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Friday, June 29, 2012

A Mini Vacation Celebration

My wonderful husband of almost 20 years and I were able to get away for two full days and nights to a friend's beautiful penthouse flat in downtown Sacramento last week. Thank you to Rob for the use of your elegant getaway! It was utterly delightful and something we have not done for 13 (!!) years and you made it possible. Thank you!

Here are a few pictures of our weekend home...





Isn't it just lovely!? We had such a great time. It was two of the most relaxing days we have ever had. 

Thank you to our dear and precious friends, James and Charlotte, for watching our children while we were gone. Thank you for your love and faithful friendship. Life would simply not be the same without you and your family! 

What did they do, you ask? A lot of Rock Band, great food, wonderful conversation,
and a giant water fight!!





(The common denominator here is James...)




Future discus thrower? ;)



James did get it in the end!



She and Rocky were hiding from the water!

Thank you again, to Rob, James and Charlotte. We could not have done it without you!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Homeschool Spanish Academy - Muy bien!

When I first learned that we might be able to take a full half semester from Homeschool Spanish Academy, I thought, this is perfect for my 17 year old daughter, Hannah. She had been plugging away at another course via the computer for a while but I thought this might just be the catalyst for increasing her ability to harness the language and make it her own. I have not been disappointed!

So what is Homeschool Spanish Academy? I am so glad you asked! Because she is obviously in high school, we chose the high school level. They offer four different levels of instruction:

Early Language Program
Middle School Program
High School Program
Adult Program (New!)

I put this entirely into Hannah's hands and said, "Here are the instructions from the company, follow them and set up your first appointment." So she did and she scheduled the first lesson. We knew there were some requirements for our computer: a certain speed, a webcam, a headset with a microphone, and the free version of Skype. (Check the website for a speed test and the requirements to see if your set up will work.) We had all of those things but to make sure the computer tech called us the hour before our first appointment. The one thing neither my daughter nor I took into account was that our time zone and HSA's were not the same! You will want to pay attention to that because the tech guy was my wake-up call on that day!

We were good to go and so she received her first Skype call from her lovely teacher, Elda, straight from Guatemala! She greeted Hannah in Spanish and Hannah returned the greeting. Because of Hannah's response, Elda asked her several questions in Spanish to gauge her knowledge base. She asked things like her birthday, how her week was going, how she was doing, etc. At this point she asked about previous Spanish instruction and Hannah filled her in that she had some, but that it was limited. She then asked about specific areas of proficiency in different aspects of the language.

This was to set the tone for how Elda would interact with Hannah for all subsequent lessons. Elda used more Spanish words with Hannah to see if she understood her. If Hannah did not, she would try to figure them out within the context of what Elda said to her. If she could not, she asked Elda to clarify in English and eventually asked Elda how to say, "What does it mean?" in Spanish. Hannah likes a good challenge and this has been so good for her!

Then Elda did an introductory lesson. She had already emailed Hannah the lesson right before the class started and she worked through it with Hannah. This was the easiest lesson, but was a great way to start. This consisted of pronunciation of the alphabet and various vocabulary words as well as their spellings. She was to read over this during the week and practice the pronunciations and words.

The second lesson was also emailed to her before the lesson began (sometimes they are emailed the morning of the lesson and sometimes the day before). The second lesson consisted of basic conversations of greetings and farewells, how to use them, translate them, and the appropriate situations in which to use each phrase. This is what one of the pages of Lesson 2 looked like:

At the end of the lesson, but within the same PDF, the homework assignments are included. These are a review of all that is learned throughout the lesson. She also included a Word document that Hannah used to fill in the answers to the corresponding homework assignments. The lessons have progressed fairly rapidly in level of difficulty as well as the homework, but not beyond Hannah's ability to complete them.

On a weekly basis, this is the pattern: 

1. Hannah receives a PDF of the lesson.
2. She and her teacher work through the lesson together via Skype and the webcam. They speak mainly in Spanish with each other (although her teacher is fluently bilingual).
3. During the week, Hannah practices her lesson, completes the homework attached to the lesson and emails it to her teacher.
4. Her teacher emails her the homework with any corrections and also emails her the next lesson.

