Thursday, August 3, 2017

2017 ElCloud Graduation

We graduated our third homeschool student in May. Yes, I'm a little late posting about it, but we were also preparing for a double bridal shower in June and two weddings in July. Naturally, blogging just wasn't high priority as we focused on our oldest three daughters this summer.

We have now had three different robe/mortarboard colors in our graduations. Our oldest daughter chose white, our second daughter chose navy blue, and C chose traditional black.

We kept her ceremony short and simple, but my husband and I each shared a brief speech before presenting her diploma to her. It was a special ceremony, with close friends and family present.

I love this next picture.  It just makes me smile. Homeschooling is so worthwhile!

My 3rd daughter, C is an avid reader, so we decided to forego our navy and gold school colors, and focus on a book theme for the decor in her graduation reception and ceremony. She chose turquoise as the main color she wanted to decorate with.

We used two adjoining classrooms at our church. One for the display and food tables, and a standing graduation ceremony. The adjoining room had tables for eating, visiting, and viewing a slideshow of pictures (which ended up not working). My daughter had a playlist of carefully selected music playing in the room with tables.

For the decor, we started with using pages from an old copy of Little Women that was falling apart to make the heart banner you can see going across the top of the following picture. We used a heart shaped hole punch to create the banner. We hung one in each of the two classrooms.

That left us with a lot of heart cut outs, which we used for table confetti, and to make heart banners, as well.

We used a vintage hat box we had in our basement that had belonged to her Great-Grandma as a card box.


You can see some of the heart banners we created hanging behind the cake table in the next picture.

For once, I didn't make too much cake. Just two cakes, and we did have leftovers, but not enough to last more than two days at home.

We realized after we had taped the heart banners around this table, that we had the table cloth on crooked. We left it because we didn't have time left to untape the banner and start over.

For table centerpieces, we laid down a fat quarter of fabric and stacked carefully selected books on top. We also placed a candle and a white milk glass vase of silk flowers on each table. Lastly, we had little metal keys to use as table confetti. Those were supposed to have been large enough to tie in bunches and lay on top of the books, but I didn't accurately read the measurement scale in the picture when I ordered them. Oops!

Overall, the decorations really suited my daughter. They were inexpensive to make, easy to set up, and we felt they were elegant and beautiful!  We still have the book banners and heart banners in case she wants to use them in her room or apartment after she moves out. And I have the fat quarters of fabric that I can use to make throw pillows or other craft items. The one down-side was how much stuff we had to carry to the church, and home again, including about 40 hardcover books.

We discovered this year that Amazon has the best price for 12 packs of disposable table cloths, in both round and rectangular. They are thicker (and less expensive) than the ones I can buy in Wal-Mart's party section. We were even able to save most of them to re-use at a later point.  I've bought them in several colors since then, when we were planning for the bridal shower and weddings. Just search disposable table cloths and look for the company with the 12 packs in a variety of colors for $20. It's so simple, and we even used the leftover round ones over a black table cloth on the rectangular tables!

Pinterest can be your friend, but it can also overwhelm you. I looked for book related decor there and found paper roses made from book pages, wreaths and mobiles made from book pages, and so many things that were just overwhelming. In the end, I had to narrow it down to what I felt I had time, money, and ability to manage. The book stacks, and the heart-punch banners were simple and affordable. Just use pinterest wisely, and don't let it become something that discourages you.

I hope you find something helpful here as you prepare for your own homeschool graduations. Mostly, just let it be a relaxed time of celebration with family and friends, not something so formal or stiff that your teen's going to dread it.

Enjoy the journey, and the celebration of reaching your destination!
April E.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible by Zondervan

I love having a Study Bible. I enjoy reading the additional information that helps to bring a passage to life. It adds so much depth and understanding to the words. As soon as my children reach their teen years, I buy them a Student Study Bible. This NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible by Zondervan is the first Study Bible I've seen for children, and it's illustrated! There's a Bible dictionary/encyclopedia right in the Bible itself, which is great because my kids don't usually reach for the extra book to look those things up.

The Kids' Visual Study Bible is a hardcover Bible (because we all know kids tear up softcover books too fast) with helpful blurbs in the yellow column on each page. Many of those tidbits of information have photographs or illustrations to help children visualize the Scripture and its meaning.

Not every study Bible blurb includes an illustration; some of the pages simply have the information off to the side. Overall, the Bible is perfect for the visual learner or a child who needs context to understand the imagery in the Bible.

The text on the pages is small enough, that it would be better suited for an older student who is accustomed to reading chapter books with smaller font. An early reader would probably struggle to keep their location on the page, or be overwhelmed by the sheer number of words that is included on the page. I would recommend this Bible for 3rd grade and above. My almost 9 year old son could handle this Bible easily, but my almost 7 year old daughter would struggle with it.

