Saturday, October 31, 2015

Put On Those Big Girl Skivvies: 17 Weeks of Learning to Live a Beautiful Life

Here it is! The 8th week in my 17 weeks of Learning to Live a Beautiful Life series.


I didn't know if it was nice manners to refer to ladies undergarments in a public blog. My late grandma called panties skivvies. I figured if it was okay for Grandma...


You've heard the expression..."I need to put on my big girl (insert preferred term for ladies undergarments)". It is used to encourage ourselves or others to do any number of the following:

1. Grow up and act like an adult.
2. Take the bull by the horns (so to speak) and attempt something you are dreading.
3. Move on from a trying situation and make the best of it.
4. Grow up and act like an adult.

"Adulting" (a term I have heard more and more of) is hard work. With it comes responsibility and maturity. We have to do things that are hard, painful and mostly unrewarding.

Often it involves us biting our tongues, taking the high road, pushing ourselves and taking chances.

Putting on those Big Girl Skivvies and pushing ahead can be challenging. But (and this is a big one) it is something you HAVE to do if you want to live a beautiful and meaningful life.

So here is something I want you to do right now. Write down one thing that is troubling you. Or challenging you. Or making things difficult for you and your loved ones.

Think hard about this one. Is it something that is a surface issue or just a symptom of a larger problem?

Now look at what you have written down and put it in PERSPECTIVE.

You might be experiencing an agonizing, heart wrenching season in your life. Sometimes it is hard to put that in perspective when you are the middle of it. A mature person recognizes that those periods in our lives are to honored and mourned. But that there has to be some sort of moving on process. You might be still in the grieving stage. That still does not mean that you cannot rejoice and give thanks for those blessings you still see around you.

What about relationship issues? I have been married for 24 years. I ADORE my husband. However, we are not perfect people. There have been private and painful periods of our marriage that I don't share. They aren't to be dwelled upon. If I could name a thousand faults in The Muffin's life, he could name a thousand in mine. My perspective is that I have a healthy husband to stand by my side. We have WORKED hard on our relationship and I recognize my place in it. My desire is to encourage, to be his cheerleader. I also have to recognize my own responsibility to make it work. I am not to fix him. And who I am to suggest he needs fixing?

I also want to make sure that I don't make generalizations about every relationship. I only know what has worked for us.

Maybe you are struggling financially. I hear ya'! Here is a little perspective. The Muffin and I have come to this peaceful answer in our finances. God is in control. Most of our problems are 1st World Country problems. The screw and nail in my tire. I need a whole new set of tires and frankly, a new car. Here is the perspective. I have wheels. They aren't reliable wheels, but they are wheels. If I have to change my plans, not drive as often...then that is the way it must be. My minuscule grocery budget allows me to be creative and resourceful. It is more than most people have across the world. We have lost houses, health and eeked out an existence in our materialistic world. What we have learned is that while it is nice to's not necessary for happiness. God is our provider. He has always given us what we needed.

I have to remind myself daily of where I have been and what God has seen me through. Having a healthy perspective makes the difference.

What about ATTITUDE?

I hesitate to even bring this one up, but it's a must. We can't go through life pitching a fit every time something doesn't go our way. We can't say what we want or act out with no concern for those around us.

Basically. We have to grow up.

I am going to leave it there.

Putting on those Big Girl Skivvies also requires the ability to GROW.

Sometimes growing up is painful. When I was a little girl I would have awful growing pains. My legs would ache at night. I would toss and turn and curse my Dad's tall genes. It must have worked. I only got to 5"4.

Growing up also requires correction. I don't know anybody who loves to be corrected. A few days ago, I overheard a conversation between a nurse and a teacher. I wasn't intentionally eaves dropping, but I was sitting next to them so it was kind of hard to miss. Both of them are responsible for education of young people (the nurse works with student nurses). They were lamenting the fact that their students are unable to take critiques with any kind of grace or introspection.

Can I tell you that our society has a problem with this? We HAVE to be right. We don't like anyone pointing out weaknesses (who are you to tell me...). While I believe that you need to let people be themselves, we also have to respect authority and those who are given charge over us.

If we can't learn...we can't grow.

I have had to receive correction concerning my health. I am capable of living in my own little dream world. There is something about my psyche that can escape to a "happy place" and just deal with it.