The pricing varies with whatever level of instruction you choose, but this is the high school level. I think it is very reasonable for the kind of individualized instruction she is receiving.




This is a good demo video to see how the program works:



After four classes of the seven planned for a half semester, this is what Hannah has to say about it:

I have thoroughly enjoyed the class. My teacher has been phenomenally helpful and I have learned more from the four lessons I have enjoyed thus far than any other Spanish program in which I have participated. My teacher, Elda, is a delightful vivacious woman that loves her job, is quite willing to help you in any way she can, to understand the material. In fact, I would laud her teaching style as being the sole reason I have learned so much. She has constantly encouraged me and been cheerful even when I have had a hard time with the lesson. She has always been friendly, kind, yet always professional.



I think it is an exceptional product that has been thoroughly thought-through. This is one-on-one individualized instruction customized for your specific child. My daughter has excelled so quickly and has grasped what Elda has been teaching her. It is so exciting to see it! I have always heard that learning a language with a native speaker is the best way to learn and Homeschool Spanish Academy has latched onto that in a big way. I highly recommend Homeschool Spanish Academy and am seriously considering continuing her lessons beyond the half semester. 

They offer a free lesson to check it out. The Crew reviewed the two other levels for children and you can read about them at the link below:




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Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me,
in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are mine. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sun + Water = Yum!

Garden update! So many fun things are growing along with the weeds in the backyard!

Here is an update on our tomato EarthBox  (aff) I featured when I first planted it. Next to it is our banana peppers box.

This next one was planted about three weeks ago (give or take a week) but is growing nicely.



On the yellow coreopsis, we found this little guy. He was no bigger than a dime in length.


This is my giant zucchini behind my wild mint mixed with weeds I have ignored. 


This is my mixed pepper box with red bells and Anaheim peppers.


This is my very prolific cucumber box. We have gotten at least ten cucumbers already and more are growing!


Here are two and they are almost ready. :) They are delicious!


And these are my experiment buckets that seem to be doing OK. I have already harvested two zucchini and the tomatoes are growing well. 


This is my raised bed over my chicken pen and the green beans are doing splendidly. I actually need to get out there and harvest them or they will get too big and woody. 


My herbs are doing alright, not wonderfully, and I cannot figure out why the basil is so slow growing. It is just a little depressing simply because I was envisioning pesto by now... lol


My root garden is even less exciting and I cannot figure it out. I will have to do more research on that, but it isn't happening this week! :D


This is my favorite part of the garden to look at. It is so green and lush--even if part of the lush is weeds. I still love it. There is so much wild mint that grows so tall and tastes so good as tea that I just let it go wild. Behind all the crazy mint are gladiolus that are soon to bloom. They are so pretty and all different colors. They tend to draw the swallowtail butterflies and I hope they do so this year. :)


This little guy was about the size of a quarter. It is fun to find them in the yard--much better than the nasty big beetles we found in a different year! I welcome them!


That is about it in my garden tour. Things are coming along nicely. How does your garden grow?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Free Blog Post Day

It is Friday and I love Fridays! It means the weekend is coming and yippie, Daddy is home and we get to be a family. We have such busy weekends, but I love them. :)

I thought I would "shake it up" a bit and post my Monday thoughts on Friday. :)

What I'm thinking: I am thinking that I am very grateful to be a part of the Crew. I know I say that a lot, but I am really blown away by the blessings that have come my way because of it. I am not only talking about all the amazing curriculum resources we get to see, but the relationships with all these amazing homeschool moms--they just bless me.

What I'm reading: I am reading several things right now. I just put King Alfred's English, by Laurie J. White, on my Kindle to read. I just finished four of the eight books of the John Carter series (sort of silly books, but I did enjoy them in an early 1900's writing sort of way), and I have The White Queen and The Red Queen that my aunt gave me to read, by Phillipa Gregory. I know they are history put to story and my mother and aunt loved them so I am going to love them too since they are historical books--and I just love those. I just began, Chasing Mona Lisa, by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey, for fun. (Of course I am reading all of these things for "fun" but it is neat to be reading again.)

