Monday, September 27, 2010


Last spring, The Westie Crew met up with a bunch of friends way out into the wild blue yonder to camp at one of the most remote, yet absolutely beautiful, campgrounds in Alabama. It's called Payne Lake, and as you can probably guess, the whole park is built around a serene, picturesque, medium-sized body of water.

Right around daybreak, the flowers on top of the lilypads would gracefully burst open so I was determined to get a photo of these lovely things in all of their glory before the blistering sun caused them to clam up within themselves again.

This is the first shot I took:

It's blurry, but you can still see how pretty these delicate beauties are. I only have a little point and shoot, and I've learned that if I'm not standing on one foot facing north while the stars are perfectly aligned, I'm not going to get that extreme close-up without blur, so I adjusted my shot by zooming out just a little. Quite the pro, I am. ;)

If you are familiar with a standard camera, once you've honed in on your image, usually you can press the shutter release button just a little and it will auto-adjust the settings to get you the sharpest possible picture (well, at least for people like me). Once I made those modifications, this is the picture that I ended up with:

I LOVE this photo. In fact, it is my desktop background here on my beloved laptop. It's just so crisp and clear and it makes me delight in God's beautiful creation even though I can't behold that particular scene, in person, every day. I'm also reminded of a wonderful time with people that I love so that makes me happy.

Last night, Mark and I took the Crew and my mom to Mississippi to drop off our camper before the big move (which, incidentally, takes place on Thursday). After we put it where it will be stored, we drove on over to the apartment so that we could get a feel for the potential set-up, and to simply see where we'd be living for the next 6 months.

I don't know if it was that we'd just left our church for the last time, which had me pretty emotional already, or if it was pure exhaustion or what, but all of a sudden, the reality of this move hit me square in the face and I kept thinking:

We are leaving Alabama. And this apartment is utterly miniscule. Not only that, but it smells weird. We are on the third floor which is *extremely* high up, and I am terrified that someone is going to fall off of the balcony... or what if there is a fire? And did I mention all of the TINY? My kitchen is the size of a closet in our present home and I'm not even kidding...

Anyway, I sucked it up and tryed, with everything in me, not to be an ungrateful pansy. After all, it's FREE. And TEMPORARY. But then we walked out to the parking lot and I caught a glimpse of my license plate which reads "Sweet Home Alabama" and I bawled. Then my Mama bawled. Then we went to Cici's Pizza and ate about 40 cinnamon buns and bawled some more.

But, as I laid here not sleeping in the wee hours of this morning, I remembered my picture. I've realized that the first view of this new chapter in our lives was saturated in provision and protection. In other words, we were just thrilled to have employment. The move was pretty far away so I didn't have to, and actually could not, process fully all that this new chapter would entail (I'm sure I still don't). Things were sure, but still unclear.

Now, I feel like I'm in that place of auto-adjusting. A place where the view is extremely blurry and perspectives change about 50 times in rapid fire. The house that we've been so comfortable in is looking more and more like it's shell. Plans are being made that we most definitely would have been a part of, but obviously cannot, because we'll be gone. All that we've been accustomed to is about to change. Different church, different faces, different scout troop, different job, different home, different e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. And it's hard.

I know better than to rely on my emotions, though. I know things will be more than alright. I know that God has a plan that is as beautiful as the crisp and clear picture that I love. And I know that I'll get there because I definitely trust Him with this and wouldn't go anywhere else BUT to Mississippi, because He's made it so clear that this is where he wants us. But, I also know that my Father is compassionate. He knows our frame and He knows that change is tough sometimes, even when it is moving toward His will.

I think of Jesus coming up on the scene of poor Mary and Martha, in John 11, after their beloved brother had just died. He was about to perform one of the biggest miracles of His ministry to the glory of God, and He knew it! He knew that they'd be a million times more than perfectly fine in mere minutes, yet, He wept. Why? Why would Jesus cry when he knew he was about to bring Lazarus back to life? Because He loved them. He knew that they were nothing more than dust and that, in that moment, they couldn't possibly understand, so He he had compassion for them. Their pain, as temporary as He knew it was, hurt Him. What love.

