Thursday, October 30, 2014

Z is for Zoo {Years Ago}

As we end another round of Blogging through the Alphabet, it's only natural for me to write a zoo post. I almost did a think-back-Thursday collage of various zoos that we've seen around the country. Addison reminded me of at least one crazy trip to the zoo while we living in Washington D.C. that I could share instead of just posting pictures.

For our first trip to the National Zoo, I was once again reminded about how much I love my husband's obsession with travel guides. He had learned a fabulous trick about riding the Metro to the zoo. If you stay on the Metro station one stop past the zoo, then you will be walking downhill to the zoo entrance. When we finished seeing all the animals, we then walked downhill a few more blocks to get back on the Metro. No trudging uphill for these smart tourists!

I suspect the kids are chasing pigeons in the only picture I have of them from this day.

The crazy trip Addison remembered was when we went to the zoo with some friends when Lauren was about three months old. If I remember correctly, they had highly coveted tickets to see the new baby panda and invited us to join them.

We had some reason that we had to be at the Navy hospital in Bethesda that day. (My best guess is that Addison needed an allergy shot.) I knew that it would be tough to fight traffic around the beltway to the hospital and then get home before we needed to leave for the zoo with our friends. I don't have any photographic proof, but I'm pretty sure I tossed some lunches in an overstuffed diaper bag, left our car in the hospital parking garage, put Lauren in her sling carrier, and headed from the hospital to the zoo on the Metro.
I promise that I did bring Lauren with us; I just didn't take a selfie that included her riding along in the sling.
It's funny to ask my kids what they remember about our various outings. Addison clearly remembers this second trip to the zoo because "that's the one where we went with the Smiths and Ryan had seaweed in his lunch."


I know that we took other trips to the National Zoo, but these two stick out among the rest. Besides, it seems like we take more animal pictures than people pictures when we go to the zoo. Years later I find myself wishing I had more good pictures of the kids when they were itty-bitty.

For the past twenty-six weeks I've enjoyed sharing a "years ago" story (or stories) corresponding to each letter of the alphabet for the Blogging through the Alphabet challenge hosted by Marcy at Ben and Me.

I often tell my children stories of things that have happened in our past, and now I've taken the time to write down those treasured stories. Now all I need to do is print them all in a book so that they aren't forever lost on the internet.

Ben and Me
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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Clued In Kids {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Clued In KidsReview

Tonight's homeschool confession -- I stink at being a "fun" homeschool mom. I did a little better when all of the kids were younger, but somewhere along the way, I gave up on cute crafts and fun games. It always seemed like it took longer for me to prepare everything than it did for the kids to complete the activity.

Clued In Kids made it easy for me to add some fun to Lauren's homeschool days recently. Clued In Kids makes treasure and scavenger hunts that combine learning with fun. Best of all they make it so easy for parents that even I was able to do several hunts.

Lauren completed several of the hunts included in the Multiplication Dragons Treasure Hunts package and the Happy Tummy Printable Treasure Hunt. We loved them all!

Our first Clued In Kids treasure hunt was one from the Multiplication Dragons set. It contains separate treasure hunts for each times table from 2x up to 6x. (I heard a rumor that another set to cover higher numbers is in the works.)

After I printed the treasure hunt clues, I read that it should only take 8 minutes to set up. I didn't set a timer, but that seems accurate to me. I cut apart the clues, and then followed the directions that told me where to hide them. All of the hiding places are fairly common in any house -- under a table, near a desk, with the child's toothbrush, etc.

It took Lauren nearly an hour to solve all twelve of the clues and find the treasure in the mailbox (a small container of allergy-safe jelly beans). Along the way, she answered word problems involving her five facts, wrote out the answers to several multiplication problems, completed a maze, and found a hidden picture. The printable clues includes an answer sheet to help the treasure hunt leader if there's a problem such as a lost clue along the way. On the morning that Lauren was doing the 5x facts treasure hunt, I had to leave halfway through to take Brennan to the dentist. Addison took over for me and was thankful I had left the answers to help when neither of them could spot the hidden mailbox in the picture for the final clue.

