Friday, November 30, 2012

Field Trip: FDR Home and Presidential Library

While my parents were visiting for Thanksgiving, we ventured over to FDR's home and his presidential library.

A couple interesting facts:
  • It opened while he was still president, in 1941
  • It has not changed since then, but is undergoing renovations now.
  • Our ticket to the library will be honored throughout 2013 so that we can return and see it after the renovations are complete (a great bonus I didn't know about!).
  • A great place to lunch before or after a visit would be at the Culinary Institute of American less than 10 minutes down the road.  But not on a Saturday, as we sadly learned.
I let the boys play photographer for this trip.  Luke seemed most interested in capturing our trip:
The Library in mid-restoration

The roof of the stables

I love how Luke's point of view captures the size of the home

FDR had a fasination with the sea.  His mother's family were sailors to the East Indies.
The library
Turkey is not real, lol!

He had a hand-operated dumb waiter/ elevator that FDR used to pull HIMSELF up to the second floor.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Where'd I go?

What happened to me?  I finished up the 2012 Crew Review season, and bailed on my blog!

Well, not really.  Life had just gotten very busy by mid-November and writing got pushed further than the backseat.    I'm not even sure what happened that made everything seem so busy, but all at once it seemed that schoolhomepetskidsactivitiesgroceryshopping exploded in my life.

Well, I'm back.  I have a wonderful God Spotting memory to blog about, and my new favorite stuffing recipes (thank you Pepperidge Farms!).  And I still want to make progress keeping track of where we are in our school year.

See ya 'round!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Vocal Coach {A Review}

Product:  The Vocal Coach Singer, a set of 7 CDs, 4 training workout CDs +  instructional guidebook and CD with additional PDFs. You can purchase this set as CDs ($119.99) or MP3s ($99.99). The CDs can also be purchased individually.

Vocal Coach is the creation of Chris and Carole Beatty.  Chris is a professional singer, songwriter, author and mentor to singers of all calibers.  Listening to his CD instruction, you can sense that he has decades of experience and has a passion for music.

Vocal Coach Singer is designed for any type of singer – from beginner to accomplished.  It consists of CD tracks covering the following skills:
Complete Breathing
Complete Warm-Up
Complete Tone
Complete Expanding Your Range
Complete Diction
Complete Performance

You also get 4 CDs which contain a “daily workout”.  There are two for higher register users and two for medium to low register.

There is also a PDF file set which contains (from the website):
  • Guidebook – Full-size Instructional Guidebook to ensure success
  • Printable Lead Sheets – each exercise in our course, plus track lists
  • Personal Singer’s Journal (Getting Started Journal & Workout Journal) to track your progress as you become a better singer
  • Vocal Coach Song Evaluation – Evaluation form to enable you to make more thoughtful song selections
How We Used This: OK, you have to understand that it has been 13 years since I sang in our church’s choir.  My range is not more than 5 notes.  I have enough breath support to be heard from the basement yelling, “Can someone help me get these groceries upstairs?” And, I hate to admit, my posture is great for someone who sits hunched over a laptop late in the night working on lesson plans and reviews.
So when I mentioned to Ben once that he actually had a nice voice, and maybe he should consider singing more, I never imagined that there was a product we could use at home to help him start at ground zero and move up.

We haven’t moved much beyond ground one (is there such a thing?), but Ben is interested and is trying some new techniques. 

Vocal Coach is aware that all homeschools are different, and have presented information to help homeschoolers develop a plan to use their program. Click on the link, then look on the left column:

We followed their recommended plan:  Complete Breathing (which included Posture), the Complete Warm Up, then Complete Tone. 

We haven’t really gotten beyond this (like I said, we’re complete novices with this), but the Beatty’s suggestion is that:
Beyond these foundations you can divide the topics into as many sections as your curriculum timeframe allows. Remember: Return frequently to the first three foundations. They deserve and require regular review make the other areas possible. Also, print and use the Getting Started Journal and Workout Journals. They can be photo-copied from the Guidebook or, even better, printed directly from the Singer Printable Lead Sheets and Journals disc.
Complete Breathing: I think the Beatty’s do a nice job with their chosen medium for Vocal Coach Singer.  Since it is just an audio CD (no video), they must be very clear with their descriptions of movements and exercises, and I found them to be fairly precise and clear, without taking themselves too seriously.  After a detailed description of posture, Mr. Beatty remarks, “Now I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Wall,” and proceeds to explain how backing up to a wall can help you check your core body positioning. 

After some beginning breathing exercises, I was pretty surprised that the breathing exercises were put to music.  Again, excuse my ignorance of vocal instruction, but this was not what I expected.  These were a little hard for me to do, because am a mimicker – I have a hard time picking out my soprano part when I only hear lower parts, but after the first two or three examples, just music remained and I was able to complete the exercises by myself in my own range.

