Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Thin Stix from The Pencil Grip, Inc. - A Review

The Pencil Grip, Inc
Thin Stix by KwikStix

With all of the great educational products I get to review, few of them are a great fit for most any family.  With varying ages and differing circumstances, the needs of each family will always be different.  Last year, however, I believe we found something that every family can use and enjoy! We were so excited to discover and review Kwik Stix!  This year The Pencil Grip, Inc. has a new product, Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors and we got to review that too!  This is definitely one of our absolute favorite product lines!

Thin Stix by KwikStix

Kwik Stix are sticks of Tempera Paint in a solid form that glides onto paper smoothly and dries very quickly.  It's a genius idea and perfect for kids!  When it comes to painting it is hard not to cringe at the request simply because of the mess and clean-up involved.  The solid format and quick-drying aspects make it practically mess free and super easy to clean up! And all the parents rejoiced!!  I have seen them on sale at Target and they are always available on Amazon, with lots of different color options. 

Thin Stix by KwikStix
The sticks that we reviewed last year are shaped like glue sticks.  This new product is longer, like a pen and the width of a thick marker, noticeably thinner than the original, hence the name Thin Stix.  The consistency is the same in both products - like writing with lipstick - but with the new thinner tip you can create detail more easily.  Things like writing words or drawing small objects is now possible and adds a different element to the work that can be created with them.  I played around with the Thin Stix myself just doodling, but felt a little limited without original Kwik Stix.  As I contemplated making something more substantial, I went and got out our stash of regular Kwik Stix in order to have both options available.  As I suspected, having both options really completed the tool box so to speak.  Backgrounds and coloring in pictures went faster with the original Kwik Stix and details were noticeably easier with the Thin Stix.  

I think it goes without saying that my kids used them with ease and loved the whole process.  What I find fascinating and convicting is how addicting their use can be to adults.  Anywhere they are placed in the path of adults where they are welcomed to use them and create, people start surprising themselves.  As a society, we just don't freely create as adults the way our brains and bodies enjoy.  Think of restaurants with paper table cloths and crayons lying around.  Most people will pick up a crayon and doodle, at minimum.  It might bring a few giggles (and that's probably good for your mental health too!), but I would love to see after dinner creativity become a thing, like coffee and dessert.  Kwik Stix are the perfect medium to jumpstart it I think! They are easy to use, but the result looks like you've invested some time in painting - very satisfying!

Thin Stix are an excellent addition to the Kwik Stix family and I'll be excited to see what they come out with next!  
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No Mess Art with Thin Stix Classic Colors {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}
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Monday, May 22, 2017

Who Is Stealing Your Success?

Success really does look different to different people.  Success even looks different from day to day sometimes.  Why do we forget that so easily?  I'm learning to manage three little people's lives as well as a list of other responsibilities.  There are moments when I feel compelled to justify a decision or circumstance because I'm afraid my real victory of the day - like slowing down long enough to cuddle with my three kids and capitalizing on their questions about heaven - isn't acceptable or doesn't seem like much.  Witnessing the bonding of my kids together is a beautiful victory, but why do I let a messy room or mismatched clothes steal the success in my mind?  

So, let me remind myself and you if you need it:  The expectations of others - and especially the PERCEIVED expectations of others - aren't valid until they align with God and your healthy conscience's standards.  Don't be motivated by the ambiguous THEM or PEOPLE.  Be motivated by sincerity and God's standard of love.  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Homeschool Rescue: An Only Passionate Curiosity Review

Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue

One of the comments I often hear from non-homeschool parents when the topic of homeschooling comes up is "I just wouldn't be good at it."  The trouble with that statement isn't regarding it's truth, but the big fat assumption it is based upon.  Most homeschooling parents didn't choose to do so because they were going to be so good at it!  As much as our kids are learning, we as parents are learning right along with them.  That's why Homeschool Rescue from Only Passionate Curiosity was created and why reviewing it this month for the Review Crew has been such a blessing! No homeschool runs smoothly from beginning to end and often there are times in life when we get off track, especially in our homeschool.  At the end of the day, we're all having to learn how to do this.  Homeschool Rescue is a much needed reset or focusing tool whether you have years under your belt or are just beginning to homeschool.

Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue

What is Homeschool Rescue?

Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue

How I'm Using It:

As you know, I just had a baby a few weeks ago and his pregnancy before that was pretty wearing on me this time around.  My little homeschool has morphed and collided with life events several times and now with 2nd grade and kindergarten on the horizon in the fall, everything is pretty disjointed.  With a newborn and all of us suffering from changes, I would have a difficult time evening knowing what needs to be improved without just caving and saying all of it!  What Homeschool Rescue has offered me is a self-paced boot camp for my homeschool and household management.  The worksheets (like A Dream For My Child and homework gave me the opportunity to put into words my desires and expectations for my homeschool and let it dictate my priorities, rather than what I believed to be everyone else's expectations.  The specific challenges that I'm facing -like teaching more than one child and time management issues- are all addressed and with lifetime access, I can revisit anything as much as I need.  With my sleep being quite disrupted, revisiting things several times is a way of life for now! 
The entire program has a storehouse of practical help and resources, but what I found the most helpful was all the different ways it communicated that my homeschool, with its challenges and strengths, is normal.  Struggling, worrying and celebrating along the way is common and in most cases downright healthy.  There is no perfect homeschool and the need to revamp and revive it is normal and healthy.  I see revisiting Homeschool Rescue at least yearly to note what needs to shift and change.

Is It For You?

Are you inspired by the concept of homeschooling, but sometimes fall short in the doing?  Have you been homeschooling for a while and are just about ready to throw in the towel?  Have life circumstances drastically changed what your school even can look like? Wherever you are on this spectrum, sitting down and reevaluating things will be so useful to enhancing your homeschool and your management of things.  

Homeschool Rescue {Only Passionate Curiosity Reviews}
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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Rory the Race Car: A Birth Story

When miss Z turned a year old, I began having some health issues and eventually the need to wean her was discussed.  I didn't want to end that stage of parenting on such a difficult note.  At that point my anxiety was very high and the fear of not being able to have another child was very real.  I certainly didn't want to put me or a new child at risk, but in my heart I just wasn't finished with two.  There were a lot of prayers going up about this possible child #3 and from start to finish, everything was so. much. different.  From J to miss Z there were some clear differences, but I still felt like I was in the same ballpark.  Sickness, how I carried, emergencies, labor and delivery with this one were all almost foreign to me, they were so different! And for someone who really aches for familiarity (and panics at change and new things), this was hard to process.  Rory is over a month old and I'm just now sitting down to write about it - the shock of it all has made it hard to have any words I think.

As I've written before, miss Z's birth was so much more gentle and efficient than J's and I had attributed a lot of it to the self-hypnosis I had learned.  So obviously, I intended to do the same with the next one.  The trouble with that was that nothing lined up the same both mentally or physically.  I was looking to recreate miss Z's birth, but couldn't even muster up similar feelings when it came down to it.

On Saturday April 8, 2017 I woke up still very pregnant looking like this: 

I didn't feel good, but there were no regular contractions.  There was hardly any irregular contractions.  I felt poorly enough to ask my mom to work on (reflexology) my feet just to get things flowing in a good direction.  She did.  I felt better.  She left.  And I continued my day.  Mr. Butler was nesting for me - cleaning up the house like a pregnant woman.  I was cranky so I had a late lunch/snack and then took a shower.  

Showers always make me feel better.  This one made me feel worse.  It activated something and around 3:30 I started feeling sick in every direction.  That would make sense if I was in the middle of labor - that's called transition in case you're not familiar.  Transition is the point where most women reconsider and say "I can't do this."  The good news is that you're almost done at that point.  Well, I didn't know it at the time or even that it was possible, but I WAS in transition.  For some reason I just started there and skipped the build up.  Yay, right?  Well, sort of.  Because there were no rhythmic contractions, we weren't sure we should call the midwives or not.  Then I started having severe acute pelvic pain but still no contractions.  It was very uncomfortable and not getting easier.  So, Mr. Butler called and they were sending an assistant to check on me.  In the meantime, miss Z woke up from her nap and very concerned for me.  J was already with my dad so we sent her over there and my mom came over to help me.