Sometimes we need tough love. My tough love reminded me that I needed to be healthy for my son. I couldn't let the challenges before me dictate what I do for myself.

What kind of tough love are we ignoring for the sake of pride?

So take another look at what you have written down.

Let's talk about the "move on" part about the title of my post. Are you stuck? Maybe you feel like you are taking steps in the right direction, but you constantly find yourself in reverse.

Here is where I get to pull my favorite numbering trick. You might find something in my advice that helps you move on.

1. Have patience. Have you heard the expression that Rome wasn't built in a day? Well, neither can a person find that place of maturity and self-acceptance overnight. You are going to have ups and downs. Ins and outs. Good days and bad days. Just do what you know how to do (do the best you can).

2. Develop good habits. I have set a goal for myself in the area of productivity. I want my mornings to be more productive. I hate feeling like I never get anything done. It makes me feel ineffective.  I found it helpful to do a little bit of reading about how other ladies get things done. However, here is a word of caution. Don't try and overhaul your life at one time. Take babysteps. Good habits happen over a period of time. They can't be called into existence.

3. Just do something. Discontentment is a big joy sucker. We can wallow in self-pity (I'm the queen) for quite some time. If we are not careful it becomes part of who we are. The best defense against this is to JUST DO SOMETHING! Not satisfied with your house? Make it more homey by displaying things that you love and mean something to you and your family. It's the people in the home that matter. Feel like you want to do something different with your life? Consider taking a class. If that is not an option, immerse yourself in learning a new hobby. When Josiah was much younger, I decided I needed to have an outlet outside the church (my husband is a pastor). It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I joined a "writing" club. I started volunteering with a children's theatre.

4. Practice the art of forgiveness. Ouchie. This can be tough. However, it is vital that we forgive those hurtful words and deeds that have come against us. Sometimes people are just thoughtless. Sometimes they are incapable of mature thought (they haven't learned to pull up their Big Girl Skivvies). We can't dwell in those dark spots. Unforgiveness can hold on to a person with black, vicious claws. It dictates our every move and every thought. It keeps us stuck. Maturity (and The Bible) tells us to pray for those who persecute us.

5. Be Kind.  Here is my last little thought (and you all said.."well, thank goodness for that!). It is discouraging to get online and see all of us fussing at each other. This one gets made at that one. This one is offended by that one. Then we have those who always seem to be complaining. We don't respect one another's feelings, convictions and actions. We need to start behaving like the people momma raised us to be (or needed to raise us to be).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A TOS Review: Peter and the Wolf (Maestro Classics)

There is nothing like classical music. It makes me happy. I realize that not all share my enthusiasm.  And then there are those of you who want to start loving classical music (and have a desire to introduce your children to it) but are just unsure where to begin. It can be very overwhelming to sift through all of the composers, compositions and the like.

Last year we reviewed one of our favorite products. Maestro Classics presented us with Casey at the Bat and The Sorcerer’s  Apprentice to enjoy. This year we were blessed with a CD of Peter and the Wolf.  It has accompanied us on many car trips across town and occupied us through lazy afternoons.

Maestro Classics is really a special company. They have produced a classical music CD series that is intended to introduce children to the beauty and wonder of classical music. Each selection has been arranged by conductor Steven Simon. They are performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra….which is a real treat in itself.

While the music is truly the hero of our story, most compositions in the series are set to treasured children’s stories. I mentioned that we have Casey at the Bat and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in our collection.

Peter and the Wolf has made a nice addition. Be sure to check the other compositions in their series. I had to choose between Peter and the Wolf and The Nutcracker this time around. It was a really tough choice to make. The Nutcracker is a childhood friend.

Ultimately, I decided that I couldn’t pass up Peter and the Wolf. I knew that Josiah would enjoy it immensely.

I received a physical CD, but there are mp3 downloads available if that is more your speed. I like something I can carry around with me. We do a lot of “car schooling” and I enjoy having a product I can use on the road. I also used it at home.

For example, just this afternoon Josiah and I sat in the living room and listened once again.  I knitted. He doodled. We were happy campers. Josiah said it would have been better with snacks. 

He is 13. 

Let me tell you about Peterand the Wolf.

