Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sugar Creek Gang

Do you like . . .
  • stories?
  • audio books?
  • adventure?
  • Christian values?
  • making your kids happy? 
Then you'll LOVE the Sugar Creek Gang!

The Sugar Creek Gang first began to live in readers' minds in 1939. Paul Hutchens, a Baptist preacher, wrote all about the adventures of a group of friends - Bill who is the narrator, Poetry who often quotes poems or hymns, Dragonfly who sees things before the others do, Big Jim who is the leader, Little Jim who is the youngest member and a good Christian, Circus who is very athletic and can sing well, and eventually Tom who was once a menace to the gang but has a change of heart. There's swimming, fishing, nature study, simple living, with a little bit of mischief mixed in. The stories are wholesome, the adventures exciting, and the themes moral. There is a big emphasis on God and making the proper decisions. Sin is discouraged and doing right is praised. Most importantly, the gospel is given in a simple, easy-to-understand way.

The printed books have sold millions of copies and touched countless lives. Several years ago, Paul Ramseyer wanted to keep the adventure alive for more generations. He was inspired to dramatize the books for radio. And inspire he did. The stories come to life with realistic narration and varying voices. The audio is very well done. There are a few times when he stumbles on a word or hesitates slightly. At first, my perfectionistic mind thought it was something they should have re-recorded to make it right. After listening more though, I realized that it made it more endearing, more like Bill was truly the one telling his story.

Our entire family was captivated by this production. Jake (6 yr) loves audio books, so it didn't surprise me when he begged to hear more. I was pleasantly surprised though when Alyssa (4 yr) and Zac (2 yr) asked for the stories as well. We listened to them while driving, while folding laundry, and when the kids needed a little down time.

When I asked Jake what he liked about the Sugar Creek Gang, he said, "I like that they're about Jesus and that they're mysteries . . . and I love Jesus and mysteries . . . and I like the boys and hearing the names of the books . . . and the stories . . . and I love everything! And I just can't wait to hear them all!" I'd say that's a positive review.

There are 36 books in total, 72 CDs, over 100 hours of listening time. We were given the first volume, so there are lots more adventures to be had. Volume 1 consists of these books:

The Swamp Robber 
The Killer Bear
The Winter Rescue
The Lost Campers
Chicago Adventure
The Secret Hideout

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Trust me, you'll want to head over to Beloved Books and make a purchase. You can buy each volume for $54.95 or save by buying the entire collection. Each story is a stand-alone, but they do progress and build upon each other. If you're just not sure if you'd love it as much as we do, you can listen to all of The Swamp Robber for FREE! Beloved Books also offers many other resources as well, including missionary life stories, historical fiction, G.A. Henty audio stories, KJV Scripture songs, and so much more.  Also, you can use 5OFF30 to save $5 off a $30 purchase or 10OFF50 to save $10 off a $50 purchase. Or you can use RAISING-LEAFS-20 to receive 20% off your entire order! Really, you have nothing to lose!

We are so thankful that we were introduced to the gang. My family will be thrilled at Christmas when they find more Sugar Creek adventures under our tree!

As always, you can read more reviews on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

* Disclaimer: - I was given volume 1 of this series in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Samson's Classroom

We've been homeschooling for 2 years now, but everyone needs a little variety now and then, right? I decided a few weeks ago to send Jake to another classroom to practice his reading skills. The teacher's pretty cool. I mean, it's not every day a talking dog is the one helping you read!

Samson's Classroom is an online educational program for K-5th grade. It's designed to help students excel in language arts and uses games to reinforce sight words, spelling, and reading comprehension.

Jake (6 yr) was very excited to be practicing with Samson. I have said many times that he does not like reading. He does it when he needs to and is very good at it, but it is definitely not something he does for enjoyment. That's why I'm always looking for new ways to spark his interest. Samson has done just that! He actually asks me if he can play. I set up an account for Alyssa (4 yr) as well, but it is a bit too difficult for her. That doesn't stop her from watching her big brother though. They both love the silly little cartoons throughout the games. Watching Samson blow up the words, pop them with darts, or pull them off screen with a big cane always produces some laughs.

Sight Words with Samson is perfect for beginning readers. It helps them master the 224 most-commonly used words in the English language, giving them a good foundation to become successful readers. This area is broken into 5 sections for each list: learn words where they are visible on the screen and audibly spoken and spelled, build words where various letters are on the screen and the student has to choose the correct ones to spell the words as the letters are audibly spoken, identify words where the student has to pick which word is being spoken from the list of words on screen, spell words where the student has to choose on his own which letters the word comprises, and missing words where multiple words are on screen and the student chooses which one is being said.  

Once the student has completed each section for the list, he gets a star. After 4 stars, he earns a colored karate belt. Who ever would have guessed that a virtual karate belt would be the factor that got my boy to want to learn his sight words? Apparently the creators of Samson's Classroom because he has been working so hard. When he initially started the program, he started at level 1. I looked at the list and realized that it was too simple for him. I looked all around the website to see how I could do a placement test or choose which level I wanted to place him. When I couldn't find anything to help, I emailed the company. A got a response back very quickly, letting me know that they unlocked all the levels so I could start him where I saw fit. I was very impressed. As it turns out though, since Jake is very intent on earning that black belt, he has gone back to finish the earlier lessons, too. I think it's safe to say that the sight words section is doing its job - helping my son to learn his words. That he is starting to enjoy it is just a bonus.

