Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday Musings on the Creator in Me

End of School Year Traditions

For someone who is so stoked about creating family traditions, I'm embarrassed by our lack of end-of-school-year traditions!!!! Only two basic things come to mind: 1) we attend the fun-fair at my husband's school and 2) we sometimes celebrate by going out for dinner (though even that tradition has waned over the years because of the expense). Somehow, we have reached a point where our school years just kind of fizzle out . . .

How sad is that?!?!? We must make an effort to change that!

I decided to Google (don't you love how that's a verb now?:) the topic, and here are some interesting ideas that I found -- though I have to say that there were remarkably few out there:

  • Angela of Secrets of a Super Mommy creates a cool gallery of work from the school year.
  • Cristin of Serendipity created a banner with which her family adorns their back yard fence to remind them to cherish summer memories.
  • Krystal of Our Crazy Bunch serves dessert for dinner.

That's it! Outside of the typical pool or pizza party, that's all that I could find worth mentioning!
So here is a challenge for you: Will  you  help by commenting about some of YOUR creative end-of-school-year traditions?

Note: I have only skimmed it myself, but I thought this this free e-book of family traditions and rituals might be of interest to some of you. It is multi-cultural and multi-faithed with dozens of ideas for making family memories. You can pick and choose what you like.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Robert Pierre - Music Review

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to give my personal response to the work of a young artist new on the music scene: Robert Pierre. A hip, happenin', and handsome young man of 18 who just graduated from high school this month, Robert Pierre has won me over! His music is energetic and fun, but his message is the Truth our culture needs.

I listened to four of Robert's songs which are available for free (yes, even to download!) at NoiseTrade: "Jesus," "You Hold Me Now," "Identity," and "Breaking My Heart." I like them all! I can most relate to the lyrics of "Jesus,"  especially the chorus:

So even when I stumble and my world is torn apartThere is One who's holding my heart

Any desperate dayOne Word I can prayAll I know to sayJesus

Screaming from my soulI'm giving up controlThe only Hope I knowJesus 

That so describes some of my days!

Robert's music is in tune with youth culture, but it is also solidly based on the Rock that is not moved by the tide of modern media. His lyrics are clear and easily decipherable, but they are also meaningful and worthy of attention. His song "Identity" offers a glimpse of the challenges faced by youth today -- but in a way that takes a stand against the washing away of traditional values. "Breaking My Heart" gives testimony of how hard that stand can be, but acknowledges the value of the pain of God having His way in our hearts. "You Hold Me Now" reminds us of the hope of glory we have in Christ for the future -- but also for our "now."

Would I purchase Robert Pierre's CD when it comes out? I would! I enjoy his music myself and would be thrilled to have my own teens embrace his songs. He's a kid on the cusp of manhood but he has a message the world needs to hear.

You can check him out on facebook  or his website. I don't think you'll be disappointed :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Musings on the Creator in Me

Teaching the "Hard Subjects"

The question being asked at HSB this week is, "How do you teach the hard subjects?"

It's all a bit relative, isn't it? What's hard for me may not be hard for you. But we can learn from each other nonetheless.

For me, the "hard subjects" are not academic; they don't revolve around reading or writing or projects or assignments. (Wait. That's not entirely true because I do find all those things hard, too. But they're not the hardest.)

The "hard subjects" at our house are life skills: cleaning up after ourselves and each other (dishes, laundry, cleaning bathrooms, etc.), treating each other with kindness (putting others first, following the golden rule), controlling emotions (especially frustration and anger, but also sadness and fear), and speaking nicely and respectfully at all times.

Wordle: morals

We had a rare blessing this past Friday: we enjoyed a fit-and-fight-free cleaning day. In fact, it was so fit-and-fight-free that we got done in a morning what usually takes us A-L-L--D-A-Y--L-O-N-G! (Dealing with fits and fights consumes so much time and energy!!!) Why was it so successful? I think it was because we all treated each other with kindness, controlled our emotions, and spoke nicely to each other!!!!!

We started the day right by immersing ourselves in the Word. Actually, I started my day right by immersing myself in the Word. Then we did it together. What a difference that bathing of our souls makes!

And as I've been reflecting on the success of that day, I've been reminded of what I already know. The teaching of those hard lessons starts with me learning them, through and through. I can get righteously upset about the way my children speak to or treat each other; but I oughtta look at my own words and actions first. (You know -- the log vs. the splinter in the eye!) Too often, their tone and treatment reflects my own -- maybe not in that moment -- but certainly at some point in time. When DD9 melts down claiming that she's "had enough" and that she's "not going to listen," I can sometimes hear a distant echo of my own words and angry tone. When DS12 snaps at his younger brother and refuses to let him do something he wants to do, it's often not far removed from his own experience with me. Shame on me. (Oh, and I am ashamed! Always humbled.)

