Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Children at their Best

You know the saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words"? Well, this one is worth about a million to Kelly and me. It shows that through all the craziness, whininess and frustrations, that we are raising our kids to be each other's best friends. There are fights and disagreements on a daily basis. Somebody is regularly telling me that something is unfair. But when it comes right down to it, they play incredibly well together. They support each other. They learn together. And one of the most important things in our opinion - and as this picture shows - they laugh together. I am so incredibly blessed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas blessings...

come in all packages, and I felt like my heart was wrapped in a big red bow, bursting with love and pride this past Sunday morning. Chloe and I sang for the first time together in big church. I was singing Amy Grant's new song, "I Need a Silent Night", and Chloe spoke the Word in the middle of the song. At the end, she sang "Silent Night" a capella, with just a little help from me. :) It really does my heart good to see her wanting to use her gifts for the Lord. She is an incredibly talented young lady - singing, dancing and acting are very close to her heart. I know encouraging these gifts and talents can lead some families down a slippery slope, and negative influences, and I haven't let her audition for anything outside of church or co-op activities for these reasons. I just pray that we can find a godly outlet for her to live her passions out in a god-fearing, loving way that glorifies Him. But for now, she is an 8-year-old bundle of energy and sass that loves the stage...and loves her Savior.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Product Review: The World's Greatest Stories


I want you to close your eyes and relax. Listen to the cd you just put in, and be transported. Two thousand, four thousand, six thousand years ago. To the time Noah, Daniel, David or Jesus walked. And feel like you are there. Not just feel like someone is telling or re-creating a bible story. But truly hearing the words, just as they are written - no excess or embellishment necessary - come to life in your imagination.

This is what will happen when you purchase The World's Greatest Stories cd's. For $7.95, you can take your family on an hour-long adventure without leaving your living room. You can take them with you on road trips, too! The cd's come in King James or New International Versions, and they are read entirely from the texts. George Sarris is the narrator and multi-faced actor in the stories, and he truly brings life to each character he reads.

There are currently six volumes in The World’s Greatest Stories Collection: The Prophets, The Life of Christ, Beginnings, Joshua and Esther, Joseph and His Brothers, and Defeating Giants. We were sent Volume 1: The Prophets for review, which included the stories of The Blazing Furnace, The Handwriting on the Wall, Daniel in the Lions’ Den, Elijah and the Prophets of Baal, and The Prophecy of Jonah.

The family definitely had mixed feelings about the voices of some of the characters. The toddler got a little scared a few times and asked me to turn it off. My daughter - who is a major drama queen in her own right - was amazed and enthralled, especially when I pointed out that he was reading directly from the bible! The boys were engaged, but found some of the voices and emotions to be over the top (tough crowd!). My husband even found the readings to be intriguing. He said the way George Sarris phrased some things brought new context that he'd never really seen before in his own studies. Always a good thing to take something new from scripture, no matter how often we have read the stories! I personally loved it, and I can't wait to purchase more.

If you are looking for a way to bring some excitement to your family bible time, or just need another way to engage your children with scripture, then you definitely need to buy The World's Greatest Stories.

*Don't just take my word for it! Check out some of my fellow TOS Crew Members' reviews here.

**Disclaimer: I received this product via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are mine or my children's.

Friday, December 2, 2011

TOS Vendor Review: Pitsco


Do your sons love medieval-themed projects? Do they enjoy working with their hands? Do they love anything that could possibly be used as a means to cause destruction? If you said yes to any of these things (I answered yes to all 3!), then you have to check out Pitsco! Pitsco Education is a hands-on learning project company. According to their website, the company is geared toward science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classroom solutions, helping students achieve success through student engaged, hands-on learning. They have Robotics Packs, Alternative Energy Packs, Engineering Packs, and lots more cool stuff that I know my boys will go gaga over! We were sent the Trebuchet and Catapult Kit($21.95) to review.


We received the Trebuchet, Catapult, Teacher's Guide, assembly instructions and modeling clay. While assembling the project and completing the activities in the book, the boys learned many things, such as:

•Newton’s laws of motion, and potential and kinetic energy.
•Relate speed and mass, force and range, and mass and range.

Kelly tood responsiblity, given that I usually blow it big time in the science experiment arena. The boys LOVED having Daddy work through all of the assignments with them, and I think Daddy enjoyed himself as well! Here's what they all had to say:

Kelly used an epoxy to put the machines together. This did NOT come with the pack. He said if we were to do it again, he would use super glue or a hot glue gun. Be prepared - Elmer's will NOT suffice in this project!!

The catapult was more labor intensive. IE: Kelly did the work while Connor and Canon watched. ;) But the trebuchet was much more entertaining. They could launch the clay balls halfway across my house. Bonus for the boys! The kids were able to change the weights on the trebuchet, thus learning about force, speed, mass and range probabilities.

We received this pack the week before Science Channel's annual Pumpkin Chunkin, so the family was really pumped to get to build these miniature models and learn how they worked. The timing could not have been better for us! I'm seeing larger scale projects in our future... ;D

Pitsco Education provided a great learning experience for our kids. The teacher's guide was thorough, but not overwhelming. The customer service was excellent. In addition to the instructions that came with the kit, I received emails with tips and a contact email if I had any questions. The cost for this kit is $21.95 - we found that to be a bargain for two projects and coordinating lesson plans! I am certain we will be purchasing from Pitsco for future projects.

*Click HERE for a direct link to the homeschool portion of the website.

**Don't just take my word for it! Check out some of my fellow TOS Crew Members' reviews here.

***Disclaimer: I received this product via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are mine or my children's.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Almost there...Gratitude Challenge 27 and 28

Day 27. I am soooo thankful for my family. We had Thanksgiving today at my mom and dad's house. It was the best day we'd had as a family in such a long time. There was food, wine, games, stories, the odd wrestling match between my husband and 15-year-old niece, and lots and lots of laughs. My oldest sister and husband didn't attend, but it was still such a lovely day. I was dog tired from all the festivities of the last week, and was a little tense going in...always worried that someone will be in a foul mood and ruin it for everyone. But not today! I loved every minute of the 10+ hours we spent together, and I'm already looking forward to Christmas!

Day 28. I am thankful for cold cereal and fresh fruit. After the week I've had, I was more than happy to let the kids rummage in my kitchen and fix their own breakfast this morning so I could sleep in! HA!

Blessings to you all!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankfulness Catch-up!

Can I just say up front how much I admire those of you who post every day!? I just can not seem to manage it, even when I have a goal, like posting my blessings through the month of November! :( But, I have blogged more consistently this month than any other month, ever! Improvement, indeeed! :) I even passed my 100th post and didn't even realize it - that should have been a celebrative!!! I have posted 102 times now, yay!

21. I am thankful for my children's increase in responsibility. I have found this weeek that I haven't had to harp on them as much about chores...could it be they are hearing sleighbells in their minds and are being extra good? Who cares, I'll take it however I can get it! ;)

22. I am thankful for my friend Treva and all who helped her put on our church's Thanksgiving meal Tuesday night. The decorations were beautiful, the food was AMAZING, and the fellowship was so very sweet! Servants of Jesus don't ask for recognition, but I'm inclined to give them thanks whenever I can. The unsung heroes of the body of Christ are those who work in the background, not the limelight. Don't forget to thank the servants of your church family!

23. I am thankful for Thanksgiving break!!! Woohoo, the kids and I have taken Wednesday through tomorrow off, and it's been fantastic for all of us. We've stayed up late, slept in, played games, had sleepovers, it's been such a great mini vacation. I love the flexibility we have as homeschoolers!

24. I am thankful for only having to be responsible for a small part of the HUGE Thanksgiving dinner we partook in! Kelly's family met this year at his Aunt Phyllis' home. Okay, only about half of us were there...but that's still a houseful! LOL! With this many people, it's so nice to split up the menu into manageable pieces so nobody feels overwhelmed. The only thing that we had two of was green bean casserole - and if you're going to double up on anything, that's the dish to have more of! ;) I made brownies, stuffed crescent rolls and .... tada, green bean casserole! It was a lovely, relaxing day. I'm so blessed to be a part of the Hartzell family!

25. I am thankful for - yep, you guessed it - BLACK FRIDAY!!! I have never had such a whirlwind day of shopping and price matching. It was a thrill ride with my best friend, Steph, and our daughters, Molly and Chloe. Steph and I went out Thursday night about 9:30 for a big ticket doorbuster item. We were in bed by 1:00 am, and back out the door at 4:30, with the girls in tow this time. We made it home a little after 1:00 p.m. Typically, I don't get too worked up about this. But for me, this year has been so busy that I hadn't bought ANY presents yet! I am usually done by this time, minus two or three stocking stuffers! So yesterday, I got caught up in one fell swoop. I got everything on my list at great prices! Plus the bonus of spending the day with my favorite girls. Thirteen stores in 12 hours, and my list is nearly complete. Good day, indeed! I'll post more on my Black Friday experiences in more detail later.

26. I am thankful for you, my followers. I know it's a lot to ask of people to take the time to read my posts when your own schedules are so busy. But I'm grateful that you find my words worth reading. Hoping to break 100 followers by the new year!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 20

I am thankful I am feeling human again. I was sick with a migraine all day today, and I am just starting to feel decent in the last hour or so. I don't know exactly what brought it on, but I'm sure it's a combination of things. Up super early to deer hunt this weekend. Sleeping on hay bales with kids piled around me, a crick in my neck, and no caffeine since Friday. I was violently ill this morning, went to bed at 10 and slept till 2:30. I haven't completely recovered, but I'm not wincing in pain with every noise that my kids make now. ;)

Bonus: Kelly let me rest, kept the kids reasonably quiet all day, and fixed dinner! I told him I should get sick more often! He didn't agree. :) So I'm thankful to feel better, and for a husband who let me rest in order to feel better. Double blessing!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day 19

Tonight I am thankful for a friend who has chosen to stand in the power of the Lord and share the Word with those of us who need to hear that we can, too.

Jeffrey Chavez, my dear friend and pastor, is one of a kind. He is kind of a dork. ;) He is DEFINITELY A.D.D.! :O And he is an example to me about setting your box aside and letting God do the work in your life so you become a totally empty vessel for Him to use how He sees fit. It hasn't been an easy road - and I'm pretty sure it doesn't look like Jeffrey expected it to look - but The Catalyst Springfield is officially a launch. While he still maintains that our first "Official" service won't be until April (Easter weekend), Jeffrey is already a pastor to many...feeding God's people the Holy Word...discipling and evangelizing...creating small groups, and spreading the Good News of Jesus to a lost and hopeless world. So, yes, Jeffrey, say what you may. But this ministry is off the ground and taking wings.

Tonight, Jeffrey referred to us people at The Catalyst as "broken toys". (Do you know the reference? In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the broken and unused toys were sent to the Island of Misfit Toys. They were torn, worn, and unloved. They were cast aside and told they were useless. But they were not useless - they still had a purpose!) Jeffrey talked about some of the great, powerful men of the bible, and he reminded us that THEY were not the powerful ones. But God had shown HIS power through their mighty deeds. Jeffrey urged us all to see ourselves, and to those we want to share Jesus with, as broken toys - torn, worn, but STILL loved by the Father and capable of being used for His glory.

