Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review: The Quarter Mile Math...Math Practice Made Painless!

I was excited to receive software to review from Barnum for The Quarter Mile Math practice. I have seen the product and have heard others tell of how much they liked it but it was just one of those extras I hadn’t quite convinced myself we needed for our homeschool. And though some things that I review are tried and then set aside, this program will be enjoyed in our home for a long time!

The Quarter Mile Math is math drills in an easy to use, kids-don’t-realize-this-is-school sort of format. From Kindergarten math through pre-Algebra approximately grade 9), the 70,000 problems are guaranteed to continually offer challenges and learning opportunities for your children.

Racing against their five best scores, the student competes against himself in order to beat their best time. They have a choice of racing an old fashioned dragster or a horse. With sensitivity to families that may object to any semblance of horse racing for the sake of gambling, the horse does not have a rider and is simply racing through a meadow. In fact, the folks Barnum are extremely homeschooler friendly! Their website features a section exclusively for those that homeschool. They want to hear your suggestions and readily ask for help in improving their product from everyone enjoying it.

Their website is full of tips and suggestions for getting the most from your purchase and they also send a newsletter (email) that gives helpful hints. For example, here is something new I learned about the benefits of the format of The Quarter Mile Math, in an email just today: “If a student enters an incorrect answer, the car or riderless horse doesn't slow down. It maintains its current speed until the student types in the correct answer. Other software programs tend to inadvertently reward students for answering incorrectly because the animation associated with a mistake (explosions and crashes, for instance) are so entertaining. Students start to purposely answer incorrectly to see the animation again, wasting precious computer time.” I had never thought about this sort of animation as actually encouraging incorrect answers but that really makes sense now that I read it!

Speaking of animation, I would say that, with today’s very sophisticated animation being so prevalent, The Quarter Mile Math is a bit old fashioned…although that is not a reason not to enjoy it. The picture is somewhat grainy, in a digital sort of way, and very basic. However, when I spoke to Christopher Wright, president of Barnum Software, about some technical difficulties I was experiencing, he mentioned to me that they are in the process of updating the graphics so that detraction should be rectified fairly soon.

Unfortunately I did have some technical difficulties. At this point it seems their system has some compatibility issues with Window’s XP and Vista, though there is a way to work around the problem. When I first installed the program with my Window’s Vista, it ran fine for a few races and then froze up. In their handbook this problem is addressed and I was able to find out how to install an older version of it that fixed the glitch. However, the older version blows all of the graphics up even bigger and grainier so it looks sort of funky, but still operates fine.

The reason I called for technical support was that we forgot one of our passwords. I could not really find anyway to retrieve that information and it seemed we were at an impasse to continue with this child’s progress. To my surprise, Mr. Wright himself answered the phone and was most helpful and very concerned with my issue. After helping me correct the problem, he realized that there needs to be more clearly stated instructions for those that forget their password, and he said he would address this issue. That was a great example of humility in action! I had read on their website that they want suggestions to improve their service/software and I believe that is not merely hollow words.

So, how can you enjoy painlessly strengthening your child’s math skills? I would recommend that you visit their website and click around on all the information there, to begin. If you go to you can learn a lot about the practical application of these exercises.

Then, you have a choice as far as how you want to purchase the product. The Standard version comes with a CD to install, you can order one specific level for $39.95, or up to a bundle of three levels for $89.95. Your other option is to get the Deluxe version which includes all the levels for a monthly subscription rate of just $2.95. That is for your entire family! If you prepay for one or two years upfront, you can save up to $20.

With the Deluxe version you can download straight from their website, or you can be sent a CD to install it for just $5 more. If you do both (download and purchase CD), you can easily download onto one computer and install it with the CD on to another. The database at Barnum software keeps track of all scores for you too! Furthermore, you can compete in real-time tournaments with other friends or family members using other computers…even if they are in another state! The Deluxe version does require an internet connection; however the student never needs to get on the web.

All in all, The Quarter Mile Math is one product that everyone can enjoy for years. It is also an investment in math drills that pays back with your kids wanting to participate and coming away from the computer smarter and more confident in their math skills! Now that’s big dividends!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Better than "Must-See-TV"

I just returned home from taking my oldest daughter to Wyoming to be immersed in missionary training for 3 months. After that time, she goes on to Costa Rica for another two months to apply what she has learned.

My husband and I decided to make a family vacation out of taking her there. We spent three gloriously cool nights in Idaho Springs, Colorado and three more, even cooler nights, in Mountain Cabins near Yellowstone (not even sure of the name of the town, there wasn't really a town until you got to Cody, about 55 miles away!). Coming from Texas, where it has been 105 degrees, we were wallowing in the cool, crisp weather...amazed when we could see our breath one morning!

Everywhere we went, in both Colorado and Wyoming, there was a feast for our eyes! Whether it was flat plains and a huge sky full of wispy clouds that looked like a delicate painting or jagged mountains looming solidly over our heads, there was so much to take in! I took about 600 pictures (thank God for digital cameras and no need for film!). I am originally from Oregon and so this was sort of like coming home for me. My kids haven't been exposed to much scenery and they were just in awe. My 11 year old said, at one point, "I didn't think there were this many trees in the whole world!" Did I mention we live in Texas???

Being up on the mountains and hiking or horseback riding was like having a private worship service. Just taking it all in with my family was so refreshing, like a personal hug and gift from the Creator himself. It was amazing.

What I had to smile about were the droves of others doing the same, to some degree. People chose to leave phone service and televisions behind in exchange for something real, something awe-inspiring, something free and beautiful! It is a no-brainer to choose to enjoy nature, in such a setting, rather than hang out on the couch! But, statistically speaking, there is no way all of the people visiting these beautiful places could be a Christian. (Though it would seem an easy way to convert someone, if you ask me!)

So, what is it that draws everyone to want to be a part of such wild, rugged beauty? What does a non-believer get from such a display? Well, I think it just proves what it says in Romans 1:20, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

The soul is naturally, intrinsically drawn to this sort of "soul food". We are hard-wired to crave something bigger than ourselves. To stand in awe and realize how finite we are is healthy and-- in this high-tech world we live in-- hard to come by! Whether all the other sight-seers knew it or not, the fact that they were drawn to the beauty surrounding them and desired to be a part of something so vast and engulfing is just further proof of the accuracy of the Word of God.

We have a need that can only be met when we, as the creation, come humbly before our mighty Creator!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Gruesome...Review of The Knight by Steven James

There is nothing like watching a good psychological thriller. You know…the kind of movie that ends with such a twist, you feel the need to watch it again, with your newfound knowledge, and see how all the pieces actually fit together.

Well, The Knight by Steven James plays the same sort of mind game with your brain. This who-done-it, or --more accurately-- “who-is-doing-it”, intertwines the nominal details with the vital in a way that makes it hard to discern between the two. When you finally make it to the “a-ha!” moment, your mind races through the particulars in the story to see if it can make the revelation work with that last puzzle piece. I am always amazed and impressed with such complicated and clever plots.

Agent Patrick Bowers is an incredibly gifted Geospatial Investigator: a criminologist studying the timing and location of crimes. Working for the FBI in Denver, his unique set of skills led to the capture of a notorious serial killer 13 years prior. Thanks to his expertise, Special Agent Bowers is called in to investigate a new series of bizarre murders.

With the help of other agents working the case, Bowers determines that the slayings are actually reenactments of a string of disturbing stories from a collection of tales written in the 1300’s. This discovery gives the murders context and, in fact, details on what will come next. However, even with this knowledge, the killer stays just out of reach, anticipating the FBI’s next move and literally using the agents as part of his macabre story. Agent Bowers turns out to be the unwilling star, and, apparently, the most sought after victim.

Using a variation of first person (Agent Bowers) and third person narrative, Mr. James weaves his suspenseful tale in real time. The character development brings into believable focus the juxtaposition of a man with a dangerous job who is also a loving stepfather and faithful friend.
Collectively, the suspenseful writing and intricate plot are all part of the “good”…quite good! Overall, an excellent mystery that keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

So, what of the “bad”? For me, the Patrick Bowers character, though very likable and human in general, comes off a bit too “Jack Bauer meets MacGyver”-ish. Always physically able to do about anything, always expediently able to maneuver around obstacles… at times it was over the top. I thought he might whip out a cape. He all-too-conveniently has an audiographic/photographic memory, which comes in pretty handy when he gets anonymous phone calls and can recall them word for word, or checks out a crime scene by the beam of a flashlight and remembers tiny, important details later.

So that leaves us with the “gruesome”. As a Christian author, Steven James certainly crossed the line at times into grisly voyeurism, apparently looking for some shock value (and getting it). Don’t get me wrong, I am not into prettying up sin and acting like the real world isn’t quite so ugly. However, I am not comfortable with reading in great blow-by-blow detail, the murderer’s pleasure in watching people die, or how he tends to eat certain body parts. These images often crossed the line into “too much information.” Though such details may be common in secular thrillers, there is an expectation in reading a story from a Christian Worldview that such in depth descriptions would be avoided.

While reading this, I was reminded of a time when my young, artistic daughter wanted to draw a picture of wolves tearing apart and devouring a deer. I explained to her that, just because she thought up the idea and was able to draw such a scene, it did not mean that she should. She had a gift from God and therefore had a responsibility to use that gift wisely and in a way that was edifying. She could certainly portray the story of wolves hunting their prey without showing the end result. One can lead an audience to the idea, letting their minds fill in the inevitable, without rendering every detail for them.

This is not to say that we all should live in a bubble and only draw or write about butterflies and rainbows. However, a Christian novelist, in my opinion, must hold to a higher standard than sensationalism for the sake of readership. There must be more worthwhile content than what the world has to offer. The Knight dished up a great, clean, psychological thriller and not much more. Though there was an excellent anti-abortion theme presented, the in-depth accounts of murder were not justified in any way but merely served to be gratuitous, and at times, repulsive.

I think Mr. James could have taken us into the mind of a killer without dragging us so far into its dark, insidious pit. Though I realize books are ultimately published to be sold, I hope in the future that Steven James and crew will remember whom their targeted audience is and tone down the horrific details.

Overall, the storyline and writing was cutting-edge and excellent. But there were times I just had to put the book down and shudder.

Available August 2009 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Habla HTML?

My 13 year old daughter just finished designing her first webpage. Oh, I would like to take credit that I am just such a gifted teacher, and so technologically savvy, that I have passed this knowledge on to my children…but my nose may grow terribly long or I may be struck by lightening because that would be a big fat lie!

So, what enabled my child to design a webpage? The answer is a very handy DVD called “Web Design for Kids (and Curious Grown-ups!)”. This easy to follow DVD walks the viewer step-by-step through the process of basic web design using that mysterious language called “HTML”. You know… the computer lingo that looks like the Tasmanian Devil talking in a Looney Tunes cartoon…yes, that language!

Brian Richardson sets an easy-going tone to hold your hand and explain things in a natural progression. The only software necessary is “Notepad” and “Internet Explorer” which is automatically on your computer if you have Windows. We used our laptop in the living room while we played Mr. Richardson’s DVD-- occasionally pausing to catch up-- but usually the pace was just right. I would surmise that if you don’t have a way to use a computer near a DVD player, it may be difficult to seamlessly follow along. Pressing pause and running back and forth to the computer, or taking really good notes, would be the alternative.

By the end of the DVD my daughter could type a basic HTML code that would cause the letters to scroll across the page and to flash on and off. She learned to change the background and text color and also to add pictures. She had a lot of fun learning and was really proud of her final product! She eagerly showed it off to family and friends.

Though the explanations are very clear and concise I do feel a need to comment that Mr. Richardson is rather hard to understand in the first portion of the DVD. Smiling while he speaks, probably in an attempt to appear relaxed, he sort of comes across as a ventriloquist. With his mouth barely moving around his smile, it is hard to clearly hear what he is saying. However, as the video progresses, he seems to relax and become more easily understood.

Furthermore, Mr. Richardson has two kids that assist him in demonstrating how easy it is to make a webpage (they are following along on their computers). The “acting” is so sad and lacking; it rather takes away from the overall feel off the video. “Lame and cheesy,” were the words of choice from my daughter and I have to wholeheartedly agree. I totally understand the need to be low-budget to be cost effective. I am okay with low budget! But the interaction of the kids with Mr. Richardson is so unconvincing, it just would have been better without it, in my opinion.

Fortunately, other than impacting the aesthetics, the pitiful dialogue has zero impact on the content and therefore I still rate the usefulness of this product very high. If you can handle your child rolling his eyes and shaking his head in parts, than I’d say this video is a “go.” The skills taught in “Web Design for Kids” are so useful and in demand in this technological age. They will only serve to benefit your student and possibly spring board him or her into many more creative endeavors…maybe even a family or home business website!

To see a sample of the DVD and to place an order, go to . At $19.99 plus shipping and handling, this DVD is a smart, affordable investment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Gourmet, Action-Packed Fiction!

The Enclave, by Karen Hancock, dishes up an all-you-can-eat buffet of drama, deception, intrigue and suspense. The layers of characters and plot deliciously entice the reader to want to know how the latest twist gets assimilated into the mix. The pages will be smoldering as you work your way through this multi-course meal.

The Kendall-Jakes Longevity Institute is a cutting-edge research facility in the field of the genetics of aging. Though the man in charge, Parker Swain, has had some ethical problems in his past, the institute is now a prestigious place to work and study. The sprawling campus boasts learning and research facilities, a theater and even a spa for the ridiculously rich to enjoy the latest treatments in youthfulness and their pursuit of…well… longevity.

Lacey McHenry is Kendall-Jakes’ newest hire, getting her foot into the door as a research assistant to the brilliant geneticist, and rather absent-minded-professor, Cameron Reinhardt. She is also the victim of a bizarre assault, alone in the lab one night. However, all the “powers that be” are quick to brush it under the carpet and blame it on the history of mental problems that she suddenly discovers are in her file. Problems that weren’t there before, because they didn’t exist. Or did they?

The mind games being played are baffling, almost convincing. The only person that is willing to stand by Lacey is that quirky Dr. Reinhardt. However, he isn’t given much credence by the others, and is certainly not part of the hierarchy, because he is a born again Christian.

He is also a man running from a past that is all too suddenly colliding with the events that rapidly begin unfolding in the corridors of Kendall-Jakes. The conspiracy and the secrets that hunt down Lacey and Cameron have far reaching roots, and the two soon discover they have stumbled on just the tip of an enormous iceberg of evil. Faith is put to the test as the only way out of the mess will be divine intervention. Yet at times, God seems very far away.

Though it may seem as if I'm divulging too much of the plot, let me assure you that Ms. Hancock superbly builds her characters and their relationship, while weaving a very complicated tale. What I have shared is merely an elaborate dust-jacket scenario. In fact, one thing I loved about the book was that it was so long! At nearly 500 pages it has a lot to digest-- which I appreciate when a story is as well written as this. I just don’t want a really good book to end (sigh!). I get attached.

Finally, I truly applaud the author’s ability to intertwine the elements of Christianity without it feeling forced or obligatory. Some Christian stories greatly lack much substance in this area, though I realize it often depends on the narrative itself. However, Ms. Hancock managed to explain the plan of Salvation in a natural way, over the course of the tale; even a non-believer would have a basic understanding of God’s plan for redemption by the end of the book.

Finishing the book-- though bittersweet to have to say good-bye to the characters and intrigue that I craved--left me feeling very full of wonder and quite satisfied at the same time. I would highly recommend this well written piece of fiction to all of you other thrill seeking bookworms like myself. It is gourmet prose!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dealing with Criticism

Here is a wonderful and poignant article that I want to share with you! Criticism is not something any of us go out of our way to receive, is it? We would all much rather be praised than have our problems pointed out...especially when we are aware of the shortcomings of the one who is so willing to find fault in us.