I want my children to learn to practise grace (Ann Voskamp describes it so much better than I can in her wonderful posts); but I need to practise it with them first. I need to be modelling the gentle tones and the patient repetition of the same instructions, day in and day out (even though I may not understand why a 12-year-old needs to be asked time and time again to clean up his medical bag, or a 13-year-old can't remember to rinse her dishes before putting them in the dishwasher). I need to be demonstrating the kind actions and respectful words. I need to be showing what it means to be gracious and merciful, even though it goes against my human sense of "justice."

So -- how do I teach the "hard subjects" in my home? I need to humbly admit that I don't always do it well -- I need to bathe myself in the Grace of the Cross -- and then I need to teach by my example.

What are the hard subjects in your home? How do you teach them?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

El Salvador -- Open Hearts and Open Books - Altered Journals

My husband and I have long dreamed of taking each of our children on a parent-child missions trip in their early teen years. Outside of the obviously valuable opportunity to serve others and be the hands and feet of Jesus to people in need, we've seen it as a potentially important opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth, as well as a fabulous bonding experience. 

We had looked for such an opportunity when our oldest daughter was turning 13. However, nothing seemed to "fit" -- either because of her age or the needs of the mission.  But then our church announced an inter-generational trip to El Salvador in August of 2011. Just as a door in my heart seemed to fly open when I heard of my daughter's conception, a door flew open when I heard of this opportunity. I just knew it was something God was going to make happen for us!

Why would a trip to El Salvador be the one? Let me tell you some of the clinching factors . . .

When DD13 was 7, she saw some World Vision commercials asking for child sponsorships. They grabbed her heart; she wanted to sponsor a child. That same year, she started earning some money caring for a neighbour's dog at lunch time. What did she want to do with her earnings? She wanted to sponsor a child! And that's when her relationship with Jeanci began via Compassion Canada. They have written to each other for going on 7 years now.

Where does Jeanci live, you ask? Yup -- El Salvador! Is it likely that we'll be able to meet her when we go? YES!!!!! It's a very real possibility!!!!

Perhaps most poignant was Jeanci's last letter, written around Christmas time (before we knew of the missions trip) but not received until the week we learned of the trip! (It sometimes takes months to have letters translated and delivered.) The second last sentence of her letter said, "I would like you to come visit me." She had never said that before! (Nor had we ever suggested it, not even dreaming it might be a possibility!)

It looks like God is answering her prayer as well as ours -- with the same event! How cool is that?!?!?!

So, DD13 and I have excitedly been attending preparation meetings for this trip. One of the requirements is that we each begin bringing a journal to our meetings, and that we commit to spending at least a half an hour journalling every night while we're in El Salvador. (Oh, you know I LOVE such requirements!!!!!!) The very next day I went to the dollar store and purchased some new journals. They were pretty as they were, but I thought it would be extra special for DD13 and I to spend some time together altering them for their specific purpose. 

Here is DD13's before we began:

She decided to keep hers simple, though it took her a while to attach all those eyelets . . .

And she wanted to put the pictures on the inside.

This was mine before we started. (I do like it as it was!)

This was my planning photo -- so I wouldn't forget where I had placed things as I secured them:

Of course, I wanted to incorporate colour and texture (things I'm fond of these days!) and I also included words and images that were significant to me in the context of the missions trip. (For example, the picture of DD13 and me was taken while we were on an impromptu detour to New York City -- an excursion so out of my comfort zone but so much fun for both of us! It's a symbol to me of our adventures together, as this trip to El Salvador will also be! Of course, the other little girl in the pictures is Jeanci -- very close in age to DD13 though she doesn't look it.)

Here is the final result:

I wanted to divide my journal into different sections, so I cut up some old library index card dividers and made my own tabs. You may have noticed from other posts that I'm rather fond of that leopard skin tape!

And I can still enjoy the original prettiness of the journal on the back:

I've already transferred all my other loose notes to my journal. I love it! It's going to be a wonderful reminder of our journey . . .

Has God been answering any prayers in your life lately? How are you documenting that?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Talking Fingers - Wordy Qwerty - Product Review

I had read good things about Talking Fingers' (originally a subsidiary of California Neuropsychology Services) software, Read, Write, & Type!  -- so when I had the opportunity to review their Wordy Qwerty: Foundations for Reading and Writing Fluency, I was pleased to try it out with DD9, who struggles with reading and writing. Before I elaborate on how things went in our use of it, let me tell you a bit more about the company and the program, the use of which I have received in exchange for my honest opinion expressed here.


