Thursday, May 21, 2015

Our Daisy

I never knew I was a "dog person"  until, at 40something years old, I had my first dog.

I wasn't raised around dogs, but the few I knew in passing were generally small dogs.  When I was little, my grandparents had a beagle that I would've loved to know if Shannon hadn't been so jumpy for a dog-shy little girl. My best friend growing up, Jennifer, had  a larger dog, but I have very few memories of him/her from all our times together.  Our neighbors had a poodle, Mitzi, who was the cutest but yappiest thing around;  she made us giggle with her my-bark-makes-up-for-my-size noise.

The boys begged for a dog.  We caved.  We opened our hearts to a co-worker's dog and I instantly fell in love.  I was no longer the only 'girl' in the house -- I had a buddy named Daisy.

She came to us as an active girl but with a history of Lyme disease.  She did not live up to a portion of her name -- the retriever part -- but she had some great food-related tricks.  

Adoption Day, 2008
Daisy was Levi's favorite comfort (3yo in this photo)

Daisy tolerated Tiger's kitten antics
May 2014

Yesterday, Friday, May 15, our sweet Daisy dog had to be put down.  The day before, she slowly walked up the stairs and hid in our boys closet while Dave was using an air compressor to build a shed in the backyard.  She has always been afraid of loud noises.  I have to admit, that I did not really worry about her -- or notice that she had not come downstairs in the evening -- until Friday morning.  Luke and I had to use a towel as a sling under her belly to get her down the stairs and into the car.  After dropping Ben and Luke at their play practice (thankfully, just a mile down the road from the vet), Levi and I took Daisy to the doctor.  I knew it was bad news.  She had a cancerous mass in her liver -- something common with golden retrievers.  She was bleeding out and it was time.  

I was able to run down the road and get Ben and Luke to say goodbye to Daisy.  Dave -- on his very first day of work! -- was able to leave early to also come say goodbye and help comfort the boys.  We all stayed with her until the end.  

Now, we live with all those firsts -- the quiet of our home, the changes to our routine.  I have some dog food and treats to pass on to the animal shelter.   I've washed her bowls for the last time.  We are super busy with life right now, but it is amazing how one of us will stop in our tracks and realize we miss her and our hearts ache.  

My facebook post on the day she died:  

Oh, to be loved by a good dog is a priceless gift; 
to love a good dog is such a blessing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

{Crew Review} Fishflix Family Friendly Movies: Unbroken Review

We love movies in our house, and Friday night tends to be a movie night here.  However, finding appropriate movies that span the ages from almost 16 to 9 can be challenging.  As you know, Hollywood can create some fabulous movies with great moral lessons, but there can be gratuitous profanity and/or images that we'd prefer to not expose our monsters to.

I jumped at the chance to review Unbroken Legacy of Faith Edition (yes, this is the Hollywood release) from has culled through the enormous offerings of production companies large and small to find movies that will uphold Judeo-Christian values.  You can view company information in their "About Us" section Review

As I mentioned, this is the Hollywood produced version of the film that was a huge hit on the big screen.  EXCEPT.  The "except" part makes this movie a bit more family friendly.  While not compromising the story, this version has blurred out some naked images, which some families may appreciate.

If you didn't catch the gist of this film, it is about Louis Zamperini, from the San Diego area whose Pacific Theater plane crashed into the ocean because of mechanical failure.  He and two crewmates survived on a life raft for 47 days before they are "rescued" by the Japanese and sent to POW camps. The physical and psychological horrors these POWs endure is gut-wrenching.  The movie follows the men through their internment until they are released after the war.

One of the criticisms of the Hollywood film, however, was that the "rest of the story" was not told. Upon his return from the war, Mr. Zamperini had a difficult time re-adjusting to his life and had horrible PTSD. By God's grace, Mr. Zamperini was able to heal, maintain the integrity of his young family, and go on to share the gospel message and impact many lives for Christ.  This part of Mr. Zamperini's story is fleshed out in the segments on the accompanying "Legacy of Faith: The Story Behind the Film" disc.  It includes these parts:

Introduction (8 minutes):  Pastor Greg Laurie shares how he first learned about Louie Zamperini and describes the four "lives" of Louie.