It was composed by Russian Composer Sergei Prokofiev. At the time of this composition he was residing in the USSR (1936). It is not an understatement to say that there was a lot going on in the world.

The music itself is exciting. I think it certainly is more traditionally “Russian” in nature. One of the unique things about the Peter and the Wolf is that Prokofiev wrote a narration to accompany it.  The story revolves around Peter. And begins when he disobeys his Grandfather…

The CD was divided into several parts.

1.       Introduction
2.       Peter and the Wolf (with narration)
3.       About the Composer
4.       A Russian Peter
5.       About the Music
6.       Peter and the Wolf (without narration)
7.       Invitation to Grandfather’s Party
8.       Kalinka

The CD runs almost 70 minutes in playing time. We have listened to the whole thing a few times and then just the composition itself a few more times. I personally loved all the history given and was grateful for music education that was not only expertly done, but painless for me! 

The CD has an insert that contains all kinds of activities and information. Some of this is just repeated from the CD itself and then there is new information. We get to learn more about the Russian Folk musicians (Trio Voronezh) who can be heard on a few tracks. We learn a little bit about some of the instruments they play.

Another feature that homeschoolers might fine beneficial are the unit study pages on the website. There is a bit of everything there! I used it to further expand on Russian folk music and we looked up an artist that was a contemporary of Prokofiev. We also explored the Russian Revolution and talked about what it must have been like to live during those times.

Mostly, we just enjoyed the music. The whole CD is a treasure.

Josiah enjoyed it so much. It really is an excellent composition for boys. 

I think what I love most about Maestro Classics is that they have made it easy for me to introduce the beauty and majesty of Classical music to my son.  Not only do we get to enjoy the glorious music, but we are introduced to a variety of instruments, history and much more.

And they do it all with the excellence.

Peter the Wolf is an exciting production. I think children (and grown-ups) of all ages will enjoy it tremendously.  I know we sure have!

You can connect with Maestro Classics via the following social media outlets. Don't forget to click on the banner below to read more reviews! 

Maestro Classics Review

Interview with author Danika Cooley, Launch Party, Giveaway and a FREE Unit Study!

A few weeks ago, I talked about a book I'm currently reviewing.  I am so blessed to be part of the launch team for When Lightning Stuck.  Here is a description:

When Lightning Struck! is the story of Martin Luther, the Father of the Reformation, written for young adults.

Martin Luther's life was too exciting not to be written for teens and younger readers! In this fast-paced, action-packed novel of Martin Luther's life, teen readers (and more than a few adults!) will be introduced to a fascinating time when princes ruled Europe and knights roamed the countryside. They'll learn about a time when powerful forces lined up against each other and believing the wrong thing could get you killed.

When Lightning Struck! is far more than just an adventure story, of course. It also tells a theological story. Drawing carefully from Luther's own words, this book introduces readers to a kindred spirit who struggled with what knowing God through Scripture means for daily life. They will understand what was at stake and how powerfully liberating Luther's idea of grace through faith was—in his time and in ours!

My review is coming next week, but in the meantime I want to share with you this interview with the author, Danika Cooley. I have to say I have more than impressed with Danika's attention to detail and engaging writing style.  I think you will enjoy this interview. 

1. What inspired you to write When Lightning Struck?

I absolutely love Christian history. I think that understanding our family history is vital to understanding the way God works in history, and to being able to understand the current trends in theology--the same heresies that the Apostles addressed have plagued the Church throughout the last two millennia. As the "Father of the Reformation", Martin Luther is a particularly fascinating and important figure in the history of the Church. Also, his story is exciting--he lived in the time of castles, princes, and knights; he risked his life for the sake of the Gospel; and he became an outlaw, was kidnapped, and more.

2. What was your main goal in writing When Lightning Struck

I wrote When Lightning Struck! so that young people will have the opportunity to learn about an incredibly important figure in Church history--and about theology--in an engaging manner. Really, I wrote it with my two middle school boys in mind. I wanted to make Christian history come alive for them.

3. Which part of researching When Lightning Struck was the most personally interesting to you?

We have so much information about the stories Martin Luther told about his life, that I really enjoyed finding those stories and incorporating them into When Lightning Struck!. It was also really important to me to get the theology involved in the story correct, and I found that aspect of the story fascinating.

