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Monday, September 29, 2014

Fix It! Grammar - Review

We got to try a sort of fun book to work on our grammar!  It is from Institute for Writing Excellence (IEW), called Fix It! Grammar. Book 1:  The Nose Tree  As part of this review, we got hard copies of both the student book (this is also available as a downloadable e-book), and the teacher manual..

Even though this product can be used with as young as 3rd graders, I decided to let L-girl use this, not because she is bad at grammar, but, because she still, even in 7th grade makes a lot of little mistakes in her writing.  Little mistakes that add up when you start taking off points.  I knew that I wanted her to head into the more difficult years of her writing work with a really strong background in the big stuff, and the little stuff.

I had L-girl start at the very beginning, is a very good place to start.....(anyone else singing Do, Re, Mi....from Sound of Music right now?)  There are 6 sets of these Fix It!  Grammar Books, designed for ages 3rd grade and up. But, they aren 't really age specific in and of themselves, so, we started with Book 1:  The Nose Tree.

My other choices were:

Book 2:  Robin Hood
Book 3:  Frog Prince, or Just Deserts
Book 4:  Little Mermaid
Book 5:  Chanticleer
Book 6:  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

I could have had L-girl take their placement test to determine which book she should start with, based on what she already knew.  But, I looked over the placement test and even though she could have started in Book 2 or maybe even 3, there were still some things in Book 1 that I knew she was missing and not doing correctly when she was handing in work.  So, like I said, we started at the beginning.

It was a very good place to start.  

The idea behind Fix It! Grammar is that they learn proper grammar rules one sentence (of a fairy tale) at a time, and only spend about 15 minutes a day doing it, by searching for and correcting grammatical errors in a story.

Yes, one sentence at a time.

Sounds pretty easy, right? 

It actually was.

First, you read the sentence.

In that sentence, there will be a word that is printed in bold.  The bold word is your vocabulary word.  If you complete this book, you will have added 132 new words to your vocabulary.  You write the bold word  in your notebook along with the definition.

I was worried that since we were starting with book 1 that this area is what would feel young or childish to her.  You know, that they would be "baby" words.  But, surprisingly, there were some tough ones sprinkled in with the easier words.  Words like "alleviate" would be mixed in with words like "dwarf", or phrases like "bade farewell" would be there as well as "keeping watch".  For L-girl, I think it was a good mix in her mind of words that she already knew and words that she had seen before, knew how to pronounce, but just didn't know exactly what they meant.

After writing down your vocabulary words and definitions, it is time for you to mark and fix the first passage, or sentence.

This is where my part came in, and it was definitely where having the teacher manual came in really handy.  I am a pretty good editor, but I don't know all the fancy schmancy symbols that you use.  So, it was nice to have the book to help me out in that area.

L-girl then reviewed the passage, the markings, her grammar cards (cards included in the book that remind you of what a noun, or superlative adjective is) and would ask me for help when she needed it (rare).

The last thing she would do every week was rewrite the sentence into a separate notebook, where eventually, the entire story will be printed out in her handwriting.  You do not use the markings during the rewrite phase, just like in a normal writing project where you mark up your draft copy and turn in the cleaned up version neatly typed or written.

Sounds pretty simple and pain free, right?

It honestly was.  The first day or two while we were both figuring things out we stumbled a bit.  Like, L-girl rewrote her sentences in the notebook with the markings and had to erase them when we both went back and checked the book!  But, the good thing was that you only 1 sentence a day, so by the end of the week, you only have 4 sentences to erase....not a whole page or paper.  You know, for example, if you told your mom you had it covered and knew what to do, and she trusted you and slacked off checking your work until, let's say....Friday.  Hypothetically, of course.  

They recommend completing 4 lessons a week for 33 weeks, so it is easy to follow. Especially because it isn't overwhelming.  The student book is only 126 pages long, so the lessons are kept concise and manageable.

 (The book tells you everything you need to cover in your 4 day week)

Review weeks were her favorite because she didn't have to learn anything new.  She just had to prove to herself (and me) that she had been paying attention.

