Random Five ~ October 24th Edition

October is winding down.  Next Friday is the 31st!

1. The Schoolhouse Review Crew is taking applications for the 2015 crew year.  Hurry though because the applications are scheduled to close on Monday!


2. As the 2014 Crew year winds down I realized that I only have a few more reviews to write. This is bittersweet.  Bitter because it’s the end of the year and sweet because I’ve been on the crew long enough to really appreciate the break. (Yes, I’ve submitted my re-application for the 2015 year. I’ll be ready to tackle reviews again after the holidays but I am looking forward to the break between crew runs!) My very last review of the 2014 year is a game from Out of the Box Games called Snake Oil. Warning this game can be dangerous to health: we have laughed so hard that it hurt!!!  Here is a laughing Turtlegirl. I was laughing so hard I almost couldn’t get the picture! She doesn’t like the picture but I think it truly captures how hard we have laughed. I have her permission to share it.

Turtlegirl laughing so hard ~ Random 5 October 24th Edition

3. I’m challenging myself to NOT turn on the furnace for as long as I can. I’m striving to make it to at least November 1st. We have a gas fireplace and I have broken down and turned that on a twice this week but for the most part we’re pulling on socks and sweaters and using fleece throws.  Oh and drinking hot beverages.  I’d rather be cold than hot but sometimes the cold here just cuts through all the way to the bone. It’s a wet cold which is so different than the dry cold I grew up with in MN.  But I like bundling up and getting all cozy.

4. We’ve had a woodpecker visiting our backyard for several days. He’s beautiful, but drives the cats crazy. He likes to get up on the roof right by the back door. Sometimes he’ll fly from the roof to the tree. Turtlegirl got this great picture of him.

Woodpecker visiting our backyard ~ 5 Random Thoughts October 24th

5. Tailorbear loves the rain.  She also loves the wind so she is especially happy when she can go outside and experience both rain and wind. She doesn’t so much like having her picture taken but we got one anyway.

Tailorbear loves the wind and the rain ~ Random Five October 24th

The Pebble Pond

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Middlebury Languages ~ High School French {Crew Review}

Family rumor has it that my great-grandfather spoke French. He emigrated to the US from a French speaking country so that makes sense to me. Another rumor says that he may have taught me a bit of French when I was very little. Though I remember him vaguely, I do not remember any of our conversations, but years later I fell in love with the French language and took a year in high school and a year in college. Turtlegirl has inherited my love of French and has been wanting to learn it for years. 

We begged for the opportunity to review one of the High School French Courses from Middlebury Interactive Languages. Courses are sold by semester and you can choose from no teacher or with teacher. We on the crew received one semester of our choice with no teacher.

Middlebury Interactive Languages review at Circling Through This Life

Since Turtlegirl used this program I’m going to let her share about the program and tell you how it works from her perspective.

Turtlegirl’s Student Perspective

[Begin Turtlegirl] So, on an average day, I log in, go to the Table of Contents. Then I go to where I left off. (OK, OK. I cheat. I check my logbook to see what the last lesson I completed was.) The first lesson in a unit (which contains 5 lessons) has a vocabulary overview of all the vocabulary that will be covered in the unit.

Then, there are 'sets' of vocabulary. A lesson may contain 1-2 sets of vocabulary. The activities for the sets are 'Warm-up', 'Matching', and 'Speaking Lab'. 'Warm-up' introduces the chunk of vocabulary for the set. It allows you to listen to the word or phrase, and display the meaning/translation. (I like to write it all down in my notebook.) 'Matching' is just what it sounds like. You match up the French word with a picture of its translation.

'Speaking Lab' involves a microphone. You listen to the phrase, and then you are expected to record yourself saying the phrase. Personally, I hate the Speaking Lab because for me, it's really hard. On the other hand, it's my favorite part because I get to practice actually speaking the language. My reading comprehension is higher than my listening comprehension, and the Speaking Lab helps me work on that.

