Thursday, August 18, 2016

Kicking off our 2016-2017 School Year

We started school this week, even though I wasn't completely ready. My elementary students were begging to begin, so I let them start with their independent subjects. For us, that includes handwriting, grammar, math, and science.

When my daughter flipped to today's lesson, she showed me this heart doodle in her textbook. At first I just laughed, telling her it had to have been there since one of her older sisters used the book, since I was pretty sure her two brothers hadn't drawn it.

But the more I thought about it, the more meaningful it became. This textbook was bought used, probably for about $25, since that is what most of my Saxon textbook sets cost used before the high school years. I've already used it with five students, and now our sixth student is using it. I think that was $25 well spent.

We don't just have hand-me-down clothes in this large family. We also have hand-me-down textbooks. We have been making the transition from Saxon to Teaching Textbooks for our upper level math programs, but this particular textbook will likely be used by the next three students.

Starting our 18th year of homeschooling, I have to be honest that sometimes it feels like drudgery. The excitement of the early years has faded. Even some of my favorite curriculum seems boring (to me) when I'm using it for the 6th or 7th time, but I still wouldn't trade this for anything.

There are days I'd like to put them on the bus, days when I feel inadequate, or like a failure. But I look at my oldest two children, and see that they're making it in college, and realize I didn't mess them up too badly. (wink)

At the end of this school year, we'll have three graduations. Our oldest will graduate with her B.S. in Elementary Education. Our second daughter will graduate with her Associate degree in Business. Our third daughter will graduate from our high school. To add to the mixture, we'll also have our first grandchild by then. It will be a busy year, but a blessed year. A year of seeing the reward for all our hard work, and our children's hard work. I can't wait!

Do you have any hand-me-down textbooks? Do you have any tips for recreating excitement in yourself, as a homeschool mom?

April E.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Review: When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks

I didn't realize I was missing out, until I started reading When Death Draws Near. It didn't take long to realize I was going to need to read the first two books in the Gwen Marcey series. I was hooked from the very first chapter!

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I didn't really need a new series to add to my "catch up on" list, but I have one now. I'm going to have to read the first two Gwen Marcey books, and keep my eye out for future books in the series.

Gwen Marcey is a cancer survivor, a divorced mother, and a forensic artist. She's called to Kentucky to investigate a rapist, though she feels her presence isn't actually welcomed by the local police department. Her inner alarms are ringing, telling her that something is seriously wrong in Pikeville, and that several local cases may actually be connected. When a hotel clerk disappears and Gwen receives threats, she cancels her return flight, determined to find an answer.

A crisis with her ex-husband brings Gwen's teenage daughter to Pikeville, as well. Now both Gwen and Aynslee are in danger, and Gwen isn't sure who she can trust. To complicate matters, she finds herself attracted to one of the people on her suspect list. Yet, even he tells her, "Don't trust anyone."

I finished When Death Draws Near in one morning. It was impossible to put the book down, though I did manage to drag myself away to help my kids a few times. I was drawn, not only to the mystery, but to the character of Gwen and her personal struggles, as well. The ending held a surprise that I wasn't expecting, at all. Usually, I can guess the answer to a mystery in advance, but not this time. Carrie Stuart Parks did a wonderful job with her writing and keeping me in suspense until the very end.

Don't miss out on the contest!

Plunge into forensic artist Gwen Marcey's world, full of cold-case murders, shady politics, and a den of venomous suspects. Add Carrie Stuart Parks' new Gwen Marcey novel, When Death Draws Near, to the top of your must-read list. Gwen accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky—a small town facing big-city crime. But before she can finish her first drawing of the serial rapist who is on the loose, the latest witness vanishes. Just like all the others. Can Gwen uncover the truth—and convince anyone to believe her—before she becomes a victim herself?

Join Carrie in celebrating the release of When Death Draws Near by entering to win an Undercover Artist Starter Set.

when death draws near - 400 

One grand prize winner will receive:

when death draws near - collage 

Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on August 22. The winner will be announced August 23 on the Litfuse blog.

when death draws near - enterbanner

April E.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Book Review: Traces of Guilt by Dee Henderson

My blog readers know I am a big fan of Dee Henderson! I have read and re-read her O'Malley series, and have read every book she's written since then. I was excited to see that she's starting a new series: the Evie Blackwell Cold Case series.  I was even more excited after I read Traces of Guilt and fell in love with Evie Blackwell and the Thane family. 

Every time I read one of her books, I find familiar names and faces, and I wonder if new characters are actually ones I've met before. I tried to search the internet for some document that would lay out all the books different characters showed up in, but no fan has created that yet. If Dee Henderson were a YA writer, some fan would have created it already. (Isn't there a Dee Henderson fandom blog out there somewhere?)

