4/26/12

A NEW blog look!

When I was searching through the pictures for my previous blog post I came across this gorgeous picture that my oldest daughter took.  I’ve been wanting a photo header for my blog but hadn’t really put in any effort to take one or find one.

But this picture? It just screamed “I’m the ONE! Use me.  I’m the right colors.  I bring a smile to your face.  I make you think of life.” 

I tried using photobucket to jazz up the picture and add text but that just didn’t work for me.  A fellow Review Crew team member had mentioned something about picmonkey so I checked it out.  (I really liked it!  It was easy to use and I could save the picture to my computer. I did not even have to register or create an account! Pic Monkey.)

I pulled BooBear away (multiple times!) from her piano practice so help me decide.  This frame or that?  This effect or the other one?  I used the text feature to add the name of my blog.  Then of course she had to help me pick just the right combo of colors for the blog background.

So what do you think?  Isn’t the photo gorgeous!

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(My apologies to anybody and everybody who may have stopped by my blog and saw a horrible mess as I tried out different combos)

4/25/12

April 7th through April 15th

Rather than explain why I've been so quiet I'd thought I would just show you what we've been doing. Great Lent ended on April 6th. Holy Week began with Great and Holy Monday April 9th. Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday are festive feast days tucked between Lent and Holy Week. (I know it's "Wordless Wednesday" but I just can't seem to be wordless. We'll just have to settle for "less wordy". <grin>)

Lazarus Saturday

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Lazarus Saturday began with a baptism! Lazarus Saturday foreshadows the resurrection of the Lord and our own resurrection.

 

 

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I think the godfather is especially handsome. Biased? Yes, I suppose so.  Here Honeybear holds the candle for his godson.

 

 

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After the Gospel reading.  Yes. It’s another picture of Honeybear. Notice the GOLD colored vestments?  NOT the purple of Lent.  Not the black of Holy Week.

Palm Sunday

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On Palm Sunday the church is decorated with greenery and the priests and deacon wear green (or gold if they do not have green) vestments.

 

 

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The homily on Palm Sunday. 

 

 

 

 

Holy Week

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Pascha

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Christ is Risen!

4/20/12

TOS Review: Amazing Science! Volume 1 DVD

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Have I mentioned that we’re a science loving family? Oh I have? Well,` be warned this is one of those “gushing about the product” type of reviews. 

I think one of the reasons we love science around here so much is that science is so “hands on”.  You learn by doing.  And it’s fun! We’ve been watching the Amazing Science Volume 1 DVD from ScienceandMath.com and having a blast. We’ve tried some experiments and we’re planning more.

This two disk DVD set retails for $24.95 but is available from ScienceandMath.com for $19.95.  They also offer a downloadable version for $17.99.  On these two disks you’ll find 23 fun science experiments. 

Here’s a Detailed Description directly from the website: Learn fundamental principles of science through Amazing Science Experiments! You'll learn about electricity, magnetism, heat, temperature, pressure, surface tension, buoyancy, and much more.

For every demonstration, a complete materials list is given, and each experiment features multiple camera views so you can see exactly what happens. Most importantly, every concept is explained in a step-by-step fashion. You'll not only be amazed - you'll understand the science behind every experiment!”

I think Amazing Science! has an all ages appeal but may excite those in the grades 5 to 9 range the most.  Supergirl (functioning at around a first grade level) did enjoy watching the videos but I’m not sure how much she grasped of the explanations.  I enjoyed watching and even I learned a thing a thing or two.  We even got my husband to watch a few of the experiments with us!

Thoughts from BooBear (age 16, 11th grade): “It’s science. I’m not a science person like my sisters, but the experiments were cool.  He explains things in detail which I found frustrating because I didn’t care and I already knew a lot of the science behind the experiments but I did really enjoy watching the actual experiments the cloud in the bottle and the dry ice bubbles. Those were especially cool.”

Thoughts from Turtlegirl (age 14, 9th grade): “I enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed the couple experiments we actually did and I’m looking forward to doing more.  I’ve enjoyed watching the ones we probably won’t do like the motor one.  I thought he was very thorough in his explanations and I liked that.  I liked the fact that he took the time to explain in detail what was really going on.  I loved this DVD.  I love science.  I recommend this video to those who love science and experiments.”

Thoughts from Tailorbear (age 13, 7th grade): “So many of the experiments were so amazing. One problem: the person took forever to get to the point. He would say something once, then say it again and again in different words.  I did like that he told me exactly what was going on.  He told us what was optional and what was needed to do each experiment.  I loved it even though I didn’t love that he kept repeating himself (though I can understand why he did.) I liked the experiments we did and I can’t wait to do more like the dry ice one if I can get mom to do that one.  I recommend this dvd.”

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My Bottom Line:This is an excellent resource for science.  I highly recommend this DVD for home school co-op science classes.  For home use this is a fun way to introduce science concepts to younger children and get them excited about science.  For my girls this has been a great reinforcement of things we have studied over the years.  Some of the experiments, such as ocean in a bottle, we’ve done before but others were new to us. 