Fix It!  Grammar was a very easy thing for us to fit into our normal routine, and our normal language arts curriculum.  It didn't take a big chunk of our day.  It really did reinforce, and in some cases, teach her the proper grammar needed.  It is presented in such a unique way, that....well, I was going to almost didn't feel like school.....but, to L-girl it did feel like school.  For me, if this was the way I was taught grammar, it would not have felt like school to me.

I like the concept of just one sentence at a time, but I will admit that it almost felt too slow sometimes.  I understand the concept on not wanting to overwhelm them and for some students that is why this program would be phenomenal.  For your older students, I think you could definitely move through the book faster and maybe double up and do 2 sentences a day.

That sounded so funny when I typed it up......a whopping 2 sentences a day!  Emoji

Overall, we really liked Fix It! Grammar.  I am glad we started in Book 1, even though she is in 7th grade and some of this is really easy for her.  I can see us continuing through the series of books.  I am going to give this a try with A-man who is in 4th grade this year and see how he does with a sentence a day.  I think that is probably just the right speed for him so he doesn't get overwhelmed....which is the whole idea!

This is one of those things were I definitely recommend having the 228 page teacher's manual.  It makes the day to day lessons very easy to teach, you don't have to really do much prep work and if you have questions, they are all answered in the book.  The back portion of the teacher's manual is a Glossary that lists and explains all the stuff you are teaching.  For example, when to use commas, semi-colons, and indentation rules.

In case I haven't explained how Fix It! Grammar works, here is a link to a webinar that explains it all.

You can try out Fix It! Grammar yourself. The student book is $15.00 and the teacher manual is $19.00

Find out what other TOS Reviewers thought of Fix It! Grammar.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Goings On.....Summer 2014....Part 2

When we got back from our road trip up north, it was time to start school.  Literally, like, the next day.

This year, D-man and A-girl are both attending the local college prep high school that was started by homeschoolers.  The beauty of this school to me, is two-fold:  They only attend class 2-3 times a week (so I still get to see them a lot!), and it is a college prep school (hard classes with high expectations!).

D-man....11th grade......ignoring the woman who got up early and made him a hot breakfast for the first day of school, saying hello (and, I am sure, other mushy things) to J-girl on her first day back to school too.  (They don't attend the same school.....poor things.)

A-girl with her slightly nervous grin.....9th grade.

See?  She can look at the woman who got up early to make her a hot breakfast on the first day of school!

Off they went.....with their huge backpacks!

I had originally planned on starting our home school students on the same day....but we got home late Saturday night/early Sunday morning....Sunday was my birthday.....and I am just not that the other 4 got another week of summer break.  Really though, considering A-girl and D-man started school on August 4th, the other kids still started earlier than a lot of people!

Rainman was off on Monday, so we could co-teach on the first day of school.

L-girl, as usual, was very self-sufficient and hit the books hard while I was still sipping my coffee!

L-girl.....7th grade.
Look at her little coffee cup all full of freshly sharpened pencils!  Love this girl!

A-man....4th grade.

Captain America t-shirt made by L-girl for him.  Nice fake smile for me, dude!

 S-girl....2nd grade.

Must be the day for crazy smiles or something.....

And, you may have seen a preview of this in some of my other pictures....


Yes, she started Kindergarten this can that possibly be?  I also realize it is time to change her (and the other kids') picture on my sidebar...she is not really my baby anymore, is she?!?

I just love their diligent little faces as they do their school work.  

We have some days that don't go as well as others, but on the days that do go, there is nothing like it.  

I still love, love, love that we can homeschool.  I love that I get to spend lots and lots of time with all 6 of my kids.  I really do.  I can't explain it to people.  

I love that I get to hug and snuggle with them during school hours, just because.....or, because they are struggling with reading or writing or arithmetic.  We snuggle.  We wipe away tears.  We try again, until we get it!

I love it.  I really do.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Goings On......Summer 2014 - Part 1

I finally have my computer back and now that we have started back into school, I can back to a bit more regular blogging about our lives.

We went on a whirlwind road trip to see family this summer.

We started at a family reunion for Rainman's side of the family.  Three of his siblings were missing this year though.

