Thursday, August 17, 2017

"A Name Unknown" (Historical Fiction)

I was blessed to receive a great "Summer Read" for review this month, A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White. I know that summer is *almost* over (although technically there is still over a month left before the Autumn Equinox...), but this would be an equally marvelous book to curl up with next to a fireplace! 

I love a book that has weight, both in number of pages (426!)  and in content. Although this is a Historical Romance, which some might consider a "light" read, it is also filled with wonderful historical tidbits, and thoughtful insights into the Christian walk, all while recounting the story of the intersection of two unlikely, delightful characters~ a feisty thief who knows no boundaries, and a stuttering gentleman, who guards his solitude and true occupation. 

Here's a bit about the book from the publisher: 

White 1About the book:

She's out to steal his name. 
Will he steal her heart instead?
Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they are no longer pickpockets-now they focus on high value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. Rosemary's challenge of a lifetime comes when she's assigned to determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany. How does one steal a family's history, their very name?

Rumors swirl around Peter Holstein. Awkward and solitary, but with access to the king, many fear his influence. But Peter can't help his German last name and wants to prove his loyalty to the crown-so he can go back to anonymously writing a series of popular adventure novels. When Rosemary arrives on his doorstop pretending to be a well-credentialed historian, Peter believes she's the right person to help him dig through his family's past.

Anger and danger continue to mount, though, and both realize they're in a race against time to discover the truth-about Peter's past and about the undeniable attraction kindling between them.

About the author:

Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she's homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of over a dozen historical novels and novellas, ranging from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her British series. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to make their way into her novels . . . to offset her real life, which is blessedly boring. She passes said boring life with her husband and kids in the beautiful mountains of eastern West Virginia.

Find out more about Roseanna M. White and A Name Unknown, and read more reviews at this link.

I really enjoyed the main characters in the story, both their personalities and their growth throughout the story, as well as the historical setting prior to the beginning of World War I. I particularly appreciated Peter, the unlikely hero, with his book-hoarding, reclusive, thoughtful, and inspirational qualities. There are many levels on which I identify with him. ;) The heroine, Rosemary, is a quick study, resourceful, and responsible in spite of the life of crime in which she finds herself stuck through no particular fault of her own. 

I don't think I've previously read any of Roseanna M. White's work before, but I am definitely interested in see her treatment of other time periods and characters, if this book is any indication of her typical writing.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Greek "n" Stuff Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! - Level 3 (ElementaryLevel Review)

Way back when I started homeschooling with my Eldest, over a decade ago, I decided to introduce her to a smattering of many languages, and when the occasion arose, we used Greek 'n' Stuff 's Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! Level 1. When the opportunity turned up through the Homeschool Review Crew to try it again with my Youngest, we went for it, using the Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! - Level 3 Set, as recommended for his 4th grade age.  *Other Crew Members received
Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! - Level 2, while others received Bible Studies (in either KJV or NIV on Jonah and Ruth, Esther, I Samuel, and Acts. Be sure to click through the link at the end of my review to see what they thought about these other products.

We received a Biblical Greek Worktext, a full Biblical Greek Worktext Key, and a pronunciation CD for levels 3 and 4.

The Answer Key is the first thing to read through, with a letter to the Parent/Teacher. This is followed up with a suggested schedule of lessons, with specific teacher tips and "helps" as needed. Those can be looked over prior to each week's lesson. It should also be noted that these "lessons" have been created for those who prefer a lesson approach. The initial set-up for Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! intended for the student to work on one page per day, and I think this is the perfect pace! :) However, for the sake of ease, I will be referring to the lesson grid placed over that framework throughout my review.

Old Version on Left, New on Right
Isn't it pretty? ;) 
The student worktext has been updated since the version I used years ago~ it's a very nice spiral bound text with full color glossy cover pages, which can help with wear and tear. It was suggested that Level 3 was a good place to start with an upper elementary child, or someone who had completed Level 2.

