W is for … water and wildflowers

W water and wildflowersIf you are in Texas, know someone in Texas, or used to be from Texas, maybe even if you are within 1,000 miles of Texas, you know that it has been bluebonnet season down here. Everyone goes crazy for bluebonnets. Even me. And I am not a Texan. (I’ve been here for a long time now and once in a while, I’ll claim Texas but I will always be a New Mexico girl at heart. Just sayin’.)

I love the bluebonnets, though. They are beautiful. They are fun. They smell amazingly sweet. They brighten up my days for about two weeks. And then they are gone until the next year. So, I take pictures of them and of my girls in them. There is nothing better to mark their growth than an annual picture. And Texans tend to choose to do them with bluebonnets. (Yep, there’s one of those times that I guess I have to claim being a Texan.)

W smiles in wildflowers

We took a fun field trip to hunt down a really good, publicly accessible field of bluebonnets. And Indian paintbrushes. Because around here, they grow together. We drove about 20 miles and found a lovely little lake to have a picnic by, explore a bit, and enjoy the bluebonnets. It even had a cute little playground for the girls to play at.

W pirate ship playgroundW study wildflowers

After our picnic, the girls sat down and drew the bluebonnets. They got down on the ground and studied them. It was interesting to see the differences in what they noticed about the flowers. And, of course, we took pictures in the bluebonnets.

W water

We also spent an hour or an hour and a half, exploring the edges of the lake. Climbing over limestone, seeing the erosion water creates, finding shells from freshwater clams, seeing how trash gets trapped and rots (gross but educational), and so much more.

It was a terribly fun day. We enjoyed Water and Wildflowers.

At Home.

Orphs of the Woodlands – a TOS review

Have you ever wished that your child’s favorite thing could be used to teach them their least favorite things? Well, get a taste of it with Orphs of the Woodlands. This is an online education resource and game that combines reading with experiencing hundreds of tidbits of knowledge.
Star Toaster introduced their first book in the Orphs of the Woodlands series not too long ago. It is titled The Treasure of HighTower and our family was thrilled to get the chance to review it.

TOS review

The Treasure of HighTower did not disappoint. Star Toaster has created a story line about a squirrel, whom your child gets to name, that becomes a spy and helps to rescue orphaned forest creatures. The story is so exciting, so full of adventure, that the girls had a hard time not reading all the way through it in pretty quick succession. They wanted to just keep reading. But, if they did that, they were going to miss an important and exciting part of the program.

As the story goes along, Spy (what we’ll call the squirrel for the time being) runs into orphans, or orphs, that need help. If Spy doesn’t learn what is put before him in his day to day life, he won’t have the money to provide the help these orphs need. So, Spy must learn and pay attention and do the jobs in order to earn money and rescue the orphs. The more NID (New Information Daily) that is learned, the better Spy does on his jobs and the more money he has to rescue and provide for the orphs.

experiencing lessons


Now, don’t misunderstand. These are fun jobs! I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in charge of creating the exact color of paint needed for the HighTower Highbrow Museum of Art? Or what about being a number namer for the bank? Letter Linguist? Synonym Specialist? Maybe you want to bake something for the Badger Bakery? Whatever you want to try out, there is a job for you!

How do you get these jobs? Begin reading the book at the beginning. After each chapter is completed, there are new jobs that you can work. Each job completed correctly will pay gold stars, with which you can take care of the orphs. Do a good job and more orphs will come to be taken care of. The girls loved seeing how many orphs appeared at the end of each chapter.

discovering moreI want to share a couple of thoughts about the product. I am impressed with this product. It has done a wonderful job of exposing the girls to about 240 different aspects of learning. (This is how many jobs were completed by E when she had finished the book.) Some of the jobs reappear with a bit more difficult learning tucked in there but I don’t consider the girls to have gotten significant instruction on most of these topics. They were definitely exposed to them and it opened up a world of ideas to the girls, which is fantastic. (We took several “rabbit trails” to explore some of these worlds of ideas based on the information presented.) This does in no way diminish the quality or worth of this program. The more exposure the girls have with more difficult concepts in a familiar context, the easier those concepts are for them to learn.