Why do I like and recommend this 2 disk DVD set? Jason Gibson explains the science behind every experiment.  He also stresses safety.  I was impressed that he talked about getting into the habit of wearing safety glasses even when you don’t think you’ll need them (though in one experiment he didn’t actually put them on.  The glasses were visible on the counter but he never actually put them on.) I like that, for the most part, the experiments use items we have around the house.  A few of them require a trip to the store and I’m not likely to actually to do those with the girls but those experiments would be great in a co-op setting.  I really appreciate that my girls can still watch and learn from those types of experiments.  Instead of reading about it in a book and having mom go “uh no, I’m not going hunting for a copper pipe” my daughters can benefit from watching the DVD and still seeing the experiment done and hearing about the science behind the effect.  Since this is labeled Volume 1, I look forward to the release of Volume 2!

Visit the ScienceandMath .com website to find more DVD’s such as a DVD Course for Physics or a Basic Math Course DVD.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to read what my fellow crew mates had to say about the Amazing Science!DVD from ScienceandMath.com

 

This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.

All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews to find more great products.

TOS Review: Crypto Mindbenders Famous Quotations

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I have loved every single product I have ever tried from  The Critical Thinking Co., so it was no surprise to me that Crypto Mind Benders  Famous Quotations would be a huge hit with my three “big” girls.

We are no strangers to the Mind Benders series.  It’s one of our favorites for developing reasoning skills.  Crypto Mind Benders operates on the same principle.  Use logic and reasoning to solve a puzzle.  These are commonly called logic puzzles.  Crypto, however takes it to a new level.  Instead of solving to find out which person came from which house and brought what to the neighborhood BBQ, you uses math symbols (mathematical reasoning)o solve the key to unlock a famous quotation.

Description from the website: “Crypto Mind Benders® compel students to break a secret code so they can identify a hidden joke or quotation. To break the code, students must apply logic and mathematical reasoning to 3 sets of clues. The challenge is getting all the information out of each clue! Once students break the code, they can solve the cryptogram by substituting the numbers with their corresponding code letters. The Quotations book familiarizes students with classic quotations from famous thinkers such as Albert Einstein, Voltaire, Socrates, and more! The Jokes edition familiarizes students with classic, good humored, jokes that both kids and adults enjoy.”

These relatively inexpensive workbooks have even more value because you can buy just one to use for your whole family or classroom.  Permission is granted to the initial purchaser to make copies of the activity sheets for one family or one classroom.

We received the physical book ($10.99) but an e-book is also available (also $10.99).  One feature that I love of the physical book is the perforated pages.  I can easily tear out the pages and make the copies I need.  In addition to the 30 activity pages, there is a Sample Activity to walk you through how to solve the puzzles as well as detailed solutions for all the puzzles.  Recommended for grades 3-12+. 

Thoughts from BooBear (age 16, 11th grade):”I really like how you use the clues to solve the puzzle and you are rewarded with a quote.  I am a quotey person.  I love quotes. I enjoy puzzles too so having the two together is awesome. These are easy to add in to my school day.  I really like  this product because I enjoyed it.”

Thoughts from Turtlegirl (age 14, 9th grade): “I love it! I always enjoyed the other mind benders/logic puzzles we’ve done. I also enjoy codes. This was a perfect blend of my favorite puzzles. Mom has to ration me or else I’d do them all at once.  (She only lets me do 1-2 a week to make the book last). Some of the quotes are really interesting. I think I really like it because it’s logic.  It makes sense and doesn’t change.  There are rules and they follow them.  It’s not like the English language. The English language has forgotten how to follow rules.”

Thoughts from Tailorbear (age 13, 7th grade): “They are so much fun. It’s like solving codes. I like figuring out the hidden message. Some clues don’t make any sense at first glance such as h+y= n+e but that’s where the other clues come in.  I like how you have to solve the mind benders puzzle to figure out which letter goes with which number and then use those letters to break the code and read the message.”

My Bottom Line: I love these.  I think Crypto Mind Benders are an excellent way to teach deductive and reasoning skills.  They are fun (and addictive!).   Crypto Mind Benders also works on mathematical reasoning skills.  I also love that my children love them and while they have fun with the puzzles, I know that they are improving and building those critical thinking and reasoning skills that I want them to learn.

Be sure to visit the Critical Thinking Co. website to see all the wonderful products they offer!  I think the Mind Benders (and Crypto Mind Benders!) are my favorite but we’ve also enjoyed Building Thinking Skills and the Can You Find Me riddle books.

In addition to Crypto Mind Benders: Famous Quotations, the crew also reviewed 3 other Critical Thinking Press products: Inference Jones, Mathematical Reasoning and Balance Math Teaches Algebra. Click on the banner below to read what my fellow crew mates had to say!PhotobucketAll information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

Disclaimer: As a TOS Crew member, I received this product free of charge to review. I am required to write a review but I am not required to write a positive review. This review contains my and/or my daughters’ honest opinion with, hopefully, enough detail as to why I/ we liked or did not like a product so that my readers can make an informed decision. I received no compensation.