According to their website, neuropsychologist Dr. Jeannine Herron developed the program with this rationale:
The Talking Fingers approach is unique and is based on a simple idea: text is speech made visible! We use our mouths to talk, to make the sounds of words. We use our fingers (with a pencil or keyboard) to represent those sounds on paper. When children learn to link speech sounds with letters, they can use the alphabet code to write any word they can say. Their fingers are "talking". This approach is aimed at maximizing the activation of the left side of the brain where skilled reading and writing are processed.

The Read, Write & Type! Learning System (see here for reviews of this product) includes spelling, phonics, keyboarding, and word processing, and is designed for children ages 6-9. Wordy Qwerty was designed as a sequel, geared for children in grades 2 and 3. There is an assumption that the child has a pretty good grasp of keyboarding skills based on their use of Read, Write & Type! (which is a bit problematic if the student does not have this foundation) -- as evidenced by the fact that a voice will chime in and announce, "To type properly, place your fingers . . ." when the student is search-and-pecking. DD9 found this a bit exasperating, so I would strongly recommend using R,W &T first. 


Here's an outline of how the Wordy Qwerty program works:

Wordy Qwerty's  20 lessons are based on games and activities that address the following: spelling rules, word families, "outlaw" words (or words that don't fit the rules), writing (type and spell), and reading (fill in the blank). A full scope and sequence is available for the program, but here is a screen shot of the areas my daughter covered in her month and a half of using the program fairly regularly:

DD9 had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Wordy Qwerty, partially because of her personality, and partially because of the program. Some days she was all fired up to do her work, and kept wanting to do more and more Talking Fingers; other days she would be exasperated and throw up her hands in frustration.   "Pattern" (spelling rules) and "Recycler" (word families) seemed the easiest for her, though I have to say that some of the activities were very hard, in my opinion. For example, students are presented with two words that sound the same phonetically, and they have to decide which one, or if both, are spelled correctly.  Since DD9 had to guess most of the time, I found myself wondering if she was really learning anything in the process. But when I asked her what she liked about the program, that's one of the things she liked! Personally, I think some of the sorting challenges are waaaay too hard -- such as the ones that require the child to sort and spell words like gypsy, genie, and giraffe -- though the program does tell what letters to type if the child is obviously stuck.

Certainly DD9 LOVES the songs that teach the spelling rules! (These are available on CD for die-hard fans!) She plays them repeatedly, and dances with a microphone as she does so :) And I will say that I, the English teacher of old, learned a few things through the songs and games! Sorting long and short vowel sounds revealed some patterns I've never noticed before, and the songs reinforced those patterns with a "cool rule," such as "g says 'g' but not before e, i, or y" and "g says 'j' when followed by e, i, or y."

DD9 says she also liked the balloon pop game in which students have to pop floating balloons with certain words in them -- but I think it moves waaaay too fast for children like her with visual challenges. Some days it would be this game that sent her over the edge in frustration, so while it was enjoyable on one level, it was also very difficult to follow visually.


Most challenging, in my opinion is the "story writing" which requires students to type from dictation. A sentence is read to the child, with the first half appearing in text, and the student must type the rest of the sentence from memory. While I see the value of dictation, and students are offered lots of help along the way, I question the need for such difficult sentences at this level. At our house, it usually resulted in frustration because the student can't move on until the section is complete. However, having said that, DD9 announced one day, "I'm good at this now because I've memorized it!" So -- I guess it worked on some level! :)

Finally, in the "reading" section, students are challenged to read a passage and periodically click on the word that makes the most sense in a blank. Theoretically this is a good assessment of comprehension -- but I found that DD9 was just skipping ahead to the blanks and trying to figure out what should go there by only reading the words that came before the blanks. So, to ensure she was actually reading, I had to sit with her and have her read it aloud to me. This was a bit labour-intensive for both of us, but it worked.

So, will I continue to use Talking Fingers' Wordy Qwerty? Well, it's not something I feel convicted enough about to enforce, but DD9 says, "I want to keep doing Talking Fingers!" -- so I certainly won't deny her the pleasure :)

 A free demo download is available if you'd like to try the program before purchasing, and a school version is also an option.