On a different day, I set up the 6x facts treasure hunt for Lauren. I had followed her along as she did the first hunt and wondered if she could complete her second one independently. Again, it took less than ten minutes to print and hide all the clues. I settled in to fold laundry and let Lauren work by herself. She had fun running from one place to another all over the house. She only needed help a few times, and that's probably because I hid the clues in more difficult locations that day (in her top bunk bed tucked part way under the pillow, near a lamp that we rarely use, etc). It took her nearly an hour to complete the treasure hunt. An hour of fun (and learning) in exchange for ten minutes of preparation is a real winner in my book.

Our other treasure hunt was Happy Tummy Printable Treasure Hunt. Its description says that it's suitable for children with various food restrictions -- allergies, GAPS diet, gluten-free, etc. I was honestly skeptical about how a product talking about nutrition would work for a child with so many food restrictions. (Lauren is currently on an elimination diet consisting of no eggs, wheat, milk, soy, fish, nuts, or corn.)

This treasure hunt exceeded all of my expectations for a brief introduction to nutrition and digestion. The clues in this hunt covered the basic parts of the digestive tract, how the digestive system converts food into energy,  how vitamins help your body, unhealthy food options, how nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, and more. Several clues emphasized eating fruits and vegetables to keep your body healthy, but the only recommendation that was contrary to Lauren's current diet is the clue about beneficial fatty acids in fish.

Overall, we found lots of good information and very little that bothered Lauren in terms of her current limited diet. So many nutritional programs focus on eating foods that Lauren cannot have, and it was nice that I didn't have to reexplain to her why it was okay that she doesn't eat or drink dairy products. One clue did direct the child to have a healthy snack. I offered to help Lauren with a tube feeding (since it was about time for one), but she opted for an apple instead.

Lauren and I both loved our Clued In Kids Treasure Hunts! She keeps asking me if she can do more, but I'm selfishly hanging on to the remaining multiplication hunts for a day when I need a little extra fun in our day.

The Happy Tummy Printable Treasure Hunt costs $5.99 and is suitable for elementary aged students. The set of 5 treasure hunts in the Multiplication Dragons Treasure Hunts (2x-6x Tables) costs $19.99 and is suitable for any student learning or reviewing their multiplication tables. Both of these products are downloadable pdf files that need to be printed.

Clued In Kids offers many other Treasure Hunts, including ones corresponding to most major holidays. We added them to our homeschool day, but they'd be perfect fun activities for any elementary aged child. In fact, my niece and nephew will probably get the Christmas Treasure Hunt Gift in a Greeting Card as a gift from our family this year.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Warriors of Honor {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

New Liberty Videos Review

I don't often compare my school years with that of my children, but I've often felt like I got "cheated" out of learning enough American History. Every year, my classes started the year studying explorers and early American settlements. We moved on to the Revolutionary War, but seldom got any further before the school year was over. The next year, we started over with Columbus, Coronado, de Soto, etc. It wasn't until I was a junior in high school that we finally studied the Civil War. (One of these days, I'll have to share some funny years ago stories about my lack of Civil War knowledge.) As luck would have it, I married a Civil War buff and gave birth to a child who also enjoys studying the Civil War.

New Liberty Videos ReviewWhen New Liberty Videos offered to let us review one of their Christian DVDS, I was drawn to the one about the Civil War. Warriors of Honor: The Faith and Legacies of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson tells the story of two of the most famous Confederate generals with special emphasis to their Christian character.

I was actually taking quite a big chance by choosing a Civil War film with the intentions of sharing it with Addison. She's studied the Civil War far more than I have, and she has rather strong opinions. Most importantly, she has very little patience for historical accounts of the Civil War that maintain southern troops were merely fighting for slavery. The causes of the Civil War are far too complex to be boiled down to a simple slavery issue. I promised her that this movie was going to show a different perspective, a perspective that was more respectful of the southern soldiers and their motives than some other historical accounts she has encountered.

Warriors of Honor does a fabulous job of showing the Civil War from the southern perspective. It walks through the battles with concise summaries and tracks the entire war from the view of two of the most prominent Confederate generals -- General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and General Robert E. Lee. It also gives considerable background information on both of them. In fact, Addison commented at one point that this movie was more a biography of the two generals than an analysis of Civil War issues.

Particular emphasis was placed on their faith in God and how it played out in their entire lives. For instance, General Jackson was very involved in his local church and held worship services for his troops while away from home. The story of Robert E. Lee doesn't end with his surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, but continues to show how he spent the rest of his life working at Washington University (now Washington and Lee). One of his greatest accomplishments there was the building of a chapel for the students.