4/12/12

TOS Review: Christian Kids Explore Chemistry

Tailorbear has recently expressed interest in all things science.  She is especially excited about chemistry.  Bright Ideas Press publishes a series of science books entitled Christian Kids Explore Science.  As a member of the TOS Crew we had the chance to review the Chemistry book.

We received a PDF copy of the 2nd Edition Christian Kids Explore Chemistry book. At the time of this review this resource is only available for sale as a physical product.  It retails for $39.95  In addition to the PDF file of the book, we received a PDF version of the Resource CD. This CD is included when you purchase from Bright Ideas Press. (If you already own the book, you can purchase the CD for $12.95 ~ on sale for $9.95)

Christian Kids Explore Chemistry (CKEC) targets 4th to 8th graders so my 7th grader, Tailorbear, fits solidly in that range.  I choose to use the hints in the “how to use this book” section geared for advanced students.   This means that Tailorbear read the material to herself and used this resource more of a self-teaching course.  

You can view a table of contents and a sample lesson on the website.

CKEC recommends one lesson per week.  The Lesson Plans, included on the Resource CD, break each lesson into two days of work.

Each CKEC lesson is divided into four parts:

  • Teaching Time ~  This is the heart of the lesson.  This is the material that an older or advanced reader would read to herself or the parent/teacher could read it aloud to younger students.  There is even a suggestion that for much younger children or children who might have trouble grasping the concepts, the parent can read this material ahead of time and then explain to the students.
  • Review It! ~ These are questions that follow the reading material.   These questions are fill in the blank or labeling questions.  I am using these as independent work that I can check and see how my daughter is doing.  I would use these questions as discussion questions if I were reading aloud the teaching time section.
  • Hands On Activity ~ First I love that they are not called experiments.  Some of the activities are experiments where the student is asked to provide a hypothesis and test it but many are just great hands on activities to help make the concepts concrete.  A list of the materials required are included at the beginning of every unit.   So far all the items I have needed are items we have here but I have purchased many science kits over the years.  I recommend reading through the materials list ahead of time to have enough planning time if you need to purchase or find something such as fine sand.
  • Think About It! ~ I love this section.  According to the “How to Use this Book” section, the “Think About It” sections are intended for the older students.  The questions get the student thinking deeper about the hands on activity.  They bring the Hands on Activity to a middle school/junior high level more appropriate for the 7th to 8th graders.

Appendix B is a Resource List.  Some general resources are listed first and then there are suggested resources to go with each lesson.

I love love love love the Resource File.  Why? Because it includes a Lesson Plan,  Reproducibles, Supply List, a Catalog, Contact info for Bright Ideas Press and (cue drum roll music) a literature guide.  I especially love the Reproducibles.  These are aligned for easy printing and I can print as many copies as I need and I only have to print what we’ll use.  This also makes it easier for Tailorbear so that she can just fill in the blanks rather than writing in a notebook (an activity she detests but she still has to write out the vocabulary words). Remember this resource is included when you purchase the 2nd Edition Christian Kids Explore Chemistry book.

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Thoughts from Tailorbear (age 13, 7th grade): “It is useful because of the way they do it. The lessons are in bite-sized bits. Such as one lesson is about chemical bonds. Then another lesson would continue on that subject with a little more depth. The experiments are amazing! Some were a little boring. Such as the salt sand one. Otherwise they are really fun! I really really like it. I like doing it independently but having mom around to help is nice.  I don’t need her to teach me, but sometimes I have questions and sometimes it’s fun to just have another voice.  I’ve been able to do the experiments on my own which is nice considering I can tell Supergirl to leave me alone because I’m doing a very important experiment..”

My Bottom Line: I like this product.  Tailorbear enjoys the lessons and I can use the appendix to find suggestions to add supplemental material to go deeper.  If I were purchasing this product I would choose the physical book over the PDF (which is not currently available for sale) because I prefer NOT to read on the computer.  With a physical book, I would be more likely to be more involved with the learning process.  That being said Tailorbear has had no issues with using the PDF file of the textbook.  I think she likes being allowed to use the computer.

Click on the banner below to read what my fellow crew mates had to say about the different Christian Kids Explore Science  booksPhotobucketAll information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

Disclaimer: As a TOS Crew member, I received this product free of charge to review. I am required to write a review but I am not required to write a positive review. This review contains my and/or my daughters’ honest opinion with, hopefully, enough detail as to why I/ we liked or did not like a product so that my readers can make an informed decision. I received no compensation.

4/10/12

Great and Holy Week: Bridegroom Matins

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I have attended many different types of Orthodox services (there are still a few I’ve not yet made it to such as the Cannon of St. Andrew).  I’ve attended baptisms, funerals, weddings, vigils, vespers, matins and variations in addition to different liturgies.   I’ve been to most of the different services offered during Holy Week. (I have not yet attended the special Liturgy of St. Basil on Holy Saturday).

