Thursday, April 30, 2009

baby's first artwork.

he's been known to hold a pencil. he's been known to eat his share of markers. but today little Blue happily joined the ranks of the bigs, plunking onto a bench and grabbing an unused scrap of paper. he discovered a pencil just his size and actually concentrated for a period of time on this artwork, his first. he even proudly displayed his work for the lens (really, i do classify as mamarazzi). he's been a student since birth, but i think today he officially joined the class.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

TruthQuest History - TOS Product Review

Whew... it's coming to the end of the traditional school year, and for many people that means a big breath for the last stretch, or a sigh of relief... me, I just want a NAP!!

I'm excited to be able to review for you a really neat History curriculum that makes me feel rested just looking at it. TruthQuest History is , in their own words,

"...a deep and rich literature-based history study…but with a difference.
You will not learn the story of mankind; you will learn the lovestory of mankind.
You will not focus on the rise and fall of human civilizations;
you will focus on the arrow-straight line of God's unchanging existence,
power, love, truth, and plan for civilization. You will not simply 'meet the culture'
or 'get the facts;' you will probe the truths of history so deeply
that your students will be equipped to change their world."

TruthQuest history is a spiral-bound guide (and I'm an old-fashioned girl... I love paper...) that includes brief introductions to segments in time, with a distinctly God-centered view, along with book suggestions for both reading and activities. It's written with a lighthearted attitude that's an easy read, and would be not the least overwhelming for any student reading, in my estimation, chapter books.

It is simple, so if you're the kind of person who needs pages and pages of explanation, exams, maps, diagrams, and such, this isn't going to be enough for you. But if you'd like a copyrighted list of excellent books in each time period (and even suggestions and warnings for different ages and sensibilities), and you're comfortable getting creative with a basic outline, this would be an excellent consideration.

There are also some writing/critical thinking exercises at the end of the book, as well as a suggested film list.

We reviewed the Renaissance, Reformation, and Exploration edition by Michelle Miller (buy it here), and we're working through the Famous Men of Rome study, as well. I can say that I don't intend to put these away after our review. This is a book/study that may well begin a collection.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

dolphin watching

one night last week, we feasted on crab legs and corn fritters at a super cool local spot known as the friendly fisherman this week, and then our hosts treated us to a sunset dolphin-watching cruise. seriously, this is where i LIVE! spoiled, spoiled, spoiled.

Math Tutor - TOS Product Review

Sometimes, teaching math is just plain painful... for me, anyway! There are days when the oldest tells me something like, "step away from the math book, mom," and takes over helping a younger sibling. There are days, I have to say, when I slap the book shut and announce with firmness, "Wait till your dad gets here. He's the math guy!" And there are days, frankly, when I think, "You don't know how easy you've got it. You do school in your jammies on the couch and at the table during snack time and in the grass under the Florida sun. You should try sitting in a classroom for lectures!"

Enter the Math Tutor DVDs. Designed with parents like me in mind (well, maybe not that last one!), it is a series of topical training videos to help students with Math!! Most courses are 8 hours long, and cost about $27. Ranging from basic math, to physics, calculus, geometry, word problems, probability and statistics and many more, Math Tutor DVD's slogan is "Press Play For Success."

My children especially enjoyed the story problems DVD. Although it's really just a teacher in a classroom (aha! my wish is granted!) problems are taught slowly and in detail, with some humor thrown in occasionally to grab attention. The instructor, Jason Gibson, holds a long and impressive list of credentials including work with NASA with a full space shuttle flight control certification. As he says, though,

"Now, I am the first to admit that none of this amounts to a hill of beans when teaching a lesson. What really matters if the instructor take a complex topic and assume the student knows absolutely nothing about the task at hand and take him/her from zero knowlege to expert in step-by-step chunks. I personally get a thrill out of making seemingly complex topics suddenly easy to students. I have found over the years that the easy way to do this is to learn by working example problems, beginning with the easier ones and gradually progressing to the harder ones."

I personally found in school that teachers who were likeable, were most memorable, and often their material was therefore somehow more palatable. I am thinking this guy comes across as a "nice guy" on video, and it just make harder math concepts more digestible! (His simple and straightforward methods of course would help.)