After we had called, things started getting out of control.  I couldn't get comfortable, everything was VERY painful and I had to squat for any kind of relief. HELLO, that's transition getting ready to push!!!  But it just didn't make sense. None of it was in a familiar order or form.  When the guttural sounds started coming out of me spontaneously, I had Mr. Butler call back to confirm we were having a baby, regardless of how little sense it made!  Now, I tried to use my hypnosis.  I tried to relax and focus, but it was all for not.  Nothing I or anyone else did really helped.  The pain was constant and so intense that I had to focus on getting out of that situation as fast as possible.  So, that's what I did. 

The midwives' assistant arrived about 5:45 pm and had to start setting up for birth immediately as I was practically pushing.  She got everything set up just in time too because he was born at 6:01 pm before the senior midwife even made it!  The relief and joy was so amazing largely because the intensity of labor was insane!  But of course our little race car couldn't let the excitement end there.  When he came out he started turning blue and wouldn't sustain breathing.  He would cough and make a sound and then nothing.  So, the fantastic assistant knew just what to do and gave him oxygen and some chest compressions.  He was right next to me the whole time and perhaps it was all the love hormones flowing through me but I was confident he would be fine.  Mr. Butler and my mom seemed to be in charge of panicking instead.  Still, after a little bit of help he was breathing on his own and we were in business!

Rory Emerson was 10 lbs 2 oz and 22 in long. 

The big kids were VERY excited to meet him.

As many people know, we went on to have a hospital stay and some health concerns, but thanks to an enormous amount of prayer, he has been cleared of all issues and thriving at home!  We are learning many lessons through this sweet boy, but none so much as thankfulness for all the good things.  This mama's heart is very full.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Thoughts in Progress

-The best rewards often only come from really difficult circumstances.

Growth - the kind that makes life more worthwhile and more pleasing to God - doesn't come from easy things or our plans going just as expected.  Deeper perspective comes from time spent with the curve balls and in the valleys.  

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Gospels: A Drive Thru History® Review

Drive Thru History
One of the major advantages to living in the digital age is how much knowledge we have access to.  Media definitely has its burdens and flaws, but it also has the power to embolden our faith!  Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels” is the latest project from Drive Thru History® with Dave Stotts and one of those tools that can be used to teach and build up our family and friends toward a better understanding of the Bible.  One of the first questions a person might ask when introduced to the gospel is usually about how we can trust the Bible to be true.  This entire series touches on many ways to answer that question.  This has certainly been one of those reviews that the adults benefit just as much as the kids! 
Drive Thru History The Gospels
Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels”  is a series of 18 30 minute episodes over 3 DVDs where Dave Stotts travels to all the locations mentioned in the gospels that housed Jesus' birth, life, death and ministry.  There are over 50 ancient sites he visits and utilizes history, archaeology, geography and art to bring the story to life.  As students of the Bible we all picture in our mind what events looked like, but at best come up short with a good visual because we just weren't there.  Visiting, albeit virtually, the places where these things really happened sets our understanding on a whole new level and certainly builds up our faith. 

Drive Thru History The Gospels
Also included in this set is a study guide corresponding to each episode that can be used in a variety of ways.  The study guide provides a summary, recommended scripture reading, discussion questions, beautiful graphics and bonus information under the heading 'Side Road' for each episode.  The recommended age of this series is 5th grade to adult, but families are encouraged to watch them together too.  Since the children in our family are 6 and under, we simply watched episodes together and not as a specific study.  However, when using the study guide, this quickly turns into a massive bible study tool.  For homeschooling families, this could supplement a major history, geography or Bible study.  It could also be useful for church groups or even just studying with your friends and neighbors.   Drive Thru History® provides a great springboard opportunity to discuss all aspects of the gospel with others from a unique perspective.