4. What did you learn from writing When Lightning Struck?

My research notes are about three times as long as the book! I learned so much about Martin Luther, the Renaissance Popes, the papacy, and the structure of medieval monastic orders. In order to tell the latter parts of the story in which the Protestant leaders were debating over the manner in which Protestants should live out their faith, I really had to study quite a bit.

5. What are you reading right now? What authors (living or dead) have influenced you most?

Right now, I'm reading Ulrich Zwingli by William Boekestein, Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley, Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, the books of the prophets in the Old Testament, and a number of books with my boys for school. Reading is definitely one of my favorite parts of my work--I read about a book a week, with bigger works on the side.

6. What was the book that most influenced your life — and why?

I was definitely a bookworm growing up, and I read everything I could get my hands on--some good, some not-so-good. This may sound cliche, but the book that has most influenced my life has been (and continues to be) the Bible. I've read it through many times, studied it, and it's changed me. Isaiah 55:11 tells us that God's Word never returns void, that it accomplishes what He purposed it for. It has certainly changed me.

7. Do you have a certain writing space, somewhere you go "just" to write your books? An office, a lake cabin, a hotel? What do you love about that space? How does it inspire you?

We have a library that I love to work in late at night, after everyone is asleep. It's nice to be surrounded by biographies and great works while writing. Also, I just really love the room.

8. Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing a book?

I love writing. Research can sometimes be tedious or overwhelming, but it's worthwhile to commit to researching well. I think it makes the story so much richer (and more accurate).

9. Did you always have a talent for writing, or is it something you wanted and needed to work harder to achieve?

I've always loved to write. That said, writing is a craft, and like any skill, it needs to be developed with practice, and through criticism and study. I've studied writing, I read widely, and I've had a lot of excellent input from some amazing editors and writers.

10. With all of the duties that you juggle, when do you fit in the time to write?

For me, finding time to write is the same as finding time to exercise, eat, or sleep. I consider it a necessity, so I work hard to make time for it. I've also sacrificed other activities to fit it in. I don't watch television, I prioritize my time, and I often write when I might otherwise be sleeping.

11. Is your writing style different now than it was when you first began? In what ways have you grown in your writing?

I think it's taken me time to find my voice and hone my skills, and I suspect that I will continue to improve as a writer--we always get better at the things we practice.

12. How did you get your start in writing/getting published?

I attended a writing conference for beginners at a local Christian college six and a half years ago. A children's author graciously sat down with me and explained what I needed to do to write for children, and directed me to a local writer's organization. I began attending conferences with Oregon Christian Writers four times a year, and writing for Christian children's magazines. My first acceptance letter came three months after that first conference.

13. What do you recommend for others who are getting started?

It's a good idea to find a local writer's organization, and learn about the business. I think writing for magazines is a clarifying process, which I highly recommend. Also, if you want to reach people for Christ, writing for magazines can really extend that reach.

14. What would you say to a young person who aspires to be a writer? What advice would you give? Also, what would you tell his/her parents in order to help them be supportive in their child's efforts to pursue writing as a career?

The most important thing you can do is learn how to write. It's also important to learn about the industry. Find writer's conferences and workshops, attend, take notes, and really learn from the authors there. Don't let rejection letters stop you--just keep working on your craft. I'd also suggest finding a mentor--someone who is already writing for publication--and humbly following their advice. Also, read widely. Read many genres, from different time periods. Practice writing, but as you do, think about what you'd like to say, and who you'd like to say it to.

15. Would your advice be any different for an adult who would like to break into the business? How?

My agent, Chip MacGregor, always says a successful writer should have great writing, a great idea, and a great platform (the people who read your work, or listen to you speak). It's important to work on all three.

As far as platform goes, serve your readership. For my Christian friends, really work unto the Lord and glorify Him in all you do. He is sovereign over all things, and will open the doors He wants opened.

Really, writing professionally is a lot of work, but it's also a great opportunity to communicate, to practice your craft, and to get to know some amazing people. I feel humbled and blessed to be writing professionally.

16. What else do you want readers to know? Consider your likes and dislikes, interests and hobbies, your favorite ways to relax — whatever comes to mind.

