Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sean Kenney and the North Carolina Arboretum Host Lego Exhibition Part 1

Locally this fall,our nearby arboretum has had a spectacular Lego art display called Some Assembly Required with Lego art work by Sean Kenney. The display included 27 amazing creations that were done by Sean Kenney and his team of workers. We are a Lego loving family, especially hubby and the kids, and we have already been there twice to check it out. Hopefully we will be able to bring the inlaws when they are in town too!

I have decided to make this a two part post as not only was it an awesome exhibit but there was also a Lego building contest for Lego lovers of all ages! This first part will be about the creation my hubby did...with a little help from Z~girl. He participated in the 15-adult category. His entry was based on an 1879 fire hydrant. In fact he made a life size replication of one!

Hubby's Lego sculpture took approximately 7,500 pieces to complete, and about 25 hours of work. I especially like the chains on the sides plus the little fire scene going on, complete with fire, firemen and fire dog. 

I will admit, shortly before completion I observed it partially falling apart a couple of times, including when he was setting it up at the arboretum. I did not see tears...but panic was there! I cannot describe the relief he felt when we finally got it there safely and it was set up complete and on display.

Saturday we arrived just in time to see Sean Kenney pass out the awards. 

I am proud to say that my hubby won second in his catergory (15-adult), 2nd in judges choice, and 2nd in overall people's choice. (people coming into the arboretum could vote!) He was very happy about it. Oh and he was able to meet another very nice "Lego man" who won first in the category. Here is a picture of his awesome exhibit. 

I LOVED the way he did the water...and so much detail in his sculpture!

 Sometime in the next couple of days I will blog about some of the other awesome entries, plus some of the amazing sculptures on display outside in the gardens of the arboretum.


Next week is going to be a busy one! I think we will do some school on Monday, but Tuesday the inlaws should be here for a few days and I think we will be celebrating Thanksgiving on Wednesday before they leave to go get their final load before moving to NC. To say the kids are excited is an understatement! We will do some reading about Thankgiving and check out some Netflix videos (right now we are watching Dear America which is based on a book series) and maybe do a spelling test online. I found a Thanksgiving spelling list that might be fun for both kids! 

Stay tuned for more amazing Lego photos. Here is one of  a mosaic with me and my sidekick peeking through!

Monday, November 18, 2013

I WILL survive the teen years!

That is my mantra. I will admit some mornings I dread waking up as it can be such a challenge! The attitude, snippiness, the sass, and don't even think of looking at this particular teen!

Oh wait, I'm NOT talking about my child with special needs! The A~man wakes up Mr. Sunshine. Rarely any attitude and almost never any back talking. He is 14 and she is 12. I will admit he did go through some EXTREME behavior from about age 10 to a bit after 12. He could be violent. He would yell things at us when he was having a melt down that were downright horrifying. One of the worst times was when we were visiting family in SD at the inlaws house. Only grandpa was there. Both hubby and I had to restrain him (A~man...not grandpa) so he would not harm himself or us. (FYI we are trained yearly in how to safely restrain) The things he yelled...I was mortified that grandpa heard. (grandpa does have other grandkids with autism and he has been around people with mental illness) Sadly I have permanent damage to my back from when he would attack me. I'm not sure what caused him to be able to deal with frustration better. We did start dealing with his behaviors in a different way. (if anyone wants to know how we did this let me know and I will blog about it) A~man still has some challenging behaviors but I am so thankful that stage appears to be over.

I joke that I am getting payback for how I woke up as a teen. Z~girl is a feistier version of how I was in the mornings. It was best that no one talked or looked at me until after lunch. SERIOUSLY. That is how my girl is...although it can sometimes carry on through out the whole day. This transitional period before becoming an adult is SO HARD! With body changes, responsibility changes, so many changes. I just pray for God's wisdom to help me do the very best I can to help both of my precious children through this change as I love them so much!

Now, I can't go complaining and ranting without telling you some extremely good characteristics of the child that is challenging me so much right now,can I? So now I get to brag. We do not have a daughter every night without ever complaining does the dishes. Growing up we did have a dishwasher and I know there were times I gave my mom grief about putting the dishes in and taking them out. Z~girl completely on her own cares for all of our critters...without complaint. Our entourage includes 6 chickens, 3 rabbits, and a dog. She is our third set of eyes with the A~man. When he is awake he needs constant supervision to keep him safe. (impulse control issues) One more even though I could list many more. She wakes up, often before me, and does her online school work. I never have to remind her.


We had a wonderful week off! It was much needed. It's now time to jump in with both feet into A~man's special needs learning and both kids are very excited about a few field trip and group activities. This week we are going on a post office tour (which surprisingly we haven't done so far in our homeschool adventures) and we will have a Christmas party with our group in a few weeks. I'm also hoping to get a group together to go see a large gingerbread house display in the next town.

As much as I complain about these teen years I wish there was a way to s l o w it down. Pretty soon my duo may not want to go on field trips with their parents (well A~man might ;) and before I know it I will be looking for SAT essay writing help!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Review: At Home in Dogwood Mudhole by Franklin Sanders

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An epistolary tale. I admit, when I read that phrase I had to look up the word epistolary in the dictionary which means “of, pertaining to, or consisting of letters.” That word perfectly describes how the book series, At Home In Dogwood Mudhole was written. This book of letters spanning 17 years, was authored by Franklin Sanders who also publishes a newsletter called The Moneychanger. At Home In Dogwood Mudhole is a 3 volume set that describes Franklin and his wife Susan’s pursuit to live an authentic life with their family, and go back to living off the land like his forefathers.

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The first volume in the series is called, Nothing That Eats. Nothing that eats? That is the wish of Susan Sanders as they make the decision to make major life changes. She tells everyone that they cannot acquire anything that eats. Despite that wish they go on to acquire dogs, chickens, horses, cows, pigs, ducks and sheep. They also go from having a one family farm to all the children going back home to combine their efforts to learn how to live off of the land in Tennessee.

This book contains hundreds of letters that describe the adventures and sometimes misadventures in their new way of living. Through the families ups and downs their faith and reliance on God comes shining through. Included in the volume are photos of the family and maps of where life takes them. Franklin’s ties to the south are very evident in almost everything he writes and his family commemorates this loyalty by participating in civil war reenactments. You can read a sample chapter called “PigPersuader” for free.

Even though I lived in the Midwest for almost 20 years, I have lived in the south (not far from where a lot of the events take place!) for 23 years. Oops, you know my age now. The fact that I was familiar with some of the locations, and the culture of the area he describes, drew me into the story. Having grown up in a rural area, living off the land is also something I wish my family was able to do. It was fascinating to read a story about a family that was actually able to do it!

The book itself, Nothing That Eats, is a pretty thick volume being 379 pages long. The book in paper form retails for $22.95 or in ebook formats (Kindle, ePub, or PDF) sells for $16.95. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the book I think the price is a bit high, at least if I were to go out and buy the next volume.Oh, and the next volume in the series is titled, Best Thing We Ever Did.

I encourage you though to click below to find out what the other crew members had to say about this book that is full of adventure and TRUE GRIT!


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Monday, November 11, 2013

Cathedral of Learning of Pittsburgh PA

This past week we took a long weekend trip to see our niece who works and goes to school in Pittsburgh PA. We have been planning this trip for a long time but a few times it was looking like we would not be able to go but thankfully we were! We have not been on a vacation in a long time. It was an added bonus that our tour guide was our beautiful niece. The kids enjoyed seeing their cousin too!

On Saturday she took us to the Cathedral of Learning. I expected it to be neat but had no idea how very cool it was! Here is a photo of the outside and a photo from the highest point we were allowed to go to which I believe was the 36th floor. (it has 42 floors)

It is an impressive 535-foot-tall Gothic Revival skyscraper that was commissioned by Pitt Chancellor John G. Bowman in 1921. Different local industries donated much of what was needed to build the great Cathedral. Each room on the first and third floors were designed to represent the cultures of various ethnic groups that settled in Allegheny County.
In addition to its magnificent four-story Commons Room at ground level, the 42-story Cathedral houses classrooms (including the internationally renowned Nationality Classrooms) academic and administrative offices, libraries, computer labs, a theater, a print shop, and a food court.
In 2007, on the 70th anniversary of the Cathedral's dedication, Pitt trustees approved a project to clean and restore the iconic building. Its interior has since been upgraded and its limestone exterior scrubbed of  industrial grime. 
A landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the 535-foot-tall Cathedral is the second-tallest educational building in the world after the University of Moscow's main building. In recent years, families of peregrine falcons have nested atop the Cathedral. (borrowed this tidbit from this website)
 College classes are still held in the rooms during the week but on the weekends they are open to be toured by tourists...such as ourselves. Each room is decorated as a classroom from a different country, including the desks, windows, blackboards, and art. Often there were displays of artifacts that were actually from each country.

This particular room I think was my favorite. It was the Lithuanian room. The art on the wall (The Two Kings), designs of the windows and desks truly drew me in! Here is a great link to tour this room and all of the others virtually. 

I only wish I would have somehow taken notes on which room each picture I took was in. I LOVED these windows with the fall trees reflected behind.

We were also able to meet our nieces boyfriend. He passed my A~man test....he is a very nice young man and earned 4 stars with how he interacted with my often quirky son.

The chair Z~girl is touching had dog heads at the top...this dog bit her finger. ;)

I will try and come back and update this blog entry with which room the photos were located in. For now I am playing catch up at home. We will be taking a break from school this week as we haven't had a break (except for a day or two) since we started at the beginning of August. I will be getting caught up with lesson planning for the next couple of weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. A~man will be working on learning about heat energy and I'm debating starting Z~girl with a new homeschool writing curriulum

Oh and we returned home yesterday just in time to have dinner with grandma and grandpa! They are in the process of moving here from the Midwest and are having to make several trips to bring there stuff down south. They left this morning but will be back in a couple more weeks!

I have a lot of cleaning to do. Things sure do get messy when you pack/unpack for a trip. Plus...our dog was rather ornery for our dog sitter that came to our house during the day. He ran away, ate something he shouldn't, and left us a lovely surprise to clean up in A~man's bedroom. *gag* In A's words "It is a disaster in there."

TOS Review -

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Ever since we began homeschooling over 7 years ago the computer has always been a big part of our curriculum. This last month we were able to try out and review IXL. Both A and Z seem to do well with online curriculum and A~man in particular is able to keep his attention focused much better while working on the computer and seems less distracted. IXL offers both language arts and math.

IXL is a math educational site for Pre-K through algebra. They also have a language arts section that is for grades 2nd through 4th grade although they will be expanding that soon. Each subject is divided up into sections of skills that are needed to be learned for each grade level that go along with each states required standards.

North Carolina

North Carolina Flag

Skills available for North Carolina third-grade math standards

Standards are in black and IXL math skills are in blue. Hold your mouse over the name of a skill to view a sample problem. Click on the name of a skill to practice that skill.

Standards document:

My son is 14, but educationally is more at a level somewhere between 2nd-3rd grade in most areas. So I tried out both language arts and math with him over the last month. One of my favorite things about both the math and language arts was how thorough each subject was, and I like how it was broken down into simple lessons concentrating on just one concept.

A slight frustration early on that we both had is that if it was something that he had great difficulty with and he got one wrong, it increased the amount of problems he had to do.  For an area to be considered mastered a student must get a certain percent correct. So a couple of times he completely did not want to go on that day with his IXL work.

But then mama got smart. ;) If he was having difficulty I would just have him go a certain amount of minutes at it (15 usually) and then come back the next day and continue on until he had it mastered. This seemed to allow the concept to “sink in” and then the next day he was able to do it with little difficulty. As each skill is mastered, they collect ribbons, medals, and other virtual prizes.

There were a few language art skills that I chose to skip with him as the concept was too difficult for him to understand, but as a whole he was successful with most of the sections he completed!

Each week you receive a report via e-mail on the progress your child has made including the amount of time spent, problems correct, and the skills that they have mastered.

Here is a breakdown of the membership fees:

  • Math-$9.95
  • Language Arts-$9.95
  • Both subjects-$15.95
  • This is the price per child with each additional child being $2 a month

  • Math-$79
  • Language Arts-$79
  • Both subjects-$129
  • This is the price per child with each additional child being $20 a year. also offers a 30-day, money-back guarantee.

Both A~man and I really liked the program once we figured out how to make it work for his individual needs. Click over to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew to see what others thought too!


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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

T.O.S. Review~If You Were Me and Lived In . . .


Both A~man and Z~girl love learning about other countries and their different cultures. One of our favorite home school group activities is our monthly Geography Club. This year our club is taking a different country every month and each family involved is responsible for demonstrating specific aspects about each country. Our country for this month was Turkey and both A and Z had to get in front of the group and tell their friends about the sports people play in Turkey and about notable people who are from Turkey. It is always great fun! So getting the chance to do a review on Carole P. Roman from Away We Go Media's book series was right up our alley!

We received these four books to review:

If You Were Me and Lived in…Norway

These books were created for children ages Pre-K- age 8 and while my children are a considerable bit older at 12 and 14, it was still a good way for them to get a "taste" of each of these countries. Instead of just explaining what they do in each country they try and get the reader to imagine what it would be like if you actually lived in that particular country. The first page would start with "If you were me and lived in...Mexico" and started out showing where on the globe that individual country was located at. Then it would tell about what possible landmarks you might see, possible girl and boy names there, and what your life might be like if you were a child living in that individual country.

So not only would it be telling facts about each individual country but it presented it in such a way that the child reading it could see a bit of what other children that lived there experienced in their day to day lives. I really think a child would be able to retain the information presented with this type of approach. I think it makes the children seem more real when they are doing similar things (yet different) as the child reading the story. 

We also received a neat blow up globe that is very child friendly and easy for a child to see exactly where the country they are reading about is located at. 

I can see this book series being a valuable resource with our Geography club! Our club has ages 5-15. The books would be perfect for our youngest members to learn some basics about the countries and the older members could use the basics and expand it to learn even more details about each individual country!

Each book is between 22 and 28 pages in length, the print is nice and large for early readers. The If You Were Me books by Carole P. Roman with Away We GoMedia are available for $8.99 each.


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Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Blessings of Special Needs Siblings

This isn't the first time I've said it but my son is so blessed to have his sister. I truly think that due to them being so close in age, that it has helped him achieve so much. Up until the last couple of years they were the best of friends...they would wake up before hubby and I and they would always be playing together. Now at 14 and 12 though I see less and less of that...and at times it can be discouraging. I see Z~girl avoiding him, yelling at him, and an occasional punch.  (keep in mind he is VERY TRYING at times and she never truly would hurt him) It is normal sibling issues with the addition of the fact her brother can be even more annoying than the average brother. (some of it he can help...some he cannot)

This afternoon we had a fall picnic with our homeschool group. As a whole other kids and parents are very kind and tolerant of A~man's differences. There was a situation years ago with a few boys bullying but it was dealt with in an appropriate manner from the parents and the kids. I am sure the boys still talk/giggle about him but they are kind to his face. Today the boys his age were talking about football. Well....LOL...even though both kids are involved in sports we do not watch professional sports so he had no clue what they were talking about, (neither did I hahaha) when they were talking about teams. Still, he was desperate to be a part of their conversation. I guided him to the girls as they are a bit more inclusive with him. (not complaining...that is just how I have observed girls are with him)

One of my home school mom friends picked out some fun games...and of course with most games it always comes down to the choosing of teams. Needless to say A~man is always chosen last. (in fact I was too in middle school) He doesn't notice or care but his sister DOES. When I was taking pictures I took this one that I will cherish forever.

They were choosing teams. Z~girl is one of the first girls picked as she is fast and athletic...but if I could title this photo it is "if you pick me, you pick my brother!" which was the case. My heart melted on the ground. When we are at group activities she watches over him like a second mama. Thankfully my hubby can come to most events so one of us can watch over him as I do not want her to always feel the obligation to have her eyes constantly on the A~man. I want her to be able to feel free to hang out with her friends. But, still she is always there cheering him on.

I think that as much of a blessing that she is on him...I believe he is equally a blessing on her. Even though it can be more stressful than the average sibling she is learning patience, tolerance, compassion, and an unconditional love that will forever have an impact on her life.


I am very excited about this next week! I have a niece living and working in a state 8 hours away that we are going to go visit for a few days! Except for my in-laws, (who I love dearly) I haven't seen any of my family in years due to finances. We started our school year in August so starting Monday we will have a fall break for a couple of weeks. Learning doesn't really stop as I have some roadschooling planned thanks to my Kindle and before we go A~man will be working on some fun unscramble games. I'm hoping to put the kids some surprises together too for the 8 hour road trip. Of course Z~girl's main request is a trip to the library before we go as she knows I have several books on my kindle that I am going to want to read so I will not be sharing quite as much. I am so thankful that we will be able to go on this trip as I really did not think it would be a possibility!!