Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our First Stop After 8 Years

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I can't believe it had been 8 years since I'd been back to the place I spent about 21 years of my life ~ Memphis, Tennessee (well, mostly Collierville). For Thanksgiving week this year, our entire family was able to go back for a visit. Since she has no memories of her birth place, I am so glad my daughter could finally see where she spent the first year of her life. :)

After getting up at 3 a.m., sitting on 2 flights, one delayed and almost cancelled due to inclement Chicago weather, a progressing diverticulitis attack for this poor mama, and Southwest losing ALL 6 of our checked bags, we headed on over to Paw Paw and Grandma's house to decorate their Christmas tree. This used to be an annual event - it's what Mark and I did right after getting engaged at Howard's Donuts (coming in another post).

At Paw Paw and Grandma's house - our first stop.

Two tired faces. Good to be off the plane and welcomed by our TN family. Sad that I couldn't eat the traditional-decorate-the-tree Cheeseburger soup due to PAIN, but thankfully I began to feel better as the night progressed.

This was Shiloh's first time hanging up her initial ornament made by her great grandma. Grandma has made one for everyone in the family. :) Lincoln loved wearing his step-uncle's ear flap beanie.

After the decorating was done, we still had to stop at the Wal-Mart to pick up a few first world essentials since we had NOTHING! Well, except I did throw in my face wash and makeup bag in our little carry-on. :) The rest of our carry-on stuff amounted to books, stuffed animals, crackers, and a Kindle.

Anyway, we all needed toothbrushes, and I needed ear plugs, pajamas, and face moisturizer. It got us through until the next evening when our luggage finally arrived. Just in time to go out to dinner with these 2:

My high school BFF (the blond) and her sister who is also my friend. :) Loved seeing them, and so glad we still keep in touch!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

2014 Ornament Reveal

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Mullin got a dragon, Lincoln got a Rubik's Cube, and Shiloh got Rapunzel. Hard to tell in the photo, but Rapunzel's hair glows!

Mark surprised me with a new ornament and some World Market goodies!

Then, on to decorating . . . The kids decorate while we listen to Christmas music, and we always end with Christmas Hot Cocoa!

All these pictures were taken with my old Windows phone. :( The camera part of the phone was really beginning to take awful pics. Thanks to my sweet hubby, I now have my first iPhone, and it takes great pictures!

We love our Memory Tree!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Last Submission ~ Bitter Sweet

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I mentioned in my last post that I'd taken a much needed bloggy break. Why? Because 10 days ago, I posted my last Schoolhouse Crew review. And I just needed a break from writing!

After 5 years of reviewing around 150 products for The Old Schoolhouse, I've decided to call it quits. It's crazy to think that my youngest was only in preschool when I began writing for TOS. It was such a huge blessing to receive so many homeschool products, especially during the time of my husband's job loss.

Anyway, our lives have changed, and as my kids have gotten older, it's been a little more difficult for me to add extra work into their schedules. Not really for my daughter who is only in fourth grade, but for my boys who are in 7th and 10th grades. Plus, after my hubby changed jobs and became a full-time assistant pastor this past September, I sensed that maybe God was going to have me step down from being a full-time reviewer in order to devote all that time to something else. At first I was upset about it, but I now realize it will be for the best.

My family has been truly blessed with such a variety of courses, curricula, books, games, etc.. The experience has been well worth it, even though there were a few products that my kids didn't like. I think I'll have to do a Top 20 post or something like that soon. :) I'm so glad to have been a part of The Old Schoolhouse!

Looking forward to the next phase of life, whatever that may be. Right now, especially during the month of December, I want to immerse myself in the Word and draw near to God, devoting much time to prayer. I pray the Lord will reveal what He has for me in 2015. If not a big picture, then I trust He will be that lamp unto my feet guiding my every step even if I can't see beyond what's right in front of me.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday ~ Christmas Card Photo Fails

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I've taken a bit of a bloggy break. I will explain why in my next post, but I wanted to break my bloggy fast with something lighthearted and funny ~ CHRISTMAS CARD PHOTO FAILS.