Drive Thru History The Gospels
As a parent and teacher of small children, I'm excited to have this in my library.  Almost like a digital encyclopedia, this set provides multiple layers of information to be dissected and used.  It's been fun to watch now, but it will also be useful to pull from as my kids get older and much of it becomes more relevant to their own understanding.  Drive Thru History® sure did a great job!

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The Gospels {Drive Thru History® Reviews}

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It Only Takes One: Letting Go of Longing

If you were one of those favored people that everyone wanted to date or be like, then feel free to skip this post because you might not understand where I'm coming from.  For the rest of us, I expect you'll know what I mean.  We all had a time - and maybe still live there - where we longed to be that popular and interesting person that seemed to have all the cool friends and get all the dates.  Contentment with ourselves seemed impossible and no matter who paid us attention, we just weren't satisfied.  For most people it is simply an adolescent phase, though a few drag it into adulthood and beyond.  Regardless of how real it feels, it isn't a healthy place to live.

I was (am) most certainly that girl with the super sensitive feelings who noticed when all the boys paid attention to miss beautiful and all the girls didn't mind me if there was no one more interesting around.  The longing and discontentment, while maybe I hid it well - not sure, followed me around like a dark cloud.  I've been married 10 1/2 years to quite my uncomfortable opposite that has forced me to learn and grow more than anyone in my life.  It has certainly not always been fun, easy or even felt good (because growing is hard), but friends I just want to say something.  It only takes one relationship, maybe a best friend, maybe a husband, or maybe just a committed relationship with God, to satisfy those longings our adolescent conjures up.  It doesn't take attention from ALL the boys or all the popular kids, it just takes one faithful, authentic relationship to heal old wounds and teach the heart true commitment and devotion.  It's so easy to get a perfectionistic view of what we want or demand in a relationship that distorts truth as well, but it only takes one good one to realize how unnecessary all that fixating is.

There is a lot that I dislike about this picture.  It is NOT a perfect shot of us.  
But it doesn't take perfect to fill up the soul.

Tomorrow marks 3 weeks since my third child was born and the closing of a most stressful and trying adventure.  There's much to say about that, but I'll save it for another post.  What is significant is that Mr. Butler is and was the most amazing faithful friend and partner I could have had in all of the things we had to do.  He was the perfect strength in my weakness.  We have weathered all kinds of storms together so it didn't surprise me when we stared down this one together.  However, it did overwhelm me how far the 14 year old girl I sometimes still carried around in my heart had come.  It only took my (aged and purified) relationship with Mr. Butler to stamp out the foolish comparisons and longings of my youth.  So, whether you find yourself stuck in a cycle of longing or as our children grow through these stages, let's remember how many lies adolescent sneaks in. It doesn't take the popular crowd or the cutest boy or even the perfect 15 friends to satisfy our hearts.  It just takes one relationship of truth and stability to ground us where all others can come and go for the best without constantly pulling us out of orbit.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Value of a Day

There are days that trick the mind into thinking nothing is unique, precious or significant.  While the ease of those days is intoxicating sometimes, don't allow yourself to be fooled.  Other days lie in the shadow of thick, weighty events that burn our eyes with what is most important.  This burning must be remembered on every day so that all days alike will be valued.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Post in Pictures

Sometimes you just need to be reminded of beautiful and memorable things.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Beauty and the Beast of the Body's Connections

We like to marvel at the small world we live in when we meet someone from our obscure hometown on our flight to a foreign country or your two childhood best friends - who have never met before - separately move to the same small town in Texas and end up going to high school together.  Everything is connected!  And that is fun to do, but American culture sure does struggle to realize how much more true it is when it comes to our bodies.  Our bodies' are fearfully and wonderfully made!  As I'm nearing the end of my third pregnancy, it is still crazy and amazing how God designed my body to create and sustain this little person until he's strong enough to start on his own.  Everything I do right now can have some effect on my new son and his future! The way our bodies work and the intricate connections are just beautiful!