The first two lessons review the Greek Alphabet, and then move into review vocabulary in the next two lessons, and after that it is all new material for everyone, including those who have done Levels 1 and 2.

From our experience this summer (which may have partially been a result of the "summer vacation" vs "summer schooling" mindset of my Youngest, in addition to his specific personality), I would actually recommend going through Level 1 first, regardless of age, to give your student a solid foundation in the Greek Alphabet. Focusing on fewer letters at a time, adding in review after every 3 or 4 letters or so, and having the alphabet flashcards to practice with would be very helpful prior to jumping right in. You could always speed up some of the lessons if they are catching on quickly, but I really do think the extra time spent and "drill" via matching games, etc... are extremely useful if you want your student to enjoy the process.

Because the Greek alphabet is so different from English, and yet in some ways very similar it was very confusing for my son to jump in as quickly as Level 3 does, and he decided right off the bat that he didn't like Greek very much. Not quite the outcome I was looking for (he is also a very different child from his two older siblings, who enjoyed the puzzle of new languages...).

Because this was such a struggle for him, I decided that we would really chill out the pace of the lessons, and do as I mentioned above, using some of the practice ideas from my old Volume 1 manual, then have him redo the first three lessons in Volume 3 after that. As a result so we didn't really get into the meat (lessons 5 and up) of Volume 3 just yet. However, I can give you a good idea of what they look like.

The first part of the lesson introduces something new, with three or four pages following that offer practice with the new concept or vocabulary as well as review of some of the previous lessons. Once the alphabet has been mastered, this is a very good pace to follow.


I really appreciate that the practice pages are engaging, and use different formats for review instead of the same thing over and over again. This should definitely help to keep it fresh for the students. These are some of the "fun" pages that are sprinkled amongst the more typical pages shown above.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention again that we were sent a CD with a pronunciation guide, which is very helpful, especially if you have an auditory learner. It always sounds different when spoken by someone who knows the language well than the version heard int the head when read... ;)

While the timing and pace for this level weren't optimal for my son this summer, I have to say that this is one of the more engaging, simple worktexts for teaching a foreign language that I have seen. It reminds me of Explode the Code for teaching English. Not a lot of bells and whistles, and just enough variety to keep the child engaged. A super choice for those who are easily distracted by color and noise on a page.

  Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Instant Pot, Ancient Grains and Pork Chop (experiment)

Pretty happy with my Instant Pot still! 

Experimented tonight with center cut pork chops and grains (bulgar, quinoa, and couscous).

Not a real recipe at this point, but here's what I did...

Seasoned chops with original Mrs Dash, pepper, and Montreal Steak seasoning, then seared on both sides of each chop using the sauté function. 

Dumped in about a quart of (homemade-in-the-instant-pot-for-the-first-time using bones from a MB roasted chicken and some veggies) chicken broth, and an appropriate amount of "ancient grains" and pearl couscous.

Closed the lid and cooked on manual pressure on high for 10 minutes, natural pressure release (15 minutes before I finished it off).

Not bad! 
DH declared it flavorful
Youngest LOVES the grains
Middlest loves the pork (not a huge fan of couscous)
Eldest agrees with all the superlatives :) 
I think diced, sautéed Baby Bella's would be a very welcome addition, and maybe a little less time, as the pork is a little tiny bit dry. Tastes yummy, though!

Tomatoes are yummy Sweet Medley snacking tomatoes from Aldis to add a little Veggie color. :) 


In the Reign of Terror ~ Heirloom Audio Productions does it again ~ (AnAudio Drama Review)

Once again, Heirloom Audio Productions has come up with another stellar presentation of a G. A. Henty novel, In the Reign of Terror. My Middlest (Being the audio/Henty fan in the family) listened to this book while we were on a lengthy road trip, learning a little bit more about a terrible time in history. As always the production and cast are incomparable!

