical issues with the program, but it really hasn't made her not want to do Spanish. She just tells me that she knew the correct answer but couldn't select it, and that's that.
For my part, I love how easy Middlebury is for me! I don't have to do anything. Therese logs in, does the work, and in the process gets a nice does of Spanish culture. At the end of the program, she will have a year of Spanish for me to put on her transcript! What's not to love? Middlebury has many languages and levels and other Crew families have been testing them out, so be sure to click the banner below to read about their experiences!
Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
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Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Importance of Connections

I wrote a week ago about losing faith in people, and then the next day had a wonderful experience in Half Price. The kids were spread out all over the store (typical). One thing I never stint on is books. Now, I'm not going to buy new hardbacks (or even used ones if they are not pretty cheap), but I pretty generally buy what they want me to. Yes, the library is awesome, but I know just from being myself how important it is to own books. I like having them around me. There are stacks of books around my bathtub. There are stacks upon stacks of books around my bed. My schoolroom - let's not even get started. The doors of my study are closed for a reason. There is something about having the books, especially when you are an re-reader like all of us are. /justification

In any case, the nicest old guy in Half Price saw me with an armload of books and asked if I read Clive Cussler. I told him I hadn't lately, but that I had a lot in high school (Raise the Titanic! anyone?). He told me that he had always passed on him before thanks to the ridiculous covers, but that audio books changed how he approached books, and that one of Cussler's really good ones was available for $3. He led me to it, pulled it off the shelf and handed it to me. Score! I'll take it. He asked me if I had read Devil in a Blue Dress. Yes, super nice older black gentleman, this white chick loves Walter Mosley! We talked books and authors for a few more minutes and then the kids came up. He started throwing out kids' books. He talked about a sad one with dogs named Ann and Dan. Where the Red Fern Grows! I throw back Steinbeck's The Red Pony. And then my nice friend had to go. He temporarily restored my faith in humanity. Then again, he was my father's generation. It was like talking books with my Dad...

Speaking of books. I just read A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in the Trash. I rarely pay full price for any book. I'm all about Kindle Unlimited (search my blog for my previous posts on that gem), Half Price, Daily Deals, garage sales, and any other cheaper alternative to new books. When I read the review of this one a few weeks ago, though, I couldn't help myself. I pre-ordered it. I am a diarist at heart (with running commentary in my head all day every day), even though I stopped being faithful to the paper about a decade ago - something I am remedying as of last week) and I love reading books based on letters and diaries. Maybe I'm a voyeur. In any case, I loved this book. To say anything else would be to spoil it. I am so happy that I got it on Kindle so I couldn't do what I always do and cheat and flip to the back to find out the ending (well, okay, I could have, but it wasn't easy enough to justify it). It was like reading a book with an unreliable narrator. I recommend it.

Why the title of the blog? Because my dad sent me a disturbing email about the cycle of civilizations that depressed me, even as it didn't tell me anything new. He emphasized to me that in these times, personal connections are what is important. He gave me an example of a relationship he has developed with a 30-something year-old man whose mother is one of his clients (my dad runs a St. Vincent de Paul pantry). I understand what he means. I made a connection with the book man. I have a connection with someone I met later in life - a connection that was pretty instantaneous as mentor/mentee, but through circumstance has been allowed to metamorphose into something deeper. There are a few women in my later years with whom I have made (surprising) connections, too. Life really is about the one-on-ones.

I have a couple of random things floating around in my brain, but they are so unrelated that they must wait. Have a good week and try to connect with someone.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Review of Educeri

Educeri Lesson Subscription Service Reviews

I have often said that you could homeschool using only online resources, and Educeri...Educeri a division of DataWORKS' Educeri Lesson Subscription Service is a prime example (did you catch that the name is Educeri?!). Educeri has over 1,000 ready to teach lessons from K-12 in the subject areas of math, science, English/language arts, history, art, PE, music, Spanish, and English Language Development. You can search for lessons by subject area or by grade (K-8, Middle School - Science, High School, English Language Development). As of this writing, there are actually 1,102 lessons, and they are added at the rate of about three per week.
Educeri Lesson Subscription Service Reviews

There are many different ways to use Educeri, so I'm going to show you how I used one lesson with the twins (11). Calculating a tip is an essential skill in today's world, but I get so irritated when I see how many people can't do it! It is frustrating to tell the girl at the front of the salon that I want to leave a 20% tip only to see her look frantically for the calculator. N.B., I'm not of the school that we don't need to teach our kids skills like this because they can just figure it out on their phones...

Anyway, Educeri has a great lesson on how to figure tips. It's categorized under 6th grade math. Perfect! Educeri's lessons are done as slides. Imagine Power Point presentations and you get the idea. Many also come with a pdf handout for students.