I have finally gotten around to reading Cotton in My Sack, by Lois Lenski, to my two youngest girls. It is such an interesting glimpse into history for all of us. I cannot imagine living in a shack and picking cotton for a living and moving every year! I know that many people lived this way though and it is a very visual book. Mine was printed in 1949 and has all her illustrations. It is set in the 40's and it amazes me that life was so terribly different just 60+ years ago.

What I'm listening to: My oldest beauty talking to me as I type. I love love love that my daughter talks to me. It blesses my heart.

What we're learning: We are studying the 1900s. So many interesting things happened in this century. In our co-op, I have given each child a writing/presentation assignment and I thought I would share them with you in case you are hitting the 1900s and need a little help. I somewhat formed these to the children involved, but not entirely. Here they are:

6 year old: What kinds of toys did children have in the early 1900s? Make a presentation board for us and show us.

9 year old: Tell us about the 1904 World’s Fair.

11 year old: Tell us about the development and invention of the light bulb. Who invented it and how did it come to be?

11 year old: Tell us about Wild Bill Cody’s Wild West Shows. Presentation board with pictures is optional or you can write  a paragraph to share, or use the D’Aulaire book on Wild Bill and show us pictures and tell us about him and his shows.

12 year old: Tell us about the music of the early 1900s. What was popular? Two names to help you: John Philip Sousa and George M. Cohan.

12 year old: What was school like in the early 1900s? Tell us or show us—your choice.

13 year old: Tell us about the development and invention of the airplane. Were the Wright Brothers the only ones involved in it?

13 year old: Tell us about President William McKinley. Was he a good or bad leader? What are some of the things he did?

15 year old: Explain the gold standard to us, how it came about, and if we are still under it in essay format.

15 year old: How did the Panama Canal come about? How was it built? Was it difficult?

15 year old: How did Hawaii become a state? Did its people and Queen want this?

15 year old: Please write an essay on the development and invention of motion pictures.  What was a movie like in the early 1900s? A movie you might want to look into: “The Great Train Robbery.”

17 year old: Tell us about the science and technology of the early 1900’s. What was hip? J (Do not focus on flight or the light bulb.)

17 year old: How was Social Darwinism affecting the country?

What's cooking: I tell you, I have had more fun with Indian food in the last few weeks than I ever thought I would have at all! We have eaten some very good and very nutritious foods. Today I made Indian Spiced Lentils from Stephanie O'Dea's website. (A GEM of a website for all you crockpotters!) I also made fresh homemade whole wheat pastry flour naan! I cooked them on my pancake griddle that plugs into the wall at 400 degrees. They were absolutely delicious--the whole meal was. Yum for Indian cooking!

What I'm buying: Nothing but food--did I tell you we have five children and three are teens? :D

What I'm thankful for: I am thankful for a husband that loves and supports me, and five of the most amazing, interesting, creative, and wonderful children ever.

What I'm creating: Well...I am supposed to be creating lesson plans, but I am not doing a very good job of it. I have one week to plan for our history co-op as all of those essays and presentations I listed above will cover the history for the last day in June that we meet. (See how I did that? hehe)

What I'm praying: That God would work His perfect will in our lives. There are some things I just cannot say here. God is always and ever able and He is worthy of all praise and honor! We walk by faith in His goodness--and He never fails us.

What I'm planning: Only six days until my husband and I leave on our mini-anniversary trip!

A Picture to Share:

This is Tetris. He went missing in our house over six months ago--probably closer to nine months ago. He was discovered in the kitchen on the floor. He was not there before! Where has he been? Your guess is as good as mine. When we put him back in the tank with Hermoine, the female his age, guess what happened right away? That's right - visual science. It was a pretty interesting night! :D


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Story Builder - An Incredible Apple App!