The story revolves around a young man (Harry, a 16 year old English boy), who is something of an exchange student to France. He was to be a bracing influence on the sons of the aristocratic family with whom he was to reside, while receiving a good French education himself. His father believes in the humaneness of those involved in the French uprising that was gathering speed, and is sure that Harry will be as safe there as he might have been during England's civil war. He had no idea that the French Revolutionists were only guided by a humanistic viewpoint that would allow the godless Reign of Terror to take place, throwing entire families into danger.

Harry finds himself struggling to help his hosts escape sure death, with some degree of success. The story is of dark and dreadful days, and just as with Joseph in Egypt, what man intended for evil, God intended for good, but it wasn't easy, or entirely happy endings.

While I personally don't feel the story is appropriate for those under 12 due to the gruesome concept of the guillotine and violence of the French Revolution in general (we're protective in my household), the story itself is not gratuitous in its violence, and many families may find it acceptable fare for ages 8+).

Bonus content for Audio Club Subscribers

In the Reign of Terror Original E-Book Download
Once again, a beautifully produced ebook version of the story, with a colorful background. *One thing I appreciate about pdf ebooks is the ability to search a specific word or phrase, if there is something one wants to locate in the text!

Official Script Download
A new feature that is interesting. It allows the ability to compare and contrast between the book and the script, showing what it takes to move a story from text to audio production. Kids who enjoy theatre will probably love this feature!

Study Guide and Discussion Download 
As in previous reviews, my high-school-aged son did not use the study guide, as it is intended more upper elementary/middle school use, but I do want to give you an example of how it is laid out.

I especially appreciate that it shows precisely what part of the audio book each portion covers. The screenshot below shows that this page deals with disc one, track three, minutes 9:34-13:34.
Each set of questions has three parts:

  • Listening well (Comprehension questions)
  • Thinking Further (Application questions)
  • Defining Words (Vocabulary)

There are also sometimes

  • Expand Your Learning (Background Historical Details) sections

At the end of the study guide there is a page of extra book resources (Especially suitable for older students), three Bible Studies (When God Means Evil for Good, Resistance to Tyranny, True Manliness), and further historical background, including a compare/contrast of the French Revolution and the American Revolution.

Listen Online Playlist 
(This is a change from previous reviews when MP3s were available to download directly to an MP3 device. I actually found this more difficult, as my son was listening on a road trip, so didn't have access to wifi~ we had to download the tracks to my computer and then have him listen on that (thank heavens for power inverters that allowed my computer to be plugged in to the car while traveling), or upload them to his phone. Either way, I personally did not find this to be a positive change. :( )

Official Soundtrack
Again, a change from before~ no longer a downloadable option, but "listen online"  ~ great if you have wifi, not so great otherwise (We have very limited data on our phones).

Downloadable Cast Poster and "Inspirational Quote" Posters 
Downloadable Desktop Wallpaper

If you simply purchase the CD set, Heirloom Audio Productions does still maintain some free resources including timely and inspirational articles/posts, free downloads of the study guides for each book, and a kids' corner with a variety of activities and printables.

Here's a little bit more about their new...

AUDIO ADVENTURE CLUB(<--- check="" click="" here="" it="" out="" p="" to="">This is set up as a subscription service (similar to Disney's Movie Club).
They are currently offering a $1.00, 90 day trial ~ (After the trial period is up the plan charges $24.97 every three months, and guarantees that three new physical CD sets will be sent three times per year as they are produced) this gives you the 2 CD set of their newest title (not yet available to the public) Mr. Bailey's Heir and access to many MORE resources including the bonus features mentioned above.