I love to play board games with my kids, hike, paint (I majored in art), garden, and cook. I love my family, and I feel so blessed to be able to spend time with them. I homeschool my younger two, and that's just a gift. Teaching children about the Bible, theology, and Christian history is my passion--I hope to be a lifelong student, and a lifelong teacher. 

Don't forget to enter the awesome Giveaway that is still happening.  AND on November 10 there is going to be a Facebook Launch Party with more terrific Giveaways. I have to tell you that generally there is FREE STUFF given away at these launch parties, as well. 

Just one more thing. Danika has created a 12-week Unit Study (Middle and High School) all about the life and times of Martin Luther. And it's FREE!  Reformation Day is quickly approaching and this is a perfect time for this study. 

Meatballs with Dipping Sauce 3 Ways (#madewithchobani)

Football season is highly revered here at my house. The Muffin and Josiah have their fantasy team. They've been talking scores and players and the like. I just supply a little moral support. I have my appropriate "ah..that's too bad" face ready when a favorite team fumbles. Victories are celebrated with a thumbs up. Personally, I don't understand much of it. Jane Austen didn't write about football. 

I can be relied on to handle some football watching food. You know me. I am all about using what you have and for our weeknight football games I like making it as healthy as I can.  

A few nights ago, I whipped up a batch of baked turkey meatballs with dipping sauce made with Chobani Greek Yogurt. Of course, I can't make just one sauce...I had to supply a little variety for my guys. 

What I like about making up my own sauces is that I can control what goes in the recipe.  It is always a little concerning to read the back of a label.

I wanted each sauce to be just a little different. I chose to make a Yum Yum Sauce, a spicy Chipolte Sauce and a Honey Mustard Sauce.  

They were all so easy to whip up. Using my Ninja, I made each sauce ahead of time and put each one in a refrigerator container to let all those flavors meld together. The Yum Yum Sauce particularly needs time to sit.

I then turned my attention to my meatballs. This is a really simple recipe. I used ground turkey instead of beef and oats instead of breadcrumbs. I wanted them to be gluten free, as well. You can use your favorite meatball recipe (I give you this one at the end of the post) or buy a package of frozen meatballs.  

The final results were delish! 

I piled up the meatballs and stuck them with toothpicks that I had wrapped with a little washi tape (cause I'm just a bit crazy likethat). I also cut up a few carrots and a little celery and sprinkled up a bit of chopped parsley over the whole thing. This is the Spicy Chipolte Sauce. 

This one was The Muffin's favorite. You can control the heat with the amount of chipolte peppers you add.

My favorite with the Yum Yum Sauce. I also added a dollop of red chili oil. My intention was to use sriracha, but I'm out! Somebody has been using sriracha like ketchup.  The Yum Yum Sauce itself is sweet.  Kinda like Josiah Bevan. 

I also made The Muffin a couple of Meatball sandwiches. I stuck 3 in a whole wheat hot dog bun, covered them with a little provolone and baked them for just a bit. Then I smothered the whole thing with the Honey Mustard Sauce.

He was a fan. Check out the okra pickles. They were just hanging out in my Mom and Dad's food cellar  waiting to be taken home. I don't think they canned any this year. I might have to sneak a few more jars in my purse before it's all over. We take okra pickles seriously around here.

This was an EASY dish to whip up. For an extra special presentation I used the chalkboard for a little encouragement and grabbed one of Josiah's football buys from his room. Not that my boys were that impressed. They were more interested in scarfing down the food. Can you imagine?

As promised here are the recipes I used.

Turkey Meatballs: 1 pound of ground turkey, 1 egg, 1/4 cup of oats, 1 clove of garlic, 1/8 cup chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Mix everything together and form balls. Place meatballs on cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 375.  (I just threw everything in my Ninja and whipped them up)

Just a little aside about the meatballs. I usually add 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese to my meatballs. I was completely out of my parm! I also like a little sage or thyme instead of the can use dry herbs. Just add a teaspoon or so.

Yum Yum Sauce: 1 small container of Chobani Plain Greek Yogurt, 3 T of sweetener (you can use sugar if that's your thing), 3 T of rice wine vinegar, 2 T of melted butter, 1 tsp. of smoked paprika, 1 minced garlic clove. Mix everything together and store in refrigerator as long as you can stand it. It is especially yummy the next day.