Spelling with Samson is the most comprehensive spelling product on the market. You can choose one of the pre-made lists or input your own. With over 5,000 words in the data base, it's pretty thorough. There are 4 sections to mastering a spelling list: study zone is where the student learns all about the word - sound, spelling, in a sentence; missing letters is a fun game where the student chooses which letter(s) the word is missing and watches Samson karate chop or slice through them; spelling scramble is a game where you control Samson to run around collecting letters as you try to avoid getting tied up by the giant spider, then you unscramble the letters to make the words; and crunch time is a game where you have to help Samson cross the water by typing the words to make him jump across the icebergs, go too slow and the ice gets eat by a walrus, making Samson fall in the ice cold water.

Jake really liked playing these games. His favorite was definitely spelling scramble because of his obsession with spiders. When played in order, the games progress to help the student learn the words in a fun way.

Reading with Samson is geared more toward the older students. It helps students analyze reading material, learn how to draw conclusions based on it, and answer questions about it. The program uses a patented user feedback system. When a student answers incorrectly, that portion of the story is highlighted and the student has another chance to answer. I tried this section on my own. It is definitely too advanced for my little ones to play. I found it to be a good brain exercise for myself though. Hey, my dad has always taught me that if you challenge your brain through mind puzzles, you'll stay younger and healthier. Apparently Samson's Classroom is good for all ages!

You can also find many worksheets, lesson plans, flashcards, certificates, and other resources on the website. They offer many options for purchase: 1 user $30/year, 4 users $50/year, and other options for classrooms and schools. You can even try a demo and watch a 3 minute demo video.

Samson's Classroom has worked well in our home. I'm happy to see Jake excited about reading, even if it is just a few sight words. Who knows, maybe I can purchase real karate belts to get him wanting to read whole books. You never know. But one thing's for sure, I'm not letting giant spiders run around my house, excited about reading or not!  

You can read more reviews of Samson's Classroom on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

* Disclaimer - I received this subscription in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
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H is for Home


The very word brings a sense of comfort.



I almost think I would hole up and become a hermit if I could.

Oh, it's not that I don't like people. I'm a big people-person. It's just that home is where I find the people I love the most. You know the saying home is where the heart is?  Yep. There is truly no place else I'd rather be. Ninety-percent of my life is spent here. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

What's so great about being home?

I love homemaking. Really. I am one of those people that enjoy cooking, baking, cleaning and organizing. Sure, things can get overwhelming at times, but I enjoy it none-the-less. (Except shampooing carpets. I despise shampooing the carpets. Which reminds me, they need to be cleaned. Any takers???)  

We lived with my parents for nearly 4 years after we got married. We finished up our bachelor degrees that first year and then started saving for a house. Because of various reasons, we didn't find the one until many years later. We got along great with my parents during those years though. Like I've said before, they are our best friends. Since we didn't have a place of our own, I couldn't justify staying home all day. After getting my degree, I went back to my own alma mater and taught for 3 years. Jake was born during that time, and though it was the desire of my heart to be a stay-at-home-mommy, we still did not have our own house. We eventually found the house we now live in, got the keys the end of March, and I officially became a SAHM the end of May. It's been 5 years since then. Five wonderful, fulfilling years. I know that some women have no desire to stay home every day. Some consider cleaning a chore. Some do not enjoy being in the kitchen. That is not me. I know 100 % that I was meant to be a stay-at-home mom. I honestly love making my house a home.

Had you told me 6 years ago that I was going to birth my babies at home, I would have laughed. I had absolutely no desire to homebirth. I had preconceived ideas about it -- none of which really were good. So, how did I go from no-way-would-I-ever-homebirth to no-way-would-I-ever-not-want-to-homebirth? Good question.

While in the hospital with Jake, I labored a little in the bathtub. Sure, I had heard of waterbirths before, (I watched my fair-share of TLC birthing shows) but I never considered having one myself. When I got pregnant again a year-and-a-half later, I remembered that bathtub and how much relief it brought. I started researching waterbirths. I decided that was what I wanted and began checking the hospitals in the area. At the time, there were many that allowed the mother to labor in a birthing tub that she brought with her, but there was only one hospital in all of Michigan that allowed the baby to actually be delivered in the tub. (There are other places now.) My only options were to drive 3 hours to that hospital or find a midwife. Ha, a midwife. Yeah, right, I thought, but there was no way I was driving across the state just to have a waterbirth. I continued to learn. I continued to study. I eventually did a search for midwives in my area. I found that the closet one to me was only about 10 minutes away. Leighton and I talked about it. I eventually called, not knowing yet what my decision was. Within the first few minutes of that hour-long conversation, I knew that I would have my baby at home and that I was talking to my midwife. Immediately, I felt so comfortable with her. We had the same philosophy about birth. We shared the same thinking about procedures. No more would I have to fight the doctors about what I wanted for my baby and me. I found someone that recognized the ability God gave to women's body for the very purpose of birthing babies. I spent the next few months learning about homebirth. I was amazed by how things have been done for thousands of years and how technology has changed the birthing process the past few years.      

I know that homebirthing is not for everyone, but it was definitely for me. I have loved, loved, loved having my babies at home. I really cannot say that enough. The benefits alone are enough for another post. We've already written about the 3 births: Alyssa whose labor was only 90 minutes and was probably the most perfect birth ever; Zac whose labor was 45 minutes total and happened so fast his daddy almost missed it; and Tyler whose labor was 2 hours long, surprised everyone, and made the most perfect birthday present for his sister. Homebirth has been a huge blessing.

When Leighton and I got married, we knew we were going to homeschool. I'm not really sure why we made that decision, if you can even call it a decision. It was just a given. Neither of us were homeschooled, so I don't know why it was the plan. All I know is that we knew that it was what God wanted. That was reason enough for us.