Of all the different types of services I have experienced, The Bridegroom Matins is hands down my favorite.  Our Parish serves these special matins on Sunday night, (for Monday), Monday night (for Tuesday) and Tuesday night (for Wednesday).

Why are they my favorite?  These services instill the anticipation of waiting for the Bridegroom.  The atmosphere is somber as we begin to enter into the experiences of our Lord’s Passion Week.  The special hymns of each day focus on different events.  For example one hymn describes Judas agreeing to betray the Lord.  But this isn’t really why they are my favorite services.

They are my favorite because of the Exaposteilarion:

"I behold Thy Bridal chamber richly adorned O my Savior but I have no wedding garment to worthily enter. Make radiant the garment of my soul O Giver of Light and save me.”

I have yet to experience hearing the haunting melody and meditating on the words and NOT cried.  Last night I thought “my heart is just so hard and I’m so grouchy and I doubt I’ll cry tonight because I’m just so out of sorts.”  The exaposteilarion took me by surprise.  (I was having a a hard time following the service because I’d had such a bad day.) But as soon as my heart heard the very first note, my heart melted and my soul joined in the prayer.   “Make radiant the garment of my soul O Giver of Light and save me.”  I am not worthy to enter in but He can give me garments so that I can enter.  

Pascha (Easter) and the joy of the Resurrection has so much more meaning for me because of the experiences of the services of Holy Week.

4/9/12

TOS Review: AIMS: Looking at Lines

 

Because we had reviewed Earth Book earlier this crew year I was really excited  to see AIMS on the Crew Vendor  list  again. AIMS is a non-profit foundation “dedicated to helping teachers give students a solid conceptual understanding of math and science”  They are “motivated by a passion for teaching and learning, not by profit.”

This time we’re reviewing Looking at Lines from the Algebraic Thinking Series.

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Here’s the description from the Looking at Lines web page: “Introduce algebraic concepts in their natural setting with activities drawn from real-world phenomena. Covers three sub-groups of linear functions: proportional relationships, non-proportional relationships with positive slopes, and non-proportional relationships with negative slopes. Includes CD with printable student pages.”   32 activities span over 290 pages. This book is intended for grades 6-9 and retails for $24.95.  A downloadable PDF version is also available.

From the back of the book: “Drawn from physical and life sciences, business, geometry, and other other real-world phenomena, the activities in Looking at Lines have students experience important  algebraic concepts in their natural setting. Hands-on involvement heightens students’ interest and deepens understanding.”

Each activity includes:

  • A section for the teacher: Here you will find information such as standards, background information,  materials needed, procedure, answers and more.
  • A Key Question with Learning Goals: These are included in the section for the teacher but are also available in the PDF resource in a pleasant graphic format.
  • Pages necessary to complete the activity:  For example this might be the pages of function tables to use in the “Zap It” activity or the X/Y strips for the “On the Level” Activity.
  • Connecting Learning: These are the questions that help student connect the activity to the concept.  An example question from the “On the Level Activity” would be “What do you notice about the x and y values?”

We are using this as a fun supplement to our regular math studies.  Tailorbear and Turtlegirl work together on AIMS activities 2 to 3 times per week.  Sometimes they are able to complete the activity in one session and sometimes it takes longer.

In the picture below Tailorbear and Turtlegirl work through “On the Level”.  Instructions (and graphics!) are included to make a balance however since we already owned a balance the girls thought it would be fun to try the activities with a “real” balance.

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Thoughts from Turtlegirl (age 14 1/2, grade 9): “It was a lot of fun to play with the balance. I enjoyed the fact that it used physical examples to demonstrate algebraic equations. This was easy to use.  Looking at Lines is almost a perfect supplement to my Algebra I program. I also enjoyed spending some extra time with my sister who is using this with me.  We had fun together doing the activities. I liked that every concept had a different activity. For example “On the Level” used a balance and graphs to teach how to write an equation from data,  whereas “Zap-It” taught how to use ordered pairs to find function patterns by using charts.  I would recommend this for someone doing algebra and wants some extra practice.”

Thoughts from Tailorbear (age 13, grade 7): "I think it’s cool. I liked how you don’t have to do a math problem in order to figure out something.  You actually get to make a balance or pulley. It’s fun, also hard, but fun.  I want to keep using this. 

My Thoughts: I think we have only begun to scratch the surface of this resource. As I read through the introduction and flipped through the different investigations, all I could think was “wow, I wish I had this when I was learning about graphing lines.”  This is a great way to show students how linear functions are used in real life.  I know I wondered when I would ever really use Algebra in real life and I know that my daughters have asked that same question.

My favorite feature is the CD-ROM that contains PDF files of the investigations.  These are the pages that the student needs.  I love that I can print as many or as few as I need and I love that I don’t have to fight with the book binding or tear out pages to make copies.

