January 27, 2016

When Rotten Attitudes Enter the Classroom {Homeschooling: Keeping It Real}

In our classroom, we always have a great day! We never have to worry about bad attitudes because the boys always love school and are always helpful and eager to do whatever is asked of them. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful and easy job as their teacher.....um. Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahah. Okay. You really didn't believe me did you? Because if you did, well...you shouldn't. We are just like any other classroom. We have our good days and our bad days. Sometimes more bad days than I really want. It usually boils down to bad attitudes. In this second post of the Homeschooling: Keeping It Real Series, I am going to talk about what we do when someone has a rotten attitude during school!

The Problem

It is no surprise that as a homeschool parent, one of the hardest aspects of homeschooling our children is...well, homeschooling our children! They are our children, so we are well aware of their faults. We know their triggers. We know when they are about to lose it. And we don't exactly have the option of sending them...well to the principal or suspension to get them out of the classroom when they do lose it. A single child with a bad attitude can spell disaster for a homeschool day--just like it can in a public school classroom.

I have been there.
Like probably once a week.

I mostly see it in my oldest child. He's a perfectionist. He wants everything to come easy, and when it doesn't...well. It can be very ugly some times. It is interesting to me that for someone who talks all the time, he has a very very hard time expressing himself in situations like this and will just react instead. This ends up looking like a red face, angry tear filled eyes, and crossed arms--just ready to explode. Once we go there, it's very hard to get back on track. And if I handle it wrong, it will escalate and jeopardize our entire day.

Guess what?
I handle it wrong.
A lot.

I can't even begin to tell you the number of times things have gotten very ugly in the classroom because I reacted to his frustration in frustration myself. Oh man. It spins out of control very quickly.

Did I mention that he has a personality like me? 
So he knows how to push my buttons very easily?

I'm sure you can think of one (or more) of your children/students who push your buttons more than most. I see my own imperfections reflected back at me and it frustrates me. LOL.

So how CAN I handle it when he's on the brink?

Most children who react with a rotten attitude are usually doing so because there is something that they are frustrated with. Adults are the same way. So why would we think children are any different?

And speaking of adults...

Let's not forget that the TEACHER might be the one with the rotten attitude!

Been there. Done that.
And when it's a homeschool teacher with PMS...oh that's a whole other level of ugly.

So what do we do???
What can we do for our children with bad attitudes? What can we do for ourselves? What can we do when their bad attitude destroys our own?

The Solution

Here are some tips and tricks I've put together for diffusing the situation...because let's face it. School isn't going to be happening when attitudes are in play...and we can't just simply call off school every time because of them either!

*Get God involved. 
Okay, so this seems weird right? How can you get God involved? Well for me, it's simply making sure that God has been a part of our homeschool day. Did I start my own day with prayer and mediation to get my priorities lined up right? If not, I quickly discover a bad attitude waiting to happen. What about your children? Did you pray with them before starting school? I find that when we fail to pray before school, we tend to deal with FAR more bad attitudes. 

And when tempers flare and the attitudes are interfering--well, I take it to God again. I will have us stop what we are doing and take a time out for prayer to God to help us get re-focused and under control. It helps. Always. 

My friend Heidi has a similar method "When that would happen to us, we would all stop and each say a prayer together and write Proverbs for 15 minutes. It is like a reboot."

*Make sure your child's basic needs are being met.
Feed them.
What? Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of being "hangry"? LOL! My boys experience the most attitude disruptions in the period just before lunchtime. I make sure they get snacks about an hour before lunch because they need it to help keep them focused. We do nuts, pretzels, fruit, granola bars...things that can be eaten while they are working. Trust me. It makes a difference.

My friend Diana (of Busy Homeschool Days) agrees: "Food! I'm learning to feed the monster! {I feel like I'm in one of those snickers commercials!} It brings the blood sugar up and gives us a break."

Another friend Tiffany shares: "Sometimes we break for a snack or just don't begin until after lunch."

It's amazing the power of our stomachs and blood sugar when it comes to affecting our brains! Make sure your kids have enough to munch through their day! 

Make sure YOU have enough to eat. Drink that coffee if you need it. Brew your tea. Make sure you give yourself a chocolate stash to raid mid morning. Make a smoothie full of brain food! You need it just as much--maybe even MORE than they do.

Exercise them.
Oh boy. When my boys don't get to run and jump and play...well all that bottled up energy leads to serious attitude explosions! There is a REASON recess is so important! When I see them on the brink of explosion, I simply say "Finish up what you are working on right now, and then you can have recess." That usually diffuses the situation quickly. But if it doesn't, I have sometimes had them stand up and start doing silly things. At first they glare at me. But then they smirk. And then they smile. And then they laugh. And then they are ready to get back to work. 

I have a series of fun exercise cards where each card is a letter of the ABC's and has an exercise or movement that starts with that letter. In moments when we need a quick refocus, I will have them "exercise" their name. It works. 

What about PE? Have you incorporated physical education in your classroom? That can be considered tough for homeschoolers...but it is actually pretty simple. Create a circuit workout for your kids that includes jumping jacks, jump roping, hopping, pushups, leg lifts, squats, balancing...and then schedule 15-20 minutes to do it every single day. 

We started doing this and it has made a HUGE difference in our day. They look forward to it and remind me when it's time. Remember when we enjoyed PE back when it was actually still fun and mandatory? With the big parachute, relay races, scooters, and kickball? Our kids aren't any different. And when the weather is nice, take it outside! Get some soccer cones and set up simple games!

And get involved! YOU need the break and movements too!!

Jessica says "I have birthing balls instead of chairs for homework time!"