The summer before we officially starting homeschooling though, is when it really hit. I was going to be doing the teaching. I was going to be responsible for their learning. I would be doing all the schooling. I started to get scared, but God used a book to calm my fears. Sure, there are times when it gets tough. There are times I wonder if I'm teaching them like I should. There are times when things get hectic. But I know that this is His will for us. I'm so thankful for this opportunity to teach my kids, to spend every day raising them to serve God, to show them continually just how much I love them. I am honored that God gave me the responsibility and privilege of educating my children. I have learned so much through teaching them. I am so blessed for this opportunity to homeschool.

Homemaking, homebirthing, homeschooling. Home. It's what I do. And I wouldn't have it any other way.     

Blogging Through the Alphabet
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Friday, October 26, 2012

Things That Make Me Smile 10/26/12

Happy Friday! What a week. We had a conference at church and were there until after 10:00 pm each night, Sunday-Wednesday. It was a huge blessing. Great preaching, wonderful singing, and fun fellowship with old friends. But it was tiring. The kids quickly got used to that schedule and were up late again last night. Fun times.

Did you read the announcement yesterday? It'll take some getting used to, but I'm hoping it will give me a little down-time, instead of constantly go-go-going. In fact, I played outside all afternoon with the kids yesterday. It was a beautiful day. Perfect for taking 380 pictures. {grin}

Here are a few memories from this week.

1. Alyssa: "Mommy, you make the very best cake ever."
Jake: "And I know why that is. Because you put too much love in it . . . well, you can't have too much, but it's a lot."

2. Zac, about Tyler: "Is he pretty?"
Alyssa: "He's gorgeous. That's a fancier word for pretty."
Zac: "Yeah, he's gorgeous."

3. Alyssa, about Tyler: "I kissed him two times and he didn't even make my lips messy! He didn't get slobber on me."


5. Jake: "This tag says that I have waterproof boots."
Alyssa: "Jacob, you are one lucky boy!"
Jake: "Do you know what waterproof means?"
Alyssa: "No."

6. Playing outside with the kids in the leaves.

7. Alyssa: "I know a karate move. If someone tries to hit you, you just try getting away."

8. Zac: "I need a mustache so I can pretend to be Daddy."

9. Alyssa: "I'm a better sister than Jacob."

What made you smile this week??? 

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tough Decisions

Have you ever felt like you were drowning?

Like your responsibilities were multiplying and you were always in over your head. No matter how much you worked to stay afloat, things kept weighing you down and making you sink.

That's where I am.

It just seems like we have so many extra stuff going on lately. Reorganizing our schoolroom. Preparing baby clothes to sell at a mom-to-mom. Preparing maternity clothes to drop off at a consignment store. Gathering toys to be sold. Filling boxes with everything else to donate.



We've accumulated so much stuff over the years. Stuff that we have no room for. Stuff that clutters the house. Stuff that sucks up time. Stuff that makes me stressed.

One of the fastest ways to stress me out is having a mess. Oh, I'm not talking about messes that serve a purpose or aftermaths from a project. Messes from creating oobleck and learning about states of matter, messes from making homemade Oreo cookies and enjoying their yumminess, messes from transforming an experiment into a whole new process and experiencing the joy of learning.

These messes I encourage. These messes make for a rich, learning environment. These messes help my kids to explore and grow and discover.

No, I'm talking about lazy messes. Toys scattered around the house. Clothes sitting in a pile. Dishes left on the table. Papers and crayons cluttering the floor.

Lately, I feel pushed to the max. Keeping up with my chores - the laundry, the cooking, the obsession to make everything from scratch, the cleaning, the dishes, the picking up, the putting away, the changing the diapers, the nursing, the clipping the coupons, the buying the groceries, the sweeping, the vacuuming. The everything in between. Keeping up with the schooling - the teaching, the explaining, the helping with work, the activities, the crafts, the experiments, the reading. Lots and lots of reading.  Keeping up with the kids completing their chores - the clothes, the craft supplies, the toys. Oh, the toys.

I know I am not the only one to ever have 4 little kids. And homeschool. And try to keep a clean home. And have home-cooked meals. And. And. And. That's how I feel. Like there's always another and.

I've been self-examining lately. Scrutinizing my life. Contemplating what I can change to get me out of this drowning scenario.


Blogging is the one area I feel I can neglect. I don't think my family would accept a hiatus from the laundry. Or a break from cooking. But blogging I can cut back and still care for my family. I made this decision last week and figured I should explain why I've been absent. I hate having to do this. I hate that I haven't been consistent. I feel like we're losing something, forgetting something in our lives if we can't look back on it years from now.

Just writing that seems kinda silly. But it's how I feel. I've gotten better about accepting the fact that I've been hit or miss with posts lately, but it still bothers me. Like I said last week though, my family must come first.

So, what does that mean for the blog? Well, my plan is to keep up with blogging through the alphabet on (hopefully) Mondays, post a quick pic from the week on Wednesdays, and share our Smiles on Fridays. Of course, I have a few reviews for TOS left before the year ends in November.

Doesn't really seem like cutting back much? For now I won't be worrying about posting crafts on Mondays, trying to type up recipes on Tuesdays, or rushing to share experiments on Thursdays. I'm not sure how long this will last. I do know that it's necessary though, at least until I can catch up on the extras.

Bear with me, please? I don't know how I'll ever get caught up, if I'll ever get caught up. I currently have 30-something drafts going right now, and lots more floating around in my head. Ultimately though, 20 years down the road, my kids won't care if I never shared that everyone-raves-about-this recipe. They will, however, remember if I took the time to care for them.

Correction: they will remember that I did take the time to care for them.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

G is for Geocaching

Geo What!?


What in the world is geocatching?