Traces of Guilt brings Evie Blackwell to Carin County as she takes the lead on a new task force to re-examine cold cases. Ann Falcon introduces her to Gabriel Thane, the local sheriff, and they work together to try to solve two cold cases. Those cases end up overlapping with two other cases in ways you initially don't expect. As you're meeting Evie and Gabriel, you also get to know and love the rest of Gabriel's family.

The solving of the two cold cases are well-written. There is a believable progression of new breaks and dead ends throughout the story. The pain of victims is treated with respect and care in all of Dee Henderson's books, and this one isn't any different.

In Traces of Guilt, we find hints of romances yet to bloom in future books. As with most of Dee's books, the characters don't rush headlong and emotion-driven into relationships. Each relationship is handled cautiously and with careful consideration and prayer. In other words, these are books written for adults, about mature adults. Unlike many books written for adults, these are clean, with little focus on physical attraction and relationships. The romance is secondary to the plot, rather than being the plot.

I appreciated the return to the police force and emergency services in this book. Although I have enjoyed Dee's military books, I feel that her mysteries and those involving the police and emergency services are her best books. Although this particular story didn't have any imminent danger to the primary characters, the set-up is there for danger in future books.

I'm looking forward to more of Evie Blackwell Cold Case books. I  hope I don't have to wait too long!

April E.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Summer is Just Speeding By!

Our summer so far has been a whirlwind of activities. Baseball, swim lessons, kids' camp, dental visits, guests, new pets, and ferrying teens to work. There hasn't been much rest in our summer so far. Here's a tiny peek into our summer.

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

I need to organize our school boxes for next school year, and take some pictures of our curriculum. Hopefully I'll get to that this week or next. Stay tuned.

April E.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Wonderland Coloring Book by Amily Shen

Yes, this is another coloring book review! Except this coloring book is one I selected for my children instead of myself. Wonderland is a whimsical coloring book inspired by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The illustrations were created by Amily Shen.  Wonderland is another 10x10 inch square coloring book, with 80 pages ... so many illustrations to color!

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

When I requested my review copy, I initially thought my 10 and 17 year old daughters would enjoy coloring these illustrations. However, my 5 year old daughter and 7 year old son have also been eager to get their hands on the book! It has been a hit with all my girls and one of my sons.

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

Some of the coloring pages are single page elements like a peacock, a vial of potion to make her shrink, or a nest with eggs in it. There are also several two-page illustrations - some of which look like book illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, and others that are lovely but less obviously Wonderland-ish. (Like my new word?)

As with many of my favorite coloring books, there are very complex pages (like the Queen of Hearts) and some that are simpler for when you have less time or when you want to let a younger child color in the book. Although I did get this for my children primarily, I do want to color the two-page illustration with the fawns around a little house, and the two-page illustration of Alice following a card-man past several coffee shops. (Were there really coffee shops in the book?)

One feature I really like about this softcover book is that there is actually a dustjacket on the book. When you remove the dust jacket and turn it over, you have a 30x10 inch long butterfly coloring page to color. If you remove the dust jacket from the book, you can use gel pens or markers to color the illustrations on the book covers itself, as well! Bonus coloring pages!

We're enjoying Wonderland and its whimsical style at our house!

April E.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

June is Summer, Right?

I know summer doesn't officially start until June 20, but it definitely feels like summer here. School ended last month, baseball is underway, the sun is shining, it's getting hot, and some of our family has already been to the pool. It is summer, for all intents and purposes.

Just a little look at our summer so far ...

A video posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

I hope your summer is starting off well - full of fun, sunshine, and lots of family time!
April E.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Book Review: Sister Eve and the Blue Nun by Lynne Hinton

I love mysteries! I especially enjoy reading Christian mysteries that I know aren't going to include gratuitous bedroom scenes and foul language. I couldn't resist the title of this book, Sister Eve and the Blue Nun, or the thought of Nancy Drew in a habit. Although it turns out that Evangeline Divine (Sister Eve) is more my age than Nancy Drew's age, and she doesn't wear a habit. In fact, she drives a motorcycle and she's not sure she should still be a nun.

I hadn't read the previous two books in The Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery series, but I completely enjoyed this one. Although I didn't have as much history of the relationships between Sister Eve and others in the book, I was still able to follow the plot without feeling confused.

I started reading this book after I put the children to bed one night, and I didn't stop reading until the book was finished at 1 AM. I originally had some suspicions about the murderer, but Lynne Hinton had tricked me into suspecting someone else before she finally revealed the truth.

I am not a Catholic, and wasn't familiar with the spiritual manifestations and miracles associated with Sister Maria de Jesus de Agreda (the Lady in Blue). That part of the story was interesting, but unusual to me. Although The Divine Private Detective Agency Mysteries are centered around a nun, they are not only for Catholics. They're enjoyable, no matter your denomination.

I highly recommend Sister Eve and the Blue Nun. I liked it so much, I requested the first two books from my library so I can read them this summer. I've found another fun, cozy murder mystery series to follow, and I'm thrilled!

April E.