Millie shares "For me it depends on the child...For my oldest it's physical activity."

Alicia says "We break and I send him outside to take the dog for a walk. It always works between the exercise and the time with his dog...it changes him. And it gives me time to breathe and pray."

This is a no brainer. When my boys don't have enough sleep, they get cranky. Make sure your kids are getting enough good sleep every night. Maybe they need a time of rest? Or even a nap? Make sure YOU are getting enough sleep! It's so tempting to work while they are in bed for the night. Or to finish that one more thing...but then it's after midnight and you realize the alarm is going to go off in just a few short hours. Trust me. I am a night owl, who actually needs a lot of sleep. So FORCING myself to go to bed is crucial for my success as a teacher.

Millie agrees "My youngest has anxiety which usually means a nap is in order to reset her."

Charlotte shares "If we are tired. I put a halt on school and we have a two hour rest period where no one is required to go to sleep but lights are out and calming music or a calming Netflix show is put on while we lay there and talk, or don't talk, or sleep or don't sleep, but it is definitely a time to just "Let it go!" 

Angela simply says "I often send the kid to take a nap and have him try again later."

*Change Gears
Sometimes, the problem is simply accepting that your child is struggling with something related to school and they need to change gears to something else. Having issues in math? Don't let it escalate to tears! You are in control of the schedule, so change it! Let them shift to a subject they enjoy so they can get re-focused. You can attempt that math again later with a fresh outlook. 
I have saved us a lot of bad attitudes by changing up our school day so that we do blocks of two subjects with a recess after. He can choose what he does, but whatever he picks has to be done before he can go to recess. This gives him a sense of being in control and puts him in a much better frame of mind.
Charlotte shares "If we are having issues, then before we start back up a lesson, we focus with a small activity like a quick Lego build. I might say "build me a boat!" and she, and her little brother, build a boat. They giggle and laugh and then we can start again."
Lindsey says "My daughter is finishing up her reading lessons book, and does first grade math work sheets. But if she is easily frustrated by challenges. On days that she is really struggling I go back and do an easier lesson. That way she is still doing school, but being able to accomplish it with ease makes it more fun."
*Teach them how to communicate
What do I mean? Well as I said earlier. Most bad attitudes in children are related to a frustration about something they are experiencing. I have learned that my oldest needs to be reminded sometimes about how to communicate in these times of frustration. If he feels himself losing control, I remind him to communicate his feelings so that I can best help him. Give them the freedom to ask questions without being made to feel dumb or stupid. We want to encourage them to express themselves properly, so that we can avoid the blowups. 

9 out of 10 times, my oldest's problems relate to him not remembering how to do something I taught him. And he just forgets that he can simply ask me for help. Instead, he buries his head in his arms and sheds many angry tears at his own inability to grasp or accomplish something. We regularly have to walk through the following:

1. Will your tears fix the problem? (no)
2. Is the frustration you are experiencing related to something you don't understand? (yes)
3. If yes, have you asked mommy to help you with it? (no)
4. Is mommy willing to help you? (yes)

Once we work through these questions, I then advise him to take a deep breath, wipe his eyes, and think about what he needs. Then and ONLY then can he ask. This allows him to get control over himself so that he can communicate freely.

Sometimes, the bad attitude is not related to the current assignment, but rather school as a whole. If you are a homeschooler, I'm SURE you have heard at least one of them say "I wish I didn't have to do school." 

It's in times like this, that it might be good to just sit and TALK. What do they wish they could do instead? If it's just to play, have a good chat with them about the importance of education and the reasons why we go to "school". What kind of job do they want later? Obviously adjust this for your child's age. Sometimes just telling them that you understand but that there is a time for work and a time for play can suffice.

More than anything, during this time of frustration, I work on teaching him to communicate his feelings and needs properly to me or whomever is involved.

Don't forget the power of a "soft answer"
When it comes to dealing with frustrations, it's back to the basics...back to the source of all wisdom for our family...

"A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare." Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)

It's so simple. Yet I need this PLASTERED all over my desk in the classroom. When I respond to his frustration with a soft answer. A gentle touch. A hug. A pat. LOVE. I can diffuse the situation fairly quickly. When I demonstrate to him proper communication, it gives him the proper outlet for his own communication.

Do I remember to do this?
Not always.

I am working so hard on answering his frustrations with kindness and gentleness instead of frustration of my own. But I have a long way to go.

*Sometimes you have to deal with the heart
There are times when the issues are boiled down to a character level. It becomes a heart matter. It's not about you not helping them with something that causes them to lose it. It's about them losing control of their emotions just because they choose to. 

There are legitimate cases where children have issues of some kind that get their emotions out of whack. That's a whole other situation and issue. 

I am talking about cases when it's just downright a complete loss of control. When the countenance falls. The tongue becomes sharp. When it becomes a situation of disrespect.

We deal with that here. 
Frequently, I'm afraid.

Every family has their own methods for dealing with this, but it HAS to be done. Maintaining control of one's self is so important, and yet all too many children today do not know how to do it. And then they grow up into adults who have no control of themselves and become loose cannons. We as parents--the ultimate teachers--must always address this issue with fervent action! 

And sometimes that means stopping everything you are doing in the middle of school to take care of it!

One of my friend's Lindsey has this reminder "To all homeschooling moms I would say "Remember that we chose homeschooling so that we could prioritize character building over simple academia. If the focus of a day shifts from book work to character lessons and relationship building, it isn't a failed school day, it's a day devoted to only the MOST important learning."

