Friday, December 7, 2018

Beloved: 365 Devotions for Young Women - A Review

We were provided a copy of this lovely edition of Zondervan's devotional Beloved to use and review. 

Having the opportunity to review the devotional Beloved: 365 Devotions for Young Women by Zondervan became an early Christmas gift for me. The book itself is lovely, it is a nice size, a nice weight - yes, that can make a difference and filled with wisdom. While the book itself is a lovely gift, it has been the reading of the pages together with my teen daughter that has been the true gift. 

We have been reading one of the brief devotions about three times a week for the last several weeks. Given the length of each devotion a daily reading really shouldn't be difficult in general. We have just had a very packed and hectic schedule this month. Which has increased the satisfaction of the time we have been reading this collection together. We included the reading in our early morning still in pjs on the couch snuggle time which explains the lack of photos of us using the book in this review. Too early in the day for any portraits!

Your identity as a woman matters to God. 

Especially during this season of Christmas preparations and activities it has been so wonderful to slow down, be together and read the encouragement found in the pages of Beloved. Meant for young women, Beloved contains 365, one page devotions. Each page also has lined journal space for a written reflection.

Who of us, young or old, doesn't benefit from a bit of encouragement and reminders of our true state of beloved-ness. I know as a mom, my doubts can feel perpetual and that they mar my ability to pass the message of God's love on to my daughter by example. This volume of one page devotions is an easy to add tool for sharing the message of "you are beloved" with any young woman. When I distill all that I want to convey to my daughter as she comes into her own as a young woman, it can be so hard to teach by word and example when I am myself not tuned into the message of unconditional love but is surely the most important message of all. 

Having this tool provides an easy to reach for way to incorporate biblical examples that remind each of us, that our identity as a woman matters to God

You are all together beautiful... -Song of Songs 4:7

Our time reading the passages together has been nourishing. The passages are brief enough so that the actual reading of each takes only a few of minutes. It is the actual consideration of the verse and the accompanying paragraphs that has led short discussions and even the quiet considerations in silence together. Those moments have been the real gift of each page.  A bit more joy and love and thoughtfulness has been added to our mornings together during this busy time of life and the year's season. Each passage has also increased my thoughtfulness about mothering my daughter who is about to embark on her own journeys as a this young woman.

This is a wonderful volume of devotions for the intended audience of young women. The brevity of the passages increases the likelihood of even the busiest of teens to read regularly. Despite the short daily passages these pages are filled with details of and insight from the stories of the woman of the Bible. As I read ahead, on my own for this review in Beloved, I began to see the weaving together of the stories and the intended emphasis of encouragement for young women in their lives today. 

I love how the passages revolve around the theme of womanhood with so many biblical examples, each with a story that sheds light on God's promise. Any affirmation for our teen daughters of the beauty and wonder of ourselves as women is welcome. This devotional offers affirming insight from the woman described in scripture and how each of their stories emphasize God's love for each of us.

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Saturday, November 17, 2018

'Tis the Season

Like sports, and life really, the dance world has it's seasons. For dance students that cycle typically includes performances in the winter and in the spring. The annual winter holiday schedule traditionally involves productions of the Nutcracker. The celebrated Nutcracker Ballet is performed by many studios and companies in Europe and across the U.S.

Our daughter dancer is involved again this year with some changes. New studio, new roles, new rehearsal schedule and a new timeline for our family. This year's participation requires rehearsals up until the weekend immediately before Christmas is celebrated. The timeline shift hasn't deterred our daughter, the six day a week dance demands are just part of her current schedule, even with the up-until-the-day-before Christmas Eve commitment. Our family adapts because we know the joy, being on that stage, brings her. And I have to admit, there is more than a little joy for me, as well, seeing her perform in this ballet.

2018 Nutcracker with the Chicago School of Ballet

The Chicago School of Ballet
presentsThe Nutcracker

From last year's Nutcracker post on November 17, 2017:

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 Theater'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.

2017 Adah performed "Spanish" with
Milwaukee Ballet's, Isaac Sharratt
 Hinsdale Dance Academy

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Homeschool Review Crew Applications are Now Open

This year, I've had the opportunity to participate in the Homeschool Review Crew. The Homeschool Review Crew is one of the divisions of The Old Schoolhouse® which also includes a quarterly published magazine, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and Schoolhouse Teachers which is an excellent on-line resource of self-paced classes for students and families. As a result of being on the Homeschool Review Crew, I have had the option to use and review products that we might not have tried otherwise. We have discovered excellent learning tools to use to our home school.

Each review was done after using the product with a student or students for a recommended period of time. Most here were done with my daughter, my current home school student. We have discovered useful curriculum and incorporated many new resources into our home school efforts as a result of doing the reviews.

