Sunday, April 25, 2010

Explore, Discover, and Enhance with Lesson Planet!

Scientists often discover new planets in other solar systems. Even though science is not my strength (case in point: maybe they aren’t discovering planets: is it just galaxies...?), I am proud to say I have discovered a new planet all by myself! It’s called Lesson Planet and it is as close as the World Wide Web, rather than 30 million light years away. Much easier for all to explore, wouldn’t you say?
As part of the TOS Crew, I was given an extended trial membership for this out-of-the-world  website. Lesson planet is a tremendous resource for all teachers, homeschooling or otherwise, and each lesson is given a rating by teachers, too!
With over 150,000 teacher rated lesson plans and 75,000 worksheets at your fingertips, you are likely to make new discoveries yourself in the realm of enhancing your school’s curriculum. From the basics of the 3 R’s to elective subjects like art and drama-- even plans and worksheets for celebrating holidays or enhancing your unit study-- there is bound to be something for every need that could arise. I was amazed at the subject breadth, there are so many ideas in so many categories...things you may not have thought about-- just waiting to give you a light bulb moment.
The website has a great search engine that allows you to get particular about the types of worksheets or lesson plans you are looking for. You can choose general subjects or get very specific by wanting only key words. You can also select the minimum “star rating” you want to select from. When your search comes up, there’s a peek at the content of each choice, so you can see if that selection headed in the desired direction (rather than a bunch of titles that you would have to click on to find out more about the plan/sheet).
All grades, all subjects, all available for your use with a $39.95 yearly membership. What is nice to know is that you can have a 10-day free trial when you visit the website by clicking here! You will have full use of the site, getting a good feel as to whether or not it will be a good fit for your family. Sign up and see what your curriculum has been missing...and possibly put together some of your own and save a bunch of money! 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wisdom in the Kitchen!