No, it's geo-cash-ing. Its kind of like a high tech treasure hunt. You go online and get GPS coordinates for what is called a geocache, the treasure. You either download the coordinates to a GPS or smartphone, or you manually put them in. Go out and follow the GPS, the map, till you get close. Then start looking for a good spot to hide something. When you find the cache sign the logbook, maybe trade something, then put the cache back where you found it. Go home and log the find online where you got the coords from in the first place.

That sounds like a lot of fun!

Oh, it's a blast, you should try it.

I don't know how many times I have had this conversation with somebody in the past four months. Erika and I had heard of geocaching years ago, but when we looked into it there were not enough caches around to merit the puchase of a GPS unit to try and get into it. We were into the idea before we had kids, but having them adds a whole new aspect of fun. Back in June Erika started to think about it again and thought it would make a good family hobby to get into. When I checked geocaching.com I found nearly 20,000 caches within 100 miles of our house. There are plenty of caches to find but we needed a GPS. We decided it would be our anniversary present to each other and began looking. I did the research online and ended up going into REI to talk to somebody in person. That was a good decision. I ended up walking out with a Garmin eTrex 20. I'm not going to go into a lot of technical detail here, but in the research I did and in a few conversations I've had with GPS knowledgeable people, get a Garmin. Garmin has a patent or something on their antenna technology so their unit update faster and are much more accurate than others. If you do not want to spend the money on an independent unit and you have a smartphone running iOS, Android, or Windows Phone you can download an app for that. This way at a limited cost you can either try or get into geocaching.

Once you have a way of finding coordinates you need to find some coordinates. (Yes, that was intended.) I've already mentioned geocaching.com. That's the big one with "all" the caches, but there is also a new kid on the block. Opencaching.com was started by Garmin as a free alternative to geocaching.com, but does not have nearly as many caches listed. Geocaching.com does have a free option, but it limits use, a lot. I don't know what all is limited since I payed the $10 for the year after our first time out. One thing you don't get from them for free is paperless caching. When you download your coords to your GPS under a free account you will need to print out any details or clues you may need for what you are going to find and take the PAPER with you. (I'm all about going paperless lately with my Kindle and iPad.) With a payed account all those details go on to the GPS with the coords, if your GPS can take them. Let me tell you, being able to see the details on the device is soooo nice. Also, a piece of advice that the guy at REI gave me that makes a lot of sense. If you're planning to go out caching don't go for the caches real close to the house, drive a little bit. Save the real close ones for those spontaneous lets go caching times, or for a task for your older kids to do on their own, once they get the hang of it. As well, if you get into the geocaching game and want to load a lot of caches on your GPS at once, look into pocket queries. This can be a little tricky, so take your time and do it step-by-step. I use GSAK to help get the files on my GPS.

Ok, enough with the technical mumbo, what have we done? The first time we went out I loaded up four or five sets of coords and we went for a drive around the area to some easy caches. Of course with the first go round we were getting used to our GPS as well as the idea of geocaching. Part of geocaching is doing the whole thing somewhat discreetly. If you just go out and show off the cache as you find it someone of the general public, a muggle (a non-cacher), might see it and take it after you leave. This is known as getting muggled. With this thought in mind, there we were, a family of six, driving and walking in circles in a parking lot trying to keep up with a GPS that kept changing its mind as to which direction we needed to go. I finally determined that it might take a little bit more than a few milliseconds for the GPS to register a change in position. As we slowed our movements down we got closer to a pair of trees and viola, about head high in the one we found a plastic container.
In this cache we actually found what is called a travel bug, a type of trackable. It is basically a dog tag with something attached. In this case the originator attached a stick of pc memory. On the tag is a number that you need so that you can go on the geocaching.com site and log that you found it and where you placed it. Just remember if you take something leave something.
After our first find we sought out a cache that was about the size of eight or ten dimes stacked up. Yes they get that small. With those all you do is sign the log roll. Use very small handwriting.

We even had our first DNF, did not find, on that first trip out. After walking around in circles in a field for about twenty minutes or more we gave up. It didn't help that people started showing up at the business next door, remember discreet.

Our last of the day landed us in front of i3 Detroit, a hackerspace in the area. This was just cool! I had heard of them on MAKE Live and at Maker Faire Detroit, but had not ever taken the time to go check them out. We found the cache out front and then went in to take a tour of the space.

All in all our first impression of geocahing was great. The kids loved it and so did we. We have been out multiple times since including when we went on vacation to Virginia and DC. While we were out there I think we may have gotten my sister's family hooked as well. All the caches we found in DC were virtual caches, caches that do not have a container to find. They may be a monument or natural formation of some sort. The poster may ask you to find the answer to a few questions about the location in order to log the find, but they're still fun to find.

I could keep going forever about hiking in the woods off a creek down the road, finding a foam rotten apple with a log slip in it, or hanging out behind KFC looking through trees to find a micro cache. We've had some good times out caching. Now its your turn, go find a cache or two.... maybe three.

Don't forget to stop by Ben & Me and read about more G things.
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Things That Make Me Smile 10/19/12

Happy Weekend! I can't believe I never posted what made me smile last week. Since I first started this weekly wrap-up a year-and-a-half ago, I've missed only one or two weeks. It has become such a special aspect of the blog. Things have been busy around here lately, even more so than usual. We seem to have extra projects and such that we are working on. Unfortunately, when things get too busy to handle it all, the blog is the first thing that gets sets aside. My family must come first.

So, here's two-week's worth of good memories. I hope it brings a smile to your face. 

1. Zac: "Tyler bless you-ed in my face."

2. Alyssa, wearing big fuzzy earmuffs in the house: "I'm wearing these just in case Tyler cries a lot."

3. Zac, singing a made-up song: "If you get in the water, you get wet. If you don't get in the water, you can't get wet."

