Visiting my BFF in Alabama!

Since I've started this blog over 5 years ago, I have been blessed to come to know some dear women who came across my blog for many personal reasons and contacted me via my contact button. We went on to email and really connect deeply. We are talking women from all over the US and other countries, it seriously blows my mind! Several of these gals I've even had the privilege to meet in person not just once but several times.

One of these friends is my dear "sister" Ashlee whom I just had the chance to spend time with again for the 3rd time recently. She lives in Alabama and with me in Pennsylvania, well, there is no way to do a day trip unfortunately via driving so we have to rely on flying. She came across my blog several years ago, we emailed for quite awhile then started texting every day. She has a son who is exactly 4 weeks younger than Ava so we got to walk with each other during our pregnancies.

Ava & I finally flew down to meet and stay with her in February of 2014. It was so great to be able to finally meet and talk face to face!

Then this past Christmas, I won a contest that gave Ashlee a plane ticket to fly up and stay with us! This was her first time flying and being this far north.

I had some air miles to use and wanted to fly down to see her before Ava turned 2 (since she was able to fly free) so we flew down to stay with Ashlee this past May.

Because we had a 5:40am flight, Ava and I went and stayed at a hotel near the airport the night before. Here she is enjoying a cookie before going to bed,

Headed to her house after flying into Pensacola, Florida

When we got to their home, Ashlee had a Mickey & Minnie balloon for each of them to play with. They spent SO much time batting them around and those suckers were still standing when we left!

Outside water fun and eating a snack!

 Because the weather was warmer this visit, we even went and spent the day at the beach. It was my first time being in the gulf (and she is SO lucky to only live an hour from the beach!)

The sign says Florida to the left & Mississippi to the right. Bottom left pic is Ava chilling and eating a snack while CJ on the right is passed out asleep!

I also got to experience my first Frogmore stew and I was in LOVE!!!! For those wondering what it is, it's a crawfish, shrimp, sausage, potato & corn boil (meaning everything is cooked together in one big pot with this kicking seasoning). The seafood was caught fresh THE DAY we had it, amazing! I had never had such fresh seafood before (nor had I ever tried crawfish before). I hope to try my hand at making this sometime as I know my kids would enjoy it.

I also had grits for the first time as well and promptly came home and bought some to make for my kids.

Sitting in the wagon together and a cart at Target. A funny story, Ava NEVER took a pacifier before but when she saw CJ with one, she had to steel one of his to use while we were there, silly girl!

Ava loves wrestling with her sister so she had to do so with CJ. And they enjoyed playing with the Kindle together.

Because both their 2nd birthdays were coming up and they wouldn't get to celebrate together, we tried to do a birthday photo of them together. CJ's party theme is Mickey Mouse so we borrowed his party ears though it was hard to get them to both grin together at the same time (ironically I ended up making Ava a Minnie Mouse cake for her birthday!)

I love this girl and just wished we lived closer together!!

There was only one restaurant in the Pensacola airport and after finding out our flight was delayed, I ordered some fries and thanks to the free wi-fi, I was able to tap into our home tv (through a special app I have) and pulled up Disney to entertain her. The bottom photo was an EMS truck waiting for a patient to exit the flight I was waiting for in Tennessee.

Our flight didn't land till around midnight and we finally pulled into home at 2am. We had a wonderful trip and can't wait to spend time again with Ashlee & CJ!!

February 2014
January 2015
May 2015

SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers

My children love to utilize online media both for schooling as well as just for fun but I am super cautious as to what they access and can view. We recently had the chance to review SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers from SmartKidz Media. This is an online digital streaming resource that is safe for kids to access! The media resources come in the form of videos, games, e-books and even study guides that can be accessed on any device that has internet. This was a big plus as my children could all access the website at the same time on different devices if they wanted.
When you first log in, you'll notice tabs at the top of the page. These tabs break down the different areas of the website and include:

  • World of Discovery- This breaks down even further in different video subjects such as animals, history, science, travel, exercise videos, documentaries, etc. This was one of our favorite areas!

Click on photo to enlarge

  • Music & Fine Arts- This section has classical & cultural music, blues & jazz as well as relaxation music.
  • The Mighty E-Book Collection- In this section you'll find all sorts of animated books that are broken down into different sections based on age as well as subject such as Aesop's Fables, science, reading readiness, etc. There's even a section that has classic sing-along songs. A special note about the books in this area is that they are read to the child and as they are being read, it shows the highlighted word as it's being read so it makes it easier for your child to follow along with.
  • Baby Signs Program- This is a great resource if you are teaching your baby sign language! There is even a section about potty training.

