Monday, July 29, 2013

Blackmore - Review

Blackmoore is Julianne Donaldson's second novel. I loved Edenbrooke when I read it last fall and was excited to see another by the same author. This one has a very different feel than her first. Blackmoore reminded me a lot of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.  There is a mysterious house, a girl who is full of imaginings about that house and the hero in the story is named Henry just like in Austen's story. Kate, the heroine, even has a moment in the dark while exploring the house where she lets her imagination run a little wild. So I couldn't help but make comparisons.

Kate so badly wants to escape the life and family in which she is stuck. She feels caged and trapped by circumstances and doesn't see any way out except to get as far away as she can go and leave everything behind. She dreams of going to India with a maiden aunt but strikes a deal with her mother that is all but impossible to fulfill.

Donaldson does a great job of expressing Kate's feelings through the symbol of birds. The birds on the moors around the house and the bird that wont sing because it is trapped in a cage in the house.  She enlists her childhood friend, Henry to help her keep her end of the deal so she can finally escape the cage she feels around her. Henry's problem is that he doesn't want her to leave.

While I enjoyed the book, I don't know if I liked it as much as Edenbrooke. I liked the light heartedness of Donaldson's first novel. Blackmoore was far more moody and emotional. I think anyone who is fond of Jane Austen like, regency, clean romances will appreciate this one as well. Just make sure you have a few hours to devote to it because you won't want to put it down.

I received a copy of Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson from Shadow Mountain through NetGalley in exchange for my opinion and review.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Test Scores are In

Two years ago we joined a charter school. We were reluctant to make this change because we liked our freedom to homeschool as we choose. Living where we do, things are very expensive and we decided the funds that the charter school would give us would allow the kids to have classes that we wouldn't be able to afford otherwise.

So far this decision has been a good one for us. The school has more or less let me do what ever I want as far as curriculum. They just won't pay for any books or classes that are religious. But the kids have been able to have piano lessons, gymnastics, science labs, and their online classes paid for by the school. I even have used the funds to buy art supplies and science kits for the kids to use. I try really hard to only use the school money for things that I won't have to return or are considered consumable!

In return for these funds I have to meet with an Educational Specialist once a month and fill out the attendance sheet. I also have to write up a brief explanation about what was covered each month. Each semester I have to turn in an example of their work in each of six required subjects to form a portfolio for each child.  At first this was annoying and I found myself doing things just so I would have something to turn in to the school.  But as time went on I realized that because of this accountability to the school, I was getting more done and not letting as much slack off. Before, we would get lazy and spend an entire semester skipping our science or not doing much more than read and talk about books.  So, even though I do still find it annoying to have a monthly meeting and report to write up, it has been good for me.

One other requirement we have to endure in order to be a part of this charter school is standardized tests. Sophie and Ian had to take the STAR test the past two years. Henry took his first round of these tests this Spring.

Last year Sophie's score on the math section was below where they would like students to be and this really made her feel "dumb at Math". It took a lot of convincing to help her see that that wasn't the case and that she had never taken a test like that before. This year after doing Teaching Textbooks math most of the year she came out of the test and again felt "dumb at math."  She told me there were all sorts of things they asked her that she hadn't even studied. After this discussion we switched her to some Math Mammoth, topic specific math workbooks that covered those math concepts she recognized were lacking.

The test scores for the STAR test, the three kids took this Spring, arrived this week. Sophie's score in math was in the "proficient" but on the more detailed scores she scored low in the sections we covered after the test with Math Mammoth. So she was happy and no longer feels like a dunce in mathematics. She was thrilled to see she scored very high, "advanced", in English and Language Arts. She was well above the range they marked as proficient and at the top of the state's target.

Ian, I am happy to report did excellently in both LA and Math. Math especially was strong for him. He score high in all but in the basics. Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division were only "proficient". I guess he needs some more drill in the basics. He seems to get the concepts of math quite easily. His Language Arts score showed he is "proficient" in the subject.

This being the first year Henry took these tests I didn't expect much from his scores. They came in as I expected. He is "proficient" in math and low in LA. Considering this boy hates writing anything and does as little as possible.  I am not shocked by this score.

So what do these scores tell me? Well... Sophie is doing great with LA so I don't need to focus too much there. We switched to Saxon math for her and hopefully the drill will be good for her. Ian too made the switch to Saxon. I think the level we got him is a little below where he could be but I think we will stick with it and cement those basics into his mind a little stronger. Ian and Henry are going to focus more on LA in the coming year. There is going to be a lot more writing and composition and even some grammar.