But what does the Word say about one who is able to heed correction? What does it say about our reaction, when maybe the correction is off base or handed out in an unkind way? Are you the sort of person that is thin-skinned and expects everyone to "walk on eggshells" when they are around you? Are there friends or loved ones in your life that are this way?

Well, for a really robust and comprehensive discussion on this subject, please click on the link below and read the article "The Cross and Criticism" by Dr. Alfred J. Poirier. This is not a subject that is just naturally accepted by our human nature; yet something we will all face in one instance or another. It would be well worth your time to check this out!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Love My Man!

For nearly 20 years, I have been basking in a wonderful marriage. I just thought I would drop a line of encouragement to you ladies to notice all of the great qualities your husband possesses and be full of thankfulness for these things. Secondly, reflect on the ways that you have learned more about the way God loves you through experiencing the ways your husband expresses his love as well.

I am continually amazed at how completely my husband show his love, how supportive he is, how encouraging he is, and how he chooses to see the good qualities I have. It is very humbling and so secure to be able to know you are loved, just as you are, right where you are and there's no need to ever doubt that love.

I well know all the selfishness and shortcomings of my heart and I know that after so many years, my husband does too. Yet, he chooses to lavish me with this wonderful and unconditional love which continues to slowly ebb away all the ugly faults that I have.

"They" say that we tend to project our ideas of our heavenly Father through the lens of what our relationship was with our earthly father. I know that is true in my case. But, the love I have been given through my husband has nurtured and molded a much better, healthier perspective of the kind of love the Lord has for me. And to think, what my husband gives is flawed and tainted, yet God uses it to show His love to me anyway. How much more perfect and satisfying is that love!

What a beautiful reflection of our union with Christ when we live out a healthy marriage relationship. I pray any of you reading this will see the love of your husband with fresh eyes and a heart full of gratitude.

If you truly cannot see what there is to be thankful for, because things have become so broken and painful, then I pray for the strength to love your husband with the love of Christ. As long as someone is willing to give such selfless love, it is inevitable that the other will eventually respond and follow suit.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." I Corinthians 13:13

Book Review: Offworld is Out of this World!

Robin Parrish constructs a believable sci-fi adventure in his new book Offworld. Strap yourself in along with the crew of the Ares, the first astronauts to go to the planet Mars and return to Earth in the year 2033. But hang on tight as all communication with Houston is suddenly and inexplicably lost and the crew barely manages a crash landing at the Kennedy Space Center.

After that ordeal, Commander Chris Burke and his squad are badly shaken. But mangled space craft and exhausted bodies turn out to be mere hang nails as they begin to uncover why they had lost communication with Ground Control in the first place. Seems there no longer is a Ground Control. In fact, there isn’t any sort of any body left on the planet! All life forms have vanished; gone without a trace. Video feed from security cameras confirm that one moment everyone is going about business as usual, and the next they have absolutely disappeared.

The only inkling of hope is that there may be an answer waiting for them in Houston, where a bright radiating light gleams on satellite maps. Thus begins a heart pounding, wide-eyed trip, more dangerous than anything outer space can dish up! I could barely catch my breath as one disaster after another overtakes this bedraggled yet very brave crew of four (plus one…I won’t divulge more than that).

Mr. Parrish plows this tale through in a very straightforward manner, not needing layers from different angles of stratagem to pull it off; although there are occasional flashbacks that happen in real time. No doubt it would make a wild movie with some fantastic special effects… I had no problem seeing it as such in my minds eye. The characters are believable and heroic, causing you to care about them and cheer them on. Even the chapter names, names such as “The Smoke and Stir of this Dim Spot”, and “The Equivocation of the Fiend” poetically and intriguingly urge the reader to keep turning pages.

Though not overtly Christian in substance, the plot just screams that something bigger is at stake and Someone else is ultimately in control. In the end, the Christian worldview is clarified and the reader is given resounding and thought provoking ideas to ponder. Though most of the circumstances encountered are in no way realistic (at least not in such a non-stop, let-me-come-up-for-air sequence), remember, this is science fiction and in that realm, just about anything can and does happen. You’ll just be really thankful that it happens to these poor, fictional souls and not your own!

At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.