In addition to the study Bible excerpts placed throughout the Bible, this Bible also has maps located at the back, as well as an index of the different infographics. If you want to find more information on the temple, you can check the index in the back of the Bible and find any information that's included in the Bible. The infographics are divided in lists by Old Testament and New Testament, so the temple may actually appear in both lists. You can also use the index to discover what isn't included in infographics, so you can seek out information elsewhere. For instance, you won't find an infographic on the Shroud of Turin or the Holy Grail.  (Yes, I'm being facetious there, as those are extra-Biblical legends.)

Each book of the Bible begins with a chart of information regarding the author of the book, the time it was written, the overall themes of the book, stories included in the book, and its geographic location. This information is so helpful for children becoming familiar with the Bible and beginning to read and study on their own.

I'm very impressed with the NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible. It has so much more depth than a themed Bible that has cute decorations on the cover and interior that aren't even Biblical. I like pretty and cute, but I appreciate the content of this Bible so much more than a floral design for girls or camouflage Bible for boys. Let's not underestimate what our children are capable of learning or the questions they might have as they're reading. This Bible gives them answers and respects their intelligence. It would make a wonderful back-to-school, baptism, birthday or Christmas gift for a middle to upper elementary student!

April E.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson

I've been a Dee Henderson fan for YEARS, from her very first O'Malley series. Her books have changed over the years, gained depth and lost some of the constant danger that her earlier books usually entailed. Threads of Suspicion is the second book in her new Evie Blackwell Cold Case series. I've enjoyed both of the Evie Blackwell books. It's intriguing to see Evie dive into all the old files and start to find connections that were missed initially. In this book, she works with others to solve the crime of a missing college student, and each detective has a different method or style.

I read Threads of Suspicion on a car trip with my family. My husband kept complaining that I wasn't listening to him. I reminded him I was reading something very engrossing, and it was frustrating to be interrupted, again. (I later repeated that charge to him when he was tuning me out while reading messages on his phone. We laughed together.)

I like Evie. I like her methodical, puzzle-solving job. I like the other characters involved in the mystery, and I very much enjoyed Threads of Suspicion. There were a few things that I knew were coming, something would be introduced and I'd guess something significant was going to happen involving that. However, there were also other surprises I didn't expect. The book wasn't too predictable, and it wasn't too dark. This series isn't going to keep me from sleeping at night, unless I'm still in the middle of reading the book and can't put it down. I appreciate that, because I want to be engrossed in a book completely while reading it, but not be haunted by it when I have finished the book.

As always, the book is clean. It doesn't have language, inappropriate relationships between adults, or unnecessarily violent descriptions. The characters' discussion of their faith and struggles flows naturally and doesn't seem to just be plopped into the book so it can be called Christian.

I will continue to recommend Dee Henderson books to other Christian readers who like mysteries. I still want a map, though. A character map that shows me every main character, how they connect, what books they reappear in (even just with a vague mention). Sometimes I feel like I should know who a character is but can't remember what book or series they're from. Other times I recognize a first name and assume it's someone I've read about in another Dee Henderson book, but am not 100% sure.

Still loving Dee Henderson books,
April E.

Review: Behind the Scenes by Jen Turano

I've become a big fan of Jen Turano's historical romantic-comedy adventures. Behind the Scenes was another fun story from Jen. I stayed up far too late reading it, and completely enjoyed it!

Miss Permilia Griswold is a wallflower. She has spent six years attending social functions and has yet to master the art of social conversation, dancing, or fitting in. Instead, she spends her time secretly taking notes, observing others, and writing the very discreet social gossip column Miss Quill. No one else is aware of her job, and she only refers to people by their initials, never their full names.

Unfortunately, all of that comes crashing down at a ball, as she finds herself repeatedly colliding with Mr. Asher Rutherford, a handsome bachelor and businessman. To top off her evening, she overhears a threat against Mr. Rutherford's life, makes a scene trying to tell him, and he doesn't believe her.

It's only a matter of time before Asher can no longer deny he's in danger, but that's not the only problem. Permilia loses her Miss Quill position at the newspaper as he refuses to write salacious pieces that do more than describe fashion and dances, her reputation is tarnished, and she's also in danger. Can they find out who's after them, and restore Permilia's reputation? Will they fall in love in the process?  Of course.

Behind the Scenes is full of Jen Turano's usual banter between the lead characters. Humorous escapades also abound. While her first series focused on New York's high society members, and her second series focused on the working class ladies lingering around high society, this series focuses on the wallflowers within society. Those who are outsiders in society, invited, but not welcomed.

I can completely relate to Permilia and her wallflower friends. I love that this series is going to focus on wallflowers. As usual per Miss Turano's style, they promise to be Cinderella stories as each wallflower finds love, and probably to a handsome and wealthy member of society. Jen Turano is still topping my summer reads list, and I'll be looking for the next installment!