The Complete Warm Up starts with a biomechanical explanation of why we need to warm up before singing: warmed up muscles are more flexible and can move faster – definitely something you want when singing.  The Complete Warm Up reminds me of some of the exercises our church choir completed before we practiced on Wednesday nights:
  1. Posture review
  2. Stretching
  3. Beginning singing exercises (like a hum-chew singing of the scales) which are called Principles.
  4. The remainder are singing exercises with simple syllables.  One- and two-syllable scales, lip trills, and chromatics.   I found these to be very challenging for someone with little to no previous voice experience.  I felt like I had walked into the middle of a class and missed all the introductory information.
The Complete Tone CD is really an interesting education on vocal function and health.  I have a background as a speech-language pathologist, so much of this was a review for me.  There are lots of activities within the first 15 or so minutes of the CD that help educate everyone about their voice. This is good information for practically everyone on the planet!  The first half of the tracks on the CD help you to explore a good tone. The remainder of the tracks include exercises (some of which were on previous tracks I listened to) to help practice tone.

My recommendations & thoughts: There is a lot of good and great information in these CDs. Since I’ve never had formal voice lessons or instruction, I do still  feel like I’m missing some basic information about vocal music (my music theory background is not great, in spite of years of music lessons). Because of this, 
I think this would be a good product if you have a little bit of music background.

As I mentioned above, it won’t tell you what to do day-by-day, but it will give you all the tools you need to work on all the facets necessary for improved singing – and communication. , so I would definitely consider using this with older students (teens on up). 

Vocal Coach also sent an elementary program for voice instruction called Teaching Kids to Sing to Review Crew members.  To read what other homeschool-blogger-moms thought of these two products, please click on the banner below:


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

Friday, November 9, 2012

Learning About Missions & Growing Up Wild {Review}

Growing Up Wild is absolutely awesome, and I so thank the Wild family for following God’s lead: not only into missions but in sharing their life and their calling through these entertaining and educational DVDs.

Even before the Review Crew knew about this product, I began to wonder, “Are there any hip, cool guys out there doing mission work?  Who can be a model for my sons?”  We have read many missionary stories from the past.  We even know some young adults who have done short term missions.  I’ve even read some great websites from 20somethings young women who have been called into the mission field.  But I had a burning desire to have a missionary lifestyle primarily with men modeled for my boys.   This series is surpassing my expectations!

The Wild family is on mission in Papua, Indonesia.  They have four young sons (pre-teen on down) who, with their parents, tell the story about what mission life is like.  They show how they harness water for indoor plumbing, how they track and manage their supplies and go on shopping trips for more (it requires a 2 hour hike, a plane ride, and a helicopter!). They share their love of the gospel and God’s people. 

Each set contains a DVD as well as a CD-Rom Activity Guide.  Each 2-disc volume is $18.99 + shipping/ tax.
   Growing Up Wild Volume 1                                                                       Growing Up Wild Volume 4
         Home Sweet Hut                                                                                Amazing World Around Us
            Supply Trip                                                                                        Adventures in Culture
          Sun and Water                                                                                            Tribal Calling

Besides these two volumes there are three others!  You can read previews about the entire set at the Wild Store.

For whatever reason, I cannot get the Wild trailers to load on my blog, but if you click on About Growing Up Wild, you can preview several.

At the end of each of the videos (which last about 15 minutes), the Wild family suggests some related activities – ways to connect the culture, living situation, and/or Word of God to your child’s life.  Levi hunted all over the house for supplies to try to make a Wano hut just like the ones the Wano people live in.  I like the idea of keeping track of our supplies that we use on a weekly basis – just like the Wilds have to do so that they can make careful purchases on their supply trips.

Well, to make these activities even easier to do, the Wild family has included a second disc which has a PDF Activity Guide.  The guides are under 20 pages and can   be printed or read on your computer.  There are activities for all ages and types of learners! I can easily adapt the activities for all my kids – 1st grade through 8th grade. Here’s an example of one that you can easily print off and  complete as you watch the episode again.  This uses a Venn Diagram to compare our house to a Wano house:


I really like the episode ‘Adventures in Culture.’  In this segment, the two older Wild boys get their noses pierced with a stick– ouch!  What I appreciated about this episode was (1) the Wild boy’s mom admitting her initial reluctance to letting the boys do this, (2) her gradual acceptance (by God’s grace and teaching) of this Wano cultural trend, (3) her willingness to be transparent about this issue with the audience, and (4) being able to watch the boys go through the piercing process.  It helped me to grow in my own walk with God to understand that the issues of culture are worldly, and God’s love transcends culture, trends, and hip-ness.  What other issues of “culture” do I allow to get in the way of seeing God’s love for all people?

My recommendations & thoughts:  I LOVE this DVD set.  I want to get more of them, and use them systematically with the boys.  I want to talk with them about culture, God’s love for everyone, and missions.  Even if my boys never step out of the US, I do want them to see that their own life is a mission for the Lord no matter where God places them. 

To read what other homeschool-blogger-moms thought of Growing Up Wild, please click on the banner below:

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.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Grace and Truth Books {A Review}


Do you ever look at your home library and wonder which books you will pass down for your grandchildren to enjoy?  Each year, as I prepare for our homeschool support group’s used curriculum sale, I ask this question to help me separate the wheat from the chaff of books that I own.

I have tons of books that the world considers Great Literature (I consider it great as well).  Most of these copies I own because it is a convenience to have them, instead of making trips to the library.  Others I own because they are classics, but not “classic” enough to take up some shelf space at our public library;  other books are a little to “Christian” for our library, I think. 

