Thursday, April 27, 2017

A New Way to Kill Time with Planet 316 - Review

Since I spend a lot of time waiting for the girls - at dance competitions, in the car, in waiting rooms, while they do their many activities, it's nice to get to review an app that helps me kill time while stretching my brain a bit. It has become part of my time killing/it's ok to mess around on your phone time routine to complete a puzzle with the  Daily Bible Jigsaw from Planet 316.

Daily Bible Jigsaw by Planet 316

 I can get addicted to games pretty easily on my phone. I am very cautious about what I choose to download, because I know that it can quickly become a distraction. I don't know that I would have chosen this app, but now that it's on my phone, I'm glad it's there.

This app is completely free and available on many platforms including:
The app is free, but, as is typical, you have the option of purchasing coins to give you more tools to aid you in completing the puzzles faster.  For this review, I was given 500 coins to play with.  This game was created with adults in mind, but if I purchased coins to allow Madison to use some of the tools, she'd be able to do it easily.  

 Daily Bible Jigsaw by Planet 316

Each day a new puzzle becomes available to play for free.  The goal is to solve your puzzle as fast as you can.  Once the puzzle is completed, you’ll see a daily Bible verse.  If you are faithful puzzle solver for a whole month, you’ll be rewarded with an extra beautiful photo and verse. If you miss a day (and a puzzle), you can gain access with the use of a few coins. Of course, the game is social as well.  Playing via the Facebook platform affords you the ability to challenge your friends in a tournament. I was very skeptical about connecting my Facebook account, since one of my pet peeves is game statuses, but the app doesn't post anything for you, and honestly, I don't notice anything on my page.

There are few challenges to solving the puzzle quickly. First, and most initially annoying to me, is that you are not given a picture to guide you. This really irked me at first. Second, the pieces are not necessarily rotated to the correct orientation, so even starting with the edges can be a challenge if you don't know which edge you're looking for. The rotation was fine for me - after all, when you dump a puzzle out of a physical box, the pieces are jumbled. Of course, you get to look at the box. You aren't flying blind in every way.

At first I was pretty stubborn and tried not to use the tools, and I was able to solve the puzzles, but after a while, I felt I had more fun if I got off to a good start, so I put my coins to good use.

If you want to use the available tools to speed up your puzzle solving you need coins. Although you can earn coins for solving certain amounts of puzzles, beating specific times, and even just for connecting to Facebook, you don't earn many and it would be very difficult to build up a "stash". If you want to use tools, buying coins is really the only option.

These tools include the following:

Rotate – click this button, and all of the puzzle pieces rotate in the correct orientation. I use this one nearly every time I play.
Guide – click on this button, and you’ll get a glimpse of the finished puzzle. I know I said this annoyed me the most, but it also annoyed me that I had to pay for it. If I rotate, I can solve the puzzle without really needing this.
Sweep – a quick way to sweep away all of the puzzle pieces giving you a free workspace. I use this on my phone, simply because it's easier on a small screen.
Magnet – a tool that attaches two random pieces together for you. I don't use this one, although if I were truly stuck, it might help.
Edges – a tool that removes all of the center pieces leaving you with just the edge pieces to work with. I use this one on my phone, since things get cluttered on a small screen.

Overall, it's a great game to have on my phone. Having only one daily puzzle that can be played for free keeps me from getting addicted, the tools allow me to fuel my competitive spirit by striving for speed, and the messages and photographs are beautiful and inspiring!

Daily Bible Jigsaw {Planet 316 Reviews}

Planet 316
Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Shaking Myself Free Again

I have been in a slump lately.

It's not really a noticeable slump. If you know me, you really won't see a difference. I'm getting the girls to where they need to be, on time, correctly dressed, and with the right bags and gear for where they're going. Our bills are paid. The car has gas. I'm chatty and friendly and look totally fine.

But at home? Slump. I'm not sure if it's the weather, or some sort of bug, but when I'm at home, I'm a lazy coconut. Way less meal prep, school prep, cleaning and organizing than I'd normally like to do. I get the essentials taken care of, and then I sit down, and before I know it, the day is gone.

