Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Crew Review: Activity Bags


As you may have noticed, we've been doing a LOT of travelling the last couple of months. We're actually (hopefully) almost done with our constant travel, at least for awhile, but even during "normal" times, we do travel quite abit. Visiting grandparents, traveling with Daddy for work, etc.So "portable" school options are a great option for us.

And this review came at a great time, in the midst of all our travel.  We were given the chance to review two great products from Activity Bags.

Photobucket Travel Activities in a Binder  and Math Games in a Bag. Both are for elementary age students and each ebook is available for $15.

I received these ebooks a couple of weeks before our trip to Florida. Both products (and most, if not all, of the products on the site) are written in a way that is geared toward a group of families. In that scenario, one person would purchase the ebook and act as coordinator (the site offers a free downloadable coordinator's handbook to help you figure it all out). The coordinator would assign "bags" (or pages, in the case of the binder), to each participant. So, if I were assigned math game #1 and it was a group of 20 people, the coordinator would give me the instructions for making that game. I would make up 20 copies of math game #1, each packaged, with directions in a labeled gallon-size ziplock bag. After everyone had turned in their bags, the coordinator would sort them all out & I would then get 20 different math games (including the one I had packaged). Cool huh? There's information in the coordinator handbook for organizing a long distance swap if you're like me and have very few friends with similar age children nearby. While the book is written as if you will do a swap, you do have another option, and that is simply to make one of each activity bag for your own use. Since we only had a few weeks (even a local swap would have been difficult to coordinate quickly enough for us to use the product in the time allowed for this review), I didn't attempt a swap for either of these products.

 I went through the math games ebook and printed off some of the games for the girls. What I suspected as I was reading through them, and found to be true, is that, since we take a "real life" approach to math, rather than drills and worksheets, these "math games" weren't real appealing to my kids. I think if a child was used to doing math workbooks and flashcards, these would be a great change of pace. For my kids, it wasn't nearly as fun as working on fractions by making a cake :) That said, I know that our family is in the minority (to put it mildly) in how we do math, so for most kids, this would be great. Even so, the games struck me as having a relatively short "life" . . . a game that helps you learn your times tables is great, but once you KNOW them, you're not likely to revisit it often. I think, if I were coordinating a swap for this, rather than doing it as suggested, for this one, I would have each family make ONE of their bag(s), then just trade bags around within the group so that all the families get to use all the games for a month or two, then rotate. While I plan to continue to use these games from time to time to fill in some math aspects that my kids need some practice with. I think what I will do is talk to a couple teachers I'm friends with, who happen to teach 1st-4th grade and see if they would like the games to use in their classroom after my kids are done with them.

One thing I wanted to note about these games. The games that include reusable "cards" of some sort, in the directions the person making up the bags is instructed to print them on cardstock, then once you, as the recipient, get your bag, it suggests laminating and then cutting out the cards (or game pieces, or whatever). Perhaps laminators vary, but I know the laminator I have, each item needs to be sealed all the way around, so laminating the page and then cutting it out wouldn't work.I need to cut them out, then laminate them, then cut them out again.

Photobucket The other ebook we received, Travel Activities in a Binder (yes, the graphic says bag, but trust me, it's a binder), was timed perfectly, since we got it just before a 3 day (one way) road trip. This is a slightly different product. instead of packaging activities individually in gallon ziplocks, these are all pages that are printed out and placed in page protectors, then all the pages are placed in a 3 ring binder, along with a dry erase marker, and a couple other small things (piece of felt to use as an eraser, a couple of the games require dice . . . ) all placed in a pencil pouch inside the binder. Then you have a binder all ready to take along in the car to keep your child(ren) entertained as you travel. I went through and printed out the pages I thought my kids would enjoy, a single copy of most pages, 2 or 3 copies of those that I thought each child (or each of the older girls) would want their own copy. I included 3 dry erase markers.

And I discovered that, my 9 year olds don't require "entertaining" in the car. They played with the pages some, but for most of the drive, they preferred to just do their normal "talk play" as they call it (they make up imaginary scenarios together, kind of like joint day-dreaming, it's great fun to listen to). The 3 year old enjoyed the pages that were things she could do.

So, what DID we think of it? There is a good variety of things. One page includes a bunch of "classic" silly song lyrics to sing, we had fun with that, and then branched off into others that we knew, it was fun, and worked to snap Sassy out of a bad attitude one morning. MiniMe isn't a fan of competitive games, so that caused some conflict since there were quite a few pages that were 2 people games that I'd figured the two of them could play together. Sassy was annoyed that MiniMe wouldn't play with her, sigh . . . but I can't fault the games for that, it's just my kids, and their quirks LOL. Sassy WAS very impressed with how challenging some of the mazes were.

All in all, this is a binder that will stay in our car and we'll continue to enjoy for a long time. While elementary age seems like a good "guideline", if you have older & younger children there are certainly alot of pages that will keep them entertained too.

In addition to the products we reviewed, the Activity Bags site offers lots of other ebooks, including science experiments, preschool games, reading games . . . the Crew had the opportunity to review many of these, so be sure to read the other reviews to learn about all these great products.


Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Crew Review: Sugar Creek Gang


With all our travelling this fall, we've had lots of time to listen to audiobooks and such. When we got the chance to review the Sugar Creek Gang  audiobooks from Beloved Books, I was thrilled!

PhotobucketThe Sugar Creek Gang was a series of Christian adventure books written in 1939 (my kids were really impressed to know these stories are "older than Papa"). More recently, the books were read "dramatically" to be used on the radio, and that is what we got to hear. This is one man reading the books, BUT he does so many different voices and inflections that it's much more . . . dramatic than just someone reading a book (not that we don't love straight audiobooks, but these were even better!).

We received Sugar Creek Gang Volume 1 CDs  ($54.95). This is the first 6 stories on 12 CDs. Each story is approximately 2 hours long.

While each story would be enjoyable on it's own, they do build on each other so-to-speak, and listening to them in order makes them even more fun.

The stories are about a "gang" of boys who live in a farm community, are mostly Christian (I think by the end of this volume all of them have "been saved"), and have all kinds of amazing adventures while learning more about God, Christianity, and how to be decent people.

The stated age range for these CDs is 6-12. I'm not sure I agree with this, I can see where, when the books were written, a 6 or 7 year old would have enjoyed and understood them just fine, but while God's love is timeless, much of day-to-day life has changed in the last 70+ years, and I'd put an age range starting more around age 8 on these now. My 9 year olds have had several questions about what things mean and such, just because things are different now. I love that about these books, it's a built in history lesson as well, but I do think that bumps the age range up abit. I would also think that children older than 12 would enjoy them, the boys in the gang" range in age from 10 or a little younger to their mid-teens, and I would think that teenagers would also enjoy the stories, and the "old fashioned" aspect of them. I enjoyed them and I'm quite a few years past 12, but then again, I've always loved classic children's literature.

One thing that some might find disturbing is somewhat frequent references to spanking. It's not a major theme, and is generally mentioned in an off-hand way (the shed where Dad takes me when he has to give me a spanking, and things like that). My children haven't commented on it either way, and while we choose not to spank, they are aware that some families do and, perhaps more than that some families now do, that "in the olden days" people used spanking as a punishment. Families who prefer to avoid any reference to corporal punishment would probably not enjoy this series. In other ways also, the books are very different from "modern" writing. I find it interesting, and abit . . . jarring . . . that the main character/narrator refers to his best friend as being fat, and generally describes each of the boys in the gang's appearances using terminology that I'm not used to hearing. Nothing horrible, and obviously "Bill" doesn't have a problem with his friend, "Poetry" being overweight, it's just presented as a fact, no different than mentioning that someone has blue eyes or brown hair or is short or tall or whatever, still in our current, politically correct culture, it's abit surprising the first time you hear it.

One of my favorite "cultural" differences though, was when Bill matter-of-factly stated that girls are "fragile, helpless things" Little Bit was asleep, so Sassy knew she had to be quiet, but the expression of absolute rage (though good-natured, rage) on her face was PRICELESS! Again, different time, different norms . . . and we talked about that after Little Bit woke up. Sassy was somewhat appeased when, abit later in the story, Bill mentions that "boys are like dogs" and makes some comparision, that, Sassy found much more agreeable than his comment about girls LOL.

PhotobucketSo, all that to say, just be aware, if you're looking for a typical, acceptable in today's culture, series, this isn't it. If you're looking for a series of books that teach good character and Christianity, flavored with the beliefs and culture of the 30s and 40s, these are great!

Not only have my girls eagerly asked for these whenever we've been in the car, but, when I told them we were on the last story, they asked "are there more?!?" When I told them there are 4 volumes all together, they asked if the "points" they earn by doing chores without reminders could be used to get the other volumes, so I'd say these are a hit around here.

I'd recommend these for conservative Christian families, taking into consideration the "disclaimers" about changing cultural norms and such. I also want to point out that, while my girls have LOVED these, they are also GREAT for boys! I know sometimes my friends with boys struggle to find as many books/stories that keep their boys' interest, as can be found for girls in this age range, these, I think would definitely qualify as "boy stories", though adventure loving girls like mine, love them too.

AND Beloved Books was kind enough to provide a coupon code just for you, my readers! Use coupon code BROADHORIZONS-20 to receive 20% off your entire purchase, how cool is that!!!

Be sure to check the other reviews to see what my fellow crew members thought of this series.


Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Review and GIVEAWAY!!! - The Sparkle Box

Teaching about generously giving to others has always been something our family has tried to emphasize, and overall, I feel good about how my children view giving to those less fortunate. They have never complained about designating a portion of the allowance to be used for charity, and when it accumulates to the point where they get to decide what to do with it, sometimes ask to add some of their saved up spending money to the total as well.

Still, I don't think we can ever put TOO much emphasis on helping others, and was excited to get a chance to review The Sparkle Box.

This beautiful picture book tells the story of a little boy noticing a sparkly box/present as part of the Christmas decor. When he asks about it, his mother tells him that "first we have to fill it". The story unfolds with them doing various giving throughout the Christmas season and the parents always answering the boy's question of "have we filled the box yet?" with "we've put some things in, but it's not full yet". On Christmas morning, they allow him to open the box and he finds it contains slips of paper with the various charitable activities they've done that season. The parents explain that this is their family's gift to Jesus for His birthday because doing things for others is like doing them for Jesus.

The book ends with a challenge, of sorts, to begin a similar tradition in your own family and comes with a cute, silver sparkly box (folded flat in the back of the book), so you can have your own "sparkle box".

The book's pictures are beautiful and the book is high quality.  The idea of "giving presents to Jesus" is certainly an important one.  Something that bothered me was that the parents didn't explain the purpose of the sparkle box up front. It seems to me, that it would have been a better idea to explain at the beginning of the season what they were putting in the box so he could be thinking about it and coming up with his own ideas. Obviously, if you read this story to your children you're already addressing this, telling them about the idea, so it's not a big deal.

My children enjoyed the story and liked the idea of having our own Sparkle box, though in typical, literal child fashion, they were quick to point out that the box that came with the book isn't EXACTLY like the picture - no big fluffy bow, for example, LOL.

We received this book right before leaving on a trip, but when we get home, we plan to find a special place for the sparkle box where it will remind us often to do things for others. I think we will "open" Jesus' present at or near Christmas, but then make it a goal to fill it ALL year next year, not just around Christmas time.

And now, for the giveaway!!!

In addition to sending us a book to review, the publisher has another copy waiting in their office to send to one of my readers! To enter, leave a comment on this blog post (not on facebook or via e-mail) telling me one of your favorite holiday traditions. Make sure that you include an e-mail address or other way for me to easily contact you if you win.  The giveaway will close on November 1. Once I contact the winner, they will have 2 days to reply or I will choose an alternate winner.

Disclaimer: I received the above mentioned product, and a second copy for use as a giveaway in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Weekly Wrap up October 22

In case you didn't guess from the lack of blog activity, life is busy again still.

Once I figured out that Little Bit's rash was ringworm and began treating it accordingly with a mixture of coconut oil, lavender essential oil and tea tree oil, they dried down quickly. They are still blotchy, but soooo much better than it was.

Saturday afternoon Rodney had taken the big girls to his mom's house and they didn't come home till Sunday evening, so Little Bit and I just kind of hung out on Sunday.

Most of the week was filled with packing for our next trip and homeschooling (while the reviews have been quiet this last week, we have a BUNCH that we are using now and I'll get to write reviews while we are traveling).

We did take some time to play at the park with friends and while we were there, find a geocache that was hidden there. 

Another evening a neighbor came over and played soccer with Sassy and MiniMe for awhile.

Friday the traveling began again. We were going to my parents' house, but now that Miss Judy isn't our neighbor anymore she lives about halfway between our house and Mama and Papa's house, so we stopped and visited her for awhile on our way.

We spent a fun weekend celebrating My grandma's 95th birthday. My aunt and uncle were there too. And so were my cousin, D and his girlfriend, and my cousin, J with her toddler. So all of Grandma's great grandchildren were together. Little Bit had great fun not being the littlest, and C didn't seem TOO overwhelmed by all my hoodlums. All 4 kids joined together to make a banner, and hanging balloons around it (with help from Cousin Dennis and Emily)

Little Bit helped by handing Sissies the balloons, with a little help from Cousin Dennis
Helping Grandma open presents

So that was our weekend.. And now we are off on more adventures, but they will have to wait for another post.

Book Review: Carrie and Bandit by Vicki Watson

A few months ago I reviewed the first book in the Sonrise Stables series, Rosie and Scamper. My girls loved the book and asked about getting the rest of the series, so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to review book 2, Carrie and Bandit!

Carrie and Bandit picks up where the first book left off. In this book, Bandit comes to live at Grandma's farm, and begins to learn to trust again. Carrie is legally adopted by Rosie's family, and just as they are all adjusting to these changes, more changes come when Grandma is hurt, and the family decides to move.

When this book came in the mail, my girls grabbed it and insisted they both got to read it before I could. As MiniMe finished the last page, and closed the book, her first words were "we HAVE to get book 3!!!" Sassy agreed.

When I finally got to read it, I could see why they had enjoyed this book so much, and I'm thrilled that they are so thoroughly enjoying a series of books about other Christian, homeschooled children. This book wove subtle, but powerful lessons about honesty and learning to build relationships with others, into the story without sounding the least bit "preachy". While the children in the story are homeschooled, I think this book would appeal to any Christian family, not just other homeschoolers. The story centers around the girls' adventures with their horses and interactions with their family and friends.

I definitely recommend this series, and we are eagerly waiting for the rest of the series to be available.

You can purchase Carrie and Bandit from Amazon for $9.95 or the Kindle version for $7.99.

Visit Vicki Watson on Twitter
Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book/Ebook/Product to review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations. I am part of The CWA Review Crew.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Weekly Wrap Up - Oct 14

We had a pretty quiet week for once, mostly "forced" because the rash that kept Little Bit and I home from church last week, kept getting worse (I finally, on Friday, identified it as ring worm, so now we are hopefully moving in the right direction). But, quiet isn't all bad (itchy, fussy baby is though! And I don't care how "big" she acts most of the time, when she's uncomfortable, she's my baby!).

Before the rash got too bad to go anywhere, we did have fun last Sunday.

When we first found out we'd be studying about Knights & Nobles, we've been planning to go to the Renaissance Faire, but as you may have noticed, we've been kind of  busy. We actually planned to go on Labor Day, but it was too rainy. So now we were down to the wire, so to speak . . . we had last Sunday or today as our only options. At first I checked weather, saw 40% chance of rain on (this past) Sunday and figured we'd wait & go today. But then, that morning, we looked at the extended forecast and the hourly forecast, and decided that that day was our better gamble, so we went! At that point Little Bit's rash was still mostly on her legs so a pair of leggings covered them (protecting them from dirt and making her look "normal" LOL. Though she had one just starting on her nose that made it look like she had a bloody nose, sigh . .. anyway . . . we decided to go.

Little Bit seemed to have fun, one of the biggest challenges was some of the sores on her legs made it uncomfortable for her to be carries, so she had to walk all day. She had fun playing "chess" while her sisters played checkers.

She wanted NOTHING to do with the joust, so we left big sisters and Daddy to enjoy that and we went and found a rock wall to walk on (seriously, I think she spent most of the joust walking back & forth on that silly wall, but she loved it).

The big girls were excited to try "tiger pie" for lunch. Can I tell you how THRILLED I was to look in the program booklet and find vegetarian options clearly marked!!! SOOOOO helpful!!! So, upon determining that "tiger pie" was, indeed, vegetarian, as long as one chose the mushroom option (as opposed to beef or chicken), they had to try it, and declared it delicious! It was a pastry with sauteed mushrooms in it and then a scoop of mashed potatoes and a spoonful of mashed peas on top. The girls were bound and determined to eat something that at least MIGHT have been somewhat authentic, so that was their choice. The rest of us, being less concerned with authenticity, went for plain old pizza LOL.

Poor Little Bit, since being held wasn't comfortable, snuggling on my lap during a show and taking her nap wasn't an option and, much as she insists she HATES naps, she does still need at least a short one. Finally, during the human chess game, she wrapped my baby carrier wrap around herself like a blanket, and stood facing the bench, bent at the waist and laid her head/chest on the bench, and fell asleep that way!! I should have thought to have dh take a picture (I was worried her legs would buckle so I kept a hand hovering over her in case I needed to catch her). DH & the big girls went off to do other things when the show was over and I was going to just stay there with her, but wouldn't you know it, THAT is when the rain decided to start (for a few minutes), sigh . . . I picked her up, hoping she'd stay asleep, she didn't, and opted to walk, though fussed teh whole time. Thankfully, nearby we found a covered area with picnic tables, not sure what it was for, but it was deserted except for a grandmother with her two little (baby & toddler) granddaughters so I decided to go with "easier to ask forgiveness than permission, and went to one of the tables, figured if we weren't supposed to be there someone could tell us LOL). Little Bit immediately got in the exact same position on the picnic table bench, I even suggested she put her feet up so she'd be completely laying on the bench (still would have needed my hand hovering ready but at least she would have been more comfortable, in theory anyway), but she would have none of it. And she went RIGHT BACK to sleep! Poor baby! Slept till Daddy & sisters came back with a snack, then joined us in eating it LOL.

Perhaps the highlight for the big girls was meeting the "queen". We went into a little shop and the shop owner pointed out that the queen was having her supper on the shop's covered patio. She (shop owner) assured the girls that the queen would love to meet them, so they went out and said hi. The queen did seem to thoroughly enjoy it, and talked to them for quite awhile.

Little Bit was pretty much done with the day by that point and was probably rather confused as to why this woman was dressed so funny, so she just stood and kind of glared at her. The queen took that as a challenge and spent a good bit of time trying to convince her to turn around and smile so Daddy could take a picture. In her attempts (which never did work), she offered to let Little Bit wear her hat, and when Little Bit refused, Sassy and MiniMe ended up wearing the queen's hat and one of her ladies in waiting's hat, respectively. Little Bit just kept glaring LOL.  Oh well, such is life :)

Much to the big girls' annoyance, it started raining pretty steadily around 5:30 and the thought of hanging out in the cold rain until 6:00 for the final joust when chances were they'd CANCEL said joust because of the rain and the danger of jousting in mud, we went ahead & left. The girls were sooo annoyed, but got over it.

So that was our fun this week.

Monday Daddy was going to pick up some used computers that he'd arranged with his former employer to get for the schools he now audits. He took the big girls with him and had great fun "showing them off" to his former co-workers, most of which hadn't seen the girls since they were 2 or 3. They finished off the day by going to our all-time favorite Chinese restaurant for supper. They did bring some back for Little Bit and me :)

The rest of the week we did a little school, alot of just keeping Little Bit from being too miserable or scratching too much. Thankfully Daddy was able to work from home on Thursday so he could stay with Little Bit while I took MiniMe to her piano lesson.

I decided to keep Little Bit home from church again this week too. Sassy was thrilled because it meant SHE got to lead in Sabbath School too (MiniMe did it last week).

And after lunch on Sabbath, Daddy took the big girls to Grandmom's house. Originally his plan had been to take all 3 girls, and he decided to take them down after church on Sabbath and bring them back this afternoon. The timing was planned such so that Little Bit could nap both ways. But she's still pretty miserable and not sleeping worth anything (and sleeping at least part of the night with me, so sissies can get some sleep), so she stayed home with me and just Daddy and the big girls went. I hear rumors that he might take them BACK to our favorite Chinese restaurant this afternoon before he comes home,sigh . . . must be nice! :)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Crew Review: Kinderbach

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you may be saying . . . wait, a minute, I've seen the Kinderbach logo before! And you'd be right. This is our THIRD time reviewing Kinderbach at Home - Online, and I think I like it better every time we use it! The first time we reviewed this, it was with the older girls when they were right on the edge of being "too old" for it. Last time, was with Little Bit when she was a few months shy of age 3.  This time Little Bit is getting to use it again and she's actually IN the age range (3-7)!

PhotobucketKinderbach is an online piano curriculum for young children, using fun songs and characters to make learning fun. Each lesson is very short (just a few minutes long), lessons include games, printable activity sheets, and/or using the piano keyboard. So, in addition to your online subscription (or the lessons are also available as DVDs or an iPad app), you will need to be able to print the activity sheets and you will need access to a piano or keyboard. The first year we reviewed this we purchased an inexpensive keyboard, which worked well. Now that MiniMe is taking piano lessons we have my grandma's piano for her to use, so Little Bit gets to use it too.

As soon as I opened the program this year, Little Bit got excited and said "Dodi!!!" She remembered Dodi the donkey (who lives on the D key) from last time AND could still find "Dodi's house" on the piano.

This year some members of the crew got to review Kinderbach's new iPad app. I got my iPad a week or two too late to sign up for that, so we reviewed the online program (I can't wait to read the reviews on the iPad app though!), still, I did end up using my iPad most of the time. I just accessed the program through my web browser. It was still easier for her to watch the lessons, and take them with her to the piano, on the iPad, it worked great!

PhotobucketOne thing I continue to love about this program is that the lessons are VERY short! They are technically designed to be done one lesson per day, but as in the past, Little Bit almost always begged for "more more more!" and we typically do several days-worth at a time. This is great, IMO! It's very easy to do "one more lesson" when they are so short, and it means that children with a short attention span aren't complaining that a lesson is too long!

I could definitely see how much more quickly Little Bit picked things up this time, and she was more "into it". Coloring the pages as instructed, and such. While I think a younger sibling can enjoy this if you have the subscription anyway, I do think the recommended age range is SPOT ON for this one!! Of course, while the older girls were starting to outgrow it 2 years ago when they reviewed it (and were right at the top edge of the age range at that time), they had great fun this year "helping" Little Bit. And that was so nice for me! I could bring it up on the iPad, hand it to one of the big girls and, as long as I'd printed out the activity sheets ahead of time (I generally print a couple weeks at at time and keep them in my school planner, it's just easier), I could get other things done while they helped her with her Kinderbach. And of course, it's MUCH more fun to do things with big sisters than with boring old mommy, so it was a win-win all around!

If you're looking for a fun way to introduce your young children to music, this is a great product, and there are options to fit every family and budget. The product we reviewed is an online membership, accessible on your computer, or through the browser on your iPad or smart phone. A one year membership for this is $95.88 which works out to be only $7.99 per month!! Or you can pay $19.99 per month, billed monthly.  Alternately, there are DVDs that come in various packages, you can see them here. Or the new iPad app, be sure to read the other crew members' reviews to see what they thought of it!

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up - October 8

 So, we left off last week with visiting Grandpa Hess. The next day we headed back to Grandpa's house in the morning, then visited Rodney's cousin in the afternoon, and finally the "adopted grandpa" who lived across the street from Rodney & his family when Rodney was little. It was a long day, but great to see everyone!! The kids all did amazingly well with it too.

Rodney's cousin has dogs that kept Little Bit well entertained, and girls close to the twins' age to keep them entertained, so that was probably the most "fun" visit for the kids, but they did well all around.

We got to the hotel that night and CRASHED!!

The next day we headed to Abraham Lincoln's childhood home. We'd been so looking forward to this but (a) I never checked the actual distances, it was a LOT farther away than I thought it was, sigh . . . if I'd realized how far out of the way it was, we would have done something different. The other problem was, it was rainy, BUT since we'd already driven so far, figured we might as well at least see what we could in the rain. The girls did their junior ranger, it was an easy enough one, the ranger acted like we were "bothering" him every time we needed anything . . . like for him to TURN ON the video that he let us in the room to see, so that detracted from things, even with the rain, if we'd had an awesome ranger the girls would have had a blast, but such is life . . . Since hiking to the actual cabin site and such didn't seem real appealing in the rain, we weren't there all day, so Rodney suggested that since we weren't THAT far from Louisville, KY, we could go to the science museum there and then go to The Old Spaghetti Factory for supper, yum!!! Normally we go to the one in Indianapolis when we're out there, but with everything else going on, that hadn't worked out, so we were thrilled to find a way to fit it in!

We didn't have hours at the science museum, but since it was free with our COSI membership, that was ok, the girls all had fun while we were there. There was plenty to do. The air tube thingies were really cool Those clear tubes had air blowing really hard through them, you pushed big pom poms or scarves into the beginning and it blew them through all the tubes & out the end. There were some "levers" you could move to change which opening it came out too. MiniMe spent FOREVER playing with these.

Another fun thing for the big girls was a building thing. Little Bit spent most of her time in a really nice "little kid area" with Rodney, so I didn't get any pictures of that, but he said she had lots of fun!

Then we had a delicious supper at The Old Spaghetti Factory. All the girls thought spomoni (however it's spelled) ice cream was really good LOL. I also was re-reminded of how much I love their pesto ranch, must re-find the copycat recipe of it and start making it again, yum!

The next day we headed to Pittsburgh. It was another long day of driving, but uneventful, and Little Bit handled it like a champ. By this point in the trip she was saying "we are just driving all OVER the place!" but she seemed to be happy about that LOL. Here's hoping she'll still be as ok with "driving all over the place" after we drive all the way to FL and back in a few weeks.

We have "our hotel" that we almost always stay in when we're in Pittsburgh. It's affordable and family owned and the owners, and other employees "know" us and seem happy to see us. The rooms are small, but we have decided that it's worth it to be abit more cramped to have a hotel where we know the staff (one time the girls & I came out separate from Rodney and got to the hotel when he was with a client and the owner recognized us, looked up what room Rodney had, and gave me an extra key card, THAT is priceless! And well worth a smaller room. BUT this time, since Little Bit now sleeps with her sisters, Rodney was looking for a different bed configuration than when she slept with us/me, and he discovered that for $20 extra this hotel has suites!! And not just semi-suites, an honest to goodness 2 room suite, with a FULL kitchen!!! Since we didn't know that until the day before, we still did mostly microwave cooking since that's what I'd planned on, but I can't begin to tell you how much nicer it is to fix a meal on a counter and throw the dishes in a DISHWASHER afterwards rather than trying to balance everything on top of the microwave that's sitting on top of the mini-fridge and then hand wash everything in the bathroom sink, which also has NO counter around it! I was in heaven!!! Definitely well worth teh extra $20 per night AND now "our hotel" is even better, woo-hoo!

Our first day in Pittsburgh Rodney was going to need the car, so, after a quick trip to IKEA (since it's just down the road from our hotel) we sent him off and spent a nice afternoon swimming, doing school, and hanging out.

The second day, we headed to Carnegie Science Center! LOVE that place!!! We got there right after it opened and there were like 10 cars in the entire parking lot!!! Woo-hoo!! The big girls love the sports part but it's often SO crowded, so as soon as we got our wristbands that's where we headed. There was ONE other family in the whole place! They walked right up to the trampoline and got on immediately! (no pictures of that, it's in a corner with huge windows behind it, IMPOSSIBLE to get pictures that don't look like shadows! Then they headed to the rock wall! This time they both made it all the way to the top of the two "easy" climbs, then MiniMe moved on to try a medium climb, and did that one. Later in the day she also did a "hard" climb. And Sassy did at least a medium, I'm not sure if she did a hard too or not.

While Little actually COULD do the trampoline and rock climbing, she isn't ready for those yet, but she discovered, and LOVED the sprinting. Sassy "raced" her a few times to make it even more fun.

Another favorite in the sports area was a roller coaster simulator, just watching it from the outside made me abit queasy, but before the day was over Sassy and MiniMe had ridden all EIGHT of the roller coasters offered, they loved it!

Meanwhile Little Bit and I left Daddy to keep an eye on the big girls and we headed to the "little kid" area. Surprisingly enough IT was deserted too! I figured it might be crowded since it's for the pre-school-age crowd, but nope, she had the water table to herself, she LOVES it!

She also discovered, the magnetic skeleton puzzle, and really enjoyed it. She did the whole skeleton, the whole heart & blood vessels one, and the nervous system one. But she liked to use the skeleton head for all of them since it had a face LOL.

After a fun day, we headed back to the hotel and Daddy headed out to an evening meeting with a client while we did more swimming and then packed.

The next morning we got up, finished packing, and headed home. The trip home went really smoothly, and we were home by mid-afternoon, which was nice.

We wrapped up our week with a busy Sabbath. Little Bit had been fighting . . something, and I decided to keep her home Sabbath, so sent the big girls to do "my job" in Sabbath School. I hear MiniMe did a good job leading out in the 0-4 class since I was gone. Then they helped set up for communion/foot washing and then helped get thing ready for the Friendship meal after church. They came home chattering a mile a minute about how much fun it all was silly kid.

So that was our week. One other piece of the week, since it was Sukkot (or the Feast of Tabernacles), our Jewish Feasts Fairies joined us on the trip, much to the girls' delight. One of the first nights, the fairies brought them a pack of craft sticks and some fake greenery and asked for help making them a sukkah. The girls were up to the challenge, and did quite well if you ask me! They had a blast doing it too!

Other nights the fairies left the girls coloring pages, and a couple times some "fruit" to celebrate the harvest with . . . of course the only fairy-size fruit to be found is runts candy, the girls were quite ok with that LOL. So, despite our travelling during Sukkot (seems like we were last year too), we were able to have fun with it and I pointed out that the whole idea is to stay in a "temporary dwelling" so a hotel should qualify, so we were in our Sukkah too! Some year we're going to stay home and at least the kids will be able to sleep in a tent or build a sukkah in the yard, but for this year, staying in a hotel, and building a fairy sukkah worked.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Crew Review: Beeyoutiful!

Photobucket Most of my reviews are for the kids, and/or books. This time, I got to review something just for me! Earlier this year we got to review some great products from Beeyoutiful. This year they sent me body butter, moisturizer, toner, and hair shine.

PhotobucketI've never been super "girly", and as I've learned more about the dangerous chemicals in most "beauty products" I've abandoned the few I did use. And in case you figure "who cares about chemicals, it's not like you're EATING this stuff", when you put ANYTHING on your skin, guess where it goes! It soaks in through your skin and straight into your blood stream! So, having some truly safe and natural skin and hair care products is very exciting!

And these really are NATURAL!!! So many of the "natural" brands are, ummm . . . NOT!! I still remember how incredibly frustrated I was when my twins were babies & I was wanting to start doing infant massage, so I went to the health food store & bought some apricot kernel oil, marked as being for babies, from a well-known "natural" brand, got it home, opened it, and THEN realized there was added fragrance, not essential oils, but actual, no-way-in-the-world-to-know-what-it-is, fragrance! URGH!! Since then I have been very skeptical of "natural" bath & body products, but these are awesome!! I recognize, and approve of, all the ingredients in them! THAT is what I look for!!!
So, what did I think of my specific products?

Laveshmint Daily Moisturizer: ($12) Honestly, once I stopped using lots of harsh chemical cleansers on my face, I found I don't need to moisturize either, especially in the summer. That said, if you want a nice, nighttime moisturizer, this one is lovely!!! I personally wouldn't want to use it in the morning because then I'd have to wait for it to soak in before I can put on my mineral makeup and my "beauty routine" is too short to have time for such things LOL.

PhotobucketLaveshmint Toner: ($14) Now this was my FAVORITE!!! I never knew I needed this, but oh I sooo did!! In fact, it came with me on all the traveling we've been doing, and I am VERY minimalist when it comes to packing "extras"!!! I love this!! I love the smell, I love the way it feels on my skin, did I mention I LOVE it?!?! When I have to reorder, I'll be ordering 2, so I can keep one in my purse! For summer, this is an awesome "refresher" anytime you're feeling hot and sticky! Just a quick spritz on my face and . . . ahhhh! It's so light that I can spray it on and then put my makeup on, OR spray it on over my makeup (both of those assume mineral makeup, I can't speak to how it works with the liquid stuff). At bedtime if I'm feeling hot & sticky but don't want to take time to wash my face (shhh, don't tell, that's one of the things I love about mineral makeup (and if you've never looked into mineral makeup, some of my crew mates reviewed Beeyoutiful's mineral makeup, so go check out their reviews too!), if I just want to fall into bed without removing my makeup, I can!). So seriously, you HAVE to try this stuff, it's wonderful!!!

Hair Shine: ($15) I really, really, REALLY wanted to love this!! I love the idea of it!! I don't use shampoo on my hair, and therefore don't have to wash my hair every day. I use a regular conditioner as a kind of "mousse" to refresh the curls on days when I don't wash it, so I thought a natural spray would be even easier and BETTER!! But there is something about the scent of this that I really don't like. And I can't even pinpoint it, because I love the essential oils that are in it! Something about the sweet orange (which is generally one of my favorites) mixed with the others in this one just doesn't work for me. AND it's too light of a spray to give me the curl-bounce-back that I want/need.  That said, we did start using it as a detangler for Little Bit's hair, which gets terribly tangled, and other than still not liking the scent, I've been happy with how it works as a detangler. And trust me, finding a natural detangler is pretty much IMPOSSIBLE!!!

Photobucket And finally, Vanilla Dream Body Butter: ($15) I'm GOING to love this one! But not in the summertime LOL. How do I know? Because it's shea butter, and I love, love, LOVE shea butter as a super thick, heavy-duty moisturizer when my skin gets really dry in the middle of the winter! Right now, when it's just starting to not be humid out, it's too thick! But seriously, once I need some heavy duty moisturizing and healing, this is going to get lots of love!!! It smells soooo good!!! I don't think I've found a NATURAL vanilla scented item, and this one is, the vanilla is infused into the super nourishing oils in this body butter and it's just lovely!!! So, while it hasn't gotten much use yet, it's an amazingly wonderful winter product!! And my kids gave it their stamp of approval this past week when they were spending lots of time in hotel swimming pools and the chlorine and junk were making their skin dry & itchy. I pulled this out and they slathered it on and sighed in relief!!!

So there you have it, if you've been looking for truly natural, pampering, go check out these products, plus TONS more at their site. Also note that the prices listed are for one of a product, there are volume discounts if you buy 3 or more.

Other members of the crew got to review other products, so be sure to check their reviews too, you can see them all here.


Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received the above mentioned product in exchange for writing an honest review. No other compensation was received and all opinions are those of myself or my children, as stated.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Weekly wrap-up Sept 30

Ok, so I'm a few days late, sigh . . . .life has been busy, again . . . Or maybe, still.

Last week was mostly filled with packing and preparing for our trip. 

We squeezed in a piano lesson on Wed, before we left, then left bright and early (well, for us anyway), Thursday morning.

Our destination that day, was Columbus, OH, about an 8 hr drive. I'd prepared for the trip with lots of activities for Little Bit (maybe I will do a whole post detailing those sometime), and they were soon helpful. The iPad was a lifesaver, too. Little Bit spent a good part of the trip playing on it. One of her current favorites is a game where she puts toppings on a pizza and then "feeds" it to the person. If she has put normal toppings on, the person says, yum or some such, but if she has put green slime and bananas and cookies and such on it, the person turns green and says "blech" this is, apparently much more entertaining, so guess what we heard over and over and over lol.

 Nevertheless we arrived without incident and settled into our hotel. 

Friday we went to COSI science museum. We hadn't been there for several years, and were excited to go back. So fun!

There was a new Lego castle exhibit, fit nicely with our Knights and Nobles unit, hee hee.

Little Bit enjoyed the outside maze and all 3 girls had fun playing checkers.

MiniMe's favorite was the 1960's soda shop.
Also in the 1960 area was a mechanical toy for a dime (rigged to return your dime). Little Bit loved getting to ride it over and over.

Besides that the girls played with building toys, I think MiniMe and Little Bit are building a bridge in the picture, and spent forever in the space area, Little Bit found a thing that was supposed to be teaching about orbits, I think, but it was rolling small balls around in circles, and she spent hours (more or less) playing with that. Meanwhile the older girls, and Daddy, were busy learning how to land a space shuttle or somesuch.

All in all, a fun day!

The next day we drove the last few hours to visit Great Grandpa Hess, Rodney's grandpa, in Indiana. 

Grandpa was thrilled to see us, and had a whole menagerie of stuffed animals for Little Bit to choose from, she was in heaven! He lives right on a lake and the weather was lovely, so we spent lots of time outside. Little Bit's favorite was throwing sticks in the lake. The big girls (and I) were excited to see the swans who live on the lake swim by.

So that was last week. I the interest of getting this posted before THIS week is over, I'll save the rest of our trip for another post.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Crew Review: Box of I.D.E.As.


I'd never heard of Box of I.D.E.As. until it was offered as a review product on the Schoolhouse Review Crew. After reading the website, I jumped at the chance and chose to review Salt.

We received a sturdy box full of large zippered plastic bags. Each bag is clearly labeled with the topic and any additional items needed, in almost every case, all that was needed was a pencil. This has been awesome for our busy travel schedule lately! I can just grab however-many of the bags we'll need, at the beginning of each trip and we can work on them whenever time allows. There was one bag that did require a freezer, and water and such, it was probably the girls' favorite bag. We experimented to determine whether salt or "ice melt" melts ice better. Needless to say, that would have been challenging to accomplish in a hotel or somesuch, but was an easy, fun experiment when we were home.
Each module, included a "worksheet" of some sort. Since I only had one box for both girls, we generally improvised and we either used the worksheet as a starting point for discussion, or they wrote their answers on notebook paper instead of on the worksheet itself. This kind of defeats the purpose of providing "items for your portfolio" as is advertised, but since we only have to provide a few samples of the girls' work in their portfolio, and aren't much for worksheets, it worked fine for us.

Many of the modules include a game of some sort, so it's been fun to "have to" play board game type games regularly. In some cases we have modified the games to be less competitive (I'm not in favor of encouraging competition between my children), or just because we like to tweak things LOL.

These studies are designed for ages 9-16 so Sassy & MiniMe are at the bottom edge of the age range. I never found them to be "too young" for anything, and in some cases, we tweaked game to make them more challenging. The information provided, especially with the links to websites with additional information would be appropriate for the stated age range, but I do think some of the games would be too elementary for teenagers. Of course, as with most things, this can be tweaked, and might be an ideal way to get older children teaching their younger siblings, by having them include the younger siblings (I would say 5-8 yr olds would also enjoy many of the games, Little Bit (3 1/2) played one of the games with Sassy & MiniMe, though she was blindly guessing if the questions were "true or false" LOL, still she enjoyed it and it didn't detract from the older girls' learning in any way).

I had the choice to receive the physical or download version of this product, and chose the physical product, anticipating that some modules would include supplies for experiments & such. As it turns out, there wasn't as much of this as I thought there might be, though it was certainly nice to have rock salt & ice melt included in the bag for the experiment, instead of having to hunt it down, as I assume would have needed to be done with the download. But since most modules do include some type of game, you will go through quite abit of cardstock and ink if you were to print all of these games out. The physical box is $79, the download is $49.

When I asked the girls what they thought of it, they said they liked it and enjoyed the games, but "there's not enough experiments" LOL.

I do find the price high for what it is, however, as a "once in awhile" thing, and/or during very busy seasons when you need "grab and go" options, this is a wonderful resource!

Go to the Crew blog to see what other reviewers thought of this or other products from Box of I.D.E.As.


Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received the above mentioned product in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received and all opinions are those of myself or my children, as stated