Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Flourish - Balance for Homeschool Moms

Apologia Educational Ministries has once again hit a home run with this latest time management book specifically designed for home school moms, "Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms". 

I was privileged to receive this book back in June, for review. I found it easy to read, almost conversational, as if I was sitting down in my living room sharing a cup of tea with author Mary Jo Tate, listening to practical advice on being a mom, homeschooling, and ministering to my family. The wisdom in this book is priceless.

About the book: Flourish was written directly to mothers to not only share wisdom about day to day tasks that are universal and common to motherhood and managing a home, but also to give special instruction when a mother takes on extras, such as homeschooling or running a home based business. There is special attention given to those mothers who find themselves in a situation where they are single or the sole source of financial provision for their family. Flourish is 282 pages long, and includes worksheets in the back that accompany the chapters, as well as an online resource with additional customized and printable worksheets.

About the author: Mary Jo Tate is a successful homeschool mom, entrepeneur, and motivational speaker. She writes from her own personal experiences, and expounds in an unfiltered way about what worked and what didn't in her own personal journey. She has been homeschooling since 1997 and is mom to 4 sons. Her personal blog is Flourish At Home.

How Did This Book Speak to Me? The tagline of this book is "Stop enduring the journey and start enjoying it!" Most days I really do enjoy homeschooling and this crazy life I lead. It is a very busy life though, and I often wonder if I am as effective as I could be in many areas. Balance is a somewhat elusive goal that, while I know is important, in practicality is often not achieved. Whatever the crisis or priority of the moment is - that's what gets the attention.

This book was eye opening. At times, while reading it, I wondered....does this lady know me? Is she peeking through my windows and watching my life? How does she know all this about me? The book spoke clearly and directly to me about areas of my life that need an overhaul. While it was very convicting, the author comes across kind and gentle, as a fellow "in the trenches" mom who struggles with the same issues, not as someone who was beating me over the head with my failures and causing me to feel even more defeated. I found the exercises to be very analytical, which I enjoy. Using the worksheets and writing down areas of my life that need improvement helped me to feel like I am actually formulating a plan to succeed, or at least do better. It did not just make me walk away feeling like there was no hope. I love how the chapters are organized. It is not just instructional, but very practical.

What is included? Here are some thoughts that you will find in this book:

  1. An Invitation to Flourish - tells about the author's story and talks about examining your own life, encouraging the reader to get out of their comfort zone and envision what their life could look like.It introduces the reader to the pre-book self-evaluation, where you answer direct questions about your own life and goals. The heart of the book can be found in the following quote, which I just love:

2. Change Your Mind to Change Your Time - helps with learning what true balance is, and helps the reader analyze what can be changed and what can't while examining their priorities. I think, for my own self, this journey can be summed up in one sentence from p. 19, "Find peace in the space between the ideal and reality."

3. Emphasis on "Organization Promotes Efficiency" (p. 33) where the author takes you through a journey to find "FREEDOM" in your life. Topics discussed are delegation, organization, and self-discipline.

4. Where Did My Time Go? Teaches the reader how to evaluate their life using the personal time log. It is not someone telling you what to do, but guiding you in deciding what your primary focus should be, and what you can let go of in your life. 
"Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least" ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (p.25)
5. Goal setting - it is not about making unrealistic goals, but about making manageable goals, formulating a plan to achieve them, then re-evaluating and setting new ones. There are seven planning tools to help with the practical aspect of this. While working towards our goals, we must also stretch our self with thinking big and dreaming. Again, the recurring theme is balance.

6. Attitude Adjustment and oxygen masks: There is a ton of practical advice that speaks to a mom's spirit. All the good planning and organization in the world will be for naught if the mom is mean and nasty while accomplishing it. Life has interruptions, and learning to deal with them and be flexible will teach volumes to the little sets of eyes that are watching us. I enjoyed the chapter about "oxygen masks" and the reminder to build time in to my schedule to maintain my own spiritual, physical, and emotional well being, being reminded that when I am flourishing, it will cause my family to flourish as well.

7. A large portion of the book is dedicated to practical help for the nitty-gritty of keeping a home, running a home school and parenting in general. This is a great help, and I found much useful, down-to-earth advice in these chapters. I loved the emphasis on making memories with the children.

8. Special attention, in fact a whole chapter, is completely dedicated to operating a home business. In our economy, most families find it difficult to survive on just one income. This is very practical help for women who need to supplement family income while trying to remain balanced with parenting, keeping the home, and home schooling. I found much of the wisdom of this chapter very applicable as we have begun a family business this past year, and juggling my new found responsibilities with it has been difficult. I am still working through some of the planning and adjusting that comes with that, and the included weekly plan worksheets have been helpful.

