Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Race Car: 2 Months and Counting

I took the little Race Car to the pediatrician today for his follow-up visit.  As the doctor was asking her initial, "How's he doing?" I heard myself saying, "He's actually the easiest thing I have going on right now."  When your newborn is the easiest thing in your life, either your life is really bad or you have an amazing baby.  While life has been really stressful the past few months, he really is just that good of a baby!

He tolerates the big kids' intensity and excitement like a pro.  He practically puts himself to sleep and doesn't bat an eye when I interrupt his nap to go somewhere.  I know life with this Race Car won't always be such a breeze, but I am really thankful for the great time we're having right now.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Missing My Grace

When I say this out loud, I feel silly and foolish.  I miss my dog so much.  I know that my attachment to her was meaningful and rich, so this unexpected separation that brings an ache to my heart isn't silly or foolish.  She is a part of my marriage's identity in a way that I never realized until she was gone.  We brought her home only a few months after we were first married and her personality mirrored mine in so many sweet ways.

Grace was my first go of it as a mother, so to speak.  I loved her longer than I've loved my own children.  She knew when I was upset and tolerated me when I was busy with everyone else.  I remember seeing those deep eyes staring back at me when we first met and those same eyes stared into my soul the day we said good-bye.  She was the runt of the litter and all her litter mates were squirming all over each other trying to get attention, but Grace was shivering at the back just staring at me.  I knew I wanted her from the moment I saw those eyes.  Turns out I couldn't have picked a better dog for me.   She was hesitant and fearful, but she was amazing and caring.  Not only was she in tune with the emotion in a room, but she would leap higher for a frisbee than any dog I've ever seen.  Every trick we tried to teach her, she learned.  And all of this I know doesn't mean much to anyone else.  Your animals don't impact my life and so mine wouldn't impact you either.   But she has so deeply impacted my daily life that I can't seem to see Liz's speckled brown fur without my brain completing the picture with a black and white shiny image following behind.

So, while I try to write about things that might be relevant to my friends too, sometimes I just have to write my heart.  The sting has started to fade, but as my life marches on I can't help but long for her to be here with us.  She was there for the births of all of my children.  She was there when J and Miss Z crawled and walked and started to talk.  I'm so sad that she won't be there for the Race Car's.  She was there when Mr. Butler and I were learning to be us so in a way it doesn't feel like us without her.  Mr. Butler and I surmised how Grace and J are a lot alike - very empathetic and sensitive, just wanting everyone to be okay and have fun - and that her passing was kind of a transfer of the baton.  With the Race Car's arrival, we certainly have been blessed and occupied.  We understand that dogs are not people and people always trump the animals.  I was just given such a bonus blessing in my Grace and I was absolutely not ready to give her up.

Ever since they were young, I've always thought about writing a children's book series entitled, The Adventures of Amazing Grace and Lickety Split.  One of the ways I hope to fill the hole I seem to have in my heart is to seriously pursue that project.  It may not be a fast turn around, but I would love for you to help me by asking how it is coming every once in a while to keep me heading that way.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Whistlefritz: A Spanish Immersion Program Review


Sometimes my battle with deadlines makes me dread writing reviews, but I'm regularly pulled right out of that funk when I'm reminded of the fantastic products I get to try with my family!  The latest product we get to review is the Educator's Spanish Collection from Whistlefritz.   Whistlefritz produces Spanish and French Immersion Programs specifically designed for early elementary students.  They have built their programs on the understanding that learning a new language is easiest at a young age and is most effective when they are immersed in it, much like we all learn our native language.  With all of my children under the age of 7, this is a great program for them.
Whistlefritz Spanish
The Spanish Educator's Collection includes a teacher's manual of Spanish Lesson Plans for Kids, 5 DVDs, 3 CDs and Spanish Matching Cards.  The manual contains 40 lessons that integrate all subjects into learning Spanish providing a reciprocal reinforcement relationship.  Each lesson builds on the one before, but in most cases can be used alone, depending on the student's prior knowledge.  The DVDs are full of engaging skits, music and dance covering all major topics that the Lesson Plans touch on like numbers, colors, seasons, etc.  CDs are full of fun music that reinforces the language areas the others introduce.  We love to use CDs in the car allowing the language to go with us even when we're not in the middle of a lesson.  Finally, the Spanish Matching Cards provide just another way to interact with the language alone or with other students.

They were combining coloring with numbers and colors in Spanish.

What We Thought:

As usual the kids loved the DVDs and asked to watch them over and over.  Since they are entirely in Spanish, they really are beneficial for a student's grasp of the language.  They correspond with particular lessons and are a great add on, but they do very well as a lesson all their own sometimes.  On Whistlefritz's website you can download free lesson plans that correspond directly to the videos (not repeats of those in the book) if you would like to create lessons surrounding just the video.  

We were able to use all of these materials for 4-5 weeks so we went through various lessons that were a good match for both of the kids educational level.  However, depending on the circumstance and needs, you could stretch this program out to an entire school year, coordinating all kinds of things with the Spanish topics from each lesson.  It provides a wonderful base for Spanish vocabulary, but if spread over a school year would certainly spring board into even more!