Cheryl shares "We work on having our children recognize the first signs of a bad attitude & usually work at those first signs where it can be done with verbal admonition. We take the offending child aside for a one-on-one talk (usually on a knee) and talk about the attitude problem. We usually point that the root of the bad attitude is selfishness-- thinking about yourself and wallowing in it. We take them back to the stories of the bible and of some of their favorite heroes to where the character of selflessness is highlighted. Usually that does the trick and if their attitude is better afterward, we go do something that they enjoy.. Be it a walk, doing a hairstyle, building blocks, making some popcorn, reading a book, it simply take a nap etc...If the bad attitude was not caught ahead of time & it leads to the physical hurt of another, then that receives an escalated admonition with a stronger consequence."

Diana says "If the attitude is bigger than a simple need not being met, there are a few things I may try. I have given a chore list in place of school. Usually, the attitude shapes up and he gets back to work on the schoolwork."

We do something similar to all of these. We stop immediately and address the issue. A verbal warning is given and we continue on. If the attitude doesn't change, then we shift to a consequence--extra chores in the house, or outside the house, or a loss of a priviledge. We also do the traditional old school "Name on the Board". If the name is on the board, they have to explain to Love-Of-My-Life (the principal) why it was put there. If there are check marks...well, then they have escalated all their consequences. I have RARELY had to put more than 1 check by anyone's name in any given day. I have found that just having to talk to Daddy about why their name is on the board is a deterrent itself. For now anyways.

Extra chores is another plus. I always have things that they can do for me. It's amazing how quickly they decide a good attitude and schoolwork is better idea than scrubbing toilets and windows.

During these moments of correction, I also pull out scriptures which show the responsibility God has put on me as a parent. That I am responsible for TEACHING them to act appropriately. And that I am not doing MY job if I don't help them curb these attitudes and behaviors. That does seem to help shift the focus back to God. We have pulled out the 10 Commandments and discussed how disrespectful attitudes, break the 5th commandment about honoring a mother and father. 

*Sometimes YOU need the break
What? But THEY have the bad attitude, not me. Sure. Maybe they do. But all too often we get sucked into responding without stopping to think about what we are doing or saying. Then next thing you know you are maybe raising your voice. Or you just find yourself going head to head with them. Even when they have the attitude, sometimes it is best to remove yourself from the situation in order to count to 10 or take a moment to breathe before responding.

But sometimes...you are the one with the bad attitude. 

What do we do when it becomes apparent that WE are the ones with the problem?

Millie "For my bad attitude it's simply some time alone. I send them to recess or to take a break."

Jessica "Make sure you are de-stressed before going into teaching. If that means a cup of tea and doing the dishes first and maybe lying down for 5 minutes and visualizing, then do it!"

Tiffany "If it's me- Afternoon school instead of morning or we just may not do school that day. I do a 4 day school week...so there's an extra day to lean on if need be."

Charlotte "Since I work full-time as a night shift nurse I battle bad attitudes of my own often. Let's face it. Doing Math or listening to my first grader struggle with words when I'm exhausted is beyond challenging and not fair to either of us. Now, there are certainly days where nothing seems to work. Those days get a hot bubble bath and I lighten the load to do it in the afternoon." 

Diana "When *I* am in a bad mood, I'll go do a chore or take a nap. He's instructed to do what he can by himself and then he's free to go play. I may or may not bring him back to finish things later.
We seem to feed off each other when there are bad attitudes happening. So it's usually best that we separate ourselves for a time."

Lindsey "For MY bad attitudes I have to meditate on why I'm doing this, as it is usually caused by impatience or a desire to be done and doing something else."

Cheryl "If it is me that has the attitude problem, I retreat by myself (usually the bathroom) and say a prayer, have them listen to their favorite audio book to get my time alone doing whatever or we all go out for a walk/run and simply enjoy the day."

If I catch myself starting to get uptight, I remove myself from the situation. As Diana said, bad attitudes feed on each other and my attitude will spill over onto the boys and it will be come a big mess. So I usually go and grab my rollerbottle of a relaxing blend of essential oils and oil up. That helps so much. Sometimes I simply announce that it's lunch time...and we take an extended lunch--during which time I sit and read or listen to music. Something to get myself relaxed again. And every now and then I admit defeat and simply cancel school for the day. And pray. I do a LOT of praying. Calling up scripture to mind. There are days I do an impromptu bible study just to get refocused.

Whether dealing with a bad attitude from one of your children, or dealing with a whopper of a bad mood in your own self, there are always steps that you can take to diffuse the situation and salvage your school day. Thankfully as homeschool teachers, we CAN send everyone out to recess that last for an hour. We CAN drop math and go straight to art or PE. We CAN stop what we are doing and go on a walk outside. We can stop and deal with the attitudes in the middle of class without worrying about the time lost. We can even throw in the towel for the day if we need to. 

The next time the rotten attitudes come knocking on your homeschool door, try sending them packing with a few of these tips and tricks I have shared today. We all have those kind of days....but they are able to dealt with, without losing your cool and making a bad day worse!

Thank you for joining me for my second post in the Homeschooling: Keeping It Real series! Today we talked about how we deal with the bad attitudes that enter the classroom sometimes. The first post in our series was about having to make curriculum changes mid-school year. The next post is going to be a guest post from a friend about things she's learned as she started her brand new homeschool journey. I hope you will join me as I continue this biweekly series, giving you a glimpse into some of the nitty gritty aspects of being a homeschooling mom!

What are some things YOU do to diffuse a bad attitude?

