Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Learning about the Sun

Today was one of those days where everything just came together and clicked.  There wasn't any fighting over starting school:  I came to the table and both kids were waiting, pencils in hand to start their lessons.  I didn't have to tell them to turn off electronics, I didn't have to tell them to sit down and pay attention.  I honestly felt like I was entering an episode of the Twilight Zone. I have a feeling tomorrow will be terrible, as today was just too easy.

We quickly made our way though our daily drills and moved quickly to working on Horizon's Phonics and Reading (a review is in the works).  The kids really are seeming to enjoy this particular program and I have yet to have to fight with them to get the work done.. Today we discussed syllables and middle sounds and we quickly completed our lessons without any problems.

We're still using CTC math and have started on Multiplication.  I honestly did not know how well the kids would do with this: I had even originally planned for this week to be a review of Addition and Subtraction but they had such a grasp on both and both scored a 100% on their test last week that I changed plans and went ahead and started multiplications. Ashleigh is doing alright with it but Garrett has really grasped it well.

But without a doubt, the most fun we had today was our Astronomy lesson.  We decided to revisit Apologia's Exploring Creation with Astronomy course, since they were much younger when we went through it the first time and I figured now would be a great time to really dig into it.  Today we started our lesson in regards to the sun.

The fact that we're huge into astronomy really helps out.  Our living room, as I have mentioned before, has so much star gazing equipment that we could run a small observatory in our house (Ooh, wait, we do.. go figure!!).   So today we headed outside with a solar filter to take a quick look at the sun.

The kids were amazed at the fact they could see the sun clearly through the solar filter but that they could not see anything outside even thought it was so bright.

The Sun as seen through our Solar Filter

After looking at our local star, we headed back inside and compared the size of Earth to the sun.  Then we discussed how the earth revolves around the sun and rotates on it's axis.  Each kid got to have their turn at being the sun while the Earth (our globe) revolved around them while it rotates.

To end our science lesson today, we checked out videos of Solar Flares.  NASA has an amazing video on Youtube that shows an amazing flare that rains down on the sun.   Ash couldn't believe how big they were and she thought they were so beautiful.

To end our lesson, we looked at videos of the Aurora Borialis. Being in Southern California, this is not something we have seen in person so videos have to be our eyes to the universe.   How amazing to see the wonders of our sun.

With Lee In Virginia ( A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Stories by G.A. Henty are extremely popular with many homeschool families.  A masterful storyteller, Henty wrote amazing historical fiction that centered on main characters who displayed faith, loyalty, and good morals that students can relate to.  Heirloom Audio Productions has taken these amazing stories to an entirely new level with their "The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty" series of audio theater productions.  Heirloom Audio made a name for themselves with their release of "Under Drake's Flag", followed by "In Freedom's Cause". The third installment of this audio series, "With Lee in Virginia" once again falls into the level of audio masterpiece along with the first two.

What I received:

 I was given the opportunity to review the 2 CD performance of "With Lee In Virginia", the accompanying Study Guide as well as extras that included access to the MP3 download of the performance, an Ebook copy of "With Lee in Virginia" by G.A. Henty, the official soundtrack, a printable cast poster, a printable quote by Robert E. Lee and access to the newsletter website.


As with each of Heirloom's productions, this story starts out with an accidental meeting between the narrator and two young men on a train. This meeting leads into the main story as the narrator begins to tell these young men the story of Vincent, a young man much like them, who lives on a plantation in Virginia and owns several slaves, one of which is Dan.  Vincent feels obligated to join the Confederate forces at the start of the Civil War.  The story concentrates on Vincent who, through the story, experiences several losses, injuries, is captured by the Union Army and escapes thanks to Dan. 

With so much attention on the Confederate Flag and what it represents in the news these days, I found this production a perfect lesson for the kids to understand that there was much more to the Civil War then about the mistreatment of slaves.  This production does a perfect job of showing the relationships between many slaves and their masters; that there many cases of respect and friendship between the two.  It also shows the flip side, the abusive owners, and how they were viewed by others around them in the community as well as how those who treated their slaves wrongly many times treated others around them poorly. The main focus of this recording, however, is Duty and Heirloom does a great job of showing that many who fought on either side of the war did so not because of slavery but instead because of a sense of duty.

Heirloom audio pulls out a star studded cast for this audio adventure. Brian Blessed returned once again to narrate the story while Kirk Cameron and Sean Astin both lend their voices to the cast as well.   But even with such big names, I would have to say that Andre Soggliuzzo's performance as General Robert E. Lee is the show stopper this time around.  His performance of Lee really lets the listener get a feeling as to why Lee was so well respected, even by Ulysses S Grant.

A 48 page downloadable study guide is also included with the purchase of the 2 CD audio set. Unlike previous study guides, Heirloom Audio made improvements to include on each page the track number in which the material is presented, making it much easier to follow along.  The full color guide includes beautiful photographs and artwork depicting the Civil War and the soldiers who fought on both sides as well as information about Henty, Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson.

