Thursday, February 22, 2018

Improving A Communication Skill - A Review of Ultrakey Online

Despite my use of a desk top key board for writing, blogging and emailing, my typing is far from efficient. I am slow. So when the opportunity to use and review Bytes of Learning Ultrakey Online Family Subscription was offered I was happy to give it a try. I was equally happy to encourage my daughter to learn and improve her typing. Given that she is not an exception to the fact that most teenagers currently keyboard with their thumbs, I was happy that this product included up to 8 users with our family subscription. I was the most willing to improve my typing skills but she has gone along with the plan. 

Initially, signing up with Ultrakey was effortless. I did have trouble figuring out how to set up additional accounts for more than myself. The information on how to do so was available in the program, however, my kids will all tell you that I am impatient with technology in that way. One phone call to a very friendly costumer service department with an actual person responding and answering my questions and I was kindly walked through getting my daughter's account set up and ready to go. 
UltraKey Online has given me easy to access tools to practice and improve my typing skills one lesson at a time. My daughter is doing the same with UltraKey Online. The lessons and drills are given based on the users chosen goals and "adapts to whatever ability the user has, and proceeds at the user's personal pace". Different users within one account can progress at their own speed, working to attain their own goals. Each student's progress reports can be recorded within a family account with individual access to continued practicing. Individual goals can be set, reviewed and re-evaluated within one overall account.

The lessons are based on the importance of the "motor memory process", the ongoing repetition and continued practice needed to instill motor memory. The concept of muscle memory is easily understood by my teenage dancer. I appreciate the thorough user manual that comes with this product and the references to educational principles behind learning a skill. It is clear that the creators have done their research and understand the learning process of students gaining the skill of typing. Having those references was useful in communicating to my daughter the effectiveness of returning to practice regularly. The easy use of this product has made the option of ongoing practice attainable. We used the game section to add an edge of fun to the practice routine.

Games add some fun
to the learning process
Though we only used the program on a desktop it can be used on a variety of devices. It can be used on tablets and chrome books. The fact that it doesn't have plugins is an advantage to me. As I mentioned, I don't always have a lot of patience with technology and it's dynamic status. Using resources that need updating when I return to them has always been an annoyance to me as a homeschooling mom. With Bytes of Learning Ultrakey this is not an issue. They handle that end, the students at my house can simply log on and begin where they left off.

My daughter has improved her typing skill significantly. With the Bytes of Learning Ultrakey Online Family Subscription the family manager has access to the progress reports which gives me the option of reviewing what she's done and accomplished within the program. We have both improved our typing skill. I am excited to continue to increase my typing accuracy and wmp and increase my writing productivity through improved typing. Like it says in the Ultrakey user guide, "Fluent keyboarding is ultimately a communication process."

A printable certificate of
attaining goals. Please don't look
to closely at mine!

UltraKey {Bytes of Learning Reviews}

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Gathering Together - The Importance Family Meals

When our children were very young, we managed to have meals together on a regular basis. As a stay at home, homeschooling mom, I was able to gather all of us together, at the very least, every evening for a family meal.

As my children have became more and more involved in their own individual activities, I have become more of a chauffeur and a spectator. As a homeschooling parent, I am thankful that this has been a gradual process. Most of their activities are scheduled around the schedules of our dominate culture. School attendance dictates when extra curricular activities happen. So as each of our children participated more, our family schedule has had to adapt and for the most part it hasn't been too difficult. The biggest challenge and the one the most significant to our family has been the loss of opportunities for family meals.

I do a lot of driving my children around. In a big city suburb, a ride to the commuter train line can save an college student a few more minutes for study. A committed athlete may have to travel further then the local park or gym for a game or practice. Thankfully, those car rides have become an opportunity to stay connected. Unfortunately, those car rides have also become snack or meal time and even more unfortunately replaced family meal time.

There has been research done on the topic of family meals. There are positive behavioral outcomes of adolescents as a result of having consistent family meal opportunities. All of the research that I have seen points to long term benefits of regular family meal time. Gathering together is a valuable family activity and in my opinion, parental responsibility. Not always easy to accomplish, but important and rewarding.