Just like Mary and Martha's pictures soon became crisp and clear and unspeakably joyous, I have the foresight in Christ enough to know that ours will too very soon. Yet, for this moment, I'm so very thankful to have a Jesus who knows our frames as we go through our adjustment period. A Jesus who loves us and stores our tears in a bottle when we are hurting. I can't imagine doing "life" without Him. He is so good.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Salem Ridge Press Review

I know I'm doing a bunch of reviews lately and not posting much else, but I have got to say, THIS ONE is right up my alley!! I absolutely love this product, and if I know my friends, you will, too.

This kind of product is the very reason that I wanted to be a part of the TOS Crew this year; I was hoping to find some really great gems that I might not have seen or tried out otherwise. This is definitely considered one of those finds:


To give you a little background, Salem Ridge Press is a publishing company that was founded in 2005 by Daniel Mills. He recognized the need for wholesome, well-written, yet challenging literature for today's youth, so where better to turn than to the 19th (and early 20th) century?

His company has gone back to the likes of well known Victorian writers like Emma Leslie, purchased their books, and then republished them into modern bindings that we can utilize with our children today. They are very, very careful about making any modifications to the original text or illustrations; only doing so when something crosses Salem Ridge Press' strict standard of purity. I, as a parent, truly appreciate their dedication in maintaining this standard. You can read more about their editing process HERE.

We received 3 books. The first one was a paperback called "Out of the Mouths of Lions" by Emma Leslie. The other 2 were e-books, and they were "The Martyr's Victory" also by Emma Leslie, and "Yussuf the Guide" by George Manville Fenn. All of their books are available in either soft or hard-back copies, and many are also available as an e-book.

As far as the actual story itself, Ty enjoyed this one the most:


Here is the synopsis from the back cover:
"When Flaminius, a high Roman official, takes his wife, Flavia, to the Colosseum to see Christians thrown to the lions, he has no idea the effect it will have. Flavia cannot forget the faith of the martyrs, and finally, to protect her from complete disgrace or even danger, Flaminius requests a transfer to a more remote government post. As he and his family travel to the seven cities of Asia Minor mentioned in Revelation, he sees the various responses of the churches to persecution. His attitude toward the despised Christians begins to change, but does he dare forsake the gods of Rome and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ?"

We also enjoyed the following two stories very much, but we are hard-copy people and these were in e-book format. Just a matter of personal preference, though. I am actually planning to order both of them as a hard copy! The story synopsis for each book follows the picture.


"Knowing full well they may die in the attempt, a small band of monks sets out to convert the savage Danes who have laid waste to the surrounding countryside year after year. The monks’ faith is sorely tested as they face opposition from the angry Priest of Odin as well as doubts, sickness and starvation, but their leader, Osric, is unwavering in his attempts to share the “White Christ” with those who reject Him. Then the monks discover a young Christian woman who has escaped being sacrificed to the Danish gods—can she help reach those who had enslaved her and tried to kill her?"


"Young Lawrence, an invalid, convinces his guardians, Preston the Professor and Burne the Lawyer, to take him along on an archaeological expedition to Turkey. Before they set out, they engage Yussuf as their guide. Through the months that follow, the friends travel deeper and deeper into the remote regions of central Turkey on their trusty horses in search of ancient ruins. Yussuf proves his worth time and time again as they face dangers from a murderous ship captain, poisonous snakes, sheer precipices, bands of robbers and more. Memorable characters, humor and adventure abound in this exciting story!"

Here are the specifics:

Item: Salem Ridge Press Books

Publisher: Salem Ridge Press

Number of Pages: Varies by book, of course, but Out of the Mouth of the Lion had 261 pages

Price: $16.95 for soft-cover and $26.95 for hard-cover

Age Range: They have books for as young as age 6 all the way to adult, but most of their titles are for age 12 +.

My Overall Rating: FIVE STARS!! We really loved this product!

Disclaimer (because I have to!): As with all of my reviews, I received these books free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Review for Math Tutor DVD's

A few weeks before we started back to school, two separate Math Tutor DVD's came in the mail. One was an instruction guide for the Texas Instruments TI-83 & the TI-84 graphing calculators, and the other was The Pre-Algebra Tutor.