Spicy Chipolte Sauce: 1 small container of Chobani Plain Greek Yogurt, 1 or 2 chipolte peppers, 2-3 T of lime juice, 1 minced garlic clove, dash of salt. Throw everything in a food processor (or the like). Whip up until pretty.

Honey Mustard Sauce: 1 small container of Chobani Plain Greek Yogurt, 2 T of spicy mustard, 2-3 T of honey. That's it! Make sure you taste it. Mine needed a little more honey.

So that's about it. Enjoy! Go check out more healthy yummies you can make with Chobani yogurt. They have tons of recipes on their site.  There are several I thought looked delish...including a Cranberry Orange Bread I'm thinking about adding to my holiday recipe list. My favorite Apple Cake uses yogurt so I'm sure it will be a hit!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A TOS Review: The Ultimate Homeschool Planner

One of my many weaknesses involves planning. I can plan like a planning freak. However, this does not mean I am very efficient with implementing said plan. I also get lost in the details. Some of the issue comes down to the planner itself. I need simple. I need pretty. I need something that helps me see the big picture. I need a little hand holding and a strong cup of tea. I think the cup of tea/planner is going to be a hard combination to find, but there is a new planner from Apologia Educational Ministries I recently had the chance to review. I received The Ultimate Homeschool Planner – Orange Cover and immediately started planning!

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner was designed by Debra Bell. It’s not just a few lesson plan pages and a calendar. It is a system that walks the homeschool parent through practical and thoughtful planning.

There are 3 designs available in all for the planner. All are bright and cheerful (which certainly meets my ‘’pretty” criteria). The planner itself is spiral bound. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this. I didn’t know how much I would like that until this planner.

There are also handy pockets in both the front and the back cover. I don’t have anything tucked away in there yet…give me time. I have plans.

One of the features that was really helpful for me was the user’s guide. The user’s guide was the hand holding I was looking for.

“Oh…that’s how organized people do it.”

My favorite idea ever (I think everybody is going to like this one) is for homeschool parents to schedule a planning retreat every year. Oh. My. Goodness.

Can you imagine? I can see it now. I could go to a popular coffee shop, but then I would feel like I would have to buy cookies or something. I really think the library would be my best bet. Several of our libraries have coffee shops attached. I could simply grab a cup of coffee, go INTO the library by MYSELF and find one of those cozy corners with a plug in, easy access to the copier and a whole library of resources at my fingertips.

Did I mention I would do this by MYSELF?

The planner also gives instructions how to plan month by month and how to plan weekly. This is a very supportive system. For example, it is suggested that you meet with each child every Monday for 20 minutes. During this time you should pray with your child, clarify assignments and talk to them about recognizing God’s grace in completing what is before them.  Isn't this a great idea? 

After you are treated to such great planning wisdom there is a section for academic and character goals. In addition, there is a resource list section (for up to six students) and a place you can record family priorities.

I’ve always struggled with planning Josiah’s academic goals. I think when your child is a student with some learning challenges you tend to not want to move too far ahead. I’ve been thinking on that some more and I have decided there is nothing wrong with having something to shoot for. It might challenge both of us.

The next section is are the monthly calendars. These calendars (12) are blank and feature a few lines for every day. You can see I have let my love of colored pens fly. I believe I can see a little glitter there, my friends. 

The weekly planning sections are divided up into four pages. This is quite a unique set up. Before you even start planning your lesson there is a page that lets you write out a Bible plan, Battle plan, Payers and Hospitality & Outreach. The next page features a spot to journal the week’s memorable moments and evidences of grace.

I used part of my planning space for my menu plan, as well. You can see I made a few adjustments along the way. 

I loved recording those special blessings in the planner that seem to get lost in the day to day hustle and bustle. This particular blessing was on our anniversary. As usual, we were living on a dime and a lot of prayer. Last Christmas, The Muffin had asked for a restaurant gift card as one of his gifts.  He saved it for a special occasion. He is so patience. I would have that gift card used up on cheddar biscuits alone by February. Know what I mean?  Not only did we have the gift card, but Troy got his meal for free because they didn't have something he ordered. It was nice to have a place ready to jot our blessing down. 

I was unsure if the extra pages of prayers, blessings and plans of attack would be something I could embrace when I first started using the planner. “Is this going to make more work?” I’ve found I LOVE it! It helps me focus on the priorities in my life. I feel more MINDFUL. 

