Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Catching Up

A little over a month ago, I posted about how sometimes we all just need a break. Apparently, it wasn't just Lauren who needed a break. I ended up taking a break from blogging for a while.

Looking back, there isn't any one thing that kept me from blogging. We had doctor's appointments, but probably not more than we have had at other times. We've had lots of activities, but again, probably not more than any other time. I guess I just needed some time off.

I'll jump back into blogging with a look back at the past few weeks of homeschooling and life.

What I've been reading:

Since our class at church based on the book The Way We Love is over, I've set it aside. I didn't read it completely from cover to cover, but I read all the parts that I was interested in. I also read Lysa Terkeurst's Uninvited because of rave reviews from some women at church that have been studying it.

In terms of fiction, I found a new legal author that I've been enjoying. I flew through Randy Singer's False Witness and am three-fourths of the way through The Last Plea Bargain. I started looking at his books when I saw a Kindle deal on one of them and then found out that I can check digital copies of many of his books out from our library. Score!

What we've been playing:

In addition to Commissioned, we've been playing 3 Seeds -- a card game from the same company. Lots of fun and not quite as long as some other strategy games we've played lately.

What I've been cooking:

For Thanksgiving, my husband experimented with smoking the turkey on the charcoal grill. It turned out delicious and didn't take nearly as long as we all feared. (I was scrambling a bit to get all the side dishes finished, but it all worked out.)

I splurged and bought myself an Instant Pot with some birthday money (Black Friday deal). I'm now looking for new recipes to try out my new toy.

What we are studying:

Science Olympiad has been keeping us busy. Brennan's hovercraft now hovers, and he's almost finished making a rough prototype of his part of the robot arm. He and Lauren have been studying a set of mineral specimens trying to learn identifying characteristics that will help identify them at competition. There's also a lot of other rock knowledge (formation, classification, etc) that Brennan is studying. Lauren was recently added to the Microbes event, so it looks like we'll be talking a lot about bacteria and germs in the months to come.

Lauren and I finished our Roald Dahl read-aloud series with Matilda and The BFG. We still haven't seen either of the movies, though. Our current read-aloud is Anne of Green Gables, but I fear the language is a bit too difficult for her to follow.

How I'm keeping my hands busy:

I just finished a baby blanket that has been taking up most of my knitting/crochet time. It needs to be washed, and then I'll take a picture to share.

I'm also nearly finished with this big puff of fluffy yarn that Lauren picked for me to make into a shawl/cape for her. Not my favorite yarn or my favorite pattern, but Lauren is going to love wearing it.

Where we've been traveling:

In late-October, Tim and I snuck away for a weekend to attend an amazing marriage retreat for parents of special needs kids. It was sponsored by The Hali Project and is an amazing opportunity.

In November, we drove to Oklahoma for Homecoming and to see Addison. I'm happy to report that she's doing quite well at OC. In fact, I'll be a bit cheesy and say that it seems like "OC is Home" for her. (For those unfamiliar with Oklahoma Christian University, the phrase "OC is Home" has been one of their marketing slogans for at least the past few years.)

What we marked off our bucket list recently:

Last weekend, we endured a cold afternoon and saw an NCAA Football game at the Air Force Academy. I'm pretty sure Tim has pictures to share, but he hasn't posted them to his blog yet.

What the next few weeks hold:

Singing. Lots and lots of singing. Lauren's big chorale concert is this Sunday, and they have four straight days of large group rehearsals to get ready for it. The following Sunday is the Christmas musical at church. I think all the performances will slow down a day or two before Christmas.

I'm linking this overdue and overly-long update to this weeks' Homeschool Highlights linky at Homeschool Coffee Break. With luck I'll have my act together and won't wait so long before posting my next update.

Homeschool Coffee Break

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Commissioned Game {Homeschool Review Crew}

I've mentioned several times how our family loves to play games. Recently, we have played several new cooperative games -- games where the entire family either wins or loses based on how well we play together as a team. Commissioned, a new board game from Chara Games, combines the strategy of a cooperative board game with the themes of early church expansion found in the New Testament. The result is a complex game that will make avid game players rejoice at finding new challenges to conquer.

Commissioned {Chara Games}

When I unboxed Commissioned, I was immediately impressed with its quality. Not only are all the playing pieces and cards well-made, the illustrations are beautifully done throughout

The directions for the game seemed a bit confusing at first, but Chara Games has an excellent "how to play" video that helped us get everything set up and start playing.

With the help of the video, we were able to figure out all of the major components of the game and then continuing playing the game based on the scenario shown in the video. It is a rather complex game, though, and takes a long time to play. There are several steps for players to take during each live phase in the game, but it didn't seem nearly as complex after we played our first few hands. Our first game took a little over two hours (including time spent watching the video) and later games took about an hour and a half. We are still trying to figure out all the complexities and determine our best strategies so we spend quite a lot of time trying to figure out our best moves.

We were a bit more successful in building churches throughout the region on our second attempt, but we still didn't meet our goal to establish a church in every city before the end of the game.

Commissioned has a lot of options to change the game so that it's different every time you play. For instance, you start by choosing one of five scenarios. Then, each player picks one of six apostles to play in the game. Each apostle has slightly different faith cards to use, meaning that they work in slightly differing ways to help the team's goal. I never was very good at calculating permutations and combinations, but I know that five game options with six different apostles makes a lot of different scenarios to try to conquer. Furthermore, the game can be made more challenging by using a more difficult set of trials in the trial deck, rolling the optional message die to limit table-talk during the game, or appointing one player to be the adversary in the adversary variation (for games with 3-7 players).

Commissioned is a high-quality board game that will delight serious game players. It takes a bit of time to figure out all the interwoven components that work together in this game. Once we understood the basics, however, we were then able to face the challenge of using all the components to effectively meet the challenge ahead of us. On our second game we almost succeeded in reaching our goal of establishing a church in every city on the board. The recommended age on the box is 14 years and up. I think Lauren could play along with the rest of our family, but she would definitely struggle with paying attention long enough to finish the game.

Chara Games recently released a card game called 3 Seeds. It's aimed at a slightly younger audience (ages 12 and up) and promises to be a bit shorter than Commissioned. I received one of the first sets of the game produced and will be posting a full review of it in the new few weeks.

Commissioned {Chara Games}

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Language Smarts from The Critical Thinking Co. {Homeschool Crew Review}

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}

Over the years, a few companies have earned repeated spots on our curriculum shelves. One of those companies is The Critical Thinking Co.™. Our first purchases were workbooks that focused solely on thinking skills, but over the years I've grown to love their subject-matter workbooks even more than their critical thinking options.

Lauren has used their Mathematical Reasoning book in the past, and it is part of her daily assignments this year. We recently added Language Smarts™ Level E (grade 4) to her schedule.

Language Smarts™ can be used as either a complete curriculum or as a supplemental resource. It certainly covers enough topics to count as a complete curriculum in my book. It covers parts of speech, punctuation, reading skills, spelling, vocabulary, and more. Each activity has a brief teaching section and then a page or two devoted to a practice activity.

I found that these practice activities required Lauren to think through the concepts, not just fly through the material without understanding it. For instance, a page on prefixes required her to combine one of six prefixes with one of twelve root words to fit the meaning of the sentence. "The supervisor told his employees that it is irresponsible to be late for meetings." The activities dealing with similes and metaphors required her to rewrite the sentence to include a simile or to match a literal sentence with a figurative one that contained a metaphor.

The Language Smarts™ workbook has 363 pages of student activities. Currently, Lauren is working on two activities per day. She does one activity from the Word Parts section at the beginning of the book and another from the Reading section. The Word Parts lessons are building a strong vocabulary foundation by studying prefixes, suffixes, etc. She will then move on to Word Relationships to cover topics like synonyms, antonyms, analogies, and even palindromes (fun!). After those two sections, I will likely have her start working through the lessons on parts of speech. The Reading and Writing section started with lessons on using context clues and has moved on to cover similes, metaphors, idioms, and more. There are also several Reading Comprehension activities scattered through this section of the book. These contain a reading passage (at least a page long) and a series of questions. Not only will Lauren have to answer the questions, but she will also have to identify which specific sentence or sentences helped her draw that conclusion. All of the sections are labeled so that we could easily skip around once she finishes the sections she is working on.

Lauren gives Language Smarts™ a favorable review, but she says it's a bit too difficult for her. Today she struggled with a written part of the assignment where she was supposed to explain what a particular quotation meant. She said she understood it, but she couldn't articulate it in her own words. (Note: I choose to use these materials because Lauren needs more practice with critical thinking skills, other students may not find it as difficult as she does.) At least part of her problem is that she often attempts these assignments while we are in the car on the way to an appointment and I am not necessarily available to help. I need to decide if I want to start helping her more with this material or if I should get her an easier version of it. The Level D (grade 3) would still cover language arts skills and would still require her to think about the material, but it might be less frustrating.

Language Smarts™ Level E costs $42.99 and comes in levels appropriate for grades first through fourth. We also love Mathematical Reasoning™ which comes in levels appropriate for preschool through junior high (Algebra 1 and Geometry). In addition to using their elementary materials, we are also using U.S. History Detective as the spine for Brennan's High School American History course.

In addition to reviewing this amazing language arts workbook, other members of the Homeschool Review Crew reviewed several software options for preschoolers that are part of the Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic Before Kindergarten!™ bundle from The Critical Thinking Co.™.

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Familyman Christmas Treasury {Homeschool Crew Review}

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews

In past years, I've been kind of a Scrooge when it comes to early Christmas celebrations. I wouldn't let my family put up the tree or listen to any Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving. For the past two years, however, Lauren started playing Christmas music several months before Thanksgiving. She has a CD copy of the Christmas musical for church so she could start practicing in early September, and it's been played countless times since then.

Now that I've broken my ban on Christmas music before Thanksgiving, I decided to whole-heartedly embrace early Christmas. I've heard of The Familyman for years, and we recently had the opportunity to review The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection (also available as Digital Downloads).

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews

We downloaded all eight of the stories included in The Familyman's Christmas Treasury; the first six are available on the CD collection.
  1. Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster
  2. Cootie McKay's Nativity
  3. The Stranger
  4. The Bishop's Dream
  5. Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest
  6. Gladys Remembers Christmas
  7. The Secret of Snow Village
  8. It's Called Christmas
My favorite story is "Cootie McKay's Nativity" because it captures the sheer excitement and joy when an adult hears the gospel message for the very first time. Many of us have grown up hearing the Christmas story from Luke 2 and then months later the story of Jesus' crucifixion. I suspect I'm not the only one who doesn't remember a time before I knew about Jesus, and it's a special treat to hear the story of Jesus through the eyes of a character experiencing it for the first time.

Lauren also liked "Cootie McKay's Nativity" but said "It's Called Christmas" is also her favorite. The story takes place hundreds of years in the future, and the narrator is telling the tale to warn people of our time. He warns people to continue to remember Jesus and remember the reason for our Christmas season by telling the story of a futuristic time when the government has outlawed any talk of religion. "The Bishop's Dream" conveys a similar warning, only this time it's told from the perspective of St. Nicholas who is looking at how Santa Claus is treated in a modern day society.

Although the characters and the plot changes with each story, each one clearly shows that Jesus is the true reason for the Christmas holiday season. In addition, I found that the collection of stories had such a wide variety of characters that it seems impossible that someone could listen to them all without finding a character to relate to. We heard about a young girl peering into her grandmother's snow village, the young boy adding superhero sound effects to the Christmas story, a stranger visiting town during a blizzard, and a middle-aged woman reminiscing about the last Christmas she spent with her mother.

I highly recommend this collection of Christmas stories. Each story was approximately 20-30 minutes long which made them perfect for listening to when we were running errands around town. It will be an easy and enjoyable way to keep the true meaning of Christmas in the forefront of our minds as the holiday season gets busy.

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury is available as a 6 CD set (including the first six stories listed above) for $25. The individual titles are also available as mp3 downloads for $3.99 each. These stories are also available in printed form if you'd like to read them to your children yourself.

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sometimes we all just need a break

Lauren has always been a bit obsessed with calendars and dates (and is amazing at remembering dates). My problem lately is that she wanted to see a nice block of dates labeled "Fall Break" on my calendar since she knows that one of her friends is currently traveling during her school's fall break.

As the homeschool mom and principal, I cannot fathom taking a day off of school this early in the year. What if we need to take days off this winter because she gets sick? What opportunities will I have to turn down because we took a break now and don't have more school days to spare next spring?

Lauren wants to make sure she gets finished with school for the year the same time her friends do, but we're facing a more difficult challenge. In Colorado, we are required to do school for 172 separate days. Her friend in a charter school only has to go to school 163 days, hence the long fall break. Basically, we're already starting the year nine days behind her friend, and we have to figure out a way to make up any/all sick days that Lauren may need.

This week, I reached a compromise that appeased both of us. First of all, I declared our official Fall Break to be the weekend in November that we go visit Addison in Oklahoma. It's only one school day, but since I'm calling it Fall Break, Lauren is happy.

Secondly, I declared last Monday as a Game Day. Tim was home from work for Columbus Day, and the three of us played games pretty much all day long. (Brennan was invited to play, but he had a lot of other assignments to catch up on that day.)

We started our day with Disney Scene It! and then moved on to Rummikub (one of my childhood favorites).

We then played Pandemic, a game we were borrowing from a friend. It has quickly become a new family favorite, and we're all hoping to find one of our own under the Christmas tree.

In the afternoon, we played both Ticket to Ride (using the board instead of just doing the iPad/iPhone version) and Scotland Yard.

In between games, Tim and Lauren took several breaks to read more of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. They're almost finished, and I suspect we'll be scheduling a movie night in the near future.

Our game day was a wonderful way to meet both mine and Lauren's needs. She needed at least one day to take a break from our regular school routine, and I was still able to count last Monday as a school day. She did more critical thinking on Monday than she often does in a day of our regular assignments. That's a win in my book.

One of my friends on the Homeschool Review Crew has started a new "Homeschool Highlights" link-up this week. I'm sharing our game day post this week, and I hope to share some of my weekend summary posts in the future.

Homeschool Coffee Break

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Monday, October 10, 2016

MyFreezEasy {Homeschool Review Crew} Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

The past few weeks have been very busy around here -- packed full of schoolwork, chorale rehearsals, baseball games, and a few scattered doctor's appointments. Perhaps the only thing that's saved my sanity is MyFreezEasy.

I received a Freezer Meal Plan Membership to see how their freezer cooking meal plans could work for our family. My Premium Annual Membership gave me access to eight different meal plans each month and the ability to create meal plans customized to meet my family's needs. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

One of my biggest concerns with trying new recipe plans is how adaptable it will be for food allergies. The only major allergen that Lauren's allowed to have right now is eggs, and she's also avoiding all corn and corn products. It's become almost second nature for me to cook that way, but it's definitely not common to find meals that fit those restrictions. MyFreezEasy offers a gluten-free meal plan option each month, and many of those recipes can be made dairy-free as well.

I found that my easiest option was to pick-and-choose among all the available recipes and create my own meal plans. When creating my own meal plan, I could choose recipes based on type of protein (ground beef, chicken, vegetarian, etc), cooking style (slow cooker, grilled, skillet, etc), or dietary preferences. For someone new to food allergies, the dietary preferences would be an amazing help. They offer recipes that are gluten-free, dairy-free, gluten dairy soy-free, or top-8 allergy free. I glanced through those sections, but also looked through the other recipes to see if I could find other options that would just require a bit of tweaking.

For my first meal plan, I looked at my calendar, panicked a bit, and decided I needed to pick five crock-pot meal options. From there everything was simple.

I printed out a twelve page document that had the five recipes, shopping lists, assembly prep instructions, and meal assembly instructions. The shopping list came organized in a couple different ways. I chose to follow the complete shopping list because I wanted to go ahead and purchase any necessary side items or garnishes while I was at the store. (A different option has just the items that you need to prep the meals for the freezer.) I knew I needed a few more things while I was at the store so I jotted them down in the margins and headed out the door.

Because my shopping list was organized by store section, I went through the Commissary as fast or faster than I've ever done a weekly shopping trip. I can't say with 100% certainty that I saved money on this trip, but I know that the total didn't seem outrageous and I was buying enough for 10 meals instead of just enough for a week.

After putting away most of the groceries, I followed step-by-step instructions to prepare all the ingredients. This is where I did all the chopping, opening cans, browning ground beef, etc. The directions said it should take approximately 30 minutes. It took me a bit longer, but I was slow when it comes to peeling and slicing apples.

From there, all I had to do was package up all the meals to put them in the freezer. MyFreezEasy gives instructions for making two batches of each recipe at a time. I only needed five crock pot recipes to make it through the week, but I put ten in the freezer. I guesstimate that it took me about an hour and a half to do all the prep work, put all the meals in the freezer, and clean up my mess.

I was reasonably impressed with the meals the first week. Part of the problem is that I was just getting used to the way the recipes and shopping lists were written. On one night, I missed a step that called for adding a cup of water to the crockpot if you knew your crockpot was prone to overheating. Our chili burned a little around the edges, but still tasted okay. (I later fixed the second batch with the cup of water and didn't have any problems.) I also found that I needed to double check the amount of meat in the recipes. Generally speaking, the portion sizes were generous, but I didn't do the correct pork chop calculations and bought very thin pork chops. Our meat-hungry family wished I had gotten thick-cut chops or two per person.

My second meal plan was even more of a success. I had some leftovers on hand and a few meal requests. I made up a meal plan with just three recipes -- one for a night I'd be home to cook, one for my husband to grill, and one to throw in the crock pot.

Again, my time in the grocery store was quick and it only took me an hour to get everything in the freezer. One of my favorite dishes that week was the Mediterranean Chicken Thighs. The next night, we had Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches and my husband declared them "awesomeness on a sandwich."

My FreezEasy has made my life so much easier over the past few weeks. So far I've made recipes from three meal plans that I've created -- a total of 25 meals in my freezer. I've done freezer cooking in the past and it's never been as quick and painless as these meal plans.

I've found many benefits to having a freezer stocked with healthy meals for my family. First of all, I have less stress every day when I start thinking about what's for dinner. I pull a meal out of the freezer before I go to bed each night, and it's ready to be fixed the next day. If the next day is going to be crazy, I'll pick a slow cooker meal that will just take me just a minute (literally) to throw into the crock pot before I run out the door.

We've also found that we have far less kitchen clean-up now that I'm using MyFreezEasy. Since everything is chopped when I do the preparation, I don't have dirty cutting boards and knives to wash every night. Moreover, I tend to leave a trail of messy counters and floors when I cook. Nearly all of my mess is done on the single day that I put meals in the freezer, leaving the kitchen clean (well, cleaner than usual) the other days of the week.

Of course, cooking for my family doesn't really count for much if it isn't food that they're willing to eat. So far, we've all been satisfied with every meal. We have found new favorites, and even the ones that aren't favorites were still quite good. In addition, the wide range of recipe options on MyFreezEasy helps me find enough new ideas to keep my pickiest eater happy -- Lauren eats better when I serve new meals and not foods that she's seen too many times in the past. These meals are a win all around!

The Premium Membership to MyFreezEasy costs $95 for a year or $10 per month. It's well worth that much in terms of the frustration it's saved in my house in the past month alone. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

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©2009-2016 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Another Saturday Update

What I'm wearing:

My running buddy on the East Coast sent me this t-shirt from the virtual race we ran a month or so ago.

What I'm reading:

How We Love by Milan & Kay Yerkovich (for our Bible class)
Matilda by Roald Dahl (read-aloud with Lauren, finished this week)
The BFG by Roald Dahl (read-aloud with Lauren)

I want to start a new fun novel for myself, but I probably should start reading A Tale of Two Cities so that I can discuss it with Brennan.

What I'm cooking:

We tried more MyFreezEasy meals. I'll share more details in a review next week, but Tim declared the Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches "awesomeness in a sandwich."

What's working in our homeschool:

Lauren is doing awesome learning names of the minerals she's studying for Science Olympiad. In fact, the other day we accidentally dumped a box of 15 samples in the floor of our car, and she was able to identify them and put them back in their places.

What's not working in our homeschool:

We've been very busy going places -- chemistry class for Brennan, a few doctor's appointments, some Science Olympiad study sessions, physical therapy, etc. We're getting all the "must do's" done every day, but I'm afraid that too much of the other subjects are getting lost in the shuffle. I need to look closely at our days so that I make sure I don't spend our at-home time doing subjects that could easily be done in the car (math practice problems).

What we're playing:

We borrowed the game Pandemic from friends and are having a blast with it. Tonight, Tim and I also cracked open the box for Commissioned -- a new game from Chara Games. We're still figuring this one out.

What we're listening to:

Lauren and I listened to another few stories from The Familyman's Christmas Treasury in the car this week. Also, a friend and I just swapped CDs from Heirloom Audio Productions. I'm looking forward to hearing The Dragon and The Raven the next time I have a long car ride.

Some things that made me smile:

Watching Brennan perform as part of the FX Worship Experience for children and families at church Wednesday night. If only I had gotten a picture of him flexing his muscles for one of the songs.

Also, I found out that my blog was listed on Healthy Moms Magazine as one of their Top 100 Homeschooling Blogs. I'm very flattered!

©2009-2016 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may nt be reproduced.


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