As I've been going through all of our closets this week searching for clothes for my family to wear for our Christmas photo shoot this year, I couldn't help reminiscing about past Christmas card photos and what a chore it used to be to get all 3 kids to cooperate!!

We've always tried to send out Christmas cards (I love doing it!), but we skipped some years when the budget was way too tight. Lots of years we just snapped our own photo using the nifty timer button. Daddy would always have to rush to squeeze into the photo. Some years I actually took the kids to the ever-so-fancy JC Penney. One year, a few years ago, we hired a friend to take my longed-for-train-track family photo. Pictures turned out beautifully, however, the Christmas cards we ordered turned out too dark. Consequently, I didn't send out the cards that year. :( Thankfully, the online photo printing company refunded our money! No years have I been able to go out and buy new outfits for everybody. Do people really do that???

Anyway, for your enjoyment, here are a few pictures that didn't make the Christmas card photo cut . . .

Our 2008 Christmas photo shoot - yes, this is one we pulled off ourselves in case it wasn't obvious. ;)

Not quite working. Shiloh's really having a hard time.

Maybe a change of scenery will help? Okay, no. Mom is most likely getting a tad frustrated by now.

Oh, wonderful. Someone just bonked mom in the head. Thanks to the timer on the camera, it's a forever memory now. This one just makes me laugh!

This is the one we ended up going with. It was the best out of all the ones we took. And I didn't even post them all.

This was our 2007 photo shoot - again, we attempted to do it entirely on our own. I figured it was better than nothing. Lincoln's peek-a-boo shirt, Mullin's squint, and Shiloh's eye scratching weren't exactly the looks we had in mind.

Oh good. Lincoln's shirt is fixed, but now his face isn't quite right. And Shiloh moved her hand from her eyes to her nose. Oh brother.

I know all you mommas can relate to the stress joy of Christmas card photo shoots, right?

After much toil and tribulation, we had to settle on this one. That was the best we were getting from a 2-year-old. *sigh*

Well, this year I can't wait for our photo shoot! It's going to be so fun!!!!!!!!!!! :)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Purposeful Design {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

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Have you ever wondered what would happen if the earth was tilted a little more than 23.5 degrees? Or maybe not tilted at all? Do you know what would happen if the earth was covered in more than 71% of water? How in the world does ice float, and why do camels have those weird looking humps?

Our latest review answers all these questions and more! Purposeful Design sent Schoolhouse Review Crew members Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation, an award-winning hardback book by Jay Schabacker, entrepreneur and former aerospace engineer.

The Book

This beautifully illustrated book takes readers of all ages on a journey through the seven magnificent days of creation. Each chapter records fascinating facts about what was created on each day, and each page gives overwhelming evidence that points to an all-powerful, personal Creator who designed our world with precision and purpose for our pleasure.

The author quotes Bible verses from the creation account in Genesis, discusses scientific laws that govern our world, and analyzes features of our earth's composition that enable life as we know it. From the orbit of the moon and the second law of thermodynamics to the instincts of birds and the human cell, he takes complex concepts and explains them in a way that even younger readers can comprehend. By the end of the book, readers will understand the author's message that God isn't just an intelligent designer but a purposeful designer who loves us.

The book is a little over 90 pages long and is divided into 7 chapters. In Chapter 1, The First Day: Creation of the Heavens and the Earth the Foundation of it All, you learn more about God's involvement in the creation process and what keeps our solar system moving. Quotes from Albert Einstein and facts about the earth's orbit and rotation are included, too.

In Chapter 2, The Second Day: Creation of the Atmosphere and Water, you learn about two types of water - liquid and gas, the 10 steps of the "Rain Cycle," and how much water covers the earth's surface.

In Chapter 3, The Third Day: Creation of the Dry Land and Vegetation, you learn about the many benefits that plants provide for humans, everything from food to beauty.

In Chapter 4, The Fourth Day: Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, you learn about quite a bit! This chapter is about 4 times as long as the previous 3 chapters. You learn about the cycle of the seasons and why it is important, about the sun rise and sun set and why it is approximately the same time year after year, and about the earth's perfect tilt. You learn about the benefits of the moon, its phases, and how it affects the tides. You also learn about the stars - how many there are and how they are used in celestial navigation.

