Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Day Trip to Stone Mountain and Reflections

Stone Mountain Park


Daddy took the day off and we headed to Stone Mountain Park! Our number one goal: climb to the summit of The Great Granite Rock! It's a tough 1.3 mile hike up to the top, but the sense of accomplishment and the beautiful scenery and view makes the burning in the ol' calves, thighs and uh-hum, buttocks well worth it!

We couldn't have picked a more perfect day. The high was around 74 and there was a gentle breeze.
We all had a good sweat going on when we reached the top, but we weren't miserable by any means. Once at the top, we all enjoyed a nice over-priced bottled water and the kids shared an equally expensive box of popcorn. But when you're on the top of a granite desert, an over-priced tiny cafe is greatly appreciated.
Then, the kids made their way to the Ranger's Station for their "I Climbed to the Top" certificate - signed and dated by Mr. Ranger himself.

As Caraline and I were making our way down, hand in sweet hand, she looked up at me and said, "Mommy, climbing this mountain is a lot like being a Christian. Making your way up is tough, like how choosing to follow God or doing the right thing can be hard. But boy, when you make it to the top and you are surrounded by the amazing view and all that beauty - nothing beats that. And going down is so easy, just like doing the wrong thing and following Satan is often the easiest. And once you're down the mountain, there's not much of a view. It's just a parking lot." 

The wisdom she has at nine years old astounds me. 

We took the kids to the children's playground (no pictures) where new friends were made, and then we headed over to the covered bridge area. There's nothing like driving your car over a wooden bridge. My husband remembers his school bus used to cross over an uncovered wooden bridge...yikes.

Jonathan found a live brown cicada, and the boys enjoyed exploring the trails around the lake. Ryan is always so good about watching out for little brother, big sister, and even Mommy too.

 We did find a way to add in a little formal education.

And let me share this one last story with you. This was the first hike up that Jonathan (five years old) didn't ask to be carried. In fact, the whole way up (and down) reminded me of a little rabbit zig-zagging and hopping from rock to rock. Many hikers commented on his energy and skill. He even got a few claps on a portion when most folks use a hand rail, he darted his way up just outside the handrail path like a pro. The folks sitting at the top of the rail were amazed. So were a couple of the hikers using the same path as Jonathan. I couldn't help but think how richly God has blessed us. You see, Jonathan was born with a heart murmur, but thank you Jesus it doesn't slow him down one bit!

So, today was a wonderful day spent with family. A day that we also got to spend with my dad! He stopped by this morning before we left, and we were able to have birthday cake, blow out candles, give birthday cards, and sing to him. It was nice.

And today was full of admiring God's beautiful creation, of reflective conversations, of being thankful that we are all healthy enough climb to the top of Stone Mountain, of love for one another, and lots of undivided time with each other...can't get much better than that.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Weekly Highlights: A Baby Shower, Mom's Mini Cheesecake Recipe, and Lots of Resources

A Baby Shower!

My brother and sister-in-law have been blessed with a little girl who is set to make her grand appearance the first of December! We were thrilled to host a shower for little Brilee this past weekend at my grandmother's house.  My crafty sister made the gorgeous diaper cake above.  She was careful to make the cake in a way in which each diaper is still usable. 
I forgot to take a picture of the serving table before serving a few plates! You can see, a brunch (10 am) breakfast themed shower is supper yummy! It absolutely wouldn't have been possible without the help of our family. Everyone pitched in to make my sister-in-law's day beautiful and special.
from left to right: my sister, my dad, my brother, my sister-in-law, my mom, and me
Back Home: 
Baking Mini Cheesecakes with the Boys:

When you bake with little ones there will be messes. They want to help in every way - and cracking eggs is not easy. Thankfully, we have paper towels! - The rest made their way into the bowl.
 I love the team work involved with baking - lots of taking turns and helping one another.
This is one of my favorite recipes from childhood. My mom used to make these  for us. It's super easy to make and oh, so yummy!

Mom's Mini Cheesecake Recipe:

24 oz. cream cheese
5 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Soften cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Add sugar to eggs and beat until dissolved. Add vanilla to egg and sugar mixture. Now, slowly add the egg, sugar and vanilla mixture to softened cream cheese, beating until smooth.

Fill  24 cupcake tins til all but about 1/4 of the cupcake tin is left to fill so (3/4 full) and bake at 300 degrees F for 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack (maybe 30 minutes) and then chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes or more, then serve.