Because my girls are 7th and 9th grade, they worked together as an independent team.  I had minimal involvement.  Together they would flip through the book to find an activity that interested them.  Turtlegirl would print out the pages and together they would work through the activity.  This works well for our family now, but if we had started this book when Turtlegirl was in 7th grade and Tailorbear in 5th grade, I think I would have needed to be more involved.  I would have had to do more instructing, guiding and directing.  I could see this being a great resource for a home school co-op setting.

Visit the AIMS store to find lots of different activity books to enrich your math and science studies.  You can also visit the AIMS page to learn more about the company.

Check out the April 9th Crew Blog Post  to read what my fellow crew mates had to say about Looking at Lines and other AIMS products.  Check out the Crew Blog to read past Crew reviews of AIMS products such as the Earth Book.PhotobucketAll information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

Disclaimer: As a TOS Crew member, I received this product free of charge to review. I am required to write a review but I am not required to write a positive review. This review contains my and/or my daughters’ honest opinion with, hopefully, enough detail as to why I/ we liked or did not like a product so that my readers can make an informed decision. I received no compensation.

4/8/12

G is for the Great Entrance into Jerusalem

Today is April 8th.  The majority of Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ today.  If you are one of them, I wish you a blessed and spiritually fulfilling celebration as you shout He is Risen!

For Orthodox Christians around the world, today is our Palm Sunday.  It is the feast of the Great Entrance of Christ riding on a donkey into Jerusalem.  It is also known as the Triumphal Entry.

This morning when we enter into the building we’ll be greeted with the bright gold cloths and green vestments and lots of greenery.  It will be crowded but it will be a joyful celebration!

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To all Christians everywhere,  Happy Feast Day!!

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This post is linked up to Blogging Through the Alphabet hosted by Marcy over at Ben and Me.

4/7/12

The Last Plea Bargain~ Tyndale House Publishers Blog Tour with Giveaway!

The Last Plea Bargain

Can you feel the excitement vibrate off this post?  I loved this book and I get to give away a certificate for a free copy of this book courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers.  You’ll find the giveaway information at the end of this post.

I think the best way to introduce this book is to let author Randy Singer introduce it and tell where the story came from:

Here’s my view:

The protagonist, Jamie Brock, is a prosecutor who describes herself as more of an Old Testament type of gal.  She believes in justice “eye for an eye” style.  As an assistant DA she has a strict no plea bargain policy.  She works hard and believes in justice.  Now the defense attorney who represented the man convicted of murdering her mother and shooting her father is the primary and only suspect in the murder of his wife.  Will Jamie take a plea?  Will she be able to see justice served or will she put revenge first?

As a former lawyer wanna be, I enjoy a gripping legal thriller.  I think this genre ranks as my favorite type to read.  I’ve read other Randy Singer books and I love his plot twists and the way he probes at deep questions.  I was not disappointed with The Last Plea Bargain.

I love that we’re seeing through Jamie’s eyes. We’re right there with her, feeling her struggles.  Mr. Singer keeps Christianity real by keeping his characters real.  Yes, the gospel message of repentance and forgiveness is woven into the book but is done in such a way that you see the humanity of the Christians.  These aren’t perfect people.  They’ve made mistakes.  BIG mistakes.  Real life is messy. 

We live in a fallen world and there are no easy answers to some of the toughest questions.  Is the death penalty wrong?  Is it ok for a Christian to promote the death penalty?  What constitutes mercy?  Where does justice end and revenge begin?  These are the questions I pondered while gripped in the storyline.  I had to keep reading the book so that I could get the answers to questions such as “Did Marshall really kill Jamie’s mother?”  “If Caleb really did kill his wife, why did he do it?”  “Can the detective really be trusted?”

If you like legal thrillers, I highly recommend this book.  With a gripping storyline, characters with depth and an intriguing back story, The Last Plea bargain is entertaining and thought provoking.

Randy Singer isn’t just an author.  He’s also a lawyer and a pastor.  Tyndale House Publishers provided me with these Q & A’s:

7 Questions with Randy Singer, The Last Plea Bargain

Randy Singer Head Shot1. Randy, you bring a unique perspective to your writing because you are also an attorney and a pastor. How do you juggle these three things and still have a life?

Who said I had a life?

But seriously, it helps that these three things all draw on common skill sets. For example, principles of powerful story-telling are important for a pastor, lawyer and (obviously) writer. I’m a little ADHD and like being able to go from one thing to another. It’s like crop rotation—keeps things fresh. And, to be honest, writing is more like relaxation for me than a job. It gives me a break from the pressures of the other “real life” jobs and lets me go into a world where I get to control things! (aka “God complex”)

On the practical side, there are three principles that help me juggle. One, I try to stay focused on the big stuff. It’s not that I do the little stuff second, I try not to do the little stuff at all. Second, I stay focused on what I can do well and let others worry about the stuff that is out of my control. And third, I’ve learned to get comfortable with the fact that I will always have stuff in each of these areas that does not get done. As long as the ball is moving forward, I’m satisfied with that.