Reading is the bridge for this program. You definitely need to have a good reader with good comprehension for this program. The range for this program is suggested 4th – 7th grades. I think this is a good range but it could easily stretch younger or older. My 3rd grader was easily able to read it but she loves to read. There are lots of words she didn’t know but there are rollovers embedded in the story that give the part of speech and several synonyms in varying degrees of difficulty for the word. There are also rollovers for quotes and ideas that are shared as part of the story, exposing the reader to thoughts of great thinkers from all walks of life.

quote and vocabulary

Because this is an online program you will need to purchase a subscription for the book and you will need a computer to read and complete the jobs. I hope everyone has easy access to a computer because this was worth the time and effort. The girls learned so much and I have a much better idea about some of the curriculum choices we need to make for them because I saw how much they enjoyed learning that was embedded in reading a story.

As I close this review, I want to share one more thing that we absolutely loved about Orphs. Throughout the book, there are videos. Prof. Forp is the instructor and he is hilarious! He cracks jokes that help them remember information and repeats things in such a way that they are remembered AND make sense. You can see an example of his video on the Star Toaster home page. The girls, E especially, really enjoyed the Professor.  And I loved the jokes. This is one I can wholeheartedly say “Go check out.”

free trial

We are waiting anxiously for the next book to come out in the Orphs of the Woodlands series by Star Toaster. If this sounds interesting to you, they have a free trial that you should check out. (Psst – this would also be a fantastic addition to a summer reading program.)

At Home.


Connect with Star Toaster on Social Media.

PINTEREST: https://www.pinterest.com/startoaster/
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/startoaster4kids
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/StarToaster


Star Toaster ReviewCrew Disclaimer

New American Cursive – a TOS review

Without any direction, it is hard to find an ending. Yet, that is exactly what we were doing in teaching cursive. We had no program, no guide, no direction. Only the enthusiasm of a child to learn how to write in cursive. So when we were given the chance to review New American Cursive:  Penmanship Program Workbook 1 from Memoria Press, I was thankful to do so. And I have been pleased.

a review of New American Cursive from At Home: where life happens

New American Cursive was developed by Iris Hatfield. With a passion for handwriting, Ms. Hatfield created a program that is ideal for teaching young students how to write in cursive. It is designed for students as young as first grade. One reason Ms. Hatfield felt like a more efficient, effective program was necessary is because students that can write fluidly can get their thoughts onto paper more quickly and the thought can flow unimpeded.

New American Cursive

The lessons in the NAC workbook are not time consuming and can easily be completed in sessions no more than 15 to 20 minutes. (Unless you have a very creative child who enjoys drawing, like L does. She always enjoyed spending quite a bit of time on the creative section of each lesson but I’ll share more about that in just a minute.) To complete each lesson, you must have the workbook and a pencil. It is also recommended that some classical music be playing to calm the student, improve their writing rhythm, and help focus their attention during practicing. L loved this part. She thrives when listening to classical music so this helped make this practice time even more enjoyable for her.

practicing with NACThe workbook comes with several pages for the instructor. There are a couple of pages telling you more about Ms. Hatfield and why she created NAC. There are a couple of pages discussing why teaching cursive is needed and why starting it young is good. These are followed by a Teaching Guide, which will help you implement this program well.

For the student, each letter has three pages of exercises.

  1. There is an instruction page showing and describing how to form the letter correctly.
  2. There is a practice page for the student to trace the letters and then write them.
  3. There is a play page, where the student has some fun exercises and free space for artwork or trying new letters.

Mr. Meerkat, the mascot of NAC, helps the student learn the basics of cursive writing throughout the book.  Mr. Meerkat shows the student, through examples, how to slant the page, hold the pencil, and form each letter. The mascot is cute and fun to see how he is going to show up in each lesson.

Some of My Favorite Things

NAC sprial binding


My first favorite thing is the way the book is bound. When I first saw the spiral binding on it, I just knew we were going to have problems. But Memoria Press bound this with the top of each page on the binding so that the spiral is always out of the way of the student’s wrist and arm while writing. It doesn’t matter if the student is a leftie or a rightie; the binding does not get in the way.


My next favorite thing is the clean, simple way each letter is taught. There are no confusing terms. The pieces of the letter formation are not broken down into such small pieces that you are putting four or five different slants and curves together to form the letter. It is clear and precise and understandable. It is simple enough that L, a bright 8 year old, can do this with very little assistance from me. I do check all of her work and watch her from afar, correcting when necessary. However, she is fairly independent with this program because she is an instruction follower.

Another favorite thing is that each lesson pushes the student’s ability slightly beyond what they have already worked on. Within each letter, there will be a series of letters or words containing letters the student hasn’t learned yet. The student traces these and it stretches the mind just a bit farther.

artwork and exercises



The final favorite thing I want to share with you is the creative freedom given to the student at the end of each lesson. This is a space where the student can create on his own or draw whatever she want. L chose to use this space to be create with the letter studied. When she finishes this book, she will have a bound collection of some very creative drawings. It will be a neat memory book.

Final Thoughts

I have been pleased with this program. I am going to explore whether I want to purchase New American Cursive:  Penmanship Program Workbook 1 for J to use next year when she is in first grade or if I am going to invest in the New American Cursive StartWrite Program. Either way, I like the way this program is working and the progress L is making with it.

At Home.


Find Memoria Press on Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/memoriapress
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Memoria Press ReviewCrew Disclaimer

Make It Work Monday – doll stockings

stockings 10This week is going to be bringing you a couple more reviews so I will make an effort to sandwich them between some other posts. Today, I’m sharing with you the stockings we made recently for the girls’ American Girl dolls.


We have been going through the mending piles and pulling out the things that are actually not repairable but that have some good material to them. I have saved several pairs of stockings the girls have put holes or runs in. Most of them are microfiber stockings so they are pretty durable and don’t actually run. Unfortunately, they do tear. So, we have several that had big holes in the knees. I kept them and we made them into doll socks and stockings the other day. Here, in pictures, is the process for the stockings.stockings 1

stockings 2stockings 3stockings 4stockings 5stockings 6

If you have questions about how we did this, please ask in the comments. It makes sense to me but I often sew by instinct. That makes it a bit harder to share information sometimes. If you don’t understand something, I will try to clarify. Thanks for stopping by.

stockings 9

At Home.


You Have A Brain – book review and giveaway

THINK BIGToday, I have another wonderful book by Dr. Ben Carson to review: You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G. I also get to offer a copy to a reader through a Rafflecopter giveaway. This has been one exciting read!


Dr. Carson came from a difficult past. A past that I can only read about. I didn’t have to struggle through any of what he did. His past did not define him, though. His mother taught him better. She had a vision for him and his brother and she fought for that vision to come to fruition. The back of the book reads:

Sometimes you have to think big to think smart.

When I was a child, I did not think my brain was capable of doing much of anything. My classmates considered me the class dummy and I saw no reason to debate their conclusion. My mother, however, always believed in me. She knew I had a brain, and she was convinced that brain could be my ticket to a bigger, better world beyond our tiny home and life on the big city streets of Detroit.

And she was right.

Think Big acrostic

Dr. Carson shares a lot about his upbringing, the road he had to travel and the mountains he had to overcome. But he makes it clear that those were his mountains to overcome and he chose to do so. He chose to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G.

Through stories and examples, Dr. Carson encourages each of us to THINK BIG.
T – Talent – defining and broadening your definition can open up more opportunities to think big.
H – Honesty – the range of words that honesty incorporates builds character so you can think big.
I – Insight – changes the way you see things, allowing you to think big.
N – Nice – learning how to be nice, and always doing so, shows you new avenues to think big.
K – Knowledge – gaining a wide range of knowledge making you more valuable, you can think big.
B – Books – change not just what you know but who you are and open realms to think big.
I – In-Depth Learning – take initiative and learn deeply what is important; an expert can think big.
G – God – gives us all we are and need; He ties all of these together and give us everything we need to think big.

While this book is directed at teens, there is much to be gleaned from the principles Dr. Carson sets forth in this book. Reading and applying it, you can change your life. Even just applying one of his ideas and principles will create a change in your life.

One of my favorite principles was employed by Dr. Carson’s mother and it is so simple. She would simply ask her boys “Do you have a brain? … You need to use the brain God gave you.” (p.15) The thought behind those words places responsibility where it needs to be and I can see this being a wonderful tool for helping children grasp their responsibility. I’ll be using this phrase, I imagine.

A nice feature of this book is that Dr. Carson included a series of questions at the back of the book. These questions serve a couple of purposes. One set of question is designed to help you think through your true talents. This is one that should be done individually but, if it is a teen working through it, a parent’s input might be valuable on some of the questions. It is always good to bounce your thoughts off of someone. The second set of questions are for discussion. This would help make this book a good book group selection or assigned reading for teens and preteens.

Think Big win

This has been a refreshing look at life. I have enjoyed it tremendously. I can’t wait to read through this with my oldest. We are going to read it, at chapter at a time on our own, and then get together after her sisters are in bed to talk about what she read. To see how it all fits together. To help her see a vision for her future. To discuss and bond and seek God. Because, as Dr. Carson stated

God has give us everything we need to think big. He is what ties it all together. So the better we know the One who designed our brains, the bigger and better we’ll be able to think. Because we cannot ever thing bigger than God. p. 218

At Home.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book and an appreciation certificate for a giveaway, free from Family Christian Stores.  I was not required to write a positive review, and any affiliate relationship does not impact my opinions. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

V is for … Very First Cake

So I am going to try to sneak this one in just under the wire for the week. Otherwise, I won’t have an ABC post for the week and, well, I just don’t wanna do that! So, V is for Very First Cake.

Today is E’s 11th birthday. I had the cakes all baked and ready to put together. Out of the blue she asked if she could help decorate it. Ummm – YES! So, she designed and decorated her own cake today. I helped her and gave her lessons with it along the way. But, she did 95% of the decorating. Any that I did was to show her the techniques and help her out with some rough spots. Here’s her process and cake:

V ice a cake

V design on cakeV final design

America The Beautiful – a book review and giveaway

America the Beautiful 2How do you describe America? Not the land or the topography but the people. The people created the vision of America. They wrote the documents that officially “made America.” They fought the battles, both literal and figurative. The differences, the ability to discuss those differences, the ability afforded in America to “make something of yourself”. People ARE America. So, why then is America having such difficulty and why is there so much fighting amongst Americans and those who love this country?

Dr. Benjamin Carson, a world-renown pediatric neurosurgeon and professor at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, has written a beautiful manuscript challenging each of us to know more. In reading America the Beautiful I have learned more about America’s past, government, and ideals than I learned in all my schooling years combined. This book is rich with information, ideas, and solutions. Your head will swim with thoughts and your heart will be full of appreciation for the men who dreamed enough to set a worthy vision up for our country.

Only through the careful study of historical documents can we
prevent the distortion of where we came from and who
we are as a nation. p. 50

Dr. Carson address some very challenging issues in his book. But he doesn’t just talk about the issues. He gives us the history of the issues and information to consider. He then does what many people today do not – he gives ideas for solutions to the issues. He presents plans that can make our country stronger for today and into the future. Some of the issues Dr. Carson addresses:

  • America’s history
  • Who Americans are
  • Are we a Judeo-Christian nation or not?
  • Capitalism
  • Socialism
  • Morality
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • and much, much more.

Our founding fathers set a pretty high standard. I didn’t know just how high until I began reading Dr. Carson’s book. Dr. Carson shares the sources he quotes from and discusses. That list has made my own reading list grow. And grow. I have so many new titles that I want to read now so that I can know for myself what our founding fathers dreamed of. Not just what the textbooks taught.

We must be careful not to allow those who like to rewrite
history to silence the voices of those God-fearing
visionaries who founded America. p 61

I have been deeply impressed with this book. I had a great desire to read it. This is the first of his books that I have read but I have been hearing about Dr. Carson for a while now. He stands for so much of what America is about. Dr. Carson has “pulled himself up by his bootstrings” as we often say in America.

He was brought up by a mother who knew the value of education and working hard. She didn’t let her sons get by with feeling sorry for themselves because of their lot in life. She desired to change their lot in life. She worked hard and in doing so, gave authority to herself in insisting that her sons work hard to change their lots in life. Dr. Carson and his brother took her example and hard work to heart and they did change their social positions. Without taking handouts from the government. That is actually a big deal because they were surrounded by others who did. But she knew what she wanted and her vision grew in her sons. And they reached higher and higher to grasp the bar she set. Then they set their own bars high and worked to grasp them. This is the story of America. They are the example of America. No wonder Dr. Carson desires for our nation to rethink where we came from and where we are going.

My vision has been challenged and I am thankful for that. I encourage you to pick up a copy his book, or any of his other titles, and allow yourself to see the America the Beautiful our founding fathers saw and Dr. Carson brings back to light. At Home.

I am delighted to offer you the opportunity to win a copy of Dr. Benjamin Carson’s America the Beautiful. Family Christian will send one reader a softback copy of this book. Click the link below to be taken to the Rafflecopter form for the giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



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