Some other resources include

Old Time Radio Vault~ here are some of the programs that can be accessed online

A full Crash Course on the Constitution

Discounts on previously produced Audio Adventures ($24.97 each), Daily Devotionals and "This Day in History," Educational Treasures, including rare history and grammar textbooks from the 1700s and 1800s, and even more resources and articles. 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company: Heirloom Audio Productions
  • Product: In the Reign of Terror
  • Ages: Personal opinion,  fantastic for 12+ (Company suggests age 6+) 
  • Price: 
    • $29.97 for 2 physical CD's $19.97 for the download version
    • New Audio Adventures Club~ $1 three month trial including 2 CD set of the NEXT production Captain Bayley's Heir, $24.75 every three months after.
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Want to know more about Planes and Flight? Check out Doctor Aviation!

When we received Doctor Aviation's Six-month Online Aviation Course for review, my Middlest wasn't quite on board. Although his grandfather had a huge interest in planes and flying, his interest was less so. However, I asked him to give it a go (and mentioned that depending on his use of the program he might be able to earn HS Credit for the course) and so he did.

Doctor Aviation is primarily a video course, with fifteen 45-70 minute video lessons, accessed via subscription. This course exceeded our expectations, as my son enjoyed this course much more than he anticipated. As is key with my children, "Doctor Aviation"  (aka Daryl Smith) has a pleasing voice to listen to, and he explains things well, creating a clear picture of what he is speaking about. And he should know what he's talking about~ he has an extensive history in aviation and flight (over 2000 flying hours) in his 24 years with the Air Force, including teaching at the Air Force Academy and authoring a book on aviation, published by McGraw Hill.

Here is a short introductory video to give you a taste for the course. You can also access the first session for free on the website.

The Video Lessons are broken down into three sections:
Technical Trivia ~ Scientific principles behind flight
Notable Innovators ~ Introductions to those who have affected the history of flight
Legendary Aircraft/Events ~ Specific aircraft and events that have shaped the path of aviation

Guided Study Notes
In addition to the video lessons, Doctor Aviation has made available "Guided Notes" for each lesson, to help your student retain the information given in the video lecture. These are particularly important, as one can't scroll back and forth through the video~ if you want to watch a part of it again, you have to watch the whole video.

The notes are mostly fill-in-the-blank style, which makes it quicker and easier to follow along, and also helps a new note-taker begin to understand how to take notes (ie, how to recognize the important information/keywords).

Learn More Resources
To further the learning aspect of this course there are also "To Learn More" resources including books, websites, and videos. Below is an example found at the end of one of the resource pages with specific suggestions for using the resources for further study...

High School Credit/Exams
There are also Exams (and Answer Keys) available if your student is taking this course for High School Credit... which are not accessed directly on the website. Here is the notice that shows up on the Session 5 page. We haven't gone down that path this summer, just yet, but there is avery good chance that we will continue this fall, to pick up an extra bit of HS Credit!

Some Technical Details
The website is fairly basic and easy to navigate, although the number of ways to get to each lesson was a little confusing/surprising. I'm going to detail that for you a little, just because that was one of the things that made it a little confusing for navigation/course recording purposes.

From the Dashboard Page (below) you can:
  • Watch This Lesson
  • Go to Video Course
The Front "Dashboard" Page

If you click on "Watch This Lesson" you will be brought to this page where you can click play to watch the video lesson, download the Guided Notes (Which are extremely helpful for new note-takers), and download the "To Learn More" resource for the lesson.

If you click on "Go To Video Course" (From the Dashboard Page) you will reach the following page, from which you can click on each of the 15 lessons in order to access them, so if you click on Session 2 you will reach the page shown above. This is the way my son accessed the lessons, without actively clicking on the "mark as complete" button (also shown above)... which meant that his progress wasn't recorded... oops! (Which is why is shows only 6% complete, when in fact when I took this screenshot Middlest was actually 25% of the way through watching the lessons).

You can also click on the "section" (in this case, I clicked on "the Aircraft") which will bring you to another page from which you can access the lesson by clicking on the Session number.

So, a little clunky. I really think that with a little navigation clean up, the website would work a little better. But in the meantime, when you watch a video/complete a lesson, be sure to click that big yellow "Mark As Complete" button if you want to know where you left off.