My kids were in heaven for numerous reasons......lots of cousins....and lots of babies!

V-boy giving V-girl one is his "love" head butts.  It is the most adorable thing in the world!

Rainman, Mini J-girl, and A-girl.

It warms my heart that my boys love babies just as much as my girls do!

A-man with one of the happiest, easy-going babies ever....E-girl!

Pool fun.  Since we don't have a pool at our new house, they had a great time at the pool.  There is A-girl in her fabulous homemade swimsuit.

I cannot even tell you how many times L-girl and I fought over possession of the babies on this road trip!  Seriously.

Our cabin was near a town called French Lick, Indiana.  D-man, V-girl and I went and walked aroundthe hotel and grounds.  D-man is trying to get a selfie of himself with the fancy chandelier to send J-girl. 

From the reunion,  we went and spent the day in Rainman's hometown so he could play a round of golf and attend their annual Pierogi Fest.  I hung out at his brother's house snuggling with Mini J-girl and was a happy camper.  Bonus:  They brought me a plethora of Polish food to eat.

Photo: Paulie with the Pierogifest Buscias

Here is his cousin Paulie with the "Bushas"!

We left his hometown and headed up to my brother's new place in Wisconsin.

We even managed to get all the grandkids together in one place....that hasn't happened in awhile!

I love their new place!  Rolling hills, dirt roads, cows....and my family.  I was in heaven.

They have a river near their house, so the kids and a few grown ups went and played there, while the rest of us took the nearby Leinenkugel's beer tour!  I don't even like beer...but I really liked the Summer Shanty and the Berry Shanty....which Rainman says doesn't prove a thing because they aren't "real" beers!

This is my brother and his wife posing in front of their "Glamper".  This is a random shot from somewhere they were visiting.....because I totally forgot to take a picture!  I just wanted to show you were Rainman and I slept while we stayed there.  It is the coolest thing ever.  It really is the best way to camp.  A real bed.  Doors and windows to protect you from stray wildlife that may want to come and visit....but with screens and windows so you can see the stars and hear the nightsounds.  I slept great!!!!  It apparently even has a t.v. and DVD player if you want to watch movies!

We had time to fix each others hair, tell an embarrassing dating story...or two....hurt Rainman's feelings (who was sitting in the next room with the guys) with above mentioned story....have a little more baby time...and then head over to Minnesota.

In Minnesota we spent more time with my mom and sisters.  D-man was in heaven with my mom's new to her lawn mower....we haven't had a riding mower at our house in years.....he was a very happy teenager!

We concluded our whirlwind trip by spending a day or so visiting our friends that are, as my kids calls them, "almost cousins" in Iowa before our trip back to Georgia.  And, I realized as I was putting together this post that I took exactly "0" pictures of our time with them.  Zero!

There really is nothing like family.  I know some people don't really like their families, so seeing them, or not seeing them is no big deal.

That is not how we feel.

We love our families.  Both sides. I love his side of the family, and get along great with them.  He gets along with my side too,  although I will admit there are times that he just sits back and shakes his head at us sometimes.....especially when I am with my sisters.  I am sure it is just because we are just so darn adorable and clever that there are no words to describe it.  Right?

There is a comfort and safety when we are around them.  They understand you....and your quirks. They will laugh until they cry with you.....I have discovered that this is a rare gift to have in your life.

I felt like I breathed deeper the closer to Minnesota I got.  I do love

But, it still really isn't.....home....yet.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

7 Minute Life - Review

The 7 Minute Life is a calendar/organizing/planning solution....or, in their official terms....time management strategies to prioritize, organize & simplify your life. 

I got to try a 7 Minute Life Daily Planner for about a month.....because this was for adult.

The idea behind this planner is, basically, that time management is a process of planning - which means you take time to "think" about what you want to do....then you set goals.....the "what" comes before the "when" in, you aren't ready to actually put anything on your schedule yet.  Now, you need to take the "what" and break it down into action steps....the micro-actions that you can actually accomplish.  The point is to keep all of this is on a single piece of paper, so you can see yourself completing the goal.....and not lose track of the goal.