In Chapter 5, The Fifth Day: Creation of the Birds and Fish, you learn about why birds and fish were created, their preprogrammed instincts, how fish swim, and why ice floats. I love the pictures of the unique and very humorous sea creatures included in this section!

In Chapter 6, Creation Day Six: Creation of Land Creatures and Humans, you will learn about two amazing land animals - cattle and camels. You will also learn a lot about humans - this is another long chapter. You'll read about our wonderfully made bodies: blood clotting, cells, mother's milk, the brain, and the perfect design of the head.

In Chapter 7, The Seventh Day, you learn about the importance of rest. This is a very short chapter that includes Exodus 20: 8-10 and several other Bible verses.


In addition to the book, Purposeful Design provides a wonderful resource for older elementary children called the Young Explorer's Club. This is a workbook curriculum designed to go along with each chapter in the book. It contains a Kid's Workbook, Teacher's Set, and a Certificate of Completion that can all be downloaded free of charge from their website.

Workbook pages follow a predictable format beginning with the Scripture associated with that day of creation. Next, there are a few questions pertaining to the Bible verse.

After that, there is a set of fill-in-the-blank comprehension questions relating to the chapter in the book.

Then, there are several additional Bible verses provided for your child to read and reflect upon before answering a few more questions - mostly just giving opinions about which is her favorite verse and why, and what was most amazing about what God did on that particular day of creation.

The last exercise gives your child the opportunity to draw what comes to her mind when she thinks of the creation day just studied.

What We Thought

I think Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation is a wonderful tool to use when learning about creation according to God's Word. It's a nice enough book to have out on display as well. The illustrations are beautiful and definitely enhance the learning process.

It's a great read-aloud book that will appeal to readers of all ages, but some of the information might be a bit advanced for younger children. The pictures might help to keep their attention, though!

I read much of the book aloud to my 9-year-old daughter, but she did read some of it on her own. We took a break from our regular science curriculum to spend ample time on this book and the complimentary workbook pages. While my daughter doesn't like anything having to do with comprehension questions, I still had her complete them. I especially liked the additional Bible verses and questions that asked her opinions. Because of all the reading and writing involved, I'd say the curriculum part is best suited for kids at least in third grade and up.

One thing I would change is the title to chapter six. I'd make it match the other chapter titles by changing it to read "The Sixth Day: Creation of Land Creatures and Humans." I'd probably also add a description to chapter 7 to read "The Seventh Day: A Day of Rest. Totally minor and not something that would keep me from purchasing the book, but my brain wants everything to match. ;) Below are how the titles are in the book so you can see what I mean:

Chapter 1
The First Day
Creation of the Heavens and the Earth
 the Foundation of it All
Chapter 2
The Second Day
 Creation of the Atmosphere and Water
Chapter 3
 The Third Day--Creation
of the Dry Land and Vegetation
Chapter 4
The Fourth Day
 Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Stars
Chapter 5 
 The Fifth Day
Creation of the Birds and Fish
Chapter 6 
 Creation Day Six
 Creation of Land Creatures and Humans
Chapter 7
The Seventh Day

For those who may be sensitive, I also want to mention that there is a picture of a mother nursing her baby where the text talks about the benefits of mother's milk. While it's not extremely revealing, there is partial exposure. I will leave it at that, but I'd rather mention it than have someone buy the book and be offended that I didn't say anything.


You can purchase this book for $18.95. (25% off retail.) Discount prices are available on bulk purchases. Visit the website for details.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

IXL ~ Math & Language Arts Learning {Schoolhouse Review}

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IXL generously offered Schoolhouse Review Crew members the opportunity to review their online program which includes IXL Math and IXL Language Arts for a full year for up to five children.

What Is IXL?

IXL is an online, interactive learning program specializing in Math and Language Arts for students in K-12. Students can practice and master skills appropriate to their grade level by answering questions that appeal to all learning styles.

IXL provides right and left brained content, a focused learning environment free from distractions, and a reward system that encourages students to keep on learning. Detailed reports and weekly emails keep parents up to date on their child's progress.