I enjoyed the way that the filmmakers incorporated so many historical photographs in the documentary. Instead of using live actors to represent Jackson and Lee, still photographs were shown. This technique seemed to make the whole story seem more historically true than if I had been watching a reenactment. (Reenactors are used to effectively show troop movements during battle scenes, but they represent the troops as a whole and not individual officers.)

Addison wished that the film delved a little more deeply into the causes of the Civil War. It did a good job of illustrating that southern soldiers were fighting for far more than just slavery, but it never clearly spelled out what they were fighting for. That said, she was impressed with the way they covered the battles. It gave enough information to convey the troop movements and logistics, but it was concise enough to keep her attention. It was also a refreshing change to see the entire war talked about from the southern perspective when so much of our current history is told solely from the side of the victor.

We highly recommend this film as an addition to any Civil War study or to anyone who has an interest in the Civil War.

Warriors of Honor by New Liberty Videos is available for $19.95. The DVD is 80 minutes long and includes 20 additional minutes of bonus features. It does not have a MPAA movie rating, but it seems appropriate for a general audience. We found no objectionable material, but it may not hold the interest of young children. Viewers should be aware that much of the film is spent talking about the generals' Christian faith; it is not a religiously-neutral production.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Middlebury Languages {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Over the past few years, I've posted several pictures of Addison singing with the Tucson Girls Chorus.

This year, their group has the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform in China. They'll be traveling and singing for more than two weeks next summer. She's beyond excited.

Middlebury Interactive Languages ReviewShortly after their travel plans were confirmed, she was given the opportunity to take a Chinese course through Middlebury Interactive Languages. She's taking High School Chinese 1, a one-semester class with 18 weeks of online material (90 lessons).

The Middlebury class is a mixture of direct instruction and immersion. For instance, there are vocabulary flash cards with a picture of an object and the word written in both Chinese characters and Pinyin. She can click to hear the word pronounced and to see the English translation. To test her vocabulary knowledge most lessons have a matching activity, matching the Chinese word to the picture of the object.

Each unit in this course consists of five individual lessons. Addison estimates that it took her about 30-45 minutes to complete a lesson. There are quizzes throughout the units, and each unit ends with a test. The quizzes and tests are automatically scored. Each lesson also has pronunciation exercises which sometimes seemed to require a teacher to grade them. In our case, Addison used the computer microphone to record her responses, even though we have no way of knowing how well she is doing on that part.

Other activities in the lessons include reading and listening comprehension exercises, grammar practice, and videos with cultural information. Addison told me about a particularly interesting cultural video for the unit studying numbers. The video explained which Chinese numbers are lucky, which are considered unlucky, and why. When the girls tour with the chorus, they are all assigned a number that is used on their luggage, to line up at the airports, and to make sure everyone is accounted for. She can now figure out which girls have "lucky" numbers and which do not.

So far, Addison has learned simple Chinese greetings, numbers, animals, family members, days of the week, months of the year, and more. She's learning both to speak and to read all of the vocabulary words. In terms of reading and writing, Middlebury teaches both the Chinese characters and the Pinyin forms. She can combine the vocabulary to form simple sentences and knows how to turn a statement into a question.

Addison found the direct grammar instruction that clearly taught Chinese sentence structure to be very helpful. She learned that Chinese sentences follow a specific pattern of subject, time, place, verb, and object. She's now confident that she can piece together the vocabulary she knows to form a coherent Chinese sentence. In some other languages she's studied, she never quite understood word order within sentences. (I'm not sure if that's a measure of the Chinese instruction or the languages themselves, though.)

Her only difficulty with Middlebury Chinese is that she struggles to hear and understand the different tones in the language (rising tone, falling tone, flat tone, and falling-rising tone). Perhaps she would benefited from some interaction with a native Chinese speaker to clear up that confusion.

Addison has enjoyed her experience using Middlebury Interactive Languages to learn a bit of Chinese to hopefully use on tour. Depending on how much material the first semester covers, she's considering taking their High School Chinese II class when she finishes this one. If we do purchase another level, I will think about the option to work with a teacher so that she can get some feedback on the pronunciation exercises.

Each semester of High School Chinese from Middlebury Interactive Languages costs $119 without teacher assistance and an additional $175 with a teacher. With the purchase of a semester long class, the student has six months to complete the work.

