Saturday, September 23, 2017

Review: All In by Matthew West

Our family has been blessed to see Matthew West in concert at Winter Jam in the past. We've enjoyed his albums and our children often listen to them as they're falling asleep at night. So, we were very excited to receive his latest album, All In, for review.

The album has a more personal feeling, showing little pieces of Matthew's life. The Sound of a Life Changing tells the story of Matthew West's own call to music ministry.  Something Greater talks about his marriage at first, and then moves on to other issues as it discusses the sovereignty of God and His work in the world. Jesus & You is another song that shows his thankfulness for Jesus' grace in his life, and his wife's love. Becoming Me is a tribute to Moms - I'm not sure if it's to his mother or his wife, but it's beautiful. And of course, one of our favorite parts of his albums is the hidden track featuring his daughters - and we loved this one, too.

The songs on the All In album are:
  • All In
  • Broken Things
  • Mercy is a Song
  • Amen
  • The Sound of a Life Changing
  • Something Greater
  • Jesus and You
  • The Beautiful Things We Miss
  • 1 Song
  • Power Love Sound Mind
  • Never Ever Give Up
  • Dream Again
  • Becoming Me
  • You are Known
We were immediately familiar with the song, Broken Things, which was released this Spring and has had a lot of radio play. The entire album is enjoyable and uplifting, with Matthew West's Contemporary Christian style. It's hard to say which songs are my favorite because I like so many of them. I enjoy All In, Mercy is a Song, and I love the unique, upbeat style of Amen. Power Love Sound Mind speaks to me because anxiety and fear have played their part in my life, and I love the verse it's based on. Likewise, I love the message s of Never Ever Give Up and You Are Known. They encourage my heart and I know of others who would be blessed by the message in them. Keep fighting, don't give up, KNOW that God sees you, loves you and KNOWS you!

Our entire family is enjoying All In by Matthew West. This evening the majority of my family are seeing him in concert on his All In tour. I know they're going to be blessed!

April E.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White

As World War I is brewing in Europe, the mysterious Mr. V hires London thief, Rosemary Gresham, to prove the reclusive Peter Holstein is loyal to Germany, not England. Peter Holstein is eager to prove he's an English subject and loyal to England. The proof is buried somewhere in the family's disorganized and over-stuffed library, which every librarian or secretary he tries to hire refuses to tackle. Miss Gresham appears uninvited on his doorstep as a supposed answer to prayer. But is she? Or will she prove his enemies right instead?

As I read the first two chapters of this book, I initially thought there were just too many of Rosemary's "family members" to keep track of. The introduction to her adopted family of street urchins and thieves was overwhelming at first. However, the story quickly moved to Cornwall and the Holstein estate of Kensey Manor. Peter Holstein is a secret author, a confidant of the King and Prince of England, and friends with multiple authors across England. He prefers writing, due to a stutter and general social awkwardness. Rosemary has carefully practiced hiding behind a mask and fitting into society's upper levels so she can ploy her trade as a thief. But it's hard to hide her temper and her lack of education in her extended stay at Kensey Manor.

Despite the secrets they each hide, Rosemary and Peter form a friendship and growing attraction, mostly developed through the letters they begin to share each day. Rosemary becomes his advocate as vandalism and threats to Kensey Manor increase.  However, Mr. V brings a harsh reality-check when he arrives and reminds her of the job she was hired to do - threatening her and her adopted family with jail if she doesn't come through.

Will she turn in condemning information about Mr. Holstein? Will he still care for her if he knows she's a thief? How will she say goodbye to Mr. Holstein and her new friends in Cornwall? Does his God care about a street urchin and thief, and will He hear her prayers, too? 

I thoroughly enjoyed A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White. I had never read any of her books before, but I'm eager to read the rest of the Shadows Over England series. This series will follow Rosemary's family as they are each called on to aid England through their unique skill set as thieves during World War I. It's a perfect blend of historical romance and intrigue.

April E.

Monday, September 4, 2017

ElCloud Homeschool Curriculum 2017-2018

We started school on August 21, enjoying the solar eclipse as part of our first day's lessons. My husband took my middle students (3rd grade, 6th grade, and 8th grade) to see it in totality, but my 11th grader, 1st grader and preschooler stayed with me. 

We have two full weeks of school under our belt, and I am just now getting around to sharing our curriculum for the year.

4 yo B - Preschool
simple handwriting workbooks
simple preschool workbooks
puzzles, play dough, and playing trains

7 yo V - 1st grade
Horizons 1 math workbooks
Lots of time reading aloud to Mom
A Reason for Handwriting workbook
Christian Liberty Nature Reader K
Five In A Row (unit studies that cover literature, social studies, art, science, applied math)

9 yo G - 3rd grade

Horizons 3 math workbook
A Reason For Handwriting Transition book
Spelling Power Level B
Apologia Exploring Creation with Astronomy by Jeanne Fulbright
Mystery of History volume 4 with Mom
Elementary Geography and Cultures by Master Books with Mom

11 yo L - 6th grade
Saxon 76 math
A Reason for Handwriting D
finishing Easy Grammar 5
Spelling Power Level I
Twice Weekly Writing Prompts
Literature as assigned by Mom
Christian Kids Explore Chemistry
Mystery of History volume 4 with Mom
Elementary Geography and Cultures by Master Books with Mom

