Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finding Joy in a Hectic Life

There are days when I drag myself out of bed, spend a few minutes reading my email before kids wake up ... and spend the rest of the day spinning in circles, trying to meet everyone's needs until I finally fall into bed late at night. Hectic  describes most days in our home. If a day goes by that feels a little relaxed and restful, it's probably because I left too many things undone on my to-do list. With voices calling out requests all day long, chores piling up, and arguments waiting to be settled, it is sometimes difficult to remain joyful.

So how do you find joy when the bills are due, everything is breaking, the kids won't obey, another kid has a cavity, the kids have their third stomach virus of the year, and you haven't had a moment to yourself in what seems like forever?

You stop, take a deep breath and look around.  Notice the good things.  Give thanks for the blessings in your life, no matter how small.

  • Take notice of the moments that your 3, 5, 8, and 10 year old kidss are playing peacefully.  (Try not to focus on the duplo mess they're making, though.)
  • Look into your daughter's eyes, and admire her dimple.  
  • Take a look around after you tuck your kids in bed, notice them all reading quietly, embrace the silence.
  • Give your husband a hug. Just inhale the scent of his cologne as you lean on his strength.
  • Listen to your kids' jokes and allow yourself to enjoy their sense of humor.
  • Take time to enjoy your favorite tea or coffee while listening to your favorite music.
  • Give yourself permission to read a book, even if you can only get 15 minutes in each day.
  • Enjoy your teens' personalities and banter.
  • Take a nature walk with your kids if you can't get out alone for a walk. Enjoy the beauty of God's creation.
There is something good in every day.  God is a good God.  His world is a good creation, a gift to us. Each day is filled with small blessings.  Sometimes we just have to stop, take off the blinders, put down the to-do list and  breathe in the beauty of our everyday, hectic life.

April E.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Making Marion by Beth Moran

Making Marion
Marion Miller has run away from her home in Ireland, from her fiance, from her lackluster life, and her abusive mother.  She finds herself in Nottingham, England, with no friends, no money, and no clue as to how she's going to uncover the mystery of her father's life before he moved to Ireland and changed his name. 

Because of childhood abuse, Marion struggles with selective mutism.  She has conquered the fear and learned how to manage the problem, but she still hasn't learned to be a confident and independent woman. As she settles into life at the unusual campground, Peace and Pigs, she gains confidence, an identity, and leadership skills.  She even is forced to face her past when it finds where she is hiding in Nottingham. Of course, she finds out her father's secret and finds true love at the end of the book.

I don't normally like reading books about someone overcoming their past abuse or working through emotional problems.  I prefer reading books that are lighter and not deeply dramatic.  But Marion is so matter-of-fact about her past and seems to shrug off its weight as the book unfolds, that it never sinks into pity party "feel my pain" mode.  The book itself has a light humorous feel instead of an emotionally draining tone. I enjoyed learning more about Marion as the book unfolded, and seeing how her new friends, new faith, and new life situation helped her grow into a stronger person.

This book wasn't depressing or dark, despite some very serious and dark traumas in Marion's life and in her father's past.  The cover's whimsical artwork does fit in well with the feel of the book.  I definitely recommend it for someone looking for a good story.  The book is full of very colorful characters and it makes you wonder if one small town in England really exists with so many unique people. 

(I will caution that though this book doesn't contain strong language, and does touch lightly on Marion's Christian faith, it does include some mention of mature subjects and situations.  As my kids say, "it's PG-13 for brief nudity and SC". However, it's not bawdy, it's not a bodice-ripper, and I would let my 15 year old daughter read it. I won't say more because it would give away some twists and funny moments in the plot.  But if you want a book that never addresses sex at all, this one isn't it.)

Making Marion is a very enjoyable book and I definitely recommend it.  I don't know if Beth Moran intends to return to Nottingham and the Peace and Pigs campground in any future books, but I would definitely read them if she did.

April E.

Disclaimer: This book was given to me free, by Kregel Publications, for review purposes.  It is a Lion Hudson imprint, and I thank both Kregel and Lion Hudson for the chance to review this book.  No other compensation was given and this review contains my honest opinions.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Another good bedtime book - Goodnight, Ark by Laura Sassi

I love bedtime stories.  I collect them. I especially love well-illustrated books.