When I first discussed reviewing an Apple app, I thought, OK, sounds good. Who doesn’t like educational apps, right? What I did not realize was how powerful the story behind this app would be and how interesting the app would be to use. Kyle Tomson, from Mobile Education Store, is the creator and designer of the Story Builder app. Story Builder works on any iPhone, any iPad, and on the newest iPod Touch (the ones that have a camera).

Kyle Tomson started down the app development road when he discovered there were no apps that would supplement the language needs of his daughter on the Autism spectrum. She was adept at learning visually, but did not do as well when taught verbally and she was heading into a school system that was mainly verbal teaching. He knew she would need her parents’ help at home so they went looking and found nothing that would work—so he decided to create it himself!

Below is an interview with him where he tells the story of his daughter and describes three of his apps. It is well worth watching.






I loved hearing his experiences with his daughter because it is so similar to what we feel when we homeschool our children. I think it is incredible he created these apps to help his little girl!

He has actually designed several apps and they all build upon each other, but can also be used very well independently. SentenceBuilder, Question Builder, and Story Builder are three of his best. Story Builder is the one we are looking at today.

In its opening frame, Story Builder gives you (or your child) choices. This is what you see:

Student Name
Select Level of Play (Level 1, 2, and 3)
Question Reinforcement (On, Intermittent, Off)
Color Code Reinforcement (On, Intermittent, Off)
Story Introduction Reinforcement (On, Off)
Settings Instructions

Once you have selected the levels and other choices, you move into play mode. The play screen shows you a picture like this:

If you choose Question Reinforcement “On” then you will have the beginning of a sentence at the top to help them begin their response. Then, it audibly asks your child a question. In the photo above, it audibly asks, What was the man doing before the crash? Your child then can answer with the beginning "helping" sentence, The man was... Or, they can make up their own sentence entirely.

As you can see, the picture is descriptive so your child is really looking at a frozen scene of some event so there is a lot to think about visually. Your child then records his answer in his own words and they can play it back immediately. Then your child moves on to the next question and it builds on the story your child is building. Then after all the questions have been answered, they are put together to form a complete story that your child has created. It is replayed back in their own words all based on one picture.

So what does this do for your child? By hearing their own voice, they can see whether the story makes any sense—they learn about narrative within a story. Did what they say flow or do they need to flesh out that part of the story? Did they answer in complete sentences or not? If not, the story will not sound right. They learn to hear their errors and to correct them. For those of you that like to use narration within your homeschool, this is ideal! It is not just for special needs children either. Kids just love to hear themselves and to get to record their own stories and listen to themselves speak. There are 50 different story lines that your child can use and 500 audio clips of questions to help direct his narrative. At $5.99 for the iPhone and $7.99 for the iPad, Story Builder is an incredible teaching resource.

Do you want to see how it works? This is a great demo video that gives the whole system for you to see except this is what it looks like on an iPad:



The Schoolhouse Review Crew also reviewed his Rainbow Sentences app. You can find that and other reviews of Story Builder HERE on the Crew website.



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Disclaimer:  As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are mine. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

Monday Musings


What I'm thinking: I am very glad to have the entire new Schoolhouse Review Crew website change over! We are so happy with the new look. Have you seen it? My team (Marcy and Debra) and I were able to design it on our own and we love the new tagline too: Discovering treasures for home and homeschool! We hope you will come and check it out!

What I'm reading: Tonight I went back to reading The Lord of the Rings to my children. It has been quite a few weeks since I have been able to do so and wow, I missed it! We read the part where Frodo and Sam meet Faramir in the woods--and where he shows his quality. If you have only seen the movies, you have missed one of the greatest valiant characters of all literature.

We also began a new Crew product, Who is My Neighbor? I LOVE this series. We finished up Who Am I? a few months ago and wow, it was such a great resource to use as a family. I am so impressed with the new Apologia resources. What a blessing they are to the homeschool world!

What I'm listening to: Not much at the moment, but loud music pretty regularly. :D I love to dance and goof off with my children and music is a great avenue for that.

What we're learning: How much my son is growing up into a young man of worth. I know there is a long way to go in maturity and relationship with the Lord, but I am so very grateful to God for him. He just surpassed me in height, and the Lord is working in his life. I am blessed.

