Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Tuesday Truth

Huisman cousins

My brother and I have eight children between us now. I have four. He has four. I have two boys and two girls. He has two boys and two girls. My boys came first. His girls came first. We have both added to our family unexpectedly through a womb that was not our own. Now there are eight. And unless God knocks either of us upside the head, eight will be all she wrote. 

Here is a photo I took when there were just 7 kids back in December of 2016. 

And here they are today: two years later. They range in age from 10 to 1.

This was taken in December 2016.
And here we are in February of 2018. The view isn't as good, but we didn't want to miss the opportunity to snag a photo of all eight of them. 

Week in Florida

We have spent a glorious week with our families in the Ft. Lauderdale area. We have had amazing weather the entire week (75-80 degrees and no rain!) I have sooo many pictures from our time here, but I've decided to just make a Facebook album to share them as there are really too many to try to choose for my Blog. At some point I will probably put a Blog post together, but for now, feel free to click here to check out all our adventures. 

Tuesday Truth

Monday, February 25, 2019

Review: WorthyKids, an imprint of Hachette Book Group

I love reviewing books! I especially love reviewing kids' books!! And even more, I love reviewing kids' books that are not only good for the mind but good for the soul. And that's what WorthyKids, an imprint of Hachette Book Group has given me to share with you today. We received two books to review, both from The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls series: The Great Escape (Book #3) and Journey to Jericho (Book #4).  You can view these books by visiting: WorthyKids, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.

Before I get started, I want to share that you can read a few sample pages of book #3 by clicking here. I think this is very helpful in getting a feel for the pace and speed and vocabulary of these books. Author Mike Thomas went searching the library for books for his nine-year-old son. He wanted something fun and imaginative that would teach him the Bible. When he couldn't find anything, Mike decided to write books himself. He combines Biblical accuracy with adventure, imagination, and characters who are dear to his heart. The main characters are named after Mike's son (Peter), his niece (Mary), and his own dog (Hank.) 

My ten-year-old son, Elijah "Sidge", read Book 3: The Great Escape. These books have a target grade level of ages 6-9 or grades 1-3. Sidge is just outside of that target age-range as he is ten and in fourth grade. Sidge absolutely loved the book. He is actually a voracious reader and reads at about an eighth grade level. I wanted to see what he thought of the books being as he often reads things that are much older and more complex in theme and language. 

Sidge's review, however was incredibly positive:

The book was super fun. It was easy to read. I liked when I reviewed the previous ones, and I would love to read Book 4 too. It was really cool. I learned about the Bible and got to have an adventure. I really recommend these books!

My ten-year-old son, Isaac, read the Book 4: Journey to Jericho. Isaac is in fourth grade as well. He is usually a much tougher critic, and he also has a little lower reading level than his brother. (Isaac is approximately fifth grade in reading level.) I also say that if Isaac likes something you have really done it right as he doesn't say he likes something unless he really does. 

Isaac's review was equally positive: 

It was very easy to read. It took me about one hour to read. There were lots of interesting facts. I would recommend this for people who want to make studying the Bible fun. Mary and Peter and Hank the dog go to Jericho. There were scrolls that magically helped them get to Jericho. However, once they are in Jericho, they have to solve the scroll secret or they will be trapped in Jericho forever without being able to go back to their time. It wasn't scary, and I knew it would end happy, but I was still worried that they wouldn't get back. The kids were actually spies in the city, and they marched around Jericho with Joshua. Michael the Angel tried to help them while Satan was trying to stop them. It was interesting; I knew most of the Bible story already, but it was still very interesting to read.

I wanted to have my seven-year-old daughter read the book as well, but quite honestly, with our family vacation, I simply didn't get to it in time. Abigail can read at about a second grade level, but reading isn't something she craves yet like the boys do. However, I have no doubt Abigail could have read these books quite easily. In my opinion, it would have been something that she read in over the course of a few days -- unlike the hour that the boys read them in. 

I decided instead to read the book outloud to my daughter, Hannah (who is 5), and Abigail (who is 7). I read both books to them, and they enjoyed them immensely. They are fast reads when read by an adult (took about one hour.) I read each book in two sittings.

After sharing these books with all four of my kids, I think the target age-range could actually be extended. I would actually put the age range at 5-11 (or K-4th grade).

I have reviewed these books before. Here is a link to my previous review.