How about the "7 Minute" part of it, you say?  Well, that stems from a study that shows the average attention span of an adult....yes, an 7 minutes.  I was discussing this concept with my friend Lydia and she was sort of horrified if that was the case.  We were both left a little sad by the idea that we only have a 7 minute attention span.  So, the idea is that you spend 7 minutes a day, planning or prioritizing how you will spend your time to accomplish your goals.

One of the other interesting concepts of this Daily Planner is the 5 before 11 list.  This means you choose 5 high value activities (that you allow in your life) for each day to accomplish by 11:00 a.m.

This video is a mini-breakdown of the whole system and the mentality behind the system by the creator, herself, Allyson Lewis.  It is well worth the time, and will leave you newly motivated to start your own 7 Minute Life.

In case you need a little more assistance getting started, here are a series of little, short videos that will walk you through how to initially tackle The 7 Minute Life.

Let me give you a few key points from the introduction section of the 7 Minute Life Daily Planner. Yes, there is about a 20 page introduction section to the Daily Planner.  You can't just jump in and voila! life is organized and productive.

Nope.  You have to do a bit of homework before you get started.  The first thing Ms. Lewis recommends is slowing down.  Yes.  Slowing down.  She wants you to slow down and think.  Think about what is truly important in your life.

The goal with making yourself slow down and truly think, is that it will help you re-connect with things in your life and rediscover your purpose.  The goal is to cut through the noise of life and end the insanity by clearly identifying your purpose, values, goals, etc.

Sounds pretty lofty, doesn't it.  But, Ms. Lewis does a great job of explaining how you can get there in small, bite sized pieces.

You still have to do the personal work yourself, but she gives you the carrot stick of the possibility of having a different life/day/hour/minute at the end of the work.  You know, the old, Dr. Phil-ism....which, I think, Albert Einstein actually said first....."insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result".

So, yes, you will have to make get different results.

The first step to your new life is prioritizing your top 10 values.  

Does this have anything to do with time management and planning?  Well, actually, it does....or, more accurately, it should.  You should be spending the majority of your time on things that matter to you....things that line up with your values.  I had never thought of things in quite this way before, but the way it was explained, made a lot of sense to me.

So, for instance, someone's daily planner  whose personal values included values like "achievement", "excitement", and "power", shouldn't be the same as my daily planner, whose value words include "friendship", "joy", and "financial security".  

Once you have your values narrowed down, you jump into discovering your purpose.  You know, what you do for others, or how your use your gifts and talents to change the world.  Little things like that.  Emoji

There is a sentence prompt at the end of this section that really threw me.

At the age of 85, I will know I have fulfilled my purpose when.......

See what I mean?  How do you even begin to answer that one.  This Daily Planner takes a lot of thought and......homework.  

One of the best parts of this beginning homework section for me was the Your Highest and Best section where you are asked about what is the best use of your time right now, and to describe what you love the most, your strengths, your highest value activities, AND, how you want to be rewarded.

In this day and age where we are asked to fit more and more into our days....whether it is work responsibilities, personal ones.....or church volunteer activities.  You cannot do everything.  You do have to say no to some things.  Thinking of these things in the "highest and best way"....highest use of your time....right awesome.  Taking on that project or saying yes to teaching that class at church, may NOT be the highest and best for you....and that is absolutely, positively, 100% okay.

I had a light bulb moment when Allyson talked about the evils of "unfinished tasks" in your life.  She quotes from a book by David Allen, where he calls unfinished tasks "open loops" in your brain.  I knew exactly what they were talking about.  These open loops just continually circle in the back of your mind....popping in to the front of your mind every now and again....making you think you need to get that you smack it back into the recesses of your mind, but it will continue to fester and send out distress signals to your mind....making you miserable..... until you complete whatever that unfinished task is.  

I totally, totally, totally got that one.  It is so true.  I am a list keeper by nature, so I do already keep a list of things that I have "To Do", because it helps empty my mind of some of those "open loops" I have going in my brain.   But, I don't keep them in one, I lose my lists....a lot....adding another "open loop" of having to find my latest list....or remembering what is on it!