Listening Well Questions provide the perfect opportunity to test listening comprehension and test what your child has heard and remembers.  All answers are easily found within the listed track.

Thinking Further Questions are also provided. These questions require a bit of research or deeper thinking beyond just what was heard.  These are great for older students as a platform for independent study on the various topics covered by the recording.

Defining Words provide a vocabulary list of words that were used in the recording that students might not be familiar with.  These words are easily found within a standard dictionary.

A two page Bible Study is also included in the Study Guide. Each page uses Bible verses to allow students to see what the Bible says in regards to Duty and Loving Thy Neighbor.


I highly recommend all of the Heirloom Audio Productions as they are entertaining and have such a high educational value. This is true also with this new production. "With Lee in Virginia" immerses the listener into the times of the Civil War and brings the characters (both real and fictional) to life and will capture your child's attention much more than a cut and dry documentary.

Heirloom Audio Productions can be found on the following social media: With Lee In Virginia Facebook,  Heirloom Audio Production Facebook, Twitter, and Google +.

With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review

Book Review: Refining Fire

I've enjoyed Tracie Peterson's books in the past and I really wanted to like this one especially since the synopsis on the back of the book sounded very interesting. Unfortunately, the back of this book is extremely misleading as the two main characters turn out to be secondary characters who's stories really are not developed very well. All the mystery surrounding both characters pasts are resolved and solved in 1 quick conversation in the middle of the book. Most of this book is dedicated instead to Abrianna and Wade's feelings for each other, Abrianna's charity works, Abrianna's courtship with the protagonist of the story, Abrianna's family crisis, Abrianna's devotion to God, Abrianna's .. well, you get the point.

What makes this even worse is while Militine is a truly interesting character with a past that really could have been felt out and made into a very worthwhile story, Abrianna is a smug, self righteous brat who seems to think her devotion to God makes her so much better than everyone else. She's very critical of everyone and far from a likable character. As most of the spiritual aspects of this book come from the thoughts or conversations from Abrianna, it almost feels as if the message is being beaten over the readers head and instead of being an uplifting message, it feels forced and snarky. 

This book would have been so much better had Mrs Peterson had concentrated on Militine and Thane, developed their stories much more in depth and let Abrianna and Wade's story develop more in the background, since her third book seems as if it will be dedicated to them. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review: The Friends of Jesus

"What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear! "

So many times when I was young, we would sing this hymn during worship service. I never really gave much thoughts to the words back then, being a young teenager who was worried about so many more things going on in my life.  However, these words came rushing back to me many times while reading Karen Kingsbury's latest publication "The Friends of Jesus".

 Karen Kingsbury is without a doubt one of my favorite authors and she didn't disappoint with this latest addition. Karen is a true master of bring a story to life and she has been given such a wonderful gift to bring stories of faith to her readers. "The Friends of Jesus" is the second book in the "Life Changing Bible Story" series, the first being "The Family of Jesus" which is equally wonderful.

 Much like the first book of this series, Karen takes Biblical characters and weaves a story together that really digs deep into who each of these characters were and how their lives intertwined with Jesus.  While she takes many liberties in doing so, she adheres to Biblical facts and doesn't change what the Bible tells us but instead builds a story revolving around what we already know.

This particular volume covers the stories of 6 well known people - Simon the Leper, Martha (sister to Lazarus), Jarius (the Leader of the Galilean synagogue), Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John.  Each narrative lays out these peoples faults for all to see, only to turn around and show how Jesus's compassion and friendship with each one changed their lives. The love that the Savior had for each one of these people, each whom he held dear to his heart, displays the love he has for each of us even thought we are all flawed, just as they were.  You can't help but be able to identify with at least one of the characters when reflecting on your own faith.

If you love the Bible and want to dig deeper, this is a great way to immerse yourself. There is also a Bible study at the end of the book for personal reflection or to provide a launching pad for a group study that coincides with each character.

Our Must Read Books for 2016 {Dad & Mum's Book Stand}

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


I look in the mirror and I can see the facts just as plain as you do.  I can see the start of the double chin, the flabby arms, my no where near flat stomach.  I know my thighs rub together when I walk and I know that my body is not what Hollywood and Social Media would consider attractive.  But, you know what? I'm okay with that.

I spent many years in a relationship with an ex husband who constantly belittled and criticized my weight. When we met, I was 112 lbs, most of which was in my boobs.  After a few years of dating, I went on birth control pills which caused me to gain a significant amount of weight.  Not enough to be considered obese by any way shape or form, but I went from 112lbs to 140lbs in less than 1 month. I was told to change my eating habits. It didn't matter that I hadn't changed my eating from maintaining my weight at 112lbs and suddenly put on nearly 30lbs - the fault always lands on the diet of the person who gains weight and never on any other factors.  (It was later found that the pills had damaged my thyroid, which resulted in the weight gain).

After gaining weight, I remember my husband telling me that I disgusted him - even telling me that if I gained any more weight, he would still love me but would have to find someone else to have sexual relations with because he was no longer attracted to me.  I did what any woman wanting to save her marriage would do - I went on a diet.. I went on MANY diets. I developed a very destructive relationship with foods and calories.  I tried to make healthier meals but then my husband refused to eat them. His idea of a vegetable was either corn or potatoes, the only green vegetable he would eat was canned green beans. He threw a fit when we ate chicken and eventually he refused to even buy healthy foods at all. He controlled the money and he wanted Dr Peppers and Wendy's.

The result was either I ate fast food (which he still eats at least 2 meals a day several days a week) or not eat. I tried to watch what I ate,  I tried Slim Fast, I went to a doctor who prescribed Phen-Fen. I tried what was in my abilities but still I did not lose weight and so I cut even more calories from my day. I skipped breakfast, I usually skipped lunch and would eat a meal for dinner.  The results were I gained more weight (probably much to do with the fact that even that 1 meal, being fast food, had more calories then I needed). The only thing that kept me from being anorexic was the fast that I had people around be who insisted that I ate something at dinner and refused to allow me to only eat a salad.

For nearly 20 years, I ate like this.. Even after we divorced, the bad habits continued, although I no longer ate fast food. I was working, supporting myself (and eventually my new family) and so I made healthy meals. I swapped out white rice for brown rice, whole wheat breads, more vegetables, red meat rarely and instead chicken.  But still, I only ate one meal a day. I didn't gain weight but I did maintain the weight I was currently at, a weight that many would consider unhealthy.

Lets fast forward to 2 years ago. I went in for a checkup to the doctor and after a panel of blood work, I was told I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure.  Of course, the first thing out of the doctor's mouth was a discussion about fast food, unhealthy food and how my overeating was affecting my overall health.  No questions about what I ate, how much I ate, ect.  It was automatically assumed I was stuffing my face with Whoppers, Oreo's and potato chips all day.  I tried to talk to the doctor, he wouldn't listen. He had it in his mind I was a typical, lazy, overweight American who lived off junk food.  I was given medication for the high blood pressure and told to come back in 2 weeks. ( I should point out the doctor was a younger guy, attractive, with a drop dead makeup artist wife).

I was upset, to say the least. I work in the medical profession so to have my input so quickly dismissed pissed me off.. So, I did two things. I kept a log of all my meals for those 2 weeks. If it went in my mouth, it was recorded.. Every teaspoon of coffee creamer, any snacks.. Even the calories in my fish oil capsules and multivitamin that I took each day. The second thing I did was I asked my husband to go to the doctors appointment with me. A very attractive, ideal weight, healthy male, my husband was my support.

When my appointment came, I was once again told I needed to reduce the calories I eat on an every day basis. I was told I needed to reduce my caloric intake to 1200 a day.   So I pulled out my diary.  A SHOCKING diary it was as well. On a really good day, I ate roughly 700 calories. On an average day, I age about 500 calories. There were a few days I ate less than 300 calories.

My doctor instantly gave me attitude when I showed him a diary from a typical day. I was told "But this is only 1 day, you have to look at the overall picture of what you put in your mouth, not just one day. One day doesn't make a difference".. I tried to tell him that WAS the overall picture, again, he wouldn't listen. To him, I was nothing more than a fat body who created my own problem.

 That was when my husband stepped in and told him that was my typical eating habits and had been for about 20 years.  Well, of course, he listened to him. He looked over my food diary for the 2 weeks and said "Well, wow, you don't eat enough."  A few more blood tests and I was diagnosed with EDNOS - Atypical Anorexia Nervosa.  What that means is that I have limited my caloric intake to such a severe level for such a long period of time that I am considered Anorexic even though I am fat. Go figure!! My high blood pressure and high cholesterol is not from my diet but from my body being in starvation mode.   I was told to increase my calories, little by little, each week, my eventual goal being 1200 calories a week.

Two years later, I still struggle with making myself eat.. I still do not eat Breakfast, even though I know it's not healthy for me to do so. I just don't think about it..  Many times, I'm forcing myself to eat lunch. I make the kids lunch each day, however, half the time, I don't feel like eating. Eating during the day makes me sick.   There are days I don't even feel like eating dinner, especially if I ate lunch and once again, I'm forcing myself to eat.   When I do eat at least twice a day, I actually lose weight.  After a week long vacation at Disney World, eating their food twice a day, I came home a few pounds lighter as opposed to the normal extra pounds.  If I eat, I lose but I don't like to eat.

But people don't see that.  Instead, all they see is a disgusting fat body.

I even now, I struggle with increasing my calories.  If we were out shopping, my husband would bring me over to Taco Bell where I would get one chicken soft taco, fresco style to make sure I ate something.. That would be all I got, 140 calories.  But when you're overweight, people don't pay attention to what you eat but instead where you eat. That 140 calorie soft taco might have well been a XXL Stuffed Burrito with two helpings of cinnatwists for all anyone noticed.  It made me feel guilty for eating - guilty for trying to get healthy again, like it was a crime I should be eating anything at all.

This is why I get so upset when I read all the fat shaming.  Each time an article is published trying to convince women of all sizes to be happy with who they are, there's always someone saying they shouldn't.  People argue that we're making excuses for obesity, trying to convince everyone that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes when instead it just promotes overeating and being fat.  They tell us that being overweight means we eat unhealthy and that because a woman is overweight then they automatically feed their kids Mcdonald's and are making them unhealthy.

My kids eat healthy.  We rarely eat fried foods.  Fast foods are usually limited to when we're on the road or occasionally we get Subway out of convenience. When we are at home, our meals consist of fresh vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Salads are almost always an offering and take up a majority of the plate. Occasionally we eat breads or pastas.  I have a garden outside where I am currently growing my own vegetables and each week we buy a box of organic produce from our local CSA.  While I do admit that we drink more soda then we probably should, most times we can be seen drinking water.  But even with all of that, society today makes me feel guilty for eating at all because I do not fit their standards for attractive or healthy.

A story came out on the Huffington post today showing 14 women of various sizes posing nude. The purpose of the article was to state that America is made up of various body types, all of them beautiful.  The comments attached to the posting were downright hateful and fell in the lines of "All fat people are ugly and lazy"..   This story came on the coat tails of the viral video of Fitness instructor John Burk's profanity laced tirade where he called overweight people lazy, disgusting and bad parents.

What these "perfect" people don't realize is they help to compound the problem.. My weight problem is a direct reflection of the unhealthy relationship I developed with food in an effort to conform to the standards my ex husband demanded of me.  He once told me (after we divorced) that he belittled me about my weight because he felt that it would encourage me to lose weight. Instead, it caused a downhill spiral leading me to an almost permanent starvation mode.

These same people tell overweight people to start exercising, yet they are the ones sitting in the gym laughing at the sweaty fat person trying to do exactly that. Larger people stop going to the gym many times not because they are lazy but because they are uncomfortable with the ridicule they receive.  Even I have been out walking in an effort to do something about my weight, only to have people drive by and yell rude comments or ride up beside me and blast their horn.

Even worse, if a person responds to a debate on Facebook, there's always someone who looks at their
facebook profile and has to respond that they can't have an opinion because they are fat and ugly. At what point did someone's intelligence rely on how they look. If the numbers on the scale go beyond a certain point, does their IQ points instantly go down in relation?  Does being skinny or attractive instantly mean your a genius?

Fat shaming is not right, regardless of your intent.  And there's an old adage that says "When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me".. Until you've walked a mile in someone's shoes, you don't know what that person has done or why they are where they are.  Stop assuming everyone who is overweight is that way solely because they stuff hamburgers and ice cream down their gullets. Stop assuming that they are all lazy and never get off the couch. Stop assuming that just because they look normal, that there's not an underlying medical condition that has led to their situation.  Yes, we all know that there are plenty of people who eat too much but stop lumping everyone in this general category when you don't know their history.

I will end with saying I have a friend who is currently overweight. More than a year ago, she was a very attractive, slender woman.. One night, she was in an auto accident that nearly killed her and she still and needs various surgeries to correct the problems. She's currently on steroidal medication which has caused her to gain a large amount of weight, compounded by the fact she cannot be active due to her injuries. Her husband left her because she got fat. This young woman, who is still very beautiful even thought she is heavier then she once was, is lucky to be alive. However, she has talked numerous times about wanting to take her life because she feels she is unattractive and unloved.

Society, YOU created this problem.  Each snide comment you make, each sneer you give. Each time you tell a woman who is overweight what a disgusting person she is, you compound the problem.

I am a disgusting fat body, by all of today's standards. But you are a disgusting individual.  My being over weight does not give you the right to be a bully to me or anyone else.  The way I see it, if my weight affects your life so much that you have to open your mouth, then you need to be paying my rent, car note and helping clean my house. Until then, zip it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Welcome to 2nd Grade

Our summer break is officially over and the kids have jumped back into full time school.  both kids are now officially 2nd graders.  For those curious, our curriculums this year are going to be IEW for Writing, Horizon's Phonics and Reading 2, CTC for math (with other supplements), Creativity Express and Artistic Pursuits for Art, Apologia Exploring Creation with Astronomy (a deeper approach then we did in Kindergarten), and both Homeschool in the Woods (we want to finish this) and The Mystery of History for our history curriculum.

Tomorrow I will take more as cleaning supplies and unbrushed hair doesn't make for cute pictures.

Last year I made the decision to hold back Garrett from being 2nd grade and kept him in first along with Ashleigh and this turned out to be the best decision I made.  Garrett just wasn't ready for 2nd grade last year but both sure are ready for it this year.

I was almost certain that today was not going to go well for us... As soon as I mentioned we were going to start school today, I had both kids breaking into tears and heard them both whine in unison that "School is hard!!", "Second Grade is hard!!" and "School is too long!!".  We only spend about 2 to 3 hours a day on studies, depending on how much farting around the kids do, so they should be very grateful they aren't in public schools where they would be in class from 8am until 3pm.. LOL

I'm hoping to break many of the bad habits that we (the kids and myself) acquired over the past 2 years and also I hope for us to build some new habits that will help them in the long run.   The first of these is our morning drills.  Last year, we started strong doing morning drills every morning and I'm not really sure what happened but the practice fell to the wayside..  This year, I'm determined to stick with it but I know the kids were going to balk at the idea of writing sentences for drills.. As mentioned in previous blogs, Garrett hates writing.

OHH how I have underestimated my kids..  Maybe it has been the addition of IEW to our schooling but this time around, the kids didn't bat one eye at having to write not one but two sentences for the morning drill.  They were asked to write about their first day of school which, honestly, with it being the morning drill, we hadn't really had a first day of school so we just talked about what they liked and disliked about school.. Both kids said they loved science, so they both wrote "I like Science." Ashleigh seemed to dictate the second sentence with "I do not like math.", as Garrett's least favorite subject would be reading - but he went along with the sentence as well.

Two observations I have made just from this drill.  1.) Ashleigh routinely writes both letters and numbers backwards.  I will be keeping an eye on this with her as I am not sure if it's dyslexia or if it's just her being silly.  I say this because she has no problems reading and does not reverse letters/numbers when doing so.  I also say this because she will write the number backwards and very often will immediately tell me the number is written backwards and then will erase and write it properly.  However, I have mild dyslexia, especially when it comes to numbers, so this is something I will be watching closely this year.

As for my second observations:  Last year I spent much of the time spelling words out for them.  Over the last few weeks (especially since starting IEW)  I have had them sound out and spell words on their own and only provided assistance when needed.  Quickly I discovered that i was really holding back the kids when it came to spelling, as they would ask me how to spell almost everything, without attempting to do it on their own.  Now, with them having to sound it out on their own, they are realizing they know how to spell much more than they thought.

With drills done, we quickly moved on to mathematics.  We are still using CTC Math that we had previously reviewed (our review of this can be found here ) .  Since it has been a bit of time since we've done school, we decided to go back to the previous lessons and start reviewing them before jumping right into where we left off..  I just wasn't ready to go straight into multiplication just yet so we decided to review our subtraction facts instead.  Once again, they had no issues with this and were quickly answering the questions without having to use hands or manipulatives.  We quickly completed the lesson on the website, answered the questions afterwards (which they both scored 100%) and then did a quick coloring page where they had to answer the question, read the colors associated with the answers and then color a picture of an airplane..

With drills and math out of the way, the kids got a break for lunch and to do whatever they want until the second half of our day.   Ashleigh of course grabbed her Dreamtab and Garrett hopped onto Minecraft for a bit.

Second half of the day.. Could we be so lucky as to have it go as smoothly as the first half?

We started back up with our Art curriculum.. This year we will be alternating between using Creativity Express (on Mondays) and Artistic Pursuits (on Wednesdays and Fridays).  Creativity Express is such a cute browser based program from Madcap Logic where a polar bear and two penguins teach kids about Artistic concepts, Artists and such.  Today we repeated a lesson we had already done,  Art as a Language, and we discussed how visual languages such as art are universal while written and spoken language is regional.  We then talked about taking risks as an artist, instead of staying in a comfort zone.

Finally, to end our day today, we headed over to Camp Google  where we learned about gravity and constellations.  We have a few days to wait on the big presentation this week, which will be about Food in Space, which is going to be really cool as it will be hosted live from the Food Lab at Johnson's Space Center in Houston.  This is the second week of Camp Google, last week was Oceans week, and I have to say, it is a very neat program that they have put together and the kids are enjoying it very much.

I am super duper excited that tomorrow we will be starting with Horizon's Phonics and Reading. I would have liked to have started it today but our UPS guy doesn't show up til after 4pm here and he will be delivering Ashleigh's copy of the workbook.   While I have no doubt the phonics portion is going to be easy peasy for the kids, I have worries that Garrett will not be happy with the reading portions of the program.   We shall have to see.

Overall, we have a wonderful start for our new school year and if even 20% of our days could go this smoothly, I have no doubt that the kids will do great this year.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Book Review: The Wood's Edge

Have you ever picked up a book and put off reading it because of the sheer length of it?  I admit, I did it to this book without giving it it a chance.  I received it in early June along with a few other books to read and being that this one is almost 400 pages long, I put it aside and instead read the shorter books on my list.  Two night ago, I finally picked it back up: the synopsis intrigued me and I knew I wanted to at least get a few pages into it.

What ended up happening is that I spent the next two days reading it straight two nights in a row, staying up til the wee hours of the morning because I was so enthralled with this book.  When I got down to the last 60 pages, I actually wished that this book had at least another 200 pages because it was that good.


At the wood's edge cultures collide. Can two families survive the impact?

The 1757 New York frontier is home to the Oneida tribe and to British colonists, yet their feet rarely walk the same paths.

On the day Fort William Henry falls, Major Reginald Aubrey is beside himself with grief. His son, born that day, has died in the arms of his sleeping wife. When Reginald comes across an Oneida mother with newborn twins, one white, one brown, he makes a choice that will haunt the lives of all involved. He steals the white baby and leaves his own child behind. Reginald's wife and foundling daughter, Anna, never suspect the truth about the boy they call William, but Reginald is wracked by regret that only intensifies with time, as his secret spreads its devastating ripples.

When the long buried truth comes to light, can an unlikely friendship forged at the wood's edge provide a way forward? For a father tormented by fear of judgment, another by lust for vengeance. For a mother still grieving her lost child. For a brother who feels his twin's absence, another unaware of his twin's existence. And for Anna, who loves them both--Two Hawks, the mysterious Oneida boy she meets in secret, and William, her brother. As paths long divided collide, how will God direct the feet of those who follow Him?

My Thoughts:

It is very rare for me to give a 5 star rating for a book but in this case, each star is well deserved.

From the first page, this story captures your attention and manages to hold it through to the last page and leaves you wanting more (and luckily, Lori Benton decided to make this a series and is scheduled to release the second book in 2016).  This is the story of love, rejection, grief, guilt, hate, and about forgiveness through God's love.

Lori Benton excels as a writing, weaving a beautiful story.  While this book does follow multiple characters and their personal stories, Benton succeeds at making each character a relevant part of the story, each contributing a piece of the overall puzzle.  None of these characters are lily white and each have their flaws and secrets that makes them believable.   There are a few occasions one might read a particular passage and think "Why is this in here? Get back to the main story!!" and then later those interactions come back to add something important to what is going on.

It is also obvious that Benton had thoroughly researched the Oneida people and the historic events that surrounded them at the time this book takes place.  The Native people presented in this book are not "stereotype" but instead the reader is given the opportunity to see their interactions from an everyday family life standpoint rather than savages.  The Native culture is presented with respect to the people and Tribal customs, which is always a plus in my book (being of Native American heritage).  

I highly recommend this book to everyone.  But be warned, once you read it and then finish it, you'll be waiting for A Flight of Arrows, the second book of the Pathfinder series, to be released next year.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Liebster Award

Wow, guess what everyone?? Counting Pinecones has been given an award. How incredibly cool is that??  It's a very nice way of knowing someone is saying "We've noticed you and we like what you're up to" and I am so grateful for the acknowledgement.

I was given the Liebster Award by Crystal over at Homeschool Dreams (Thank you Crystal!!). This is an award given by other bloggers to small but promising blogs as a way to say that they have been seen and have been found interesting.

In exchange for accepting the award, I have been asked to answer some questions to allow readers to know a bit more about me and then I get to pass the award on to others whom I feel are deserving of recognition as well.

So, first, I would like to announce those who I would like to pass the Liebster award to and I hope that it brings them as much excitement as I felt when I found out I was being given it. There were many blogs that I would love to recognize for this award but the requirements state that they have to have less then 200 followers at the time.  For this reason, I have narrowed my list down to three that I do feel are very deserving (and in no particular order)..  Congrats to each of yall and be sure to pass it on by nominating blogs that you feel are also deserving :)

1.)  Tasha at ABC's and Sweet Tea - A fellow homeschooler and a newer blog just starting to get on its feet.   From wonderful pictures of interesting places in her town to southern recipes, I see much potential out of this blog and am excited to see the direction she takes it (Plus, I absolutely love the name - too cute!!)
2.) Missica at The Open Window: An Autism Blog - A mother of a high functioning Autistic son, Missica pours her love of her son into each and every blog posting and I frequently find myself drawn back to her blog as I can relate with my own son.
3.) Finch and Wren over at FinchNWren - This blog is ran by two sisters.  Together their blog covers everything from homeschool curriculum, gardening, food, inspirational posts and even their cats, there's a lil something for everyone at this delightful blog.

Congrats to these three.. (BTW - Your questions will be at the end of this posting).. I look forward to seeing how much each of your blogs grow :)  I encourage everyone to visit these three blog.

Now, for the second part of my acceptance.  I've been given a set of 11 questions for readers to learn a little more about me.. These questions were given to me by Crystal and I will pose questions for each of my nominees to answer as well.
  1. What is your number one tip to make the mornings easier?   Honestly, I'm still struggling with that myself.  It takes about an hour for my brain to catch up with being awake.  Usually, it involves copious amounts of coffee and an uplifting essential oil blend in my nebulizer. 
  2. How did you choose your blog name?   Garrett would be responsible for that.. For the longest time he was completely fascinated with pine cones (He still is to some extent).  Everytime the front door was opened, Garrett would go out and collect as many pine cones and he could. At one point, they were everywhere and so we started using them as manipulatives when teaching him how to count. Hence Counting Pinecones. :) 
  3. What made you decide to homeschool?  Again, that was because of Garrett.  With him being Special needs, the school here on base where we live did not have the facilities necessary for his schooling and they wanted to bus him to the nearest school that did. Unfortunately, that school was over 45 minutes away and I just couldn't see putting him on a bus every day for an hour and a half.  The husband and I discussed it and decided I would stay home and school him myself. 
  4. Do you do meal planning by the week or month? Or not at all?   Usually, I plan meals a week in advance.  With only having 1 car and my husband working swings (3pm til 11:30pm) it's very hard to run to the store.  I also tend to spend a lot less and make much healthier meals when I actually plan ahead. 
  5. Do you have a favorite book or movie that you just can’t imagine never reading or seeing again?  I'm a huge bookworm and I have so many favorites.  I guess I would have to say Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  I've read it three time already and always find something new that I missed.. 
  6. Do you have pets?   A small Zoo is more like it.. We have 3 cats (Keira, Kitten and Newton), a Russian Tortoise (Morla), 2 White's Dumpy Tree Frogs (Smiles and Fern) and 2 aquariums full of fish.  We also have a family of bunnies living in the back yard at the moment. 
  7. If you could do one thing over from your past, with the knowledge you have now, what would it be?  I am a firm believer that everything in life happens for a reason and makes you who you are as a person, good and bad.  As I like who I am, for the most part, I don't think I would change anything significant.  
  8. What are your three favorite comfort foods?  Meatloaf, chicken fried steak with country gravy and boudian.  LOL
  9. Do you prefer ebooks or regular books?  I prefer regular books, however, being a military family, when we move we are under major weight restrictions.  Books add up quickly so because of that I have switched to buying books on my Kindle.  That way, I can just throw it in my purse and I have an extensive library at my fingertips that is virtually weightless.. Same thing with magazines.
  10. What is your favorite piece of jewelry and why?  Without a doubt, my wedding rings.. My husband busted his butt to be able to afford them and they were given out of love and a promise of forever. 
  11. Tell us 11 things we may not know about you!  Oh wow!!!   I never know how to answer these types of questions.. LOL  
  • My three all time favorite movies are Top Gun, The Silence of the Lambs and The Last Samurai. 
  • Of those three movies, Tom Cruise is in 2 of them.. However, I cannot stand Tom Cruise. LOL
  • Speaking of Tom Cruise, somehow, the Church of Scientology got my address and continue to send me invites to their church.. I've been tempted to send a response back saying I'll go if Tom Cruise will pick me up in a UFO.
  • I have a better relationship with my ex husband's family then I do with my own.. My current husband and my children consider my ex's parents and grandparents part of our family and vice versa.
  • I have this strange fascination with swimming underwater under a duck and then grabbing it by it's feet and pulling it under the water.. I have never done this, nor would I ever do it, but for some reason, the idea totally quacks (I mean cracks) me up.
  • I read on average about 50 books a  year
  • I am completely intolerant to heat.   Anything over 85* and I start sweating like a pig and my face turns red, even if I'm not exerting myself. It's quite embarrassing. 
  • I tell everyone I went to the University of Texas.. and while this is true, what I do not tell them is that I was working on a degree through UT at the University Center at the campus at Lone Star College.  I don't mind letting people believe I actually attended the main campus (but will be honest if asked).
  • I love doing genealogy research and have uncovered very interesting things in both mine and my husbands family.  I am supposively related to King Henry VIII through an illegitimate son who was never fully acknowledged. My husband is related to Pocahontas and Robert the Bruce. 
  • I have a huge crush on Hugh Jackman.. What an awesome actor and a downright wonderful person who is not too shabby on the eyes.. My husband knows but he's got a celeb crush on Reese Witherspoon so we're even ;)
  • I love cooking but I cannot bake for the life of me.. I can cook a gourmet meal but manage to burn everything from frozen pizzas to cut and bake cookies.  
LOL okay, probably more than you wanted to know about me :)

Now, for my questions for my nominees.. 

  1. What is the one physical item that you cannot live without?
  2. How did you choose your blog name?
  3. What subject in school did you excel in? What subject did you have the hardest time with?
  4. What is the one mistake you made that you hope your children never repeat?
  5. What is your favorite food? Is there a food you just absolutely hate?? 
  6. Name one place you would love to visit and why?
  7. If you could sit down for 1 hour with a famous person from the past, who would you pick and why?
  8. What is one profession you wish you could have tried?
  9. Would you ever skydive?? Why or why not?
  10. Is the glass half full or half empty?
  11. Tell us 11 things we may not know about you!

Home School in the Woods ( A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

My kids enjoy learning about History.  Out of all the subjects we study, History is easily the favorite between both Garrett and Ashleigh. However, we all know that history can be extremely dry in its presentation sometimes.

Homeschool in the Woods has solved the problem of dry boring history by putting together several full immersion, hands on,  in-depth study units with their Project Passport World History Studies.  We had the opportunity to try and review the Project Passport World History Study: The Middle Ages (Digital Download version) over the last few weeks and were really impressed with what Homeschool in the Woods has put together.

The Project Passport units are designed as if the student is travelling back into time to the period being studied.  Each study unit is divided into "Stops", like a short excursion while on a trip, in which a topic is explored in depth using maps, projects, hands on activities while learning about the culture, lifestyles, and history of the particular era of study. 

Too cute - Luggage and Passports for our "Trip"
This unit study quickly caught my children's attention straight out of the gate when we put together our binders, passports and luggage bags. These projects are so unique and were much fun for the kids and helped to really set the tone of this being a fun trip instead of just the typical discussion on the topic.

I should mention here that this Unit Study takes much preparation ahead of time before starting.  Each student will need their own binder (we're using 2 inch binders) and a binder for the teacher.. You'll also need printer paper, colored cardstock and a fresh ink cartridge in your printer because there is a lot of printing to be done.  Luckily, Homeschool in the Woods provides step by step instructions with each "Stop" which tells you how to properly assemble each step (even telling you the easiest way to print all the pages for easily assembly).  Most everything, with the exception of the craft projects can easily be kept together in the binder.  But once everything is printed out, it really makes for a nice, colorful presentation that is very impressive.  From timelines, newspapers (where the students write the articles), paper crafts and such, there's a lot of opportunities for making this project a very unique keepsake crafted towards your own child.  Kids even get to decorate post cards from various characters important to the time period and keep them in a post card rack that they assemble and keep in their binder.

Timeline of our  Earlier Travels
Postcard showing the sacking of the Roman Empire

Our Binders 

Our trip was about the middle ages starting with the Invasion of the Barbarians into the Roman Empire and the start of the Dark Ages.  I did worry that the reading of the text would be a bit dry for the kids but found it to be perfect for them. Most often, we would read together the text while eating our meal during lunch and I found the kids would be enthralled with the lesson and asked many questions.  (And I think I have the only 2nd graders in our town to know who Attila the Hun and the Goths are, much to the surprise of their dad).  The reading portions of each stop are fairly short (1-3 printed pages, depending on the topic) and while fairly detailed, are not too long or overloading for younger kids like mine.

After our discussion and our lunch was done, we would then spend about 20 to 30 minutes working on activities for the "Stop" . Some stops had audio "tours" where a guide would conduct "interviews" or describe sites and sounds for various happenings of the time which we listened to while doing the activities.  Some activities included map work or coloring, while others were more of creating crafts representing the time period.

Probably our absolutely favorite activity so far has been learning about the different classes of people of the time and how they dressed. The kids had so much fun coloring each class, cutting them out and then making puppets with each one.  (The instructions called for gluing them to popsicle sticks but I could not for the life of me find ours so we improvised with lunch bags.. lol).  What a fun project!!

It also happened that after studying the classes and talking about Knights and Castles that we went on our trip to Walt Disney World. While there, we happened to have lunch at the restaurant Be Our Guest which was designed to look like a castle and had suits of armor in it.. Sooo, when they kids saw this, it immediately brought back to mind our discussion about these things and made the kids that much more interested in them.   I had to admit, even I was impressed with how much they had retained from these discussions and how well they were able to recollect many of the details that we had discussed.  It was also really cool, as a homeschooling mother, to be able to see their excitement to have our history lesson brought to life before their eyes.

On a really cool, unrelated note, these suits of armor talk, sing, hum and even sneeze.. The kids thought that was so neat.. LOL

Since we had the Digital downloadable version of the Project Passport, the entire curriculum was
Copy or one of the Itineraries.  Click the image for a better view
downloaded directly to our computer.  A file entitled "Start.html" allows the user to click on the link and have the entire curriculum load up as a webpage in your preferred browser.  This way, each Stop allows for viewing necessary information with just a click of the mouse.  While entirely browser based - once the files are downloaded you do not have to have an internet connection as all files are located on your computer.   Photos are included to show finished projects along with links for each of the reading texts and Stop information in the form of a "Travel Itinerary" which gives step by step instructions for that Stop.  Each of these files are saved as PDF's on your computer and are extremely easy to access and print out for binders.  The entire file for the unit study only took up 262 MB on my hard drive so the storage necessary is minimal in my opinion.  For those who do not want to download and would prefer a physical product, they do offer a CD version of each offering that can be ordered.

Screenshot of browser based interface 
This was my first experience with Homeschool in the Woods and their Project Passport series and I have to say, overall, I am thoroughly impressed with it and I am finding it very easy to use with my younger students.  We still have several Stops to go before we have completed this particular trip but I am already looking at the other offerings that Homeschool in the Woods offers as these hands on, activity based learning units are absolutely perfect for my autistic son as well as for my daughter who loves anything that has to do with making "pretty stuff" as she puts it.   With Project Passport World History unit studies on Ancient Egypt and the Renaissance and Reformation periods, as well as their Time Traveler American History based studies that cover from Early Colonization to World War II, I can easily see myself using their products many times over.

Some of the many projects to be made during the Trip through the Middle Ages
More information can be found on Homeschool in the Wood's website as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google + . You can also click on the banner below and see what my other fellow Crew Members thought of all three of the Project Passport offerings.

Home School in the Woods Review

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lights, Camera, Action!! { July Blogging Challenge }

I love taking pictures.. I did photography for the school yearbook back in high school and that sparked my interest.. Then later, I started to take photographs of car shows and stuff like that.. But the one thing I love to take pictures of, more than anything, is my family.  I love capturing that perfect moment when they might not necessarily know I'm taking a picture, where their expression is natural and not posed.

So today, for the July Blogging Challenge, I'll post a few of my favorite pictures I have taken of my kids.


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