Coming Full Circle (15 minutes)--- This is a professionally produced interview/ biographical segment from CBN.  Louie tells his complete story:  growing up, running in the 1936 Olympics, his POW time, and his conversion to faith.

Faith Lesson (3 minutes) -- Using segments from the film, Louie describes his faith. Angelina Jolie also contributes to this segment.  I love how he sees that God worked in his life prior to his salvation to draw him close.

Captured By Grace (28 minutes) -- Louie Zamperini partnered with the Billy Graham Evangelical Association to produce this longer story.  This segment focuses more on his military service, crash and POW time and his conversion after the war.

Louie & Laurie (53 minutes)-- This is a recorded interview of Mr. Zamperini by Greg Laurie in front of a live audience.  

How We Used This Product:  We watched this as a family and really enjoyed it.  Just a few weeks earlier, I had included a book about Mr. Zamperini's testimony in Luke's Easter basket (not knowing we would review this movie).  Luke really liked comparing the movie version to the book version, and was sure to point out the differences between the two.  (Which just reinforces for me why I LOVE it when the boys read the book before they see the movie!)  Luke definitely enjoyed playing "expert" during the film.

A few days after watching the movie, which was just over 2 hours long, I pulled out the Legacy of Faith disc.  These are four separate recorded interviews  that Mr. Zamperini gave over the course of his later life about his WWII experience and God's redemption.  Obviously, the story is the same in each of these four main videos, but each is distinctive by the length of the videos and Mr. Zamperini's contributions to the production.  I'm not sure I'd sit around again and watch this disc in its entirety; rather, I think there is a time and place for each one.

I would really recommend this version of the movie if you are looking to expand your DVD library.

Crew members also reviewed several other DVDs offered by

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

So....What Do We Do When CC is Over for the Year?

It is the first Monday in May.  Our official school year isn't over until the end of the month.  Luke and Levi's program has been over since the beginning of April and Ben has had a full week off now.

So, what do we do?

Two boys have already had their year end evaluations.

Ben, who was responsible for half of the seminars in Challenge I, still has several classes to power through before he heads off on a Summer Adventure (more details at a later time).  He is just a few lessons from finishing Geometry; he has caught up on Spanish in a powerful way and is just a few weeks from finishing that; Biology is getting some intense work right now; and then there is Java.

Levi is finishing his last literature book study using the Memoria Press guides we reviewed last fall. We are at bare-bones usage at this point -- I'm just asking him the comprehension questions.  He is also helping me review some IEW products (of the sort he will use in Essentials next year, so it is good preparation) as well as a vocabulary program.  Oh, and math, we are working at a fast clip through MUS Gamma so that we can get to multiple digit division.

Luke has a bit of a lighter schedule.  He finished his literature books already, but is needing to finish up spelling.  He is almost there.  After our review of A+ Interactive Math, I've got him back on MUS Epsilon- it is just a better fit for him and he is more successful.  The goal is that he can change over to Saxon at some point in the late summer.  He wants to use a different math program, and I'm willing to let him try Saxon -- I think the spiral approach might work a little better for him. I still have to administer his standardized testing, so that will happen at the beginning of June.

Oh, and cleaning the schoolroom.  That is mostly my job -- I have bookshelves to build so that I can reorganize our schoolroom footprint.  Once I discovered hanging bookshelves on the wall, I have been obsessed with doing that as much as possible.  Like the photo in the blog post I linked above, I have another 'L' shaped shelf I want built to hold the books in the last remaining bookcase.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

To My Mom on Mother's Day

Dear Mom,

Thank you for every little little thing -- and big thing --you've done for me.