These videos could be a great add-on for days when teaching many stretches you beyond your dreams, or for supplementing the vital math studies to assure success in a given subject. Complete course listings are available online, as well as sample videos and verbal testimonials (VERY convincing!!). This is a neat discovery, and I love the money-back guarantee, although I suspect it rarely gets used.

Homeschool In The Woods - TOS Product Review

I have to admit, I'm not a good lapbook momma. I mean to be... I love the idea of all these cool little folds and creases and hidden treasures in carefully-constructed pockets. But when the day gets rollin' for me, I'm usually behind already on schedule, and often we just dive in and do the "necessary" topical assignments, and I forsake the opportunity to get hands-on with our study and review in this really cool way.

Many homeschool moms are well-familiar with lapbooking, but it's worth explaining. Sort of a hybrid of scrapbooking, you typically use a file folder (alternative folds are optional) and fill it with small packets and pockets, fan-folds and accordions, little flip books and revolving paper-fastener-creations, which contain little snippets of information about the chosen subject.

We had the chance to review Homeschool In the Woods' New Testament lapbook, and instead of trying to "add it on top" of all we are already doing, I decided to just take a week and make this our primary project, along with our math and science studies.

Rather than opt to have each child do their own, the "big kids" are working in pairs. I'm excited about the teamwork as well as the chance to work on small motor skills (11 year old still needs work in this area). As they cut and color individual projects (one example is the basket filled with fruits of the spirt, with the correlating scriptures glued on the backs), they read the material it contains. Next, they place each assembled component into a large ziploc. At week's end, they will assemble the project, reviewing the concepts as they go. Finally, they'll "present" their projects to friends and family to firm up their knowledge.

For us, this is a great way to take a little break from the regular schedule and re-focus on God's word. I like the product a lot, and as a multiple grade teacher, I love that it's got components for all levels. If I only had one, I think this would be a fun project to do together! In fact, I am thinking of purchasing their artists activity pack for this summer, and as an aid to "hitting" some of the figures more in-depth than we did during the year.

A little about Homeschool In the Woods:

"It is our heartfelt prayer that children develop a love of learning that will not end when they are finished with "school." We at Home School in the Woods have a passion for supporting the education of our children, specifically in understanding God's providence through history." Homeschool In the Woods provides activity packs, timeline notebooks and figures, some digital and some printed, and available as downloads or on CD (products vary). Cost averages $20 per product, with the timeline binder (looks beautiful online) available for around $38.

From one mom to another: If lapbooking isn't your typical curriculum, give it a go. But try dropping everything else you can for a week so you can really dive into it and not rush.

Monday, April 27, 2009

my mom shoots people.

these two totally rock. i mean it. poor e. wants to "help me on a shoot," but he's not ready. j. tried it once and didn't love it. but these two, they haul equipment and angle reflectors and make toddlers giggle and so when i saw i could do a short-run t-shirt order for them, i had to do it. the others will get one, too, if they want it, don't worry. but first i had to reward the two best assistants a photographer could ask for. and they're growing shooters, themselves.

Tapestry of Grace - TOS Product Review

Tapestry of Grace is a curriculum designed along classical education philosophy that is multi-level, literature-based, cyclical on a four-year rotation, and inclusive of many subjects including history, fine arts, writing, philosophy, Bible, literature, and more.

Our family had heard the "buzz" about Tapestry of Grace for several years before we chose to use it in our home. To be honest, it overwhelmed me when I saw the giant notebook with lists of books and activities, and knowing myself, I thought, "I'd beat myself up if I couldn't do it all."

What changed our minds was when we visited friends who have four boys similar in ages to our gang, and when I, as mom, could get hands-on and see it in action. In the end, it is what we chose as our core, adding in Science, Math, language (Grammar or Latin or, soon, Spanish), and the occasional "extra."

Classical education is based on several concepts, but a core idea is that there are four main learning/developmental levels that children progress through, and Tapestry of Grace is designed to cycle through history, ideally four times, each time going deeper and adding age-appropriate literature. It includes book lists of both "spine" or "core" reading, as well as suggested supplementary reading, that can be purchased or checked out from the library (or borrowed from friends - in our case we've found several like-minded families who use Tapestry, and often borrow or lend as schedules allow). Some of the books are recommended as read-alouds, and others include hands-on activities. The idea is that the teaching parent will pick and choose as they feel able/appropriate for their home and students.