Goodnight, Ark is a humorous bedtime story that imagines what the ark might have been like as the storm raged outside and the animals tried to settle down inside. It isn't historically accurate.  It isn't Biblically accurate.  But it's not blasphemous, and it's a lot of fun.

The illustrations by Jane Chapman are bright and humorous. The animals are full of energy and and life, and every page has motion and activity.  I love the details she includes, like a branch planted in a pot for the butterflies to live on.

My 3 year old daughter loved the book, and the pictures and short rhyming text holds the attention of my 1 year old son ... fairly well. Which is actually saying a lot.  I like how the story starts calmly, gains momentum and motion, and then settles down as Noah tucks the animals into bed.  It's a nice  book to read as I tuck my own little ones into bed.

If you love bedtime stories, and are looking for some fun new books to enjoy with the little ones in your life, I recommend Goodnight, Ark.  It gets two thumbs up here.  One from me, and one from my 3 year old daughter.

April E.

Disclaimer: This book was given to me free for review purposes. I was not required to post a positive review, and no other compensation was received.  Thanks, Book Look Boggers!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Odyssey Adventure Club iPad Mini Giveaway!


 The end of summer is in sight, and OAC is giving away an iPad Mini back-to-school bundle!

It might seem like summer just began for your kids, so if they need some added motivation to get their homework done, remind them they can jump on the Odyssey Adventure Club after their papers are written and their math problems are solved.

As members, your kids can also listen to Album 58 before the album is released to the public! Sign up today for just $5!

Here's what part one is about (which you can listen to for free HERE):

It’s a time of surprises as Wooton becomes the celebrity guest at Comic-Connellsville and Whit finds himself in conflict over the upcoming “Let’s Get Together Festival” in Odyssey. Plus, hear an interview with writer-director Paul McCusker about the entire 14-part series.
Album 58 was inspired by Focus on the Family’s The Family Project, a 12-session small group experience that explores the theological, philosophical, and cultural underpinnings of the traditional family, and combines that information with inspiring stories and practical tools to help 21st-century families thrive.

Plus, here's a sneak peek of a new episode called "The Lone Lawman"!

LoneLawman_Final 2

 Jason, Whit, Red and the gang rustle up herds of fun while performing a new Kids’ Radio show set in the Old West. “The Lone Lawman” features a confused boy getting mixed up with a shifty band of bank robbers. Can a hero on horseback set things right? See just how wild the West can get in this action-packed send-up of old-time radio dramas.

NOW . . . on to the iPad Mini back-to-school bundle.

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • An iPad Mini
Hurry, the giveaway ends on August 27th. All winners will be announced August 28th on the widget on this page.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to visit this page again on the 28th to see if you won! (You'll see the winner's name in the widget.)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wherever The River Runs by Kelly Minter the River Runs is Kelly Minter's story of her introduction to the forgotten people of the Amazon River in Brazil. She wasn't planning to go to the Amazon. She never imagined she'd find herself returning yearly to visit friends up and down the Amazon River.  She certainly didn't expect to receive more from them than she ever gave to them.  But that is where she found herself.  Her eyes were opened to the disparity between the needs of the Amazonian people and the affluence of her own country, and also to the needs of the people in her own community. Kelly found her own faith challenged and her life changed by the experience. 

Wherever the River Runs is an interesting book. It was easy to read, since Kelly's writing style is engaging. I've never been on a boat traveling up the Amazon River, but I have lived in Panama as a teen.  I could picture some of what she described, the people, the rickety homes, the heat and humidity. I've felt the same dismay as I realized that my lifestyle in the lower middle class of America was extravagant, sheltered, and easy compared to the daily life of most people there. The best part is that Kelly (along with her family and friends) didn't just ponder the difference and then bury their guilt in a flurry of activities.  They actually let the experience change them and their view of those around them. They continued to give, at home, and in Brazil.

I enjoyed this book. It wasn't life-changing for me, but it did remind me of what I already knew. It also challenged me to not be afraid to pour myself out in relationships in my community, to not be afraid of being needed, or of difficulties. To be willing to get a little dirty  and be inconvenienced for the sake of spreading Jesus' love to those around me.  If you have a heart for missions, for South America, or have ever wondered about short-term missions ... you would enjoy Kelly Minter's book, Wherever the River Runs.