Please take a moment to check this series out on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter too. And don’t miss other reviews from our Crew by clicking below: 

The Great Escape & Journey To Jericho {WorthyKids Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Hannah’s outfits

I took Hannah shopping with my mom and AD and Abigail and her cousin Baylee. I have really never taken her shopping and I just wanted to have fun letting her choose clothes. 

Hannah picked out a few different things. This outfit in the picture was one she put together herself. She picked the skirt and shirt and sweater separately and then pieced it all together. 

She really has a knack for fashion. I just love it. 

Enjoying Florida

We got to see numerous bald eagles including one flying with a fish in his claws!
We left for Florida on the morning of Wednesday, February 20th. We drove to St. Augustine where we got to the see the famous Fort and have dinner, and then stopped in a hotel near Merritt Island, Florida. On Thursday morning we spent a half day doing nature stuff together as a family. We saw tons of new birds, manatees, and alligators! We then drove the rest of the way to my parents' home in Coconut Creek, Florida. Here were a few pictures I took along the way of our time between leaving Tennessee and arriving in Florida:

We saw tons of new birds. Two of the highlights were the Painted Bunting and the Florida Scrub Jay
I decided to really make an effort to not need technology to entertain us in the car. I spent $100 on "car activities" for the kiddos. The boys read a lot of the time and didn't need most of the things I bought, but Hannah loved my purchases and entertained herself most of the way. We ended up watching only one movie on the whole trip.
I brought Hannah's baby scrapbook in the car and was working on it.
Our new car (Ford Expedition) made for a lot of space for the drive!
Check out the Alligator
We are so excited to have a week in South Florida with our family. My parents live here. My brother and his family live just a few doors down from my parents. Grama Joni lives here. Bri lives here. And John’s bother Matt and his family are back in South Florida after a year in South Carolina. Great Aunt Betsy is here too. Lots of people to see. We are also going to go home through Tampa and see our good friends Patty & Yamil and spend a day at Busch Gardens. 

Here are just a few pics from our drive down the Sunshine State .... more to come!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

We Bought a Farm: Duck Eggs for sale!

If you are a baker, you WANT to bake with duck eggs. Just google it online and you'll find tons of articles discussing how amazing baked goods are using duck eggs instead of chicken eggs. 

We are selling a dozen for $6 here locally. Love to have more people give them a try. 

In addition, if you have a child with an egg allergy MANY children who are allergic to chicken eggs do not have the same reaction with duck eggs.

Tuesday Truth

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Where the Green Grass Grows

 "What is a farm but a mute gospel?"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am continually amazed at how farming and rural life has just seeped into every fiber of my being. I go from thinking: "This is too hard. I cannot keep up" To feeling: "How could I possibly do anything but this?" 

I did not want to be a farmer. I did not want to live rural. But I loved my husband. And this is the life he dreamed of. And so we discussed and compromised and planned and prayed. 

And suddenly his dreams became my dreams. His dreams because our dreams.

And I ended up forty-five minutes away from a town with a Target.

One thing I know now for sure. There is no way after living rural I could ever live un-rural. 


We belong here. 

Raising my kids where the green grass grows. 

This is my home.

I flashback to some words from a favorite book of mine: 

"As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you. 
 It seeps into your skin along with the dirt that abides permanently in the creases of your thickened hands, the beds of your nails ... farming takes root in you and crowds out other endeavors, makes them seem paltry. Your acres become a world. And maybe you realize that it is beyond those acres or in your distant past, back in the ream of TiVo and cublicles, of take-out food and central heat and air, in that country where discomfort has nearly disappeared, that you were deprived. Deprived of the pleasure of desire, of effort and difficulty and meaningful accomplishment. A farm asks, and if you don't give enough, the primordial forces of death and wilderness will overrun you. So naturally you give, and then you give some more, and then you give to the point of breaking, and then and only then it gives back, so bountifully it overfills not only your root cellar but also that parched and weedy little patch we call the soul . . . How was it possible that this abundance had always existed, and I had not known it? I felt, of all damn things, safe. Anything could happen in the world. Planes could crash into buildings, jobs could disappear, people could be thrown out of their apartments, oil could run dry, but here, at least, we would eat." Kristin Kimball

This video below is the ringtone on my phone. This is my life. And I love it.

Review: IXL Learning

My friend Anni uses IXL Learning in her classroom. She is a teacher at the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Knoxville. She had showed me the program previously, and I thought it was fantastic. So when the opportunity came up to review the program I jumped at the chance.

Folks, HONESTLY, hold onto your hat. This is probably one of the finest programs I have EVER seen when it comes to homeschooling, and I am a HUGE HUGE FAN. This review will be CHOCKED FULL because there is that much to talk about. DO NOT MISS THIS ONE! 

And we were NOT disappointed.

Holy Cow! I barely know where to begin because there is just so much amazing things to cover in this review. 

I reviewed this program for the nine children that we homeschool here on the farm ranging in grade from pre-K to seventh grade, and every single child found the program easy to use and positive. No one complained about having to do IXL, like, EVER. Here was the breakdown in "grades" that we are on here at our house:
  • Genevieve (Pre-K)
  • Hannah (Pre-K)
  • Eoin "Owen" (K)
  • Abigail (1st)
  • Kari (4th)
  • Sidge (4th)
  • Isaac (4th or 5th)
  • Ana (6th)
  • Gabe (7th)
So how does it work keeping track of nine children on a program?

Well, it's a super easy.

Once we sign in to our main "family" account, a new screen pops up asking who is using the program for the day.

This screen allows each child to pick his/her name and go directly into their own "learning center." (In addition, I have my own log-in as a parent as a well.)

Check out how this looks below:

So let's say that I want to log in as Gabe (who is in seventh grade.) There he is -- a basketball on the screen. (We were allowed to pick an icon that matched each child.) Once Gabe clicks on his name, he is brought to another screen

Gabe then has his own secret word that he has to type in. (I made these super easy so that no one forgot their word.)

There are then a variety of sections that the student can go to. These are all grouped under:
  1. Learning
  2. Analytics
Check out this photo below:

Let's start by looking at the "Learning" section. It may be a little hard to see on the screen shot, but the student has the following choices:
  • Recommendations: This is the section up on the screen above. It has the student select their grade level to explore math and language art topics that IXL recommends for them to begin practicing. They can then pick any skill they'd like to try.
  • Diagnostic: This is a way to see how your student is doing in different areas and figure out where they should start. This section covers only Math and Language Arts. The student answers questions to help narrow down what level they are on so that you can really focus on that when they step into the program. Just for a sample, I am including a screen shot of one of my three fourth graders. I am keeping them anonymous just to protect them. As you can see, they are mostly in about the 4th grade level on most things (which is great news for me!) As they answer more and more questions, it narrows them down more and more:
  • Math
  • Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Spanish
  • TN Standards: Love this section! Your student (and YOU!) can see what things they should be knowing/learning for their current grade level.
  • Awards: This is a fun section where you can work to uncover hidden pictures based on skills you have practiced. The picture below is an example of what a pre-K student gets when he/she clicks on the "awards" section. You can see that as soon as they accomplish what is requested of them, they get the opportunity to uncover that square.
I really appreciate that the program really tries to make things "look" appropriate for that particular age. Fore example, check out the 8th grade "awards" page. You can tell that it is for a higher level student:

AnalyticsOkay now that I've finished talking about the "Learning" section, let's spend a bit of time on the Analytics section of this program. It is broken down into the following sections:
  • Usage: The picture below breaks down how much Ana has been on the program. It also gives a breakdown of her practice by category and her practice by day:
  • Diagnostic: This link actually doubles with the one in the "Learning" section so refer back above for more on this.
  • Trouble Spots: This page features a breakdown of questions that your student has missed. For example, below I checked out Isaac's trouble spots. I can choose which child, what subject, what grade levels, and also a date range. Below, I picked any trouble spots for Isaac in Science and here is what came up:
  • Scores: In the picture below, you can see the scores for one of my students. Things they haven't done at all don't have a score. Things they have done have a score, a date, and how much time they spent on them:
  • Questions: Here you can select a skill to view how your student is doing in that category.
  • Progress and Improvement: This category breaks down the skill, time spent, questions, and score improvement for each student.
Honestly folks, this program is simply uh-maz-ing. I cannot recommend it enough. Please take a moment to give IXL Learning a thorough look. You can pay monthly or yearly. The program runs about $20 per month for one child. However, if you buy it for the year it is about $13 a month. For four children, it is about $32 a month for the yearly membership and $23 for a yearly membership.These prices are INCREDIBLY reasonable and worth every single penny. TRUST ME!

As always, feel free to message me for more information about this program.
Immersive, Adaptive Learning Online {IXL Learning Reviews}
 Crew Disclaimer

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Some Images of our Lives

 "Love the life you live. Live the life you love.Bob Marley 

It's been super busy around these parts but super, super FULL. Here are some photos that share what's been going on in these parts: 

We affectionately call these three kiddos "the littles." Hannah (5), Genevieve (5) , and Eoin (5). They are technically in pre-k, pre-k, and kindergarten respectively.

Hannah put this outfit together for Valentine's Day.

This was Dill's daughter which we have named DIAMOND. All of the sheep on born in this "batch" will be named after a mineral. We really thought Dill was having multiples but that was because this baby was really, really tall!!!

Oh do I love eggs. We are getting around 60 a day now (and also getting 5-7 duck eggs as well!) I love what a perfect food they are. I love selling them to people who love what they are getting. I love eating them. I just love eggs. (The only thing that would make them a perfect food would be if Isaac weren't allergic to them and Abigail liked them.)
Our little artist! (Pretty sure she's got her dad's drawing gene.)
I love this picture of my cousin's wife, Hannah. Hannah is really this beautiful of a person. You can simply see her niceness all over her.

Here's "the littles" performing for the older kids during our homeschool day on Friday. I just LOVE homeschooling together!!

Abigail did a cartwheel on the balance beam for the firs time this week!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Review: Heirloom Audio

Heirloom Audio Productions
Well I think you can figure out that a family LOVES a product when we have now reviewed it SIX times! This time we were fortunate enough to be chosen to review For the Temple from Heirloom Audio. This was the sixth time that our family was able to listen and share about one of their audio productions. We love them so much that we jump up and down with our hand high in the air anytime an opportunity to listen to one of these comes up!

You can read my past reviews here for Heirloom Audio below. All of these are incredibly well done and worth every second of time you give them!
Sidge with the two-disk DVD system
Mom takes the reigns
Normally, my husband is the main "facilitator" of these reviews. However, his work schedule has completely clobbered him the last few weeks, and we couldn't find a time that he could listen to it with the kids. So instead, I used it in our Two-Family Homeschooling. I presented it to the six older children and myself over the period of three different days. (We listened to it for about 45 minutes to 1 hour on three different days.)

Here is a video of all the listeners. The kiddos in this video are ages 7, 9, 10, 10, 11, and 13. (I let them draw things they were thinking of while we listened.)

Why Heirloom Audio exists
Executive Producer Bill Heid writes on their website:

I have invested my life savings and over 4500 working hours in the future of our children by producing this program. But you need only invest less than it costs for one family night at the movies to try it out ... 

Here's one of my favorite quotes, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." It's by Frederick Douglass and I think it embodies what I'm trying to say to you here. That is, it's my belief that if we take the role of active parenting during "the critical years" we can grow strong children with godly moral compasses. 

And that is exactly what these audio productions strive to do. I really dislike when "religious" products aren't up-to-par with secular productions. But this product is so good that you don't feel like you've compromised quality in order to get something wholesome. I mean, just take a look at the actors that make up this performance's team:

  • Brian Blessed: Star Wars, Tarzan
  • Chris Larkin: Master and Commander
  • Jolyon Coy: Beauty and the Beast
  • Julian Rhind-Tutt: Oliver Twist
  • Cathy Sara: Downton Abbey
  • George Blagden: Les Mise'rables
History meets fiction
The story itself is one that is shared between Mr. George and Peter Brockhaus. They meet fairly randomly and begin talking. Mr. George shares with Peter about a story he is writing. When Peter says he would love to hear the story, Mr. George kindly obliges and jumps into the young love story of John and Mary -- just teenagers as they are taking a walk along the sea. A quick decision to jump into a boat for a little alone time changes John's destiny.

John ends up connecting with Josephus, a first-century Romano-Jewish scholars. And this is where fiction meets with history. Josephus was a real person who initially fought against the Romans but then found himself a slave and ultimately received his freedom. We loved that true history was wound into the love story between these two young people. John often returns home in between battles. You can't help but wonder how hard it would be for people in this age to simply sit and wait to hear if their loved one is alive or dead.

John ends up in a many-years war to save the temple from the Romans. He also gets to meet some of the first "Christians" -- people who actually saw Jesus Christ die and saw him after his crucifixion. Ultimately, the temple is destroyed, but the readers gets to meet Nero, Vespasian, Titus and other historical names in the meantime.

Study Guide
The production comes with a downloadable study guide. It is designed to be used by
  • Parents who want help talking their younger children through the storyline and lessons.
  • Older students to use as written assignments.
Each set of questions begin and end as the narrative takes new turns which is approximately four to eight minutes in length. Each set of questions comes with:
  • The Listening Well questions: These questions ask your child what he has heard or what he remembers.
  • The Thinking Further questions: These questions require more thinking. Your child may need to look something up. There can be more than right answers.
  • The Defining Words section: These words can give your child an opportunity to enhance her vocabulary and understanding of the story.
At the end of the Study Guide there is a recommended reading list for parents and older children who want to know more about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. There are also a section of brief Bible Studies that can be used in conjunction with the audio drama.

Don't miss these audio dramas!
These audio dramas would be GREAT for long car rides. They are also fantastic for your homeschool family. Non-homeschool families can just use them for a fun "night at home" without TV or devices.  For the Temple from Heirloom Audio was completely up-to-par with the previous dramas we've gotten to review. Just awesome.

In our case, we listened to the drama one time together. We then went through it a second time with the questions to work on listening closely and being able to answer questions as you go.

Heirloom Audio Adventure Club
I can't give a review from Heirloom Audio Productions without mentioning the Live the Adventure Club. This club provides subscribers with:
  • Three 2-CD sets shipped to you each year
  • Stream over 500 old-time radio shows
  • Hundreds of fun activities and games
  • Listen and learn read-along program
  • Daily inspiration and devotionals
  • Education treasures and teaching resources
  • Full access to "Live the Adventure Radio"
  • Community forum to exchange ideas and tips
You can find out more about Heirloom Audio by visiting them on the following social media sites:
For The Temple {Heirloom Audio Reviews}
 Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Fashion Designer Lives On

This kid! I just never feel like this Blog does who she is justice. My cousin's family passed down a few items of clothing. This is always a big deal to Hannah. It's like Christmas. Only better. 

One of these items was a Christmas pajama dress? That's what I think it is. I'm honestly not sure. 

First, Hannah asked if her Daddy could cut holes in the sleeves since they were a little long so she could wear them like gloves.

He obliged.

But then she decided that instead of it being "long" she wanted it to be short like a shirt.

I told her that you can't just go around cutting dresses to make shirts. (Even my non-sewing self knows this won't work.) Thinking I would dissuade her from the idea I said: "If you wanted to do that, we'd have to take it to Ms. Faye, and pay her to make you a shirt."

"How much would it cost?" Hannah asked.

"At least five dollars," I said, knowing that Ms. Faye always undercharges us for her amazing seamstress work. 

"Okay," Hannah said. "I got five dollars from the tooth fairy!" 

(The tooth fairy always give a $5 bill for the very first tooth a kid loses. After that it drops to $1. Unless you have to get a tooth pulled. Then she leaves $2. Although, none of my kids believe in the tooth fairy anyways.)

"You want to use all your tooth fairy money to get this dress made into a shirt? Instead of a toy?" I'm not sure if that's a good idea. We will have to talk to Daddy."

She did. She ran out of the room to find him and tell him her plan. I couldn't believe she really wanted to spend money to see one of her "fashion visions" come true.

I'm more convinced than ever that one of the greatest gifts I can give this child ...

is a sewing machine.

(And good lessons. From someone that is not me.)


Here is Abigail the human with Abigail the dog just before we handed her off to his forever home. Abigail the dog went home on Tuesday, June 12. Abigail the dog is spirited and appears to have the most energy of all the pups! She is a feisty and fun bundle of fur!

Abigail's new family has become an incredible special one to us. Toni and I became friends through ballet. Her granddaughter Cali was getting a dog. And then, while visiting the pups at our house, this happened. Please continue to pray earnestly for John and if you can, donate to a gofundme we have set up in Cali's honor.

I plan to keep one Blog page going for each of our seven pups so that we can see what they are up to and doing. We are excited these are ALL going to families we know so that we can stay in touch with them through photos and maybe even in person. New pictures will go under these words with a date below each picture so that our family can watch these little beauties grow.

I must tell you that doing these puppies has been one of the funnest and finest things we have done on our farm. Not only has it been a financial help to the farm, but it has brought us immeasurable joy. We DO plan to do another litter in the spring and are already compiling a list of people interested. 

Cali picking up her puppy on Tuesday, June 11.

Me giving little Abigail a last little look over. 

June 18, 2018

July 16, 2018

October 2018 
Abigail with her Dad Ritter

January 2019 (Abigail is with a new family in Texas now! This is her big brother dog!)

If you'd like to follow with more pics of this fun dog, you can do so at: abigailthefrogdog on INSTAGRAM.