The books from Grace and Truth Books, however, are classics because they are beautiful…they up life the soul…they honor God.  These books will – Lord willing – be a legacy to pass to my grandchildren. Period.

Grace and Truth Books is more than an online Christian bookstore.  They are preserving a literary past by publishing some of the best Christian literature of the 19th Century.  You can read the story of how Grace and Truth Books came to be.

The boys and I were blessed to Review two books from the Gundersen’s Character Building Collection for Children.  This is an 11 volume set of reprinted books (from the American Tract Society) that sells for $49.00.  You can also purchase the books individually.

These books are great for elementary aged students (I would especially say ages 7-12 because of the lyrical 19th century writing style and vocabulary).  However, as I’ve observed in my house, my 13 year old easily came out to listen in as well – so I think there is some appeal to slightly older students as well. Score!


The Reward of Childhood Truth ($4.75)                              The Little Medicine Carrier ($4.75)


The boys and I started with The Little Medicine Carrier as a mid-afternoon read-aloud.  We read a chapter a day (ok, sometimes two-a-day because they begged me!).  This book tells the story about an industrious English 11-year-old who wants to help his mother with expenses and earns the job as a courier for the village doctor.  With the blessing of his mother and Sunday School teacher, George treats his job honorably and is trustworthy in his work.  In the 6-chapter book, he learns lessons about temptation, envy, and staying true to his word. The boys really enjoyed it (Ben even sat in to listen to the story – and I was grateful that he enjoyed it). It is a touching story with a bit of a sad ending (a little girl dies in the story), but in all, George – and my boys – learn the value of hard work and honor. I know with 100% certainty that George’s name will not be forgotten in future conversations we have about diligence and temptation.

The second book, The Reward of Childhood Truth, is composed of two shorter stories, the first bearing the books name and subtitled “Truth Insures the Future for Charles and Harry.” This story is 50 pages long.  The second story is called “Little Mary’s First and Last Falsehood” and is 22 pages long.  I chose to read the “Mary” story to the boys this time, because it seemed relevant to some issues (*ahem*) we have been dealing with.  It is a short story about a 7 year old girl, Mary, who feels the burden in her heart for not confessing a lie to her parents for some time. Again, Ben crept out of the schoolroom to hear to story. 

I was only disappointed in one aspect of the books:  the boys and I did not care for the illustrations.  The illustration of George (remember, he is 11 in the story) made him look like a man!  However, this is really a small issue, and the stories are so worth it, that it is easy to overlook.

Members of the Schoolhouse Crew had the blessing to review the following books:

Your Child's Profession of Faith, Dennis Gundersen

Raising Maidens of Virtue, Stacy McDonald

Courtship or Dating: So What's the Difference?, Dennis Gundersen

Of Knights and Fair Maidens, Jeff & Danielle Myers

With the Children on Sundays, Sylvanus Stall

Collector's Edition: Seven Favorite 19th-Century Children's Stories

Too Wise to be Mistaken, Too Good to be Unkind, Cathy Steere

From the Boys Heritage Series:
- Gerrit and His Dog
- The Young Christian

From the Girls Heritage Series:
- First Impressions of God
- Behind Mr. Bunyan

To read what other homeschool-mom-bloggers thought of Grace and Truth Books, please click on the banner below:


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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Eve Party

Tonight, the boys and I are going to hook up the laptop to the TV and stream some election results.  Depending on how the results pour in, we might even get out the sleeping bags and I'll let them fall asleep to the sound of results coming in.

We subscribed to God's World News this year, and they put out a huge election e-booklet, which we'll go over tonight.  Plus, we have our C-SPAN Education electoral college map laid out, and the boys will color in states blue or red as results come in.  Then, they'll transfer the results to a simple graph I made:
Ben is going to work on fractions and percentages for me.  Our map shows which states voted Republican or Democrat in the last presidential election, so his job is going to be to tell me what percent of states stayed the same in 2012.  Hopefully, there will be some interesting results!

I'm planning on making a little spread for us:  the boys have been begging for Pioneer Woman's Crash Potatoes, we want chocolate chip cookies, and we'll probably have spaghetti and meatballs.  A weird collection of foods, but it promises to be a fun night.  I hope.

Friday, November 2, 2012

My Brilliant Idea For The Year

I really like Spell to Write and Read for teaching spelling.  It isn't perfect, but it does a good job of trying to take the confusion out of spelling, IMHO.  And, after the learning curve, using SWR is second nature.

I've had trouble while starting out with the program of helping my boys make up sentences with their words.  One suggestion was to make flash cards with the words, but that was just too many cards getting lost.  I had a light bulb moment, however, and decided to create a colorful word bank using a plain file folder:

You can see that I have nouns and verbs labeled -- prepositions and conjunctions, too.  Oh, and articles.  Levi has not run into the word "adjectives" or "adverbs" yet, but those words are grouped for when he does encounter them.  When we have new words, I just add them to the folder.  This has really helped him to make up some great sentences using his words, and he loves being able to see all the words and make up some long ones!