Monday, December 14, 2015

{Book} Review: M is for Manger

Disclosure: I received this product free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. Your opinions and results may vary.


Every year we add at least one new book to our Christmas book collection.  This year it was this book, M is for Manger, by Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley. It's almost too young for my kids, but then, are you ever really too old for sweet rhymes and gorgeous illustrations?

About the Book

Travel through the alphabet with this beautiful rhyming storybook that tells the story of Jesus’ birth. Begin with the angel who tells Mary that she is God’s chosen vessel and follow along until you reach the zillions of stars that paled in comparison to the star that announced the birthplace of the newborn King. Beautifully illustrated and written, this book will be a classic for parents to read to their children every Christmas season.

M is for Manger
Written by Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley
Illustrated by Claire Keay
ISBN: 978-1496401953
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
64 pages

What I Thought

M is for Manger is a very sweet book for children ages 2 to 7 or so.  It's not a board book, so be careful with kids younger than 2.  My copy is a beautiful hardback book with the most gorgeous illustrations, one for each letter of the alphabet.  My 9-year-old read it to herself and about halfway through she stopped and said, "I wonder what they'll do for X!?"  She was pleased when she got to it. (Don't worry, I won't spoil the surprise!)




The book tells the true story of Christmas one letter at a time.  The poetry is sweet, but it's the illustrations that really make this book. I'm a sucker for gorgeous artwork in kids books!  In fact, I loved the artwork so much that I looked up the illustrator online. Her website doesn't seem to work, but I found her on Twitter @claire_keay.  (To be honest, I was hoping I would find out how to pronounce her last name!)

This probably won't be on my top ten list of favorite Christmas books, but it is a sweet one to add to your Christmas library especially if you already own most of the well-known classics.

Find it from the publisher here or on Amazon.  


Tyndale Blog Network

Monday, December 7, 2015

{Book} Review: The Illustrated Study Bible (NLT)

Disclosure: I received this product free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. Your opinions and results may vary.

A couple of weeks ago I received a special offer from the Tyndale Blog Network to review their new Illustrated Study Bible.  I immediately shot back a response saying of course I was interested in reviewing it! Have I ever mentioned how much I love color? This seems to have been a theme in my life lately. Life is too short to be monochromatic!

When the package arrived containing my new Illustrated Study Bible, I was not disappointed. Full color photos, illustrations, infographics, and maps throughout the book bring the text to life!


About the Book


The Illustrated Study Bible integrates background material, study notes, and themed articles into a single volume so you can better understand as you study the Holy Scriptures.  The intent is to open your eyes to the living, powerful message of God's Word.


The Illustrated Study Bible NLT


by Tyndale House Publishers
ISBN: 978-1496402004
2618 pages

My Thoughts

Not everyone is an academic. Not everyone can easily read and understand the traditional text of the King James Bible with its unusual vocabulary and outdated sentence structure. And not everyone has time to hone their academic skills just so they can study the Bible. (Do you want to study grammar? or do you want to study the Bible?)  The text of the New Living Translation makes reading and understanding the Word of God easy. This is not a paraphrase; it is a carefully translated Bible that presents the meaning of the original text in clear modern English so every regular joe on the street can understand it.

This Bible could be very useful in the homeschool setting too. Many of the articles and study notes address questions that come up when reading Scripture with my children -- the portion on Plagues of Egypt, for example, will be very helpful in teaching how each plague was specifically targeting one of Egypt's objects of worship. The maps of Paul's missionary journeys are some of the most beautiful I've ever seen. I love maps! 

Find it from the publisher here or on Amazon.  I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.  The FTC requires that I disclose this information, but it in no way changes my expressed opinion and I wasn't required to give a good review.


Tyndale Blog Network


Sunday, December 6, 2015

No Room in the...Budget


Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

We like to idealize the past, our perfect carefree childhood Christmases, the sweet baby Jesus bundled up in a manger with cute little sheep complacently peeking at Him on the hay.  But the truth is the world Jesus was born into was just as chaotic and scary as the one we're living in today.


And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

Things were not picture perfect for Mary and Joseph.  They were dealing with some very tough, even life threatening, situations.  Mary was pregnant before marriage -- a potential death sentence.  The government was making Joseph join throngs of other travelers to go back to his hometown for the census, with a pregnant young woman in tow.  This was not only majorly inconvenient timing, but was a heavy risk to her health and safety, and that of the child within.


While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Sometimes you just have to do the best with what you have.  Mary gave birth in a stable.  I imagine the conditions were less than sanitary.  She put Jesus to bed in the animal's food bin; it's what she had.