Without the benefit of reading research, I think most parents realize the value of having regular meals together with their children. Meal time offers an opportunity to reconnect after a busy day. Gathering together around a family meal table can provide nourishment physically, emotionally and spiritually. Time to talk and just be together in an familiar, supportive environment means love to us humans. We all need that to continue to function well in the world.

From garden... table.
Family meals provide an opportunity
to learn about nutrition. 

My own observational "research" is simple. When the Run-Ran family (that's us) skips family meals too often, (over the course of a week or two) my young adult children and teen begin to ask about it. They start to ask when and what's for dinner. If I get it together after those requests, announce a time and a menu, they all make the effort to be there. When schedules permit and a few of us are involved in the planning, preparing and eating of a meal the experience is even richer and more satisfying. We enjoy each other's company and stay connected, despite where each of us is participating in the big wide world.

Meals out and about together are great, too.
My husband serves up pizza during a family vacation.

If you are interested in reading a bit of evidence based research on family meals check out the article on the National Institutes of Health website. Link here: PubMed article..

The PubMed article's conclusion copied here:


Results from this study suggest that regular family meals in adolescence may have a long-term protective association with the development of substance use over 5 years among females. Parents should be encouraged to establish a pattern of regular family meals, as this activity may have long lasting benefits.

Linked below; a few family mealtime table conversation and encouraging resources at Amazon:

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Language Art - A Gallery of Idioms

The idea for this post was actually sparked a couple of years ago, when I used an idiom in conversation with my daughter. I thought I had a perfect context for it's use, but she hadn't heard it and didn't get it. In preparation for her competing at a gymnastics meet, we were visiting the meet venue in advance. The discovery of a bronze cast sculpture of two bulls, outside the venue presented the initial reminder plus an excellent opportunity for photos and for the use of the idiom; To take the bull by the horns.

Surprised by the fact that my daughter didn't initially understand the phrase, I've kept a list since, for fun and as it turns out, for a little bit of photography inspiration and challenge for myself, as well.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Too many irons in the fire.
He really went to town.
The proof is in the pudding.
Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Don't put all of your eggs in one basket. 
A picture is worth a thousand words
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Killing two birds with one stone.
Barking up the wrong tree.
A piece of cake.
Can't have your cake and eat it, too.
Don't let the cat out of the bag.
That's the pot calling the kettle black.
Seeing red.

A succinct definition of an idiom from, "Idioms are literally ideas as expressions"sums up the language phrase concept. Idioms contain "strong elements of a metaphor" and frequently a strong visual element. The visual connotations are probably what fascinate me about the use of idioms and feed right into my visual artist explorations. Another sums it up, a picture is worth a thousand words, as an excellent example."

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.
In some cases the meaning of the original expression has remained, but the original reference has been lost. In some cases the words of an idiom have changed but the meaning has remained. Or in some cases, the activity once referred two is no longer really a part of our daily lives, thank goodness. For example, a violent one. Killing two birds with one stone.

Context may be everything in the case of  the use of idioms. Over time some of the words in an idiom may change but the original meaning remains. The meaning of an idiom will be understood by the people functioning within a similar language context but I've noticed that even in the face of some language or cultural differences many understand the meaning behind an expression. Many idioms simply sum up a human event or daily activity experienced widely across cultures, if not now, then in the past. Don't put all of your eggs in one basket, is an example. Undoubtedly, this one would have more significant meaning to those who have actually gathered eggs and more significance still, if those eggs actually meant a meal on the table.

An idiom that my daughter didn't initially understand when
I thought I had more then a perfect context for it's
use before she competed at a gymnastics meet.
The key to passing on an understanding of language, it's many variations and the idioms it includes, is to engage in conversation frequently. Experience with using the words and expressions of our language well and with meaning requires engagement with that language. Encouraging ongoing dialog and providing opportunities for rich conversations in our homes and daily encounters is vital for our young ones to understand the world around them, the views of others and to express their own views well enough for others to understand. Engaging in conversation frequently with family, friends and as we go about our daily activities with those we meet along the way is important to maintaining understanding between us all.

Don't let the cat out of the bag
(or in this case, the box).
The proof is in the pudding, is a good example of the meaning of an idiom being carried on without the entirety of the phrase. I wonder how many children have a context to understand the complete process of making pudding. Apparently, the original phrase has actually evolved by dropping part of the early reference of the set of the pudding. Referring to the desired result of a set pudding, actually makes more sense out of the phrase. However, who now, except for an active chef would even understand that the set of the pudding is everything in making a successful pudding. By referring to the result of an endeavor, the proof is in the pudding, phrase to applies to the concept of good work, good results. I'll end with that idiom because it can be applied to the use of much dialog, discussion and language in our families, too. It's a good reminder to continue active dialog and communication as parents with our children. The set of our children's language skills is proof of the value of talking, talking, talking with our children.

2018 Fresh Start, New Year Special

Monday, January 15, 2018

My Word of the Year 2018

For most of us, the beginning of a new year offers the opportunity to plan and dream. However, my goals for a new beginning are quite often overly ambitious and become less of a plan and more of a dream. I've seen the idea of choosing a word of the year and it looks like fun. I like to read a word of the day and have a dictionary app on my phone. Even one word a day can be one word too many though on some days.

Learning new vocabulary is fun and as I read once paraphrased; "Learning the vocabulary of a subject is the beginning of mastery of  a subject". Vocabulary learning can in some ways provide a bit of a shortcut to more in depth learning and understanding. For high school students vocabulary study is suggested as test prep for the biggies, ACT and SAT. It's important to keep talking with one another and using a broad vocabulary with children.

The choice of a personal word of the year isn't really about vocabulary though, it's more about personal growth and awareness. It's an interesting challenge. And I'm taking it on for 2018.
I'm joining in the yearly word idea with my own word of the year. I'll see how far it carries and if there are any interesting results. If you are doing something similar or have in the past, let me know. Was it worthwhile? Fun? Produce any surprising results? What's your word for 2018? Keep reading to see mine.

Symbolic of my word of the year choice and a new found passion.
There are so many interesting ideas and activities. Many of my own interests have been put aside as I've raised my kids. As someone who likes to create, I have lots of back logged projects of art making and sewing. So with the idea to complete a few projects, improve my feelings of accomplishment and reduce my own sense of overwhelm. To learn to practice the art of not being so easily distracted, my word of the year for 2018 is:



[foh-kuh s] 
nounplural focuses, foci 
 [foh-sahy, -kahy] (Show IPA)
a central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity:
The need to prevent a nuclear war became the focus of all diplomaticefforts.
Physics. a point at which rays of light, heat, or other radiation meetafter being refracted or reflected.
  1. the focal point of a lens, on which rays converge or from whichthey deviate.
  2. the focal length of a lens; the distance from a focal point to acorresponding principal plane.
  3. the clear and sharply defined condition of an image.
  4. the position of a viewed object or the adjustment of an opticaldevice necessary to produce a clear image:
    in focus; out of focus.
Happy New Word of the Year!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

SchoolhouseTeachers Review

2017 was an eventful year for us and looking ahead, as a new year begins, it looks like more of the same. For us, 2018 will bring each of our children to crossroads and decisions that will influence their futures. Graduating from college and considering work possibilities for our oldest son, determining where to continue a degree program with our second son, who is attending classes at a community college and completing and graduating from high school for our youngest. We have used a variety of resources and curriculum to get us to this point. The online resource that I have used the most frequently is This post is a review of  the Yearly Membership of this online product and includes some of what we have found most useful and valuable in that resource so far.

Our youngest is a dancer, and will likely be taking the most unique path of our children. She dreams of dancing in a professional company. As a homeschooling family, we have become accustomed to taking roads less traveled and have been able to accommodate extensive training for her goal. I continue to be grateful for the option to follow the interests of each of our children in an intensive way and can see the beneficial results, as they each launch into the world, pursuing their own life adventures.

Beginning the Year with a Review and a Plan

We have been flexible and eclectic in our approach to homeschooling. However, I have dropped the ball on the basics as a homeschooling teacher at times. Life's adventures and more interesting activities have often sidetracked us. Or life's usual and not so usual events have deterred us along the way, but I have always tried to return to covering the basics, plus some enlightened enrichment in a somewhat structured way. To do so it has been important to have an easy, go to resource to tap into.