None of the kids took the science or history portions of the STAR test this year but I am pretty confident they are fine in these subjects. They are favorites around here so I don't need to make them the focus. They happen without me having to make much of an effort. I just need to remember not to forget them entirely.

I guess I need to get serious about planning our our next year. School starts again in a few weeks. YIKES!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Molly had a Birthday, Shout Hurray!

Molly had quite a birthday. She got to celebrate with Grandma and Grandpa and the cousins a little early while she spent the week with them. Then on the actual day of all days, when we were all home again, she got to celebrate with us. She of course started the day with her morning present. It is a tradition that the kids get to open one gift at breakfast. 

 Molly got some pink legos and a bunch of lego friends girls.

She usually takes all the female mini figures and doesn't let anyone else play with them but with 10 new lego friend girls she should be satisfied and let the boys play with Hermione, Narcissa or Marion (from an Indiana Jones set)

These new legos have kept the kids busy

For dinner she got to pick what we ate and of course got the red plate. 
Pesto noodles with chicken were what she decided she wanted. 
Of course she had another pink cake. Sorry we forgot to get a picture of it. It was pretty ordinary but of course had pink icing.
For months Molly has been telling me she wanted a bow and arrow for her birthday. She saw a pink set at Big 5 a number of months ago and decided right then that she needed them. And she never forgot. When ever anyone asked what she wanted for her birthday she always said "a bow and arrow". So I had to come through and get the set she so wanted.
Pair the archery set with the princess dress Grandma made her last year and she is a Warrior Princess.  I guess she has seen Brave a few too many times.
Our little four year old was quite happy with her birthday and has now started on her wish list for Christmas.

Five Days in Skye - Review

 I love stories that take me places I haven't ever visited before. And the stories are even better if they help we see the sights of such different places.  I just finished Five Days in Skye which takes place on the Island of Skye in the Highlands of Scotland. As I read the book and went sight seeing with Andrea with James as a tour guide I couldn't help but jump up and get online to see pictures of all the places they were visiting. Of course the pictures make the Isle of Skye look beyond beautiful which is also how it is described in the book. This is certainly a great advertisement for vacationing in Scotland!

It also didn't hurt that James is a celebrity chef and knows how to cook great traditional foods or knows exactly where to find the best pubs and restaurants that serve great local fare. So many fancy dishes are mentioned in this book they made me hungry.

Beyond the local and the food, characters were flawed but likeable and the story itself pulled me in quickly. It is a story about healing and figuring out what is really important in life. This is labeled a Christian book but I didn't find the religious aspects overbearing. Sometimes Christian books tend to hit you over the head with "the message". This one was more subtle and in my mind more realistic. The characters turn to their creator in order to overcome their past and embrace the future. James and Andrea help each other too. This isn't about one saving the other but about two people helping each other come back to the things that bring lasting happiness.

A very pleasing way to spend a day or two. I enjoyed my "visit" to Scotland and hope to one day take an actual visit to such a rugged beautiful land.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Swept up by the Sea - Review

We read a lot of fairy tales around our house. Molly loves to hear the stories of princesses and such so the book Swept up by the Sea with the mermaid on the cover sparked my interest.

I started the book with great expectations, however, I found the book somewhat difficult to get going. It didn't pull me in during the first chapter so I had to persevere through a few chapters until the story really got going. Plus the fantasy world took me awhile to wrap my mind around. I didn't understand the rules or people of this mystical world so when minotaurs or mermaids were mentioned they took me off guard at first. I read a lot of fantasy books with my kids so I don't know exactly why this was difficult for me when reading this book. It just took me longer to understand the "magical rules" of this world, I guess.

The story itself is quite fun and I loved the characters once I got well enough into the story. They are quite an assortment of silly, melancholy, comical, mystical, and mysterious. Each has their own story and they are all intertwined in the plot. The ending was so beautiful. I loved the old lost sea captain coming home to his "widow". (Sorry about the spoiler but really it doesn't ruin the ending!) Everyone gets their happily ever after just like in all good fairy tales.

This is well worth the read. Just give it a few chapters to hook you in.

I received this book from the publisher in return for my honest review.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Another Week of Girls Camp

Sophie and I just returned from Girls Camp. This was Sophie's 2nd week and my first. I went up as the third year counselor. I had 12 girls in my group. Many of the active LDS girls brought friends along to camp so our numbers grew and grew until our group was rather large. 