If you'd like to read other Crew members' opinions of Wordy Qwerty, visit the TOS Review Crew.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sister Solidarity

Life is hard sometimes. Heaven hands us hard things, and we wonder why. But with the gifts, God gives Grace -- and sometimes it's in the form of sibling solidarity. I have to share this awesome video my sister Judy created to honour the fourth of us six sisters that was diagnosed with cancer recently. You can see more of her work at All About You Vido Productions.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Musings on the Creator in Me

Creatively Supporting  Our Health, Beauty, and Clean Homes

I don't know about you, but I have a hard time spending money on health, beauty, and cleaning products that contain a lot of ingredients whose names I can't pronounce, never mind be sure of their value and safety. So for years I have been interested in finding ways to stay healthy, look after my body, and clean my home using simple, natural ingredients. And when it boils down to it, it really feeds my creative nature! So today I thought we would explore just a few ways that we can create our own products that employ some basic elements that our Creator has given us with which to be creative -- and healthy. I know there are many ideas and resources available on the internet alone, but I'll share a few of the things I've made -- and perhaps you can share (in the comments) some of the things you've tried with success.


This post was actually inspired by a link that TOS's Nancy Carter shared on facebook recently: Cheap Ways to Cure Simple Ailments at Home.  Having been plagued by an annoying tickle in my throat the last few days (especially at night), I have been drinking apple cider vinegar and water -- which really helps (I don't mind the taste just like that -- but the addition of honey makes it more palatable). But in the Econobuster's guest post, there was a recipe for a cough remedy that I decided to try -- and it worked :) (I haven't tried it for night time yet -- but it worked to treat the coughing fit I was having after church!) Here's the simple recipe:

Cough Remedy:
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar (I always use the unfiltered kind -- it's healthier)
2 tbsp. honey or agave nectar (I used stevia instead, though raw honey has some good health properties)
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Just take a teaspoon of the mixture when you feel a cough coming on.

Burn Treatment:
Essential oil of lavender
Lavender is one of the few essential oils that can be applied "neat" -- or directly to the skin without a carrier oil. So for sunburns and other burns that happen in the course of life, I apply lavender multiple times until the wound is healed. Not only does it help heal, it prevents blistering and scarring.

While I'm on the topic of lavender, I might as well tell you that I also use it for treating bug bites, as well as repelling mosquitos, and for soothing minor abrasions and cuts (it has many cleansing and healing properties) -- and treating my dog's hot spots. We sometimes put it on our pillows to help induce sleep, as well as put a few drops in the bath for a calming effect. I also use it in my homemade beauty products -- but I'll get to that later.

Congestion Relief Vapour Rub:
1/2 cup carrier oil (olive, almond, grapeseed, melted coconut)
5 or more drops each of lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, and tea tree oils
Rub on chest and back.


Facical Cleanser:
a few ounces of grapeseed oil
5 or more drops each of lavender, rose (I use rosewood because that's what I have on hand), and geranium essential oils
I keep mine in a small, brown, glass bottle with a dropper insert. Shake before use and apply to face, then rinse with warm water and a cloth. (This is said to be an anti-aging cleanser! ;)

Facial Toner:
1 cup or less of water
10 or more drops of lavender oil
I store mine in a vinegar dispenser from the dollar store. Shake before use and apply to face after washing. Pat dry.

Body Scrub:
1/2 cup almond, grapeseed, or olive oil
1/2 cup sugar
essential oil(s) of your choice
Mix all with a spoon and keep in a small jar. Stir together and use in the shower, bath -- or even in the kitchen to remove odours from hands. (Essential oil of lemon is especially good for this.)

Any amount of virgin coconut oil (regular or descented -- it doesn't have to be the expensive kind) with a few drops of an essential oil that appeals to you (lavender and geranium are two that are good for the skin). Apply to the whole body, including the face (though I don't like using this on my face in the mornings because it's a little too oily. I just use it at night).

Teeth whitener:
Brush with plain baking soda! :)

A small amount of a mild-smelling carrier oil (grapeseed or almond) with several drops of your favourite essential oil (or any pleasing combination) enables you to create your own signature perfume! (Note: little girls love doing this -- and it's safe for them to use:)


Bathroom/Kitchen Surfaces
Baking soda is my favourite cleaner for toilets, sinks, and tubs. You can add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to make it smell nice, if you'd like. Just make sure to rinse well.

Bacteria Buster:
Any combination of cinnamon, clove, lemon, eucalyptus, lavender, pine, tea tree, rosemary, thyme, grapefruit, and lime added to a spray bottle of water (I don't really count drops -- I just add stuff until I like the smell:) acts as an antiseptic and bactericide.