There have been so many benefits to being a member of Homeschool Review Crew. An obvious one is the access to curriculum and products that I might not have tried otherwise. There have been side benefits beyond just added homeschooling materials. There is access to a supportive community of homeschooling moms and mentors via an online forum. Questions regarding products and reviews are welcome there, as well as, feedback for written reviews. 

Another added value for me has come from the increased writing that I have had to do. The external motivation that comes from a commitment with deadlines helps produce results! Being a part of "The Crew" has bumped up my writing confidence and my writing productivity. It has given me a group of supportive homeschooling moms who are also writing consistently and available for encouragement and information.

If you have any interest in participating, reviewing new products and improving your writing because you'll being doing more of it. Check out the info by clicking the banner below.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Balancing Diapers and Deadlines - A Course Review

Lisa Tanner is a writer, blogger, and work at home mom of eight children. She is a free lance writer and home schools her children. You can find her at Lisa Tanner Writing.
Balancing Diapers and Deadlines is one of the helpful courses she has created to share her knowledge of how to get things done. Based on her experience of running a business, while raising and homeschooling her children, she shares effective strategies to be productive and accomplish goals.

As a Homeschool Review Crew participant, I had the opportunity to take and review Lisa's course Diapers and Deadlines. For myself, with only young adults and a teen student still at home, our homeschooling responsibilities are coming to a close. I certainly don't have the needs of young ones to take into consideration anymore. However, the prospect of learning some time management skills from someone who manages to accomplish as much as Lisa, was enough for me to enthusiastically join in, on this one.

What Lisa has put together in this course is impressive! It is practical and encouraging. If your babies are grown, don't let the diapers in the title discourage you; this course is useful for anyone working from home. We can all use tools to help maintain balance in our work and home responsibilities, no matter the ages of family members. Presented in eight units beginning with an introduction and the basics, each unit includes 4-8 lessons within.

The Unit titles are:

Welcome to Balancing Diapers and Deadlines
Building Your Foundation with the Basics
Minimize Your Decisions
Minimize Your Decisions: The Annual Meal Plan
Sustainable Growth
Growing a Business with Your Kids Around
Boost Your Productivity
Closing Thoughts

In the study units, Lisa introduces overall concepts like; getting your family on board with your business, building a foundation and minimizing decisions. She describes how a concept applies to productivity and gives suggestions to address and complete tasks with examples of how an idea has worked for her family. She provides very doable action steps to use in your own situation. The lessons are sprinkled with sufficient reminders to be flexible and creative in applying them in your family.
"Planned fun helps with motivation." -
Lisa Tanner

If you have been homeschooling and/or working from home for a while, you might feel the pull, as I did at first glance, to quickly move through or even skip the units with titles that suggest lessons on the basics. After reading through a few lessons from the beginning, I began applying a few of the helpful action steps that followed. As a result, I started to evaluate some of my basic routines and my current situation in a new light. I am now in the process of returning to some routines that have fallen by the wayside and am completely overhauling others, most notably; meal planning.

One simple and basic I'm returning to was prompted by Lisa's 15 Minute Quick Clean. A time limited pick up/clean up is something I used when my children were small, to get them to participate. Reading her creative adaptation to the same idea sparked the renewal of this technique for myself. Along with the wonderful reminder to enjoy the process, put some music on! Why do I forget this? Might as well have a little fun and dance while cleaning up, even if (or now that kids are big) especially when, I'm cleaning by myself!

An example of a bigger overhaul in my routines, prompted by Lisa's course, falls under the concept of minimizing decisions. I see how we all get bogged down with too many daily decisions and how making as many as possible in advance can increase ones productivity tremendously. I'm on board with this and appreciate the suggestions Lisa gives about where to make decisions in advance.

The place I currently most want to minimize daily decision making, in my own life, is in the area of meal planning. Lisa understandably, gives meal planning it's own unit. The process of determining what's for breakfast, lunch and dinner on a daily basis, takes it's toll and frequently results in less than optimal nutrition for my family. I have done weekly meal planning off and on over the years. It is a task I don't enjoy and am truly overwhelmed by.

Just beginning, still overwhelmed
but, determined to give meal
planning another try.
Balancing Diapers and Deadlines provided the motivation, so with printable pages provided through the course, I'm diving back in. Lisa's example of a yearly plan, quite frankly, seemed crazy and impossible at first but, as I read through the lessons in the unit and printed out some of her examples, the idea started to fall into place. Having themed dinner ideas makes sense to me. It still allows for some flexibility and creativity while providing the needed structure to get it done and minimize daily decision making - leaving energy for productivity in other areas.