In a perfect world everyone would have enough all year long with a little extra at Christmastime.  In a perfect world we could keep family traditions alive without concern for the added cost.  But this world is not perfect, and sometimes we just make do with what we have.

This year there was no room in our budget for a Christmas tree.  Our bin of Christmas tree ornaments will not be brought up from the basement this year. There will be no joyous exclamations from the children declaring their remembrance of certain ornaments as each is unwrapped one by one to be displayed for the season.  Instead, we will make do with what we have and create new traditions and make new memories.  A wooden bar stool, a snowflake patterned sheer tablecloth, and a few strings of lights will be transformed from mundane into something magical.  The stage is set for the tales to be told of wise men from afar and shepherds regaled with music from above.


For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.

The world isn't going to stop being a scary place just because it's Christmas. We won't all become millionaires over night.  But this message of peace brings hope to the fearful; it brings light to the lost.  Because of this promise, we can celebrate this Christmas even though the world is chaotic and scary. We celebrate the promise of peace that will never end, peace on earth!


{Book} Review: The Carols of Christmas by Andrew Gant

Disclosure: I received this product free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. Your opinions and results may vary.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it is socially acceptable to turn our attention to Christmas. (That's how it works, right?)  Don't tell, but I've been in "Christmas mode" since quite a while before Thanksgiving.  This year I'm heading up a casual chorus of Christmas carolers.  Because of that, I've had Christmas carols on the brain since early October!  There couldn't be any better timing for a book about the stories behind our most beloved Christmas carols.

About the Book


From Oxford professor and renowned British composer, a joyous account of the history behind our favorite carols.

Everyone loves a carol in the end, even Ebenezer Scrooge. They have the power to summon up a special kind of mid-winter mood, like the aroma of gingerbread or the twinkle of lights on a tree. It's a kind of magic.

But how did they get that magic? Andrew Gant choirmaster, church musician, university professor, and writer tells the story of twenty of our favorite carols, each accompanied by lyrics and music, unraveling a captivating, and often surprising, tale of great musicians and thinkers, saints and pagans, shepherd boys and choirboys. Readers get to delve into the history such favorites as "Good King Wenceslas," "Away in a Manger," and "O, Tannenbaum," discovering along the way how "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" came to replace "Hark, how all the welkin' ring" and how Ralph Vaughan Williams applied the tune of an English folk song about a dead ox to a poem by a nineteenth century American pilgrim to make "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

A charming book that brims with anecdote, expert knowledge, and Christmas spirit, this is a fittingly joyous account of one of the best-loved musical traditions.

The Carols of Christmas
Written by Andrew Gant
ISBN: 978-0718031527
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
224 pages

What I Thought

My first impression of this book was the unique flavor of humor British author Andrew Gant brought to his work, and secondly, how steeped in the material Gant clearly is.  The former adds to the pleasure of the read, but the latter detracts from it.  Of course it is wonderful to have someone who knows so much about the material share his knowledge, but so many references he makes in the course of telling the tales of these carols go completely over my head.  Perhaps, if one of his fellow countrymen read the book and came from the same cultural background, more of the references would hit home.

Writing style aside, the content of this book is utterly charming. I am not only a lover of Christmas carols, but a lover of history.  I really enjoyed being able to dig into the story behind some of our most beloved Christmas carols.  Did you know that a poem by the Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf written more than twelve centuries ago became the song we know as "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"? And it was this same poem that inspired J.R.R. Tolkein with the imagery and names for Earendel and Middle Earth?  Fascinating, right?  This book would make a nice present for any history buff on your list.

Find it from the publisher here or on Amazon.  


I review for BookLook Bloggers


Friday, September 4, 2015

{Book} Review: ‘Til We Meet Again by Ray & Betty Whipps

Disclosure: I received this product free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. Your opinions and results may vary.

Reading a true story set against the backdrop of WWII that leaves you with an overwhelming feeling of upliftedness, hope, and peace is not commonplace.  However, that is exactly how I felt after reading ‘Til We Meet Again.

As a busy homeschool mom, it’s not often that I get a chance to sit down and read for pleasure.  Oh, I’m always reading! But most of what I read is related to homeschooling — either educating myself on how to teach or reading aloud to my kids.  So when I carved out a chunk of time to read this book, it was a special thing.  I read it from cover to cover in four hours flat.