To eat this, or not to eat this...? That is the question. That is the question that we all ask ourselves, albeit ever-so-fleetingly, many times a day. A desire for and understanding of good nutrition does not come naturally. I believe a weakness for for the “bad” stuff is about as innate as sin itself. Thus, endeavoring to change that tendency is much like a spiritual journey. Study, prayer and application are about the only way things will ever change. 
And then... you are a freak. 
Seriously, you start eating really healthy and you’ll get all sorts of flack. You may receive some crazy looks or sarcastic comments, similar to those that non-Christians might give us Evangelicals. You may be called a hippie or a tree hugger or all manner of things! 
I have a friend who’s wife died from stomach cancer; he has researched nutrition incessantly, hoping to arm his four children with healthy bodies that will fight against any genetic tendencies. His view of eating healthy is this: If you look at how American’s eat as if it were a face on a could put the Standard American Diet (aka S.A.D.) at 12:00. If you want to eat right, it isn’t as if you need to tweak things just a bit...say towards 11:55 or 12:10...One must go in the absolute other direction. Good nutrition is at the 6, or the 30 minute mark, in total opposition from mainstream America.
I hope that visual made sense. 
So, where am I going with this? Well, as part of the TOS Crew I received a Sue Gregg cookbook, Introducing Whole Foods Cooking for Health and Hospitality, by Rich and Sue Gregg. This is like a cliff-notes version of a nutritional Encyclopedia.
Actually, I have the full-size version of the “nutritional encyclopedia” already: Sally
Nourishing Traditions. It is a wonderful resource/cookbook but it is almost overwhelming in the amount of information it contains. I have vacillated with what I have learned and the actual application for several years. I was certain that there was probably some simplification that could be done, but hadn’t the time to experiment and figure it out. When Sue Gregg’s book arrived I was thrilled to see that she and her husband Rich have incorporated and UNCOMPLICATED the very things that are taught in Nourishing Traditions!
I have had some previous exposure to Sue Gregg’s cookbooks. When I bought my flour mill, years ago, a friend shared one of her Sue Gregg cookbooks with me. I still have many of the recipes. Although they were nutritionally “current” (low fat, whole grain, and using yogurt instead of sour cream etc.) they were nothing like the fundamental nutritional facts found in Sally Fallon’s tome.
When I started reading the Introducing Whole Foods book, I was so happy to see that Sue and Rich Gregg had found and incorporated the truth’s in Fallon’s book as well. This was not the Sue Gregg cookbook of years past. The Gregg’s have learned and evolved in their nutritional expertise and are now passing on their secrets to eating truly healthy (way down there at the “30 minute” mark) to the rest of us.
Introducing Whole Foods for Health and Hospitality is a perfect introduction to taking steps towards solid nutrition. The fact is, healthy eating has been going on since creation; it has only been in the last 100 years or so that things have gone haywire, causing all those nasty “Western” diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. What nutritional knowledge have we lost? 
The answers begin in books that teach how foods should be prepared, how they have been prepared in generations past. Thankfully, truly healthful food prep is not a completely lost art, but it isn’t something you’ll find in the latest issue of “Eating Light” or “Healthy Living”. Yet the ways of our ancestors have been preserved by a few and are slowly being practiced by more people.
It is a process of re-educating ourselves. And, as I said, Introducing Whole Foods is a great place to start. Sue and Rich Gregg do an excellent job discussing what true nutrition looks like and how to incorporate that into real life. They take the “scary” out of the process of using grains properly, and they give you recipes that really do taste delicious! Furthermore, through their genius idea of using your blender for a mill, you can enjoy hard-core nutrition in very doable ways. In fact, the “Blender Batter Pancakes” are the best pancakes we’ve ever eaten (and we have had stacks and stacks...). Tip: if you ever make these, cook on lower heat for a longer period, these babies are thick and will stay gooey in the middle if you aren’t careful!
Where does wisdom for right relationship to our food ultimately come from? The Word of God, of course. Recognizing this fact, the Greggs have also included Bible studies on the use of food, the way food brings us all together and how we can glorify God through what we eat, as well as how we eat it. They take spiritual food and natural food and show how closely the two are related.
Introducing Whole Foods for Health and Hospitality is a terrific way to take the first step towards truly eating right. It is also a wonderful little home-ec/Bible study course that you can do on your own, with your children or even in a co-op setting. What could be better than getting together and baking bread with a bunch of friends? (Yes, ok, coffee at Starbucks is right up there).
Once you get comfortable with the easy recipes in Introducing Whole Foods, there are many more cookbooks that the Greggs have written that delve further into the nutritional realm. One feature with this cookbook that is just fabulous is the inclusion of a CD that takes you step by step, using photos, through the recipes, removing all the mystery out of preparing food and eating right!
Sue Gregg has a tremendous website, with some recipes you can try before you buy, allowing you to anticipate the great things to come in the cookbooks you order. You can visit the Gregg’s website by clicking here. Introducing Whole Foods for Health and Hospitality sells for $23. In this day and age, it can be hard to decipher the latest nutritional craze and buzz-words...turn your back on all that and get back to basics with the sound nutritional guidance in this cookbook! The money you'll save in the long run by eating healthy now is well worth your time and money.
Below is a picture of a healthy coffee cake recipe that I made several times, much to the delight of my family! I doubled it to make a 9 x 13 pan to feed 12. It did!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fast Food Encouragement!

My time as a reviewer for the TOS Crew is coming to a blessed end after this month! Don't get me wrong, I am very thankful that I have had the opportunity to be forced to write and explore and meet has been a terrific training ground for me! I am grateful for the opportunity and have learned and grown from the experience. Although I was tempted at times to resign, due to lack of time for the amount of commitment involved, by God's grace I have seen it through!

Furthermore, I have been tremendously blessed by a job opportunity that has sprung out of one of my reviews (officially my first paid writing job!). I am now writing product descriptions for the homeschooling curriculum company All About Spelling/Reading. So, it is exciting to see God using my gifts in a productive way.

I have had very little time to dedicate to writing anything on this blog, other than product reviews. Hopefully you have found the reviews helpful in some way, but I do miss getting to just blab about whatever is on my mind, or get on my soapbox about things that are important to me!

Since, at the moment, time is still a constraint, I thought I would just post part of an email that I just received from the Women's Ministry in our church. I found its truth to be an encouraging and gentle reminder of what my role is as a daughter of Christ and wife to one awesome guy! May you be piqued by the truth as well!