The weekly lesson pages are fairly flexible. Since our homeschool features a child of one, I didn’t have any trouble fitting all our plans into the spots. I even had some space to doodle. It is recommended that the planner can be used with up to six kiddos. As you can see I neglected to add a date in the Week of: spot. I'm not sure why...only I tend to not remember the day of the week let alone a calendar date. 

There is also a section for scores. I don’t keep track of grades at this point. Missouri is more concerned with hours. I know next year in High School I will need to be better at the grades. There also didn’t seem to be a whole lot of room for the grades.

I, of course, am all over the section for the reading list. There is also a spot for field trips and extracurricular activities. I’m still trying to decide if we can call a trip to our favorite frozen custard spot an extracurricular activity. Josiah seems to negotiate that little trip effectively. I’m pretty sure we can count it as an elective.

Towards the back of the planner is a whole bunch of teaching tips. I found them to be informational and inspirational.

You can see there is a lot of possibilities with The Ultimate Homeschool Planner. I have found I've really enjoyed using it. It has been simple to navigate and I feel like it gives me the opportunity to be mindful of so much more than pages in a math book.

Of course, Apologia is a company with such purpose and integrity. I wouldn't expect anything less than a stellar product. 

There is a sample available for download if you would like to see it up close and personal. Just click here and look for the yellow download button. It should give you a few options. 

You can connect with Apologia via the following social media outlets. Don't forget to click on the banner to read more reviews. 

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A TOS Review: Phonetic Zoo (IEW)

I am generally a good speller. There have been occasions, however, when I have total and complete spelling brain meltdowns. For example, the time I couldn’t remember how to spell “wait.” I blame it on the simplistic nature of our English language (insert sarcastic smiley face). Or I could blame it on growing older, but then I would have to admit in public that I am not 26. Or even 36 (ouch!).

Josiah is a phonetic speller, himself. He is dyslexic and tends to spell words how he hears them….which can have a variety of outcomes. He has difficulty with some of the current spelling instruction trends (which are workbook driven). Recently, we had the chance to review Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A (Starter Set) from Institute for Excellence in Writing. My hunch was that this was going to be a program that would make a difference in Josiah’s spelling abilities.

If you have read any of my reviews (or for that matter my blog) you might know that Andrew Pudewa can do nothing wrong in my book. He is the founder and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing (also known as IEW). If Mr. Pudewa came out with a suggestion that homeschool teachers need to start encouraging their students to wear green on Thursdays and eat only spam on Mondays I would stock up on spam and green clothing. Thankfully, Mr. Pudewa has shown great restraint when it applies to his thousands of homeschool mom groupies.  IEW focuses primarily on Language Arts.

I have been blessed to review several of IEW’s products through the years and have seen many of Mr. Pudewa’s talks in person.

One of the first talks I ever listened to (via The Old Schoolhouse) was all about boys. I have said this before, but it was like he knew Josiah personally. Busy boys seem to get forgotten in some of our teaching practices. I have always felt like the products I have received from IEW had those boys in mind from their creation.

Enough of the gushing.

~ 5 audio CD’s
~ Lesson Cards (these are printed on heavy paper)
~ Zoo Cards (small business size cards)
~ The Phonetic Zoo Teacher’s Notes (PDF download)
~ Spelling and the Brain (a seminar by Andrew Pudewa)

The Phonetic Zoo has a lot of history behind it. The program based on is Mrs. Anna Ingham “Blended Sound-Sight Program of Learning.” It is considered to be the most appropriate and effective method for teaching Language Arts.  You can read all about it by clicking this link. It will take you to the Getting Started page for The Phonetic Zoo. It is completely multi-sensory, which has been proven to be the best way for dyslexic kiddos to learn. The Teacher's Notes download has more of her fascinating story. She started her teaching career in a one room schoolhouse. Her 40 students ranged in ages from 5-15! 

There are actually three levels of The Phonetic Zoo. We obviously began with level A, which is a primary level. The intended ages for any of these products is 9 and up. One of the neat things about this program is that it is not grade specific. It is completely flexible and is intended to allow the student to work independently after an initial introductory lesson for each set of words (or rules).