He delivered the message with typical Jeffrey flair ;), and it resonated with me deeply. It's not always easy to put our own plans aside and say yes to God. He said that we often forget our role as the "created" and not the Creator. Sometimes I am guilty of that. I want to drag my feet, or hide my face, or just pretend the message wasn't intended for me. But the fact is that He will use me regardless of what baggage I'm carrying. Regardless of how weak I see myself. Regardless of how scared I feel. His power will see me through.

Jeffrey told me recently that he was scared to talk to me about something, but knew he needed to be honest with me. God used Jeffrey to make me deal with a few issues I was burying and pretending weren't issues any longer. Jeffrey could have ignored the problem. He could have pretended that God hadn't brought the issue to him. But he stood in the power of the Lord and helped me...even when I didn't want the help. That is a true friend, and a great pastor.

So tonight, I'm thankful for my goofball friend, Jeffrey, who lets God have the final word in all his plans and shares that with all he meets.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Days 17 & 18

Yep, I missed another day...surprise, surprise! ;)

So...yesterday I was thankful for carryout pizza. After a crazy afternoon and about 3 changes of plans throughout the day, I completely forgot to think about what to do for dinner! So I called my sis-in-law, Tiffany, changed the evening plans for the FOURTH time, picked up a couple pizzas, and headed to their place. We ate and visited, the kids played, and we just caught up. We used to get time like this every weekend, but life has been hectic for both our families this fall. Finding time to just sit and chat have been few and far between, and we both have missed it. So, yes, for making our lives a little simpler, I am thankful for carryout pizza! ;)

Today, I am thankful for modern medicine. I have not been feeling quite right for a couple months now, but I am such a procrastinator that I kept putting the appointment off. It seems like I am always putting off things like that...things that don't seem important, or things that I'm just a little uncomfortable with...but regardless of that, I finally went today. A quick exam and visit with my doctor, and I left with the promise of a prescription that will make me feel better in a few days. I am not one to go to the doctor for much. I don't even like taking over the counter meds very often. But I know there are reasons for modern medicine, and we all take the ease and accessibility of medicines in America thoroughly for granted. It makes me think of the people all over the world who are losing their lives because they don't have access to the simplest of medicines, like Neosporin. I am so thankful for the fact that we have the ability to get affordable medicine and medical care in this country.

So are you keeping tabs? I'd love to hear about some of the things you are thankful for. :)


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 16

Tonight I am thankful for our house. Ninety percent of the time it is messy. It's big, but constantly cluttered. It's covered in tiny to mid-size fingerprints and there are often kool-aid spills on the floor. Some rooms are drafty, others are stuffy. But even with all these faults, we've made this house our home. It's where my children play countless hours together. It's where we curl up on the couches and read as a family. It's where we join hands, pray and eat at the dinner table together. It's where numerous bumps, bruises, cuts and broken hearts have been held, bandaged and kissed back to health. It's where a ton of forts and easy bake cakes have been made and enjoyed. It's where memories made with friends and family have been made for seven years.

We spend a lot of time within these walls - more so than other families since we homeschool, I stay at home, and Kelly works nights. There are days when I feel so stir crazy that I just HAVE to get out of the house...if only to get a frappe from McDonald's. But it's also where I can come home after a weekend retreat with my girlfriends and have 4 children run down the porch steps to hug and kiss me and yell over each other to tell what all they did while I was gone. Kelly and I have our most important conversations on our couch at 1:30 in the morning when I've waited up for him to pour out my heart or share an exciting moment of the day with him. The furniture is showing wear, the water pressure is sometimes pitiful, the floors are needing replaced, and I need to clean more often. But I am thankful for all the things that make this old house our home.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I have had so much going on, that I have not been taking part in the November Gratitude Challenge. But don't take that to mean that I am not thankful for all the many blessings in my life! It's just that the "blessings" have kept me so busy that I haven't been on the computer much till last night! LOL! So I am going to try to catch up and continue this challenge for the rest of the month - I'm good at cramming! :D

1. I am thankful for my savior, Jesus Christ. Without His sacrifice, the rest of these numbers would not be possible.

2. I am thankful for Kelly. He has been my best friend, my lover, my helpmeet, my other half for nearly half my life now. Words can not tell you how much I'm in love with him and the life we've made together.

3. I am thankful for my children. Even now, the chaos going on behind me - even though driving me up the wall - is such a blessing because it means my home is their haven. They are all healthy. They are each other's main playmates and best friends. Their imaginations are large...and loud...and their creativity knows no bounds. I know I may desire a moment's peace on many occasions, but I know there are years ahead when my heart will ache for the noises of their childhood.

4. I am thankful for my sisters, and cousin that is like my sister. Angie, Ariel, Tiffany, and April. They have been there through the worst times, and they've shared in the best times. God gave us each other for a reason, and the journey is so much sweeter with them by my side.

5. I am thankful for my girlfriends Stephanie, Michelle, Niki and April. My life would be so much more difficult without these girls to pull me through. They lift me up, make me laugh, and always tell me the truth even when it's hard to hear. They are amazing, godly women who inspire me and challenge me. They love my kids as their own, and they even put up with Kelly! ;)

6. I am thankful for our amazing country. The United States is still a shining light on a hill to so many other nations. We are the hope that many strive for. We have a lot of problems ourselves, and I am not saying it is perfect. Goodness, far from it! But even through the difficulties, God has granted us a position of authority and leadership that we work hard to live up to. We must remember to pray for those who lead this country and the government. Land of the free, home of the brave - may God continue to bless the USA.