  • The greatest evidence of how big I believe God is, and how trustworthy I think God is, is my willingness to come under God-ordained authority when I don’t agree with it.
  • God intended for men and women to understand that they are equal in their humanity, dignity, worth, and value before God. Yet God intended for the woman to be different from the man, and these matter in terms of how we function best.
  • If we follow God’s design, we enter into the joy of the functioning of it. If we go against God’s design, we harm ourselves and others in the process.

Terrestria Chronicles: Making Biblical Truth Tangible!

There was a reason that Jesus taught in parables. He knew that stories can convey deep truths in ways that a long explanation cannot. (Well, after all, He knows everything!). It surely makes sense to follow His example when we want to teach biblical concepts to kids: word pictures deliver!
If you have ever read Pilgrim’s Progress or Hinds Feet on High Places, you know that an allegory can take story telling to the next level. That is what Ed Dunlop, author of the Terrestria Chronicles, has set out to do in his stories. I received a copy of “The Crown of Kuros,” and “The Dragon’s Egg,” in exchange for my review of these books. They are book #4 and #5 within the 7 books that make up the series.
Set in the realm of King Emmanuel, Lord of all of Terrestria, within the walls of The Castle of Faith, the princes and princesses that serve the King find their commitment to Him tested in various ways. Both stories follow young Prince Josiah who has, in prior volumes, been freed from slavery to the wicked Argamor, (the King’s nemesis, who desires to cause unfaithfulness to King Emmanuel throughout the realm). Josiah is now in grateful service to the true King.
He and his fellow young noblemen, Prince Selwyn and Princess Gilda, are in the King’s employ and have various quests and errands that are entrusted to them as they serve in The Castle of Faith. The cast of characters in each story have names that, in most part, describe just that: their character! Names like Sir Faithful, Sir Dedication, Sir Pretentious and Captain Assurance will help the reader see how these traits play out in the lives through each individual's interaction. Or, how about Captain Covetousness and Captain Discontent as part of the crew of the bad guys? The way these chronicles state the obvious will help the reader recognize these attributes in their own lives. 
In The Crown of Kuros, Josiah’s faithful heart is tested. He joyfully serves King Emmanuel but occasionally has his own agenda and is tempted by a desire to be recognized for his own glory. In fact, he learns that a rash act of impatience on his part, has perhaps cost the security of the realm. 
Whoever holds the Crown of Kuros, controls the land of Terrestria. When it comes up missing from its secure place in the Castle of Faith, Josiah is determined to help bring the crown back. The quest leads him and Prince Selwyn into the underworld of Argamor where they overhear Argamor’s commanders plotting how they will overthrow the land of Terrestria. The evil doers know they cannot win by sheer force, as their numbers are much fewer than that of King Emmanuel. But there is a much more powerful method that they have devised to conquer the land: one heart at a time.
Through the use of “Spellavision” and seducing music, as well as a variety of subtleties such as making women discontent with their role as wife and mother, Aragamor’s minions have devised a subtle but formidable attack that will destroy Emmanuel’s kingdom from within itself. Through the power of allegory, your children will recognize how each of these temptations in Terrestria are very real struggles that are present in their lives today. Seeing how the people of the land are seduced-- or how they overcome-- will surely bring to light the struggle against evil that each of us face.

In the meantime, Josiah must come to grips with conflicts and struggles within. He is also haunted by the notion that the crown's disappearance just might have something to do with his own shortcomings. He is more determined than ever to recover the crown of Kuros to its rightful place in The Castle of Faith.
Once again, in The Dragon’s Egg, we find Josiah, zealous as always to serve, yet continuing to make selfish choices. This time The Castle of Faith and the land of Terrestria will be in grave danger thanks to Josiah’s secret sin. The thing that once seemed so innocent and so easily justified has taken on a life of its own! Your kids will recognize Satan’s ability, as old as the Fall of Man, to twist the words of Emmanuel and make us doubt the instructions He gives. Your children will see that those secret “little sins” are just as big as the obvious ones...and can be much more destructive. 
Through the power of story, so many biblical truths come to light. In a very tangible way your kids will relate to the struggles, the temptations, and the promises of scripture that are reflected throughout the character’s adventures. I would give both books two thumbs up for their ability to make plain the truths of scripture, although the technical side of writing falls short. I think a good set of editorial eyes would be beneficial to Mr. Dunlop's terrific tales; yet it is doubtful that kids will be overly deft in this area.
To check out all of the Terrestria Chronicles, as well as other books written by Ed Dunlop, click here. Each paperback book sells for $7.99, or $39.99 for the set, (hardcover sets available at a higher price). You may also purchase a study guide which goes along with the entire set; this would be a great addition to family devotions.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Welcome to the Worldwide Wonders of Wiglington and Wenks!