Ultimately, I thank God that, in His grace, He allows me to do three separate things that I love. My prayer is that I might bring glory to Him in all three arenas.

2. The Last Plea Bargain is loosely based on a case you tried. Can you briefly share with us some of the details of that case and why it is special to you?

In 2002, Donna Somerville was indicted for the murder of her husband, Hamilton Somerville, Jr., in Orange County, Virginia. Hamilton Somerville was heir to the DuPont fortune. The prosecution alleged that Donna Somerville had poisoned her husband with a lethal cocktail of hospice drugs and the case drew national media attention, including a front-page story in Vanity Fair and a Lifetime movie, Widow on the Hill. Donna Somerville was found not guilty in the criminal case in 2004, but I represented the daughters of Hamilton Somerville in a wrongful death civil case against their step-mother which had a very different outcome. That litigation, and the tension between seeking justice and extending forgiveness, played a large role in the writing of The Last Plea Bargain.

3. Your main character, Jamie Brock, originally appeared in your novel, False Witness. Why did you decide to bring her back, and will we see more of Jamie in the future?

Readers will often ask me whether I’m going to bring back one character or another. I make a mental list of the characters mentioned the most often, realizing that those characters must have resonated with the readers in some way. Jamie is mentioned a lot. In addition, in False Witness, we saw her as an idealistic and persistent law student. Given her intriguing backstory and motivation for going to law school (her mother was killed in a home invasion and Jamie wanted to become a prosecutor), I thought it would be fun to follow her as she matured into a tenacious but conflicted prosecutor.

4. Jamie takes a pretty hard stance against plea bargaining. How rampant is plea bargaining in the legal system and is it necessary?

Most people don’t realize that about 90% of the criminal cases in our country are disposed of by plea bargains. A plea bargain is when the defendant pleads guilty to a crime, frequently in exchange for a lighter penalty.

This book asks the question: What if the defendants in a certain jurisdiction banded together and decided not to plea bargain, insisting on a full jury trial for every case? It would overwhelm the system. There wouldn’t be enough prosecutors or public defenders or available court dates. Even the defendants who lost would be able to claim ineffective assistance of counsel or the lack of a speedy trial on appeal. The system would be thrown into chaos.

That’s what happens in The Last Plea Bargain. Jamie Brock is staring down defendants who have found a way to wreak havoc with the system. Who is willing to compromise? Who will blink first?

5. While plea bargaining is part of the overall plot, at the heart of the book are the issues of justice and mercy. How does Jamie learn to balance those two?

Justice without mercy is legalism. Mercy without justice is license. Only when we realize the need for justice tempered with mercy do we have a fair and equitable result.

It takes courage to pursue justice. You have to stare evil in the face and demand accountability. It is easier to let evil have its day. So, if we cling only to mercy, then there is nothing to stop the advance of true evil. We live in a constant state of spiritual warfare. And God is a God of justice. We should be irate at injustice in the world and willing to risk our own lives to stop it.

But passionately seeking justice is just one step away from vengeance. And Scripture tells us not to take revenge into our own hands. Romans 12:19. Instead, we should leave room for God’s wrath, not trying to overcome evil with evil but overcoming evil with good. Romans 12:20-21.

How do we draw this line? I believe a lot of it has to do with motivation. Are we mad because somebody hurt us or disrespected us? Chances are, that’s vengeance. On the other hand, are we striving for justice for others, or devoting ourselves to a just cause? Chances are, that’s seeking justice.

6. What do you hope readers walk away with after reading this book?

First, I want readers to be entertained. If the story isn’t compelling, nothing else matters. So my primary goal is that readers will find it impossible to put the book down and, when they turn the last page, shoot me an email asking how long it will be until I finish another.

Second, I want to present readers, in the context of story, with compelling characters on both sides of the death penalty debate, so that readers might draw their own conclusions. And third, I want readers to walk with my characters down that thin line that separates the lust for revenge from the hunger for justice. And…hopefully, to learn which side of the line they might be walking on.

  1. Okay, Randy, what’s next?

I’m working on my next book tentatively entitled Rule of Law. It will come out next spring. It’s the story of another flawed protagonist. He is a former college quarterback who got caught up in a point-shaving scandal, served time in prison, and then went to law school and became a lawyer. He finally gets his first job but ends up at a firm where somebody is killing off all the firm’s lawyers, one-by-one (even lawyers who try to leave the firm). It’s a story about loyalty and trust, honor and betrayal.

At the same time, I’m working on a longer-term project (one that’s been on my desk for a long time) which will give readers a front-row seat to the two most important trials ever—the trial of Christ and the trial of Paul in front of Nero. The story is told from the perspective of Theophilus, Paul’s court-appointed advocate, and may be the most important book I’ve ever attempted.