9. Solo Act - Another whole chapter is dedicated to women who are in a position where they must 'do it all'. Any number of circumstances can contribute to this, such as death, separation, or even military deployment. There is definitely a different set of special needs that these women have, and I love how Mary Jo Tate, who has 'been there' as a single mom, raising 4 boys, running a business, and home schooling, addresses these needs in a loving and compassionate way. Although I am not in that position, reading this chapter helped me to understand better the ladies that I know who are, and how I can be a better help and encouragement to them.

Final Opinion: I am really enjoying this book. I lightly read through it for the purpose of writing this review, but now I am really enjoying going back through it a second time, chapter by chapter, and really digging into my own life, learning how to apply many of the principles that I am learning. I have been using all the worksheets, and disciplining myself to write things down, examine my life, and make some decisions about my daily time expenditures. My heart's desire is to see my family flourish and be useful in the service of the Lord, and I see how much of this really depends on my own attitude and actions. With the instruction I am receiving from this book, I am encouraged about my new outlook on my life, family, and home.

What does it cost?  Flourish is currently selling for $15. on the Apologia website.

Is it just for home school moms? I honestly believe the practical advice in this book would be beneficial to all moms, not just those who home school.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

GF/DF Zucchini Bread

This recipe makes the summer onslaught of zucchini much more welcome! After washing the zucchini, I cut it into chunks and send it through the food processor to shred evenly. After pulling out what I need for this recipe, I store the rest in quart sized freezer bags in 2-cup portions, since that makes pulling out a bag for making this bread very easy!

3c. GF all-purpose flour blend (for this bread, I suggest Bob's Red Mill)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. xanthum gum
2 c. sugar
2 c. shredded zucchini
2 eggs
1/2 oil
1 tsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease bread pans. This recipe will make 2 large or 6 small loaves. Baked loaves can be stored in freezer.

Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, oil, and lemon juice. Pour into the dry ingredients and lightly stir until just mixed. Fold shredded zucchini into batter, then divide evenly among prepared pans.

Lightly sprinkle some extra sugar over the tops of the batter in the pans before putting them into the ovens.

Bake for about 25 minutes for small loaves, and 50 minutes for large loaves. Bake until the tops of the bread are firm and lightly browned, and a tester or thin toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the loaf.


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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: HomeSchoolPiano

Piano instruction has always been a big part of our family. We decided early on that we wanted our girls to be well versed in music, and have always felt that learning piano was a fundamental key to understanding how music works, before moving on to other instruments. We were very excited to review HomeSchoolPiano - Complete Set of Books with a lifetime subscription to an account at HomeSchoolPiano.

What is HomeSchoolPiano? This is an online course that can be used by up to five different family members. It includes levels of Core training for very basic beginners, all the way up to fairly advanced piano playing. A big part of the program is teaching improvisation, which allows the pianist to first learn the basics of a song, then learn how to 'make it their own' by adding in various extra sounds and patterns.

What does a typical online lesson look like? A typical lesson will last about 10 minutes, with suggestions given for additional practice time. The screen is set up in such a way that you see the instructor, the keyboard, and a birds eye view of the fingering all at the same time! It looks like this:

The instructor, Willie, seen at the bottom left corner, talks in an upbeat and encouraging way, and thoroughly explains the technique being demonstrated. While he is instructing, his face is always visible. A second camera is showing his hand moving on the keyboard, and exact fingerings are shown by orange highlighting on the keyboard at the top of the screen.

Willie is funny, engaging, and very enthusiastic. He makes a great piano teacher!

But these are not just online piano lessons! This is actually an entire course, complete with books, worksheets, quizzes, and awesome record keeping. This course is a complete system. When you purchase the lifetime subscription, you are also purchasing access to the instruction books that can be downloaded. We downloaded the book that Kelly was mostly working from, and it was 52 pages long. Included in it is actual sheet music, as well as practice exercises and extra written explanation of the online lessons.

Here is a sample page from Book 1, on the subject of Improvisation:

What method is used to teach piano?  HomeSchoolPiano uses a unique blend of overlapping training, in a "learn at your own pace" speed. The first set of lessons is called Core Piano, and includes 33 short videos that teach very basic piano terms, music theory, and techniques to beginners, introducing them to methods and words that they will need to know later on as they advance through the levels.

