Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Full Circle

When Love Returns by Kim Vogel Sawyer is the final book in The Zimmerman Restoration Trilogy. I was so excited to receive this book for review but sad that the trilogy was coming to a close! I have really enjoyed the stories of Suzanne Zimmerman and her daughter Alexa.

In this installment, Suzanne has come back to Arborville after losing her job in the city. Her daughter Alexa has been running a bed and breakfast in the family home while caring for her grandmother. Suzanne comes back to help and decide what to do next. Of course this is an uncomfortable position for her as Anna Grace is staying in the home until her upcoming wedding. While Alexa was raised by Suzanne, Anna Grace is her daughter that she gave up for adoption. Anna Grace doesn't know Suzanne is her birth mother. Will Suzanne be able to keep her emotions in check while helping the girl plan her wedding?
Anna Grace's father Paul is also always around. Can Suzanne really still feel so much love for him after 20 years apart? Can Paul keep his emotions in check? Maybe Suzanne's mother is right and they won't ever be able to be friends.

Alexa takes a journey of her own back to the city to search for her own birth mother. She is staying with family friends while she conducts her search. Things are bound to get tangled up in emotion as she looks high and low to find out why she was left outside a garage in the cold.

As with all of her books, Sawyer does a beautiful job weaving all these stories together. There is so much going on through this whole novel! It definitely kept me turning the pages as I eagerly waited to see how each situation would work out. I enjoy these gentle fiction stories. They make for guiltless reading. The characters are each unique with their own situation and solution. There are no unturned stones in this story. To get the full story, I'd definitely recommend beginning with book 1 in this trilogy.

You can see my review of When Grace Sings here.

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

What I Love Most About Homeschool

I often get asked our reasons for homeschooling our kids, and I've discussed those on the blog before. Homeschooling is hard business and sometimes family and friends wonder why we continue when it is a struggle. Things have been much better for us this year in the homeschool area and so I feel like I can more accurately reflect on the biggest benefit for us in this journey.

There are plenty of reasons we love homeschool from the flexibility to the ability to select our own curriculum. However the thing I love the most is the relationship we have with our kids. We are definitely a tight family unit. Sometimes we drive one another crazy, but I wouldn't change it! Our kids talk to us (all the time) and we are their sounding board for ideas and for problems. They have friends (lots of them) and that has its place too (because I am not their friend) but we have a close relationship.

While some parents bemoan their kids not spending time with them or always running off to their rooms, we get plenty of time with ours. We know what's happening in their lives. We know what they are studying, what topics are interesting them, and what their dreams are for the future. We see day to day where they are succeeding and where they are struggling. Now to be certain there are many amazing parents who send their children to school and still maintain close relationships with them. For us though homeschool is the best way to connect.

Someday our kids will grow up and move out. I'm certain that I will never regret all the extra time we've had together even those tough days.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Saint Francis of Assisi

My God and My All: The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi by Elizabeth Goudge is an eye opening journey through the life of the saint. I recently received this book to review and I found myself wrapped up in the life of Francis whose beginnings were anything but humble. While I'd heard of him, I really knew very little about his life before reading this reprint of Goudge's 1959 book.

Saint Francis began a little order of brothers in the woods based on praying, working, healing, and teaching. His only desire in life was to follow the example of Christ. His path was not easy by any means. The brothers took vows not only of poverty but vows to own or possess nothing. They went about barefoot wearing cross shaped tunics. Francis felt a deep love for the lepers who lived near Assisi, and he spent much time serving them.

The author has done a lovely job reconstructing his life for us. She quotes his own writings as well as others who have written about him. She gives a vivid, detailed picture of his life from start to finish. The history of Francis of Assisi left me longing to spend more time in prayer seeking after God and that was the goal of Saint Francis most of his life.

I received a free copy of this book from Handlebar Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Learning German

When we got the opportunity to review a course from Middlebury Interactive Languages, I let Speedy pick which language he'd like to try. I was so surprised when he asked for German Language Courses! We received a 6 month course for Elementary German 1: Grades 3-5.

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages are online courses so that your child can learn a new language at home. Your access to this course is limited to 6 months. The Elementary German 1 program includes 15 units with 6 lessons each and a review unit. This level begins with common family titles and covers many regularly used words. After completeing this unit, Middlebury Interactive Languages offers an Elementary German 2 course for purchase which is also recommended for grades 3-5.

