Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Great Christmas Surprise, part 3– Midship Detective Agency


I’ll admit it took a good two days of our four day cruise for me to figure my way around the ship. (Please don’t quiz me on ‘starboard’ and ‘port’!)  Children (and those kids-at-heart), however, have a fun way of learning the ship – The Midship Detective Agency.  No villain goes free on a Disney ship!

Disney has an amazing collection of art on this ship, but some of the frames are actually computer screens/ monitors – or ‘enchanted art.’ 


Levi and his Opa are picking the mystery they want to solve.  This starting point was located on Deck 5 of the ship. When you leave this station, you’ll have a map/ suspect list, pencil for marking out suspects, and a badge shaped QR badge to hold up to the screens.
We’ve arrived at one of the art pieces.  Levi held up his badge to the screen and was given a short description of some clues that had been found.  Usually, Levi held the badge up to the screen to help him find the clue – he would use it as a flashlight or even a screwdriver to find a hidden clue.
I think we had to wait for a couple other kids to use the screen before we did, but that didn’t matter, because there isn’t a specific order you have to pay attention to.  The other two kids had totally different clues because they were at a different part of the mystery than we were (plus, there are two separate mysteries – a stolen art one and stolen puppies).  After hearing our clues, we read through the suspects and were able to cross off a couple of bad guys/ gals – all of which are common Disney antagonists.

{The screen above my head was being flakey, but it wasn’t part of the mystery.  Some of the screen scroll through different scenes, and I think this was one like that.}

This really helped them to learn the parts of the ship and the different levels.  After this, I was never worried about them getting lost.  While I wouldn’t let Levi run around the ship by himself, I had no concerns about Ben (14) or Luke (11) walking by themselves to to different activities and decks.  You can view an introduction to this fun activity on several YouTube videos such as this one here.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Homeschool Mother’s Journal - January 24, 2014


In our homeschool this week…

We needed a re-boot this week.  So, the dining room table was cleaned off and the little boys and I sat there to work on Bible lessons together.  reaping a harvest, homeschool,, Bible studyAt least for our family, there is much good to be had, more progress forward, and a tad more diligence in our work when we sit at the dining room table.  We only have three ‘home’ school days during our six-week ski lesson season, so diligence and efficiency are highly needed. 

Another thing that I’ve noticed over the years:  when God’s Word is the foundation of a day, efficiency and diligence easily follow.  Both days that we started with 30-minutes or more of Bible Study (still using Bible Study Guide for All Ages) we were able to easily stay focused and complete more our our daily tasks than usual.

I share this as a reminder to myself mostly.  I can be easily swayed to change the focus of our day on the pursuit of academics (math!  spelling!  read!) instead.

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…

This week in the Biology seminar I tutor in my community’s Classical Conversation Challenge II program, we finally began dissections! Here is our worm:  homeschool, high school, biology dissection

One of the things that I wanted my students to do (besides read the chapter!) was to watch a dissection.  I really enjoyed the earthworm dissection demonstration by Biologybyme and will encourage my students to watch all of his dissections for specimens we’ll be using.

Places we went…

This was week 3 of ski lessons.  When we were about 5 miles from the exit we received a call about the lessons – they were cancelled.  Apparently there was no power, which is the only reason this particular resort ever closes.  I assumed it had something to do with the extreme cold, but apparently power lines were knocked down after a vehicle collision. 

I was not sad about this coincidence (closed resort/ extreme cold) at all.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy skiing, but not in negative degree wind chill temperatures.

My favorite thing this week was…

Luke was working on a report about Michelangelo this week for his Classical Conversations Essentials project.  We had to put in a lot more work on this on Monday that I had really wanted, but (again) with a short school week, it had to be done.

Luke had three reference materials that he had to make key word outlines with.  He ended up a little frustrated with all. the. work. that he had to do.  Once his notes were taken, he had to make a fused outline – taking the information he found on each of the topics and melding it into one coherent paragraph per topic.  Luke was so sad –- “I have to make another outline?”  I helped him through this by asking questions to help him organize the information.  Next up:  the rough draft.  This was when tears started to flow, and I came to the rescue: 

“Luke, I am going to tell you something now that will make you happy and sad.  The sad part is that you have to do this report today.  It is due in class tomorrow. The happy part is this:  Because you took good notes from your books and made an outline of exactly what you want to say, writing your draft is, truly, the easy part.  You already know what you want to say!  All you have to do is read your key word outline and make these ideas into complete sentences!”