Each grade level in Language Arts and Math shows a list of skills that are organized by topic. Students can click on a topic and begin answering a series of questions that increase in difficulty as they proceed. Questions are tailored to each individual student. Skills are not initially taught, but when a wrong answer is given, IXL shows students why they missed a question and provides instruction for that particular skill. More questions pertaining to that skill will follow to ensure mastery.

IXL tracks students' scores for each skill. Scores increase with each correct answer, however, they decrease with each incorrect answer. Students have to work harder to bring scores back up, but they always have the opportunity to reach a score of 100% which earns them a gold ribbon.

How IXL Works

My fourth grade daughter is the one using this program. She spends about 15-30 minutes a day working on Fourth Grade Language Arts skills. My review will focus on this portion of the program.

Topics and Skills

After my daughter logs in to her account, I let her pick a topic she wants to work on that day. Then she can click on a skill under the topic to begin answering questions. In Language Arts there are 50 topics from which to choose and 139 skills to practice. (Parents can also log in and sample skills without affecting a child's score/progress.)

Questions and Answers

Questions begin right after a skill is chosen. At the fourth grade level, your child will need to be able to read the questions herself. Most of the questions have been multiple choice, but a few questions have required a typed answer. My daughter is able to log in and complete her work without any assistance. She doesn't know what a few of the topics such as "Modal auxiliaries" and "Idioms and adages" mean, but for now, I've told her to work on the skills she does understand and we will get to the ones she doesn't later.

Questions begin to increase in difficulty as your child moves along. The screenshot below shows another choice being added. Sometimes the third choice will even read something like none of the above.

When your child answers a question incorrectly, IXL will give an explanation in 3 parts: review, remember, and solve. Review will show your child the answer she chose. Remember will "teach" your child the skill by giving a definition and examples. Solve will show the correct answer and tell why it is correct.


IXL keeps track of the problems your child has attempted, the time that has elapsed, and the SmartScore that has been earned for each skill.

According to the website, here is what SmartScore means:

When a child reaches a SmartScore of 100, it means she's mastered the skill and that she's answered plenty of questions correctly, even the most difficult ones for that particular skill. At any time, a child can go back to a skill not mastered yet in order to earn a SmartScore of 100.


Once your child reaches a score of 70, she receives an orange ribbon. She receives a blue ribbon for a score of 80, and a green ribbon for a score of 90. At a score of 90, your child enters the Challenge Zone. From 90-100 questions are only worth one point each. For each incorrect answer during the Challenge Zone, two points are subtracted.

Finally, after mastery of a skill is achieved, your child receives a gold medal!

Here's a sample taken from my daughter's Language Arts home page. The dark green bars show the skills she's practiced. As you can she, she's mastered 3 out of the 5 skills shown, but she needs to go back and work on "Capitalizing titles" and "Punctuating dialogue."

**Feel free to visit the website to view all of the Language Arts and Math topics and skills. You can even begin practicing skills to see how the program works before you sign up to become a member. You can also find out what the Common Core standards are according to your state if you wish. Just click on the Common Core tab on the website to learn more.


IXL offers two pricing options for family memberships:
  • Monthly plan - For either Math or Language Arts: $9.95/month. For both: $15.95/month. Each additional child is $2.00.
  • Yearly plan - For either Math or Language Arts: $79.00/year. For both: $129.00/year. Each additional child is $20.00.
*Note: Math is offered for grades PreK-12, and Language Arts is offered for grades 2-8.

What We Think

My daughter likes IXL and thinks Language Arts is super easy to use. So far, she's answered over 1,500 questions and mastered over 30 skills. I like that she can do the program on her own and that I get email updates regarding her progress. In the emails, I have the option of downloading and printing certificates of achievement like this one:

One of my favorite parts about the program is the Explanation feature. I love that my daughter can thoroughly understand why she got an answer wrong. It's wonderful, too, that the program will then make sure she masters the concept with which she's struggling by asking further questions pertaining to the question previously missed. I hope that makes sense!

Overall, I think this is an excellent supplemental program for practicing and mastering specific skills according to grade level. Click on the banner below to read what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought.

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