In addition to the high school classes for grades 9-12, Middlebury offers an Elementary Chinese class for grades 3-5 and two levels of Middle School Chinese. They also offer Spanish, French, and German programs.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

YMCA {Years Ago}

Years ago, when Brennan was about 15 months old and Addison was almost 4, we moved from Ohio to Illinois. After the moving truck left, our new neighbor came over to introduce herself. I remember her saying three things.

1. "It looks like you have small kids. Do you need to know the name of a good preschool?"
2. "Do you need a church recommendation?"
3. "You need to join the Y. Let me know what day you want to come along with me to check it out."

I wasn't opposed to exercise, but I wasn't really interested in joining a gym. Eventually, she talked me into bringing my kids and joining her at the Y.

The absolute best thing about the YMCA there in Southwest Illinois was the child care facilities. One whole side of the room had a ginormous foam climbing gym. The rest of the room was filled with equally cool toys. Y members could leave their children in the supervised child care area for up to 2 hours at a time while they worked out.

For that entire summer, my kids woke up and asked me if we could "please, pretty-please," go to the Y. Hmmm . . . if I took them to the Y, then I'd get to exercise for a bit and then take a shower all by myself. I usually ended up at the Y.

Before long, I signed Brennan up for a preschool swim classes one morning a week. I was sitting in the parent viewing area when the aquatics director came out and told the parents that he was in desperate need of more swim teachers. I argued that I could barely swim. He counter-argued that I wouldn't need to be a strong swimmer if I was teaching beginning swimmers in the shallow end of the pool. I ended up teaching swim lessons.

After teaching swim lessons for a while, the aquatics director came up to me again. This time he needed more lifeguards. I reminded him that I couldn't swim. He told me that I'd just need to practice until I could swim a mile and that he'd help me. He even offered to pay for the lifeguard classes. I accepted his challenge. I'm not sure I could even swim a whole lap on my first day, but I gradually got better. It looked like I'd be able to finish the mile swim test in the required time so I signed up for the class. On the first night, I stood on the deck next to a bunch of high school swimmers. The instructor told us, "Long shallow dive, then breaststroke." I took a big breath and hoped that this dive would be better than the ones I had done twenty years ago in swim lessons. I was perhaps the weakest and least graceful swimmer in my class, but I passed. For the next several years, I worked on and off at the Y as either a swim teacher or lifeguard.

The best part of being in the water is that I could bring Addison and Brennan with me when I was teaching. At times, they were swimming nearly every day. Tim deployed for four months, and the kids realized that I hadn't put them in the bathtub at home the entire time he was gone. I'd just rinse them off after swim class and call it good enough.

Sadly, we've never found a YMCA as friendly as the one we left behind when we moved away from O'Fallon, Illinois. I'll always fondly remember my days in the pool there.

Ben and MeI'm sharing a "years ago" story (or stories) corresponding to each letter of the alphabet for the Blogging through the Alphabet challenge hosted by Marcy at Ben and Me. I often tell my children stories of things that have happened in our past, and now I'm taking the time to write down those treasured stories.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lilla Rose Hair Accessories -- Pretty Hair Everyday {Review}

Two years ago I did a review for a Lilla Rose Flexi-Clip that we fell in love with. That single Flexi-Clip multiplied and now we have a whole stash of Lilla Rose products floating between the girls' bathroom and mine (when they aren't being worn).

 My favorite Flexi is often found in the bottom of my purse or the center console of my car. I like to carry it around in case the Arizona weather gets too unbearable and I want to twist my hair up off my neck in a messy twist.

On the other hand, the girls prefer to use their Flexis to hold only half of their hair back off of their face. I often look up at the youth group sitting together in church a few rows in front of me and see Addison's hair clipped back with a pretty Flexi.

When Addison wants to pull all of her hair up, she prefers forming an actual rounded bun instead of a twisty up-do with a Flexi-Clip. Her Lilla Rose You-Pins are perhaps the most frequently used hair accessory in the house.

She uses them when she's studying:

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When she's going to work at the eye clinic:

And even when she's fishing:

On fancier occasions she uses the You-Pins to dress up intricate braids:

 click for Step-by-step Instructions
All of Addison's buns and both of the braids shown above use the regular length You-Pins (approximately 3" long). Now that Lauren has started putting her hair up in buns for ballet class, I'm going to order some of the new, shorter You-Pins so that she can quickly twist her ponytail up into a bun too.