I will tell you that I’m so proud of my guy.  He sat at the computer and worked his fingers to create a draft – no tears!  And I’ve never seen anyone so happy.  He really learned the value of a good notes, a good outline and a little more perseverance.

My kiddos favorite thing this week was…

This weekend is Pinewood Derby and Levi has made a fantastic themed car.  He is way more into the design of the car than speed.  The theme is “Fast Food” and he made a burger-and-fry basket.  We used Crayola Model Magic to shape a slider and fries.

homeschool, pinewood derby,

Levi was disappointed that his car was the slowest in all four of his heats.  However, this award – Best Themed Car – made all the difference in the world:


Ben’s favorite subject right now is Logic.  He’s taking intermediate logic right now, and I’ve been able to help (only a little) and reboot a bit of my brain from my college years.

I forgot to add that Luke is still cranking it with long division.  He totally gets it now, and I’m just thrilled.  We are in a sweet spot for math with him.  Luke and I also had to dig through closets to come up with his Michelangelo costume for his presentation next week.  He has to read his report in such a way that people will have to guess who he is.  Luke has always been the child who never outgrew dressing up in costumes, so he is really looking forward to this.

I’m grateful for…

I mentioned last week that my husband and I were having some difficult conversations about some issues going on in our life.  I buckled down last week and got my nose back into The Word.  I so know that God has been with me us on this rough journey and that he has been showing us his blessings and favor.  We’ve been able to get to a point to finalize some dealings with business associates and move on in life.  This past few months have taught me to lean in to the Word more when I am feeling stressed. I’m grateful to have learned this and am re-aligning myself with my Savior.

I rewarded my kids this week by…

(shhh)…we ate pizza twice this week (including a use of our Pizza Hut reading program certificates)…and the weekend isn’t even here yet.  They were not disappointed.


Don’t forget to check out other HMJournal entries by clicking to logo below:

So You Call Yourself A Homeschooler?


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

{Not So} Wordless Wednesday


Photo 20

I love several things about this picture.  This was dessert in the Enchanted Garden restaurant, where we ate two evening meals.  Levi was excited to bring his two Hawaiian shirts as he “cruise casual” dining apparel.  I thought he looked handsome and that he made a good choice in appropriate clothing.  And, honestly, who doesn’t like a Mickey ice cream bar?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Homeschool Mother’s Journal–January 18, 2014


I’ve decided that I need a new umph in my weekly reports about our homeschool journey.  Having seen the link up for the Homeschool Mother’s Journal at So You Call Yourself a Homeschooler?, and after reviewing the suggested prompts, I think this would be a good way for me to document our 2014 hits, misses, treats and trials.  And adventures.  There are always adventures.

So, here we go!

Because our homeschool community (Classical Conversations) meets on Tuesdays, our weekly assignments begin on Tuesday and end on the following Monday.  After all these years of homeschooling and being involved in different groups, I’ve finally just had to adapt myself to unique 5-day weeks.  

In my life this week…

This was our second week skiing with a large group of homeschoolers – almost 300 this year.  It is  a fabulous deal for 2 hours of lessons and weekly mid-week lift ticket combo.  Ben and Dave have been participating in this program since 2007, and each of the other boys started skiing when they were six. Last week, I fell and tweaked my knew, but this week was Dave’s turn.  He did such a better job than I did – meaning, he heard the “pop” and thinks he has a little meniscus tear.  This is not good!  My poor husband had health problems last year that kept him side-lined for most of the ski season, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be skiing anymore this year.


   photo 2

In our homeschool this week…

This was our second week back from Christmas vacation, but for me it felt like our first week and last week was just survive-until-the-weekend mode.  Christmas break ended a bit too abruptly for me and this girl just wanted more of it, so the week of Jan. 4-9 was a bit painful.  We did almost the bare minimum as the boys re-learned to wake up before 9:30 and we all learned to be productive human beings again.

Ben’s Challenge B class finished up and presented their science experiments.  I’m grateful Dave was able to swing by after patient care to see all three students and their projects.


Ben used the website to begin thinking of ideas for his project.  He was looking for something a bit more physics-y (not a word, I realize), and ended up doing an experiment to measure the force a hammer exerted on different sized nails and different sized wood.  He experienced the ups and downs of research (meaning:  everything did not go as planned).  He also realized that during the “research gathering” portion of the project, he should have more carefully considered what equations he would need to use to figure out the force, the mass, the acceleration, etc.  He certainly received a good dose of functional math this past week.

One of the improvements I’ve really noticed with the boys because of our involvement with Classical Conversations is that they are much more willing to engage in conversations, volunteer to speak and be in front of people.  This is a huge improvement for all the boys, but more so for Ben and Levi, who tend to be more introverted personalities.

The proof of that was during Ben’s last Boy Scout court of honor.  The boys were teaching the skill of knot tying and Levi shot up his hand to be the learner:


He was so pleasant and excited to be up with The Big Boys, and didn’t get frustrated at all.  What a wonderful change to see.

My favorite thing this week was…

Each of my boys showed true gratefulness to me this week, and I am blown away by their sincerity and love.  Ben, who is not a fan of Latin but has to take it this year as part of his English credit this year, and I were reviewing new vocabulary with flashcards he had just made.  I explained to him how to make effective flashcards for the five declensions of personal pronouns, and we then practiced and discussed their uses.  After putting them away, he came up to me and gratefully said, “Thanks, mom, for helping me.”  {he’s reading over my shoulder and rolling his eyes because I’m sharing this, but it warmed my heart so much that I am going to ignore his derision.}

Luke, who is smack dab in the middle of Math U See’s Delta program, is learning long division.  Last week we reviewed simple two-digit by one-digit division and this week we had to figure out three-digit.  It wasn’t pretty and their was crying, a couple time outs and finally – a breakthrough.  Luke is very tender-hearted and he gave me a big apology, a long hug, and a big thank you for helping him over his hurdle.

And Levi make this as an impromptu gift:

photo 1


My kiddos favorite thing this week was…

Levi is the first review guinea pig of the year.  We have access to our first TOS Crew Review:  He’s already breezed through an eight lesson section in the span of about 30 minutes.  I’m so happy we are able to take this for a test run – he loves science.

I’m cooking…

This was our second week of skiing and I’m determined to try out some new recipes in our crock pot.  I love giving everybody a warm dinner after being on the slopes all day, and I especially love that I don’t have to do anything on Thursday morning except plug the crock pot in.

Last week we tried out Chicken Pot Pie Soup.  It was delicious, but salty (and this from a person who loves salty foods).  Next time I will not put in three bullion cubes – I’ll try only 1plus add a little more homemade chicken broth.  This will definitely be something I make again for the family.

This week we are going with a familiar recipe for chili.

photo 3

I hope next week to try something new and stretch the boys’ taste buds.  They are all so famished when we get home from skiing that I am taking liberties to try new things.

I’m praying for…

We have been going through some trials in business dealings recently, and I’ve been praying for God to help me deal with anger that I am feeling with the people involved.  I’ve been looking through the YouVersion Bible app and have seen several short Bible devotionals that I have started this weekend to give me some structure in dealing with my emotions and heart.  I know God does not want me to be angry and that his justice is sweetest and best.  I need to find rest there.

I’m also praying for a good book/ Bible study that Ben and I can do together.  We’ve decided on reading Case for Christ books and using them to discuss information.  I just need to get them ordered.

You can click below to read other journal entries from homeschoolers all over the world:

So You Call Yourself A Homeschooler?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

{Not So} Wordless Wednesday

2013-12-20 15.06.22

My sweet mama was so busy in December getting her life organized so we could all go on vacation together before Christmas that she overworked herself.  By the time we got to the WDW portion of our vacation, her knees were really hurting her.  She rented a wheelchair for the three park days we had, and we all pitched in helping to push her along.  I really appreciated it when my boys willingly jumped in to give their Nana a hand and their Opa a break.  Seeing them willingly help out is such a blessing to my heart.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Great Christmas Surprise, part 2– The Ship


Back in September/ October, my  mom and I started planning a fantastic Christmas vacation for them, my  boys and me on a Disney cruise.  {My wonderful husband had started a new job and had no vacation time.  This has been a challenging year financially and he just could not take unpaid time off.}  In November, they prepared a fun video to reveal their Christmas surprise (posted here). 