There are 47 lessons in all and we have just finished our 3th card. The idea is that the student masters each test TWICE. After he has done that he can move onto the next lesson. Josiah breezed through the first card. The second card took much longer (it was that nasty “I” before “e” rule with all the exceptions).  I despaired that he would never get it, but eventually he managed to surprise me.

Before I get too far ahead of myself I want to talk a little about each aspect of the program and the items we received.

In the process of signing up for this particular review, I had Josiah take a placement test.  I also downloaded the Lesson Notes PDF and Spelling and the Brain MP3. Spelling and the Brain is also available as a video to watch. 

I listened to the MP3 of the Spelling and the Brain one afternoon. It was sooo informative. I am always heartened with I listen to Mr. Pudewa talk about boys in general. I am always reassured that we still have time to “cook.”

To start the initial lesson I showed Josiah the first Lesson Card. It is a large card with 3 lists of words (along with a jingle) on one side and a shorter list with an illustration or two on the other. The jingles are used to for memory prompts. We would read the words on the card together. I then would set him loose with the CD. I also received MP3’s of all the audio tracks in the download, as well, but we primarily used the CD.

It is recommended that headphones are used during the lessons. This was to cut down on distractions. However, I chose to have him to put the CD in the blu-ray player in the front room. It is just Josiah and I at home during the day and I wanted to be present during his spelling tests.  Josiah has a tendency to wander off into space and I had to stop him a few times from recording all of his favorite football stats on his spelling paper.

I personally found the spelling lessons to be charming. There is always a brief introduction and a reminder of the spelling rule. Then the test is administered. After the test the narrators will spell out each word so that the student correct themselves. They take the same test every single day until they have mastered it TWICE.

Words that are commonly misspelled by the individual students are used for a spelling test every fifth lesson.  When the student masters each card he is given the small spelling card as some sort of trophy.

Josiah’s spelling cards didn’t have Peyton Manning on them (thus considered unworthy of hanging out in his room) so we are keeping them on the white board as a reminder of our progress.
I do have just a bit of encouragement before I leave you. Some might consider the pace of this curriculum slow (why can’t we just move on!). That is one of the many faults of modern spelling curriculum in the public school. There is no mastery involved. We have become reliant on spell check and the like. The beauty of homeschooling is that we have the time and opportunity to truly get it right. We can let those that need to “cook” a little longer do so. We can let those who seem to absorb those Language Art skills quickly move on at their own space. In all this we are giving an excellent education…not an education that simply lets the student get by.

This program (as many of IEW’s excellent products) is truly a Godsend for us.  It is consistent…Josiah knows what to expect. It is easy to implement…Thank goodness for that! And it works. 

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IEW Review

Saturday, October 24, 2015

To Start of November...And A Book Sale from Golden Prairie Press!


I want to share just a few things with you today.

First of all, last year I reviewed Countdown to Thanksgiving: Memory Making Stories & Activities for 14 Days Leading Up to Thanksgiving.  by Amy Puetz (Golden Prairie Press). I so enjoyed using it in the month of November. I am pulling it out again this year.

What I need to tell you is that  Amy will be having a sale on the book, October 26-November 6. You can purchase the book either in printed booik or in an e-book.  

It is really a precious resource. 

In addition to getting my November homeschool resources rounded up, I beginning to gather materials for our Blessing Tree. 

This was from a couple of years ago...It was pretty pitiful looking. 

I had thought about switching it up this year and using sticks, berries and other fall wildflowers to make an arrangement for the table. My niece gathered me a bunch last weekend. I thought we could hang little cardboard tags on burlap from the branches with our blessings written out. 

You would have thought I suggested banning any reference to the NFL from our house. Josiah insists we carry on our yearly tradition with paper tree in the hall. 

I think, however, I still will put a twist on it by using some mixed media leaves. 

Good Grief! Who knew that a teenage boy would care so much about a paper tree! 

November is also Josiah's birthday! In fact, it is the day after Thanksgiving. We will be spending the holiday with the in-laws this year (my in-laws :<). He's already requested a football birthday featuring one of his favorite teams (yet to be determined). 

He is going to be 14!! WAAAAAA! 

In the next few weeks we will be taking his birthday pictures while the leaves are still pretty (and on the trees). 

Have a marvelous weekend! 

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