Notice that this slide tells you exactly what to say to your student to teach them about how to calculate a tip. 

Each of the succeeding slides pops in one more digit, so I didn't reproduce them all here, but you click through them Power Point style.

After percent of a quantity is established, the idea of a tip is introduced.

And guided practice is presented.

Again, each slide is clicked through, Power Point style, until each blank is filled in, but I didn't reproduce each slide here.

After the concept is introduced and explained, several slides of Independent Practice and Periodic Review are given. In the lower left corner of the slide, you can see a menu showing you the content of the lesson at a glance.

Some of my favorite resources, though, are the high school English ones. For example, the one on theme is great. Here are just a few of the slides (this one I had Therese - 15 - go through by herself):

Isn't it amazing how much can be taught without a "real teacher"? Even without a virtual one? For kids who don't like video lectures, but who do like independent learning, this is one program you really might want to consider. It's only $7.99/month.

Because parents with kids of all ages have been using Educeri for the last six weeks, definitely click on the banner below to see what their experiences have been. As for me, I feel like I have only begun to scratch the surface. I'm going to keep exploring it!

Educeri Lesson Subscription Service

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Losing Faith

I feel like I've lost a lot of faith in the last few years - not my faith in Jesus fact, that's the only thing that keeps me going most of the time! No, I feel like I'm losing faith in my fellow man. I look around and I wonder what the hell is going on with people. I just don't understand what motivates them. I'll go ahead and blame Facebook - why not? No, not really, but I'll confess that I have been dismayed, to say the slightest, by the number of my "friends," people I've known in real life, who have, in the past eight years, unfriended me, called me names (homophobe, hater, etc.), and such. These are people who know me (or at least who once knew me)! I have two favorite examples. First is someone I met when I was in 7th grade (around 1987). I'll confess our friendship started with my crush on him (he was an older man - an 8th grader). Many people made fun of him, called him gay (the chic insult of the 80s), etc. I didn't care. I liked him. He was funny and kind. We became very good friends. We dated briefly in high school. It didn't take FB for us to reconnect - we talked on and off over email through our adult lives. I ran into his wife and him at the grocery store once. Now, there were a few years in there where we didn't talk and it was FB where I saw him next. When we became "friends," he wrote me a long email telling me that he was divorced and that he was gay. Did I care? Not that he was gay (divorce always saddens me). We were friends. We had more than 25 years of history between us. That was such a small part of our friendship (for me). I continued being the same me I had always been. Of course, that included posting Catholic posts on FB. Catholic posts included anything against redefining marriage. Turns out that meant that this person and I couldn't be friends anymore. Turns out I was a hater. And a homophobe (because gay people are *scary* don't you know). Turns out that the fact that once upon a time people called my friend gay and he cried and I comforted him and told him, "Screw them. It doesn't matter what they think. You're awesome" didn't matter. I meant it when I said that. I didn't care then if he was gay and I didn't care now. Why? Didn't impact me one damn bit. I prayed for him, but guess what? I prayed for him when I was 13, too. How many of his friends now pray for him? Well, doesn't matter. So many times I want to ask him something, but I can't. We're not friends anymore, you see.

Second best story: when I first started homeschooling, I met someone who was just in the process of being chrismated in the Ruthenian church. She had been Roman Catholic, but she was going Eastern Rite. That resonated with me on many levels, not the least of which was my favorite uncle is a Ruthenian Catholic. I have been to their Divine Liturgy and I love it. Plus, this woman was cool. She was the me I am on the inside. She wore combat boots (which I have started wearing again - too bad they are actually "in" right now. Oh, well. They'll go out again.). She had a past that included writers and NYC and tattoos she wore long sleeves to cover all the time. She got me in ways no woman has ever gotten me. I couldn't believe I had a female friendship like this! Michael actually received his first Communion at her church (hazards of taking young children to an Eastern Rite Liturgy without adequately preparing them or the priest!). Well, it turns out that some things are too good to be true. When someone goes from Protestant to atheist to Buddhist to Roman Catholic to Eastern Catholic, they may be on a search, or they may just be confused. She stopped going to Liturgy altogether when she found out about a sex scandal in her church. Life got busy and I didn't see this woman for awhile. She was on and off FB. I could tell by the things she was posting that she wasn't faithful to the teachings of the Catholic church on sex and gender issues (I have no idea if she is still religious at all), but I didn't give it much thought. Well, when the whole bathroom issue was in its infancy (just a state issue in CA), I posted a story about it and she came unglued at me on FB over my insensitivity to children and their identification issues, etc. Again, this woman *knew* me. At least I thought she did. I tried to respond, mostly because I was so incredulous that she was coming at me this way, but I couldn't. We weren't friends anymore.

For the record. Again. I don't hate gay people. There are actually gay people I have loved very much. Any random gay person I am just as likely to like or dislike as much as I like or dislike anyone else. I am also not scared of gay people. I am a little scared of anyone who advertises their sex life. I'm a pretty private person. I also don't want children to be punished in any way, shape, or form because of who they are. Now, their parents should be strung up by their toenails for doing what they do to their children, whether out of some kind of motive or just because they are ignorant. Confused children need a good therapist and, most importantly, time. They need adults to be adults.

So, yeah. I've been losing faith. And, truthfully, I don't know how anyone can do it (life) without God. I wouldn't be able to. I'd be terrified if I thought we had to endure all of this without something else up there/out there, or whatever. Without God. Without salvation through Jesus. Because I've had this conversation before, I know the answer. Atheists, it turns out, are just stronger than I am - true story. Maybe that's true.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Do You Ever...

...have so much to say that you feel you can't or are not allowed to say that you really feel you can't say anything? That's where I am. There are so many things going through my mind, but I keep censoring myself, thinking "You can't say that. X might read it and think it's about her." And, well, maybe it is, but it should still be said. I am feeling such frustration! I saw some ugly things this week. Someone I care about a lot was thrown under the bus and then run over by that bus by someone who cares about him a lot more in a very public setting. I couldn't say much because of the circumstances, but it hurt to watch.

The rest of the week similarly stunk. I know I should be thanking God for these opportunities to offer things up to him, and I do, but I also get angry. I feel impotent.

Monday, October 10, 2016

MyFreezEasy Review Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
When school starts every year, I resolve anew to cook healthy meals for my family and not to fall into the cereal or Taco Bell traps. I had been doing better at the start of this year, but thanks to MyFreezEasy and the Freezer Meal Plan Membership, I no longer have nor need any excuses not to have a great dinner each and every night. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
I have done freezer cooking before and my family really loved it, but I had just been dabbling with Pinterest recipes. This time it was incredibly easy. Thanks to MyFreezEasy's Premium Annual Membership, I had so many awesome (and incredibly quick and easy) recipes to choose from (with everything laid out for me) that it was almost nothing to store seven different dinners in the freezer.
Here's how it works. With the Premium membership, you get all of these different meal plans: Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
There are many ways you can go about taking advantage of the awesomeness that is MyFreezEasy, but the easiest way is probably to choose one of the meal plans in total and make it from start to finish. Naturally, that's not what I did. I chose the option of selecting exactly the meals I wanted to make and changing the serving sizes from 4 to 8 (for my family of 6, which includes 2 teens and 2 tweens). I love that there is this feature! If, however, a certain meat is on sale, definitely take advantage of that and choose either the ground beef or pork chops or whichever!

As it happened, the meals I chose were all for chicken, with the exception of one that was for pork roast. Once you have selected your recipes (by dragging and dropping), you are presented with a PDF that allows you to do everything you need in order to shop for and make your recipes. You can choose a shopping list that is arranged by recipe or by store section. By store section makes the most sense to me:

Because I had actually combined two shopping lists, I just wrote in the extra things I needed onto my major list. After all the shopping was done, it was a matter of putting it all together. MyFreezEasy makes it extremely easy to make a bunch of meals all at once.

After you are told what to chop, peel, and dice, you are told exactly how to assemble each meal for the freezer.

There are actual "recipes" that are separate. They tell you how to prepare the recipes so that you can prepare one to eat tonight and one to freeze for later. That's how we ate the first night.

I completely meant to take a picture of the finished product (this was a sweet potato and chicken curry), but I forgot! It smelled so good that it was gone long before I remembered about the picture!

After a grocery shopping trip and a couple of hours of food prep (yes, it's supposed to take less time - maybe I'm really slow?), I had the following to show for my efforts:

What Do I Think?

I am *really* happy with MyFreezEasy. The meals are completely ones that I would make anyway. It's plain and simple food that uses plain and simple ingredients that I always buy and have on hand (colored peppers, coconut milk, pork roast, pineapple, sweet potatoes). Several of the meals are very slight variations on things I already make. What this program does is make it very easy to prepare a bunch of meals in advance and freeze them, which is something I always want to do, but never get around to. This subscription makes it painless. While I will never just make the stock list of meals, the ability to drag and drop the exact recipes I want is wonderful. I can choose the exact mix of crock pot (around 80%) to one-dish meals, chicken (around 80%) to ground beef (10%) to pork (10%). I have all the control.