Because of weather systems throughout the east coast, we ended up leaving a day early to arrive in Orlando with plenty of time to avoid snow and ice delays.  Thankfully, our flights had been booked through Disney Cruise Lines and they were easily able to rearrange our flight for Saturday morning – for no additional fee!  We took off from Philadelphia right as the snow storms blew into the Philly area, and landed in 60+ degree weather in Orlando.  Not a bad trade for my tastes.

After meeting my parents at the airport on Sunday and being carted to Port Canaveral, we boarded the ship and got used to our surroundings:



You can see my dad’s head peaking around the divider between our verandas.  By dinner, this divider had been removed and we could share another entrance between the rooms and a larger outdoor space.  I hadn’t thought that a veranda was a big deal, but I have to admit that I LOVED sitting out here and reading a book.

Our stateroom had a number of features that we all loved.  The bathroom shower and commode are divided into two separate sections, each with a sink.  This was very helpful!  The boys argued over who got to sleep in the pull down bunk, and there was also a pull out couch that Ben slept on.  



Dressed for dinner.  I’m really grateful for that this wasn’t a formal cruise.  I actually wore this same dress for dinner every night of our 4-day cruise!  Each boy brought one non-athletic set of shorts and a collared shirt and we called that ‘cruise casual.’  It was interesting to see the variety of clothes worn by different families.  There were always lots of princesses around (it is a Disney cruise after all), but men and boys were dressed in everything from Dockers-type pants and sport shirts to shorts and sandals.  I saw a few moms with fancier dresses than mine, but I never felt self-conscious for wearing this sun dress.


Here are some pictures of our ship, the Disney Dream.  It had 14 deck levels.


Our first glimpse of the ship:


We had never seen any floaty thing this big before!



I’ve never seen the interior of any other ship, but I thought the Dream was a beautiful ship!  I loved the open, multi-storied lobby entrance.

When we boarded the ship, we were greeted by family name and holiday dressed stewards.

I love this picture my mom took of the lobby area.  This is looking towards the aft of the boat, and we entered the ship on the left side, by the Christmas tree:

In the late afternoons and evenings, a fun musician and her guitar-accompanist sang 70s, 80s and 90s pop tunes.  I loved passing through the lobby hearing tunes I had grown up with.  And, there were always one or two characters around for a photo op. 

After boarding the ship and eating at the plentiful buffet Cabanas on deck 11…


we toured the ship to find the children’s activities:


Although I signed Luke and Levi up to be able to participate in Oceaneer Lab (a section of the Oceaneer Club for ages 4-12, but it seemed to be geared for the older segment of this broad age range), they never attended any of the activities – we just had too much to do.  [And, to be honest, I don’t go on vacation with my boys to send them away, so I was fine with their personal choice of participation in these youth clubs.]

I appreciated that there were age overlaps in all the youth programming, and Luke and Ben were the perfect ages to take advantage of this.  The tween program is for ages 11-14 and is located in one of the red funnels in the ship.  Luke and Ben both went up to this program, called Edge, to participate in a Wii challenge. Luke also went up to watch a movie.  The teen program Vibe is for ages 14-17.  Ben only participated once in this program.  He had really been looking forward to getting on a treadmill and  running, but he could only access the gym by going with the Vibe staff at 9pm for an hour.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Review of Our Year of Reviews 2013

With the announcement of The Old Schoolhouse's Blue Ribbon Awards in November, my 4th or so year of reviews with The Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Review Crew came to a close.


If you click the picture above, you'll see what my Crew Mates and I voted were the best products we reviewed this year.  Some of mine made the cut, while others that worked for our family didn’t quite make the top of the list.  I thought I'd share what our faves were, and how they worked out for us past the review period.


We still love, love, love Math U See.  Ben is in the middle of finishing Algebra 1, and I have to say that MUS has made this relatively painless (see our review here). Although we’ve progressed through it a lot slower than I planned (I had wanted Ben to finish this by around Thanksgiving), I’m not going to gripe.  As usual, we had too much going on this past summer to make progress through the program.  I truly believe Ben is getting a great foundation in algebra, with no tears, little pain, and he is enjoying math. 