Thank you for dragging my uncooperative butt to Colorado and forcing us to see nature instead of letting me sit there and reading books in the car.  As a matter of fact, thank you for dragging my uncooperative butt a lot of places.

Thank you for every thank you note you made me write.

Thank you for tough love.

Thank you for "strongly encouraging" me to attempt new things throughout my childhood and teens.

Thank you for forcing me to take music lessons.

Thank you for enlarging our world by sacrificing to take us on amazing vacations and trips.

Thank you for loving me even when I wasn't making the best of choices.

Thank you for the times you said, "I told you so," and the times when you didn't (but wanted to).

Thank you for the unconditional love you still have for me -- and my husband -- and my children.

I am so glad I snagged a photo of this picture when I surprised you for your anniversary.  To have a picture from the first few weeks after my birth is priceless for me, and worth the plane ticket (well, seeing your surprised face was worth the plane ticket, getting to see the photos was the priceless bonus).

I love you.  Always. Forever.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

{Not So} Wordless Wednesday - belated post

A bike with gears!  What a milestone!

Levi had $50 in Toys R Us gift certificates (thanks to all his hard work on the Great Parents Academy review).  This one should last him for awhile.  He will definitely enjoy this more than another Lego set.   

So, guess what he did all afternoon?  And guess how hard he fell asleep that night?  

[I was having trouble getting Blogger to auto-post this, thus, it is a day late.]

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

{Crew Review} Firmly Planted Family Devotional and Bible Study

Before my non-homeschooling friends and readers ignore this review, let me shout out DO NOT MISS THIS!

Heidi St. John at Real Life Press and her hubby Jay have created a Bible program called Firmly Planted Family. We've been able to review it over the past few weeks and I wanted to share it with homeschooling and non-homeschooling friends.

This is really ideal for families with kids of a variety of ages.  I was sent the last in a series of four books meant to span the Bible.  The first two sets cover Moses/ Old Testament and the third covers the Gospels;  here's what I was sent :

and Firmly Planted, Gospels, Book 2 Student Workbook (265 pages, $24.95)

This set is sold as a pdf for $31.95 (there is an option to purchase a b/w physical copy + PDFs for $49.95).

The idea behind the Firmly Planted series is to ground our children in God's Word through family study. The books are meant to be flexible enough to study with a range of ages and Bible study background. There are 10 lessons in the book and each lesson is meant to be used for a week. Obviously, a product meant for families to study God's Word is not meant for only homeschooling friends.  This product is mean for all Christian families who desire to pass on the truths of God's word to their children while learning along with them.

I was intrigued by this product because neither my husband or I grew up in a family where The Word was spoken about on a regular basis.  Neither one of us grew up with the practice of "family devotions" and we have struggled to figure out what this means more than we've been successful in identifying what works in our family.

What Is Included/ How It Works: Both products easily open in any PDF viewer.  I was easily able to load them in one of my cloud accounts so that I could access them from both laptops and the iPad.
The Study Guide that we reviewed is the second in a set of studies of The Gospels.  Lesson titles are:

  1. Parable of the Sower
  2. The Story of Two Sons
  3. Jesus and Zacchaeus
  4. The Woman Caught in Adultery
  5. The Rich Young Ruler
  6. The Triumphal Enter
  7. The Last Supper
  8. Gethsemene
  9. The Crucifixion
  10. The Resurrection
Each of these ten lessons has several key components
  • The Seed - the theme
  • Planting the Seed - two options for Bible verse memorization
  • Watering the Seed - a 5-min. story to help reinforce the lesson
  • Daily Study - this is the family devotion component
  • Digging Deeper - this helps families with older students/ adults to facilitate deeper discussion
  • Taste the Fruit - life application section

Each of the subsequent days of the week break down the week's scripture into smaller bits to re-read and think on together. For example, The Sower parable is broken down like this:

OK, let me tell you why I had to go through the motions of making the above chart:  In the Study Guide, the subsequent "Daily Study" sections are labeled beginning with Day 1 through Day 4.  This was messing me up.  See, as a rule follower/ black-and-white sort of person, I initially thought I was supposed to read the weekly scripture passage + Day 1's devotional.  That was unsettling to me. However, once I made the above chart and realized that Day 1 really means "the day after you've read the primary scripture" I was cool.  If I had to give one piece of constructive criticism, I would encourage subsequent printings of this to re-label the daily readings to clarify the sequence.