There are three levels. Each level has it's own lesson book. Each level is broken down into six units. Each unit examines one song, and advances through six stages of video lessons for that song, breaking it down into manageable pieces of instruction for the student. The following diagram illustrates the order of teaching. First the song is introduced and technique is demonstrated. In the next lesson, the rhythm of the song is broken down and carefully examined. Ear training comes next, showing the student various patterns within the music. Note reading is also included, so the student is receiving instruction in both ear training and reading music. Both are an integral part of playing the piano. Lastly, once the student has mastered the song as it is written, the lesson on improvisation shows them how to customize the song and add their own creative touch.

By the time a student has completed a unit, they have thoroughly picked a song apart and learned how to play it well. With enough practice, it is entirely possible for the student to have mastered the song by the completion of the unit.

Here is the layout of a unit: 

The bonus at the end is an interesting perk that feels like a reward at the end of mastering the song of that unit. Each unit has its own bonus feature, that shows the student something really cool to add to their piece.

What do the levels cover? Book 1 is for the beginner, and covers basic scales, theory, and dynamics. If someone has no previous piano experience, they should definitely start at the Core Piano lessons, but I think the Core Piano lessons also make great review for Book 1 students.

Book 2 explores much more improvisation, and builds on the foundation that Book 1 lays. There are different fingering patterns and music styles that are introduced. Book 3 covers all the scales, and actually advances the student into the realm of composing their own musical pieces.

HomeSchoolPiano even keeps great records! Once you log in, there is a box that shows where you left off, allowing the student to easily return to the end of their last lesson with one simple click. This was a great help to my 9 year old, who was using the lessons on her own and was a bit overwhelmed with all the choices available on the website. With the one click box, she easily just picked up where she left off.

For a teacher, the record keeping that is built into this program is just plain tremendous. As long as each student remembers to sign in to their own account, the program will track how much they finish from each lesson. As the parent, I can click the records for each student and easily see where they were at, and how much work they had put in. I could also see their quiz grades.

As you can see from the records above, we have skipped around quite a bit using this program, to try to get a feel for as much of it as we could for the review. I am looking forward to going back and systematically moving through each level until all are completed, in order.  Each student
has their own records page such as the one shown above.

What are the quizzes like? The quizzes that I saw were short and sweet. They were aligned closely to the lessons, and if the student did well with the lesson, they would have no trouble with the multiple choice quiz. Also, if they answered incorrectly, they were allowed to go back, examine their wrong answers,  and re-submit new answers. I love this because it allows the student to work to mastery of the subject matter.

Here is a sample quiz question: 

In the above quiz, the student plays the 20 second sound bite, then selects the correct answer from the 3 options given. There were 4 such questions on this particular quiz.

What special equipment is needed?  There is none really! Of course, the student will need a piano or keyboard to work with, but the piano/keyboard does not need to be connected to the computer. The lessons can be viewed on any device that can access the internet. (We liked to take the iPad over to the piano, watch the lesson, then pause it and work on the exercises) The videos can be viewed on any media player on your computer.

What age is this program geared towards? Because of the simple, work-at-your-own-pace nature of this program, as well as the 24 hour access, this program really is good for all ages. Even a young child can follow along the Core Piano lessons, and learn the basics. As they master that, they can move on and start working on more involved techniques. At any time, a lesson that is not mastered can be repeated and worked on again. This program is simple, but not childish. As an adult, I have greatly enjoyed using this program, and felt completely able to grasp what was being taught, in the privacy of my own home, without feeling inferior or embarrassed when I had to repeat the video because I didn't quite catch it the first time.

How much does it cost? The complete package of HomeSchoolPiano that gives unlimited life time access to all the lessons (Core to Advanced), for up to 5 students, as well as all the bonuses such as downloadable books, sheet music, and jam tracks costs $299. Just stop for a moment and compare that to the cost of a life time of piano lessons! There is also a payment plan available, allowing the buyer to make 3 payments of $99.97 each over 3 months.

How did we use this...and what do we think? Kelly, age 9, and myself were the main people to use this program. We jumped around quite a bit with Kelly, trying to find where she would best fit into the lesson structure. She has taken piano lessons for most of her life, so I wanted her to be challenged, yet not be overwhelmed. This is summer, and we are trying to take it easy, after all! Besides, I really believe music instruction should be enjoyable and not frustrating. Kelly enjoyed being able to sign in and do this on her own. She would often repeat videos, either because she really liked the lesson, or she didn't quite have the concept down, and wanted to hear it and try it again. She thinks Willie is a funny teacher, and enjoyed the lessons. She thought the songs were hard, but that's ok. I encouraged her that it was good to challenge herself with learning some new things.