My current challenge is actually preparing for and adjusting to the many transitions our family is undergoing, finding focus for my own endeavors as we move into a new season of life. While we have our routines in this phase, the rhythms are changing which can make productivity a challenge. Lisa created this course to give info to moms and help them accomplish their goals while still caring for their families. She offers down to earth practical advice and suggestions for the necessary day to day basics that need to be accomplished for the healthy effective functioning of a family.

At first glance through the early units some of the lessons seemed too basic but as I progressed through the units, I also found myself returning to those basics. I reflected on and re-evaluated my current routines and how they are addressing the needs of family members and my own needs as I pursue a new and developing list of my own goals.

To read more reviews by Homeschool Review Crew 
of Lisa Tanner's Balancing Diapers and Deadlines Course, 
Click the banner below. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Just a Little Bit of Trick Or Treat

Last night, we juggled our usual annual family Halloween birthday dinner for my son with answering the door for costume adorned children chanting "Trick or Treat".

It is always a festive celebration for our family of our second born. It is typically, a similar atmosphere to what we experienced on the actual day of his birth, at home on Halloween two decades ago. Family togetherness interspersed with short sweet visits from happy little ones asking for treats.

Probably, like in most neighborhoods, it is hard to predict the amount of trick or treat traffic that will wander our sidewalks and climb the too big cement steps to our door. This year, we had a picture perfect fall day with the trees still full of color, a few leaves gently drifting to the pavement and lawns. The temperature was just right, not too cold, not too warm. It was beautiful fall weather and the little goblins responded. Trick or treat turn out was high. I wasn't as treat prepared as I should have been. As we celebrated at our family table, we took turns answering the door.

After dinner, I answered for one very large pack of small tricksters, in the midst of their visit, I ran out of candy. With a bowl completely empty in my hand, I got quite the look from one very small fairy princess. From her expression, I gathered that I must have been the dumbest witch she had ever laid eyes on. How could I have dared to answer the door! It probably didn't help my cause but, her glare did make me laugh out loud. I'll try to be better prepared for future Halloween festivities. I certainly hope I am in case the fairy princess rings my door bell as a preteen.
But it was the comment from the sidewalk in regards to the lack of candy, that made my Halloween evening. In a cheerful voice from the little boy in the ninja turtle costume, in a wheel chair, he shouted with a big smile, "That's o.k. Happy Halloween!" He melted my heart!

The lessons just keep comin'!
Happy November!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

We Need To Talk - A Book Review

In recent years, I haven't spent as much time reading as I used to, or as I would really like to. Life is so busy, schedules full and screen time and scrolling have intruded. I intentionally shut the last one down on a somewhat regular basis but it creeps back in. When I visit a library or a book store though, my desire and compulsion to read the printed page kicks back in and I usually find a title, or two, or five, that end up in a stack near my desk or at least on a 'to read' list that I keep.

At the top of a recently gathered stack was; We Need to Talk How to Have Conversations That Matter by Celeste Headlee. Celeste Headlee is a radio host with NPR. She has conversed with many guests on her broadcasts. In her book, she addresses what many have noticed in our culture today, the increasing difficulty of having meaningful conversations. Important discussions have decreased, even amidst our increasing connectivity to one another through technology. She writes about this dichotomy with a fluid flow of words that makes for a quick, entertaining and encouraging read.

She presents some of the problems, mentions research, identifies strategies and provides inspiration for why paying attention to and improving our conversation skills is so important in all areas of our lives.

She discusses five key strategies for facilitating dialogue:
  • be curious
  • check your bias
  • show respect
  • stay the course
  • end well
She provides an overall memorable take away in the lovely example of playing a game of catch. Having played catch more that a few times with my sons, I find the simple metaphor delightful. Back and forth with an easy rhythm is the most enjoyable way to play the game. So it is is with conversation, as well. In our media saturated lives the art of conversation is losing ground. Maybe it's time to make a commitment to picking up a mitt and playing catch in a dialog. We could all use the practice.

The book challenges every reader to work at improving conversational skills. Celeste suggests asking questions as one great way to practice conversation and increase listening attention. To continue the game of catch metaphor, asking a question is like putting on a glove and tossing the ball to your partner. I plan to ask more questions while trying to keep in mind, one of the fascinating tidbits of information shared from the research; pleasure centers in our brains are stimulated by talking about ourselves, (it's like an addiction!). I'm going to try to remember that the next time someone (myself included) hogs the ball!

Read the book. Ask a question. Play ball!

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Wordless Wednesday Fall Photos

Living in a climate with changing seasons, there is nothing quite like an autumn day to inspire me to attempt to capture the beauty of the natural world. I think each of these photos says something about that beauty without a caption. Do you agree? Please, let me know in the comments below. I love an honest critique! Enjoy and find inspiration in your surroundings, wherever you are.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

CashCrunch Review

This is a review of CashCrunch Careers, one of the tools offered on the online resource of CashCrunch Games. CashCrunch Careers is a career survey and aptitude assessment tool developed by Paul Vasey. It is available on his website CashCrunch Games. We were provided access for two users to the CashCrunch Games survey. The survey can be taken in 10-15 minutes. The survey results are then available to the student to assist them in the process of evaluating their own interests, strengths and aptitudes. Following the survey results a Careers Report is provided with a summary of the students strengths, interests and attributes. From there they can further explore how their personal profile can lead to certain career choices. Using the results they can begin a more in depth exploration of potential career paths. Resources with additional information regarding general categories of work and more specific requirements of certain jobs are built into the website. 

CashCrunchCareers begins with a survey that takes about 15 minutes to complete.

Final survey results provide feedback to the participant. Two of my young adult children took the survey and explored the information provided. They were each provided with a printable download of Career Survey Report that included sections for:
  • Career Work Styles
  • Motivators & De-motivators The bullet point list here offered useful feedback for my daughter. I saw the explanations as true to her personality but don't think I or she could have pulled the synopsis together as clearly.
  • Career Attributes
  • Career Match
  • Matching Jobs This section is the section which is divided into job categories and within each category there is a list of jobs available within in that category. By looking deeper into each area more specific information is provided. It is here that more specific performance tasks are listed for jobs. This is where college lists and videos giving more info about tasks and activities involved in performing a particular job are provided.

After obtaining the survey results each student is provided with an extensive and linked list of possibilities of career options in the matching jobs section. Exploration of that list leads to the suggested paths to follow and to a more specific list of occupations with descriptions of the roles and tasks involved in that occupation. Each section is broken down into a list of specific job possibilities within the category and the roles involved. Click into the list deeper and you will find information regarding the tasks and activities to perform the job. Short videos are provided about each job as well as lists of potential colleges.


My daughter is currently in her last year of homeschooling. She intends to continue her dance training following graduation. She has a potentially workable plan but it also very aware that dance will probably be one of two or more lifetime career paths. It is the additional career options that she is still exploring. She completed her survey and we explored the results. She read the summary of her Career Survey Report, the suggestions and information provided. I'm don't think she came to any definite conclusions as a result of reviewing her CashCrunch Career Report but she is certainly more aware of the many possibilities ahead of her and of where some of her interests might lead.

My 19 year old son also took the survey and reviewed the results. For him, I think it was the initial report that reads as a personal traits summary that was most useful. He communicated to me that he thought the specifics about the jobs provided would be changing rapidly. Despite the information contained in the videos, my son didn't find them inspiring enough.
I don't see this tool as a one time use and move on resource. Given the rate of change and the dynamic aspects of our economy, this is a tool that can be returned to over and over. It could be used to begin a reassessment if someone is re-evaluating a job choice or looking to make a change. I see this as a potentially useful tool in that way for my 19 year old son. He is currently completing his general education requirements while in his second year of college and has not yet narrowed down his field of study. I will encourage him to return to this survey over the next year for info and to assist in pointing him in directions of further research as he plans for his second two years of college.

While the survey itself takes only 15-20 minutes to complete, reviewing the potential opportunities, as would be expected, does take more time. There is enough information available for anyone to  follow up the survey with ongoing exploration and to obtain a fairly clear understanding of the initial requirements for a specific career pursuit. This is where I see the value for my son with his high expectations of this online resource.

Initially when my daughter first took the survey, I considered the $99.00 price point per individual user a little steep. After she completed her survey, explored the results, suggestions and further information provided, I can see the benefits of the use of this product over an extended period of time possibly justifying that cost. I do, however, still consider the price a little high for one user.

CashCrunch Careers was developed by Paul Vasey. It is one of several products that he offers on his CashCrunch Games website. There are other products that look useful. The Personal Finance Bite Size is a curriculum that I intend to use as a review with my daughter this year before she leaves our home. The Personal Finance Bite Size is available on the CashCrunch Games website or on the Old Schoolhouse Teachers members website. I had a question about access to the product we reviewed and got an immediate and cheerful response from Paul. He is obviously very enthusiastic about creating products to improve financial literacy among students. It is an important goal. I think the use of his products will help to achieve it.
To read more reviews done by homeschooling families of Cash Crunch Careers, click on a banner below to find the links on the Homeschool Review Crew site. 

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