Saturday, August 30, 2014

ApParent Project Christmas Ornaments

They are here!  Instead of shopping Hallmark or Walmart for ornaments this year, how about making your purchase count?  We are partnering once again with The ApParent Project  to sell their ornaments made from upcycled oil drums.  They feature their signature paper bead - from upcycled cereal boxes.  In addition to improving the Haitian landscape, the artisans are bringing new hope to their families, employing themselves for a brighter future and earning the means to pay for their children's food, shelter, and education. That means less orphans, less crime, less garbage, less stress, and a whole lot more beauty.  Buying from your local mall can't top that!

HAND-MADE by Haitian Artisans
Handcrafted using paper beads, metal from old oil drums.
No two items are exactly alike! They are similar, but unique.
Ornaments are $10 each and include the cost of postage.  Use the Paypal button on the right side border, and please be sure to note which ornament(s) you would like.  Also specify a second choice just in case your first is sold out.  Thanks!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Van Stalking Results in Attending Chinese Church!

Let me start out with the disclaimer that I am NOT normally a stalker... yesterday was an exception.

Here is the scoop: I remember our first trip to China and how I CRAVED hearing the English language by the time we got home.  I believe this has made me more sensitive to how our dear son could be feeling right about now.  He is progressing so well with his English.  He has worked through the first two levels of Rosetta Stone English this summer, and I'm very proud of his accomplishment.  But Chinese is his first language.  It seems to me that he must crave the familiar at least from time to time.

So as I was out and about town yesterday I found myself following a big, white van.  But this was no ordinary white van.  It had red writing on it that said, "Cincinnati Chinese Church."  Whaaaaaa?  We have a Chinese church?

As I contemplated possibly following this vehicle to its destination, I decided to not be, well...a stalker.  It turned left as I turned right.  I decided if I happened to be anywhere near where it eventually parked I WAS going to get some information from the driver. Imagine my surprise when we BOTH approached the Target parking lot - from opposite directions!

The driver got out of his van, I got out of my van, and I walked FAST to catch up with him and get his attention.  By the time I caught up with him, his wife had caught up with both of us.  They were a charming couple who gladly gave me the address and directions to their church, along with details about when to show up for the services.

I was so excited to get there this morning so our sweet boy could hear the sermon in his first  language!  And guess what we parked next to?   THE van!

The church had an awesome set up.  The songs, announcements and preaching were entirely in Mandarin Chinese, but they offered Ethan, Tikvah and me little FM radios with ear buds.  Someone (we never did spot who) translated everything and transmitted it over a low power frequency to our radios.

There is just something about a room full of people singing praise songs in Mandarin.  I could listen to it for a V-E-R-Y long time.  And thanks to the translator (whom we hope to spot and actually SAY "thanks" to the next time) we enjoyed a good sermon too.  But best of all, Isaac got to REALLY understand the sermon this morning!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Puzzle Fundraiser

The progress on our paperwork has been amazing!  I hand delivered all of the required documents for our homestudy to our social worker on Friday.  Now we just wait for references and clearances to get  to her, and for our home visit which is scheduled for September 2.  Even more amazing is that we are getting really close to having our dossier paperwork complete too!

Having things progress so quickly is AWESOME, but we do have the challenge of raising some funds pretty quickly now also.  We will soon need to pay our agency to certify, authenticate, and send our dossier to China. So we've kicked off a fundraiser to help with this project.  Our puzzle for Pat is pretty awesome in that it actually has photos of us together!

We'll write your name on the back of your sponsored piece(s) then frame the puzzle in double glass when it is complete.  Pieces are sponsored $10 each.  Our other two adoptions had similar fundraisers at about this same step, and we love looking at the back and remembering those who helped us along the way. There is a Paypal button in the right border to make it easy.  Thank you so much for standing with us once again!

Puzzle in progress:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Do you remember Pat?

As many of you know, in July we attended a reunion (in a nearby state) for children adopted from the orphanage where our Little Princesses grew up.  It was really great getting to meet online friends in person and for our daughters to reconnect with some of their friends.

Also at this picnic were children who are still orphans but were brought to the States for a few weeks for the cultural experience.  One of these children was "Pat."  You may remember I told you that Abigail GASPED out loud when she saw him.  You may also remember that he took Jen's hand and softly said her Chinese name.  It was very sweet.  There was a connection between him and our Princesses.  After all they were infants together in the same place.  They attended preschool together.  He and Jen even shared a room until her adoption in 2013.

What you may NOT know is that we returned to visit these hosted children the following week, AND the week after that.  The third weekend Ethan took some time off work and we stayed over there for a few days.  We were granted permission to spend time together as a family with "Pat."  We swam, we ate, we played at parks, we attended church.  We got well acquainted with this charming little boy which is an unusual occurrence in the world of international adoptions.

We came to love the gentle boy who seemed to genuinely care about the people around him.  He was quick to share and didn't demand his own way.  He was cheerful and happy and had a smile that lit up our world.  He was helpful, and especially looked after Jen.  We dreaded having to say our goodbyes that last weekend, just a few days before the hosted children had to return to their country of birth.

What followed were days of heart searching and questioning ourselves and wondering how in the world we could do this again one more time.  BUT, we spent hours with him.  We spent days with him.  We know this child! In his book, “Radical“, David Platt wrote, “We learned that orphans are easier to ignore  before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.” 

 How true that is.  We absolutely could not forget about this child.   He fit in perfectly with our other children and they are all excited for him to become their brother.  Today we received the word that China has given us PA, that is Pre Approval.  In other words we have the A-ok from them to proceed with this adoption.

At this point we are nearly finished with the paperwork required for the updated homestudy in our state.  Amazingly, we have just a few more things to collect for our dossier to send to China.  It seems this adoption is off and racing at record pace!

Adoptions are complicated and stressful, expensive and tiring, but oh so worth it all.  We hope that you will rejoice with us that we are adding "Pat" to our family.   We are the "lucky" ones - actually we are blessed.  And we are blessed by each of you, our family and friends, and will appreciate your fellowship and prayers through the coming months of waiting, anticipating, and living daily lives.

Pat with his hosting "grandparents" and our family.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Friends Reunion

A group of children who were raised in the same orphanage as our Little Princesses are being hosted in the midwest for a few weeks this summer.  This provides a cultural experience for them, and also a chance for people to meet these children who are in need of a family.

Last weekend the children who have already been adopted from this orphanage were invited to a picnic with the hosted orphans so they could get together with their friends.  Our girls remembered several of them, and it was fun to watch their reactions.

Abigail has talked about this particular boy by name (photo below) for months.  When he arrived with his family she gasped, and ran to grab him.  Much to his dismay she also planted a big kiss on him!

Another big gasp came when this boy arrived.

Both of the girls obviously remembered him.  He and Jen locked eyes and he quietly said her Chinese name. It was very sweet.

Of course, I was acquainted with several of the moms from an online group, and it was really great to meet them in person.  

There were fun things for the kids to do - like the bounce house...


Face/arm painting...

and various games...

Some of the orphanage staff came on the trip.  I recognized them from our "Gotcha Day," and from visiting the orphanage.  One of the officials was so happy to see the children with their families that she went around giving small gifts to them.  You can see the Little Princesses below obviously pleased with their fancy fans!  It was such a hot, hot day that the fans were certainly appropriate!

It was a twelve plus hour round trip drive for us, but so worth it!  Praying some of these sweet kids meet their future families in these weeks of hosting!  If you would like to meet up with them on some of their activities in the next couple of weeks, contact Madision Adoption Associates for details.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Time4Learning Review

As a homeschooling parent since 1986, I've seen a lot of changes in what is available to us as home educators.  It used to be somewhat limited to the biggies - you know - Abeka, Bob Jones, etc. - and a few radical (at the time) ideas like our first curriculum - KONOS!  Now the selections available to us seem almost endless!  This change is great for really honing in on what will work with a particular child, but sorting it all out can seem overwhelming.

Our family situation has also seen a lot of changes in the past (nearly thirty) years since we began our homeschooling journey.  The young elementary children and babies of those days have grown up and now have children of their own.  Our present day home has children ages twelve, eleven, eight and seven.  The three youngest of this group were recently adopted from China, so we have language skills to catch up on before we can really even begin to study academics seriously.  Our curriculum obviously has to change along with the needs of our family. So,  I took advantage of an offer to try a free month of  Time4Learning  in exchange for an honest review.

Our twelve year old is very bright, but math has been a challenge for her the last couple of years.  I confess that her math was a primary motivator for us to try out Time4Learning.  There are glitzier options, but Time4Learning is very functional, and according to her, FUN!  I will note that concurrent with this curriculum, we tested some other online options as well.  In all fairness to Time4Learning, whom we tested with the promise of this review, the others are not mentioned here by name.  I will be happy to provide the names if you wish to contact me privately.

So, what did we find?  First things first.  In my viewpoint if the customer service is bad, the experience will likely be equally bad.  I had occasion to contact customer service at Time4Learning both via the telephone and via email and got a quick and speedy resolution using both methods.  Score!

You can specify different grades for different subjects for each child.  For instance, I specified a fifth grade math and an eighth grade language arts for our twelve year old.  A student has access to one grade above and one grade below the grade level you specify at set up.   What happens if you need to tweak it more, as was my case with our emerging English learners?  There is a link to make this request.  In every instance it was the following day that the change was made by their personnel.

One of the best features in my opinion, and one that can potentially save a LOT of time is the Parent Admin area.

Beginning your school year?  Pick your subjects and the grade level for each.  Specify the start date of your school year and the ending date then hit generate.  The lessons will be automatically divided throughout that many weeks for you.  I haven't discovered yet how one specifies planned days off or holiday breaks.  These generated plans can be saved in pdf format or in excel.  Goodbye hours and hours with the lesson plan book!

Need to have specific plans to turn in to your superintendent to fulfill the state law requirements where you live?   The Scope and Sequence area shows you what is included in the courses you've chosen for your student. These are a ready source for specifying those beginning of the year reports to your district.

While one of the online services we tried sent a weekly progress report straight to my email (nice!) with Time4Learning you have to view the reports through the Parent Admin area.  The reports there are very thorough, however, and at any time you can click on the actual lesson or quiz/test to see what your student was taught and the answers they gave.

After your student has used the curriculum you can view a Student Portfolio giving you access to printable reports by

  • Attendance - including the day's tally of how many minutes the student was engaged in their studies
  • Duration - the time spent per subject
  • Student Scores - by subject
You can even print personalized student reward certificates!

As I mentioned, we tried out different online sources to see what might be a good fit for our family.  In my opinion, the major difference between Time4Learning and the others we looked at is in its set up.  Time4Learning seems to present an actual curriculum WITH LESSONS TAUGHT.  The others we looked at weren't as clear cut.  The activities/worksheets were presented, but not the teaching material with them.  There were usually videos to help them learn the material, but it wasn't as obvious.

In Time4Learning the lessons are more self-contained.  The ones that I previewed offered an interactive video.  The material was explained and then I was given the option of moving forward or asking them to repeat the material again.  The quiz/tests were relevant to the lesson just presented.

Another difference I see with Time4Learning is that it goes through high school.  The others we looked at stopped either at the early elementary years or at best through the eighth grade.

And still another difference is that Time4Learning provides that spectacular Parent Admin section provided with the low monthly fee for the student.  Another website we tested charged extra for the parent features.

You can also "go on vacation."  In other words if you decide to take a month off, set your account to dormant (site says $4 per month to maintain your records) and come back to it at a later time.

Suggestions for improvement:  I would love to be able to tweak my student's grade level (more than the one grade above or one grade below) without having to submit a request for the admin to do it.  This option was available in one of the other sites we tested, and another of our children will be using that one for some subjects in the upcoming year.  That wasn't the deciding factor for us, but in this instance it went into the consideration process.

As a believer in the literal days of creation as read in the Bible, I have to disagree with their Life Science unit on the "Evidence for Evolution,"  and also with the presentation of "Absolute and Relative Dating" in the Earth Sciences unit.  Since such a large segment of home educators are made up of Christian families, it would be awesome if they could offer a creation track to the sciences.  I do, however, appreciate that I am able to preview the content and be prepared to address it with my children if we decide to use their materials for these subjects.  If you, my reader, are of a similar mind be ever watchful and preview the content (in all areas) being mindful that it is not from our worldview.

So did Time4Learning convince me?  Well, yes and no.  I really liked the parent features A LOT!  The low monthly fee works with our budget and actually ends up costing (for access to ALL of the subject areas for one child) about as much as we usually spent on Tikvah's math curriculum alone.  It is low enough that we will pick and choose the subjects we want to do online and still do some things the "traditional" book route. 

Time4Learning does seem to be a good fit (at least in a few areas) for our twelve-year-old so I plan to provide access to the website for the coming school year.  It was not a good fit at this time for our three children recently home from China.  But that is one of the beauties of homeschooling, isn't it?  We can tailor each child's education according to what works best for them as individuals.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fast Friends!

These two are great friends!  Tikvah begged and begged us for a little sister.  Who knew it would be the brother who would be her closest sibling?  Here they are walking the bike trail and discussing - what else?- the next Hobbit movie and how they (and the older siblings) will dress up to go see it.