April E.

Review: The Cover Story by Deb Richardson-Moore

The Cover Story is the first Branigan Powers mystery I've read. I missed the first installment in this interesting series. Branigan is a newspaper reporter, who uses her investigative skills to solve mysteries. Not because she's seeking them out, but because they enter her world and affect the community and people she loves.

I have to admit to being a bit confused at first. The story began with Charlie, who turns out to be a girl, then we're introduced to Branigan who is a girl, and her co-worker Jody, who is a guy. Confusing names aside, the plot is gripping from the very first chapter. Branigan has found an ally in an observant homeless man named Malachi. Malachi notices things, and he exploits the fact that people often ignore the presence of the homeless to investigate alongside Branigan.

The Cover Story begins with two college-age women being run off the road. One dies instantly, and the other is injured. The injured young woman, Charlie, is like family to Branigan. When Charlie tells them she was run off the road by a hearse, all clues point to the local college sororities and fraternities where loyalties, and secrets, run deep. Soon another ex-sorority sister is killed. Can Branigan unravel the secrets before anyone else is killed?

This is the second series I've read recently with a newspaper reporter as the amateur sleuth, although this one is set in current times and the other series isn't. I have to admit that I like this reporter/investigor correlation. It's more believable than the housewife or local shopkeeper continually stumbling over crimes and solving them. Branigan was enjoyable and believable as a character, and I really liked Malachi. I found myself worrying for him as he snooped around, afraid he'd be arrested and would end up treated unfairly since he's homeless.

I'm going to have to go back and read the first Branigan Powers mystery. This series will be added to my list of series to follow; I'll be looking forward to future mysteries.

April E.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: Cherish by Gary Thomas

Twenty-two years. Almost twenty-three. Three homes, nine children, one grandson later and we're still committed to each other. We've weathered career changes, parenting, illnesses, caregiving, and the death of parents. We are committed, but our marriage could certainly use refreshing. We're in the midst of potty training and homeschooling, while also planning graduations, driving lessons, college applications, bridal showers, and summer weddings. Life is perpetually busy and our marriage often ends up neglected.

I know we aren't alone in this struggle. Every couple faces the challenge of maintaining a strong and loving relationship despite busy schedules. The answer doesn't necessarily lie in weekly date nights or counseling sessions. It lies in learning to not only love your spouse, but cherish them. (Yes, it goes both directions.)

Gary Thomas helps couples understand how to truly cherish each other and live that out in his book, Cherish. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of cherishing our spouse, as well as giving real-world examples from couples he knows, including his own marriage. What does cherishing look like? Not comparing your spouse to others, listening with your eyes and ears, speaking gentle words of love and appreciation, supporting your spouse so they can shine.

Nothing that I read in Cherish was exactly new to me. I know this is how God desires that we treat our spouse, but it's so easy to forget, to become lazy or selfish, and to take our spouse for granted. I needed this reminder to love my husband with a Christ-like love and to help him feel cherished. I can love him, respect him and be thankful for him, but if I don't express that to him, he won't feel cherished.

Whether you've been married a few short months, or nearly twenty-three years, you can benefit from reading Cherish and applying it to your marriage. It's never too early or too late to begin to cherish your spouse.

April E.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: Welcome to College by Jonathan Morrow

 I've sent two daughters off to college, and my third daughter starts college this Fall. She'll be attending the local community college, and we've talked about how she can find Christian friends at college. What if her roommates have different values and lifestyles than hers? In other words, how will she live out her Christian faith in a secular environment?

Welcome To College: A Christ-Follower's Guide For the Journey, by Jonathan Morrow, was recently updated and re-released. Its re-release couldn't be more timely for my daughter. This book has 43 topical chapters that begin with quotes and applicable Scripture, a few pages that discuss the topic, and end with a bullet-point synopsis and a list of further resources.

Jonathan Morrow tackles difficult subjects: the existence of God, whether or not all roads lead to God, evil and suffering, evolution vs. Intelligent Design, sexuality, and death. He also discusses the practical topics of money, gender roles, dating, health, schoolwork, and how to study the Bible. All of his advice is Biblical and encouraging, pointing our young adults back to God and a Biblical worldview.
The appendices include a Bible reading plan for your first semester of college, the pros and cons of Christian colleges and secular colleges, resources for learning more about philosophy, and discussion questions for each chapter. The discussion questions make it simple to read the book in a study group with other college students or high school seniors preparing for college. 

Welcome to College is helpful for all young adults launching into the world, not just for those heading to college. I like that each chapter is short. If a young adult tackles one chapter a week, they'll finish the book in less than a year. If they read the chapters out of order, as questions arise, they have manageable chunks of information that are easily located, relevant, Biblical, and helpful.
I'm thankful for this resource for my graduate. I would have appreciated it when I was graduating and entering the world on my own.

April E.