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

The presentation of the words makes this language course unique. Through fairy tales and repetitive practice, children will learn their German vocabulary quickly. Speedy has had so much fun learning German and regularly asks to do extra lessons. I also hear him using the words he has learned throughout the day so I know he is retaining them beyond his computer study. This is a unique immersion technique that I think works really well for lower elementary students. 

This Middlebury Interactive course is very well organized. The Table of Contents tab pulls up a list like the one above. When you click on a folder and then on a unit, there are check marks next to the completed lessons. The calendar tab pulls up a calendar like the one below. The lessons are set on certain dates but you can have your child do them on any day. The calendar layout does make it easy to see which lessons are complete and which lesson is to be completed next. The checkmarks here also indicate completed lessons.

Once they select the lesson, they will be given a screen like the one below. It will show them each part of that day's lesson. They may have a fairy tale, a speaking lab, review, or a quiz. Once they have finished a portion of the lesson, it will turn black & white so they know they have completed it. Little details like the checkmarks and the picture turning black & white make it so easy for even lower elementary students to work through this program independently. This has been a huge plus for Speedy and for me!

There is also a gradebook tab that will pull up a list like the one below and show scores for quizzes and other activities. This is a great way as a parent/ teacher to keep track of the lessons and their success rates. I find this very helpful because Speedy is able to complete this course independently. He doesn't need my help to log on or to find his lesson and complete it. I like to go into the gradebook about once a week to check his progress and make sure he's on track. From the gradebook, you can also view the activity or test and check the problems that were marked incorrect. There is even a place to type in comments on those missed questions.

Another unique feature of this course is the speaking labs. Using a microphone connected to the computer, the student can record and playback their pronunciation of the German words. There is an option for this package with an online teacher. I believe if you select that option then the teacher will grade those speaking labs. We got the package without a teacher so we've just used the labs as a great way for Speedy to listen to himself say the words so he can make corrections as needed.

These online language courses are terrific for homeschoolers. I love that we can pick and choose to do fun things like German whenever we want! Speedy has really enjoyed learning German and has been much more interested in it than I expected him to be. He has taken the initiative to do extra lessons on weekends. He will be very sad when his 16 units are finished!

To plan his German studies, I have him slated to do 1 lesson per day on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The lessons don't take long to complete. There are approximately 93 lessons total. Since the access to each course is 6 months, a student could easily complete it in that time frame. If you looked at this as a semester long course, our state requires 90 days per semester so it would easily be finished in that time frame if they could double up a few times. If your student enjoys it as much as Speedy, they will be finished early!

Middlebury Interactive Languages also offers courses in Spanish, French, and Chinese. They have courses available for elementary, middle, and high school levels. Most courses are available in level 1 and level 2. The courses are competitively priced for an all inclusive, independent language curriculum.

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 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Know When to Take a Break

My kids have been beasts the last few months. Both are playing soccer and the boy child is doing a fall developmental baseball season. They have rocked it with little to no complaints about all the practices and games. All the practices y'all. Almost every night of the week. The nights they don't practice are church nights or when they have day games. I'm tired. They're tired. Hubby is tired. The granparents are tired.

But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel! These seasons will wrap up soon. Both kids have already had offers to start up other sports or extracurricular activities. While I generally love for them both to be involved in 1 extracurricular each, we need a break. They know we need a break. I know we need a break.

Really it won't even be a break because holidays and working and homeschool and church and blogging and yea. This is a good time for a sports break because we are going to be super busy with other life stuff. I'm so glad the kids are at the point (for now) that they realize an off season will be a good thing. They are happy that they might get some downtime.

I have loved watching them play. I always do! And I will be looking forward to baseball in the spring! But I'm very excited that we might get to pop some popcorn and catch a Bears game or spend a little family time just hanging out. I'm also looking forward to finding some (any!!) free space in my calendar.

It's important to be a grown up and know when you and your kids need a break. It isn't always a popular decision, and it can cause a ruckus. The kids might feel like they are missing out on something huge! If you drop something you do for yourself for a break you might feel like you are missing out on something huge! However if you are weary and you know your family is weary and God is calling you to a time of peace then you need to trust in Him and take that off season. It will be good for your soul. It will be good for your kids. And even your sports oriented kids need to give their bodies time to rest and recuperate!