4. Zac: "Can you take your scarecrow and put him downstairs so we don't see him?"
Me: "But he's my friend."
Zac: "He can be your friend downstairs." 

5. The boys were rough-housing. Zac accidentally kicked Jake in the mouth, knocking his already-loose tooth even looser. Jake was very excited and started wiggling it incessantly. He pulled it out and  decided that he wanted to put a video camera in his room that night to catch the Tooth Fairy in action. He is obsessed with trying to figure out how she (or he) gets in his room and leaves the money. That night, I got an envelope from the basement to put his tooth in. As I got back upstairs, I realized that the envelope was already sealed. Instead of going back down to get another one from the box, I found an envelope upstairs. That one was sealed also, but just the middle. I thought it was strange, but after the other one being completely sealed, I just ignored it. I undid the seal, placed the money inside, and sealed it again. When he opened the envelope the next morning, he found the money along with another tooth! The envelope I used was actually the one he hid under his pillow the very first time he lost a tooth! Oops. I explained that the Tooth Fairy must have dropped another child's tooth as she was making the exchange! He didn't really question it, thankfully.

6. Zac, running into the bathroom and slipping on the floor: "It must be National Slipper Day!"

7. Jake won a special contest in Sunday School and got to go with his class to the park between the morning and evening services. Since it was such a short time before we needed to pick him up again and it was pointless to go home while waiting, we went to McDonald's for lunch. We rarely eat out. Alyssa, not being familiar with Ronald McDonald, pointed to his picture and said, "Look, it's Joker!"

8. Me: "Are you sure you're done? I can't take you potty every 5 seconds."
Zac: "How about 4 seconds?"

9. Me: "Hello, little one. What are you smiling about?"
Alyssa, sweetly: "Nothing. I'm just smiling about you. "Cause you were smiling at me."

10. Zac, coming into the kitchen: "Mommy, I smell something good!"

11. Zac, stepping on a scale: "Six! Yes! I did it!"
Me: "Good job! {looking at the scale} Twenty-nine."
Zac: "Why twenty-nine?"
Me: "Because that's how much you weigh?"
Zac, pressing on the scale: "Mommy, how do I get it to the top? {talks to scale} You, bully! Go to the top!"

12. Jake, looking at Lego sets: "This set comes with Hansel."
Me: "It's Han Solo."
Jake: "Why is he solo? He has Chewbacca."

What made you smile this week???

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Make It Monday: Treasure Map

Remember how much fun we had on Talk Like A Pirate Day? Sailin' the open sea, coming face-to-face with a sea monster, adventure, and treasure! It was quite the day.

I promised a tutorial on how to make an authentic-looking treasure map. After all, every pirate needs a real map to find the treasure, right?  

Start by taking a piece of paper and tearing it to resemble a map.

Using a black pen, draw your map. I started by drawing a big land mass. Then, since this was for a real hunt through our house, I marked the path that would lead to the treasure. Don't forget X marks the spot! After that, I added the details - compass, mountains, trees, lake, a danger zone, and the waves in the sea.

For some people, this step would be really easy. Just draw some random markings and voilĂ , you have a map. I am not some people. I have never been artistic. But more and more, I'm having to draw and create things for my kids. So, I drew a map. All by myself! . . . After a trial run on another piece of paper. After spending copious amounts of time, attempting to be precise. After tracing over everything a second time to darken my first hesitant attempt.

But I did it. And my kids love it! It's by no means perfect. My eyes are drawn to the mistakes immediately. But I'm learning to except it. You know, since I'm not good at drawing I've never really done it. I've never even been a doodler. If I'm not good at something, I don't enjoy doing it. It's that perfectionism trait. Doing things with the kids though has been teaching me not to be quite so critical of myself. I mean, they don't care if my circle is not completely round or if my measurements are not exact. Kids are genuine. They love unconditionally. They teach me all the time and help me to grow as a person.

Moral of the story - even if you think I can't draw, go ahead and try making a map anyway. I guarantee your kids will see only the excitement of a treasure and be oblivious to any mistakes.

And if you can draw, then just ignore the last three paragraphs. {grin}   

After all the details are drawn on the map, wipe a wet tea bag on both sides of the paper, making sure to wet it thoroughly.

Crumble the paper and allow it to dry.

Open the map. If desired, carefully burn the edges a little at a time in an open flame, blowing on the paper to stop the burning. Of course, use extreme caution. My kids were not in the kitchen as I burned our maps using a candle. Also, you will have some ash and a lingering smoky smell. You don't have to do this step, but it does clean up the edges of the map and make it look more authentic.

If you want, you can skip tearing the paper in the first step. When you burn the edges, you will have a similar result, but you will have to burn each section longer. You will make more ash and smoke and the edges of the paper will turn black and look burnt. I tried it both ways. I definitely suggest tearing the paper first and burning it, as well.

If your map doesn't look weathered enough, you can use a brown crayon or used coffee grounds to add some character. Use either option in a sweeping motion across the paper.

Finally, dab some cooking oil on a paper towel and wipe both sides of the paper, blotting off any excess. Not only does the oil preserve the map, it really makes it look more authentic.

And now you have a convincing treasure map and are ready for your very own adventure! Make a map for a birthday party or just for playing around the house. Searching for treasure is always exciting!

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pantry Surprise 10/13/12

We had our house broken into and robbed a couple weeks ago.

And the creep had the audacity to try it again.

Let me start at the beginning . . . 

It was a Saturday. The whole family left the house to run a few errands. I don't remember where we went. It's not important. All I know it that we came home to a ripped screen.

I distracted the kids while Leighton searched the house, looking for the intruder.

We never found him, but we do know he came in.

He even came back the next day, looking to steal more from us.