Air Freshener:
Any of the above bacteria busting oils can be added to a spray bottle of water and sprayed as a room freshener -- as can patchouli (my current favourite -- when it's sprayed with water, not smelled straight from the bottle). They can also be added to water in a diffuser (the kind that has a candle under a ceramic or metal "bowl"). (As an aside -- we always have an artificial Christmas tree, so I put essential oil of pine in a diffuser so we can get that fresh-cut scent:)

As you can tell, I'm rather fond of creating things with essential oils! Two of my favourite book resources for learning about how to use and combine oils are The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy and The Fragrant Pharmacy, both by Valerie Ann Worwood.

Have you created some delightful health, beauty, or cleaning products with safe and inexpensive resources? Please do share your discoveries! Also, if you know of any great resources along these lines, please do let us know :) And if you've never tried anything like this before -- I encourage you to start with something simple. You'll be amazed at how fun it can be to create in this way! Your children will enjoy being involved, too -- and it's safe for them to do so:)

WonderMaps - Product Review

We don't use a particular geography program, and I'm not a geography buff, so when I had the opportunity to review the first release of  Bright Ideas Press WonderMaps, I was excited about the possibilities of expanding my own knowledge of geography, as well as that of my children. I have received no compensation for this review beyond the opportunity to use the program for free in exchange for expressing my opinions about it here. 

Wondermaps Logo

Bright Ideas Press is a family owned and operated business that offers a variety of history, geography, and science resources. These people are seasoned homeschoolers who offer their wisdom and expertise to their clientele not only through their products, but through their blog and helpful articles. BIP is a business aimed, of course, at financial success -- but it is also a vibrant member of the homeschooling community. This was most clearly driven home when I received a notice from them informing their clientele of another family's dire need for help. Desiring to inspire as much support as possible for the Laurie family, a homeschooling family of seven, six of whom have a fatal illness called Mitochondrial Disease, BIP outlined the family's needs with explicit instructions on how to help in an easy but concrete way. To me, that speaks volumes about the heart of this business: BIP has a heart of compassion and service.

Bright Ideas Press Logo

This screen shot gives an indication of the variety of products Bright Ideas Press offers, many of which support a biblical worldview, and some of which supplement the use of other popular curricula, such as Mystery of History and All American History:

WonderMaps 1.0, the product used for this review, is a downloadable software collection of more than 350 customizable maps which enable the user to manipulate layers of information, including colour, town/city locations and/or names, rivers and river names, island names, country names, terrain text, graticules (lines of latitude and longitude), and graticule labels.

WonderMaps are organized into four main categories: 1) World Continents, Regions, Nations; 2) United States of America; 3) Historical (Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation and Growth of a Nation,  Revolutions to Rising Times) and 4) Thematic (American History, Explorers, Native Americans, World Wars, Biblical, 20th Century Treaties, Chinese Dynasties). It may interest you to watch this video clip that explains how these maps work:

Because we don't use a geography program or spend a lot of time referring to maps, WonderMaps is not a program that our family uses on a regular basis. However, we have enjoyed using it on a number of occasions to supplement our readings, as well as to do research about areas of interest. For example, we have been reading a book about people who have revolutionized their world through acts of faith, and it has been helpful to consult WonderMaps to visualize their travels and activities in various parts of the world. In my personal readings through the gospels, I have found it helpful to consult the biblical maps, such as this one that outlines Jesus' ministry travels:

We have also used WonderMaps to get our bearings around places of interest to us, such as El Salvador. The options were more limited here (we could only see El Salvador on a map of Central America; we could not get a close-up map of the country itself -- and this is true of several countries) -- but that does not negate the value of WonderMaps as a useful tool.

One of the features I appreciate most about WonderMaps is its Teacher's Guide:

As you can see, it offers a number of additional resources, one of my favourites being the ideas lists, such as this one for map related activities and projects:

Each project title is linked to a detailed outline of potential activities related to the title. I appreciate the way BIP suggests ways to make our learning fun, challenging and creative. BIP and WonderMaps are about a whole lot more than just maps! It's definitely a program we will continue to enjoy :) Thank you, BIP and TOS for the opportunity to use this product :)

Price: $49.95 ** See the WonderMaps ad in your spring issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine for a 20% Discount Code!
This software requires Adobe Reader v. 9.1 or higher. It’s a free download from
Available from: Bright Ideas Press and other international sources.

If you would like to see what other TOS Crew members have to say about WonderMaps, click here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Photos for this Friday . . .

Blogger has been down for the better part of a couple of days, so I haven't been able to post these pictures from a little nature study outing I took with two of my children recently.

Most of the wonders speak for themselves . . .

A blue jay is perched on the post . . .

He's hard to see, but there is a woodpecker in the tree below . . .

What wonders have you witnessed lately?

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