I'm tired and going to bed early. I'm tired and waking up late. I'm not writing as much as I'd like - I write what I absolutely have to and that's all. I'm behind in cleaning - we're not living in filth, but we're certainly not guest ready at any moment. Madison is doing school, but it's bare bones and last minute. I make lists and plans and keep promising myself that I'll start tomorrow...and I don't. It's a genuine slump.

I don't know the cause - no illness, no life changes, nothing that should be sapping my drive. I'm not depressed, or cranky, or sick - I'm just that sort of tired that comes from laziness. I've been blaming this dreary start to spring - we get a tease of a sunny, spring day and then fall right back into chilly clouds and rain. And now that I think of it, that's exactly what my mood is doing. I get a false start when I feel like I have my old drive back, and then I go back to slumping. I watch TV and I read books and I take bubble baths and I go to bed early.

Yesterday I had to force myself out, because I noticed that Madison was starting to pick up on those habits. She was whining and moaning about doing the very little school work that I had out for her. She was too tired. She would do extra tomorrow. Today, she just wanted to snuggle and read.

I had allowed our end of winter laziness to become a way of life. I was letting things pile up, claiming that I'd get over them soon, and now she was doing the same, because her prime example was showing her it was ok. She was becoming short tempered when she HAD to get things done - just like her mom. We needed to break out.

So, after school yesterday morning, I offered to take her out to lunch. We grabbed sushi, and we talked about habits. We talked about everything I just wrote, and how when you let yourself get bogged down into a slump, breaking back out can feel hard and exhausting. But if I had energy out of the house, and she had energy to dance and tumble, then we had energy to get ourselves back into a good place at home. As we ate our miso soup and sushi rolls, we talked strategy. What kind of work we needed to do daily, what would help us along, and what treats we'd offer ourselves to help sweeten the transition.

I tell you, nothing shakes you free like noticing you have a shadow, and that shadow is showing you what you are and what you'd like to be.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Confronting My Fear of Art - Creating a Masterpiece

Writing a review of an art curriculum is intimidating to me. Visual art is not my strength. I distinctly remember my elementary teacher looking at each of my projects with a face that said "Oh, honey. You sure tried." As soon as art became an elective, I elected right out and focused all my artistic inclinations toward the performing arts.

But now, I am the everything teacher, and I need to confront these demons so that I give my girls a fair shot. So far, they seem like performing artists as well, but if I don't give them the opportunity to experiment, they might have a passion or a talent that goes undiscovered. But needless to say, art is something I find difficult to teach, so I am happy that things like the Monthly Plan from Creating a Masterpiece are out there.

Creating a Masterpiece

This online program is created by an artist who teaches at a fine arts school, and has expanded into virtual lessons. It's meant for all ages, and all skill levels, with materials that can easily be obtained at craft stores or online. Theoretically, you can start from the beginner level and work your way through the program, moving through mediums and getting into projects that are more and more difficult. Or you can focus on different styles and periods or fine art (Impressionism, Romanticism, etc.) Or, as my family chose, you can skip around, looking for projects that spark your creative spirit.

Madison had gotten to use oil pastels in a library workshop a few months ago, and she was itching to try them again, so we found a beginning project that used them. Once Reagan saw what Madison was doing, she wanted to experiment too.

I anticipated watching the videos and creating the project together, step by step. Although, again, I am not a visual artist, I have really enjoyed those wine/painting parties that have become popular for mom's night out, and I figured this would be similar. It was ok that I didn't feel confident, because I had a teacher who would take me (and the girls!) through, step by step.

And that is what the artist intended. She is clear, she is detailed, she is easy to follow, and the camera work is excellent. In the beginner level, she speaks like she is speaking to young children, and it is absolutely possible that a focused child, even as young as five, could complete a project successfully.

Our issue was that my girls (who, remember, are five and six) didn't want to follow her lead and create the exact masterpiece she created. They wanted to use the techniques and materials she was using, but they had their own ideas of what do, what colors to use, and how they wanted their final products to look. They did not want to create a winter cabin. They wanted to experiment.

Masterpieces that would land them a scholarship to an art program, or an exhibit in a museum? Masterpieces like the one below, which impresses me to my bones? No.

Creating a Masterpiece

But they were watching. They were learning. They were creating. And both girls were exceedingly proud of what they accomplished, and are begging to use the pastels again. Which, as a reluctant artist myself, I count as success. I am happy to have this program take over the art instruction, even if my girls don't follow it exactly.