Yeah, I'm on to you buddy.

When he trespassed into our home, he knocked two small, glass bowls off the window ledge. One fell onto the counter, the other into the sink. It must have scared him off. 

But only after he was able to snatch one of our possessions.

A chicken wishbone lay helplessly on the window sill, drying in the warm air.

Instead of my kids breaking the bone and making a wish, that crook stole it and crushed their dreams in the process.

He's an evil one.  

I guess there were signs that we should have taken note of earlier. I mean, he was lurking around our house even before the break-in.

He scouted out our house more than once. He was looking for the best way in. 

And he waited until we left the house to make his move.

He's a sneaky felon.

Although, it did take him a couple tries before he found the perfect route into the house. 

But once he did, he couldn't stop himself from coming back for more. He's in deep. Robbery is becoming a way of life.

He was prowling around again today.

This guy will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

He even tapped on the window like he was trying to get my attention, mocking me. 

Maybe I will cook Leighton some squirrel soup like he's been wanting to try.

I wonder how it would taste with chicken . . . 

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

E is for Eternal


Our human minds have a difficult time comprehending it. Everything we know has a beginning and end. Books. Songs. Days. Seasons. Life.  It's hard to grasp a never-ending time.

So often we get caught up in the here and now, focusing on only the present moment. Unfortunately, that seems to be the motto for our society: if it feels good, do it. Don't think about the outcome. Don't worry about the consequences. Just do what you want.

We strive to teach our kids a different way of life. There's nothing wrong with doing things you want, as long as those things match up to what God wants. When our life here is done, all those fleshly desires won't matter anymore. This poem explains it perfectly:

Only One Life
by C.T. Studd

 Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life,’ twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice, Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave, And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill, living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore, When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way, Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep, In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife, Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn, And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone, Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

Only one life, yes only one, Now let me say, “Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say ‘twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’ twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.


Those are the things we want to focus on. Those are the things we want to instill in our children. We want them to make the right decisions now, so it'll be easier to make the right decisions as they grow up. That's why we choose which movies they watch, why we choose which music they listen to, why we choose what types of clothes they wear. We don't base our standards on what is accepted or what everyone else is doing. We live the way we live because of the Bible. We live for the eternal.

Sure, that means we tell our kids they can't do some of the things their friends do. There are words they can't say, shows they can't watch, holidays they can't participate in. They're not always happy about it and they don't always understand. It's not easy to see our little ones unhappy, but it's better to see them unhappy now than disappointed when they meet Christ. We're not focused solely on their current happiness, but instead on their eternal joy.

There are things that Leighton and I do that we do not allow our children to do now but will one day be acceptable for them - things like staying up late, using the oven, driving a car, drinking coffee.  But there are things that we as adults technically can do according to worldly standards, but as Christians choose not to do - things like drinking alcohol, smoking, watching certain shows/movies, going to certain places. This is a big thing we're struggling with Jake right now. There are some movies that he really wants to watch, movies that star favorite characters and sound exciting. He's under the impression that when he turns 13 in just over 6 years, he can watch them all. We're trying to get him to understand that just because he'll be the assumed proper age, it doesn't mean it's ok to watch (just as we do not watch all PG movies either.) We don't follow the ratings that Hollywood has placed. I do believe that some movies with a PG13 rating are acceptable, but there are so many more that include elements that we do not condone. What you put in is what comes out. How can we teach our kids that they shouldn't say certain words when we allow them to listen to them repeatedly? How can we train them to stay away from certain activities when we let them watch others do them? Why should they do as we say when we allow them to watch things that contradict those very words? In doing so, we'd be undermining our own rules. And we determine those rules, those standards, those convictions on the Word of God.   

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, 
and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, 
and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 
Matthew 6:19-21

We want our hearts - our kids hearts - to love the things of God. In order for that to happen, we can't love this world. We can't place the emphasis on temporal things. We must focus on Christ. We want our lives to point others to Him. We want to live our lives focused on the eternal.

Blogging Through the Alphabet

  * We do not claim to be anyone's Holy Spirit. Each individual must pray and search the Scriptures to determine what is proper and acceptable for their own family. We may not agree with your decisions, but we judge no one.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012


* I apologize for the kooky font changes. Blogger is being disagreeable.  
** Apparently Photobucket has gotten an attitude, too. Some of the pictures are refusing to show. 

This has become the everything-wants-to-go-wrong post. I hope my words don't follow suit and disappear from the screen, as well. Although, it might be interes

Do you like animals? Have you ever wanted to own a giant anteater, a T-Rex, or a unicorn as a pet?? Do you think it would be fun to work in a zoo???  Then ZooWhiz might be for you!

ZooWhiz is an interactive, online learning program for children ages 5-15. It allows them to practice math (numeration, + - × ÷, fractions, geometry, etc.), word skills (letters, spelling, parts of speech, punctuation, etc), and reading (phonics, phonemes, grammar, vocabulary, etc.) As the students answer questions, they earn coins (20 coins if they answer correctly on the first try, 10 coins if they answer correctly on the second try.) They can then use these coins to buy animals for the zoo or playing games in the arcade.

My kids (6 & 4) have really enjoyed using this program. The activities vary a lot, so the they don't get bored doing the same things over and over. They finish patterns, match pictures, answer questions, and listen to sounds. The part they really like though is the silly clips that play between the sets of activities. Oftentimes, I'll be washing dishes or helping one of the other kids when I hear, "Hurry, Mom! You gotta see this!" That's always followed by 2 giggly kids. They especially like when the elephant is sucking up peanuts as he's walking and accidentally sucks up another animal! They also like watching the gorilla blow noise makers out of his nose and mouth. These simple additions really add to the program. They also like the feedback they receive when they answer the questions. Since ZooWhiz is based in Australia, the narrators have different accents than we do. When they say things like absolutely fabulous and crackerjack, there's more giggling and then repeating of the phrase. I have a couple of little Aussies running around now.