So, theoretically, if you are just looking for a daily devotional to read and discuss, This Firmly Planted Study Guide might be perfect for your family after dinner or in the morning.

However, if you want to do more -- or use this as a "Bible Time" activity in your homeschool, after school, summer, etc -- the additional Student Workbook might be a good fit.

The Student Workbook corresponds by chapter to the Firmly Planted Study Guide.  Each lesson in the workbook has around 20 pages of activities to help your children understand the topic and learn how to apply God's Word to their lives.  This activities, too, correspond to the theme of planting.

Theo Logy
The icons are meant to help direct you towards introduction of the concepts/ themes, bearing fruit (application) in life, and deeper study for older students.   Some of the activities are basic -- mazes, word searches, crossword puzzles, coloring pages, etc.  I tend to minimize this sort of activity, but my youngest LOVES these when used occasionally. Other activities are more Bible-studyish -- using the Bible to distill the meaning and thinking deeper about God's message to us.  I REALLY like these pages, but at first I was a little lost about which pages to use, what sequence (if there was a sequence) etc.  In the end I chose to use use a nurture page, a fruit bearing page, and a Theo Logy page.  Did I forget to mention him?  He guides students through each of the Firmly Planted books to teach about Bible doctrine in a kid and family friendly format.

Here's a mashup of several pages for a variety of age range:

You can view some additional sample pages of the workbook.

Final Thoughts:  This product is definitely going to take us longer than 10 weeks to get through. We are trying to be more intentional about an eventing Bible time, but with soccer and scout activities, we are going to be intentional but not stress.  So, this will walk with us into the summer season, and we will be grateful for what we DO get to and not stress about being legalistic.  I love this product and plan to use it more during the summer --  I have romantic visions of even being able to read it by campfire on a family mini-vacation.

Please consider which format will be most useful for your family.  I still love the feel of a book in my hand, and if I had to choose over again, I might've lobbied more strongly to review a physical copy of the Study Guide.   In the end, I might end up printing out the remaining lessons we haven't completed from the Study Guide, just so that I can see it and remember to finish it! I do wish the workbook pages had a more detailed table of contents so that I could find the Theo Logy, nurture, fruit, and dig deeper pages of each lesson more easily (especially in a PDF when it can sometimes feel like I'm just scrolling through endless amounts of pages).

To see what others thought of the other three Firmly Planted books, as well as other Real Life Press books, click the link below:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

{Crew Review} A+ Interactive Online Math

A+ Interactive Math sent me a free subscription to their Family Math Package program to try with my guys.  This is an innovative program that provides online and offline components to help your students achieve in math.   I was really curious to see how the online and offline parts worked. He has been dissatisfied with the pace of our current math program, so I was happy that he was willing to try something new to change things up.  

What is included: When you subscribe (pricing information is down below), you'll get access to these components when you log in:

  • MM Lessons -  Multi-media lessons for each concept in this comprehensive curriculum for grades 1 through Algebra 1.  
  • Lesson Plans - These are week-by-week lesson plans for each grade level that integrate the multi-media lessons, the interactive Q&A (which provide reinforcement of content that was just taught in a multiple choice format), worksheets (you could choose the online or print offline worksheets), exams.  You can print this out to incorporate into your lesson plans/ assignment books and can check off progress easily.
    • I'd like to mention a couple things about the worksheets and exams.  Each time you select one of these (whether online or offline) a large pool of questions is used to generate unique worksheets/ exams.  So, let's say your student really struggles with a fraction concept, and needs to review the material with another worksheet.  No problem! A new worksheet with new questions (and answers!) will be created for your student.  
  • Printables - Here, you can gain access to the worksheets, exams and other reference sheets.
  • Ebooks - If you would like a digital/ PDF copy of the teaching material, you can print off or save to your hard drive a text of the lessons and worksheets and exam answers.
  • Online Worksheets and Exams:  This is where your student can practice and practice concepts to mastery. Worksheets have 10 questions exams had 25 questions.   Both of these have different statuses that you have to keep track of: pending are incomplete worksheets that can still be changed;  completed worksheets lock in answers for final grading.  You can view lists of incomplete (pending) and complete worksheets (with grades) from here.
  • Admin Panel: Here you can track your students' progress through their work and the program itself:
  • Help:  Here you can find FAQs, a user guide and compare features of the products offered by A+ Interactive Math.
Your student's screen is similar to yours when s/he logs in:

Using the Program:  Luke had his own account and password, and was able to log into the program to begin a lesson.  I ended up not printing out the recommended lesson plan, and I'm kicking myself that I did not use that feature -- it would have made life a little easier.  Since I was trying to use the program to match what Luke had been learning in his usual math program, we had to jump around a few grade levels to find the concepts that matched what he was learning.  

Because I didn't just use the recommended lesson plan, Luke and I would spend some time trying to open up folders in the ToC (table of contents) to find a match for his skill level and needs.  He would use headphones to listen to the lesson and complete the Interactive Q and A.  If he got 100% (and it was a review concept), I let him pass out of a worksheet for that lesson.  Otherwise, I had him create a worksheet to practice the concept, finalize it and grade it.

If you are looking to keep all your student's grades in one place, you can even enter their grade for off-line (printed) worksheets and tests so that you can have everything in one place.  Nice!

Pricing: You can purchase subscriptions for up to 10 students in monthly, quarterly or annual subscriptions. Prices begin at $15/ month for a single student subscription ($124.99/ year).  With this you'll have access to all grade levels (with the ability to switch your student to different grade levels as needed) with lesson plans, interactive teaching of all concepts, online worksheets and tests that are automatically graded, as well as the ability to generated printable worksheets/ tests to take with you. 
You can try their Family Math Package demo for free (and even get a free month) to see if it will work for your family.

5/4/2014 - Important update from A+ Interactive Math 
[Limited Time]
Yes, you can purchase this now, but activate in the fall when your school year begins!

How This Worked for Us:  I had originally wanted Luke and Levi to give this a try -- but Levi was not too into it (and I had to cut him some slack since he had just helped me with another math review), so Luke was up on this.  He isn't a fan of math right now (can you say "fractions?"), so I'm not sure that anything would make him happy.  

This is definitely a mastery-based program (which we are used to) but there is little systematic review in worksheet lessons of previous content from what we've seen.  I like to have a little bit of review to keep everything fresh,  so this product would take a little bit of adjusting to get what I want out of it -I would probably have to print out some off-line worksheets to insert into the lesson plan for a 'day of review.'  However, I will say that there are cummulative exams which I could have used to provide some of that systematic review of previous content, so the features are there to be able to provide some review of previously learned content.  

In the long run, this product is probably not a good fit for us.  But short-term, it is providing a needed break from the routine for Luke and it is giving him some teaching from another perspective, which I like.  Luke's traditional math program hasn't delved much into decimals yet, so I had him work through basic arithmetic with decimals to help him with his annual standardized test that we take to fulfill our state homeschool law requirements.  A+ Interactive Math did a great job teaching him the basics for decimals, so I know he will not be nearly as frustrated as he was last year when he encountered this.  

If you would like to see how A+ Interactive Math worked with other families, click below to read more reviews: