Thursday, October 30, 2014

A TOS Review: Jim Hodges Productions {When London Burned}

Audio books are some of my favorite things on earth. I have used them myself for years. Cleaning house seems to go quickly when I have something intriguing to listen to. Music works for some people. I wind up bee-bopping instead of cleaning. True story. 

We do a lot of listening in the car, as well. Josiah and I spend a lot of time in the car going to swim team practice, PE classes and our weekly reading club.  I love that we can get to where we are going while listening to some enriching. 

I am always thrilled to add to my collection of Audio Books. This time around I had the opportunity to review When London Burned by G.A. Henty (as well as a study guide) from Jim Hodges Productions

When London Burned is available from Jim Hodges Productions for $24.99 for the MP3 CD, or as a digital download for $18.00. The study guide is also available as a PDF for $12.00.

If you are a history buff I am fairly certain you will enjoy G.A. Henty (1832 – 1902). I happen to adore his books. He was a military correspondent and author from Great Britain. He wrote 122 books...all historical fiction. His books are generally recommended for ages 10 and up. 

I have read many fictional accounts set around the events in When London Burned. Most of them were romantic in nature and not something Josiah would enjoy. G.A. Henty tends to major in swashbuckling adventure. His heroes are always true. This story is set in the 1600's. Many things were happening. Not only the Great Fire of London, but the Great Plague as well. 

Our hero of the story is Cyril Shenstone. His father, Sir Aubrey Shenstone fought with King Charles II to regain the throne from Oliver Cromwell. Sir Aubrey dies when Cyril is only 16. He leaves Cyril with no money or estate. 

All the Henty books I have read feature a young man who is of noble character. I can't tel you how refreshing it is to expose Josiah to someone whose values prompt him to consider someone other than himself. I don't have to worry about sassy talk and 'to big for your britches' attitudes. 

Cyril, the hero of this story, is no exception. He is compassionate, resourceful and forgiving. He faces obstacles that few boys of this day and age could imagine. A few things really stuck out for me. When Sir Arthur dies, Cyril is truly saddened. This might not seem like such a big deal (he was his father, after all), but Sir Arthur had been an absent father. He had pursued his own interests and left Cyril to fend for himself. He certainly didn't leave any way for Cyril to support himself. Instead of being bitter or unforgiving, Cyril looked past his father's faults and understood that his father did care for him. He took responsibility of his young life. 

When the Great Plague hit London it was a terrifying time. Those of noble birth fled to the countryside. Even many in the church shut themselves off and neglected their responsibility to care for sick and dying...for the widows and the orphans. 

Cyril went above and beyond. He helped those in need...putting himself in harms way. I have to share with you this quote from the book itself. This was from a minister preaching a sermon during this time. He was calling people to be compassionate.

"You are all soldiers of Christ," he said, "and now is an opportunity given to you to show that you are worthy soldiers. When the troops of a worldly monarch go into battle they do so with head erect, with proud and resolute bearing, with flashing eye, and with high courage, determined to bear aloft his banner and to crown it with victory, even though it cost them their lives. Such is the mien that soldiers of Christ should bear in the mortal strife now raging round us. Let them show the same fearlessness of death, the same high courage, the same unlimited confidence in their Leader. What matter if they die in His service? He has told them what their work should be. He has bidden them visit the sick and comfort the sorrowing. What if there be danger in the work? Did He shrink from the Cross which was to end His work of love, and is it for His followers to do so? 'Though you go down into the pit,' He has said, 'I am there also'; and with His companionship one must be craven indeed to tremble. This is a noble opportunity for holding high the banner of Christ. There is work to be done for all, and as the work is done, men should see by the calm courage, the cheerfulness, and the patience of those that do it, that they know that they are doing His work, and that they are contenketto leave the issue, whatever it be, in His hands."

I'm considering reading this every morning to Josiah. Too much? The story is filled with danger, scoundrels, heroes and adventure. All make for a great story for boys. 

The Audio book is well done. It is a little over 13 hours long. That's a lot of listening. I also ran into a little issue. I zoned the little bit of information that it came in a MP3 CD form. I stuck it in the CD player in my car on the way somewhere. I don't have to tell you that I went home with a story to my husband that my CD player didn't work anymore (along with my heating, air conditioning and  automatic locks). Should I be telling you this? 

Anyhoo. You will be happy to know that I was able to play it on our blueray player and my laptop. Just be prepared when you order your copy. I knew about the format, but had just forgotten. 

The story is recorded by Jim Hodges. He has a very pleasing voice. The audio is clear and easy to listen to. I have to tell you that I was amused when I read on his website that he has records all of his products at home and has occasionally recorded in the bathroom or laundry room. Try as I might, I didn't hear the washer running in our recording at all. 
We also received a Study Guide to accompany the audio book. It is long (64 or 65 pages long). I sent it to my Kindle and used it that way. It was easy enough to do. The study guide includes vocabulary words, discussion questions and writing projects. 
The questions were not just fluffy. They were meaty and something that gave us a lot to discuss. I did find a free online copy of the book itself. I used it as a reference for myself. Josiah is dyslexic so the audio book is an ideal way for him to learn. I find with the study guide I like having the book I can look at.
I need to mention that G.A. Henty is not just fluffy reading or listening. He wrote with real meat...he also wrote in the style of his time period. Modern readers who have not been exposed to this type of literature might find it challenging. I think we need more of this type of literature in our lives. I'm glad Jim Hodges Productions has provided us with a way to enjoy G.A. Henty any time. 
You can read more reviews by clicking on the banner below. Connect with Jim Hodges Productions on Facebook!

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Still Waters

There is an old-timey theme park not too far from us. My favorite ride (of all time) is called the Lost River. It lazily meanders through some peaceful waters and then without warning the riders are propelled into choppy (and very wet) waters.

It's hysterical. I have been known to howl while riding the thing. It's a pleasant howl, I assure you.

What is not so pleasant are those metaphoric choppy waters that life seems to send our way. I personally prefer the tranquil waters (who doesn't). But I've found more that I grow when the water is rushing around me.

It's during those times that I am reminded of what I've been neglecting or what my focus should be.

Lately, I've been waking up feeling like I never went to sleep.

I felt more rested during Josiah's newborn days. He's almost 13. It's been awhile.

I can't explain how I feel. Most days are productive ones. If all I can get done is to make sure that everybody in my house eats I consider it better than some days I've had. I have certainly had times in my life when the days were dark and only seemed like they would get darker.

Still. There is a nagging. A silent uneasiness in the back of my mind. It could be that I've put more on my plate than necessary. It could be that I am focusing too much on what I am not getting done. It could be that I am not paying attention to the important things...that I am letting the trivial cares of this life weigh me down.

It happens to all of us.

I vowed many years ago that I wouldn't let the beauty around me go unnoticed. I found myself driving through a particularly beautiful part of town the other day. As I saw the majestic trees with their brilliant leaves dot the street, I worried that I was to preoccupied to really enjoy it.

Leave it to me to notice the beauty of the trees and then worry that I'm not enjoying it enough.

Our world is filled with noise. Everyone is clamoring to be heard. We've lost our joy in the appreciation of a simple way of life.

Even the smallest crisis can fill our days with dread.

There are some things that are out of our hands. There are some healings that won't happen this side of heaven.

There isn't a plan in God's Word for a more productive day or a day without trouble. He simply tells us to rest in Him.

We are encouraged to remember that He is with us during those rough times. That the rivers will not overwhelm us.

My part in all of this is that I start my day in His presence. That I cast my cares upon Him. And that I do the best I can do with what He has given me.

This requires me to be Still. To turn off the distractions and make my time with Him sacred.

This requires me to keep my eyes fixed upon Him. In all things. Even when the waters get a little rough.

My heart is drawn to Psalm 23. He leads me by the Still Waters. He restores my soul. What a beautiful promise!

By the way...the pictures I used in this post were taken by my talented Mama. They are from two separate springs here in Missouri. I invaded her digital photo files. I realize that sounds like some sort of alien attack.I assure you that I mean no harm (I come in peace). It's getting late...I better get to bed while I'm still ahead.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A TOS Review: Clued in Kids

Who doesn't like a treasure hunt? Clued in Kids was started just a year ago by Helen Bertelli. She always loved treasure hunts as a child and started creating treasure hunts for her own children. She realized 3 important truths about treasure hunts. They were memorable way to teach, they got kids up and moving and they remind us that life is a journey to treasure. Helen and her daughter both experienced a devastating health crisis. Having my own health crisis I can appreciate the beauty that can come from such a trying time in one's life. You can read more of her story here.

I was blessed to review two treasure hunts from Clued in Kids. Soccer Treasure Hunt and Christmas Treasure Hunt Greeting Card.

As you might have guessed Clued in Kids is a company that provides all manner of fun and engaging treasure hunts.

The Soccer Treasure Hunt came to me in a PDF. It costs $5.99 and can be played by one or 10. It is recommended for ages 4 and up, but I would think that the kids playing this game would need to have some math skills or have an older sibling to help them along.

I printed off the PDF (which was only 8 pages long). I simply just cut the pages in half as instructed.

Both hunts came with instructions and tips for use.

Set up was extremely easy. I think it took me about 10 minutes to work it out. One page is this handy key that I used to place my clues.

There were a few clue locations I had to improvise. My napkin basket was out of napkins so I stuck this clue (which was to be put with the napkins) in the paper towel holder. I just told Josiah to think about what we used when we were out of napkins. I'm just glad he didn't head for his shirt drawer.

One clue also sent Josiah to a grill. We don't have a grill, but I use a stovetop grill frequently. Josiah knew what to look for.

I appreciated that the Soccer Treasure Hunt made Josiah use some math skills.

Some of the activities were simple puzzles or activities like this dot-to-dot. (Love the dot-to-dot!)

The clues took him all over the house.

Just a little aside. When he saw that I was taking pictures he wanted me to make sure I let 'you' know that he really isn't a Colts fan. His Grandma is, however, and he is wearing the jersey in honor of her. Boys.

One of the clues even required Josiah to bounce a ball around. He was apply to oblige.

He had a great time with the hunt. The last clue to took to his shoes where I hid his "prize." He got to make brownies. Which was really a prize for all of us.

The Christmas Treasure Hunt Greeting Card is a physical product. It costs $9.95 and actually came addressed to me in the mail like a card!

It came with instructions, Christmas tattoos, a treasure pouch and the clues. It is intended for ages 4 and up and can be played with 1 or 10! 

 This treasure hunt is to be played during the Christmas Season. I had to be a bit creative with some of my hiding places. But I'm a homeschool mom! We improvise all the time.

The activities were simple. This one just was a fun Christmas symbol puzzle.

One clue required me to hide in the Christmas Tree. Even I couldn't get myself to put up the tree this early in the season so I drew one on the White Board. Don't laugh. Josiah thought it was beautiful. You can see the clue perched just above it.

This is funny. Josiah had to stand at the front door and say "Ho Ho Ho" just like Santa.
He also insisted on wearing his robe for this treasure hunt. He said he wanted to be in the Christmas Spirit. Now we know.

This boy looks ready for a cup of Hot Chocolate!

Here is another funny story. You can see that this clue requires Josiah to go to a neighbor's door and sing a carol. We live in a apartment building and none of our neighbors were home at the time. I suggested that maybe he could stand on the balcony and serenade the neighborhood. He looked at me like I had lost my mind. He was wearing his robe, after all.

You can tell we both a good time. I think that is what it's all about. Making time for one another and "treasuring the journey."

Both treasure hunts were loads of fun. They were easy to pull off. In fact, the prep time required from me was to wander about my house putting the clues in their spot.  Josiah is dyslexic and a few clues required more help for me. In particular the ones that that were scrambled words. He tends to scramble words anyway. It was no trouble for me...we had fun together. I really believe that both activities were great for him. Both helped him with following directions.

 The Christmas Hunt is one I plan on pulling out during the Christmas season. In fact, it has inspired me to host Josiah's cousins for a Christmas slumber party. This will be a fun activity for all of them.

The Soccer Hunt is also one I can use time and time again. It does have activities that require a pencil and some math skills. It will be a fun break in a busy school day or a treat after a long week.

I need to mention that Clued in Kids has a wide variety of hunts..including one for kiddos who are Gluten Free. You can sign up for the Clued in Kids newsletter here and receive a free Homework Reward Treasure Hunt.

Click on the banner below for more reviews. You can also connect with Clued in Kids.

Twitter: @cluedinkids

Happy Hunting! 

Click to read Crew Reviews

Preserving Leaves with Paraffin Wax

The leaves are just beautimous right now.

Brilliant oranges and yellow..we even saw a magenta tree the other day.

Recently, Josiah and cousin Maddy found some really gorgeous leaves at the farm.

I mean really. Aren't they stunning? I don't know where these particular leaves come from. I need to ask my Dad and get back to you. I think he has a pet name for every tree at the farm. Especially his beloved fruit trees ('nother story for 'nother day).

Anyhoo. My mom had the idea that Josiah and I could preserve them. She wanted to share their loveliness with her sweet friends at the nursing home (she works there). She sent me home with a baggie of paraffin wax.

I do wish I had a paraffin wax melter. I have used one when doing nails (beauty school and salon days), but don't have one of my own. I am pretty sure you could use a crock pot as well. I heated our waxy in the microwave.

This isn't a very good picture, but here Josiah and I both have a leaf on the verge of dipping it in. I tried to choose leaves that didn't have any tears or obvious blemishes in them.