Their absolute favorite part is buying animals for their virtual zoos. The two of them are constantly comparing which animals they have. I love when they log on, check their coin total, and let me know how many more they need to earn in order to purchase their next desired animal.They flip through their lists of bought and unbought animals. They can click on a specific animal and learn all sorts of interesting facts: scientific name, class, habitat, diet, and more. It's like adding in a mini science lesson.

Like I said, the kids love viewing their animals. There's just one problem I find with it though. That's all you do - view the animals. You don't watch them interact. You don't feed them. You don't even see them actually in the zoo. I think if they added some of those aspects to the game-play, it would be even better. My kids have never questioned it, but I would think older ones might.

They can also use their coins to play games in the arcade. Honestly, I had my son play one time, the day we registered. I didn't mention it again, and he didn't question it. I personally don't think the arcade is necessary. It doesn't even follow the theme of the zoo. I do think it would be a great idea to have another option to spend the coins on other than the animals. I think some sort of shop to purchase items for the zoo - like a ball for the seal, nectar for the hummingbird, specific food, water, or plants for the animals - would make it even more interesting and allow the students to learn more about the animals themselves. 

One thing that I as a parent really like is the detailed results page. I can easily hop on and see where my kids are excelling and struggling. It's shown by little faces which makes it easy to understand. The bigger the smile, they better they did. If you notice a bunch of sad faces, it might be best to change the level at which they are being drilled. I like that the content is customizable for each section. It ensures that my kids are being challenged, but not to the point of disappointment.

Zoo Whiz is in Early Release Stage 2. It's still being developed and new content is being added. Another area I hope they consider is making all of the activities narrated or at least having the option to be. It's not too often I'd have to help my son read something, which is fine since I'd prefer he read as much as possible anyway. My daughter needed me to read all of those sections though.   

Overall, I think this program is wonderful. My kids loved playing it. I think the content and activities are great. I'm excited to see what changes are made as they continue working to improve.

You can take a look at some sample activities and sign up for a free Keeper account and start building your own zoo or you can upgrade to a Premium Zoologist subscription. The premium account offers a larger variety of animals, maximum motivation, detailed feedback, optional email updates and more. It is currently only $14.94 for an entire year! And that, my friends, is {insert Australian accent here} fantastic!

Head on over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read more reviews of ZooWhiz.

* Disclaimer: I was give a premium subscription for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Monday, October 8, 2012

Make It Monday: Liquid Hand Soap

This is another DIY project that's been on my list of things to try - liquid hand soap. This particular method starts with a bar soap. You grate it, melt it down, and have soap. It's very similar to homemade liquid laundry detergent.

Jake was very excited when I said we were going to make soap. He asked if he could do everything by himself.

And everything he did.

Start by grating a bar of soap into flakes.

I hand-grated my soap for laundry detergent for years because I didn't want to possibly hurt my precious food processor. It's a pain and it takes forever. One day though, I took a chance. Let me tell ya, no more hand-grating for me! It works quickly and efficiently. My food processor is truly one of my favorite gadgets in the kitchen.

Besides, hand-grating never produced that pure-joy smile!

I tried telling them that this wasn't supposed to be fun - it's work!

They just wouldn't believe me though.

Pour 10 cups of water into a large pot.

We used purified water instead of the chemically tap stuff, but I'm not sure you have to. Well you don't have to have to. You can really do whatever you want, but you know.

Add 1 tablespoon glycerin.

We had a bottle in the closet from making bubbles. Yea!

Add 1 cup of the soap flakes.

Heat on medium-low, stirring occasionally, until the soap dissolves.

Let it cool completely (some have had best results with letting it cool overnight.)

While you're waiting, definitely take time to play . . . um, I mean . . . test. Yes, take time to test your soap. 

I may have been the first one to plunge my hand into the cool, goopy, slimy substance. And I may have enjoyed it a little too much. And I possibly called the kids over to test it, as well. And they definitely loved the sensory experience. It reminded me of this messy science experiment and this even messier science experiment.

At least this time, the messy science experiment was actually cleansing in and of itself!   

When you're soap is thoroughly cooled - and you're done playing - pour it into bottles using a funnel. Squirt and wash.

So, what do I think?

  • First of all, it's extremely easy to make. My 6 year old made completely it by himself.
  • Second, it's very cheap. And I like cheap.
  • Third, I don't know. It's watery and suds very little. Not that you need the sudsing, but it's a mental thing. I also filled the kids' foaming soap dispenser, and it works great in there.
  • Fourth, it smells great, but that's determined by the bar soap you use. We used Jergens.

I'm semi-pleased with this soap. When we run out, I plan to experiment a bit more. There are many helpful comments that might help me produce a better soap. The important thing is that it is indeed cleaning our hands.

Have you ever tried making liquid soap? How did it turn out?

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Beeyoutiful You

I admit, the products we receive as part of the Schollhouse Review Crew are pretty exciting. Things like curriculum for math, reading, science, history, DVDs, computer games, and more find their way into our house. The kids love getting new materials in the mail.

But this time? This time the products were for me!

I brought the box inside the house and was immediately bombarded by questions. "What's in the box? What did we get? What is it?" And I was just as excited because I saw the return address: Beeyoutiful

Remember, I've received their products before and was greatly impressed by them. This time, they were more than generous and allowed the Crew to receive entire sets of products. Set A included products that heal ailments naturally, along with an explanatory DVD. Set B consisted of all skin care products. Set C was mineral makeup and brushes.