About the Book


Ray and Betty Whipps both served in Europe during WWII: Ray as an infantryman under General Patton in the trenches of Normandy, Paris, and Belgium, and Betty as a field nurse in Cherbourg, France. The two met when Betty tended to Ray after he was injured in a mortar blast. Both strong Christians, the two bonded over their shared faith, and as Betty nursed Ray back to health, they fell in love and vowed to marry after the war. However, soon after Ray returned to his unit, he was captured by German forces and held captive in Stalag VII, Germany’s largest prisoner of war camp. It was there that Ray’s faith was put to the ultimate test as he endured the most horrific weeks of his life—weeks marked by brutality, malnutrition, back-breaking labor, and near-constant death. The only thing that kept him alive was the dream of someday reuniting with Betty.

'Til We Meet Again
Written by Ray & Betty Whipps with Craig Borlase
ISBN: 978-1496405487
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
288 pages




What I Thought


One of the most remarkable things about this story is the absence of hatred on the part of both Ray and Betty even through some of history's darkest times.  You will meet with true love and faith in the pages of this book.  You will feel the grit and horrors of the battlefield, but through a lens of reliance on God, trust in His purpose, and trust that He will see you through.  You will carry away from this book a sense of peace and hope that the same God will be with you in the trenches of your life and will remain just as faithful to you as He was to Ray and Betty.  That kind of testament to God's faithfulness is what I will remember most about this book years into the future.

In addition to seeing God at work throughout Ray Whipps' life, you get a very good dose of history in this book.  I found myself wanting to hang onto this title to give to my [future] high schoolers as an example of a living book for this time period.  It would be fantastic to read this book with a world map at your side so you could follow along with each place Ray ended up.

I highly recommend this book!

Find it from the publisher here or on Amazon.  

Tyndale Blog Network

Saturday, August 22, 2015

ECC: Japan

Konichiwa!  We have spent the last two weeks "in" Japan.  This has to have been one of our favorite countries to study so far!  The kids had a blast watching Godzilla with Daddy and obsessing about ninjas all day.  In addition to this, they...

...made koinobori...

...created an entire menagerie of origami creatures...

...wrote original haiku poetry...

...drank ramune style soda pop...

...fell in love with mochi ice cream...

...turned up their noses at green tea mochi...

...learned about the beach...
(Miss M made this image in PicCollage to illustrate her geography vocabulary word).

...and created a relaxing rock garden.

We're heading to the Philippines next, Hubby's homeland.  We're closing in on our final push to the end of the school year (remember, we started back in January).  It's been fun, but all good things must come to an end.  Sayonara!

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Day in the Life

Do you ever feel like all these amazing homeschool mamas have it ALL together. They get up early, prepare a scrumptious and nutritious breakfast for their families, start school by 8 o'clock and, well, generally have everything well in hand.  Well...that's not what life looks like here on Sycamore Hill!

I don't even bother to have a written schedule because I know it would be complete fantasy!  But one day this week I did take a few moments to track what really took place.


This is my "Day in the Life" from Wednesday.

9:30 -- a long-distance phone call from my brother wakes me up
10:00 -- still talking on the phone, Hubby calls during his break so I hang up and switch over
10:15 -- admining duties on Facebook, check email
10:30 -- actually get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast (make sure the kids have eaten; they have)
10:40 -- Geography Game
11:00 -- have 4th grader rewrite her poorly done sentences from the day before
11:15 -- read Matthew assignment
11:20 -- Singapore Math assignment
11:50 -- Writing Strands (Our very first lesson! She loved it and begged to do the next one too!)
12:20 -- vocabulary from Geography from A-Z
12:30 -- 30 minutes Book Basket while I sweep the floors and load the dishwasher
1:00 -- everybody pitches in to clean up for the knitting class we host
1:30 -- realize we've been cleaning, people are coming and we haven't had lunch: make popcorn
2:00 -- Knitting Class
4:15 -- last knitting class people leave, Hubby comes home

At some point in the evening we did our read aloud and everybody clamored to tell Daddy what they learned about Japan during the day. There may or may not have been some Godzilla watching going on too.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Hands-on Math: Weights and Measures

One of the most common questions I am asked about homeschooling is "What math do you use?"  Since the time we started using My Father's World a few years ago, we have stuck with their recommendation of Singapore Math.  Aside from one little foray into Math Mammoth (which I also loved and highly recommend), we have not found it necessary to supplement at all.

This year Miss M has been working through Singapore 3A and 3B.  She was so pleased with herself when she completed level 3A.  Of course, I was proud too!


Level 3A focused on working with larger numbers (up to 10,000) and really nailing in those multiplication and division tables.  One day I sat down with a pile of flashcards to drill Miss M and since my camera was handy, I snapped a few shots of her in constant motion.  Apparently acrobatics help with math fact memorization!


Level 3B moved on to some topics that really lent themselves to hands-on learning: length, weight, and capacity.