For me has been that primary go to resource for the last several years. The math course offerings alone, found in the math focused learning center, have been useful in keeping us on track in continued learning and practice. We have consistently turned to the math courses for my daughter to work through required high school math courses including pre-alegbra, algebra and geometry.
High-quality, Self-paced, Online Homeschool Resources {}

Yearly Membership to has given us access to an online product that I can go to for a variety of structured courses. With a click or two or three, we have to access to important learning lessons and materials. Membership has given us the structure we need to continue covering what we think is important while adapting it to our own family learning styles. It helps me fulfill a  plan as we homeschool. has courses that are sequenced and complete, many include items that are downloadable and printable. There is a video library available, with many of the online classes offering video components to view and learn from. My daughter and I are embarking on viewing the videos for the guitar class together. I am viewing them for a much needed refresher and she is continuing the basics of her learning as a beginning player.

Given that my daughter is currently a high school student, research projects are in the mix. While I still emphasize library book research, I know online research resources are all important in today's world. provides access to World Book, a feature that adds to both research projects and unit studies. My favorite aspect of World Book is the timeline section. For student interaction, the timeline feature includes the option for a user to add events not already included on the timeline. It is fascinating to see events as they relate to one another historically.

High-quality, Self-paced, Online Homeschool Resources {}

As we are near the end of our homeschooling days with our daughter, we will be continuing to use the valuable resources offered by ~ ( with her. For myself, I'm looking forward to visiting the parent section, to soak up some of the encouragement there, as our family transitions into a new phase.

Homeschool Curriculum for Everybody - { Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Favorite Christmas Picture Books

Reading aloud with my children when they were younger was always delightful, even when my voice and eyes became strained and tired from responding to the "one more" refrain. Sharing stories and images from the pages of favorite books created experiences and memories we treasure.

This year, as I was initially looking for our Nutcracker book, with the classic story by E.T.A. Hoffman, to clarify the many versions and character changes throughout the history of the Nutcracker, I pulled out a few other favorites from our picture book collection, as well, just for the joy of it.

Jonathan Toomey's story by Susan Wojciechowski is a bit of a sad one, but ends on the happy note of finding love again. A sweet story with detailed illustrations by P.J. Lynch, it may provide inspiration for trying some handcrafts, as well.

St. Francis is a saint who is easy to relate to, with his love and compassion for creatures great and small. Robert Byrd introduces St. Francis with a charming four legged companion and wonderful illustrations.

And one of my favorites, as far as art and illustrations go, The Story of Christmas, with pictures by Jane Rey. The images are gorgeous with golden accents, highlighting the glory of the season.

Merry Christmas 

May you find joy and delight in all of your Christmas traditions in the company of loved ones this season.

Homeschool Review Crew Weekly Link Up

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Learning with the Nutcracker - A Holiday Tradition Is the Lesson

A family holiday tradition of ours, of attending a performance of The Nutcracker Ballet, has become a tradition of performing in the ballet, for my teenage daughter. This year was her second opportunity to perform in a production of the Nutcracker. My homeschool plan for her, this late fall season, was to mold this experience into a comprehensive unit study covering; some classical musical pieces and composers, a little western civilization and some Russian history mixed in with her dance experience.

As most home school moms, any parent really, knows, any big idea for family and learning often ends up needing to be scaled back. Way back! The best laid plans....

So I began repeating to myself, the advice I've frequently repeated to homeschooling moms with a new baby "the new baby is the lesson" in an altered version. "The Nutcracker is the Lesson." In the case of a dancers participation in a production of The Nutcracker, it is most certainly true!

Rehearsing for The Nutcracker.

Following are some of my points of proof, of the learning that happens while participating in a full out production of a ballet.
  • First up: Time management. The amount of rehearsals required for dancers to learn and execute their part(s) is extensive. Maintaining a healthy schedule of rest and good nutrition is important in keeping up with the demands. Added to a dancers rehearsal schedule is time scheduled for costume fittings and learning the proper make-up application.
  • Music appreciation and music history. Appreciating classical music requires exposure to classical pieces. We added some research of Tchaikovsky and the creation of the music for the ballet.
  • Research about the creation of the music and the ballet led us into history generally and western civilization. Specifically the late 1800's, the era in which it was written.
  • And it all came full circle with conversations with my mother-in-law. Her own mother had danced in the Nutcracker herself in the late 1930's in Estonia. The connection brought personal meaning and depth to the historical aspect as well as validation to an aspiring dancer. Family history has been, for us, an excellent way to approach and make history appealing to my children.
All of these learning activities happened naturally as a result of planning for, rehearsing in and performing in the production. My plans to use additional reading, writing or listening resources didn't always come to fruition, but the learning happened regardless and the results were delightful.
From the late 1930's a Nutcracker performance in Estonia.

As a mom, I am delighted to see my only daughter pursuing the study of dance. At the young age of sixteen, her journey has already led her through competition gymnastics to this recent opportunity to perform in a local production of the Nutcracker. As a family, we enjoy our tradition of attending The Nutcracker with the added joy of watching a family member perform. For all of us, (performing or attending), The Nutcracker is the lesson.

Siblings and friends enjoy the performance and
support our daughter as a ballet dancer.

Many mandatory rehearsals requires
time management skills.

Homeschool Review Crew Weekly Link Up
This post is linked to the
Homeschool Review Crew Weekly Link-up

Friday, November 17, 2017

'Tis the Season

It may not seem like it's quite time yet. Thanksgiving hasn't even arrived. Here at our house, honestly, we haven't done much preparation for Thanksgiving yet, at all. The primary reason being, Adah's participation in the Hinsdale Ballet Theatre's production of The Nutcracker. Presented the weekend before Thanksgiving, the show kicks off the holiday season for us now. The benefit to the dancers and their families of an early season Nutcracker, is that it affords us all the opportunity to relish the upcoming holidays after the production without the pressure of a performance looming.

Adah in rehearsals. View her Instagram profile. 
A brother observes a rehearsal.

Right now, however, the rehearsals are packed in and the show is about to begin. The three pre-Thanksgiving performances with the young artists begin tomorrow November 18, as they dance their way into the holiday season. Dancers from the Milwaukee Ballet will be dancing with them in these performances giving the young company members an exciting opportunity to learn from the accomplishments of others as they share the stage with professionals.

Milwaukee Ballet's, Isaac Sharratt rehearses
with Ansley Pierce, Hinsdale Ballet Theatre
It's happening this weekend, November 18th and 19th at Nazareth Academy. If you live in Chicago's western suburbs, you may want to check it out. There are still a few tickets left.

For tickets to The Hinsdale Ballet Theatre's Nutcracker.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Pleased to Meet You

This photo series began as an attempt to get a few photos for a G+ community I participate in. The theme for the week was 'home town'. Living in the suburban sprawl of Chicago-land, I drive and spend much of my time in towns, referred to as villages by local residents, other then my own. Busy giving my kids rides to the train or scheduled activities, I was finding it difficult to get photos of the village that I live in. It was the last afternoon of the theme and I thought I could get a couple of shots to share. I had seen the colorful banners in the business district of our village and had been looking for some orange to shoot for some fall posts, so, perfect, I thought.

Well, I liked the idea of the orange on orange of the banners and awning on the restaurant but that didn't quite pan out the way I wanted. Something better happened. While I was trying to capture my orange idea, I started shooting the new murals on the windows instead.

From around the corner, came a voice, with the question, "You like?" The muralist was still in the process of finishing his paintings on the other side of the building and asked me to come look. Chris introduced himself and showed me the paintings he was working on. We had a delightful conversation about art, painting, photography, technology and raising kids. Chris was friendly and talkative but a little shy about the camera. I continued on, happy to have made a new artist acquaintance.

Wonderful surprises happen along the way to following through on an idea or interest. Leaving schedules open for a little room to play and being open to conversations with new acquaintances usually proves interesting and beneficial. I'm glad I found a little slack in my schedule that day and to have had the opportunity to meet Chris and learn about his art.