Tapestry also includes a writing component (purchased individually) which assigns grade-appropriate projects tied to the current period of study. It is in-depth and well-rounded, incorporating vital aspects of good writing with review. There are teacher sections which actually review all the information children are expected to glean, discussion ideas and questions, co-op activity ideas, and more. One can also purchase lapbooks, "Pop Quizzes," which are discussion questions for dads (or working parents), and evaluations, for each year-plan.

My only struggle with Tapestry has been the cost (the year-plan without any extra books and products is $170 for digital or $290 for digital and printed), and the sometimes-confusing aspect (for me) in ordering. Recently the company has gone to offering their year-plans as digital products, which some find a huge benefit. I can see the blessing in having a digital copy, but taking the cost into consideration and being a person who needs to "hold it," I will personally probably end up having my products printed and paying even more. That said, I look at this curriculum as rich in knowledge and activity, and ripe with Christ-centered application, and have viewed the expense as an investment into the future faith-life and education of all five of our arrows.
When encouraging any fellow mom in curriculum choice, I always say, "look at the other moms around you who are using it. Are they "like you" in teaching style? Are their families anything like yours in schedule, priorities, and dynamic?" In our case, the families we saw using Tapestry either were similar in style, or were pursuing the passion and activities we wanted to include in our homeschool lifestyle.

Worth mentioning, also, is the fact that you can go to the Tapestry of Grace website and order a three week trial of the curriculum to try for yourself!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Alphabet Alley Magnet Set - TOS Review

Cute, cute, and double-cute! This little magnet set makes me think of sets I had as a kid. It's the perfect carry-along for doctor's office and oil-change waiting times, and (if yours aren't quite as apt to lose things in the bottomless pit of the vehicle!) would be a great travel activity. The New Baby Magnet Set is currently being reviewed to be sure it meets government standards so it is not listed on their site for purchase - but there are many adorable products available (or coming soon) at .

*A personal side-note from me personally, with no endorsement from any companies... PLEASE be praying for small businesses adversely affected by the lead-law inacted by well-meaning politicians. We know of many small family companies which have been, or will be, virtually eliminated under legislation that requires extensive and prohibitively expensive testing with the goal of "keeping kids safe." Not that I'm opposed to this goal, but sometimes things just aren't thought through... I'm not at all sure if this is the case for this product, but nonetheless, be praying...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

after we visited a winery last week,

i got to thinking about how Papa speaks to us through His works, as my Artist-Teacher showed off another of His creations.

recently i spoke with a precious heart sister who has been broken over the last few years by career difficulties for her husband and almost unbearable difficulties in adopting a baby boy. they, along with their four beautiful daughters, have visited and bonded with this little boy over a long distance, and dishonesty and lack of follow-through on the part of those they've trusted has them in a waiting period that breaks the hearts of them and their children. i tried to encourage my friend that this time of brokenness will lead to a beautiful place, where the working of Jesus will be evident in their family's life. as i spoke, i realized that our family has just come into the sunshine in many ways from just such a period of darkness.

a couple of years ago, we walked through several events back-to-back that left us stunned at the brokenness of man and the ability we have to absentmindedly break the hearts of another. to be honest, there were times i lay on the shower floor, water beating down on me, praying my children wouldn't hear, crying desperately for release, and wondered if i'd survive the hurt. i wrestled with my Father and wondered that He still noticed me, much less loved me. and yet years later, i see with crystal clarity the ways He used each of these situations to teach us gently and severely, again, of His love and faithfulness. i settle, for the moment, in the peace He has wrought in a life that, while still broken, reflects a little more of his refining.

i'm enamored with the beauty of a row of vines, growing magically on their precisely lined up twine rows. i am innately curious about the process that takes an already perfect piece of fruit, and refines it into an experience. i'm intrigued by how our Lord formed this liquid sweetness by His first miracle, yet our natural tendency to thwart the blessings he longs to lavish us with, leads many to abuse or refuse this gift of nature and artistry.