Whistlefritz Spanish

Whistlefritz Spanish
The lesson plans themselves are very easy to use and adapt to your needs.  The objective is always very clear and everything you need is listed or explained.  There are even several alternative or additional activities that make the entire program so versatile.  The lessons plans are contained in a softbound book with corresponding printable material.  One thing that I would love to see added is the consumable material available in pdf so that it would be more easily printed, rather than just copying from the thick book.  We printed just fine for our lessons, but a pdf would enhance quality and convenience.  The card game is a great anytime activity to pass time and reinforce vocabulary and my 3 year old especially loved getting those out.

After spending some time with all of this material, I feel really confident in recommending this as a comprehensive language program that young kids will love!

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Spanish and French {Whistlefritz Reviews}
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Friday, June 9, 2017

Learning to Live in the Pain of Growth

Several years ago when I first started this blog, it was with a desire for balance.  Most people gravitated towards extremes and even I couldn't seem to stay in the middle for very long.  I longed for balance, but that means growth.  Growth can be really hard, but once growth involves bigger things like sickness, a large stack of bills or whatever brings the despair at night - well suddenly it doesn't feel like growth anymore, but punishment.  It's really not.  But it sure can feel like it.

One of our dogs is sick and recovery is uncertain.  If you're an animal person, you understand the heavy weight of making decisions that not only affect them, but your entire family.  It's enough to make you want to run and hide.  Still, until you're placed in such a precarious situation, struggling over such decisions seem simple and not worth agonizing over.  Like being a parent or losing a parent; like going without a meal or being the only one providing a meal; - until you're in the situation, you just don't realize what it is like.  As Christians we seek maturity and growth - because it is commanded, but also because we desire it usually.  Perhaps we think that if we're more mature, life is easier.  I don't know about all that, but to get there - to grow and achieve a new level of maturity - things get harder long before they get easier.  

I have given birth to three children now and I'm amazed at each one of them in different ways.  My racecar is 2 months old and in a lot of ways things are getting easier now, but only after so much was really hard.  But his 2 months is way easier than J or miss Z's 2 months because I knew what was coming.  But until I knew what it was like, it was just hard to live in it.

Over the past 12 months we've had more emergencies in our life than ever in our entire marriage.  Stress and worry.  Bills and more bills.  Kind of like a winter that just won't end.  That winter full of debilitating snow though is actually watering the plants.  The harshness of winter snow still makes beauty possible after it has melted.  All it takes for hope is that first little bud of spring and you realize it was worth something.  Just like the snow, these hardships and burdens that just won't quit are tools God is using to fulfill His promises to us and answer our prayers of growth and maturity.

And so we learn to live in it.  

James 1:2-4

 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.…

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

K5 Learning: An Online Program Review

K5 Learning

K5 Learning
It is officially Summer and as a parent you might be thinking about where your kids are academically and where you want them to be when Fall hits.  Would your child  benefit from some extra math and reading practice? How about some spelling and vocabulary help?  Could you use some help getting them there? Over the last month or two we've had the great opportunity to try out K5 Learning, an online supplemental math and reading program designed to provide both entertaining and educational lessons to students at home.  With my eventful pregnancy and my little race car's explosion into the world, our homeschool didn't exactly stay on track.  K5 Learning has been a fantastic online tool to fill in some gaps along the way.  

K5 Learning
K5 Reading includes:
  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Sight Words
  • Vocabulary
  • Reading Comprehension

K5 Math includes:
  • Numbers & Operations
  • Measurement
  • Geometry
  • Data Analysis
  • Algebraic Thinking
K5 Spelling includes:
  • Adaptive instruction
  • Optimized visual interface
  • 150,000 word database

How It Works:

K5 Learning first provides an assessment for math and reading in Kindergarten through Grade 5.  Students can then begin personalized lessons and custom worksheets at their current skill level, allowing for online and written interaction. Subscriptions are monthly or annual and allows for up to 4 students per account.  Created with busy parents in mind, this program allows the student to work independently on target area lessons until they are mastered and then provides a report to the parents all along the way.  The sequence of  online lessons is controlled by the system so students can't spend all their time on one game and neglect others.   The program's award-winning software provides full instruction which makes it possible for kids to learn a new concept as well as practice familiar ones.  K5 Learning is also recommended for Special Needs and ESL learners due to its individualized, self-paced design and research-based curriculum that meets national standards.  

How We Used It:

I had J take both assessments right away which was easy and provided good information to know anyway.  From there he would start wherever the program started him, which was based on the initial assessment.  The online engagement was impressive and the corresponding worksheets allowed for a good hands-on reinforcement  J enjoyed the short lessons and the creative ways they spent time explaining a concept.  At one point he was working on adding three numbers and immediately balked saying it was too hard.  I talked him through it and in a few minutes couldn't stop saying how easy it was.  This program seems to progress incrementally in such a way that really cannot overwhelm a student for very long.  It has a great mix of instruction and games that don't ever seem to repeat in nature.

This supplemental program can be used throughout the school year as extra practice and filling in gaps or over the summer break to keep their skills up.  Regardless of the time of year, K5 Learning is a great insurance policy when life doesn't go according to our plan!

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K5 Learning {Reviews}
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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}
Crew Disclaimer