Miss M measured liters of water to see how many would fill a bucket, a tub.  She weighed out a kilogram, a pound, a gram, and an ounce of rice to see just how much each of those units is.  These are some of her favorite lessons, and with good reason!

The weight activity I saw on Pinterest, but the capacity activity was written right in her textbook.  And of course no study of capacity would be complete without this great video!


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pretty Tween Dresses for Summer

If you have a daughter between the ages of 8 and 12, you may have noticed that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find appropriate clothing for her.  My 8-year-old is most definitely still a little girl.  She is not a small adult.  I would prefer her to dress like a little girl in clothes that provide appropriate coverage and allow for the freedom of movement needed for active play.  Toward that end I spent a weekend sewing up some sweet summer play dresses for Miss M.


This is the Flower Hexagon dress from Ottobre 3/2013 (pattern #16).  I made it of some beautiful vintage cotton printed with roses in size 128, but cut the length to 146 because Ottobre dresses tend to run a bit too short for my tastes.  It has hidden pockets in the side seams!


The second dress I made is also from Ottobre.  This is 3/2013 #13, the Hollywood Cerise dress.  I didn't have enough of the fun paisley patchwork print to manage the whole dress, so I scrounged up some contrasting plaid seersucker.  I love the combo!  There are patch pockets on the front and mismatched buttons from my vintage button collection all the way up the back.

These two dresses are long, cool, and airy.  Miss M loves them!  Even better, come fall she will be able to layer these over leggings, boots, and a long sleeved tee!

Monday, July 13, 2015

ECC Highlights

We started My Father's World Exploring Countries and Cultures about 18 months ago and though I have blogged about very little of it, we have been having a wonderful time!  I won't be able to give a rundown of everything we've done the past year and a half, but here are a few quick highlights.


We made clay sun faces while in Mexico.



In Brazil we studied the rain forest and made a terrarium with tropical plants.



While traveling through Germany we read lots of fairy tales and ate delicious plum cake.



For France we took a little picnic in the park with a baguette and some imported French cheese.



I bought some unfinished wooden boxes to paint in the traditional style of rosemaling while we learned about Norway.



We loved learning about Morocco and trying our hand at some leather tooling.



A trip to the zoo yielded a close encounter with a bongo during our study of Zambia.



For Kenya we fashioned some simple items into a musical instrument. This thumb piano is much more simplistic than the ones we saw online that actually come from Africa.



Our friend from Benin came and cooked a traditional meal for us. The sauce is typically made with peanut butter, but we substituted butter made from sunflower seeds.  It was delicious!



A few lengths of fabric were fashioned into traditional Indian attire -- a sari for Miss M and a dhoti for Mister E.

These are just a few of the countries we traveled to with the help of great books from the library and documentaries from Netflix and Amazon Prime.  We have less than four months left in our school year, and while it has been fun, I am just about ready to be done with ECC and move on to our first year of history.  We are in the Orient now and will finish up with a stint Down Under before the end of the year.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Celebrating 100 Days of School

We started our school year here on Sycamore Hill back in January.  We've been trudging along following a rough "Sabbath Schooling" schedule (that's 6 weeks on, 1 week off) and this week finally hit our 100th day of school!  The kids have been so excited counting down and wanted to have a big party to celebrate.  While that didn't quite happen (parties are fun for kids, but lots of work for mamas!), we did celebrate with a little 100 pizza!



We each got to put the toppings on our numeral just how we like it.  I had a shredded zucchini and a little leftover ham on mine with extra sauce.  Miss M had light sauce and pepperoni on hers and Mister E had regular sauce with pepperoni and extra cheese on his. He thought it was funny that his "pepperonis" slid down the cheese and off the pizza during baking!

After lunch we went to the park.  We were supposed to meet some friends there, but they thought it was going to rain and headed to an indoor venue instead...and since neither of us are living in the 21st century (i.e. we do not have smartphones), we weren't able to communicate our whereabouts and missed out on playing together.  Oh well, I think the kids had fun anyway.  The best part, according to them, was that when we got home they got to go swimming in their little pool!

It's an 8' by 18" wading pool with a kiddy slide going into it. I call it the poor man's water park!

I didn't get to any of the other amazing 100 days of school activities I have saved on my Pinterest board dedicated to the topic (I really wanted to do the 100 days smarter t-shirts!), but there's always next year, right?

Monday, June 1, 2015

FREE resource for summer: Discovery Education Streaming Plus {sponsored}

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We will be incorporating video segments of life in India for the next several weeks.  I hope you find something fun to watch too!

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