As much as I agreed with so much of what was said in the introduction of the Daily Planner and after watching Allyson explain things in the video, I was scared to start using it.  I was scared to do the homework.  I was even scared to actually write in the planner.

I took me awhile to get through  the homework.  Longer than it should have.  And, I will be honest, I didn't finished ALL of it (like setting 90 day goals), but, I did enough to learn quite a bit about myself.....and to get started using the Daily Planner.

I like a lot of things about the Daily Planner.  I like that it has everything about your life all on one page.  Look again.....

See?  It has 5 before 11:00, Unfinished Tasks, What I Spent....and even the bottom section that shows how much water I drank, whether I slept enough, exercised, had reflection/devotion time, or even read.  And ends with a simple, but profound question that sometimes depressed me when I had to say "no".  The questions was:  Did I do what I said I would do today?

I did have to answer "No" quite a bit.  But instead of letting myself sink into the depths of despair that I am a total loser that can't get anything done, I just gave myself permission to set smaller goals for myself.  Okay, sometimes, I did let myself sink into the "total loser" category....but I didn't stay there long.

There are sections that didn't necessarily apply to where I am in life right now.  I do work from home, and I do want to grow my business...some... eventually.....but, I don't necessarily need to have contacts or connections or do networking....everyday.  You know?  Yes, I need to make dentist and doctor appointments and even an occasional contact with someone I am doing work for, but until I am at the point where I am going to expand my business, those sections didn't need to be quite so large....or even there.  

There is section on the next page that is for your actual appointments and voice mails.  Right now, the appointments section was too small for me.....because we have a family calendar that we use for all 8 of us.  But, I love the idea of "my" stuff being in one I will be tweaking this.  The voice mail piece I love, because usually, I am scrambling for a piece of paper and pencil wherever I happen to be when I listen to the message.  Again, it keeps things simple.....all in one place....all in one book.  
The look of the Daily Planner is awesome.  I love the green, however, now that I am in my mid-40's, my eyes don't work as well as they used, in the places when the printing is in the lime green.....I had a hard time reading it and usually had to do the dance in front of my face where I moved in closer, tilted it so the light hit it better and figured out what it said.  Emoji!!!!  

I like that you can start the Daily Planner whenever you aren't tied into a specific date, month, or year.  You just write the date on top and start.  

Here is a way to close up some of those "open loops"!

There is a lot of support behind The 7 Minute Daily Planner, like access to free time management strategy tools.  

You can get your life under control, with less chaos, or even just do your own homework to find out your purpose in life, by getting your own 7 Minute Daily Planner for $24.95.

See what other TOS moms thought of the 7 Minute Daily Planner.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Heirloom Audio Productions - Review

I shared with you recently how much I love audio dramas.  Well, we got the chance to review another great one when we received Under Drake's Flag  from Heirloom Audio Productions.

This is a very professional two CD set of Under Drake's Flag.  The drama is based on G.A. Henty's book of the same name.  It is designed for ages 6+....but, as usual, V-girl, who just turned 5 was listening in with us and enjoyed it too.  I listened to this alongside A-man, S-girl, and V-girl.

The back of the CD says that the CD has 2 hours of non-stop adventure.  I agree.  It was definitely action packed.

We listened to this either while we ate lunch on school days or just after lunch when we would normally have read aloud time/quiet time together.

Some days, the kids sat at the table and doodled while we listened.  Other days we just all piled together on the couch and listened to the story.

There are so many cliff hangers built in, that it was sometimes hard to know when to stop and restart on a new day.

The story tells about Sir Francis Drake from the perspective of young Ned Hawkshaw, and Gerald (I call him Ned's trusty sidekick!),  who end up serving on Drake's ship. There is pretty much everything a youngster could want in a story....especially if that youngster is a boy.  There are shark attacks, battles/fights, shipwrecks, damsels in distress, and, of course, the Spanish Inquisition.

I will say that A-man enjoyed this a bit more than the girls....although I was surprised that they really paid attention to the story and watching their eyes get big when the story was unfolding was funny....and cute.