i think to myself, this is what we do. Papa gives us an entire garden, and says of one tiny piece of real estate, "don't touch." and just like my little Blue (thanks, Papa, for the daily reminder...), we run straight toward the forbidden fruit.

he offers us beauty of married love, and says only, "wait," and we dive headlong into dangerous waters that leave the un-self-disciplined hurting and wanting.

little Blue had to taste the unripe grapes. we stopped him, fit-pitching, at just a few, but he'd have eaten a whole sour bunch, mindless of a coming stomach ache. and yet, if he knew to just wait a bit longer, the rich, wet sweetness of a ripe grape would be his to savor.

this process of plant, train, wait, press, ferment, wait, so symbolizes our life in Him. He plants the seed of His grace in our hearts. He trains us to follow the best, most healthy way. we can fight it, and we will be sadly fruitless. we must wait for His sweetness to develop through obedience, through dry days and hot sun and oh, at long last, refreshing water. sometimes storms come along and nearly wipe us out, and then it may be years again before edible fruit can be harvested.

He presses us, sometimes unbearably, to release the liquid beauty of His love, and we can do nothing but bear it. sometimes He will even allow our own "yeast," the sin of our choosing, or the brokenness of the world, to break us down into an aged and beautiful wine, our color deepened and richer through time, and through suffering.

but when the pain is done, we may be poured out like a drink offering, and oh, God, the privelege is indescribable.

and because of His faithfulness as the winemaker, we are a glorious and satisfying offering.

field trip Friday - dairy farm and vineyard

thanks, girls, for organizing a super fun trip!
i joked with a homeschool mom friend that we don't think we're antisocial, but sometimes it seems that way. sometimes we dig into what we're doing and with five students and a business we're building, we have to sort of bury our heads and skip some of the awesome opportunities out there for homeschoolers in our area. not so this friday... we piled in the truck and headed out to the dairy farm... watched mass milking and saw a calf come into the world. the fellowship with other mommas in our stage of life is sweet, and watching our kids cavort through the haystacks made even the most "citified" of us long for the simpler life. on the way home we had sweet dreamy talks of buying land with other believing families and joining forces to care for our food and critters. my friend faith quite rightly reminded me that Papa has always held landowning in high esteem, and it really had me meditating again about the direction our world is going... and desiring to "hunker down" and make our own way. anyway, we're where we are, and it's no surprise to my Jesus... while we're here we'll enjoy every little taste of simplicity we can!

yup, it's a pig race, y'all.

the curious little brothers.
beautiful tay.mommas and babies in slings make me sigh with happiness.
sweet cow eyes - i've always thought they're the most beaufiful - maybe second only to giraffe eyes.
the boys feed a greedy (and rather impolite) young bull.
got milk?

on the way home, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit a quaint little vineyard called rosa fiorelli family vineyard. the owner, a precious italian man running the business with his wife, turned around on the way out to the post office when he saw us coming, so he could offer us a tour.
the kids (and their mommas) enjoyed his loving explanation of the way the grapes are grown and grafted to create new varieties. we learned that while the wine is being aged, you must allow the natural gases to escape or the wine vats become like a bomb (that's just like a BOY!)... but the winemaker must use a system like a water valve to prevent air from tainting the wine. it's an art form and it was really cool to study it, especially as we're in a botany unit right now. we also learned that the winemakers are just now seeing the depth of the damage from the hurricane season several years ago, and it is amazing the effect on small business even in the more central parts of the state. it is such a neat opportunity to meet "salt of the earth" landowners who pour all they have and all they are into producing something of which they can be proud.

little boy blue didn't seem to care if the grapes were ripe or not. after he called out "pea, pea, pea!!!" we finally figured out he thought they were his beloved sugar snap peas. we got the camera ready for his shocked expression, but he just chomped away. eek!
the corker. at this winery, each bottle is filled, corked, and sealed by hand.

it was an awesome day, and we're spoiled rotten to be able to learn in truly hands-on situations.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

saving baby bunny...