  • My Animal Family Program- This section is broken down into different categories- video storybook, fun facts and story songs. The video storybook was our favorite as it showed baby animals in their own environments.
  • Quick Find Study Guides-This section is a large resource in helping kids in different subjects such as math (which covers basic math all the way to trigonometry), science, social studies, language arts. They also show that accounting and foreign languages is coming soon.

This is a screen shot when I clicked on Language Arts. You can see the different topics that it covers.

When you choose your topic and click on it, you get a note card view that tells you the definition and gives examples.

  • Easy Learning for Special Needs- This section was developed by special need educators and therapists to help teach person, social and coping skills. The books are presented 2 different ways. "Hear the Book" plays the entire book as a movie and "Interactive" read the book page by page, highlighting the words and has the child clicking "next" to turn the page. The subjects in this section cover everyday life, going places, holidays and celebrations, sequencing, arts & science and sing-a-long story songs.
  • Living Skills Songs- This section is listed as coming soon but their description says they will have fun & lively songs that help teach children life skills.
  • Ready, Set, Sing- This section has over 200 songs that you can stream. This is handy to play on your phone in the car for the kids!
  • Fun Zone- This area has interactive games, jokes & riddles as well as puzzles.

As you can see, there is such a wealth of knowledge on this website, I only shared about just a small fraction. SmartKidz media is also continuing to add on more content to their website which they let their subscribers know about in their monthly newsletter. The website is easy to use, just click and go!

Our family is enjoying the subscription. We typically use the website on the iPad or laptop though we do have the ability to hook up our computer to the tv to stream the videos that way. We enjoyed Miracles of Nature: Part 4 that covers the Caribbean as we have been to some of those islands. My history loving son enjoyed the videos on World War 2. My older children are looking forward to utilizing the study guides when we start back with our regular schooling. We typically borrowed educational videos from the library, so I am enjoying having a selection available any time we want saving me a trip out to the library (and potentially not returning it on time!)

If this sounds like a subscription your family would enjoy, you can try out their 2 week Free Trial.

SmartKidz Media Review
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Zucchini Lasagna

Zucchini Lasagna

I've had a hankering for a good ole lasagna but I have been doing good in not consuming unnecessary sugars and carbs lately. (in doing some reading & research, our bodies are meant to eat the way God created earth, raw & natural).  Now with that in mind, I have always eaten healthy. I don't have a sweet tooth and watch portions sizes but there were still adjustments I could  make to be even healthier. Wouldn't ya know it, as I easily switched things up, 7 pounds melted off of me in no time (and I don't have much to lose but was thankful that came off effortlessly).

Anyway, I've used zucchini in recipes before as a substitute so I figured changing up my previous lasagna would work pretty well. So I was excited to give this a chance. I didn't have a recipe to follow. I just knew to slice the zucchini (from my garden) in thin, long slices. Then to sprinkle it with salt to draw out excess water. I then let it sit in a colander for awhile as I worked on the rest of my prep.

After it sat for awhile, I rinsed it then blotted each slice dry. Then I tossed the slices on the grill for about 3 minutes each side, enough to give a nice grill mark & add a bit of firmness to the slices. From there, I made my lasagna just like I would with noodles except I substituted the zucchini for the noodles. I did make a small pan of "regular" lasagna" for Kevin in case he didn't want to eat this kind.

I was so busy prepping it, I forgot to take pics as I was assembling it. But here is a quick shot of it from the side. If you truly wanted to make the zucchini look like noodles, then just trim the skin so you don't have any green showing. I knew we wouldn't care and it's some extra nutrients with the skin on.

I baked it like I would my usual lasagna. At the end, I pulled off the foil and added a bit more cheese to the top to finish baking.

Let me just say, what.a.hit!!!!! I couldn't believe how quickly this pan got devoured! In fact, I was pleasantly surprised Kevin even ate some of this and he said it wasn't too bad!   Thankfully he has come far from the bland food he grew up with in the almost 14 years we've been married!

Not the greatest pic but I tried to quick take one before it got scarfed up! I am SO making this again! 

In fact, this was the 3rd "new" recipe I've made in the last 2 days. Stay tuned for more new recipes in the coming days (all from my garden!)