Addison's other favorite Lilla Rose product is their bobby pins. If she is wearing her hair down, there's at least a 90% chance that she'll slide in a bobby pin for decoration.

Basically, all three of us love our Lilla Rose hair accessories. Perhaps the only problem is having a limited supply of options and three people trying to share them.

This weekend I'll be adding to our collection with some new items from Lilla Rose's three-day sale. All of their hair accessories are 10% and anything fall colored (black, brown, or brass) is 15% off. 

I've already picked out short You-Pins for Lauren (she definitely needs heart ones), and I think these Bobby Pins would look gorgeous with Addison's choir dress this holiday season.

I guess the only real question is whether I should order something for myself or just keep borrowing  from the girls.

To start shopping, you can visit Jennifer's Lilla Rose website or click on the Lilla Rose logo below:

Disclaimer: I received a few Lilla Rose products in exchange for blogging about them. I was not required to share a positive opinion, and I was not compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Apologia's iWitness books {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Sometimes a review product arrives at just the right time.

One afternoon, I opened a package of new books and sat down on the couch to read iWitness Biblical Archaeology (from Apologia Educational Ministeries). Every one else was already quietly reading so I couldn't share any cool facts from my reading right away. As our daily reading time drew to a close, I read a section about a burial shroud of Jesus once displayed by a church in Turin, Italy.

I started telling Addison and Brennan about the burial shroud and the mysteries surrounding it. They both piped up that they had been talking about it in their teen Bible study class at church the previous Sunday morning. What a fun coincidence to be able to share the information I had read so they could find out even more about the Turin shroud.

The iWitness Biblical Archaeology book was one of three new apologetics books I received from Apologia. The other two in the series are Old Testament iWitness and New Testament iWitness. All three books were written and designed by Doug Powell.

I enjoy reading apologetics materials myself and I especially like being able to teach my children why I believe what I believe. These three paperback books (each 64 pages long) are worthy additions to my apologetics library.

Old Testament iWitness looks at the Hebrew scriptures, the books that most Christians refer to as the Old Testament. It answers questions such as: Why aren't there more ancient copies of the Hebrew Bible? Who wrote the books of the Old Testament? What is the Septuagint (and why was it called that)? How is the Hebrew Bible arranged and which books are included? The preacher at our current church always refers to the Old Testament scriptures as the Hebrew Bible, and I have a better understanding of the Hebrew Bible after reading this iWitness book.

The New Testament iWitness book asks some of the same questions about the New Testament. It looks at which books are included in the New Testament and why those specific writings were included in our traditional canon. As I read through the evidence presented, I could see why specific books were or were not included in the New Testament as I know it. It is not a matter of a particular church council choosing certain books, instead the Councils of Hippo and Carthage gave formal recognition to the writings that were already considered to be the foundation for Christianity. Finally, this book looks at reasons why we can know that the books we read in our modern New Testaments are indeed the same now as when the apostles wrote them.

Finally, iWitness Biblical Archaeology addresses a variety of issues related to archaeological evidence that has been found to support Biblical writings. It talks about controversial topics such as flood accounts in other ancient cultures and why Noah's Ark hasn't ever been found. It shows how modern archaeological discoveries show the accuracy of events portrayed in the Bible. For instance, the Lachish Letters (found in 1935) date back to 597 BC.  They mention the name Yahweh and match the history recorded in Jeremiah, Daniel, and 2 Chronicles.

I loved all the tidbits of information I learned while reading these three books in the iWitness series. Originally, I had planned to give the books to Brennan (my eighth grader) to read. Unfortunately, I found the layout of the book to be a bit visually overwhelming and the different non-standard fonts to be a bit difficult for me to read. Since Brennan does not enjoy reading (and probably still struggles to read difficult passages), I decided that it would be better to use the information in the books as a basis for family discussions instead of assigned reading.

I've seen these books recommended for ages 11 and up (reading level). I took my own samples from the text and found that they had a readability score of roughly 8th or 9th grade. The material in the books would provide interesting apologetics discussions for children (and adults) in upper elementary grades and up.

The iWitness books are available from Apologia for $14 each. Military families will be interested in knowing that Apologia offers as 40% off discount for military families (active, reserve, retired, and disabled veterans).

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