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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Hamelin Stoop Series (A Homeschool Crew Review)


As an avid reader, I love to share my love of fantastic stories with my children. I especially appreciate it when those stories that I do share with them have a great story that not only allows them to use their imagination but also teaches values or lessons that they can relate into their own lives.

For the last few weeks, the kids and I have been introduced to The Hamelin Stoop Series, a new fantasy series written by Robert B Sloan and published by 12 Gates Publishing.  Members of the crew have had the opportunity to read the first two books of this series, Hamelin Stoop: The Eagle, The Cave, and the Footbridge (Book 1) and series Hamelin Stoop: The Lost Princess and the Jewel of Periluna (Book 2).


About the Series

The Hamelin Stoop series follows the story of a young boy who is found abandoned at an orphanage in Texas as a newborn baby.  Found on the stoop of the back porch in a tomato box, the only hint of the baby's identity is a water damaged note with only one legible word - "Hamelin".  Assuming this to be the child's name, he is given the name of Hamelin Stoop.

However, unbeknownst to those who care of the the child, Hamelin's mother and father, Johnnie and Simon, have abandoned their child to protect him from Ren' dal, the ruthless son of an even more ruthless father, Chimera.  Johnnie and Simon are captured and held captive in another world away from the one that Hamelin knows.  As he grows, people come and go in his life, but each one impacts his life in one way or another,  shaping him for the dangerous adventure ahead of him.

When events lead to Hamelin running away from the orphanage on this 8th birthday,  Hamelin is given a test of courage.  The choices he makes has consequences that affect more than he can imagine and are far reaching.   With the help of the Great Eagle, The Ancient One, and The Hospitable Woman,  as well as friends made along the way, Hamelin must face his fears if he wants to help defeat the evil Chimera and his three sons.  In doing so, he also had the hopes of finding his parents and ultimately find out who he is.


The Hamelin Stoop series will ultimately have 6-7 books and will encompass the Story of the Bible encoded into the fictional story.

Written by author Robert B Sloan, Hamelin Stoop: The Eagle, the Cave, and the Footbridge is his debut novel.  Familar with sharing stories with children, the author and his wife, Sue, have seven children and more than 20 grandchildren. He is the President of Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas.  His passion for Christian higher education and the spiritual formation of young people influences both his professional and personal life.

Our Opinion

We have been reading both of these books as our daily read aloud before the start of each school day. With the first book, we committed to reading 3 chapters each morning, however, when we finished that book, we opted to read four chapters a day with the second book, as well as reading a bit extra on the weekend in order to finish it quicker.   That's how much we enjoyed these books.


The author, Robert B. Sloan, has an amazing use of the written language as these stories unfold.  It seems that in recent years, finding books that make use of writing in such a way that one can visualize it in their mind is hard.  Sloan, however, does not seem to shy away from expecting children to appreciate details and storytelling.  While not nearly as verbose as say J.R.R Tolkien in describing settings, one could easily see how these books could prepare readers to later appreciate Tolkien's attention to details.

Each book seems to focus on a few themes.  For example, the first book introduces the reader to failures, the consequences of those failures, and learning to put our trust in those who properly guide us.  The first book also tells the story of sacrifice:  a parent's sacrifice to protect their child and a husband's sacrifice of his freedom to protect his wife.  The second book focuses on themes of forgiveness, learning to work with and trust others,  and how our own vanity and pride can trap us.

Each book is 41 chapters in length, however, Book 1 is slightly longer at 320 pages while Book 2 is 292 pages. However, both books are packed with non stop action, keeping readers on the edge of their seat.   Also, there is a good mix of strong characters, both male and female, throughout both books.  This gives readers, both male and female, a range of characters that they can relate to instead of just one character.  These books are geared for readers in middle school, however, they will easily be enjoyed by younger readers as a read aloud or even by older readers - adults included.

Our family personally has no problem with stories that involve fantasy or magic, however, I do know that some families try to avoid stories that involve these types of elements as they can have a negative impact to Christian values.  I went into this review knowing that the author has a strong Christian foundation in his life and that this series would reflect that.   Much like C.S. Lewis weaves fantasy and magic into his Narnia Chronicles, Sloan's story weaves these elements with the same thread.  While we are very early in the series (2 out of possibly 7 books), we find ourselves questioning who characters might represent  - Is the Great Eagle a personification of Christ or could he possible be a representation of one of the Archangels?  - while other characters are pretty obvious as to who they represent -  Chimera representing Satan.  However, if one were to pick up these books, without knowing anything about the author or the intention of the book, these books can easily be enjoyed by those who do not share the belief of the Christian faith.  The books do not preach or make any direct reference to religion in any way.

So, what did the kids actually think? 

Ashleigh (age 11) - "I really liked them both.  My favorite character is the Great Eagle because he's brave and he is a good character. I also liked how Hamelin started out as this really shy little boy but then became strong and positive and wanting to help others.  I  would really appreciate it if these books were made into a movie because I enjoyed them that much."

Garrett also really enjoyed the books but is a kid of few words.. All he would say is he likes them and that he really liked the Eagle.

My only regret to being introduced to these books and sharing them with the kids is that with the completion of the second book, we are in a holding pattern awaiting the release of the next book of this series.

#hsreviews #HamelinStoop

To find more information about the Hamelin Stoop Series including where to purchase, be sure to visit the author's website.  You can also find more information at the following social media sites:







Curious what the other members of the Crew thought of the Hamelin Stoop series? Click the banner below to read their reviews today!

The Eagle, The Cave, and the Footbridge (Book 1) & The Lost Princess and the Jewel of Periluna (Book 2) {12 Gates Publishing  Reviews}


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Weekend Meal Planning


It's meal planning time again.. Although I think we will be eating out a bit this week.  I have to take my husband to the airport on Tuesday and put him on a plane to Texas for the next 5 weeks.. I don't think I'll feel like cooking that day..  While he's gone, I will be heading to town to do my grocery shopping on Wednesdays.. That way I can avoid the busy traffic that is typical of the area on the weekends.   Well, if nothing else, my grocery bill should go down a bit ;)

Sunday -  Potato and Chorizo Tacos

Monday - Hungarian Chicken Paprikash with egg noodles / green beans

Tuesday - Subway

Wednesday - Chick-fil-a

Thursday - Pork Potstickers with sweet chili dipping sauce and Szechuan green beams

Friday - Southwestern Turkey Burgers with avocado,  cilantro lime sauce and potato wedges

Saturday- Instant Pot Spaghetti with salad and garlic bread


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Techie Homeschool Mom (A Homeschool Crew Review)


There's a saying that says "All Roads Lead to Rome".. While the statement refers to the Roman Roads, it does remind me that when studying history, Rome plays a huge part in much of the story.  Whether studying the life of Christ, Egyptian History or even Greek mythology and legends, the influence of Roman is apparent even when you're not looking for it.  Hence, it's important to study and understand the history of Rome and it's culture.

For the last few weeks, the kids have discovering more about the history of ancient Rome with Ancient Rome Online Unit Study, an online unit study from Techie Homeschool Mom   .


The Techie Homeschool Mom is an website that features various thematic unit studies for various grade levels.  From learning about holiday traditions all over the world, famous Americans, Astronomy, or artists, these unit studies take advantage of online resources to create lessons that are easy and educational.

Each unit study is created by Beth Napoli, a mother of 5 who considers herself a "geeky homeschooling mom".  Originally, Beth created these unit studies as a way to take advantage of resources available online to educate her own daughters. However, after the encouragement from others to share these units with others, Beth created the Techie Homeschool Mom site for others to have access to them as well.

We opted to review the Ancient Rome unit study because it looked as if it could easily fit in as a supplement with our current history lessons.  We are currently studying the rise of the Roman Empire, so this worked out perfectly for us and I have been able to fit this unit study in seamlessly with our existing lessons.

Techie Homeschool Mom unit studies are super easy to use.  Once logged into the website, the dashboard shows all the topics that are covered in the study.  For the Ancient Rome study, there are 50 topics that fall into 8 categories..  These categories include : Introduction to Ancient Rome, Roman Mythology, Daily Life in Rome, Roman Architecture and Engineering, Roman Government, The Roman Language, Entertainment in Ancient Rome, and Roman Military and War.  As each lesson is completed, it is grayed out, allowing for the student to quickly pick up where the lessons were left of once they log in again. 


Each lesson includes a combination of reading, videos, or activities that teach the subject.  For example, the "Touring Ancient Rome" lesson includes a video that featured a computer generated tour of Rome showing what the city would have looked at during Ancient times.   It also featured a website where the kids could read about the residential homes of the time.  There was also a second website that showed the kids computer generated images of what the homes would have looked like during that time.   After viewing the materials, the student completes the lesson by clicking "Complete and Continue", which grays out the lesson on the dashboard.  No other outside resources are required to complete the lessons - all the information is contained on the lesson page.



In addition to the lessons, students are encouraged to select an optional book for additional reading.  This is not required for the lessons but is part of the "Book Club" included in the lessons.  This book can be fiction or nonfiction and either is about Rome or features ancient Rome as the setting.  For our selection, the kids opted for The Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire.   The kids opted to listen to the book as an audiobook during lunch breaks.   At the end of each section of the unit study, the students are encouraged to answer a question (found on the lesson page) about their book of choice.  Students are also encouraged to participate in an app version of the popular "Heads Up" game - although we didn't do this as the app wasn't downloadable to our devices and this is also an optional portion of the unit study. 


Included in some of the lessons are fun activities such as making a sundial, baking a Roman honey cake and creating a Roman Road.   These have all been tons of fun to work though, but I think the honey cake was the most popular with the kids.  We had never had a honey cake before and it only used three ingredients.  We all agreed it reminded us of a Dutch Baby, a breakfast food that we make on a regular basis but the kids were more excited that they (mostly Ashleigh) made it all on their own.





 We also attempted to make a model of the Pantheon.  Unfortunately, our dome didn't work out (Mom's fault). But it was fun even so and the kids did learn quite a bit about the Pantheon. 


We will continue using the Unit Study until we finish it, which we estimate will take us another two weeks at the rate we are going.  Other students could complete the unit study in probably two weeks or so, but we have been working through it at a slower pace since we are using it as a supplement to our other lessons.  Each section should take around 2-3 hours to complete on average but one of the luxuries of this course is that it is a self paced course, so it can be done at whatever pace the student (or the teacher) feels comfortable with.



For more information about the various courses offered by Techie Homeschool Mom, be sure to visit her website.  You can also find her at the following social media sites:


Members of the Review Crew were given the opportunity to review their choice of seven different unit studies, each aimed for different grade levels.  Be sure to click the banner below for the opportunity to read their reviews.

Solar, Ancients and Famous People Unit Studies {Techie Homeschool Mom Reviews}

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Placerita Canyon Hiking


The weather is really starting to get pretty here so we are trying to get out and do some outdoorsy type stuff more before it starts getting way too hot here in the desert.  Yesterday we had originally planned to head out to the Vasquez Rocks to do some hiking but were unaware that the park was closed do to a Passion play.  So, instead, we headed to Placerita Canyon in order to do a bit of hiking there. 

It's been almost 4 years since we've been out to Placerita.  You might remember when we went there in 2015 and introduced my readers to the Oak of Golden Dreams and letterboxing.  If not, you can read that post here  -  Stepping Back in History: The Oak of Golden Dreams

Placerita Canyon  is located in the transition zone between the San Gabriel Mountains and the Mojave Desert.  The canyon itself is and east-west running canyon with shaded oak groves, willow and sycamore lined streams and lots of plants and animals not found in our home in the desert, so it's a neat trip that's less than an hours drive for us. 


When we first arrived at the park, we decided to head inside the park's nature center.     This particular park has a wonderful education aspect to their visitors center, with specimens of some of the wildlife found in the park - including some live ones. 

Active beehive - a tunnel in the back allows for the bees to come and go. 
Rattlesnakes - Red Diamond and Southern Pacific 
Mojave Green Rattlesnake

California King Snake
Garrett meets a friend while tying his shoe. 
First thing on our list was to head back to the Oak of Golden Dreams.  This is a very short walk on a paved path that only took us a few minutes.  





The Oak of Golden Dreams - where the Gold Rush started

Note the Braille - Garrett was thrilled to see it included



While here, we decided to see if we could find the letterbox that we had found the first time we came out here.. It took us a few minutes but sure enough, we found it.   We did not stamp the book this time around but three other people have located it since we last found it.  However, it hadn't been stamped since 2016.  We checked the contents to be sure everything was in good shape, put it back to be found again, and when we got home we reported it as still an active box.


Our Stamp from the last time we found it
Hidden and waiting for the next person to find


With the box found, it was time for some hiking.  A number of the trails were currently closed to hikers so we opted to hike the hillside trail that leads up to the  Manzanita Mountain. 






The girls rest their legs after climbing the mountain




We had a great time but were pretty exhausted after a few solid hours of hiking..  But we will be heading back on May 11th for the Open House they are having at the park :)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

CrossWired Science (A Homeschool Crew Review)


Our family loves science.  From looking at pond water under the microscope to viewing the stars on a clear night, watching the life cycle of butterflies from caterpillars to adult and making salt crystals, my kids love learning science.  For the past few weeks, the kids and I have been having a blast learning about the science behind Sound, and Fluid Dynamics using CrossWired Science.

For this review, we were given a full year access to the CrossWired Science website for both Ashleigh and Garrett.



Designed from a Biblical standpoint, CrossWired Science can be used by any grade level (K-12th) and can be used either as a stand alone curriculum or as a supplement to your current science curriculum.  CrossWired Science is currently in its early beginnings and offers studies in Fluid Dynamics and Sound, but will be adding more units to their lineup over the next few months.

Students have their choice of either First Timer or Second Timer options.  While these two options include the same video lessons, but the questions, researching assignments and reading options offered to go along with the curriculum are designed for more advanced students, those students who want to dig deeper into the material, or those who have already gone thru the first timer materials previously.

We have had a ton of fun learning with CrossWired Science.  The kids decided that they wanted to start with the Sound Portion of the lessons and have worked their way through those lessons.


Since we had not previously used lessons from CrossWired Science before, we opted to work through the "First Timers" option Over the course of these lessons, they have learned about sonar, echolocation, and how the internal ear works, among other things.

We found the videos to be fun, entertaining and very informative.  Each video is roughly 5-10 minutes in length and include some really cute graphics that really appealed to the kids and had them paying attention.  The combination of the shorter videos and the appealing graphics seemed the perfect formula for Garrett and Ash.


 And it was a good thing that they were paying attention, because after each video is a 10 question quiz that consisted of true and false questions.  Answers come directly from the video.  CrossWired Science also adds a feature that allows the student to pause the video and take notes with a built in notepad.


Each video also has an available PDF worksheet that can be downloaded, printed out and the student can fill out for each lesson.   While we did not use the worksheets for this time around (Garrett takes FOREVER to write out the simplest of answers), I have looked over the worksheets and found them to be a great addition to the material.  I will probably start printing them out for Ashleigh to use once we move into the "Second Timers" curriculum.
In addition to the video and worksheets, the curriculum also had sections that include research ideas and experiment projects.  We found some really neat ideas for experiments that reinforced the material learned in the lesson.  We really wanted to do more of the experiments then we had the opportunity to do but due to our location, we were unable to obtain some very basic items.  This wasn't due to the curriculum or for the materials required being rare - just that they weren't items available on our base.  Example - there was a really neat experiment to create a microphone using pencil graphite, alligator clips, a battery, headphones and a matchbox.  I was able to obtain everything except a box of matches..  Another cool experiment was creating a record player - but we could not get access to a vinyl record.  However, we had a lot of fun watching videos of record players and how they work.   We did, however, have fun making the string phones.




We also really enjoyed the section that had various videos for the kids to watch.  These videos didn't seem to have any particular ties to the lessons that we were learning but were still science related and were fun.  Garrett really enjoyed the one about the "Man Vs Cassowary!" and Ashleigh enjoyed "The Magic of the Butterfly Scales".


We would have really enjoyed using the program more, however, we hit a minor setback.  Since we decided to start with the Sound aspect of the curriculum rather than the Fluid Dynamics portion and since the program is currently being added to, we ended reaching a point to where the material had yet to be uploaded.  This didn't last very long, however, as we received an email letting us know that the material had been added so we have picked back up where we left off.

As we move on thru the courses, the kids will be adding outside reading material.  I really appreciate that the materials suggested are faith based, such as YWAM Publishing selections, Creation Illustrated Magazine, Answers in Genesis and other faith based selections.  Since Garrett really enjoys the biographies from YWAM, he will be reading about George Washington Carver while Ashleigh will be reading a few back issues of Creation Illustrated. Both will have to prepare a oral report over what they learn based on what they read.

Another aspect of the curriculum that we are enjoying is the field trip ideas.  One of the suggestions is camping trips, so we took the kids camping and hiking thru nearby Red Rock Canyon State Park.  The kids had a great time observing the flora and fauna of the area and looking at the geology of the area.  We will also be using a visit to Yosemite National Park, Griffith Observatory and the Museum of Natural History as other field trip ideas that the website suggests.

Overall, we've been really happy with this online curriculum, especially as a stand alone unit studies.  As more material is added, I can see where this could eventually progress to a full science curriculum, especially when using the research, reading and report options.

#hsreviews #science #onlinescience #onlinesciencelessons #CWS #homeschoolscience #learningonline

Be sure to click the banner below to read the reviews of other Crew members and see how they used CrossWired Science in their homeschool.

Sound, and Fluid Dynamics {CrossWired Science Reviews}
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