(Some may fall in the center. That's where adding a cool whip or sour cream topping may come in handy for making it pretty, but we like ours best without any toppings.)

And Voila!

Our Eternal Home:

Through all the joys of seeing family and spending precious time together, we were also reminded this weekend that life here on earth is only temporary. We should strive to make our eternal difference everyday. The strength, the faith, and the blessing this family is to ours is immeasurable. What an honor it is to know them and to have one of their daughters as a positive role model in our kids' lives.

While driving home, we received news that their dear husband and loving father had gone on to his eternal reward. It's hard not to ask why.  But his battle was fought bravely, showing the love and character of Christ the whole way through. I ask all of you to pray for this amazing family of faith. The road ahead is not going to be an easy one.

Compassion International: 

We received a letter from our friend Melany in Ecuador this week. She's nine years old. Melany was excited to tell us that she is having so much fun playing sports at her school. Her favorites are soccer and basketball. Melany shared that she's been having lots of fun swimming in a river near her house, and she's making good grades at school, too. She made a point to say that she "hopes we are happy" that she is making good grades. And we couldn't be more thrilled! She thanked us for sponsoring her, as she always does and ended her letter saying, "Bye! With the Peace of the Lord."

More Memorable Moments:
Enjoying a ride through the woods and a bonfire with the cousins at my brother's.
Photo: My Saturday in the country love my nieces and nephews

Jonathan reading to Betsy:

Ryan caught this big guy at my dad's last Friday:

Homeschool Stuff:

Our Ants!
They have been hard at work. We took them on our trip last weekend and they stayed busy the whole time!

*This post contains affiliate links. Clicking a link and making a purchase doesn't add any extra costs to you, but it does help ever so slightly to fund our homeschool. Please read our disclosure page.

FREE History Resources: 

We love the Animated Hero's Classics videos. Most can be found at the library. This week, we found The Animated Hero's Classics Activity Books for FREE online and the videos (look on page 3)! This has to be my greatest FREE finds of the week!

Favorite On-Sale! App:
Doodling Dragons {aff} The award winning Doodling Dragons app is on sale til Oct. 27th for .99! It's normally $4.99. In case your not familiar, it's a phonemic awareness book that goes through each letter sound creatively using phrases that contain each sound the letters make, plus it's narrated by Jim Weiss. It also includes a game and a learn feature. This app is from the good folks at The Logic of English.

Here are the links for Android {aff}, iTunes and Google Play.
. Remember, prices are good until tomorrow - Sunday, Oct. 27th.

A Read Aloud and FREE video: 

One day this week for history , we went off on a tangent and read Coolies {aff} and watched Charlie Brown's The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad online. We loved both the book and the video.

We have continued our Homeschool Spanish Academy subscription, and this week the kids had a new teacher for the first time. Our normal teacher, Senora Rosa, let us know a few weeks in advance that her little girl would be performing a ballet routine at her preschool, and she would miss our scheduled class. We had the option of rescheduling with her, or scheduling a substitute. We thought it might be fun to try someone new - just for a change. We chose a male teacher, Senor Martin. The kids enjoyed their class with him, too.  The kids are learning so much! It's so cute how Caraline will substitute every English word or phrase she knows for Spanish now ~ and I can keep up! The joys of being able to sit in on class! And interestingly, she was able to hold a short conversation with a two Spanish speaking folks at the grocery store last week. That was fun!

My Dad's visit to Barcelona and Amsterdam:

And my Dad has been in Barcelona on business all week. He's been so good about sending pictures and short videos throughout the week. I've felt like we were on a virtual vacation with him! While I was writing this post, he and Caraline were texting each other and he sent this panoramic view to us. He's on a layover in Amsterdam. FUN!


We are sharing our Weekly Highlights with our friends at Homegrown Learners for Collage Friday and Weird, Unsocialized Homeschooler's Weekly Wrap-up.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Weekly Highlights ~ Sponsored Children Update, Sewing, Read Alouds and Milestones

Updates on two of our sponsored children:

Look who is growing up!! Our World Vision friend who lives in Tanzania, Amina! We received our yearly update along with a new picture of her (on the right). All seems to be good for our sweet friend. We also received two letters from her. Her letters are always written by a neighbor or family member.  In one she says her favorite animals are sheep and cats.

World Vision sends little booklets for us to personalize with a message for Amina a few times a year. On the left is the inside of one of those booklets. (We sent it to her a few months ago.) It begins with a story about wise King Solomon and the last page included a world map, ruler and math facts. I love these are always written in our language and also in Amina's.