Now for the really fun part!  Tyndale Publishing House has authorized a giveaway!  The prize: a certificate valid for one copy of The Last Plea Bargain AND a signed book plate from Randy.  The certificate can be redeemed at the winner’s local Christian bookstore (US only) or through Tyndale (if there is no local store). Giveaway will end at 9:01pm PDT on 4/18/12 (that’s 12:01 Am EDT 4/19)



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***I received a complimentary advanced readers copy (ARC) of this book from Tyndale House Publishers.

4/6/12

TOS Review: Write with WORLD

Over the last several weeks Turtlegirl, Tailorbear, and I have been working through a new writing program from the publishers of WORLD MagazineWrite with WORLD targets middle school students (approximately grades 5-8). 

I wanted to try Write with WORLD because it concentrates on “developing young writers who can think and express their thoughts through writing.” Though Turtlegirl is 9th grade and slightly outside the suggested age range, I think she is benefiting from the different angle that this curriculum uses. There is a strong emphasis on critical thinking and discernment. I encourage you to read the Intro to the Teacher’s Book.  The introduction details an overview of the program and lists several distinctives.  You can view a sample lesson as well. The Full Year Curriculum includes online access in addition to the Teacher Textbook and Student book.  This is a two year program.  We reviewed Year One which retails for $95.00. For purchasing options including a Year One and Year Two combo click here.

writeworld coverI received  the pilot version which included a Teacher Book as well as Student Book. The online website was not yet available at the time of this review. There are 4 Units and each unit is divided into 4 lessons.  Each lesson is divided into four “capsules”.  I like this division.  The capsules are bite sizes pieces appropriate for one day’s assignment.  For those on the younger side of the age range it seems a good pace.  For those on the older side, it would be easy to double up on some capsules to either move at a faster pace or allow more time for another elective in the school day.

I like the incremental approach of the capsules.  Assignments in the Conversations: Your Writer’s Journal Section (CWJ) build on each other throughout the lesson.  For example in one of the lessons in Unit 1 the students learn how to build a strong sentence. Each capsule focused on a different aspect.  In one capsule the student made a list of ten descriptive nouns to describe herself.  In another she made a list of ten strong active verbs.  In the last capsule she had to pick the best words to write a sentence to describe herself.  Turtlegirl wrote:  “A 14 year old scholar quietly dreams of the day she becomes a scientist.”

Thoughts from Tailorbear (age 13, grade 7):I don’t really like writing.  I did like the lesson about paragraph writing because it taught you how to write a paragraph.  It told you what made a good paragraph and what made a bad paragraph.  It taught me how to evaluate paragraphs.  I didn’t like the first lesson which was about advertisements. I didn’t like the assignment to look for brands around the house. I thought it was dumb.  I’m glad the other lessons haven’t been like the first one.  I still don’t like writing but this program is teaching me things like writing a paragraph.”

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Thoughts from Turtlegirl (age 14 1/2, grade 9):”It’s ok. I already to know how to do sentences and paragraphs but they did have some ideas on to discern a good paragraph from a bad one. Some of the discussions the program sparked were very interesting.  For instance Tailorbear and my mom discussed how one paragraph might be better with a few changes.  I like the fact that they talk about thinking before you write.  I’m learning that less is more meaning using one strong adjective instead of a couple weak ones.

Over the last few weeks with using this program, I’ve noticed that Turtlegirl has become more choosy with her adjectives and adverbs and consequently her sentences, though shorter are far stronger than before.

Turtlegirl has a natural affinity for writing.  This program seems to speak her language.  She grasps it.  She understands it.  She’s becoming a better writer. Tailorbear and I do not share that same affinity and we seem to speak a different language.  It is harder for me to always grasp the purpose of the lesson.  Tailorbear is learning.  She is getting something from these exercises but she also doesn’t instinctively get the point the way Turtlegirl does.

My Thoughts: Though the approach doesn’t match my learning style I really like the bite size pieces of the capsules.  I like the theory of the approach and I love how well this seems to suit Turtlegirl.  I’m not sure how well this would work for a parent/teacher who does not have the confidence nor the experience to teach writing.  I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly is missing but I can’t help feeling that I am missing a step in the process.  The writers and contributors are all professionals. I think sometimes the program leaves out tiny bits that more natural writers or more experienced writers do not need but  for those of us who struggle to write meaningful sentences we can be left scratching our heads.  For example in the lesson I referenced above, on the day the student learns about choosing adverbs, Write with WORLD instructs her to “insert the best adverbs into her sentence.”  Huh?  What sentence. This was particularly bothersome for Tailorbear but didn’t seem to bother Turtlegirl. This is the pilot program and the actual program will be released this summer so perhaps some of these little details will have been resolved.

Final Thoughts: There is enough about the program that I like and I love the results that I am seeing to motivate me to finish the program.  We’re wrapping up Unit 1 this week and after our spring break we’ll come back and pick up with Unit 2.

Click on the banner below to read what my fellow crew mates had to say about Write with WORLD.PhotobucketAll information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

Disclaimer: As a TOS Crew member, I received the pilot version of Write with WORLD free of charge to review. I am required to write a review but I am not required to write a positive review. This review contains my and/or my daughters’ honest opinion with, hopefully, enough detail as to why I/ we liked or did not like a product so that my readers can make an informed decision. I received no compensation.