Luke and Levi are also using MUS still.  Luke is learning long division in Delta; this is my first time through Delta – and I am pleased with the foundations he is building as he learns some of the “why’s” of long division.  Levi is almost finished with Beta, and we will turn our attention to learning multiplication facts.  No disrespect to MUS about this, but Luke and I had a lot of fun using a product from a few years ago, called Math Made Easy (review here from a few years ago) that I will use with Levi.  In six weeks, he’ll know all his multiplication facts and we’ll breeze through MUS Gamma.  Unfortunately, I cannot find Math Made Easy’s website anymore, so I’m not sure the product is still being sold. 

Although we reviewed Math Rider way back in February 2012, this product is still used to help the boys review math facts (especially over the summer). The usually have a love-hate relationship with it –- hating it at first (it’s math facts!) but as they get back into it, they end up running around the house to tell me about their accomplishments and showing me the jewels and awards they’ve earned. 

language arts:

Logic of English is our new spelling and grammar program for Levi and he is still using Fundanoodle’s cursive workbook to refresh and review cursive.  We should be finished with that workbook soon and we’ll move back to Classical Conversations' Prescripts for longer copywork sentences.  I’ve been reading Leigh Bortin’s The Core:Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education and have been inspired to incorporate more consistent use of copywork into Luke and Levi’s daily program.

I also think that Teaching the Classics is vital for our family;  however we haven’t been using it.  Ben’s literature course has been full as is and I haven’t fit in TtC principles in.  I’d like to incorporate it at an elementary level for Luke and Levi, and am considering purchasing some tools from The Center for Lit to help me be more intentional. The have a number of resources I’m considering, but I think that a Ready Readers would be perfect to help keep me on track.

Reading Kingdom is another tool that Luke and Levi are using to supplement their academics.  I like that this is something independent that they can do. I contacted customer service and had Luke re-take the placement test, because I had seen some jumps in his reading ability this fall (He started reading the Harry Potter series);  indeed Luke was able to to move up an entire lesson.

high school:

In addition to Ben’s high school Algebra course, we both fell in love with Homeschool Programming’s C# programming courses.  Ben has finished the first semester long course and is working on gaming right now. 

A product that I just loved, but really stretched Ben’s comfort level was Homeschool Spanish Academy (review here).  I loved that it forced Ben to communicate with someone in Spanish, improving language processing, pronunciation and verbal expression.  These are the exact reasons Ben didn’t like it.  He would prefer to learn a language from a book. He is really wanting to start Spanish at the high school level (we reviewed a middle school level pacing), and I think I’m going to strike a deal with him that he can indeed take Spanish, but we will invest in HSA as the coursework.  And I’ll buy him a workbook if he wants.  *grin*

Best high school deal of the century is God’s World News (review here).  When you purchase individual subscriptions directly through the publisher, you will get access to their World Magazine content.  This has been a huge tool and blessing for Ben’s current event’s coursework this year.  We’ve been able to download each issue of World Magazine to our iPad.

other faves and their fate

  1. Song School Spanish was put to the side while we investigated a Latin course.  This made Levi sad, as he really, really loved it.  I hope to surprise him this winter by bringing it back out and working on it 3-4 days a week with he and Luke.
  2. We’ll be bringing back our Homeschool in the Woods Composers Activity Pack this semester when we begin our unit on musical composers!
  3. Luke and Levi are still using Bible Study Guide for All Ages.  I was happy to learn that I could purchase the next unit of activity pages through Currclick, which will be very economical!
  4. Apologia’s Human Anatomy course is also a favorite, but was set aside to complete other science reviews.  Levi asks me about it often, and I really want to squeeze it in.

Being on the Review Crew has been an amazing experience that I am grateful for all the time.  The community of reviewers is so supportive and welcoming and the products have given us a wonderful ability to try tools that stretch us and help us to know ourselves better.  My prayer, however, is that our reviews are helping those in the homeschool community – especially my readers – to locate products that will bless their families and home education efforts.


Looking forward to the 2014 Crew Year!