What I'm watching: I am watching my children grow and learn. I feel so terribly privileged to be their mother. I know I didn't do a single thing to deserve it, but wow, I am just blown away by the gifts they are to me. Doesn't it blow you away to be a mother? God is so good to bless us in this way.

What's cooking: We have really done what I said I wanted to do--started to make some Indian food. Yum. It is so delicious and I just love the spicy flavors. My sweet friend brought over some SUPER yummy Indian chutney she bought at her local specialty store. My favorite is the coriander one. Oh. Man. It is SO good. It makes the best topping to Makhani Chicken. This is the recipe we used. Easy. Crockpot. Oh yeah.

What I'm buying: Nothing. I had a lovely little dinner with a friend at a local place called Source on Sunday night and treated myself to so me fun eats over the weekend while my family was away playing in the mountains. So I have spent my allotment of fun money! :D

What I'm thankful for: So many things - life, breath, the sun, my growing garden, fresh peaches, my family and their safe return from their weekend trip, my assistants that are so much more than assistants, my dear and precious friends that walk with me in this crazy thing called life. I am SO grateful. God is good. All the time--to me. :)

What I'm creating: I already created it! My secret is OUT! :D

What I'm praying: That God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven! For His wisdom and blessing on those that need it. For clarity and right words for my children when they seek me. That God be glorified.

What I'm planning: My anniversary weekend! My dear husband and I will celebrate 20 years of marriage in July. We are taking a brief trip mid-June and I am really excited about it.

What we did this last weekend: Just a few things! LOL New website, new forum, dinner and beautiful conversation with friends. I was blessed with three days of alone time (with our dogs - haha) and it was a great break. I am very happy to be "back to normal."

What I'm looking forward to: Getting some school planning done. I know - haha - but I am trying to carve out the time. So much fullness, but so much blessing too. :)

A picture to share:


My wonderful husband and my darling oldest daughter.
So many blessings. :)

Friday, June 01, 2012

June 1 Devotional

I really needed to read this today tonight. May it sharpen you too.



For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17)

In every believer's heart there is a constant struggle between the old nature and the new. The old nature is very active, and loses no opportunity of plying all the weapons of its deadly armoury against newborn grace; while on the other hand, the new nature is ever on the watch to resist and destroy its enemy. Grace within us will employ prayer, and faith, and hope, and love, to cast out the evil; it takes unto it the "whole armour of God," and wrestles earnestly. These two opposing natures will never cease to struggle so long as we are in this world. The battle of "Christian" with "Apollyon" lasted three hours, but the battle of Christian with himself lasted all the way from the Wicket Gate to the river Jordan.

The enemy is so securely entrenched within us that he can never be driven out while we are in this body: but although we are closely beset, and often in sore conflict, we have an Almighty helper, even Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, who is ever with us, and who assures us that we shall eventually come off more than conquerors through Him. With such assistance the new-born nature is more than a match for its foes. Are you fighting with the adversary today? Are Satan, the world, and the flesh, all against you? Be not discouraged nor dismayed. Fight on! For God Himself is with you; Jehovah Nissi is your banner, and Jehovah Rophi is the healer of your wounds. Fear not, you shall overcome, for who can defeat Omnipotence? Fight on, "looking unto Jesus;" and though long and stern be the conflict, sweet will be the victory, and glorious the promised reward. "From strength to strength go on; Wrestle, and fight, and pray, Tread all the powers of darkness down, And win the well-fought day."

Dive Into Your Imagination!

Dive Into Your Imagination is a company dedicated to expanding your knowledge of the ocean and its amazing inhabitants! Annie Crawley, author, underwater cinematographer, educator, producer, photographer, and motivational speaker, is the motivation behind this beautifully filmed DVD series.

Dive Into Diversity ($19.95)

Dive Into Diversity includes eight videos that cover the great diversity of the ocean. Designed for Pre K through 3rd grade, these have wide application even beyond these levels.