As for myself, I have taken piano off and on over the years. I have had multiple instructors, and though I "know my way" around the keys, I have never really felt like I could pull all my bits and pieces of knowledge together enough to actually play a song, or accompany my children as they sing. There were things I learned watching these videos that bridged many of the gaps in my piano learning, and really helped me to grasp the concepts more completely. I was fascinated to be able to actually (sort of) play some of the songs in the units. It definitely inspired me to continue on with these lessons, as time allows, and try to increase my piano skills. The kids enjoyed seeing me work through the lessons as well. 

The only qualm I had about the lessons is what seems to be a heavy emphasis on jazz music and techniques. Personally, I prefer more classical pieces, and although the concepts taught can be applied to any type of music, I would have preferred to have a broader selection of styles in the songs that we worked on.

Here's a short video of Kelly working on a lesson:


Overall Opinion: I LOVE this program! I feel blessed beyond measure to have a lifetime subscription to it, and look forward to happily expanding my piano skills while working through the lessons. I have some personal piano playing goals that I have set, and I really feel like they are attainable because of using this program. HomeSchoolPiano would especially be good for large families that have multiple children who desire piano lessons, or families that live in rural settings or on the mission field and do not have access to a piano teacher. For all that is offered, I feel this program is extremely affordable.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Obscure Bible Heroes {Blogging Through the Alphabet - L}

L is for Lemuel's Mother

Proverbs 31:1  "The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him."

Proverbs 31 is an amazing chapter, full of practical teaching about life. In this first verse, we see that this chapter is penned by King Lemuel. 

Lemuel's mother is preparing him for life as a man, a king, and a leader. She mentions that he is the "son of her vows". I picture her as a young mother, making a vow to God to raise her son for the Lord, and training Him in Godly ways. 

There are three specific areas of training that are presented in Proverbs 31, that Lemuel learned from his mother. While they were specifically mentioned as training for kings, they are great practical advice for all:
  1. He learns why he should avoid alcohol.
  2. He learns about compassion, caring for the poor, and speaking up for those who have no voice.
  3. He learns what to look for in choosing a virtuous woman as his wife.
We always consider the second half of Proverbs 31 as a great pattern for Godly women, (and it certainly is!) but I think it is very neat that it was actually first given from a mother to a son, specifically as a list of characteristics for him to use in finding a virtuous woman. 

Motherhood is a high calling, and it's duties should be fulfilled with gravity and sobriety. I love the pattern set forth in Proverbs 31. It is great training for mothers, showing them how to present a principle to their children, then explain the reasoning behind it. 

May we, as Lemuel's mother, make vows to God to train our children for His glory, and then give our all to fulfilling that calling. May we invest the time and dedication necessary to "parent on purpose" and thoroughly pass on our heritage and faith, so that our children will understand and be able to pass on that training to others, as Lemuel so poetically recorded Proverbs 31, spreading his mother's teaching and influence to us.

Ben and Me

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Feta & Kale Garden Omelet

One of my favorite things about summer is the abundance of fresh veggies and fruits that are readily available. Our little farming town grows some of the tastiest produce ever! It is common to eat things that were just picked that morning or the day before, that the farmers have made readily available.

I would like to share a favorite way that we get our veggies in for breakfast.

I commonly make omelets out of whatever veggies we have currently available in the fridge, even if it is last night's leftovers. 

This week we had an abundance of kale given to us. On it's own, kale has a pretty strong flavor that no one in the house really cares for, but they will tolerate it if I mix it with other things. 

First, I wash everything well (the local organic veggies typically have a good amount of little bugs - I don't mind...I would rather clean off bugs than chemicals!). Most veggies I will soak in a salt water or vinegar water wash, then rinse well,  to make sure that the bugs are gone before cooking.

Then I mix together the following ingredients in a saute:

Enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the skillet. Allow it to warm up first before adding:
1/2 c. chopped onions
1/2 c. chopped peppers
2 c. coarsely chopped or torn kale leaves
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. dried crushed red peppers (more to taste)
salt & pepper to taste

The kale leaves will quickly look wilted as they cook. This is fine.

In a separate pan, prepare your eggs for an omelet. I typically use 2 large eggs, beaten, and poured into a hot, greased pan. Allow them to cook in one large circle. When set, flip once and immediately pour saute mixture onto one half of the egg circle. Sprinkle about 1/4 c. (more if desired) crumbled feta cheese over the kale saute then fold the omelet closed. 

Slide onto a plate, and garnish with extra feta if desired. Enjoy Your healthy and energizing breakfast!

Copyright 2012-2014 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.