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January 26, 2016

7 Books With 25+ Activities to Explore Other Countries With Your Children {Poppins Book Nook}

One of the best ways to help a child explore the world is through reading. There are a lot of wonderful books out there to introduce your children to new countries and cultures! I have put together a list of some of my favorite children's books to help my boys "see the world" from the comfort of the couch!
Books and Activities to Explore other Countries with Your Children

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There are so many books that I would choose to share with you relating to exploring countries of the world, but I have narrowed it down to some of my favorite and matched them up with links to coordinating activities or crafts. These can help you explore a new country and culture even more!

Explore the World:

by Marjorie Priceman

An apple pie is easy to make...if the market is open. But if the market is closed, the world becomes your grocery store. This deliciously silly recipe for apple pie takes readers around the globe to gather ingredients. First hop a steamboat to Italy for the finest semolina wheat. Then hitch a ride to England and hijack a cow for the freshest possible milk. And, oh yes! Don't forget to go apple picking in Vermont! A simple recipe for apple pie is included. (Amazon)

This is hands down one of my most favorite books for introducing the idea of world geography when it comes to the food we eat and how it gets to our home. The story is delightful and the pictures are very fun and colorful. I also love that it comes with a simple apple pie recipe!

Once you have read the story, why not try these activities and/or crafts to take it further?

*Attribute Apples: Sort and classify apples by 5 attributes including size color and physical features (stem, leaf, worm)
*FREE Apple Pie Tree Lapbook: To explore apples even further through making a lapbook

by Anabel Kindersley

Published to coincide with UNICEF's fiftieth anniversary, a celebration of children around the world is based upon interviews with young people from all walks of life and reveals their diverse cultural backgrounds and universal similarities. {Amazon}

This is a great book for showcasing the basic differences between children from around the world. The photographs and text depict the homes, schools, family life, and culture of young people around the world. This is a great book for ANY geography/culture study and can be referenced as you explore the other books I have included in my list. 

Explore England:

by Alice and Martin Provenson

This award winning book, takes your child to England in 1909, as the Frenchman Louis Bleirot attempts the first flight across the English Channel. It is a great way to show your children the time period, as well as the English countryside, while teaching them about this historical moment! 

Once you have read the story, why not try these activities and/or crafts to take it further?
*London Bus Craft {from Craftulate}

Explore France:

by Emily Arnold McCully

Mirette lives in a boarding house surrounded by actors, dancers, jugglers and mimes. Her life is filled with exciting stories and fascinating people. None as magical as the stranger Mirette discovers crossing the courtyard on air--a tightrope walker. Mirette becomes the stranger's pupil and learns to walk the wire. Features brilliant watercolor and gouache paintings, reminiscent of the French Impressionists. {Amazon}

This books takes place in Paris about 100 years ago. It is a great way to introduce France to your child. The book features peeks of French daily life, and the illustrations are very much like the French Impressionistic era. 

Once you have read the story, why not try these activities and/or crafts to take it further?
*Make the Eiffel Tower out of Toothpicks and baby marshmallows
*Study Monet the famous French artist and make a tissue paper version of the waterlily painting
*FREE Print a mini Paris City (this is SOOOOO cute!) {From La Petite Peach}

Explore Australia:

by Marsha Diane Arnold
Illustrated by Brad Sneed

"Nearly all the sheep ranchers in Blue Gum Valley rode horses or drove jeeps to check on their sheep. But Joshua Summerhayes liked to run...with Yellow Dog trailing behind him." So it's no surprise when Joshua decides to enter a race from Melbourne to Sydney. People laugh when old Joshua shows up in his overalls and gumboots, calmly nibbling a slice of pumpkin for energy. But then he pulls into the lead, and folks are forced to sit up and take notice. Inspired by a true event (and just in time for fall's pumpkin harvest!) a talented team introduces a humble and generous hero who knows that winning isn't always the reason to run a race. (Amazon)

This is a lesser known book that is just so much fun! From the story to the illustrations, your child will enjoy "seeing" Australia!

Once you have read the story, why not try these activities and/or crafts to help you take it further?

Explore China:

by Marjorie Flack 
Illustrated by Kurt Wiese

Ping is the spirited little duck who lives on a boat on the Yangtze River. Ping's misadventures one night while exploring the world around his home, form the basis of this timeless classic. (Amazon)

This is a classic book that my boys just love. They think the pictures are darling and they love little Ping's story. This is a great introduction into the life of the Chinese and the Yangtze River.

Once you have read the story, why not try these activities and/or crafts to help you take it further?

*FREE Story of Ping Printables {from Mamas Learning Corner)

Explore Egypt:

by GA Henty

Chebron, the young son of an Egyptian high priest, and Amuba, a young slave in the boy's household, are close friends; but their lives are greatly altered when Chebron accidentally kills a cat, an animal held sacred by the ancient Egyptians. Forced to flee for their safety, the boys and their companions begin a long and dangerous journey. A thrilling adventure story, this is also a tale packed with historical facts. Among other fascinating details, young readers learn about the Egyptian religion and geography, how the Nile was used for irrigation, and how the Egyptians made war and were prepared for burial. A captivating book that accurately describes life in a once magnificent civilization, this volume will especially appeal to youngsters fascinated by the life and customs of ancient Egypt. (Amazon)

You can't go wrong with GA Henty when it comes to great stories for the young and old! This adventure story makes a great book for the grade 3-5 age range, though it's an excellent read aloud adventure too! I am so excited to also share that Heirloom Audio Productions will be releasing it as their next audiodrama this year! We LOVE their audiodramas and have already reviewed 3 of them and are currently reviewing their newest (Dragon and the Raven). GA Henty books are excellent for taking you to a country, culture or era in history and making it LIVE!

Once you have read the story, why not try these activities and/or crafts to help you take it further?