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
-Nelson Mandela

 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Deut 31:6

Institute For Excellence in Writing-SWI

Over the years, I have found that teaching writing to my girls to not to be too terribly difficult. I myself enjoy writing so I was left scratching my head when it came time for my son to write reports and stories and he found it challenging. I have tried many different programs that left both of us frustrated. I had heard of Institute For Excellence in Writing (IEW) but never really looked into much. That is until I recently had the chance to review Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS) as well as Student Writing Intensive: Level B (SWI).

Let me preface this saying that this is a HUGE program and I am only scratching the surface with this review. Even in doing my research prior to receiving this curriculum, I still was amazed all that this program covers once I had it in my hands.

Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is actually a program for the teacher/parent so they know HOW to teach this program. This is the foundation to this curriculum. What you receive is 12 DVD's with over 14 hours of instruction from the IEW director, Andrew Pudewa. The first 9 DVD's cover the entire 9 unit course and the last 3 DVD's are video clips of Andrew in action teaching all the levels (K-12th grade). The DVD's come in a nice leather case with the seminars recently revised and updated. These discs cover:

  • Introducing Structural Models
  • Introducing Stylistic Techniques
  • Retelling Narrative Stories
  • Summarizing a Reference
  • Writing from Pictures
  • Summarizing Mulitple References
  • Inventive Writing
  • Formal Essay Models
  • Formal Critiques and Writing About Literature
as well as 3 other discs giving demonstration lessons for grades K-12 and taking notes from a live lecture. You also get a premium one year subscription which allows you to stream the seminar videos, some PDF downloads, audio recordings, as well as monthly webinar training.

The other part that accompanies the DVD's is a Seminar and Practicum Workbook which is a 234 page binder that covers the 9 units that are taught to the student. Also in these units you'll find teaching tips, answers to frequently asked questions, student samples for each level as well as other info in the back of the binder. The binder comes with tabs to divide all the units up making it easy to locate what you need.

The other piece of curriculum we received was The Student Writing Intensive: Level B. This includes 5 DVD's in a hard case, 4 of them with the student lessons and one disc being the parent overview.The discs include:

  • Disc 1-Outlines, Summary, Dress-Uo
  • Disc 2-Story Summary, Dress-Up
  • Disc 3- Reference Summary, Paragraph Structures, Sentence Openers
  • Disc -Creative Writing, Sentence Openers

 There is also a student binder that includes 5 tab dividers for their work and handouts to be stored:

  • Models/Sources Checklist
  • Outlines/Compositions
  • Structural Models
  • Style Charts
  • "Banned Words"

The other piece we received was a manila envelope that had the teachers notes and student handouts included. The syllabus and course schedule at the beginning tell you exactly what your student does each day. I LOVED this part otherwise I think I truly would've felt overwhelmed trying to teach this. It also tells you how much of the video lessons to watch and where to stop it at to begin the writing exercise. Also, if you have a special needs learner, there are a lot of notes on how to help adapt this program for them. I put this entire section into my own binder to keep it organized.

How Does It Work?

The program is meant to be covered in either 15 or 30 weeks. We chose to do the 30 week schedule which is what I read that many do. You cover 1 unit roughly ever 4 weeks and you watch the DVD lesson every 2 weeks (each lesson takes 2 weeks to complete) . While the course schedule tells you to do what work to do each day, they do encourage to adjust the schedule to best fit your student.

Before starting the student lesson, the teacher needs to watch the seminar on the TWSS DVD. You can either watch the entire seminar in one sitting or break it up into parts, watching the section that pertains to the lesson your student will soon be covering. This is what I did and by doing it this way, I was staying 2 or so weeks ahead of the lesson my son was working on.

When you first start a lesson, there is a video to watch. They encourage the parent to sit down and watch it with their child so they know exactly how and what was taught to be able to better help them.

From there, we just followed the syllabus and the schedule listed in the teachers manual. In the teachers manual, at the beginning of each lesson, it tells you what they will be working on such as making a keyword outline (which they also provide a list of what these words could be so if you as a teacher aren't sure, there is something to reference.) There are a lot of helpful notes in this section with even references of web links to give further help. After the teachers note, the student handout papers are there and you give them to the student when the schedule says to.


How We Used It

Let me tell ya, when I opened up the box of curriculum I was overwhelmed by all I saw. I was thankful for the paper laying on top that was a quick start guide. It told you what package to open and what pieces to put in what binder and the order it needed to go in. I did notice that they have an online forum so if we needed support, we could easily go here to ask questions.

Once I had everything in place, I watched part of the TWSS DVD to prepare myself on how to teach my son. Just as a note, you could use this program with just the TWSS portion but I love having curriculum already put together so I don't have to do that so I couldn't imagine not having the Student Writing Intensive on hand as well.

One of my tips is that I used sticky tabs to post on the syllabus page and one on the current lesson page, making it easy to quick go to!

At the beginning of each lesson, my son and I sat down together to watch the lesson and I gave him the handouts as directed. From the very first lesson, my son was encouraged. See, IEW starts out by giving the student a written paragraph and teaches them how to pick out key words called a keyword outline (KWO). They pick out 3 words from each sentence and write them down either using the word or a symbol to represent a word. 3  of the words or symbols are written per line then they eventually rewrite the paragraph in their own words. Other curriculum's we had used would give a subject and expect the student to write about it and that is where my son struggled. He said it made sense on how to write a keyword outline by using something already written out. He spends 2 weeks practicing each lesson by writing several different pieces which helps him with mastery.

There is also a composition checklist that goes along with each written piece he is to complete. This reminds him to make sure his writing includes the things he just learned about in each lesson, to make sure it's double spaced, etc.

The lessons continue to teach more writing skills such as using adverb dress-ups, words they shouldn't use such as "said, thought and went" and using more creative words in place of those, reinforce who-which clauses, writing titles and so much more.

I do think we FINALLY found the writing program that clicks for my son and is something he WANTS to do! This curriculum will also help teach him the skills that he can take over into his other subjects and how to write reports and papers.

I keep the entire curriculum in a tote making it easy to grab when it's time to do writing!

I anticipated this program working well for him so in addition to the products I received to review, I also purchased A Word Write Now which is a thematic thesaurus. I know part of my sons challenge is coming up with creative words so I figured having this at his finger tips would help expand his vocabulary as he writes. I also purchased Portable Walls which is a sturdy fold-out that has key points for each unit that he can look at at a glance for a refresher as he is writing. It also has some word lists as well. My goal in purchasing these 2 items was to make writing easier from him with tools available at his finger tips.

Connect with IEW on:
IEW Blog
IEW Review
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Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal

Field trips are one of my children's favorite things to do and since we homeschool, we have the flexibility to take them wherever and whenever. Recently, Apologia Educational Ministries came out with an all new book called Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal that we had the chance to review. We have loved Apologia's science curriculum's over the years so we were looking forward to seeing what this journal offered.

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal

What Is It?

This journal is a 64 page book that has 6 different sections. It isn't like most typical journals as the pages are done up colorfully to present like a scrapbook. The book is spiral bound and the pages are made of a heavy card stock. The front and back cover are laminated making this journal durable to take with you even on fieldtrips.

The 6 sections of this journal are:

  • Preparing for a Field Trip
  • Field Trip Ideas
  • Places I've Explored Maps
  • Field Trip Pages
  • Special Spot Pages
  • As I See It Pages
Several of the sections also have a page or 2 before it listing specifically how to use that certain section as well as giving you ideas of things you could record or do.

The "Preparing for a Field Trip" section is 2 pages that give ideas of how to get ready for a field trip even a week beforehand. There are tips for teachers and students which would come in handy for a co-op group that is going together.

The "Field Trip Ideas" section is just that, 2 pages of field trip suggestions. They are divided by different topics that then give ideas of places to go and things to do, such as visit a recycling plant or start a garden, Also included in this section is a special link and password that takes you to a webpage that Apologia put together giving even MORE ideas of field trips as well as links to maps,  museums, virtual field trips, etc.

The "Places I've Explored Maps" has 2 pages dedicated to record where you've visited in your own state, 2 pages to list where you've traveled in the United States and 2 pages to list where you've traveled around the world.

The "Field Trip Pages" is a section where you can record about a specific field trip you took. This area is cleverly done up like a scrapbook with a place to draw a map (or maybe even print one out and tape it to this section.) There's a spot to record any books you may have read to prepare for this trip, a place to tape or draw a photo and then a whole section to record about your day in your own words. There are quite a few of these pages so you could use this for many different field trips.

The "Special Spot Pages" is a unique way to document a certain place during the 4 seasons of a year. The idea behind this is to pick a special spot at least 20'x20', whether this is in your backyard, a park or a field. It's supposed to be a place no one maintains. Then one time each season, you are to take a photo of this spot and write down on the specific page your observations noting what changes you see from season to season.

The "As I See It Pages" is a more general section for the student to record field trips or other observations. Some of these pages have prompts for an idea of what to observe and record such as "predators and prey" but many are left blank.

The first thing my children did when getting this journal was to list down the 14 countries they've visited so far. They hadn't realized just how long that list was until seeing it in writing. One of my daughters also started recording the growth in our large vegetable garden by taking weekly photos to attach in the book and writing down the changes she observes. Even though we had done most of our field trips right before getting this journal, we still went back and wrote about our cruise and some of the things we did and memories we made.

A neat thing to note about this journal is it can be used by just one student or you could use it as a family journal where everyone contributes to it. Not only is it a way to journal after you've already completed your field trip but it's a place to also write things down before going somewhere such as a wishlist of sights you might want to see while you are visiting a certain location.

We are looking forward to continuing to explore the list of field trip ideas this journal gave us as well as having a place to write down about what we did! This journal would be a great addition to the end of year portfolios as well.

Connect with Apologia on:

Check out my previous Apologia Reviews we've done:
Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics
Zoology 2
Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review
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PianoWithWillie From JazzEdge

Last year we had the chance to review HomeSchoolPiano so when we were offered a new program to review from JazzEdge, I was excited! This time it was ME who had the chance to try out the program, PianoWithWillie. I was given Studio Access to review.

The reason why I chose to review this program myself is I started taking piano lessons many moons ago when I was just 10 years old but hadn't had formal lessons since. I only took lessons for a year or so but went on to continue to self teach in not only piano but saxophone and flute as well. In fact, I went on to play all 3 instruments at competition level in high school.

Once I left home, I no longer had a piano to play for hours at a time like I used to. Fast forward to 5 years ago, and I finally bought a small upright to grace our living room with for not only me to play but to teach my children on as well. My older kids learned a lot through HomeSchoolPiano last year. So I was excited to brush up my skills with PianoWithWillie.

This program is very easy to access. You can log in on your laptop, iPad or mobile device. I first set up my account on my laptop but when I went to watch the videos, I used the iPad so I could sit at the piano to practice with Willie as he taught the lessons.

I was at first overwhelmed at all I could do with this program. I could easily dive into the over 3,000 lessons on the site. Or I could've started with the "getting started guide" or "30 day success playbook". While I checked both of those out, I realized I was beyond those skills already.

BUT if you are an older student, say 10 years and only starting out playing piano, those lessons would be the perfect place for you to start. While I wouldn't recommend this program to a young, new to piano lessons child, an older child could start with this program no problem.

Let me back up and explain just how unique this program is. Each lesson is a video lesson from Willie himself (and he is a fun teacher, easy to listen to and follow along with!) What I love about each lesson is that it is a split screen. There is the video in the lower corner of Willie talking while he is explaining what he is doing. Then there is the video of his keyboard that shows his hands as he plays and right above that is the screen of the keyboard simply highlighting the notes he is playing. That really brings to life just what he is playing. I loved being able to see his fingering. It's one thing to read a book or read what your fingering should be for a certain chord, but seeing it being playing really helped a lot.

Since I was beyond the beginner program, I decided to take his 22 point assessment that asked me a lot of questions about what I already knew and what I was wanting to learn. I realized I could've answered a lot of different ways as there are many things I'd like to learn more about such as improvisation and gospel playing for church. I took the assessment and it custom tailored me a lesson plan based on my answers. So that is what I started with in working on this review. It gave me "Church and Worship Performance Advanced". (just a note, I could've retaken this assessment and gave different answers and gotten a different result. You can have more than one tailored lesson plan on going as well.)

The 4 lessons highlighted were:

  • Preacher Chords (Vol 1)
  • "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"
  • "Blessed Assurance (Easy and Contemporary)
  • Contemporary Chords and Progressions

I started out watching the first video with the iPad while sitting at the piano. I loved the ability to be able to pause the video while I practiced the lesson. If I decided I was done working on the lesson, it automatically saved the video where I left off at and started me there again when I came back to work on it.

There are so many things you can learn under Willie's skillful guidance. He covers many genre's, theory & skills,  how to play certain songs, etc. In fact, most of his lessons also include the ability to print out sheet music to songs or skills you are trying to work on.

Honestly, I know I only scratched the surface of all he has to offer. I tried to practice 3-5 times a week during this review but since I don't always have the hours a day to play like I did as a teen, I know I haven't even begun to cover all his lessons afford. Definitely worth taking a look at as he offers many different memberships that you can tailor your schedule to. I appreciated the fact that I can work on my lessons at my own pace. And if I have to repeat a video, well, so be it! I could tell that my improvise skill as well as fingering skills improved after watching his lessons and practicing. I look forward to further honing in my piano playing in the months to come!

JazzEdge Review
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