The beast of it all is that throughout our life whatever negative thing that happens or we may do to it, will affect the entire body somehow eventually.  A neglected infection in a limb can endanger the whole body.  The foods we eat on a regular basis will effect the health of our teeth.  The stress of new jobs or loss can impact the health of our heart.  The connections are endless!  It's beautiful, but it can be a burden too.  The entrance of Miss Z into our lives has brought so much joy and love while initially putting a heavy strain on my physical body.  I didn't realize and stay mindful of that and it almost broke me completely.  Anxiety, depression, and deteriorating whole body health was the reaction.  All the factors of my life were culminating in my body and it just couldn't take anymore.  Thankfully, due to some drastic changes, lots of prayer and time, I was able to change the direction of those connections!!

As a parent, one of our biggest worries, money and time consumers is our kid's health.  I know it is for me.  We don't want them to be sick at all and sometimes sickness never seems to leave!  One of the simple truths that I've experienced in my children's lives is that, just like me, their various choices or circumstances - diet, sleep, environment, exposures, stresses, etc. - connect to their overall health and wellness just like adults.  Mr. Butler and I are all too familiar with the negative impacts neglect in all these areas can have on our lives.  I love having herbs, oils and nutrition knowledge at my fingertips (through my mother's business and experience) and am happy to share it with anyone interested, but more than anything I just believe in a whole body approach to everything!  Health, relationships, impulse control, mental abilities, finances, you name it!  Everything connects to everything else eventually and beginning with that perspective in mind can help us understand problems to help better solve them rather than just pacify or place band-aids on them.

The connections in life are beautiful, but also burdensome when we neglect for too long.  May we all strive to build up all aspects of our families and lives so that balance is easily kept!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Blessings in the Chaos

One of the burdens a (relatively new) conscientious homeschooler bears is constantly measuring your children's educational experience with that of an average public school experience.  When things don't look the same or paces differ, it is so tempting to panic and hide!  The irony is that most of us homeschool so that we can have the freedom TO do things differently.  So then of course things are going to look different and that is beautiful!

Moms worry though.  I'm 37 and due with my third child very soon.  This baby was kind of a now or never kind of situation (mostly because I'm on the older end of the spectrum) and wasn't exactly a sure thing.  So, between the extra prayers, the extra morning sickness, and all the waaay different symptoms of this pregnancy, the last 9 months have been complicated to say the least.  So, back to homeschooling, things didn't always (hardly ever) run like clockwork.  That can make a mama worry.  Then again, so can anything, whether it's worthwhile or not.  And the last 9 months of J and miss Z's educational journey have been varied and colorful some days.  The really awesome part?  There has been growth, joy and mastery in spite of me!  The 6 year old LOVES reading chapter books, learned to tie his shoes, ride a bike, take care of his sister and can handle his laundry with a little help from me on top of some academics sprinkled in there.  And of course the 3 year old falls in step with him, talking our ears off so she'll be fine regardless.

The reality is that every season of life is a beautiful teacher if we let it.  I'm planning to start both of them on a new school year/curriculum by the end of the summer and already have a list of things I want to do differently for better organization and smoother handling with an infant in tow.  The stumbling I've felt at times over the past year has shaped and prepared me to do a better job.  As parents (or maybe humans in general), how often do we want to do this thing, but if it wouldn't work perfectly, we give it up and say not for me?  I'm afraid we write things off too soon before we've allowed ourselves to grow with it.  I know I can do that all too easily.  Still, I may always be fighting off worries in regards to my kids, but I'm thankful for the continual blessings amidst the chaos.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Finding Grace in Social Media

One of the hallmarks of our culture and time is the effect social media on our relationships.  It began with the onslaught of advertising 60 years ago and now culminates in our friends sharing a good picture of their life.  Too often we believe the staged is real and get overwhelmed at the high standard OR we criticize the realistic only to comfort ourselves that we aren't that bad.  
You've probably read online about how only people in failing relationships post the 'perfect' pictures and gush about how great they are.  At the same time we also have a climate where posting anything could potentially get us in trouble, even if it's innocent.  The genuine person is guilty of something no matter what they do!

Don't get me wrong.  I understand that there are stereotypes in this world for a reason.  People can be ridiculous, fake, shallow and deceitful.  Still, amidst those realities are other realities that we shouldn't ignore.

Sometimes that picture of a new car or house is a lifelong victory.  Other times that relationship gushing is filling a great need in their partner.  That perfect photo of that perfect life might just be the best moment they've had in months and the only thing that makes them feel normal amidst a very dysfunctional reality.

One of my most favorite photos, but reminds me of so many conflicting emotions.  Photos can be deceiving, but really they are just snapshots - and that's not a bad thing.

I guess what I'm talking about here is grace.  I don't have to like you and you don't have to like me.  My choices may never be your choices.  You will undoubtedly think things about what I say and do that may or may not be right.  Still, when you find yourself about to spew judgments about others - how their relationship must be awful or their choice of staged photo means this or that - pause and look at them with a mother's eyes.  Or better yet, look at them with God's eyes.  See their pain or their struggle.  See their weaknesses and love them anyway.

I'm about to be a mother of 3 - a pretty daunting task - and over the last 7 years I've experienced a lot of the downs of parenting.  Being tired, judging other mothers, being judged by other mothers, feeding struggles, milestone competitions, jealousy, pressure to perform, pressure to do it all and absolute failure to feel good about any part of it some days.  The media and us regular people can make a big deal over anything and sometimes that ruins us.  Somehow we need to get to a place where my victory can be celebrated right along with yours even if they look vastly different.  So, try to calm down your feelings about what everyone else is doing.  Do good. Celebrate the good.  And just love them anyway!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Andi Adventures: A Kregel Publications Book Review

Kregel Publications
Now that we have a chapter book reader in the house, getting new books at the library can sometimes be complicated.  Some books I've heard of or even read, but a lot of them I haven't and don't always know if they are age appropriate for my 6 year old.  Thankfully, there are some great books out there, if you know where to look!  Last month, we received two books from Kregel Publications that were written by Susan K. Marlow to review.    Andi Saddles Up and Andi Under the Big Top are the first two books in the Circle C Stepping Stones series, with 4 more books coming out over the next year and a half.  

Andi Saddles UpThe books are set in 1887 on the Circle C Ranch following 9 year old Andi Carter and her adventures.  Her horse Taffy is certainly a main character and one of the things my son was most excited about.  He loves horses - has since he could talk - and has recently been enthralled with chapter books that have horses in them.  Needless to say, he didn't have a problem getting motivated to read.  A great element too is the various character building lessons that are sneak in as the stories play out.  As a parent, I love knowing that the reading my son is doing isn't just enhancing his mind, but also giving his heart a greater store of empathy and understanding to pull from as he gets older.

Andi Under the Big TopThe intended audience is boys and girls ages 7-10 that are ready for chapter books with longer chapters and deeper story lines.  J has really taken off with reading so these books were perfect for him to read on his own.    Still, they would be great read aloud books as well, especially when used with the various activities.  A really unique element of this series is the supplemental resources that are available to enhance their use, if desired.  Along with the first two books, there are free coloring pages, free activity pages, schedule of suggested activities and printed activity books and lapbooks available for purchase.  From a teaching perspective, the activity pages were fantastic! There was vocabulary building, story elements, comprehension, history, mazes, hands on activities and a great jumping off point for so many discussions!  Each book could be turned into an entire unit study if you wanted.  Depending on what other topics you are covering, the possibilities of incorporating different aspects together really are endless!

Our experience with these first two books was great! What is just as exciting to me is to find out that this series is actually one of three! Also by Susan K. Marlow is Circle C Beginnings, Circle C Adventures, and Circle C Milestones, all following different times of Andi Carter's life.  This discovery can certainly enhance my homeschool curriculum, but give my budding readers lots of options as well! 

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Andi Series {Kregel Publications and Susan K. Marlow Reviews}

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