I have one criticism. There is no way that all of the ingredients will fit into one-gallon bags. In several cases I barely fit all of the non-proteins into the bags, which was fine with me. I buy chicken breasts, frozen, in large quantities and plan just to add it to the ingredients on the day I cook the meals, so it's no problem. Still, the idea that I could fit any more into some of those bags is just ludicrous. If that's my only complaint, though, it's a minor one! Overall, I love this subscription and I plan to keep adding to my store of freezer meals. It will help alleviate my guilt when tournament season starts. It has made me practically giddy all day today as I sit here and work with a migraine knowing that dinner is done. The family won't have to either order pizza or scrounge when I emerge from a late afternoon nap with an even worse headache or a migraine medicine hangover (depending on which course of action I decide to take). If you are a chronic pain sufferer, this subscription could be one of your new best friends.

I'll leave you with one tip. Buy enough carrot/potato peelers for each of your kids to have one. Everything will go MUCH faster! To see all of the delicious things other Crew families have been cooking, click the banner below! Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Review of Everyday Education

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}
This is not the first time I have used Everyday Education, LLC in my homeschool. Janice Campbell's literature guides are near and dear to my heart. I have to confess, though, that the Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers (high school into college) was a completely new product to me! What a serendipitous surprise! 

This 417 page ebook covers so many topics, everything from basic grammar to formatting formal papers. Honestly, when I saw how comprehensive the TOC was, my heart kind of skipped a beat. When I saw *this* in the contents, though, it flat-out stopped for a minute.

Parallel structure is the drum I beat more than any other! It is also the one to which I wonder if anyone is ever listening. I am so glad to see that someone, somewhere still wants to see it taught. I think that so many times someone is reading through something they have written and they can't quite figure out why it doesn't sound right. At least half the time that I am asked to review it (yes, people ask me to review their writing on a semi-regular basis), it's a parallel structure error.

Forgive my initial digression, but looking at the Table of Contents is the first thing I do whenever I get any new book, fiction or non-fiction. It was the TOC that immediately convinced me that this book was going to be one of my new best friends. This book doesn't just cover parallel structure, though. It covers everything. It begins with teaching a student how to set up an argument and construct a thesis (again, something which seems to be overlooked in some writing programs - why? Being able to articulate a thesis is at the heart of formal writing!), and then moves into organization and paragraph structure. It won my heart all over again with its discussion of transitions. Transitions. There's a concept, right? How many times have you read something either your student or someone else has written and thought, "Oh, wow. I guess we've moved on to point two/paragraph two/etc." A finely nuanced transition is a beautiful creature.

Mr. Johnston and Mrs. Campbell then spend a fair amount of time discussing how to write about literary works. Analyzing literary works is something that most students will begin in high school (hopefully!), but that few will be able to avoid in college. I was lucky enough to begin this activity in elementary school through a wonderful G/T program. My father taught me the fine arts of both writing and literary analysis at our kitchen table over the course of many, many nights. He would read what I had written, mark it up, explain the errors (parallel structure!), ask me to dig deeper (what did it symbolize when the wolves howled in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase?), and slowly but surely he (in conjunction with some amazing teachers) did two things: he created a writer and he created someone who loved literature and was able to analyze it effectively (in fact, just the other day someone asked me if my PhD was in literature. He said, "I just wondered because of the way you write emails." When your email writing skills are complimented, you know you have a love affair with the English language!).

Do I have a point here? Yes. This Handbook for Writers does everything that I was taught, and I have never found anything yet that does everything the way I was taught. I credit the fact that I can write well for my not having had to pay for school. Anything. All the way through a PhD. My father always told me that if you can write well, you can write your own ticket. He was right. You can be the most brilliant person around, but if you can't express your thoughts coherently and cohesively, it won't matter. No one will pay attention. You have to be able to corral your ideas into a concise thesis statement, whether you're applying for a scholarship or bringing an idea to your boss, and you have to be able to defend your points with evidence (hello, literary analysis - that skill *does* teach you something!). *This* handbook teaches you how to do everything you need to do to become an effective writer. It even has grammar lessons interspersed in case you missed that the first time around. 

I believe in this book so much that I am going to begin using it with my sixth graders, along with my eighth grader. There is absolutely no reason to wait until high school (but definitely do still get it if you have a high school or college student - did I mention that Ian Johnston is a retired college professor? The man knows what he's talking about when he tells you how to write a paper! If I'm not mistaken, he also translated The Iliad, but I'll save my classical fangirling for another post!). The sooner you learn to write properly and well, the sooner it will simply become a habit. If you wait, you will have to break old (and bad) habits. It can (and should - and must!) be done, but how much easier it is to avoid the creation of such habits in the first place. 

I really can't encourage the purchase of this book enough. It's more readable than Strunk and White. It's far more useful than A Pocket Style Manual. If there's a writing handbook, I own it. There is only one that I plan to hand to my children, though. It's this one. 

Everyday Education provided the Crew with several different products to review, so be sure to click the banner below to read all about their experiences!

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}
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