Fostering initiative to learn on their own is likely ( I hope!) one of your goals as a parent. Although it would be great to hand our children a stack of need-to-know-before-you-leave-home books and say, “read these over the next 10 years,” that is a notion that just won’t catch on! However, these days there are so many great resources that encourage our children to learn in the ways most modern day kids are wired, why not take advantage of this convenience?
One such website, Wiglington and Wenks, has created a virtual world rivaling any time-wasting video game in graphics, but with just the opposite effect-- learning! Based on the popular children’s series by John Bittleston, Wiglington and Wenks has created a virtual parallel world of our own. With geography as the basis and history as the thrust, this wonderland will offer a plethora of educational adventures around the world from the comfort of your home PC! In exchange for my review, we were given a 30-day membership to all aspects of the game.
Your child will build a “mini-me” version of themselves, as well as select an onscreen name. One cool aspect is that they will be able to interact with other kids from all over the world that are playing as well! In the meantime, they will be exploring the world as well as having the ability to earn points and create their own little microcosim by purchasing their own island that they can decorate and personalize. These fun little touches are really just the motivating factor behind the bigger concept: teaching geography, history and environmental awareness.
Famous people from the past, from emporers to scientists, have been time-warped to the present. Worse yet, they have amnesia and cannot remember who they are or where they came from. The child’s job is to is to help gather artifacts that will help the displaced VIP remember who they are and make it back to their spot in history.
Designed by a group called Media Freaks, the engaging cartoons have depth and an “Adventures in Odyssey” feel. Wiglington and Wenks is an adventure for kids that create and effortless educational experience. If only history had been this interactive for us as kids, perhaps we would have retained more as adults!
Protecting your child online is of utmost concern for the Media Freaks crew. They have many forms of protection in place to ensure your child is safe in their virtual world. You can read all precautions that are in place for your child’s sake, by clicking on the "parent's corner" icon and then clicking on "safety features" (I tried to make a link right to it, but it wouldn't cooperate!). You can get to all that by clicking here.
Some of you may appreciate knowing that one important person to be rescued from the present is Charles Darwin. We did not play the game to the point of trying to rescue this particular character so I don’t know how much evolution is stressed in the process of trying to rescue him. I just figured it would be good to point that out. 
One other item of note is the emphasis on environmental issues and the responsibility we all have in preserving our planet. I am in agreement with being a good steward of the Earth but, again, did not experience enough of the game to know how much they embrace the “mother Earth” sort of philosophy. I would make the assumption that it mostly stresses each of us doing our part...but I do not know if it slants into any sort of Earth “worship”, so to speak. Again, it just seemed like an issue that some may like to be made aware of. 
The last two cautions aside, I would say any level headed, well-rounded child can play and excel and learn in the world of Wiglington and Wenks, accepting that Darwin and the Environment are important aspects of our modern-day life; they are matters that impact us everyday in one way or another so we must handle them in light of Scripture.
Have a look around and see what you think about this didactic adventure. Membership to the basics of the game is FREE! However to access all areas and have special privileges, you can also purchase a membership (ranging from $5.99 per month or a full year for $59.99) Click here to link to Wiglington and Wenks’ world, sign up, play around and see if you want the full Monty! It is truly an affordable way to explore the planet and appreciate it through the lens of history. The fun factor is definitely there, just the icing on the cake of learning through experiencing!

I would like to post a comment that the CEO of Wiglington and Wenks posted on another Crew member's blog. It is concerning the "chat feature" of the website, that allows players to interact. We didn't do much chatting so I didn't give it much thought. However, it is nice to know that Media Freaks is listening to parent's safety concerns. Here is what was stated:

Regarding the chat aspect, you would be pleased to hear that we will soon release 3 levels of chat that can be selected during registration -

No Chat - The No Chat option is for parents who want their children to focus solely on the virtual world quests and not interact with other players. Using this option, your child will not be allowed to engage in any form of chat, nor see any chat. You can toggle this feature off later in the Parents Control Panel and switch this to Safe Chat mode.

Safe Chat - The Safe Chat mode is for parents who want to limit their children's interaction on the virtual world. Using this option, players will only be able to chat and view chat using chatlines from a safe pre-constructed list.

Moderated Free Chat -
The Moderated Free Chat mode is for parents who want their children to learn about different cultures and gain social skills through interacting with children from other countries and through engaging in team activities. Using this option, players are able to chat freely using a chat system which is moderated for abusive language. However, no chat moderation system is 100% foolproof and occasionally abusive language presented in different forms may still surface. It is up to parents to guide and educate their children on reacting appropriately to such unwanted chat.

In fact, we have already developed the safe chat system and it is currently in Beta testing phase -

You have our assurance that child safety is of utmost importance to us and we will keep working hard to make it as close to perfection as possible.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Children's Bible Hour Stories, Now in a Book!

Many of you may already be familiar with Children’s Bible Hour (CBH); a delightful radio broadcast in which the inviting voice of “Uncle Charlie” reads Bible based stories to kids. We have an old set of CBH  cassette tapes (guess that is redundant: tapes=old) that my  son, in particular, has worn out over the years. 
CBH now brings four of those stories to life with their “Seasons of Faith” book series. I was recently sent a set for review. Each beautifully illustrated, soft cover book tells the story of one aspect of life that we will all experience as Believers. Much like a parable helps to give a concrete idea of a spiritual concept, these stories help kids grasp what walking through life’s challenges-- with Christ-- looks like.
Spring is the time when new faith prods growth and a desire to share this wonderful faith with others. 
Race with Midnight: Becky is off to spend spring break in Montana at her cousin Sarah's ranch. She's looking forward to learning how to ride a horse and doing lots of horseback riding. She is also praying that she will have the opportunity to share the gospel with her unsaved family members. Will Becky have the opportunity to share the gospel with Sarah and her family? Will they listen? 

Summer is a time of maturing as we learn how to apply God’s truths to our lives and see his care in developing Fruits of the Spirit.

You Can't Come In: Zack and Adam are new best buds who decide to build a fort together. During the process, Zack ends up getting completely muddy. This leads to some interesting conversations between Zack and Adam as well as Zack's parents later on in the evening. Will Adam be able to share the gospel message with Zack? Will Zack understand what Adam is telling him? 

Autumn is a time when we will experience struggle and setbacks in our walk. Our faith is challenged and transitions stretch us, yet through it all we will see God’s faithfulness.

 Seventy Times Seven: Brad and Doug a good friends, but Brad is upset about a few things Doug as done to him. One day, while the boys are playing baseball, Brad accidentally hits a ball through Mr. Jeffries' ice cream shop window. Mr. Jeffries forgives Brad. Can Brad do the same and forgive Doug? 

Winter can bring times of seemingly dormant faith when troubles overwhelm and test us. It is a time to learn to trust, regardless of the circumstance, and learn of God’s comfort and peace. 

Braving the Storm: Things have been pretty tough for Thomas and his family lately. Thomas is feeling pretty down, so his Grandpa tries to help him get through the tough times by depending on God. Will Thomas learn the lesson his Grandpa is trying to teach him? 

Each of these stories come with a CD of Uncle Charlie reading the story from the original radio broadcast. Your younger ones will delight in following along with the book, whilst waiting on that endearing turn-the-page “chime” we 40-somethings can recall hearing in books on...records?...8-tracks? It is sure to make parents wax nostalgic!
Your older kids will be able to handle the reading themselves, although everyone would probably enjoy listening to Uncle Charlie while riding in the car. These stories are not subtle in their presentation of gospel concepts. Ideas such as being too muddy to come in the house, are obviously paralleled to the state of sin keeping us out of heaven, for example. At the back of each book there is also an explanation of How to Become a Christian. This could prove to be eternally valuable for unsaved care-givers that may read the story to the children. It could also be a tool for your child to witness and lead others to Christ! 
The old fashioned charm of these books is matched by an affordable price. Each book with CD is just $10, and now through April 15th, 2010, you can get free standard shipping when you buy the set! (Use code: FREESHIPAPR15) Personally, I think all four books should stay together, helping kids to comprehend the long term seasons of the Christian journey. Click here to order yours today!

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.