Some other things to help you in your exploration of countries around the world:
*Making LEGO Landmarks {from Homegrown Learners}

This post was part of the collection of posts from the Poppins Book Nook hosts! I hope you will check out what my fellow PBN bloggers have to share for you as part of this month's theme about Countries around the World.


There are so many books to explore the world with...One of my favorites is Around the World in 80 Days! The Magic Tree House Series is another way to get your child "exploring" the world. The list of picture books is endless!

What is your favorite international setting for books?

January 19, 2016

Fresh from the Cabinet: Elderberry & Spice Syrup Recipe ~ A Natural Immune Booster for the Whole Family

Elderberry and Spice Syrup: Homemade Remedy for Boosting the Immune SystemIt is that time of the year when all around you is the sound of coughing and sneezing. Your Facebook news feed is full of reports of head colds and the flu bringing down your friends, family and coworkers! You feel like wearing a Hazmat suit whenever you head to the office, and want to spray your kids down with Lysol as soon as they walk through the door after school. It's the time when you start pulling out all the stops to boost your family's immune system--from increased vitamin C to EmergenC packets. In our family, it means daily doses of elderberry syrup!

January 17, 2016

Fresh from the Bookshelf~ With This Ring?: A Novella Collection {Book Review}

I have mentioned in other posts about my love for historical fiction. I just love being transported back in time with the stories I read, so that I can experience eras past from the safety and comfort of my couch! I was able to enjoy doing this again with my latest book for review from NetGalley With This Ring?, a novella collection by four of the top inspirational fiction authors on the market today.

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About the Book

With This Ring? (released January 5, 2016) is a novella collection by popular christian historical fiction authors Karen Witemeyer, Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Melissa Jagears. You might recognize a few of those authors, as they regularly appear in my review list--I actually just reviewed another book by Regina Jennings last week--so you know they are some of my favorite. With This Ring? is a collection of four short stories introducing you to four couples who have marriage proposals that go awry, set in the late 1800's in the wild west. From bad weather, to dangerous men, to just bad decisions, these couples are forced to confront their latent feelings for each other...for better or worse!

The Husband Maneuver by Karen Witemeyer
It was joy to journey back to a few characters from the book A Worthy Pursuit in this novella. This story follows Marietta Hawkins and Daniel Barrett (the former bounty hunter partner of Stone Hammond, the lead character in A Worthy Pursuit). Marietta Hawkins adores Daniel Barrett--partially because of the "Dead-Eye Dan" dime novels loosely based on his life story as a bounty hunter, but mostly because of her experiences interacting with him as the foreman of her father's ranch. She just can't seem to get him to notice her as anything other than his boss' daughter.

Daniel Barrett is in love with Marietta Hawkins, but because she's his boss' daughter, he refuses to show any interest in her--and even decides he needs to resign as foreman so that he can have a chance with her. 

Everything comes to a head when instead of going on a cattle drive, Daniel stays behind at the ranch to prepare for his move to his new property--not knowing that Marietta caught wind of his plans and secretly decided to sneak back home, instead of going to be with her Aunt for the two week cattle drive. Now both of them are alone on the ranch and will be forced to deal with the feelings they have for each other...whether they like it or not.

Her Dearly Unintended by Regina Jennings
Katie Ellen Watson is determined to prove to her parents that she is capable of taking care of things while they are away....problem is that she's got a cow and calf refusing to cross a submerged bridge over a rapidly rising torrent of a creek. She just about gets them across when things go a bit unexpected---thankfully Josiah Huckabee arrives to check on her. Problem is, she really can't quite stand him--and now all of a sudden, he's stuck on her farm thanks to the only bridge on her farm washing out! 

Secretly they both care for each other, and are forced to address these feelings when a menacing stranger appears. Deciding that pretending to be newlyweds is the best way to save their reputations, they are forced to consider whether pretending to be in love will turn into the real thing.

Runaway Bride by Mary Connealy
Mary Connealy's two popular series The Kincaid Brides and Trouble In Texas collide in this delightful novella! Runaway Bride follows Big John Conroy--the fifth man (and only one not married) of the band of friends called The Regulators of the Trouble in Texas Series--as he attempts to help Carrie Halsey from a dangerous man intent on making her his wife.

Hired by his friend's sister's husband's wife Audra (LOL!) to bring her sister Callie to her up in Colorado, he is ill prepared for the trouble he'll be dealing with...the LOVE kind, and as an always on the move Texas Ranger, he's sure that's the worst kind of trouble he can have. Carrie and her brother just want to get away and go to their sister in Colorado before Carrie is captured and forced into marriage, so they willingly and eagerly follow Big John, no matter what he says. Everything comes to a head when he takes them to safety in Broken Wheel, Texas where the rest of the Regulators are--and they are forced to confront their feelings for each other. 

Engaging the Competition by Melissa Jagears
Harrison Gray and tomboy Charlotte Andrews have been rivals for years. He's never forgiven her for outshooting him in front of their friends, with his own gun back when they were just kids. Now they are back in the same town as adults--she as a ranch owner and he as the local schoolteacher. With Charlotte spoken for by someone else (someone Harrison is SURE is wrong for her), it seems like their differences will never be settled. But when Charlotte breaks Harrison's glasses--without which he's nearly blind--she must help with his teaching position. Will working together force these former adversaries to reconsider everything?

My Thoughts On the Book

Unlike some novellas (including one I recently reviewed), this collection has COMPLETE stories. Even though they are shorter than the normal novel, they don't feel extremely rushed. I think part of that is due to a couple of them being continuations of other series, so not as much back story is needed. I enjoyed all of them, though Runaway Bride by Mary Connealy was my favorite--mostly because it was a perfect blending and conclusion to two of her series which I have read (and reviewed!). I think one of my favorite parts in the story was where the lead character Big John was reflecting on his four friends and in his reflection, the author included the actual book titles to each of his friend's stories, as part of the dialogue. That is something only someone who has read the Trouble in Texas series would even have caught. Which I obviously did! LOL! 