Does your family take breaks from extracurricular activities? Do you find it important to step back and rest some seasons?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Does Your Family Like Fun Games?

We love to play games at our house so we were super excited when USAopoly sent us two fun, educational games to review for the Crew. Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game and Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone are both great for the whole family. These games are easy to learn and neither take a long time to play.

 USAopoly Review
The kids picked Tapple to play first. With this game, you get a wheel of letters that has a timer button in the middle. There are cards to go with the game that have categories on them. We went with the easy categories to start. When a card is selected, the race is on! Each player takes a turn saying a word for the category and then tapping the letter that begins that word. The trick is to pick a letter that hasn't already been used and to do it before the time runs out! This game invoked lots of yells and laughter. The winner for each round keeps that card and the ultimate winner of the game is the one to collect 3 cards first. 

I couldn't believe some of the great words my kids used while we played. It was great practice for using their large vocabularies and remembering which letter begins each word. We have played this game several times during the review period. Not only have we played it as a family, but Apple and Speedy have played it alone a few times. They have also been sharing the game with neighborhood kids that come over to play. I love that they are finding so much enjoyment in a wholesome game that doesn't involve a screen!

"Tapple was a very fun game that makes you exercise your brain as well as your reflexes," said Hubby who enjoyed the game as much as we did!

 USAopoly Review
Wonky is an even crazier game! This game comes with 9 wonky blocks with uneven edges. There are 54 cards with instructions on them. Each player is dealt 7 cards and the goal is to use all your cards. The cards tell the player which block they can play either by color, size, or both. Some cards have special instructions like reverse and pass. That adds an extra element of strategy to this stacking game. As you try to stack the blocks, the tower gets crazy! It takes a steady hand and a bit of planning to win this game. Wonky definitely made the kids slow down and try to think about the blocks they were going to stack. I was happy to see them playing a game that involved some thinking. As we played many giggles were heard. 

USAopoly Review
This is another game that the kids shared with friends. They were playing both of these games with company we had over for a cookout on Labor Day. All the kids seemed interested in these games because they are new and so easy to learn. There aren't long instructions for either game. The rules are short and easy to follow. 

The Tapple game houses the cards inside the main wheel so it is easy to keep the whole game together. Wonky comes with a purple bag to hold all the playing pieces. It's like USAopoly knows my kids love to lose important game pieces! Seriously though both games easily fit into the cabinet where we keep all our card and board games. The kids love having games in there that I will allow them to play during or right after our homeschool time. Both of these games fit into the category!

Tapple and Wonky are recommended for players age 8+. Tapple requires 2 AA batteries for the timer. Other than that both games are ready to go when they are opened. It took less than 5 minutes for us to learn how to play each game. Tapple can be played by 2-8 players and Wonky is for 2+ players. Both games are entertaining and hold some educational value. My 8 and 10 year old both found plenty of amusement in both games, and I know these are 2 they will continue to play. With colder weather coming I'm glad we have these in the game cabinet!

During the holidays, we tend to play lots of games at family gatherings. I will be bringing these games along because the kids can play them without adult assistance. Does your family play games during the holidays?

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 USAopoly Review

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Histories of Your Favorite Carols

The Carols of Christmas A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs by Andrew Gant is the latest book I received for review. Although I've been working on Christmas shopping here and there it is a little early even for me to be enjoying Christmas carols. However I knew I would enjoy learning the history behind some of the most popular Christmas tunes.

The author has broken this book down into sections leading up to the Epiphany. He covers 21 songs in all from Advent on. Many of those songs were familiar to me like "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "What Child is This?". Several were carols that I have never heard before. All of them included a lengthy history. Lots of the songs had more than one history since it is unknown where they first originated.

As expected, I found the historical footprints of these songs very interesting. The book involves quite a bit of musical speak that was unfamiliar to me, but it did not take away from the parts that I enjoyed. The verses of the songs, sometimes more than one version, are included which would be wonderful for family singing at home. While this book is written well above Apple's head, as my musically inclined child, I know she will enjoy flipping through to read the various versions of each carol.

I received a free copy of this book from BookLook bloggers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.