7. I am thankful for the freedom to homeschool my kids. All of you should know how very passionate I am about my children, and the Lord called this rebellious, stubborn mama to take a stand for them and Him. I was afraid for so many reasons and continually refused to heed His gentle proddings. But now, 6 years later, I can't imagine any other way to raise our family. Kelly has encouraged and cheered me on, picked me up when I was a blubbering mess, and reminded me often of the end honor God with all our hearts, minds and strength. We are proud of what our children are accomplishing and learning. But more than that, we are thankful for the godly people they are becoming. God is going to use them, not because of me, but despite me. He continually works in me and them to teach each other about His grace and mercy. My heart aches to think of what all I'd have missed if I had refused to obey the Father's calling.

8. I am thankful for my co-op family, Lighthouse Christian Academy. This homeschooling journey would be nigh on impossible some days without the love and support I receive from my friends and mentors at LCA. The people there are my anchor, and a sweet reminder from God that we are not in this alone.

9. I am thankful for the cooler weather. Fall is my favorite time of year - you can't beat hot chocolate, bonfires, hoodies and crunching leaves!

10. I am thankful for my church family. Evergreen has been our home for over 13 years. We had to say goodbye to them this past year, but have recently been led back home after many months away. The work is not over, but the Lord is moving and healing. Praise Jesus!

11. I am thankful for fuzzy socks. Even though I love the cooler weather, I hate cold feet! I can never have enough pairs of fuzzy socks! ;)

12. I am thankful for 88.3 The Wind FM. I love hearing my kids sing praises to Jesus, and I am so glad to have the Clean Air in my car every day.

13. I am thankful for my new RED blender - it chops ice very very well, and it even has a pour spout! Yay, I am so happy! :)

14. I am thankful for Disney World...and I am so ready to go back. I know it's gonna be quite a while till we can make it happen, but the memories are so much fun to relive through our photos and videos. Barely a day goes by when someone in our house says, "Remember when we were at Disney World and (such and such) happened?"

15. I am thankful that we finished the 500 piece puzzle on my kitchen table tonight - I was seriously considering throwing it away out of frustration, but seeing Canon so excited tomorrow to see it complete and glued together for his room will totally be worth all the work we put into it!

Well, I am now caught up! Sorry I had to cram, but this procrastination habit is getting to be a problem. I'm gonna do better...later! HA!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Versatile Blogger Award

Nikki from "Joy in the Journey" awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award a few weeks ago because you can find everything from homeschooling tips, bible study, menu planning, couponing, and mindless ramblings of a stay-at-home mommy of four on regulars know what I'm talking about! ;) Nikki and I have been friends since childhood, and she's my inspiration for blogging, getting back into writing, and oh, so very much more. Thanks, babe, for thinking of me! If you don't follow Nikki's blog, stop by and check it out - she's a blessing to me, and I'm sure she will inspire you as well!

So here are the rules for this award:

Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them.

Tell your readers 7 things about yourself.

Give this award to 15 recently discovered bloggers.

Contact those bloggers and let them in on the news.

Okay, I gotta think of some good stuff now... Here are seven things you may not know about me:

1) I am addicted to Cherry Vanilla Diet Coke from Sonic. I know, it's terrible. But I just can't get enough of that syrup-py goodness.

2) I have been singing in church since I was about 3 years old. I can sing soprano, alto or tenor by ear. I made it into competition choirs all through high school...all without being able to read sheet music!

3) I am deathly afraid of mice. I would like to rid the entire world of these vermin, and all their close relatives. I know there's a reason for all God's creatures, but I've often wanted to ask Him what He was thinking when He made them - and gave them a desire to live in my linen closet and pantry!

4) We have shared a home with my in-laws for 7 years - first out of necessity, eventually by choice. We are so very blessed to have our lives so intertwined with theirs, and I can't imagine not having them with us.

5) I spent the summer after graduating high school in Italy with my oldest sister, Angie. If there had been a way to get Kelly over there, I would have seriously considered staying forever!

6) I can tune practically everything out when I am engrossed in a good book. I LOVE reading, and I desire to instill my love for the written word in my children. When there are terrible times in your life, or you just need a moment of escape from the everyday, a book can transport you anywhere you want to go.

7) I am seriously thinking about getting my nose pierced. My niece has been talking about it and asked me to do it with her. I told her I'd wanted to do it for a long time, but thought Kelly would just die. I texted Kelly just to tease him, and he was actually disappointed to know I was joking! So don't be surprised if you see a little bling on my face in the months to come... ;)

Fifteen Bloggers I'd like to award (drumroll, please...)

1. Morning Glories and Moonflowers
2. North Laurel Home and School
3. Swinging on Small Hinges
4. Raising Godly Maidens
5. Sister Tipster
6. This Sweet Life of Mine
7. Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers
8. Little Rays of Sunshine
9. Our Everyday Life
10. Just Making Memories
11. Cows Don't Moo
12. The Loose Screw
13. The Youngn's
14. Wonderfully Chaotic
15. Orange Marmalade Mama

Be sure to check out these blogs - there's something for practically everyone!

Product Review: Keyboard Town Pals


Keyboard Town Pals ($39.95) is a beginner typing program geared for early elementary students. It takes the general fundamentals of hand-on-key placement and uses puppet characters to retain memory. It is a fun and engaging way for 6-8 year olds to acquaint themselves with the keyboard.

Here is what KTP had to say about their program: "Keyboard Town PALS™ is a computer keyboard program that teaches elementary school children the letters and symbols on a Qwerty keyboard in an hour using proper technique. It is fast and efficient as well as enjoyable and easy to learn. Keyboard Town PALS™ accomplishes this through the PALS system. PALS stands for PURPOSEFUL ASSOCIATIVE LEARNING SYSTEM."

This is Sunny, your personal tour guide of Keyboard Town. The kids found her engaging. I just found her creepy.

The program is set up into small, 3 minute videos that introduce you to a specific key on the board. Each letter or key has a corresponding puppet. They give you a little story or jingle to help you remember, then a chance to practice what you have learned. NOTE: it is NOT an interactive practice. So, basically, you can be hitting the wrong key the entire time and not be called on it...or you can choose not to participate at all and not be called on it, either. I wasn't very pleased with that.

The Keyboard Town PALS

After watching all the videos, you have the chance to go through an assessment. Again, I didn't much care for this part. It doesn't give you any time restriction, and it doesn't record your results. So basically, there is no way to gauge improvement or accuracy or speed. While speed doesn't necessarily matter at this age, it does give the student a goal. Here is what KTP had to say about this:

1. Surveillance – There is no need to hover and watch over the child while learning.
2. Competition – We do not put children in a win-lose situation where only one person can come out on top.
3. Over-control – We do not grade or count the number of incorrect letters pressed.
4. Pressure – We do not establish grandiose expectations for a child's performance. This often ends up instilling aversion for a subject or activity. Unreasonably high expectations often pressure children to perform within strictly prescribed guidelines.
5. Time – We do not have timed speed tests. If intrinsic motivation is one key to a child's creativity, the crucial element in cultivating it is time: open-ended time for the child to savor and explore a particular activity or material to make it his own. The results will be apparent after an hour."

Now while I understand what they are trying to accomplish, I can not say that I agree with it. I can see where there should be a time of learning without all the stress of worrying about the mistakes and so on. In fact, I love the idea of deactivating the delete key so they don't worry about correcting mistakes. However, there is no way with this program to measure improvement of any kind, because nothing is saved, recorded or kept track of whatsoever.

With that all being said, my kids did enjoy the program. They thought the puppets were cute (maybe a little cheesy to Connor! :D), and the little jingles or sayings did help them remember finger placement a little better. As far as seeing a great improvement after an hour of use, I find that a little overly optimistic. However, after watching it once or twice a week for a few weeks, I will say that they are all a little more confident with the keyboard. Unfortunately, I just don't see us purchasing this product for our family.

*Don't just take my word for it! Check out some of my fellow TOS Crew Members' reviews here.

**Disclaimer: I received this product via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are mine or my children's.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Product Review: Ooka Island


Ooka Island is an online adventure game that teaches 3-to 7-year-olds early reading skills. A number of games are used to teach phonics, simple blending, and gradually more opportunities to read books on their own. You are guided by a fun-loving robot, as well as a woman and her niece and nephew.


I had Canon, my 7 year old, test out this product. Here is his take on Ooka Island.

"I loved Ooka Island. I got to save an elf. I liked all the games. There is nothing I didn't like about it. ABC Mountain was fun. Reading the books weren't the funnest, but I did save an elf while reading. It taught me about the ABC's, I liked discovering sounds in the mine. I also liked it because the Ooka Island Seedoo was so much fun - I rode it all over the place! And that's it."

LOL, it may not all make sense to you until you've seen the program. ;) But basically, he enjoyed the entire game. I thought it was way below his level - he is reading easy chapter books - but it gave him a change of pace and a strong confidence level going in. I know from what I read about it beforehand that the difficulty increases as you progress in the game, but I wish he could have started on a higher level.

One good thing about Ooka Island from a parent standpoint is the pricing system. There is only as much commitment as you'd like. You can choose a monthly rate for a trial, or a discounted, yearly rate. There is also a family price break - gotta love that! The website is offering a 14-day free trial right now! There is also a 30% discount if you use the code.


Here's the breakdown:


Overall, I have really enjoyed Ooka Island for Canon. I think I would consider purchasing it for Caleb next year - he spent a lot of time watching Canon play! Try it out for your family and see if they don't love it, too.

*Don't just take my word for it! Check out some of my fellow TOS Crew Members' reviews here.

**Disclaimer: I received this product via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are mine or my children's.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Time for Refreshment and Renewal

And...we're (almost) off! In 8 hours, 8 of my girlfriends and I will be heading to KC to meet up with my cousin Sarah and her friends to attend the Women of Faith Conference. I am so very excited! I have never been able to attend one, and we have been planning this for nearly a year. It is going to be a time of refreshment, renewal, fellowship and uninhibited praise for my Jesus.

I am so thankful for the life I have. My husband is the love of my life. My kids are the apple of my eye. My friends are amazing, my extended family is at peace, and my church family is healing - all praise to Abba! But even with all these abundant blessings, I have found myself tired, overloaded, irritable, lazy in my devotion and prayer time, and generally luke-warm. That is so hard for me to admit, but confession is good for the soul. I have been praying this week for God to speak with me intimately, to make some truths evident and relevant, and to show me where He wants to use me. I have no doubt He has big plans for this weekend, too big for me to even comprehend.

I am so appreciative to my moms - both of them - to help me with the kids while Kelly is working. I love Kelly for acknowledging that my soul desperately needs this time and encouraging me to go, even when it means so much more for him to take care of. Without them all I wouldn't be able to go. I know I will be so very ready to get home to my loves by Saturday night, but at the moment I am wishing the time to move a little quicker!

So what is your way to refresh and renew? Have you been able to take this sort of trip before to worship? Or do you carve out time regularly to just connect with the Father uninterrupted? Share your secrets, share your experiences. Blessings to you all!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Marshall Publishing: George Washington Carver

Marshall Publishing is an online multimedia publishing company that creates many educational dvd's. I was sent for review "George Washington Carver: His Life and Works". We thought it would be a great reinforcement to our studies, since we had just visited his memorial in Diamond, MO earlier this month.

The video is recommended for 4th graders and up, but all my kids watched it and took a few things away from it - even the 3 year old! The kids enjoyed it, but they had some questions after. There were a few facts that didn't mesh with what they had learned on our field trip. They were not major errors, just some discrepancies on dates and minor details on his childhood years. I told them that some dates may have been different because records were not as well-kept in the 1860's as they are today.

The video is a 29-minute documentary published in 2009. However, it felt much older than that. It had great content, but a very old-fashioned feel to it. The kids liked the narrator's voice, he had a deep southern accent. But they did say they wished that some of his quotes would have been recordings of his voice. Have you ever heard George's voice? It is as much an enigma as the man himself, and my kids just loved hearing it on our trip.

EXTRA: We did not use it, but there is also a study guide on their website to go along with the dvd - I wish I'd remembered, and so do the kids...I made them write reports instead! ;)

George Washington Carver is a man worth studying. He did so much for the United States, and he always accredited the Lord for his successes. If you plan on studying the man, this video will be a treat. The dvd is $24.95, but you can purchase it on the website, Marshall Publishing, for $19.95 right now. BONUS, you can use the Discount Code TOSC1 and receive 15% off –that makes it $16.95.

Their website is a font of useful information. So many dvd's on a multitude of subjects. You should really check their line out if your kids learn well with videos. I think I'll be a returning customer!

*Don't just take my word for it! Check out some of my fellow TOS Crew Members' reviews here.

**Disclaimer: I received this product via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are mine or my children's.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Apologia - Educating the Whole Hearted Child


Apologia - Educating the Whole Hearted Child is a popular homeschool guide in it's 3rd Edition. It gives you amazing tools, detailed information, and a godly reasoning to help you in your homeschool journey. Clay and Sally Clarkson are Christian homeschoolers who have a desire to educate all God's children who are endeavoring to follow the Lord through homeschooling. They give sound biblical principles that will open your eyes, and dare I say, humble you in more ways than one.

I truly think this book is one of the hardest reviews I have had to write. First, because this book is so big, so all-encompassing, so life-altering, that whatever I say will not make you grasp how excellent this information will be to the new or veteran homeschool parent. Second, because I'm only 1/3 of the way through it!!

I truly had to slow down in my process of reading this book. Typically when I read a how-to-homeschool guidebook, I can peruse the table of contents, skip around till I find something interesting, and write my review as I go. Unfortunately, every chapter seemed to be a topic I wanted insight on, so I decided to try to read it cover to cover - big mistake! I have to tell you, I have spent many moments on my knees praying for God's help in our homeschool after just reading a few paragraphs.

The Clarkson's touched my heart through this book. They humbled me, they encouraged me, they challenged me, and they looked right into my heart and reminded me that every day of this life is to be lived loving and reflecting Christ. If I stray from that model, who on earth is going to show my children how to love their Lord wholeheartedly? Here is a quote that brought me to tears (if I typed all of those, you'd be reading the majority of the first 60 pages!):

"Like a shepherd who leads his sheep to life-giving water and pasture, your first responsibility as a parent is to lead your children to the life-giving presence and reality of Christ in our heart and home. Our desire should be to implant a longing in their spirits for God that can be satisfied only with the water and bread of life in Christ."

That may seem obvious to all of you reading this, and it is to me as well. It's one of the main reasons for us to homeschool. However, I read this section from Chapter 3: Home Nurture just a little while after Connor and I had had a difficult English/Spelling lesson. Even when I know the areas he struggles with, I find myself making it ever more difficult for him by being frustrated with a poor grade. This core reason for homeschooling so often gets pushed aside by my drive to make him a straight-A student, which God may never plan for Him to become. However, I am certain that God intends for Connor to become a passionate servant of the Gospel. Reading this made me realize that my priorities must change in order for my family to honor God above all else. Does that mean we stop striving for excellence? Not at all! But it does mean that my job is to nurture my children, to guide them and instruct them with grace and mercy - not groans and mutterings.

This book also gives a great breakdown of each education model available to the homeschooler today. They have made it easy for you to compare and contrast each model side by side. They do not push any one model, but give you pros and cons to each. That is so refreshing, to not feel pressured while researching.

ETWHC is broken into 4 sections: Home, Learning, Methods and Living. I haven't even delved into Section 4 yet, but I know there will be treasures galore for me to glean and learn from. I am certain that this book will be a blessing to you and your family. I know it has been for mine.

*Educating the WholeHearted Child ($22.00) can be purchased online on their website.

**Don't just take my word for it! Check out more reviews from the crew here.

***Disclaimer: I received this product via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are my own.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

A study of ancient Egypt....

The formidable Pharoah!

The strong and able shepard/servant

Our very own Queen of the Nile!

The brave warrior

Could homeschooling be any more fun than this??? ;)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How much is too much?