After a quick meet and greet we started out on our overnight hike.

 Our back packs loaded we set off down the hill.
 The two other leaders on the hike. One was our "Hike Specialist" she helped us with the Dutch Oven cooking at the bottom. (A truck meet us at our campsite with the supplies and dutch ovens)
 Near the campsite is a ropes course. We didn't get to do the zip line but we did a few of the other things like walk across the tight rope (wire) that was 20 feet up and went across the creek.
 We worked on a lot of our certification requirements here. The girls needed to cook over the campfire in two different ways. The Dutch oven stew, cornbread and peach cobbler tasted so good after a day of hiking.
 We also filtered our own water.
 We slept under the stars but thanks to the thick Santa Cruz fog that rolled in we were rained on during the early morning hours and woke up wet through.
 We were ready for hot chocolate and warm breakfast burritos
 We found a few woodland creatures.
 The girls also learned how to start a fire without matches and waxed some matches to waterproof them.
 I didn't get a picture of their compass/orienteering activity. They all learned how to read a map and use a compass to find their way. One of the men that came along on our hike made the greatest treasure hunt for the girls to follow using their compasses.

After our hike we loaded our backpacks and headed back up the hill to the main campground to join the other girls for the real fun of girls camp.

 Sophie was a first year and had a great time hanging out with her friends. Here she is after having a "California Snowball Fight". (Flour in socks)
 The girls all sported beautiful braids. One of the camp staff would just sit and do braids and braids and more braids.
 There were all sorts of team building games.
 Lots of food, laughter and fun!
 Some crafts.
 more braids.

More games this time with water.
 And so much more.
 It has been over 20 years since I attended girls camp. It was a lot of fun to get to spend the week with these girls. It was a lot of work/drama being a counselor. I am worn through. I was so happy to come home to my husband and kids and my comfortable bed.

I loved getting to see glimpses of Sophie as she went about her groups camp activities and I went with my girls to theirs. I know after having back to back camp weeks has been hard on her and she now just needs some time at home to relax and recharge.

It was a great week but "There is no place like home".

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Took the boys Camping

One of the things we planned to do while Sophie was at Girls camp was to take the boys camping.  So we loaded up the van with our tents, sleeping bags, and all sorts of camping gear and headed up the hill. Evidently this is a very dry year so we had to go up pretty high up into the Sierras so we could have a camp fire.  They were prohibited any lower down. We ended up going to the exact same spot as the girls did for their camp. We pitched our tents at a camp ground right across the street. We could even hear the air horn wake up call the girls got each morning.

 We took along the 16 year old cousin who is a camping pro to be our guide. He showed us city slickers how this camping thing really works.
 It really is a beautiful place. And since it was in the triple digits down at Grandma's house the cooler temperatures were very welcome.

 Here we are with our tents up and our first meal on the table. Canned chicken noodle soup warmed over the fire in the dutch oven.

 Henry is a fire bug. He was constantly feeding the fire. This of course ment we needed to gather and break up a lot of sticks and such.
 The boys took turns with the hatchet.

 Before the sun was even down the boys broke out the marsh mellows for smores.

 After a night of sleep that even included a little drizzle of rain in the night we headed out to explore a bit of the land around.

 The creek was cold but fun to walk through.

 When they found a more quiet spot our guide (cousin D) started to show the boys how to skip rocks. My husband quickly got in on the act. All the boys went on and on like this for quite awhile.

 Henry started to get bigger and bigger rocks to throw in.

 Once they had their fill we headed out for more exploring.

 They found this shelter.
 When we returned to our camp we were surprised by our camp ground neighbor. He spent his morning fishing and brought back 6 trout. He gave them to us.

We slapped them into our cast iron skillet and lit the stove for a quick fist fry. Henry didn't quite know what to think about frying fish with their heads and fins still attached. He kept telling us to cut the heads off. We just added a little butter to the pan and fried them up.
 Our neighbor loved seeing the boys pull the meat off the bones and eat that lovely trout.
 After our lovely lunch the boys set to work whittling. They each took a pocket knife and started to smooth out the ends of a few sticks.

 We played a lot of cards and sat around the fire talking and telling stories. There was even a bit of singing.

After one more night sleeping on the ground we headed home to swim again in Grandma's pool. We were so filthy it was the perfect ending to our camp out.  My boys got to commune with nature and do a lot of manly things. They loved it!