Also, if the videos could be paused (and remember where you left off if you are called away from watching for some reason), as well as offer a scroll bar if you want to re-listen to a particular portion, that would be major benefit from our perspective.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
A solid, entertaining introduction to aviation provided by a congenial authority with ample visual interest, note-taking helps, and extra resources. I could see this being super-useful to a CAP (Civil Air Patrol) program, as well as any homeschooler who is interested in flight in any way, shape or form. My semi-interested son (before watching) has told me multiple times how much he has been enjoying the program, which is a pretty good recommendation in my book! :) 
  • Company and Product: Doctor Aviation
  • Product: Six-month Online Aviation Course
  • Ages: If used alone, High School-Adult, If used together, suitable for scouting badges, etc... Middle School? And if you have an elementary student who is fascinated by flight, this would be totally appropriate for them to watch, even if some of it might be above their comprehension level. 
  • Price: $99/half year
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Monday, July 31, 2017

"Trust Fund" ~ A Modern Day "Prodigal story" movie with companion book

My daughter and I are always on the lookout for GOOD films to watch together, so we were both excited to receive the movie Trust Fund by Mapelle Films for review. We also received a go-along book Love Was Near (intended to be read AFTER viewing the movie), for YA girls.

Of additional interest to us was the fact that the cinematographer/producer of this film was homeschooled, and the cinematography is AMAZING! I will add that there is no "cheese" to be found in this film~ it is first-rate!

Quick synopsis: Trust Fund is a modern day retelling of the Prodigal Son story from the Bible.

Essentials that remain the same:
  • Wealthy Family
  • Younger sibling takes inheritance
  • Spends inheritance unwisely
  • Returns home seeking forgiveness
  • Older sibling "rivalry"
  • Sisters instead of Brothers
  • Modern setting
  • Love interest(s)

This was an enjoyable film (and, I will repeat, with gorgeous cinematography) that can easily be watched with multiple generations (12+) without any cringe-worthy moments (no foul language, gratuitous sexuality or violence which all tend to be pet peeves of mine when watching most modern films). I think it would be a work extremely well as a high school and/or college-aged "Girls night in" choice, but there is enough intrigue and the story line is such that it should be enjoyed by the males in the family as well (kind of chick-flick, but not totally ;) ).

We loved the Italian location/filming, but wish there were subtitles for when there were conversations in Italian, as it was hard to figure out exactly what was going on. ;)

You can get a feel for the quality of the film yourself by watching the trailer below...

You can make this an educational experience as well as entertainment,  by downloading Mapelle Films' Downloadable Study Guide, which comes with four parts. Each section includes 
  • Scripture ~ from the Prodigal Son Passage that is the basis for a particular scene in the film
  • Right to the Point ~ draws a parallel between the Biblical story and the movie
  • Deep Thoughts ~ trying to figure out some of the "why" behind some of the actions of the characters in the movie
  • What Do You Think? ~ Questions that assess comprehension as well as offering opportunities for application. 
If you'd like to take that educational experience a little further with a female audience, you might want to consider checking out the companion book, Love  was Near. The book follows the movie story line, with three components for each  of the 28 chapters.

In each, Reese (the main character in the movie) first writes in the first person, giving background information and insight into the story, explaining her perspective and the background for some of the decisions she makes in the movie.

The second part is written in diary form, which offers even more insight into her character and thoughts,  and the third part is more book-club-ish with a number of leading questions to ponder.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Connect with Mapelle Films and Trust Fund on Social Media, where you might hear more about their next film "How to Pick Your Second Husband~ FIRST" as well as connecting with them about Trust Fund:
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram  

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Summer Projects? Paper mache and Plaster Wrap Crafting/Sculpting Kit

Warm weather offers a great opportunity to get outside (If you live where it isn't 100 degrees F +) and do some of those messy projects which you hesitate to do indoors, using products like one of our latest review items, the Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit by ACTÍVA Products.