I constantly ask myself this question. What activities are we in? What should we add? Do we have to do everything? Is it time to let go of some activities? I've looked at my calendar this last month and realized we have had activities scheduled nearly every day, including weekends, for over a month. Our schedule is just getting too overloaded, and it's time to do some pruning. Pray for me as I try to make the right cuts. Sometimes as a homeschooling parent, I get caught up in providing opportunities for my kids since they "miss out" on activities that are standard for public school students. However, a book I am reading right now (review to come soon!) is reminding me of the main purpose to homeschooling: building godly character and loving, wholehearted disciples of Jesus Christ.

So what are your boundaries? Do you have any standard you stick to in order to stay balanced?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Secret Keeper Girl with Dannah Gresh is coming to town next week! And it's gonna be a pajama party! I can't wait to finally take Chloe to this great conference, just for girls. It's going to be a time of spiritual growth and a chance to address personal subjects without the boys around. She is becoming a young lady, and I want her heart and mind focused on Jesus from here on out.

If you haven't heard of Dannah Gresh, look up her website here. I first heard of her when my cousin, April, sent me an email 2 years back about The Modesty Project. With all the wrong messages bombarding our girls today, I was thrilled to hear about this godly woman taking a stand in a big way. I have been receiving newletters from her ever since, and I can't wait to experience this with Chloe.

It's going to be a great week ahead, but I'm really ready for next week already! ;)
What's going on in your family?

Monday, September 26, 2011

TOS Review - Hideaway Country Kitchen


Let's just get down to the brass tacks, people - I LOVE THIS PLAY KITCHEN!! My kids and nieces have given me many hours of enjoyment just watching them play house together. They have cooked countless meals, washed innumerable dishes, served up gourmet meals - all with huge smiles and lots of love. I couldn't get these kinds of results with my real-life kitchen helpers, let me tell ya! ;)

The Guidecraft Hideaway Country Kitchen is a sturdy, wooden, fold-it-up and hide-it-away play set for $200. I admit, I would normally cringe at the price tag, but after seeing how well this product is constructed, and knowing how long it will last, I highly recommend it.

The product folds up to a slim six inches - perfect for under a bed or in a closet.

The package was delivered to my house in very good condition. It was packed within three boxes, so I was sure there would be no dents or anything. We weren't sure how much assembly would be required, but soon found out - a lot! :) Nothing too hard, though. In fact, Connor did the majority of the assembly.

My little man hard at work!

For future purchasers, take note: HAVE A POWER DRILL HANDY!! We did not, so it took us about 2 to 3 hours. If you have experience in assembling toys and a power drill, you could put it together in less than an hour. The only part that was troublesome for us was the stove knobs. I am still worried they will loosen up and fall off, but we shall see...

The stove knobs were a real booger to get on there!

One thing that did concern me was that I couldn't find any instructions. It wasn't a problem, however. I just got on Guidecraft's website and pulled the assembly instructions right up. I thought maybe they were going green like so many other companies. However when we got to the bottom of the hardware box, we found them. Better late than never, I guess!

We did it! And look at all the storage - you could fit two 3-year-olds in there! Seriously, I've seen it done...

Once we got it together, we scoured the house for toy dishes. I must say, I didn't think that would be a problem. But I guess anything we've had in the past had been lost or broken. So they used tupperware and old spoons of mine till I could pick up some nifty food and dish toys. They have really enjoyed this toy. I love it when they can act out what they see us doing; playacting is so important to toddler development. And I think I may be raising some great future chefs...not to mention an awesome carpenter!

** Don't just take my word for it! Check out what some of my fellow TOS Crew Members had to say here.

** Disclaimer: I received this product via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are my own and my children's.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...

is a cute little thing I've seen some blogger friends doing. I think it's a great idea, and I'm going to give it a go. If something cool has happened over the week, I'll use that. If it's been a boring, mundane, do-nothing week...oh, wait, we NEVER have one of those around here! But more likely than not, I usually won't be able to find my camera to freeze in time all the crazy antics my goofballs cook up! But I am going to try and do better! :D

So for tonight, I'm going to post a pic from a looong time least it seems like a long time ago, because I REALLY want to go back to Disney World now - NOT wait till 2013!!! Sorry, I'm feeling sorry for on to Wordless Wednesday! But now it's become WORDY Wednesday, since I wrote so much of a stinkin' intro! What can I say, I'm a talker by nature, so blogging is my outlet. Not sure if I'm gonna be able to do this... :/

Most magical place on earth

Love the little touches!

Our home away from home!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TOS Review - Encouragement for Homeschool Moms


"You homeschool?? You must be crazy!"

"You can always send them to public school if it's too much for you!"

"I don't know why you are tired. You're not a working mom!"

Ever heard any of these comments? I'm sure if you homeschool, you have - plus a million others. And if you are anything like me, it has been discouraging and hard to keep the smile on your face or find the appropriate, love-sprinkled response. The fact is that yes, I homeschool my children. No, I am not least not completely. And no, I'm NOT home all day. But when I am, I am teaching four different grades at one time, plus balancing a dozen other things. Some days, I just need someone or something to lift me up instead of push me down. Deeper Roots Publications has published a little book that has done exactly that.


"Encouragement for Homeschool Moms" ($7.95) is a 31-day devotional that speaks directly to the heart of homeschooling moms, written by a homeschooling mom. Bonnie Lisech has been in my shoes. She understands what I'm feeling on those chaotic days when nothing has kept to schedule. And she also knows that the life we have been called to is amazing, precious, and honors our Heavenly Father. She attaches relevant scripture to topics I deal with on a daily basis. Feel overwhelmed? Inadequate? Like a failure? I know I do at times. Regardless of outsider's opinions, those of us who homeschool know it is hard.