Can you guess what I picked???

Hmm, she likes homeopathic healing and home remedies. She believes it's important to take care of the body using herbs, vitamins, and essential oils. She definitely wants to make sure her little ones are well cared for. She must have picked set A. 
But . . .

She knows that the skin is the largest organ of the body and absorbs whatever you put on it. Surely she would want products that protect and improve her skin without the harmful chemicals. She would choose ones that are made from pure, all-natural ingredients. She picked set B.

Although . . . 

She is a girly-girl. She loves makeup. She has drawers full of pretty colors in every shade. She loves how adding even just a little bit can boost her confidence. She never leaves the house with a naked face. She's used mineral makeup and is impressed by how little you need to apply, how long it lasts, and how natural the ingredients are. She definitely picked set C.

And the winner is . . .

SET B!!!

Are you surprised? I was. I mean, sure, I picked it, but it's not what I would have expected myself to pick. My first instinct was the makeup, but I just kept coming back to the skin care. As I get older, I'm more aware of the long-term benefits of caring for my skin now. I already use quality, well-known skin care, but I was interested in trying products that are natural. And besides, what woman doesn't like to be pampered?

This stuff smells amazing, like standing-in-the-midle-of-a-lavender-field amazing. I took one whiff - oh, who am I kidding - I took many, many deep inhalations and fell in love. Give me something lavender-scented, and I'm sold.

But since this picture is not scratch-n-sniff (wouldn't that be great though!), you probably want a little more information. 

Use: Spray on face and neck after cleansing to restore proper pH balance, close pores, and ready skin for moisturizing. Also use to cool sunburns, cleanse wounds, and uplift the countenance.

I love spraying on this toner after I wash my face. The mist is so light, yet covers a large area. One spray and my entire face is covered, so it lasts a while. It's slightly cool and feels so refreshing. And I already mentioned, it smells so good! 

Ingredients: certified organic aloe vera, purified water, lavender essential oil, peppermint essential oil
Again, there's that wonderful lavender scent. This time though, it takes second place to another of my favorite scents: peppermint. And? It's pink! 

Use: Apply daily to clean face and neck to soothe, hydrate, and nourish the skin. Also use to repair dry and damaged skin, soothe burns, and relieve irritations.

Every day when I open this jar, I see the pale pink moisturizer, and smile. Then, I smell the strong peppermint scent, and I smile again. As I gently rub the cool, creamy lotion on my face, I feel my skin tingle, and continue to smile. This moisturizer truly is a treat for the senses. It's probably not a good idea to taste it though.

Ingredients: distilled water, aloe, grape seed oil, coconut oil, stearic acid, emulsifying wax nf, vegetable glycerin usp, lavender and peppermint essential oils

Vanilla Dream Body Butter $15.00
This smells all vanilla-y and buttery, almost as good as a cookie. It's very smooth and almost melts into your skin as you rub it around.

Use: Massage into skin to heal dry, chafed skin and to leave it radiant, soft, and silky. Deep moisturization promotes the repairing of damaged tissue and restores a healthy luster. 

I admit, I have never been a fan of body butters. They always leave my skin feeling too nourished, too soft, too moisturized. In other words, they always leave my skin feeling greasy.  This one is better though. My hands get dry, especially in the cooler months, from washing dishes so often. The body butter soaks into my knuckles, leaving them soft and supple instead of dry and crackly. No one wants crackly knuckles. The vanilla scent is sensual and not over-powering.

One thing I dislike about this product is the size of the opening of the jar. The space is only 1 3/4 inches across. I have long nails, and every time I try to get some of the butter out of the jar, I get some under my nail as well. It's not a huge deal, but it is a little annoying.

Ingredients: shea butter, vanilla infused oils of coconut, olive, and grape seed, grapefruit seed extract, essential oil of ylang ylang, vanilla plantifolia. 

Soft, silky hair? Yes, please! And make it shiny, too. Add an orangey scent, and you've got one product that is sure to sell.

Use: Spray liberally on wet or dry hair to nourish and moisturize without leaving an oily residue. Also used to rejuvenate hair follicles, detangle hair, leave hair shiny, and relieve sunburned skin.

There really is no rhyme or reason to how I use this spray. I'll walk into the bathroom, see it sitting all lonely-like on the shelf, and decide to let it pay a visit to my hair. They really are the best of friends, you know. But I'm a little jealous. Come to find out, the spray is best friends with my daughter's hair, too. See, it loves helping her shoo away those meanie tangles. She also likes that it smells like our chewable vitamin C. 

I actually used this other than for our hair, too. I have been accident-prone the past few days. I have burned myself multiple times while baking. Me, who spends a good portion of my days . . . in the kitchen . . . working with hot surfaces. It's been crazy. One of those times I got a decent blister and scraped it open while cooking the next day, of course. So it's raw. And painful. I covered it with a band-aid, but it was still sensitive. Then I remembered that the hair shine is made with aloe and essential oils and is great for treating sunburns. I spritzed it on my kitchen battle wound, and - no lie - it instantly felt better. Apparently it's best friends with all of my klutzy self, not just my long brown hair. That's ok, there's enough to share. After all, the directions say to use liberally.

Ingredientscertified organic aloe vera concentrate, distilled water, sweet orange essential oil, lavander essential oil, rosemary essential oil  

Fun stuff, right? If you want to be pampered using natural products that are good for your skin, smell wonderful, and are high-quality, head on over to the Beeyoutiful website and look around. You're bound to find something you like. Probably multiple somethings.

If you're looking for reviews on the mineral makeup or general products, or if you'd like more reviews of the skin care, head on over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

* Disclaimer - I received these products in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
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