4/4/12

Great Lent: F is for Fasting and Feasting

This is the last week of Lent.  I haven’t been as diligent about posting about Great Lent and this week I’ve struggled with finding an F topic for Blogging through the Alphabet.  I tried writing a post about Orthodox Fasting and Orthodox Feasting but I just couldn’t seem to get where I wanted to go with the idea.

This morning I found this on Facebook on the All Merciful Savior Orthodox Christian Monastery Page:Abbot Tryphon says it so much better than I could! You can read his blog The Morning Offering and if you scroll to April 2nd you'll find the full post for the following suggestions

Fasting Suggestions

FAST from self-concern and FEAST on compassion for others.
FAST from discouragement and FEAST on hope.
... FAST from lethargy and FEAST on enthusiasm.
FAST from suspicion and FEAST on truth.
FAST from thoughts that weaken and FEAST on promises that inspire.
FAST from shadows of sorrow and FEAST on the sunlight of serenity.
FAST from idle gossip and FEAST on purposeful silence.
FAST from problems that overwhelm you and FEAST on prayer that sustains.
FAST from criticism and FEAST on praise.
FAST from self-pity and FEAST on joy.
FAST from ill-temper and FEAST on peace.
FAST from resentment and FEAST on contentment.
FAST from jealousy and FEAST on love.
FAST from pride and FEAST on humility.
FAST from selfishness and FEAST on service.

When I think of fasting and feasting I tend to think about food.  This is the last week of Lent but it isn’t the last week of the fast.  As we approach Holy Week in the Orthodox church my mind leaps ahead to the feasting we’ll do on Pascha and during Bright Week.  When I served “fake meat” tacos earlier this week, one of the children said “You know what I want during Bright Week?  Tacos.  With REAL meat.”  

But the preparation of the greatest Feast in the Church is about so much more than food.  It’s about repenting from our sinful ways and turning back to God.  It’s about learning how to develop self-discipline or as a friend has quoted “taming our inner toddler” (I just love that phrase!)

I needed to read Abbot Tryphon’s words to remind me of the true meaning and purpose of fasting and I needed the suggestions for feasting. 

This post is linked up to A House Upon A Rock’s  40 days of Seeking Him and also linked up to Blogging Through the Alphabet at Ben and Me.

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4/1/12

A Novel idea: Bringing History to Life

Blog Cruise Button

I had never heard of home schooling until August of 1996.  A friend of mine mentioned in passing that she home educated her children.  What?!  Why?  How?  So the seed was planted.

In April of 1998 I attended my first little home school curriculum fair.  The local home school group moms each brought her favorite curriculum to share.  One mom talked about Learning Language Arts through Literature and another mom mentioned something about a book based curriculum called Sonlight. 

It wouldn’t be until January 1999 that I really explored Sonlight.  I had looked at several other programs and I just wasn’t happy with them.  BORING textbooks and workbooks with silly things like “color the raincoat yellow because God made rain” (that’s science??!!!!).

I devoured the 1998 catalog and put in my request for the 1999 Catalog which was released in April.  In the meantime, I had baby number 4.   My oldest was about to turn 4 and I was ready to try some formal preschool/k stuff with her.

I fell in love with Sonlight.   I knew that I wanted to use a literature based approach to teaching history.  I wanted to read great books to my young daughters and introduce them to world around them.  I wanted them to think critically about they are learning.  I wanted to expose them to topics and ideas when they were ready and explore them to the depths of their interest.

Marcy, our fabulous TOS Crew Blog Cruise director, asks this week what are our favorite history resources.  My favorite history resource is the Sonlight Catalog.  So many great books to use to bring history alive.  Some are historical fiction, some are biographies.  

A few weeks ago the Blog Cruise asked what our favorite science resources are and I mentioned the library.  I know we’re talking about history this time but I can’t help but mention the library as a great FREE resource to find historical fiction and biographies to bring history alive.

History was NOT my favorite subject in school.  It was boring.  I had to memorize long lists of dates and try to keep a list of dead people’s names straight.  Then as a young adult I stumbled across a historical book.  It was about Katherine, the wife of Henry V, mother of Henry VI and grandmother of Henry VII.  (and yes I know Henry VII is Henry Tudor and he was NOT the son of Henry VI nor the grandson of Henry V.   Katherine married a Tudor after Henry V died but that is a topic for another blog post <grin>)

My whole family loves history. Why? Because we love to read and reading all those great books that Sonlght introduced us to caused us to realize that history is about real people.  It’s not just a list of dates and dead people.  They loved. They laughed.  They fought.  They lived.

I can’t imagine teaching history without using historical fiction.   What is your favorite history resource?

You can read about the favorite history resource of other crew mates when the link goes live April 3rd.  In the meantime you can read past Blog Cruise topics on the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.