D-man was home one day when we were listening and after complaining about how loud we had the volume turned up, asked what it was about. A-man told him and D-man said, "Oh, yeah, Drake and the Spanish Inquisition....we studied that last year."

A-man stopped what he was doing and said, "Wait!  This is a true story?"

Somehow, he had missed that part of my lecture....that this is was a story based on a real person and real events that had happened in his life.  So, yes, A-man this was real history you were listening to! (He later realized that there is a section on Sir Francis Drake in his Piratepedia book!)

D-man then went into a mini-lecture of his own about how important Sir Francis Drake was in history.....American history.  He said that thanks to Drake's genius military strategies, Spain lost a battle that they should have won.  Had the Spanish won, they would likely have gone on to be the great European power instead of Britain and the new colony of America would not have been the same.  America wouldn't be what or who we are now.

It was an interesting conversation.  Rainman even got in on the discussion of whether D-man was saying that it would have been a bad thing for America to be a Spanish colony rather than a British colony.  The debate between the two of them trailed off into the kitchen, back to the living room and into the bedroom to put clean clothes away.   The rest of us had stopped listening by then.  Life in a homeschool house!  Right?

This is really and truly a high quality recording.  The sound effects were so good, they were sometimes startling.  The actors.....of which, there about 20.....were spectacular.  Overall, it is just a quality drama.

I love seeing the kids immersed in the story and sitting on the edge of their seats to see if the shark would attack or if the girl would be saved.

Under Drake's Flag and the stories it tells of living in this time period, reminded me that we aren't necessarily raising our young men to be.....real men.  If you know what I mean?  I guess I am not really sure what I meant.  Just that as I listened along with the kids, I realized how hard life was back then.  That mother's had to be okay sending their young men.....boys, to work out in the world.  That those same boys Ned and Gerald in Under Drake's Flag....had to have a strong work ethic, a lot of skills and be able to handle a lot of responsibility......and even deal with conflict without having a mom or dad to run and tattle to.....that boys in this day and age just don't have.

It made me feel both blessed that I don't have to send them out into the world as a boy to serve on a ship out on the ocean.....and a little disappointed that my boys don't have some of those same skills that the boys in the story had.

The characters in Under Drake's Flag faced some tough choices in life.....not the "tough" choices our kids make.....Who do I take to the dance?  What do I wear?  What am I going to do if I can't have my phone for half a day?  These days, we prolong childhood with adolescence and don't expect much of them....or we explain their poor choices away by explaining that science has proven that their brains aren't fully developed until they are 25.  That kind of logic didn't fly in Ned and Gerald's day.  They were expected to be young men and perform their duties and make the right choices....whether their brains were fully developed or not.

I know, I kind of went off on a tangent there didn't I?

I really enjoyed Under Drake's Flag and so did, A-man.  S-girl and V-girl liked it, but not as much as A-man and I.

There was a short, 15 mini-page study guide that came with the CD.  It is divided into 3 sections for each part:

Listening Well
Thinking Further
Defining Words

I didn't use this every time we listened, but I usually looked through the questions and cherry picked a few that I thought they would be able to answer.....or that would start a discussion....or, picked a vocabulary word or two for us to learn.  There is a much more detailed study guide available on-line which would enable you to really dig in as an in depth history study.

There is even a mini-Bible study in the back of the book.  The Bible Study II section on "True Manhood" just solidified the feelings that I was having about raising men   It is a little fuzzy in my picture, but it talks about Ned's coming of age and particular ideas of what a "real" man is.  Things like courage, self-sacrifice, mercy, wisdom, and faith in God.  That is my kind of man....and hopefully, I am raising that type of man at my household.

The total recording time was about 2 hours, but, he story moved really quickly.  I will say it occasionally moved a little too quickly and we were left trying to figure out who was talking and who actually died....but we always figured it out, so it wasn't a big deal.

If you want to listen to a fun, well acted, exciting sounding historical story, you can get Under Drake's Flag two ways:  An instant download for $20, or the two CD set that we got for $29,95.

Go and see what other TOS Reviewers thought of Under Drake's Flag by Heirloom Audio Productions.