Creating Beautiful Art at Home {Creating A Masterpiece Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Friday, March 10, 2017

Stopping the Unstoppable

Reagan recently turned five. Five is a big deal to kids. I remember when Madison hit that "whole hand" birthday. She felt like one of the big kids she'd been eyeing for years. I'm not sure what she thought was going to change when she passed from "little kid" to "big kid", but it was a really big deal to her.

Naturally, five was a big deal for Reagan as well. She's always trying to catch up to Madison in age. She's seen what five brings. She knows it's big kid territory. For the weeks preceding her birthday, she talked and talked about what a big kid she was and how excited she was for her birthday. You know, like kids do. She talked about her party, her wish list, her cake, all the decisions she'd get to make that day.

But here's the catch - Reagan is a Leap Baby, and 2017 doesn't have a February 29 on the calendar. For us, it isn't a big deal. We have told her that her birthday is the last day of February. She knows it's the 29th, but we made a big deal about writing the big day on our wall calendar in the February 28th box. She gets it, as much as a five year old can. Birthdays are a big part of being a kid, and she's willing to accept anything.

Then come the jokesters. The ones who just won't let it go.

"You aren't five!", these hilarious adults bray. "You're only ONE!"

"Awwww....too bad," they say, with mock sadness. "No birthday this year!"

I usually smile, and make light of the conversation, like a tall person replies to "how's the weather up there?" when they hear it seventy-five times and are trying to be polite, while letting the quipster know that they really aren't all that original. My response is usually to reassure my five year old that, sure, she's special, but she gets that fundamental childhood birthday rite.

And I wish, I wish, that would be the end of it. But most of the time, said adult jokester needs us to know just how amusing they think this line of small talk is, and they won't let it go. Nope, she isn't five!! You're not correcting me, mom of said small child! I have this funny line of conversation and I am sticking to it!

I'm not sure why. Is it that weird to them? Have they always wanted to meet a Leap Baby to try out material they've only seen on the internet once every four years? Do they expect me to join in? What is their end game? Do they want the kid to cry? It would be one thing if she was an adult, eager to join in and claim she was only ten instead of forty, but do they not remember being five and being obsessed with all things birthday?

There's no good solution, so I usually flip back to barely contained annoyance, tell Reagan confidently that she sure is five, and change the subject (or leave, if I can). But I was chatting with my best friend, and she's also been the brunt of plenty of "can't drop it" jokes. She's short - only 4'8", and she's heard it all, from "are you shopping in the kids' department" to "hey, can you even drive without a booster seat? The law says you can't!", and she's said that she hasn't figured out how to make them stop in the twenty years she's heard the same old quips, but that her favorite way to put those "won't drop it" adults in their place is to play dumb. (By the way, this doesn't go for the typical jokester, who is willing to drop it after a laugh, or even the person who is generally interested in the seatbelt law because they have a kid itching to ditch the booster).

She'll give them a quizzical look and act like she doesn't get it. Wait, why, is that funny? Please, good sir, explain it to me.

Oh, I'm short. Thank you so much for noticing. That's not a rude thing to say at all. Ok, let's move on.

Well, I tried it, and all I can say is, damn, that's satisfying, especially because the random shopper at Party City was a textbook I'm getting the last word and hanging onto this joke forever person. The person who looked at our two straight faces and had to explain to us why they were hilarious faltered pretty fast and man, did it feel good.

And when Reagan's forty, she can decide if she wants to be ten! A woman never judges!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Good Foundations Are Key

Sometimes tried and true is a great fit. Since we got the chance to review it, Madison has been gaining confidence in her reading with Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level B.

Madison's an interesting kid to teach. She learned her letters, her letter sounds, and plenty of sight words early. She has a crazy memory and picked up on everything verbal so quickly that I was convinced we had a prodigy. When she was preschool aged, we worked our way through kindergarten curriculum, slowed only by her fine motor skills. I dedicated plenty of time to letter formation, since I thought that's where she needed her work. I was an early, advanced and vociferous reader, so I figured she was following in my footsteps. I was confident I could guide her. Heck, if she was really like me, I'd barely need to teach! Put the right books in front of her and she'd soar!

That's where things got tricky. By the time we began a first grade curriculum for her kindergarten year, she'd lost some of her mojo. She'd lost the drive and a good portion of her swagger. She went from tearing through books, so proud of what she could read, to insisting that we read for her. She started skipping easy sight words, claimed she couldn't decode basic words, and just seemed to be losing ground.

It is SO HARD to be the parent and teacher in that situation. Was this normal? Was she just an early bloomer instead of a gifted reader? Was it me? Did I do something wrong?

She was still "grade level", even "above grade level", but I needed to shake things up, by going back to basics. In this case, way back. Eclectic Foundations uses McGuffey readers, copywork, and grammar to make sure that students have a quality, solid, foundation in language and reading.

Language Arts {Eclectic Foundations }

We chose Level B for Madison, which generally seems to be a good fit. Level A is generally recommended for students who are still learning the alphabet and are not reading.

The program is designed to be used four days a week, which makes the length of each level about 36 weeks. We generally do school 3-4 days a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. It would be easy to adjust to your own pace in the teacher's manual.

Madison's favorite part of the program, was, bizarrely, the word cards. There is something about using the different colors to identify the parts of speech that really caught her interest.

As for the passages, she wasn't hooked, but the passages are also short enough where she wasn't turned off either. It was as if she knew that these passages were for learning, not entertainment, and she was willing to put in the work.We had not done much poetry, so she was definitely interested in that.

Then there's the copywork. Poor Madison. Copywork is the bain of this poor kid's existence. We've tried character handwriting books, mechanic approach to handwriting books, personalized worksheets, joke books, disguising copywork as spelling words or making lists, and she is just not having it. In Level B, the copywork is cursive. She's fascinated by cursive, and I'd been holding off until she has print mastered.

So she was into the cursive copywork, but frustrated. The letter that's being focused on is written in cursive, but the rest of the copywork is displayed as print. She didn't know how to connect the letters (or really, any other letters other than the focus one), so we adjusted those to print, with a "reward" of trying them in cursive if the print was done well. She was happy to do this at the beginning, but it did lose the luster after a few lessons.

Language Arts {Eclectic Foundations }

Overall, the curriculum is solid, the planning and prep required of the teacher is simple and straightforward, the work is appropriate and isn't overwhelming. The price is definitely right, even if you order a printed version ($56 for a complete spiral bound curriculum, $30 for a digital download). It will put your student on a good foundation. I liked using it. But I would definitely think about whether or not it was really right. I don't think it would grab a reluctant reader and could make language arts feel like a chore for certain kids. And the copywork could be an issue if you haven't begun cursive.

It's found a place in our daily routine for now, and seems to be working well! 

Language Arts {Eclectic Foundations Reviews}

 Crew Disclaimer

Monday, March 6, 2017

Shopping Baby Steps

I am an incredibly indecisive shopper when it comes to big purchases. Once the price creeps past a certain place, pulling the trigger is difficult.

This means that things like cars and furniture are scary to me.

And those are the two things we need right now. I'm going to need a new car, and we desperately need new furniture. We need to stop stalling, stop browsing, and make a decision. Adam wants to delegate a lot of this decision to me. It's going to be my primary car, and, as the one who does the decorating and cleaning, I should definitely be the major voice in this furniture.

And I am awful at it.

I will drive poor sales people crazy, wandering around for hours. Debating, talking, coming back and forth.

Right now, I'm close to telling Adam to just go ahead and make the decision for me. I trust you. We generally know what we want, and I promise to be thrilled with whatever decision you make. If I woke up to the new furniture purchase order or a car with a bow, I will be hugely happy about it. I promise not to have buyer's remorse.

If I have to buy it myself, I'll have buyer's remorse.

I'll second guess. I'll doubt. 

And the thing with furniture and car sale people is that they are required to be all up in your business. They have to be. Once you've been greeted, you will be kept within that sales person's eyeline for the entire visit. Even if you tell them you're just looking, or you don't need help...they hover. Like a hawk.

So now, I'm not only indecisive, I'm full of guilt.

I think I've figured out a pretty good way to deal with the car thing. It's gotten harder now that it seems like everything is open all the time, but I'm visiting car dealerships only when they're closed.

Maybe by summer, I'll be able to go through with it, talk to a sales person, and make the purchase!
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