April E.

"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Can you homeschool high school?

That was the title of this week's The Homeschool Minute e-mail from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. (You can read this encouraging free email HERE.)  When I saw the question though, my first thought was:
"Yes, you can! But it won't always be fun or easy."

I've now graduated one daughter from our homeschool high school and I have another homeschool senior this year.  I also have a homeschool sophomore and an 8th grader waiting to enter our high school next year. Our journey through high school hasn't always been a smooth one, but I've learned a few things along the way.

Ten Things I've Learned About Homeschooling Through High School

1. Listen to your teens and their learning preferences.  Don't keep forcing your own preferred homeschool style on them if it's just going to create more stress for them or more tension between you both.  For me, that meant giving up my literature-based unit study approach and moving to textbooks.  It also meant allowing two of my daughters to gear their subjects to align more closely with what their public school friends were learning, even though I wanted them to have the freedom to diverge from that. My oldest daughter wishes I'd made the switch sooner, but she was our guinea pig.

2. Set firm deadlines.  I am not good at this.  I don't want too much tension and I hate confrontation.  I'm also too merciful (though my kids would disagree with that.)  Because of my weakness in this area, our teens have often fallen behind in their school work.  We've tried to correct that by having our seniors take a course or two at the community college their senior year, to get used to deadlines and class room settings.  It has worked, but it's an expensive solution.

3. Prepare yourself mentally for conflict.  I'm sorry to tell you this, but if you have strong-willed, independent children (as I do) there will be conflict in homeschooling, especially as they grow older. Homeschooling does not prevent all drama and conflict in the teen years.  You may be accused of ruining their life, especially their social life. There will likely be arguments, and even tears. Expecting that will help you deal with it calmly.  Do not take everything they say personally.  My oldest daughter actually thanked me for homeschooling her after she left for college.  I didn't expect that so soon, but it meant so much to me.

4. Remind yourself OFTEN of why you homeschool.  You will be tempted to send them to school.  Accept that.  They will complain about all they're missing out on: drama, band, prom, dances, football and other sports.  Sometimes they complain subtly and sometimes vehemently.  You will doubt whether you're really making the best choices or if you're ruining them (as they claim you are).  You have to KNOW why you're homeschooling, and be in unity with your spouse.

5. Keep good records, and backups of the records.  While it isn't necessary to have quarterly report cards, it helps to tally their grades in each class throughout the year and record them.  I've kept a running transcript since my oldest daughter's freshman year.  Earlier this year, I discovered one fault with my system.  It was all on my computer.  When my computer crashed, I didn't have a backup, other than the last print-out I gave to my daughter in the Spring.  I need to re-create the file now, for each of my high school daughters, and unless my files can be retrieved, I don't have a copy of my oldest daughter's final transcript.  The only hard copy is at her college. (I'm still praying my husband can save my computer's data ... it has lots of helpful e-books and software on it, too.)

6. Teach your children to do their own weekly planning.  At the start of each new textbook, my teens and I sit and look at how many chapters the book has.  We then decide if they need to do one chapter per week, week and a half, or every two weeks.  They then have  a plan to follow, and they fill in their weekly planning charts for what they need to accomplish in each subject.  I check in with them periodically, and they come to me with questions, but they are largely self-directing.  When I don't check in with them often enough, they sometimes fail to keep up in the less fun subjects.  That is my fault, in the long run.

7. Let them pick their subjects. If one child wants to study astronomy and the other one wants to take Anatomy and Physiology, let them. (If you can find a curriculum for it, that is.) They will do better when they get to pick something that interests them. Sometimes they'll realize they made a mistake, as my daughter did with Chemistry 2, but usually they'll enjoy the class more. We also use Total Language Plus and Progeny Press for English courses.  I let them pick what books they want to study each year.  If they end up disliking the book, they know they picked it ... and it wasn't forced on them.

8. Work with your child to set guidelines for electronic devices and other personal distractions. We try to talk with our kids, and ask them what they think a reasonable set of rules and guidelines will be.  We reach an agreement, which we usually sign, and then we can refer back to it when we need to remind them they're letting themselves be distracted too much. Those distractions could include social media, movies, gaming systems, or even just time spent with friends.

