Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: Essential Skills Advantage

Essential Skills Advantage ReviewGet ready for a VERY cool product that I am recommending with great gusto! I'm always big on a product that I love and my boys equally love, and this is one that fits the bill. Not only did we all love it, but it is also extremely affordable! The Complete Home Learning Suite from Essential Skills Advantage (or ESA) provides a fun way for your child to work on vital skills like reading, spelling, language, grammar, math, science, and geography. And FUN is the key word. If they don't roll their eyes when I say, "Do your ESA" than I know I have found a winner.

I really had trouble as I prepared this review because the concept of this program is so incredibly simple, so well laid out, and so easy to use. How do you say "This is awesome" using different words? :) Your student simply logs in and chooses an area to work in. Areas that they can focus on include:
  1. READING: K-6 
  2. SPELLING: Grades 1-6
  3. LANGUAGE & GRAMMAR: Grades 3-6
  4. MATH: Grades K-6
  5. SCIENCE: Grades K-3
  6. GEOGRAPHY: Grades 3-5
The student can choose the topic they want to focus on. Then they can choose the level that fits them at that time. The entire program is a one year online subscription for kids in grades K-6. There are over 14,000 programs providing nearly unlimited options for your student.

Here is my son Isaac telling me what program he just finished that day:

Here is a sample screen for Geography. Once you say you want to do Geography, you get the choice of what grade you want to participate in.

Some subjects, like Language & Grammar have more grades available than others:

Here is an example of one of the math problems in the 1st grade Math section which my son Sidge was working in:

Each screen is colorful, fun, entertaining, and engaging. Both my boys used this program for about a month. I really let them choose what they wanted to work on that day and plan to continue doing that through the summer. The problems and questions seemed very grade appropriate, and they really seemed to be benefitting from what they were learning. Here is an example of some of the bright and colorful screens that would face them each step of the way:
Essential Skills Advantage Review
Essential Skills Advantage Review
Essential Skills Advantage Review
Afterwards, I can go into the teacher side and see how they did on certain subjects -- getting full reports!

I was also incredibly impressed with the customer service we received. There were a few glitches on some of the pages (that I later learned were due to the fact that they were on a MAC interface.) They were minor issues, but I emailed the company and heard back within 24 hours and by the next day, the problem was corrected! 

The lessons are short, incredibly interactive, keep their attention, and they do NOT complain about doing them! What I especially loved was that the program was easy for them to do completely on their own. They didn't need my help in figuring out what the instructions meant or what was required of them. The Complete Home Learning Suite was incredibly popular in our house, and it will definitely be something we will be utilizing in the future.

The program is incredibly affordable as you can see on their Pricing page. 

Essential Skills Advantage is all over social media! Check them out at the places listed below:
Essential Skills Advantage Review
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday Truth

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: Boomboxkids.com

I recently had the opportunity through a friend to review Boomboxkids.com. The album is now available to the public, and I strongly recommend it. Here is a link for previews of the songs.

These songs were created by a woman named Briana Leach who watched as her son found other songs "catchy" that weren't church songs. When she tried to get him to sing "Jesus Loves Me" he didn't want to sing it. He wanted to sing songs from Yo Gabba Gabba and Disney. 

Leach partnered with Aaron Rice, a Dove and Grammy-nominated songwriter, to have him bring new life to these songs. This album is being distributed by DayWind records and Sony Red, and debuted at #7 on the Children's iTunes chart on our release day! 

I hope you enjoy!

Because of Isaac Auction

Hey folks! Our Because of Isaac auction launches Wednesday, June 1st at 8am. PLEASE take a moment to look around your home or rack your brain for anything you could donate. You can click here to check out the 55 items that have already been donated. Email me at flakymn@hotmail.com.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

We Bought a Farm: Emily Introduces Lolly Cake (and more!)

One of the reasons we were excited to have WWOOFers here with us on the farm is the cultural exchange that takes place. Our current WWOOFer is Emily who is from New Zealand. She is doing a year of overseas study and is spending her summer break travelling around the USA. She has been an absolute delight to have here on the farm. Here is her doing a puzzle with Hannah. (Check out Hannah's bear in front of her face.) 

I've spoken about this previously, but our WWOOFers live in a separate apartment from our house, but they have all their meals in their home and are welcome to spend time with our family. Emily is our fourth WWOOFer and each one is different. Some want to cook. Some like to clean. Some want to play with the kids. Some want to stick to farm work. We try to get our needs to meet the WWOOFers needs and wants. The only base-line expectations we have is that individuals help us with basic animal care. Outside of that, it is really up to them.

For example, Emily is a Geography and Geology major. (Did I mention that I have a son who is obsessed with geography and rocks?) She has been taking a class on map-making so she decided to try to do a map of our woods while she is here. We are really excited about that as we have 60 acres and have been wanting to know the best way to the top of our ridge. Emily is going to help with that.

Tonight, Emily decided to make dinner for us. She had her mom in New Zealand help her with a recipe. The dinner was delicious. But the dessert was ... awesome!! It's called Lolly Cake. It totally did not look like something I would like, but it was absolutely DELICIOUS!

This isn't a picture of her cake, but you get the idea!

Emily and the kiddos enjoying dinner! They all ate the dinner ...

.... and they all loved the dessert!

Hannah absolutely ADORES Emily. Her favorite line, every day, is "Ms. Emily, can you play with me?"

We Bought a Farm: My Favorite View

 I love this view lying on my couch, looking out our front door. My favorite view of the farm:

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Review: The Pug List

What a delightful read! The Pug List tells the story of one family, a house fire, and the dream of a dog in the midst of chaos. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book by Alison Hodgson. If you are an animal lover, you will love it. If you are a pug lover, you will really love it. But if you are neither, you will still find the story of loss and rebuilding encouraging. It will help put the trials of life in perspective. It will help you come to terms with the fact that stuff is, well, just ... stuff. And that the dreams of children are really big!

In addition, while this is a true story told from a Christian perspective, non-Christians will enjoy it as well. We can all relate to life's disappointments and joys.

If I had one "complaint" about this book it would be that I wanted a little less about the fire and a little more about the dog, but on the flip-side, I really liked Hodgson's writing style. She was witty and real and not afraid to use phrases a little bit off the beaten path.

A real joy to read! I can't do anything but recommend it!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest and fair review.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

We Bought a Farm: A Year in Review

My husband put a great post together over at his website depicting our year on the farm in review. What we did right. What we did wrong. What we learned. What we hope to do in the future. Scrubs makes a cameo as well!

This post comes at a good time for me. If anyone ever looks at our life on the farm and thinks that I've got it altogether. Think again. Each day brings peace, tranquility, and new challenges that can make me want to pull my hair and cry and yell -- or do all three which I did yesterday.

What set it all off? Well, realizing that Arabelle had figured a way out of our "fool proof" puppy yard. Check out how she did it here:

This may not seem like a big deal, but it felt huge to me. Suddenly the "safe place" that I put the dogs whenever we cannot be with them, has to be scrapped, and I have to go back to the drawing board.

We have come up with an option on our porch that should work, and my father-in-law, has come to my rescue with a gate idea.

But when you have 120 acres of land to care for and currently 9 people and a bajillion animals and rain to worry about and predators to prepare for ... oh and yeah, I'm homeschooling our four children and trying to continue with my writer ... some days feel too big and too hard.

Thank goodness his mercies are new every morning.

Dad Pens A Brutally Honest Post About His Wife’s Struggle To Get Pregnant

I found this infertility piece fantastic. Told from a husband's perspective, it really details what infertility feels like all the way around.

Friday, May 27, 2016

We Bought a Farm: First Visit to the Vet

I got a little behind on posting this. But Sidge helped me take the pups to the vet for the first appointment with me!

Hands on! Regional Museum

We took our Thursday to head down to the Hands on! Regional Museum. My kids love this place. Joni got a bunch of pictures!

One of our favorite places in the little grocery store. The kids love checking their shopping lists, getting their items, and paying for their things!

There is a piano in one corner. Isaac found it immediately and started playing: 

There's also a stage where the kiddos can "perform." Hannah was our main performer -- dressing up as a princess and a giraffe:

There's also a huge building area. They love this part too and spend tons of time on their own projects:

Downstairs is a bubble section!

They also have "sessions". Today's session was one on building bridges. They had spaghetti and marshmallows to practice!

The recital

Last fall, the boys started taking piano lessons. It was a series of coincidences that led us to first buy a piano and then find a teacher. 

I saw an add on my new homeschool Facebook board that a church was selling a piano. (It ended up being the church we would decide to attend. But that really has nothing to do with the story.) The piano was only $200 so we decided to buy it. We had always wanted piano to be a part of our homeschool curriculum, and here was an inexpensive piano. 


At the time my father-in-law picked up the piano, an older, spunky lady happened to be there. She was doing some sort of piano-something at the church, but she didn't attend that church. She told Dad which of the two pianos were best and also gave him her number since she was a piano teacher.

A few months later we moved to our farm, and I called Ms. Lesley, and she agreed to come to our house to do lessons for the boys and for ME! Learning to play the piano has always been on my bucket list. That and learning a new language. I learned Turkish (mostly) and when Abigail was born, JB gave me piano lessons as my present. It was actually JB that told me, when calling Ms. Lesley, "Tell her you want lessons too."

That seemed like a terrible idea. I have four little kids, we are living on a farm, and I am homeschooling my children. I don't have time for piano. But you know, as a mom, you don't often do things for yourself, so why not go for it! So I did. 

But I really wanted the lessons at our house. I knew I didn't have it in me to drive to town with all the kids and manage Hannah and Abigail while the three of us tried to do a lesson every week. So when Ms. Lesley said she was willing to drive to us once a week, I was sold!

We started lessons in the fall. Ms. Lesley comes out every Wednesday morning and the three of us do a 30-minute lesson each. Sometimes Grama K. or JB are here to watch Hannah. Other times I prop her in my room with Daniel Tiger, but I usually manage to get all kids occupied for 30 minutes so I can do my lesson.

Ms. Lesley is actually a voice teacher first and a piano teacher second, so this recital was a mixture of singing and piano. The boys were both very nervous. As usual, Sidge talked about how nervous he was constantly, and Isaac didn't say anything, but when you asked him he would say, "I feel very nervous too."

Ms. Lesley was so cool. She said this was very laid back, and if they couldn't get up and do it, it was no big deal. She also said JB could certainly sit up on stage by them, which Sidge wanted desperately. JB did a good job explaining to them that nerves were normal and not necessarily bad and that everyone who went up there was nervous. In addition, Joni was with us, and she is a piano player and she said that feels a little bit of nerves before she gets up to play every single time.

(Oh, and by the way, adult students aren't included in the recital. Thank goodness!)

First issue, before the recital, was the fact that the day before the recital, Ms. Lesley informed me the boys needed to wear pants for the recital. Not jeans. Not shorts. Ugh. I scoured my closets and our "grow into" box and couldn't find anything. Well, I did find a few pairs of pants that were hysterically large or terribly worn. 

We decided to hit Target while we were in the next big town over for a kids' museum the day of the recital. I hate buying things I know won't be used to their maximum potential, but $15 each didn't seem too outrageous.

Here is a picture of the boys before going inside for their recital. We didn't even get the pants in the picture:

And here is a picture inside, pants included. They look pretty sharp I think. Okay, so yes, they are wearing tennis shoes with their khakis. I am not a crazy person who was going to buy shoes for one wear!

And a family picture of the four of us. Grampa and Grama K. offered to stay home with the girls. (They had heard the recital songs more times than they could count and with a 6:30 start time, we all knew this was for the best.)

And then, it was time for them to perform. Sidge was up #2. And Isaac was up #3. I love that Sidge is now officially "Sidge" everywhere -- even on the very official recital program:

First up, Sidge with his piece:

Here is Sidge performing. I love his bow at the end. He just came up with that on the fly. He had seen the little girl before him bow and decided to do it. He made a few mistakes, but we were SO proud of him for doing this. 

And then it was time for Isaac:

Here is a video of Isaac performing. He appeared a lot less nervous, as is always the case because Isaac doesn't talk as much as Sidge. But he couldn't get off that stage fast enough!

However, this post wouldn't be complete by showing you what happened the moment we got home. The boys first took just a nice picture with each other. Simple enough:

But then they spotted them. Since our chickens have the run of the farm, they occasionally get a little off track and wander into the yard. They waddle in through the back gate. And since the guineas live inside the gate, we need to keep it open. (We are brainstorming options to stop this but like many farm problems, other things take priority.) The boys actually love this. They love to catch the chickens and let them "fly" back over the fence. 

So before I knew what was happening, Sidge was heading over to catch the chickens. I didn't really think much about it at the moment. 

But then I watched as Sidge went sprawling on his belly to catch a chicken by the leg, and JB said, "Not in your pants!" and suddenly, there it was. Grass stains on both legs on the first night.

They are in the wash now. Hopefully, I have managed to save them.