I also made a huge mess. Of course, I did! Did you expect anything different. I was intending on using wax paper, but thought I had run out. Until I found my wax paper in a bag I had taken to a friend's house to roll out pie crusts on. I won't even tell you how long ago that was.

Girlfriend needs a nap.

I used foil instead to cover my table. I heated up the wax in my Pampered Chef mixing bowl, but it still got really too hot. And then it cooled too quickly.

Lovely. The wax made a film just after a few minutes of being in bowl.

Despite my mess, I had some really nice results. 

You can see how it looks when the wax wasn't hot enough. It just didn't cover as well.

The leaves that came out right have a beautiful sheen and are sturdy. We even sent two to Qatar. No really! Josiah's Aunt is stationed there. We wanted to share the fall loveliness.

I am going to put some in a bowl to enjoy on my coffee table and the rest I am sending to the Nursing Home.

What are you doing to enjoy the fall?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A TOS Review: Warriors of Honor

We really love our history here. We almost love it more than Peanut Butter and Chocolate. Together.

That's love.

This summer we got to take a trip to not one, but two Civil War Battlefields. Wilson's Creek National Battlefield and Pea Ridge National Military Park. Wilson's Creek is in our neck of the woods and Pea Ridge is just a few hours into Arkansas.

Looking out over the hills and hollers of the Ozarks it's hard to imagine the kind of carnage that took place. Brothers, cousins, friends, neighbors. Locked together in a unimaginable conflict that I hope we never see again.

Josiah loved both of our trips. Since then he has had an increased interest in learning more about the Civil War. When we had a chance to review a documentary from New Liberty Videos, I knew that Warriors of Honor would be just the one we needed to see.

New Liberty Videos has a host of Christian DVDs. Warriors of Honor is a documentary that focuses on two major players of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

The documentary is intended for a general audience is approximately 80 minutes with 3 bonus segments as well.

Warriors of Honor is $19.95. 

We are quite the documentary geeks at our house. It has to be from my early days of Public Television. When I was a little girl we only got two television stations. NBC and PBS.

Tragic, I know. I don't know how I survived. It must have scarred me for life because we rather particular about what Josiah watches on television. In fact, he is assigned a documentary to watch weekly.

You can see that this review was right up our alley.

As I mentioned before, this documentary centers around Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. It centers around their deep Christian faith.

 I grew up in the Ozarks where opinions have always been a bit mixed about the Civil War. My personal opinions and 'raising' has always sympathized with the North. Slavery is abhorrent to me. It has been hard for me to reconcile those who claim to be Christians yet fight for the rights to own slaves.

The video just a good job of setting the stage of the differences in the Northern and Southern cultures before the war began.

I will say that my opinion of the men, Robert E. Lee in particular, is quite different after viewing this documentary. I believe the war pained him a great deal. The film includes portions of letters both men wrote to their families, pastors and fellow officers.

The film told their stories through historical photographs, video and pictures of historical sites and video of  Civil War re-enactors. I would caution parents of young children to be aware that some of the pictures are disturbing. They are not gory or graphic necessarily, but includes real life photos of dead soldiers on the battlefield. Josiah is almost 13 and we have watched many history documentaries. We talked about what we were seeing and it gave us opportunity for discussion. 

Those who are fascinated by military strategy will undoubtedly find much to enjoy. The film details many of the battles both men were involved in. I also found the personal nature of the letters to and from their wives very touching. It almost makes me sad for what is being left for our children and their children. Brief quips on social media networks or texts can't really express the true nature of one's character or life. 

I am not giving anything away by telling you my shock at finding out that Stonewall Jackson was only 39 when he died. He was younger than I am. I knew that he had died during the course of the war...I just imagined him to be much older. It makes me also think of all those young and old men alike who died and left families behind. So sad. 

The film doesn't end with the close of the Civil War. It shares with us the 'rest of the story.' Robert E. Lee was admired by Northern and Southern officers alike. He went on to make a mark in his life away from war. I liked that the film shared this with us. I like having things tied up and the end of Warriors of Honor was satisfying, yet poignant.  

Josiah enjoyed watching the film. He was able to ask more questions. "Why would Sherman behave so badly?" It gave us opportunity to talk about character. 

I need to also mention that the film is excellently made. The narration is superb. In fact, the actors voices reading the letters were terrific as well. 

This film would be an excellent addition to any family's DVD library. 

You can read more reviews by clicking the banner below. 

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A TOS Review: German for Middle School!

I took a few years of Spanish in High School. I always think I understand more than I really do. Thankfully, I haven't had much opportunity to embarrass myself completely. At least not trying to speak a language that is not native to me. 

Nevertheless, it is my desire for Josiah to have a second language. He had a brief course in French and has had more Spanish instruction. I can help him just a little there, but once he gets past asking for directions to the bathroom I am at a loss. 

Let's just say I need all the help I can get with foreign language instruction. I was recently blessed with the opportunity to review a quality online program. The German Language Course (Middle School 1) from Middlebury Interactive  Languages

I received a 6-month subscription to the program. Middle School German 1 is intended for Grades 6-8. It is an interactive introductory course. A prerequisite wasn't required. 

The program is structured around  listening, speaking, reading and writing. Students are introduced to German speaking countries, which includes history, food and literature. It is aligned to the national standards of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 

There are programs available for grades k-12 in Spanish, French, German and Chinese. The Middle and High programs have a total of 90 lessons per semester. The recommendation is that the student complete one lesson per day for 18 weeks. 

Our schedule permitted us to work through the program 3 days a week. It is a self-paced program and Josiah just does better at a slower pace. 

A single semester course costs $119. You are also given the option to take the course with teacher support from Middlebury Interactive. That class is an addition $175 making the total $249.

All you need is a reliable internet connection and a working computer. You also need headphones or speakers. There is a recording option on some of the labs, but we didn't use it. Josiah and I worked through it together so I was able to make pronunciation suggestions. Actually, he has a better accent than I do. 

How We Used It

German 1 for Middle School is divided into 9 Units with a Midterm and a Final. Each Unit has 10 lessons with a variety of activities. Every lesson gives the student an opportunity to practice what they are learning, as well as interactive activities. They might vary, but I appreciate the "game" aspect of some of them. Josiah is all about video games. 

I let Josiah choose what language he would like to explore. As I mentioned, he has taken Spanish and a brief course in French. I had my concerns when he chose German (I'll explain in a minute). I think he was excited to get started. He has an aunt who is originally from Germany as well as 2 cousins who took German in High School. In fact, one of those cousins is actually majoring in German in college. 

I decided I would work along with him through the program. Josiah is dyslexic and learning French proved problematic for him. I researched it a little bit and found out that German is actually a more transparent language than French or English. There might be some difficulties down the road with German (such as gender of nouns, multiple constant combination and unfamiliar word order). I decided that for the purpose of this review that it would be fun for him to give it a try. 

I want to share with you some screen shots of the very first lesson. The activities may vary with every lesson, but the lessons still work through the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. 

I like that I can see (on the left-hand side) what we've done or what we still need to work on. This screen shows me the Objectives for Unit 1. 

This is a Vocabulary Guide. They are greetings and farwells. Not to worry. The student doesn't learn these in all one lesson. The little green dot next to each phrase is actually a sound icon. We are able to click on it to hear pronunciation. 

This screen is the Vocabulary Intro. It instructs us to listen to the audio sample and identify any words that we might recognize. I liked that this would could follow along with the conversation. We didn't learn the phrases in isolation. 

This screen gives us plenty of practice with greetings. We were required to guess what each phrase might mean. Because there are German words that sound like English ones some of these were pretty easy! We practiced these a lot. 

This is a matching game. We had to drag the German word to the corresponding picture.  This activity is completed, but we have done it a few times. There is an icon that lets me reset the activity. 

The Speaking Lab allows the student to record themselves speaking. We didn't use this feature, but I think it's pretty cool. 

And that's it for the first lesson. All in all the lessons take about 20-25 minutes. We have repeated a few. Josiah and I both do better with some repetition. 

In fact, that is one thing I appreciate a program like Middlebury Interactive. In a classroom a student must move at the pace the teacher or class set. I personally was the kind of student who didn't ask for help when I needed it. I didn't want to appear clueless. 

We can be as clueless as we need to be here!  We could move at a pace that was comfortable for us. 

Middlebury also introduces the student to German grammar. Now this was a bit more difficult for Josiah to grasp. I was expecting that. What made it a little easier was that he wasn't required to read pages of text. He could hear what was expected. The jury is still out on how productive our efforts will be. But at least it hasn't been completely a fail. 

One bonus (that I really, really appreciated) with this course is the culture and historical aspects we learn along the way. We even get to practice with maps. 

You can see one such activity below. 

On the whole I have been very impressed with Middlebury Interactive. I think it is a fun and engaging way to learn a foreign language. 

You can read more reviews by clicking on the banner below. 

You can also connect with Middlebury Interactive on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google +.

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