We also received our first letter from four year old Naidely, our Compassion International friend that lives in Ecuador. It appears she likes cats, too!
Writing to, praying for and supporting these little ones, and receiving letters from Melany (in Ecuador), Mesfin (in Ethiopia), and Amina and Naidely brings much joy to all of us.

Friends in Europe:

In August, we traveled to Nashville. While there, the kids met two little girls from the UK. The are both ten. Our three little ones and their new friends played so well in our hotel pool (for nearly four hours!) the night they met. The next morning was our last in Nashville, but they exchanged addresses.  A couple of weeks later we mailed letters to the two girls in Gloucestershire, England.  (I was surprised that postage was only $2 for an over-sized envelope to the UK.)

Well, this week we received a lovely package from the girls. It included lots of pictures from the queen's birthday, pictures of things the girls like to do for fun in England, lots of travel brochures for Gloucestershire, hand written letters and postcards, too.
I hadn't thought of it, but The Tailor of Gloucester (one of our favorite Beatrice Potter tales) is from their area! One of the postcards features the cute little mouse and the tailor's store.


Jonathan and Ryan are excelling in handwriting. Jonathan  is doing well learning to write individual lowercase and uppercase letters and writing his name, too! (We are using A Reason for Handwriting - K and a review item, Funanoodle) He colored this elephant (ARFH -K) and wanted to share it with a few people. So, I text messaged it out to those folks. I am not rushing and truly working at a kindergarten pace with my sweet little guy.

Ryan has made huge improvements in his handwriting this year (2nd). He's the kid that I worried over at night - Would he ever learn to write? When he was four years old. Ridiculous, I know.  It's hard when your first child (which happens to be a girl) writes her own stories to pictures she's colored before her fifth birthday; who sounded out her first words independently at 3 1/2. My idea of what  "normal" was, was seriously skewed.  I didn't rush him, never should've worried in the first place, and now look at the beautiful copy work from my sweet big boy. (Writing With Ease) In the past couple of weeks he's even gotten a little fancy with his printing - making curly q's at the end of some of his letters. I hadn't planned on starting cursive this year with him, but our plans may change!

Caraline is learning to sew! She's wanted to learn since she was eight. My grandmother gave Caraline her first lesson a couple of summers ago. Grandma lives four hours away. So now that we have a sewing machine (Thanks Aunt W.!) I am learning to sew (from YouTube and sewing blogs) so that I can teach Caraline. I think we are on the right track. So far she's made a couple of gifts for a baby cousin that is due to arrive in a few weeks - and they've turned out so cute!!
The picture on the left is purely practice. She practiced for two days making straight lines, turning corners and threading the machine.  On the right, she's pinning a sewing project.

(This post contains affiliate links to Amazon. Please read our disclosure policy.)

A Milestone:

Jonathan learned to ride his bicycle without training wheels! It only took three practice pushes and he had it down! That afternoon we took to the golf cart paths for a fun family ride. (Jonathan isn't quite ready for the paths. He's still being pulled by Daddy in the Chariot Cougar . The Chariot has been a wonderful investment. We've had it since Caraline and Ryan were small enough to ride together. And then Ryan and Jonathan we're Chariot buddies for a while. It can turn into a double stroller, too.)

What We Are Reading:

We are getting close to finishing a biography on an early 1900's missionary, Cameron Townsend. It's interesting to learn how he paved the way for tribal translation of the Bible.

We are also reading The Secret Garden (this link is to a free Kindle download). We spent hours last Saturday just reading this sweet story. I didn't know what wutherings meant until reading a chapter all about it in this book. The title Wuthering Heights (also a free Kindle download) actually makes sense to me now! I'm looking forward to reading it aloud in a few years.

I think it's quite fun to have started this story and another set in England a few days before receiving our packing from our English friends!

We are also reading James Herriot's Treasury for Children: Warm and Joyful Tales by the Author of All Creatures Great and Small. This story also takes place in England. James Herriot is a countryside veterinarian, and his tales are beautifully written with rich vocabulary and the illustrations are simply gorgeous. It's a perfect picture book that even our fourth grader loves - and it's a super fun read for practicing an English accent, too! The kids always want, "Just one more story, PLEASE Mommy!"

Below is a picture of the inside of Warm and Joyful Tales.

FREE 30 day Trial:

If you are interested in  joining Amazon Prime now would be a great time to do so. The link provided will take you to a 30 day free trial through my Amazon Associates account. You'll have instant access to thousands of movies and 2 day free shipping on Prime eligible items (there's no minimum order size), and you can borrow books from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. We've had a Prime account for four years and it's been a wonderful convenience for our family. You will be able to sign up for the 30 day trial until  Oct. 31.

Caraline's piano teacher is letting us borrow their ant habitat - it even lights up! We ordered the food gel refill for $8.50 (had the food ship two days before the ants so that it would have time to cool), 30 harvester ants for $4.95 and voila - we have a cool, hands-on learning experience! These little guys are amazing to watch!
This is with the illumination light off - couldn't get the picture to turn out clearly with the light on.
On the Blog: 

I've reviewed a couple of neat items too: Chess House and God's World News.

Ok, so that's a few of our highlights from the past couple of weeks. I"m going to be off line for a few days spending time with my family. Enjoy your weekend everyone!


We are sharing our Weekly Highlights with our friends at Homegrown Learners for Collage Friday and Weird, Unsocialized Homeschooler's Weekly Wrap-up.

Monday, October 14, 2013

God's World News (News Flash) ~ A Schoolhouse Review

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God's World News will provide news and interesting information for children - biblically, appropriately, and vibrantly - so they can grow in their understanding that God has the whole world in His hands. ~ God's World News' Mission Statement

God's World News is a monthly magazine, published ten times a year, with a Christian worldview.  It covers current events and ties in many different subjects for a nice, well rounded study that I believe will complement any homeschool curriculum. The issues are available for Pre-K all the way through highschool. Below is a cover shot of all the available grades. For this review, we received News Flash which is geared for grades 3 -4.

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Online Resources for Parent/Teacher:

Not only is there the print issue that arrives ten times a year, but there are also many online features to this magazine, too. For example, God's World News offers in-depth study lessons on one or two topics featured in it's magazine. For October, the featured lesson in News Flash is on The Ames Room Trick. This lesson explains how the trick works, how our senses can be fooled, offers a Bible2Life section that applies what we've just learned to a biblical worldview and ends with a five question quiz. It's a wonderful, ready made lesson plan that can be shared via email, with your Facebook or even twitter friends, too!

God's World News also offers an online biography at least biweekly, too. The one featured in the magazine is highlighted online along with the others in digital format. The digital versions are offered in a downloadable, printable PDF. Most of the ones we've used so far have also featured a puzzle of some sort (with answers!) at the end, in addition to about a two page informational article on the person featured, with a photograph of that person, a Bible2Life section and quiz, too.  I love that these ready to go lessons that are emailed to me. I can also look them up on the website, too. There are many biographies archived and accessible online.

Online Resources for Kids:

God's World News also offers a new website,  just for kids. It's a safe place for kids to explore with many topics:  MySci (science), Creation (nature), TimeMachine (history), PeopleandPlaces (cultural, etc.), KnowMe (biographies) and FunStuff (puzzles, etc.).

The Print Version and a Wall Map Delivered to Your Mailbox:
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I like to sit down and hold a magazine. Reading online is great, but also sitting back in a comfy chair with the little ones gathered around and flipping through the pages is nice, too.  (We've even read our print issues sitting outside on our picnic blanket.)

I've been pleased with our News Flash magazine. I've found it is completely appropriate for grades 3-4. My younger children have listened in on the stories and enjoyed them as well. We love the Map-It! sections (We gather around the wall map that was delivered with our September issue of News Flash and find the Map-It! place we're reading about in the magazine.), Bible2Life sections are fabulous for discussion from a biblical perspective and of course the fun puzzles (answers can be found online) which are truly geared for the target age range of the specific magazine, and all of the great articles spanning many different topics and interests have been a big hit with all of our little ones - ages 5, 7 and 9.
Our Map-It wall poster

A full year subscription of 10 issues, with access to online content is a steal at $28. There are online, full samples of each magazine and corresponding online lessons, too. Be sure to check those out!

Final Thoughts:

It's nice to read a magazine with a Christian worldview focus and be able to discuss the topics with my little ones. The current events and the science discoveries and biographies and cultural aspects of this magazine are wonderful conversation starters and I am truly thankful for this resource. I also appreciate the extra online lesson features. It's nice to have a ready made lesson at my fingertips.

Extra Pictures from our News Flash editions:


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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Chess House ~ Starter Chess Learning Kit ~ A Schoolhouse Review

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My husband is extremely bright and as a child participated in gifted education at school. One thing he and the others in his gifted ed. class learned was the strategic game of Chess.  Interestingly, I've seen Chess sets and even tournaments at homeschool conventions and over the years have read about the many intellectual benefits of playing this 1,000 + year old game.

Knowing the many benefits of Chess, we bought a small set earlier this spring, and my husband taught our oldest child to play.  Over the course of a a few weeks she became pretty good and taught me how each Chess piece moves. But, I still lost - a lot! So, when the opportunity arose for the children and I to review Chess House's Starter Chess Learning Kit I hoped we'd be picked. My goal, since the spring has been to become a worthy opponent to my daughter (and husband, too) and for our younger children to learn to play, also. With a forty-nine minute instructional DVD taught by National Champion, Elliott Neff  and a nice, regulation sized Chess set I was hopeful that the boys and I would be well on our way to playing the game with confidence.

So What Exactly is Included with the Starter Chess Learning Kit?

Let's start with the instructional, foundational DVD #1, Pawn Level. In this DVD you learn how to set up a Chess board, learn about all the pieces and how they move and are introduced to strategic methods of play for each piece and the most important squares to control.  Here is a short example of the DVD.

Topics on the DVD include:
  • Intro to Chess (board, names of pieces, values)
  • Pawns
  • Rooks
  • Bishops
  • The Queen
  • The King
  • Knight
  • Castling
  • Pawn shields and when to break it
  • Development
 Also included in the starter kit is a very nice, 20" x 20", flexible roll-up Chess board with 3 3/4" regulation size king piece - all the pieces are a great size, and all fit nicely in a super handy carrying case. Our case is a nice green camo color.
We love the camo case!

The above picture shows the three compartments open, and the bottom shows them zipped up, revealing the rolled-up playing board.
  How Have We Used This Set?

Caraline (9), Ryan (7) and I were a little more into the DVD than our five year old. We used what we learned from the video to introduce little brother to each skill presented. The kids and I watched the full DVD once and then focused in on one playing piece and the strategy exercise games for that piece at a time. Some of the strategies are explained in the DVD video. Those games and a few extras can found in the DVD activities pamphlet, too.

An example of a fun and super easy game for the whole family is the first of the Intro to Chess exercises. Game 1 is a race to see who can set up the board with their pieces first with a special reminder that the queen is 'always on her own color'.

Another example of a game that we enjoyed was Pawn Game #2. We lined all of our pawns against each other on the 4th and 5th rank (Yes, we learned real Chess language! We know what files and ranks mean!) The goal is to reach the other side to be exchanged for any other piece, except another pawn or king. When no other pawn moves can be made, the winner is decided by whomever has the most points on the Chess board. (Each piece has a numerical value - for example a queen is worth 9 points,  rooks are 5. Did you know that? I didn't.)

We practiced a few of the "easier" strategy exercises over and over again. Some were challenging to figure out, but we persevered together and certainly became better strategists. We've played traditional Chess the most, utilizing the tips learned in the DVD. The pamphlet exercises are a fun and challenging way to mix things up a bit - and they are absolutely great for what they are intended for - to practice strategy.

The boys playing a game with their sister making sure they are following the rules.

I love playing Chess with the little ones during school time and just-for-fun family game time, too. Knowing how great this game of strategy and logic is for a growing mind is a wonderful motivator for me as  mom and teacher.

What Do We Think?

Well, I certainly know more now than before! They boys are moving along nicely from a zero knowledge base with their Chess skills, too. We are actually able to play competitively with another. No longer is my daughter giving me sympathy plays - pointing out a move that I should make to advance my position. But, we really are playing tough against each other.

I also love the Chess set itself. The pieces are a nice size to hold in your hand. The carrying case makes traveling and set up a breeze. I know this may sound like a strange plus, but there are no odors from the board or pieces. The small plastic set we personally bought this past spring had an awful smell. That may have been a big reason why I wasn't as motivated to learn back then. It's hard to play when you feel nauseous.

From actually being able to feel strategic while playing a game to actually loving the set itself, I give this learning system a big thumbs up!  Chess House has made a fabulous product and we look forward to being able to further increase our skills with more DVD based lessons from Chess House.

Pricing and Age Recommendations: The Starter Chess Learning Kit is regularly $49.95, but is on sale at the time of this posting for $39.95. The recommended age for the Learning Kit is 4 years and up.
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