The one I liked the least and felt needed the most help, was probably Her Dearly Unintended--just because I felt like this one NEEDED more backstory as to why the characters thought what they did about themselves. I felt like I should have read an earlier book or something to meet these characters. I did like the obvious reference to Katie Ellen having a touch of OCD--something that wouldn't have necessarily been "diagnosed" during that time period.

I think that the only novella that really needed the reader (me) to be already familiar with the background of the characters was the novella by Mary Connealy. If you aren't already familiar with her previous two series, you might be a bit lost as to the back story of the lead character Big John and his friends. But I think that's the only one that doesn't really stand on its own. I do think, however, you can not be familiar with the story, and still enjoy it. I just think you would enjoy it MORE if you were knowledgeable of the Kincaid Brides and Trouble in Texas series.

I give this book a solid 4 stars because it was well done, I enjoyed the stories, and is better than most novella collections. I am sure that major part of that is due to the high caliber of writing and experience of each of these four authors. If you are familiar with these authors' books, especially the two series by Mary Connealy that I mentioned above, you will want to grab With This Ring? and read it for yourself!
By Karen Witemeyer, Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Melissa Jagears
ISBN #: 978-0764217722
Available in Paperback and Kindle

Professional Reader
I have been thoroughly enjoying the latest pile of books that I have been given to review, especially because so many of my favorite authors are included! With This Ring? was a fun and easy read, and I especially loved that it tied up two of Mary Connealy's series for me. I urge you to visit your local library and request it for yourself--or any other books by these four delightful authors! 

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January 15, 2016

Fresh from the Bookshelf: At Love's Bidding by Regina Jennings {Book Review}

Regina Jennings is one of my favorite authors with her witty and fun novels set in the untamed wild west of the 1800's. I have yet to read one I didn't like, and I have been eyeballing her latest book At Love's Bidding, which was released December 1,2015, since I first heard about it. I was delighted to have a chance to review the book this month, and share my thoughts on this charming book with you!
The links on this blog and in the posts may be affiliate links
Please see my disclosure policy for full details and thank you for your support!

About the Book

At Love's Bidding is the second book in the Ozark Mountain Romance series by Regina Jennings. Book 1 (A Most Inconvenient Marriage) introduced us to several of the characters that pop up again in At Love's Bidding--but the main focus in on wallflower Miranda Wimplegate and ruggedly handsome Wyatt Ballentine. 

Miranda's family lives in Boston in the late 1800's where they own an up and coming auction house that deals in selling a wide range of valuable products for their elite clientele. When a powerful family's prize painting is accidentally auctioned off to a mysterious buyer, the family is racing to rectify their mistake. After tracing the painting to the Missouri Ozarks, Miranda's grandfather impulsively decides to purchase an auction house in Pine Gap and check it out while he simultaneously searches for the lost painting. Deciding that Miranda is the best one to travel and take care of her grandfather, the family sends them off to retrieve the painting and expand their business!

Not used to being responsible for making decisions, Miranda is thrust into the forefront of the scene when her grandfather begins to exhibit signs of memory loss and dementia on their trip. Throw in the fact that the missing painting is nowhere to be found AND that the auction house they purchased sells....livestock and not the antiques they expected, she's up to her eyeballs in trouble! Thankfully, she has Wyatt Ballentine, the auctioneer and manager of the Pine Gap auction house to help her out. Now, if only she can find that painting without telling him she's looking for it (because he might be secretly storing it), and if she can keep her grandfather from the local con man, and out of jail...Little does she know that she's looking for the painting in the wrong place, that it has a connection to Wyatt Ballentine, and that love is going to find her in this backwoods small-town worlds away from all she knows in Boston. 

My Thoughts on the Book

This was EXACTLY what I was expecting from Regina Jennings. She always delivers a witty and fun romance, with a fun plot and clever characters. I loved the idea of the crazy cousin who is into phrenology, which was so big during that time period. I loved how Miranda's love for her grandfather, helps her stay strong, even when she's at the most embarrassed. It was fun to read about the shock that Miranda and her grandfather faced when they realized their auction house mistake. She was a strong character who discovered herself throughout the book. 

I also appreciated having Wyatt's background revealed over the course of the book, instead of all at once. It was such a surprise to learn his background and really added a great element to the story. 

I loved the events surrounding the Lady Godiva carved stump. Made me grin while I was reading. It was a good touch to the book. 

It was also nice to "run into" the Calhoun's from the first book! I have a feeling I know who the next book is going to be about, and if so, it's sure to be a great one!

I absolutely give At Love's Bidding a solid four stars. It was a fun read, and I didn't really want to stop and found myself reading just "one more chapter" to see what happened to Miranda and Wyatt. I do not think that you need to read book #1 in this series to enjoy this one--it would just give you a good background on a few characters. This is an inspirational fiction book, but it's not in there more than just as the characters meditating on their Christianity and God's plan for their lives. 
by Regina Jennings
ISBN # 978-0764211416
Available in Paperback and Kindle

I definitely plan on recommending this book to my friends, and encourage you to visit your library and experience for yourself the enjoyable novels by Regina Jennings.

Professional Reader
It was lovely to have another fun read from Regina Jennings. I look forward to making sure that our library grabs this next book to add to their collection! It's always fun to find another great author to read, so if you haven't experienced Regina Jennings yet, make sure you grab one of her books soon!

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January 14, 2016

Fresh from the Bookshelf: Calico Spy by Margaret Brownley {Book Review}

I love historical fiction. I especially love romantic historical fiction. And if you REALLY want to catch my attention, make it an inspirational historical fiction romance! Icing on the cake is making it have a nice bit of comedy and lovable characters! I was hoping for all of these in the latest book to review, Calico Spy by Margaret Brownley, the third book in her Undercover Ladies series. Did it win my approval?

The links on this blog and in the posts may be affiliate links
Please see my disclosure policy for full details and thank you for your support!

About the Book

Calico Spy (released January 1, 2016) takes us back to the age of the Pinkerton detectives and the famous Harvey Girls of the late 1800's. In this installment of the Undercover Ladies series, Pinkerton operative Katie Madison's newest case takes her to Calico, Kansas. There is a double homicide that continues to be unsolved, and Fred Harvey can't stand that it happened to two of his special Harvey Girls--two Harvey House restaurant waitresses.

Thinking that having an operative inside the restaurant would be the best way to solve the crime, the Pinkerton agency sends in Katie Madison--a pretty red head with a mind of her own, her own fair share of obstinacy, and a petite yet mighty force to be reckoned with. You can imagine how it's going to go down when she collides with Calico's sheriff, Branch Whitman, who has never met a "Pink" he liked. Sparks fly as the two eventually try to work together to solve the crime--and Branch needs Katie's help when secrets of his own past come back to haunt him! Can they solve all three mysteries without...well shooting each other?!

My Thoughts on the Book

Well, I honestly expected more. But I don't think I can really describe what I was hoping for. Maybe more substance? I think this book was meant to be an easy read, thus none of the characters are very...deep. I think we learn more about Branch Whitman than we do Katie! Of course, this may be related to this being the third book in the series. Perhaps we meet Katie a bit more in an earlier book. That being said, this book appears to stand alone and I didn't really FEEL like I needed to have read the other two novels, though now I want to.

The book was good. The plot was...well predictable. I had the perpetrator pegged at least halfway through if not earlier. Sparks definitely flew between Branch and Katie and I think I would have liked them to have been at odds longer. I think revealing Katie's identity to Branch happened too quickly.

I think my favorite scene was when Katie slammed a pie in the face of a bank robber and when he the bank robber thought she was a bank robber too. LOL. That was very clever.

I give Calico Spy a solid 3 1/2 stars. It was a light read, but it was fun. I think that those who enjoy rabbit trails, might enjoy learning more about the Harvey Girls history after reading the book. I already am very familiar with it, which is one reason why I wanted to read the book to begin with. I think I would have pointed the crime more to someone less obvious, because it was a let down when I was actually correct.

I still recommend this book, because while I give it 3 1/2 stars, some of my friends probably would just adore the book. It's a fun read and good to read when you need something you can pick up and put back down.

by Margaret Brownley
ISBN #978-1628366280
Available in Paperback and Kindle

Professional Reader
Well, Calico Spy wasn't a five star book, in my opinion, but it was still a fun read, and I plan on seeking out the first two books in the series: Petticoat Detective and Undercover Bride. I love lighthearted easy reads, just as much as I enjoy the ones that take me longer. I encourage you to see if your library has one of these books by Margaret Brownley to try!
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January 12, 2016

When Your Curriculum Isn't Working {Homeschooling: Keeping It Real}

When you plan out your curriculum for your children at the beginning of the school year, you have big dreams! As you are stashing goodies away over the summer months, and ordering your new supplies, you eagerly think about all the great things you are going to be doing over the coming year. All the different subjects, all the different resources for each subject. And when they are all typed out and put into a "schedule" for the year, the list looks grand and mighty! As a homeschool teacher, I see it and go "Yes! Let's do this!" But what happens when come the end of December, things aren't going the way you had hoped? What if one of the curriculum you purchased isn't quite...working? Join me as I share about what's been going on in our OWN school year and how I answered that question when it happened to us, in my first post of the Homeschooling: Keeping It Real Series!
What Do You Do When Your Curriculum Isn't Working

The Problem

I began this year with a new adventure in teaching my youngest, as he was "officially" going to be working on Kindergarten curriculum. Over the previous year and summer, I thought long and hard about what we were going to do. I knew he adored doing school work. I knew that he was already "ahead" of the game having been sitting in on his brother's lessons for the last...well, since he was a year old. But I made my plan. I pulled out material that I had saved after Little Britches was done with it. I bought the curriculum I needed to go with it. I had it all planned out. You can read my post about the curriculum I had lined up for him when we started. I was sure it was going to be perfect.

As the year began, I could see that he adored school. Oh he BEGGED for more work. And as I suspected, he WAS ahead of the game when it came to all the Kindergarten basics. I made some minor adjustments and we kept on. As we continued, I discovered that something was...off. As I worked with him, I was noticing things that screamed out something loud and clear... 

Baby Britches has a different learning style than Little Britches. 

Oh this really isn't THAT big of a deal and really usually only needs a few adjustments. I mean, anyone working with kids understands that they all learn different. So it's not like this life altering discovery. No real big deal. But it is something that started making me look deeper in how we did school.

I discovered that the curriculum I had--the one that was oh so perfect for Little Britches back in the day--well, it just wasn't working very well for Baby Britches. In fact, he's not really making good progress at all when it comes to the reading aspect.

Yes, I know that reading comes when it's ready...but he is on the BRINK of it. He's ready for the keys to unlock the mystery of words....and we are working together to make it happen.

So what's the problem?

Well, I have learned that he is NOT an auditory learner (his brother is) and sounding out the phonics (Something I have always believed to be very important)...well it's not working very well. Hearing the sounds doesn't seem to be making it click in his head. He also has a speech issue we are working on, so having him duplicate the sounds I give him, can be super frustrating! We can go over blending a word...over and over...but he doesn't "hear" how it works.

However, once he SEES a word, he will remember it and can tell me what it is later pretty well. So for him, sight words are the name of the game.

--Can you guess his strongest learning style?? Yep, he's my visual kinesthetic learner.

Our curriculum (My Father's World-Kindergarten God's Creation from A to Z) isn't very sight word friendly. They have an incredible phonetic program and it worked fabulously with my oldest, who picked up phonics super quickly. (he HEARS it and gets it) But I finally (after 11 weeks!!) accepted that the reading portion of this curriculum, just wasn't working out for Baby Britches. He couldn't follow the letters to sound out the words. New words confused and frustrated him immensely--especially when they were similar with maybe only 1 letter different. Did I mention it also was difficult with his speech issues that we are still dealing with?

So what do I do????

Do I just push through? We don't have a big school budget. We invested in the program, and still have most of it left to finish. That's a big stack of worksheets and activities. Not done. Do you know how hard this is for me?? To think about walking away from it--left undone? And I don't really have anything on hand to go with his learning style, which means purchasing something new (with a budget that has already been used for the year).

The Solution

After thinking and praying about it. I decided that a change had to be made for his sake. I wanted to keep feeding his love of learning. I recognized that continuing to work with a program that was hindering and not helping him...just wasn't going to facilitate that! Fortunately, "Cyber Monday" happened when I needed it most. And one of my most favorite companies (Institute for Excellence in Writing) had incredible sales, which included (coincidentally enough) a complete reading and writing curriculum for K-2 (You can read reviews about the Primary Arts of Language [PAL] Reading and Writing Curriculum here).

This curriculum was totally different in style than what we were doing, but I saw pieces of things in the samples that resonated with me as working well with Baby Britches' learning style! Praying that the company would come through for us again, (they totally saved us with Little Britches for similar reasons)--I went ahead and purchased the product.

Now I owned TWO complete Kindergarten programs. Sigh.

I was so nervous. What if this one didn't work either? What do I do with MFW if this one DOES work? So much anxiety!

When the program arrived, I looked through it with a fine tooth comb. The more I read, the greater I became convinced that it WAS going to work. So I went ahead and did all the prep for starting the program and starting on the next Monday, I set aside MFW and we did the new Primary Arts of Language Reading and Writing Curriculum instead.

After just 2 days of using the program, it became obvious that this was EXACTLY what Baby Britches needed. So much progress just in two days--even showing up in his speech progress! It WAS the right move!
The new program is full of activities/games encouraging sight word recognition based on phonetic blends identification.
A perfect blending of sight word and phonetics--just what he needed!

Thank you, Lord!

But what about the MFW? What do I do with that now?

Well, Baby Britches actually took care of that for me. He wants to do it ALL!!!

What? Are you serious? 

Yes, actually I am. He asked me if he could still do his other letter program. He said he liked it and wanted to keep doing it. But he liked this story letter one too.

So what do I do?

Well, I said....


You see, I am pretty sure that I can make it work. Now the PAL Reading and Writing is our core, and the MFW reading/phonics is our supplement! I can just pick the things from it that we want to do and leave the rest. We will still work through the thematic science and unit study that goes with each week...but the rest of the curriculum will just be bits and pieces here and there.

Remember--as I have already said several times--Baby Britches ADORES school and always asks for more! Now with a blending of these two curriculum, I can give him what he wants. AND if it gets to be too much, I simply drop the MFW. NO regrets.

Here is the thing...

When you find something new and different that does work, you shouldn't carry around regrets that your initial plans didn't work. Being able to make changes when things don't work...THAT is the beauty of homeschooling and being in charge of your own curriculum. You can cater it to fit every child. Trying things out until you find the perfect fit. So don't forget to be flexible and able to admit when something isn't working. Don't lock yourself into a..."we MUST finish this curriculum no matter what" or an "I can't not use it because I paid so much $$ for it!" mindset. That doesn't help your child at all!!!

Do you have an older kid that seems to be struggling with a curriculum? Include them in the decision! Have a heart to heart and ask him or her what they think they would change about it! How do they think they would learn better on that subject? Do you know their learning style? If not, maybe you should take a simple assessment to help figure it out! This will assist you in finding something that might match their needs better! There are SOOOO many options out there for every subject, that if you keep searching, I'm sure you will find what you need!

So what happens now?

Well, we are two weeks into the program and we are still doing great. I am still combining it with MFW and so far it's going fine. I know what he's willing to do and we just take day by day. Today we did part of a lesson and we will finish it tomorrow. Thankfully the PAL program is separated into sections, so it's very easy to stop and pick up later.

Just as I have always done, we will take it one day at a time and one lesson at a time...but so far, I can assure you that it was most definitely THE right decision to make. However, if at any time it doesn't seem to be working...well, you know what I will do!

Thank you for joining me on the first part of the Homeschooling: Keeping It Real Series. I am looking forward to having this be a continuous series over the next weeks, sharing some of the more "behind the scenes" sides of homeschooling, in order to bring encouragement to those experience similar situations. Homeschooling can be messy, and sometimes we forget that. So stay tuned as we explore this very fun and revealing series! The next installment will be appearing next week, as I discuss how we deal with the bad attitudes that can bring a day of schooling to a grinding halt! Yikes! This one is going to be brutally honest! So you don't want to miss it!
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