Speaking Labs help students learn to correctly pronounce the lanuage ~ Chek out Middlebury HS French review at Circling Through This Life

After the 'Sets' in the first lesson, there is a 'Synthesis: Listening and Reading' or two. This involves listening to a conversation in French, and filling in the blanks with what the person said. As I said above, my reading comprehension is higher than my speaking comprehension, so this is really helpful.

 Afterwards, there is 'Pronunciation Practice'. They usually come in pairs.

The second lesson is longer, and while it introduces more vocabulary, it also introduces the grammar concepts that are going to be covered in the unit. In addition, it involves practicing the vocabulary, etc. that have been introduced.

The third lesson introduces still more vocabulary, but also involves practice, tips, and, usually, a pop quiz. The fourth lesson is much like the third, except that it does not introduce any more vocabulary. It also has a 'Culture' section, which tells you more about French Culture, such as diet and dialects, usually tying in with the vocabulary for the unit.

The fifth lesson is the unit test, sometimes along with 'Journal Assignment(s)'. These can be in either French or English. The Unit test usually involves both listening to a conversation in French and answering comprehension questions about it, and reading a paragraph and answering comprehension questions. There are also vocabulary questions. These usually involve selecting the correct vocabulary word in its correct form for the context of the sentence. All of the questions are multiple choice. 

On a whole, I have very much enjoyed learning with this French Course, and look forward to completing it. I highly recommend this program because of its comprehensive approach to the language. [End Turtlegirl]

HS French from Middlebury ~ read the review at Circling Through This Life

The Calendar, Home Page and Accessing Lessons

I really wish that the “no teacher” option at least included a separate parent account or at least allowed the student to adjust the calendar. We bypassed the home page and the calendar and accessed the lessons through the Table of Contents. It would be lovely if we could adjust the calendar to reflect our school days. As is the calendar shows an assignment for every single week day minus federal holidays and it started assigning lessons before we even had access to the program. It would be nice if the home page accurately listed her next assignment but it does not seem to keep up with with what she has completed so we found the best way to access the lessons is through the Table of Contents.

{Breaking News!} By clicking through each lesson I was able to get the home page to accurately reflect her current lesson so that she can go to her current lesson through the home page rather than the table of contents. It would still be nice however to be able to adjust the calendar so that it doesn’t look like she is behind.  She’s not behind based on our school calendar.

From a Parent/Teacher Perspective

Though I don’t like not being able to adjust the calendar, I do like that I can go in and click on the grading tab then click on “awaiting grade.”  I presume that these assignments would be graded by the Middlebury teacher if you choose “with teacher” as your option. Rubrics for grading are included so I can check my daughter’s submitted work and assign my own grade. I cannot input these grades into the French course but I can log them in my own record keeping system allowing me to assign her a grade. I can also look at what has been automatically graded.  Not all of the assignments show up here but quizzes, tests, and journal like activities do.

It is easy to look through the Table of Contents to see if my daughter has completed a lesson and I can open the lesson to see a score for daily assignments.  We do not have separate parent/student accounts.  There is only the one account, but because I can access it, I can provide accountability to my daughter who is working independently and at the same time I do not have to be the one doing the teaching.

The program is thorough and includes written and spoken language instruction as well as cultural and geographical information. Review is included in the program and lots of tips are sprinkled throughout the lessons. Both Turtlegirl and I really like the program and recommend it to other homeschoolers looking for a high school language program.

In addition to High School French, Middlebury offers other grade levels and language choices. If you’re looking for German, French, Spanish, or Chinese you’ll want to check out Middlebury.

Middlebury offers interactive language instruction from grades K though 12

The Details:

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about Middlebury Interactive Languages.  

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Standard Deviants Accelerate {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

With two students in high school, I am always looking for easy to use computer based programs to help me teach. Both Turtlegirl and Tailorbear are studying health and nutrition this year so I was excited to see the list of homeschool subjects offered from Standard Deviants Accelerate. Nutrition is one of the many Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses that we chose.

Standard Deviants Accelerate ~ Review by Tess at Circling Through This Life

Standard Deviants Accelerate (SDA) generously provided us with access to all the subjects they offer! So in addition to Nutrition, I also set up several other subjects.  Tailorbear worked through some of the SDA Chemistry as a supplement to finish up her Integrated Physics and Chemistry course.  She then switched to using SDA Biology to supplement her current Biology course. We’re also looking at supplementing her American History course with the SDA U.S. History subject.

In addition to their Core Curriculum Subjects SDA also offers AP Subjects to prepare for the AP Exams. We did not use any of the AP classes yet but I am considering adding some such as Chemistry and Government to Turtlegirl’s schedule.

How SDA Works

Each of the core curriculum subjects that we explored used the same basic format or layout.  Each subject is broken into chapters and the chapters are divided into topics. I assigned one topic per lesson. The topics have 4 to 5 activities.

Student View Showing Chapters and Topics ~ Standard Deviants Accelerate ~ Review at Circling Through This Life

The first tab is the main lesson. This is the video that presents the topic information. Students watch the video but are encouraged to read along with the transcript.  I like having the transcript. The videos are not just boring lectures. It’s not just a person presenting the facts. There are little skits and characters.  My daughters and I don’t care for the silliness of the skits such as the fortune teller who introduces the vocabulary for the topic in Biology but overall the videos are informative and help with retention.

Teacher View of Video showing all the tabs ~ Standard Deviant Accelerate ~ Review at Circling Through This Life

The second tab is vocabulary. This is interactive. You can read the vocabulary yourself or add a layer to help with retention by listening to the word and it’s definition. This is fabulous for students who learn best by hearing. For those who might be distracted by the audio, they can skip it. I think it is best to use both the audio (listening) and visual (reading) to learn the vocabulary.

Most (but certainly not all) of the topics include a Diagram tab. The program keeps track of how many tries it takes to accurately complete the diagram. In this case the lower the score the better. I think the diagrams are my favorite activity.

Chemistry Diagram from Standard Deviant Accelerate ~ review at Cicling Through This Life

The next tab is Quiz. All that I have seen are multiple choice. If you answer wrong, you’ll have the opportunity to watch a clip that explains the correct answer. The final tab is labeled Written Answer.

Standard Deviants Accelerate ~ Review at Circling Through This Life ~ If you get an answer wrong you can watch a video clip.

Our Experience

The Nutrition course is listed for grades 6+. As I am using this as a supplement, I am ok with the fact that it is not geared specifically for high school. Again with Biology, it is listed as for grades 7+ but since it is a supplement I think it is ok to use with my 15 year old who is studying high school biology. Chemistry (grades 9+) is spot on for my daughter as a resource and supplement for high school chemistry.

This does appear to be designed with a classroom in mind so some adaptation for the home school will be necessary.  Each Chapter has a group activity.  We just skipped those.

SDA Teacher HOME View ~ Review of Standard Deviants Accelerate at Circling Through This Life

I received a Parent/Teacher account with the ability to add each of my children. Through my account I can add create classes, grade written work, which has rubrics included, check the progress and auto graded work for each student in each class. I can even view all of the materials for each subject that I have set up. The parent account allows the girls to work more independently while giving me the opportunity to still keep them accountable.

Thoughts from Tailorbear:

Personally, I disliked the video format. Although some bits were “cute” and clever, I disliked much of it. However these videos are packed with simple information. One of the things I really liked about the program was the questions.  I particularly liked the post-test found in the Chapter Review sections.

Thoughts from Turtlegirl:

I don’t dislike the program but I am a more serious person and I take a more serious approach to my education. I would have preferred less of the silly skits. I don't like how informal it is. With that being said, this is a great introductory tool for nutrition. I think it does an excellent job of introducing the basics of the ins and outs of nutrition.

Though we didn’t care for the style of the video presentations, overall we do like the program. I think this program is working very well for Tailorbear as a supplement for Biology and for both girls as an introduction and supplement to our health and nutrition course. Right now (through November 15th) home school families can get six months of Standard Deviants Accelerate for FREE.  You do need to fill out the contact form and you must sign up before November 15th.

The Details:

  • The Vendor:  Standard Deviants Accelerate
  • The Product: Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses 
  • Format: Online Courses
  • Age Range: SDA offers courses from grades 3 to 11+  The Nutrition Course is Grade 6+, Biology is Grade 7+ and Chemistry is grade 9+
  • Price:  Core Curriculum Subjects are $24.95 per month or $99 per year per student.  AP Subjects are $14.95 per month per student.
  • Also Available: See this chart to all available subjects 
  • NOTE:  Available until NOVEMBER 15th!  Homeschoolers can get access to all 14 subjects for 6 Months FREE.  Includes one parent account and up to 4 students. You must sign up by November 15th. 

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about Standard Deviants Accelerate.  

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


Random 5 on Friday ~ October 17th Edition

Yes it really is over half way through October already! I started this two weeks ago! I am overdue for a Random 5 post!

1.  The last time we were at Costco (two weeks ago!) as we loaded up the van at Costco, I noticed that the leaves on the trees were starting to change color. The one thing I truly miss about fall is the gorgeous display of deciduous trees.  Oh it’s not that we don’t have them around here; it’s just that we have an over abundance of evergreen trees.  Especially in my yard.

Random 5 October 17th Edition ~ Missing the colors of Fall

2. Speaking of Costco the cashier was a very friendly, chatty young man.  We were discussing driver’s licenses and cars and he mentioned giving up his car for lent! I thought that was so cool. The young man who boxed up our stuff was also friendly and chatty.  It made for a pleasant end to a long shopping trip.

3. We have joined the 21st Century. I now have a smart phone. It’s a cheap smartphone but now I have unlimited text (I had such limited texting on my “dumb” phone that I pretty much didn’t use it.) and data.  We got four phones and will be paying only $7 more per month for 4 phones with unlimited text, data and voice than we were paying for 3 “dumb” phones on a zero data, limited voice and limited text plan.

4. I finally made it up to a Russian Bazaar that I had wanted to attend for years.  A friend drove and three of us headed up for Divine Liturgy followed by a lunch of Russian food.  I picked up a Christmas gift for Tailorbear and I picked up some nuts for all of us. I am rationing the Curry Cashews and hoarding the Cinnamon Spice Pecans so that we have them as part of our “relish”  tray for Thanksgiving. 

Random Thoughts from Tess October 17th Edition Circling Through This Life

5. I have some some awesome e-maginary friends from the internet. Earlier this week one of them sent me a package a goodies from Canada. She included a post card (not shown in photo) and one of my favorites from my days of living in England: Smarties!

Treats from North of the Border Random Thoughts from Tess

The Pebble Pond

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X is for X-mas (Or Why X-Mas does mean Christmas)

It’s only October.  We still have to get through Halloween, my anniversary, and Thanksgiving before we even get to December.  So why am I writing about X-mas?  Because this week’s letter over at Ben and Me’s ABC Blogging is X. 

I admit I was stumped.  Yes I could use a word like exciting or exhausted and focus on the x part of the word but I wanted to see if I could actually find a word in the dictionary from the x-section.  Did you know that the x-section is barely two pages? I came across X-mas.  Did you know it was in the dictionary?  I don’t think I’ve really thought about it but I guess it makes sense.

X is for Xmas ~ does using an X instead of Christ really remove Christ from Christmas?

Let’s look at the dictionary definition: “n. Christmas.”

Ok so X-mas means Christmas according to the dictionary.  It certainly has been widely used in December as a replacement for the word Christmas.

I know many people, wonderful Christian people, who refuse to use x-mas and prefer to write out Christmas each and every time. It seems as though these good people are afraid of taking Christ out of Christmas (have you seen how secular the holiday has become with all the emphasis on sales merchandise for all your gift giving needs? It seems that it doesn’t matter if we use Christ or X in front of mas there’s a real possibility that Christ may already be missing but that is another topic).  But does using an X instead of Christ really remove Christ from Christmas?

No. Not at all.  Even the dictionary confirms this:

“X, the Greek letter Chi, first letter of Gk. Khristos, Christ.”

The American Heritage High School Dictionary Fourth Edition even has a foot note about usage.

Xmas has been in use for hundreds of years in religious writings where the X represents a Greek Chi, the first letter of [Greek Letters I can’t type] Khristos, “Christ” in this use it is parallel to other forms like Xtian “Christian.” But people unaware of the Greek origin of this X often mistakenly interpret Xmas as an informal shortening pronounced (eksmas). Many therefor frown upon the term Xmas because it seems to them a commercial convenience that omits Christ from Christmas.

Did you catch this part, “mistakenly interpret Xmas as an informal shortening pronounced (eksmas)?”  If you see it written as Xmas or X-mas (the dictionary uses both ways) go ahead and pronounce it as Christmas because that is indeed what it means.

Years and years ago I was highly offended when I would see Christmas written as X-mas. I was one of those who mistakenly thought it was a way to secularize the holiday and take Christ out Christmas. Now, I just laugh when I see people who do want to take Christ out of Christmas and think they have succeeded.  I laugh because I find the irony hilarious. Sometimes I am not sure I want to correct them.  (Does that make me a bad person?)

I know it seems a little early to be discussing Christmas before Halloween.  I try to put off thinking about the Nativity until at least November 15 when the Nativity fast begins but I couldn’t resist the topic for my X post this week.

Blogging Through the Alphabet

Check out this week’s letter!


Essay Rock Star Persuasive Essay Writing Course ~ A Schoolhouse Crew Review

I love math. I’ve found some great tools for helping me teach math. I don’t love writing. Yes, I see the irony in that statement. She has a blog, she writes reviews, but she doesn’t love writing? I like teaching writing even less than I like formal academic writing. Maybe it’s because I lack confidence in my own ability to write or maybe it’s just that formal writing is much more intimidating than informal writing for fun. I want my daughters to be able to communicate their thoughts in writing. I want them to be prepared for college writing. I know they need to be able to write formal academic papers if for no other reason than they need that skill for college.

Fortuigence: Writing Essay Rockstar~ A Review by Tess at Circling Through This Life

Fortuigence, founded by Lily Iatridis, offers online writing courses that prep students for high school and college writing. Ms. Iatridis is a former classroom teacher with a heart for homeschoolers.  Fortuigence currently offers a FREE course for parents, Top Reach, as well as full 1/2 credit course for high school students, Essay Rock Star.

The Schoolhouse Review Crew could choose from any of the four short courses that are part of Essay Rock Star. I let Turtlegirl choose which one interested her the most. She chose Essay Rock Star Persuasive Essay Writing Course. I think they all look interesting: Personal Statement, Expository Essay, and Textual Analysis.

The goal of each course is to teach mastery of skills. These skills are taught in 5 steps through 7 Lessons.  These lessons move at the pace of the student so length of course will vary from student to student but many students will finish in about 4 weeks or 1/2 of a quarter. 

Since Turtlegirl took the course (and completed it!), I asked her to write up a description of the program and how it works.  She also shared her opinion.


Begin Turtlegirl’s Words:


Rock Star Essay Online Course utilizes a virtual classroom, comprised of two parts. The first part is the lesson itself. It includes a video, along with explanations and examples of what's being covered. For example, there are examples of a completed free draft in the free draft lesson (Note: you have to click on a link that will take you to another page that has the example. The example, as well as the outlines, are available as a pdf download for the students to have on their computer for future writing projects.) 

Students learn to brainstorm in one of the first lessons ~ Fortuigence Persuasive Essay Course Review at Circling Through This Life

How it Works:

First, I would log in and click on ‘classroom’. Then I would watch the short video which summarized the lesson. Then I would actually read through the lesson. When I came across an example, or template, I would save it to my ‘Rock Star Journal’ for use with later writing projects. After I looked at the examples, I would do work on the project part. I would write it out on my computer in my document writer program and then I would copy/paste it into the allotted space in the ‘submit assignment’ area. If I had the right document type, I could’ve simply uploaded the document. In order for the assignment to be sent to the teacher for feedback, I had to check the box marked ‘Finish’ and click Save/Submit.

I could not move on until the teacher had looked over my work, determined if and what I needed to work on before moving on, and then send me an email. Most of the time, I was simply told ‘Good job!’ and then some specific details on what I had done well. Then I was told ‘Go ahead and move on to the next lesson’. Another time, I was told “You’re doing really well, but you need to flesh out your main points’. I could not move on until I had worked on fleshing out my main points, and then submitting that ‘edited’ assignment. After I submitted it again, I had to wait for another email telling me that I had done the work to the teacher’s satisfaction. Then the teacher would tell me ‘OK, now you can move on.’


One of my biggest weaknesses is confidence. The method of feedback my instructor used did a lot to boost my confidence. Before I was told what I needed to fix, or change, I was told what I did well. And that was very important and helpful for me.

I also learned a better method for writing papers. Before, I thought I had to do the paragraphs in order. This course taught me that the paper turned out better and stronger when I did the body paragraphs before the introduction and conclusion. 

End Turtlegirl’s Words


Tess’s Thoughts:

 Turtlegirl was this close to mastering persuasive essay writing.  She was able to obtain mastery with this course. She and I are both confident that she can write well. We’ll be taking those skills she has learned and applying them to other essay types. I love that she gained so much confidence in her own writing ability.

Students work independently at their own pace and skill level with Fortuigence short Essay writing Courses ~ Review at Circling Through This Life

The Details:

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about Essay Rock Star Writing Courses from Fortuigence.


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.


Wrestling with my {reading } Self-Image

Sometimes I feel afraid to admit, even to myself, what I like to read. It’s my pride I think. Pride is the sin I struggle with  the most. So back to what I like, I evaluate what I like and wonder if it’s good enough, smart enough, or whatever and then I become fearful that I’m trying to like something to please someone else or worse that I’m becoming pretentious.

I also wrestle with these kinds of thoughts: “if I admit that I like reading mystery fluff like what Mary Daheim and Donna Andrews writes, does that mean I am less intelligent?” or “Do I want to read Three Musketeers or Les Mis because I think it will make me feel more intelligent?”

Wresting with my {reading} Self-Image what should I read Why should I read

I wrestle with ideas like “do I like Shakespeare because I like Shakespeare or because I think that liking Shakespeare makes me look smarter or more intelligent?”  (I like Shakespeare because I like Shakespeare, but I like that I feel smarter because I like Shakespeare.)

I wrestle with being honest and true to myself and fighting the idea that somehow my value or worth as a person is tied into whether or not I am reading the right, impressive books. I know in my head that my value and worth has nothing to do with what I choose to read.  Signing up for Goodreads and actually listing books in my Want to Read and marking books as read has really helped me to realize that it is ok to be eclectic with what I read.  It’s ok to choose a wide variety of books from different genres.  It’s ok to like fluff and ok to like more serious literature.  I don’t have to choose one or the other.  I can choose both and that doesn’t mean anything other than I like to read and I do like to read.  I just had to make more time for reading and let go of the idea that I had to read certain types of books. I can read what I want. 

Currently I am actively reading 3 books: One on my NOOK, one on my Kindle and one real book with a hardcover. Each of those books are different and I know that I am reading them because I want to read them and not for any other reason. Do you like to read?  Do you wrestle with the idea that you should read a certain kind of book? 

Blogging Through the Alphabet

Check out this week’s letter!