saturday morning was relaxed and wonderful - we spent it lounging by the pool with friends in an adjoining neighborhood. we had much to do in the afternoon; oldest was helping me prepare for a fabulous senior/family session, and we planned to go to the free movie at the library before picking him up from a date with friends. Papa had bigger plans, though...
as we headed out for home, j and e discovered a baby bunny at the edge of the tennis courts, not long for this world. of course we couldn't just leave him there... thank goodness my friend faith knew of a shelter that takes baby bunnies. soooo... my tenderhearted second bundled baby bunny in his towel and we grabbed some water and a spoon (thanks, faith!) and took off in a hurry. blessings, blessings - bunny was taking the water!
what an experience the shelter was; people line up to "surrender" the animals they can't keep for one reason or another. one couple left in tears after leaving their long-time pet to be put down in old age. we had to giggle when a mother and daughter arrived with a gorgeous black and white speckled rooster in a cage - they are only allowed hens in their neighborhood, and had kept him as long as they could without successfully finding a home for him! well, as it happens, we knew two families who would love and care for him, and the church friend who ended up with him will even allow them to visit the pretty guy! and as it happens, the mother and daughter are fellow Jesus-followers and homeschoolers, as well, so it was kind of a neat little "kinship" immediately. His hand is in everything! all this for the saving of a baby bunny.
it isn't lost on me that my last post of my dear son involves him on his first hunting trip. oh, how i love the fragile balance between the strong and able, fiercely protective man my sweet boy is becoming, and the kind little-boy heart his Father's given him.

eight things...

i was "tagged" by my sweet new-momma friend amanda... (click her name to visit her!) she's not a new momma - she has four girls... but her littlest is just a few short days old... born at home with the coolest story. anyway, here goes my "eight things" post (and dad and girlfriends, i'm comin' atcha to join the fun!)

8 things i look forward to:
-meeting my Jesus face-to-face
-costa rica wedding with our sweet friends dan and jen! (yippee!)
-snuggling with my hubby tonight
-watching my children fall in love and become parents
-kissing my babies first thing in the morning
-next time i eat pad thai and green curry
-having my next "aha moment" as a photographer
-sleeping in... someday...

8 things i did yesterday:
-edited wedding photos
-made coffee
-went geocaching with my family
-went turtle-visiting with my baby boy
-kissed my man
-chatted with my Papa
-went for a bike ride
-ate dinner my hubby cooked

8 things i wish i could do:
-live near my parents, my sister
-understand lighting better
-read all day at least one day a week
-have one day a week alone in my house
-hire someone to clean my house twice a month
-be patient all the time
-"road school"
-be more diligent at writing thank you notes

8 shows i watch
-the mentalist
-so you think you can dance (in season)
-barefoot contessa
-the stagers
-HSN (homework - does that count as one show?)
-sometimes the amazing race and sometimes extreme home makeover

tag, you're it!
Carrie, my sweet sister
Tracy at 4 funny boys
Tami at serendipity

jill at the richards world
amy at first comes love
shelby at for such a time as this
jill at just for kicks
my father in law

have fun, gang!

Monday, April 13, 2009

more strawberries...

um, yeah, so my sister in law TOTALLY made us strawberry-picking-rings. she's cool.

my sweetie-girl behind the lens - and rose-colored glasses.
ny niece is gorgeous - like her momma.
the tucker cousins came for a quick spring break visit, and we played and played. i thank Papa for my dear sis-in-love, who "talked me down from the cliff" when our crazy strawberry-picking-adventure went waaaay far awry. let's just say, the day began with a crashed cell phone/pda (and panic on my silly part), was filled with getting lost and cranky toddler, and ended with said toddler - well - "wee-ing" on my dusty athletic shoes.

nonetheless, there are good pictures, and that is important.

more important, though were the few precious minutes i spent giving Second "scratch backs" on the late and snoozy drive home. and the fact that even though we had to enter the "out" gate, as the "in" gate was prematurely locked, and we only got a few minutes, we were able to introduce our formerly absent hunting boys and cousins to the new park we'd discovered.

oh, Papa, teach me to find the JOYS, and to overlook these temporary and silly struggles. in the light of your glory shining in everyday moments, inconvenience is trivial.