9. Be willing to help them find answers, and resources, that will help them succeed.  Sometimes that just means doing some research with them.  Sometimes it means finding supplemental materials to purchase.  We have always attempted to homeschool as inexpensively as possible.  That has been less possible in high school. We have had to buy more curriculum for the high school years than we ever did in the elementary and junior high years.  As our collection of high school materials grows, that will be less of an issue for future years.

10. Help them think about their future.  Not only are you their teacher, you're also their guidance counselor.  What are they working towards?  What goal do they have in mind? If it's the military, college, or a future career ... remind them of that when they are dragging their feet about their work. And they will drag their feet sometimes.  I am actually nervous about my son starting high school next year.  He'll be the first boy in our high school, and I'm not sure yet how I'm going to keep him motivated.

BONUS:  Don't isolate your teens. For us, we needed to allow our teens to have time with friends and interaction with the community as a whole.  Each of our teens has had a job outside the home and been allowed to spend time with friends from church or homeschool group, and others they met through those friends.  We didn't want them to feel completely alone or rejected.  We also wanted them to have the experience, responsibility and independence that working would give them. This has actually been vital to their emotional well-being, though it wasn't without issues at times.

Yes, you can homeschool through high school. 

It is a big commitment of energy, time, and finances. It has been a learning process for me, much like when I started homeschooling, but it has been a good experience. Handing my daughter her diploma at her graduation ceremony made it all worthwhile, and watching her succeed in college is such a blessing. 

Research, talk to other parents, talk to your spouse and your kids, and be ready to make changes as needed. Pray, rely on God's strength, and jump in!  You can do it!

April E.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Week 1 of ElCloud Homeschool is under way!

We started school on Monday.  I felt unprepared, to be honest.  The house was pretty messy, and the dining room table wasn't even completely cleared off.  I hadn't talked to my 8th and 10th graders about how their different texts should be divided up for the year yet.  My 8th grade son didn't even clean off his desk until Monday morning.  The rest of us had cleaned out school boxes and tried to get organized the week (or weekend) before.

Day one was the usual hectic craziness of 6 kids asking me for help understanding how their new books work, how much they should do each week in each subject, little ones asking for help with their math instructions, etc.  "Mom!" was sounding out from four different rooms, and I was constantly running back and forth for about 3 hours before the younger ones were finished and the older ones were working steadily. But we all survived, and we still love each other. I'd call that successful.

Day two was an interrupted school day, with me having to go vote mid-morning.  So I was giving spelling placement tests while cooking supper and a speech therapy assessment just before bedtime.  But everything got done and my two elementary school spelling students are both going to be placed a bit ahead of their grade level. 

My five-year-old son  G has a lot of speech issues, so part of his homeschool kindergarten will include speech therapy.  I meant to start him on it last year, but life was still so crazy with the new baby, sending our oldest off to college and my health issues that it just didn't happen.  He struggles with 11 different sounds, and replaces them with other ones.  I haven't been too concerned, because he has been improving and most of the time I can understand him now.  When I tested him, there are only 2 sounds that are behind for his age according to the speech therapy charts (w and y) and 2 more sounds that he should be gaining at this age (f and ch).  He can actually say ch in some words, though, and our testing showed that he can pronounce w and y sounds in the middle of words, as well.  So, we'll start working on his w and y sound first, and then move on to f.  He's not my first to have speech issues.  All have resolved, though, some with a little therapy help from me, some just with a little extra time. (I use Straight Talk and also Super Star Speech at home with my kids.)

I don't have any secret schedule tricks to share.  Every day will look a little different, and most days would look pretty chaotic and noisy to others.  We just try to do school while also doing life at home.  Some days are harder with more chores to fit in, or more fussing from the one-year-old and interruptions from the three-year-old.  Some days get interrupted with appointments, so we may finish our work later, or we may put it off and double up on the next day.  But the kids keep learning, and we still love each other.

Well, that was a rambling post, but now I need to get busy with day 3 of our 180 day school year.  Prayers for a peaceful day are always appreciated!

 April E.