13 yo M - 8th grade
Teaching Textbooks Algebra 1
All American History 1
finishing Apologia General Science
Easy Grammar Plus
Spelling Power Level I
Chronicles of Narnia for literature
Jump In: A Workbook for Reluctant Writers

16 yo J - 11th grade
Keyboarding and Financial Peace for High School
Teaching Textbooks Geometry
American History by Stobaugh
Music Theory
finishing Apologia Biology, moving onto Apologia Chemistry
English 3 TLP and Progeny Press guides

Our college freshman is living at home this year, but she's enrolled at the community college and working at our community library. Our tag-along for the school year is my 9 month old grandson, who comes to our home for daycare most weekdays. It's fun having him here, but I've had to remember how to juggle a baby and homeschooling again.

How is your homeschool year going so far?

April E.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: The Unreformed Martin Luther by Andreas Malessa

I'm not an expert on Martin Luther, but I have heard some of the myths about him that Andreas Malessa debunks in The Unreformed Martin Luther. I was actually very interested in reading it, since my teens have been learning about church history in Sunday School and had brought home some interesting Martin Luther tidbits recently. I just had to know, were they true?

This book was originally written in German, then translated to English. The translation is extremely well-done and the humor of the author, Andreas Malessa, is retained quite well. I honestly had no idea that Martin Luther himself was so "cheeky" and humorous either, until reading some of the excerpts from his own writings that are included in this book. 

The Unreformed Martin Luther isn't a traditional biography, but it is a very interesting and informative book to read about Luther. I doubt I'd pick up an actual biography about his life, but I have enjoyed getting to know more about him through this book. My 18 year old daughter is interested in reading it, as well, since her curiosity was peaked by the stories she heard in Sunday School. She too is wondering just what the truth about Martin Luther really is.

I have to admit that only one of these myths debunked disappointed me, only because it's the first thing I ever learned about Martin Luther, and it wasn't actually true. What was it? You'll have to read the book to find out. I am sure you will enjoy getting to know him better, and tossing out some myths, just as much as I have.

April E.

Review: Patterns of Evidence EXODUS DVD

The Bible as historical truth is continually under attack. I cringe when I see documentaries coming on television that are about the Bible, the Holy Land, or any of our Christian holy days. I know that it likely is either going to present the Bible as mythological, or it's going to attempt to disprove the Bible.

Patterns of Evidence: EXODUS tells the story of Timothy Mahoney's journey to determine if the Biblical story of the Exodus is true or not. He starts out concerned that scientists were finding no evidence of an actual Exodus, and quickly becomes discouraged as he is told over and over by archaeologists in Egypt that there is no evidence for it. He realizes that if the story of the Exodus is not true, it brings the entire Bible into doubt.

Mahoney determines to follow the evidence, no matter what final truth it will unveil and continues to seek out experts and evidence on both sides of the argument. Through twelve years of interviews, trips to actual archaeological sites, visits to experts around the world, and lots of reading, he reaches the conclusion that the evidence for an actual exodus of Israelite slaves from Egypt does exist. Unfortunately, most scientists refuse to recognize this evidence since it isn't in the era they expect it to be in.

This documentary is extremely well-made. The camera work is excellent, the musical background is compelling, the interviews with experts are inter-mingled with the musings of the film-maker himself. My husband, myself, and my older children really enjoyed this documentary. I love that it affirmed the Bible as historical truth for my family. I know it will help to reaffirm the faith of others, just as this journey affirmed Timothy Mahoney's faith in the veracity of the Scriptures.

April E.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Book Review: Sacred Mundane by Kari Patterson

Kari Patterson's message in Sacred Mundane isn't exactly new to me. I've heard the message of worship in our everyday life and acts of service. I know that whatever we do, it should be "all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31) I've memorized Colossians 3:17 - "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."  And yet, I needed the in-depth focus on this message in Sacred Mundane.

Most of us are living ordinary, mundane lives. We get wrapped up in bills, deadlines, piles of laundry, and fussing children, which can leave us wondering what we could possibly be doing for God's kingdom. Where is the great life purpose we were each told God has for us? Is it in the rush to get to work on time, the dirty dishes, and the grocery shopping? Kari Patterson says yes. Not that those things are sacred and holy, in themselves, but how we live out our lives in the midst of that is our sacrifice of praise to God. Our faithfulness each day gradually transforms us to be more like Him.

There were so many passages that touched my heart and challenged me in this book. It is exactly what I need right now, because I've been struggling with discouragement in the mundaneness of life. (Yes, that is a word - even if my computer doesn't think so.) Everyday life is just so ordinary and seemingly never-ending and I forget my purpose. I forget that my attitude and faithfulness are gifts of praise to Him. I forget that these moments of obedience in my home, where only my family sees it, are making me more like Him.
If you're feeling worn down by life, and viewing your days as monotonous drudgery, there is hope in regaining your joy.  Sacred Mundane is refreshing and challenging. Kari Patterson asks some hard questions. The book includes the framework and questions for a ten week Bible study, day by day. I like that this doesn't require a second book to hold a group Bible Study. Only one book is required.  

April E.

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.