The eight chapter titles are:

1. Night Diving on the Reef
2. Dive Into Diversity!
3. Be a Submarine Pilot
4. Swim in a Kelp Forest
5. Invertebrates of the Sea!
6. Coral Reef Living
7. Vertebrates: Animals with a Backbone
8. Wacky, Weird, Crusty Crustaceans 

This is a beautifully filmed movie with appropriate music and Annie energetically explaining what we are watching. She is clearly educated about her subject matter and is just excited to share it. That is infectious!

Here is a sampling of the DVD for you to see just what I am talking about:



The DVDs are incredible, but that is only the beginning. She has created the most astonishing Educator Guides to go with them. These are the meat of her program and flesh out the specific topics in a most thorough manner. From the Dive Into Diversity guide:

How is this book arranged?

Each chapter of the DVD, Dive Into Diversity, is presented starting with an introductory question and answer section giving you the tools necessary to introduce and pre-teach important aspects of the video segment. Following each introduction are activity center concepts with extension ideas. At the end of the book is an appendix aligning each lesson with key educational standards and a master book list for suggested further reading.

1. General Concepts/Topics to Teach
2. Objectives
3. Character Education
4. Treasure Chest of Vocabulary Words
5. Required Materials
6. Anticipatory Set: Lead in Questions and Answers
7. Imagination Play Script
8. Classroom Activity Stations
9. Extension Ideas and Journaling
10. CCSS Connections
11. Book List Specific to tie Activities and Character Education
12. Closure and Follow-up
13. Plan for Independent Practice
14. Common Core State Standards
15. Transcript of DVD
16. Go Blue Environmental Section

This is in both the Pre K-K Guide and the Grades 1-3 Guides! There are wonderful age-appropriate activities and coloring pages for the children in addition to all these other areas of learning. These guides are HUGE and just filled with wonderful unit study opportunities for use with your children. I hope she puts samples on her website so you can see the depth of coverage.

If you have any interest in these at all, NOW is the time to buy any of these DVDs. If you mention the Crew or that you homeschool in the comments when you purchase, you can get the guides for free! They are listed at a price that is likely out of the range for most homeschool parents on the Annie Crawley website ($299), so make sure you tell her you are a homeschooler! 

The second DVD we received is What Makes a Fish a Fish? ($19.95)


Also for Pre K through grade 3, this DVD defines a fish and then showcases all sorts of them! This DVD is 37 minutes long and filled with gorgeous cinematography. There are eight chapters in this DVD. Here they are:

1. What Make A Fish A Fish
2. Sea Anemones and Their Friends
3. Hide and Seek on the Reef
4. Frogfish Are Funny Looking Fish
5. Bath Time for Fishes
6. Don't Be Afraid of Sharks
7. Dinner Time for Fish
8. Fishes, Fishes, More and More Fishes 

Here is a sample from the DVD:


This DVD also has an extensive Educator Guide to go along with it that offers the same coverage as the one mentioned above. There is rich learning to be found in these Educator Guides. 

The final DVD we were given to review is entitled, Who Lives in the Sea? ($19.95)


This DVD covers a wide variety of marine life and moves from smaller fish into some of the larger animals many of our children love. Here are the eight chapters included in the DVD:

1. Swim with the Dolphins
2. Playtime with Sea Lions
3. Nudi, Nudi, Nudibranchs
4. Dinosaurs of the Sea: Marine Reptiles
5. Eight Armed Animals
6. Living Forever Under the Sea
7. Marine Birds and Their Family
8. The Largest Fish in the Ocean: Whale Sharks

Here is a sample chapter to view:


This DVD also has an incredible 300 page guide that goes right along with the DVD to flesh out the topics and make the information readily accessible to your children--and to you!

Don't these DVDs and Educator Guides sound great? Don't take my word for it, check out what the Crew has to say about them HERE.

And don't forget that if you are interested in ordering any of the DVDs from Dive Into Your Imagination (only $19.95 each) you can get the guides for free (a $300 value!) just by mentioning that you homeschool!

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Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me,
in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are mine.