Before I talk about some of the process of our current creative efforts, I want to mention that these products are also good for the older students and creative folks in general (however, I used this with my 10 year old, so that is more what I'll be talking about). There are a bunch of fun things that can be done mixed-media style with CelluClay, an "instant" paper mache, as well as with Rigid Wrap, which is a plaster cloth gauze, similar to what would be used to make a plaster cast for a broken bone. I have used something like Rigid Wrap in the long ago past to make napkin rings (wrapping the plaster cloth around toilet paper tubes that were cut in one to two inch segments). I appreciate that ACTÍVA Products offers this kind of art supply in a non-toxic, non-carcinogenic form, and for those with sensitivities they will be happy to know that the products are also wheat and gluten free.

Alright,  on with the review! :)

Youngest had been talking about wanting to make a bowl for some time (One of the project options in his AWANA book last year), so while the timing wasn't perfect for us (Would have loved to do this before he completed his book in May), he was quite pleased to be given the opportunity to make one just for the fun of it.
Contents of kit~ 2 packs of Rigid Wrap, 1 package of CelluClay, and an instruction sheet.
Last photo shows that we used about 1/2 of a roll of Rigid Wrap for our project.
We loosely followed the instructions for his bowl using the instructions for "How to Create a Peppermint Candy Bowl" found in the free, downloadable e-book ACTÍVA Products' Favorite Sculpture KIDS CRAFTS. *Note: There are a variety of projects found in the book, mostly for the elementary crowd, especially if they are studying American Indians (totem pole) or Ancient Egypt (Sarcophagus).

  • Step one: Choose a pleasing shaped bowl to use for your model (preferably plastic) and cover well with Plastic wrap.
  • Step two: Assemble the rest of your items... scissors for cutting the Rigid Wrap, a vessel for holding warm water, and a work surface. We used a styrofoam tray inside a shallow cardboard box to make clean up on our porch easy-peasy! 
  • Step three (shown in 2nd picture): Cut Rigid Wrap into workable strips. Since we were covering a bowl, I thought triangles would do the best job, with the fewest wrinkles. 
  • Step 4: Begin covering the bowl, wetting the strips in the warm water (Styrofoam tray), and smoothing them on~ making sure to overlap some to give strength. 
  • Steps 5&6: Add at least two more layers on the base layer
  • Step 7: Add some decoration if you'd like. We added the wavy line by folding some longer strips of Rigid Wrap and squishing them into a rope when it was wet. *Note... we added a base to the bowl, but it may have been a little too dry by the time we did so, so that doesn't show up in the finished product... it fell off.
  • Step 8: Let it dry!!! 
    • *I will note that the instructions talk about 15 minute drying times, but I think that might be for a single layer, in dry humidity. It was probably 80+ humidity the day we worked on this, and we had three layers~ it still wasn't dry overnight~ 
      • Remedy... we microwaved it for 30 seconds at a time~ it took 2 or 3 times before I was comfortable that it was done. 
  • Step 9: Paint it! You will see in the finished photo that the inside has a nice texture~ we chose not to dab paint into all the wrinkles the plastic wrap left, and really like the way it turned out! 

  • Step 10: Coat with a protective gloss (we used Modpodge) and let dry. 

Youngest is pretty happy with his final product

While I don't recommend using it for chips or fruits, it makes a perfectly acceptable receptacle for wrapped treats! Youngest is very happy to have something to display his birthday goodies in (and offer them around upon occasion as well...). 

We didn't have time to complete a project with the CelluClay pack before we left on a two week road trip, but I have some great ideas for it. I always have ideas to use with paper mache, so I am looking forward to having a chance to do some of them with Youngest at a later date. And who knows, maybe he'll crank out some napkin rings to use for gifts later on this fall. If you are at all "crafty" this kit is worth a look!

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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