With EFHM, these small moments with Jesus have turned my mood around. On the mornings that I've been in His Word before we start our busy day, I'm more settled. I'm in a better frame of mind and have more joy in my life. These scripture lessons are short, sweet and straight to the point - or heart, as it seems for me. I so wish I was a better organizer of my time. I wish I had an hour or more to spend with my Father every day. But the fact is, I don't. I try to make it a priority, but I inevitably fail after a few days. With EFHM, I spent 10 to 20 minutes in the Bible while the kids ate their cereal. If I couldn't finish the journaling, I didn't beat myself up. I think quality more than quantity of time is emphasized with this little devotional. Making Him my top priority at the beginning of the day reminded me that He's right alongside me ALL day long.

Here are Bonnie's words: "My prayer is that these studies in God's Word will build you up and cause you to be the example of Christ to your children that only knowing God intimatley can produce." I believe this book will bless your heart. Or you could bless a friend!

My little blessings! God has given Kelly and me such a huge responsiblity, but such a blessed life...

** To check out more Deeper Roots reviews from my fellow TOS bloggers, click here.

** Disclaimer: I received a copy of "Encouragement for Homeschool Moms" via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are my own.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Big IQ Kids - A TOS Review


Big IQ Kids is an online learning program for ages 5 to 105. They offer spelling, vocabulary, math and geography lessons. They have won some awards in the online community (including the TOS Blue Ribbon Award), and we can see why! While it took us a week or so to warm up to this new site - I'll explain why in a minute - the kids now really enjoy their time on Big IQ Kids.

There are many price options to this site, ranging from free, to upgraded monthly prices, to premium yearly costs. We were granted a one-year premium membership in exchange for my review, which gave us access to all of the programs. The Spelling/Vocabulary programs are free, with specialized programs starting at $7.99 a month. The Math programs have specialized premium programs starting at $9.99 a month. The Premium US States Program is $39.99 a year. They have even added an SAT vocabulary prep program to their already great list of tools. Now, while my children ARE geniuses (wink, wink), I didn't feel that this section would benefit any of them at this time!

So here's a basic rundown of how the kids used BIQK:

First time logging in, you get to make a BIQK buddy.
Isn't she cute? I'm gonna call her LOLA!

Your buddy joins you while you learn your lessons and play your games...but I'm rushing. First you have to choose your lesson. Let's start with math.
This is a screenshot of early level math. Connor and Chloe's lessons looked much different than this.

In math, you basically get five pages of drills at a time. It doesn't really teach you any math concepts, but it is good practice for skills your kids have already learned. The one thing that some kids may not like is that you have to answer your problems by smallest place value first. So if the problem is 62 - 37, you would NOT type in 25. You would type in 5 in the ones place and 2 in the tens place. Fortunately, my kids picked up on this quickly because our math program has always worked from smallest place value to greater. But it is a little tricky when drilling.

Now, moving on to spelling and vocabulary.

You have options here. I love options! You can plug in your own lessons, or BIQK will generate grade appropriate spelling lists for you. I will admit, this part of the program was a little hard for me to get excited about. Connor is not a great speller. We have been using something for a little while that he is happy with, and he doesn't like change all that well. I convinced him to give it a try. He actually got very excited when he went through the first lesson. The computer tutor says the word. You click enter. It shows you the word. You click again. It puts the word into a sentence. You click AGAIN. It gives you the definition. CLICK AGAIN. And you spell the word. With all of that information in a column above where you are typing. I mean directly above, on the same screen, AS YOU TYPE. So basically, you are copying the word.

Connor was stoked! He thought this was the best spelling program ever! Who wouldn't like it, when it lets you see the answers? ;) But little did he know...that is just the first lesson! (Insert evil laugh here!) He only thought it would continue to be so easy. The next lessons weren't that easy. But that's okay, because you can customize your choices here, too. There are many ways for the student to learn their words, and you can decide which ones work for your child and which ones don't. You can also choose what they should score before moving on to a new lesson. The computer defaults to 90%, but I lowered it to 85%. The reason being that some lists had only 8 or nine words in them. If they missed one thing, even if it's a simple mistake like letting go of the mouse button too quickly and dropping a word into the wrong sentence, it won't let them advance.

Last but not least, they have their states section.

M-I-crooked letter, crooked letter, I - crooked letter, crooked letter, I - hump back, hump back, I! Heehee!

Oh, this is so great! Chloe's third grade history at co-op this year is states and capitals!! I love it when things work out like that! ;) This program is very neat. First, you get to click on a state on the US map. It will tell you the capital, the abbreviation for that state, and several fun facts about that state. Did you know that New Hampshire is known as the granite state? Or that the US government owns more than half of the land in Idaho? Neither did I! I love learning along with my kiddos - makes me feel good about myself. ;)

After each lesson is completed, the student earns a coin. They are allowed to spend them on any of the games in the game menu. They can play until their coins run out, or until mom cuts them off! It's a great reward system for getting their work done.

Now for the part we don't like, which is what took us the longest to get used to. There is a "computer tutor" that gives your instructions, reads your spelling words to you, and teaches you through all the lessons. It is terrible. I mean, terrible. It is such a generic, monotone voice, that it literally reminded me of the computer's voice in the movie, War Games. Honestly, it bothered me MUCH more than it bothered the kids! And eventually, I got over it...or left the room!

Overall, this has been one of the best sites we have found. It combines learning with fun, interactive lessons that all my kids have enjoyed, and I expect to use the site for a long time to come. Give it a try, you'll be so glad you did! To check out the site, click here.

**Check out what some other TOS Crew Members thought of Big IQ Kids!

**Disclaimer: I received a free membership from Big IQ Kids via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are my own and my children’s.