I have to say, I was THRILLED to receive the Pre-Algebra one because that is exactly where Ty (my oldest) is in his Math. Not only that, but I'm not really a big "math-lover" so I can't really say that I've been looking forward to teaching these upper years of Math instruction on my own. In other words, I had lofty expectations for these little DVD's. :) And I have to say, they did NOT disappoint!


In the Pre-Algebra DVD, we received 2 disks that had a total run time of 5 hours. The instructor was very personable and notably thorough with his lessons. The only thing we noticed that might be considered a *slight* drawback is that the lessons were a little bit long. But, I think that this could be easily remedied by just breaking it up according to your own preferences. Here are the things that Volume 1 covers (there are 2 volumes):

-Real Numbers, -The Number Line, -Greater Than, Less Than, Equal To, -Absolute Value and Adding Integers, -Subtracting Integers, -Multiplying Integers, -Dividing Integers, -Powers and Exponents, and finally, -Order of Operations

As far as the second DVD, The Texas Instruments TI-83/84 Calculator Tutor, we knew going in that we were in a little over our heads because we are not quite that far in our math instruction yet. Nevertheless, we borrowed this exact calculator from a friend with older students and set out to watch. Again, we were very, very pleased with how thorough the teaching was. He covered everything right down to the most basic function (how to turn the thing on!). :D It was 8 hours and 3 disks worth of very detailed instruction, and we are happy to own it now for future reference!


Although we received both of these in exchange for our honest review, The Westie Crew would definitely not hesitate to purchase any of the DVD's put out by this company. Especially because they are so reasonably priced and come with a money-back guarantee should you not be satisfied. Music to a homeschooler's ears, right? :)

Here are the specifics:

Items: The Pre-Algebra Tutor and The Texas Instruments TI-83/84 Calculator Tutor


# of pages: Not pages, but 5 hours of instruction in Pre-Algebra, and 8 hours of instruction with the Calculator DVD.

Price: Both are $26.99

Age Range: Since it's a specific subject, I would say whenever your child is ready. Typically, for Pre-Algebra, 6th grade and up, and for the Calculator, I'd say after you've completed an Algebra course.

My Overall Rating: I give these DVD's 5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review for My Access! Home Edition Writing Program

Hello friends! Recently, Vantage Learning sent me a 12 month subscription in exchange for an honest review of their product: My Access! Home Edition. I was pretty excited because, to be truthful, writing is an area that I was planning to hit hard this year with the older boys.

Here are some of the features that the product offers:

*Each year-long subscription includes 1 parent account and up to 3 individual student accounts.

*The program is entirely web-based, so that means that you can access it from any computer with an internet connection.

*Writing topics are assigned based upon the student's age (so that the level for your 4th grader won't be the same as for your senior).

*It is self-paced and interactive.

*The lessons guide students through the writing process: planning, organizing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

*Essay scoring and individualized feedback is available immediately through an artificial intelligence scoring engine.

*A word processor with editing and writing tools including a thesaurus, grammar-checker, spell-checker, and word bank lists help students vary and develop their vocabulary.

My thoughts:
Once I got the student account set up for Ty, he was able to log in to his individual account and pick a topic out of many to begin writing the rough draft of his essay. Not only were there a wide array of topics, but there were several different *styles* of essay that he could choose from, as well (i.e., narrative, informative, persuasive, ect.)

I was also impressed with the step-by-step instruction that was given before each task was assigned. It was not only nicely descriptive, but taught in a fun, and engaging way.

The drawbacks, as far as we were concerned, were that, on several occasions, we found the website a little difficult to navigate. It was also tough because it seemed hard to switch between accounts with any kind of ease. There were a few days that we just gave up in frustration over this issue. However, once we were able to finally arrive at the right place, we did enjoy the curriculum.

The specifics:
Item: My Access! Home Edition

Publisher: Vantage Learning

# of pages: n/a (online course)

Price: $99.95 (however, it can be used for up to three students per subscription)

Age Range: 3rd grade up through adult

My Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars