Pursuing Gold (book review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew

Sometimes, when a review opportunity comes up, the product looks too good not to request. Pursuing Gold by Cynthia L Simmons/Heart of the Matter is one of those. This historical fiction novel takes place during the Civil War, but what makes it special is not just the novel. It’s the economics curriculum that comes with it! Yes, that’s right… it’s an historical novel and the Pursuing Gold: History and Critical Thinking Curriculum. As I was reading about it on Amazon to decide whether it would be a good fit for us or not, I decided that I really wanted Scorpion to read this book and study along with it. It seemed way too cool to pass up. Not only would he get a new viewpoint on the Civil War (history), but he would also get a better understanding of currency and how it all began in America.

Before I get too much further, let me offer you Scorpion’s thoughts:


When his father dies and his partner is injured, Peter Chandler suddenly finds himself in charge of the C&R Bank. Not only is he in charge, but it’s the middle of an economic crisis. What is he going to do? Peter has only a college degree – not a lick of experience – so he has to join forces with his injured partner’s daughter, Mary Beth. The Civil War rages around them. Political pressure to loan the government unsecured loans of gold pile up. Tempers and prices rise. When Mary Beth finds counterfeit money one day, things are suddenly much, much worse. When the signature on that counterfeit money is Peter’s, things are dire. Will Peter and Mary Beth be able to find the forger in order to save their bank? They must. In their desperation, they turn their focus on God to help them find hope and peace in this direst of circumstances.


I haven’t read a lot of historical fictions recently, but this one has one of the greatest and most interesting back stories of any. I really enjoy learning the story and with a good connection to the characters.

In this novel, it felt like even though we knew some of Peter and Mary’s history, you still get lost in the story. 

The story did start a little slow, but the first few chapters introduced the elements of the story and seemed to bring you as the reader up to speed in what was happening in the story. With each chapter, we’re carried along with Mary Beth and Peter as they hunt the mystery counterfeiters, and it’s a very good read. I would highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good historical fiction, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else this author can do. 

Scorpion seems to be eating this book up. I’ve discovered him sitting in his room and reading it on more than one occasion since it arrived. Five years ago, that wouldn’t have been such a surprise, but he’s less of a bookworm now than he was then, so it’s nice to see him reading – and enjoying – a book again. The curriculum that goes with the book has also captured his attention. I don’t have to remind him to keep up on it. He’s doing exactly what the author suggests and reading a chapter, then doing the corresponding workbook pages. Every few chapters, he brings it out to show me and I’m always impressed with his work ethic.

Even though he hasn’t finished this book quite yet, he will definitely be keeping up with it. We definitely recommend it as a fascinating, unique look at the Civil War. Whether you need a supplemental book for a high school Civil War unit, or something that explores the origin of currency in America, Pursuing Gold is a book you should check out.

Make sure to head on over to the Homeschool Review Crew website for more information and reviews as well.


SchoolhouseTeachers.com (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew

One of the biggest benefits I get as a member of the Homeschool Review Crew is the Ultimate Membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com a division of The Old Schoolhouse®. I have used resources from this site off and on for years, amongst many of my children, and they never disappoint.

Over the past year, we have focused on two main areas of the website. First, Ballet Boy entered the Virtual Art & Photography Fair last fall. He entered a couple of his photographs, as well as a painting that he made with his now-ex-girlfriend. Because he’s doing a lot of work with his dad, that includes learning how to use Photoshop. This means he’s being given ample opportunity to learn to “spice up” all the pictures he takes, which are mostly for his Instagram account where he does awesome things with his ukulele. He won first place for one of his photographs as well as honorable mention for the painting, and he was really proud of that.

The other thing we’ve spent a lot of time on is 4th grade science with Grasshopper. Together, he and I have been working through the Discovering Disgusting Creatures course. This topic utilizes the partnership with World Books and has reading comprehension question that go along with it. Grasshopper was quite unsure about this class when I told him the name of it, but he’s been loving it. Dragonfly (K/1) has even listened in on some of the books and learned a lot! Occasionally, he’s faster on the comprehension answers than his older brother.

If you need more than just “fill in the gaps” curriculum, SchoolhouseTeachers.com is the place for you! You can get a digital curriculum box for grades K-12 (and there are boxes for Pre-K and parents coming soon!). We haven’t actually used these boxes, but they include quite literally everything you need for homeschooling. If you’re worried about the high school years in particular, don’t be! These digital full-curriculum boxes will walk you through everything you need to do to successfully homeschool your child. All you need is paper, a printer, and basic school supplies. Everything else is planned out for you! If you’re concerned that it’s “not enough,” you can simply add an elective (or two) from the website also to flesh out your child’s school day. Every single subject you need to teach these upper grades is included and all laid out in one place. Math, Literature, Writing, Spelling, Science, History, Art… it’s all there. It really couldn’t be easier to homeschool your high schooler!

SchoolhouseTeachers.com has over 400 different resources for you to use, covering every single grade. You can get access for one family price – not a per child price – which makes it a great value. There’s even a digital storytime each month, which would provide a fantastic opportunity to keep your littlest children occupied and give you some time to get through a more difficult concept with an older child while the baby is busy.

Overall, I’m very glad to be a member of SchoolhouseTeachers.com. But don’t just take my word for it; 37 other members of the Homeschool Review Crew are talking about this website this week. Take a look at what they’re all saying!



The Wonder of Creation (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Generally speaking, my husband prefers us to use the Bible (and only the Bible) for spiritual things. For that reason, I was a little unsure about reviewing The Wonder of Creation: 100 More Devotions About God and Science from Indescribable Kids and Tommy Nelson Books. The difference for me was the science aspect of this book; I was really interested to see how they combined science and faith. (For the record, I think it is absolutely possible to believe in both, so I wasn’t looking for a “gotcha” or the need to feel vindicated on anything. I just wanted to see how the author, Louie Giglio, went about it.)

This book is a lovely, hardcover edition with full-color illustrations (some drawings and some photographs) and covers a wide variety of topics. There are devotions on space, animals, weather, and the ocean (among many, many other topics). We started at the beginning and just read through the book, reading one devotion a couple of times a week. Grasshopper (age 9) did the reading mostly on his own.

Once you get into the actual devotions, you’ll find that they’re mostly science with a little bit of faith thrown in at the end. Each one takes up a two-page spread in the book. There’s approximately one half-page illustration per devotion, and some of them have photographic illustrations to help explain the point also. Additionally, the title of each devotion is nice and big to set it apart from the text. Below that is a Bible verse that the lesson is based on.

Then you get to the meat of the devotion, which is usually about a page, maybe a tiny bit more. It covers a lot of the science stuff, like I mentioned before, and then the last paragraph or so ties that science back into faith. For example, in the first devotion, titled “Get a Little Closer,” talks about how scientists say they know more about the surface of Mars than the bottom of Earth’s oceans. Mr. Giglio, the author, talks about how scientists are working to fix this by sending divers and machines down there to map the ocean floor. He then brings this to spirituality by reminding children that if the only time they meet with God is once a week at church, they might learn some things about him, but they won’t really know him. Just like the scientists need to actually get down into the bottom of the ocean in order to really understand it, people need to spend adequate time with God in order to really know him.

One other aspect in each devotion is the “explore the wonder” section, which is a graphical add-on that has even more science information for students to study. These bits would make great jumping off points for further study, if one was so inclined.

To wrap up, here are some of Grasshopper’s thoughts on his favorite devotion to date, called “The Twilight Zone.”

Did you know that it snows in the ocean? But this snow is made out of dead animals and their poop, so you wouldn’t want to go down and build a snowman. The “Twilight Zone” is between 650 and 3300 feet below the surface. Almost no light gets down here. Because the ocean is part of God’s creation, we should do our part to take care of it.

I think this book is super interesting and it can teach a lot of people a lot of things. The pictures are super cool too.

Overall, we feel comfortable recommending this book. It’s mostly science, so it won’t take the place of your Bible. But it is a nice way to show children that God and science are not mutually exclusive.

Make sure to head over to the Homeschool Review Crew to read more reviews too!


Math Mammoth (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Math Mammoth is a staple for many in the homeschooling community. I know we’ve used their products in the past, and I’ve been on Maria Miller’s mailing list for a long time. Their workbooks for elementary and middle school students are excellent. Because my fourth son, Dragonfly (6 years old), has been working through only some very basic math in other programs, I decided to request the Math Mammoth Grade 1 curriculum for him. We also received the Math Mammoth Skills Reviews workbook (same grade level), which I’ll talk about later in the review.

Math Mammoth was designed and written by Maria Miller, a homeschool mom who saw some serious learning gaps when she was teaching math at a co-op one day. She decided to use her math knowledge to create a series of books to help parents teach their children in an easy-to-follow and easy-to-understand way. Her Math Mammoth Light Blue Series is a complete homeschool math curriculum available for grades 1-7. You can purchase the curriculum as a digital download, a CD-ROM, or a printed workbook (we received a digital download). Everything you need to teach and have your child practice the concepts is included, and each year is separated into two books (one for each semester). The coursework is designed as a “worktext,” which means it’s a combination textbook and workbook. Everything you need to teach the math is all in the same file as the practice problems. This makes a truly open-and-go product, which is perfect for many homeschooling families.

Because we received a digital download, I was able to easily print out the pages we needed each week. I then hole punched them and placed them into a folder (one of those that you can get for a quarter at Walmart). This kept everything tidy, while also not being overwhelming for my 6-year-old, which very easily could have happened with a giant printed book. Because we worked just a week at a time, he never had to worry about feeling like he wasn’t doing enough each day. (Knowing Dragonfly, he would have easily had that feeling. He is very much an overachiever who hates when he gets a wrong answer or leaves work undone.) I was able to go over the concepts with him and then he could easily work on his own for a few minutes to get the worksheet portion of the day done.

In addition to the Light Blue Series, we also received a copy of the complimentary Skills Review Workbook. This is a product (available in the same formats as the Light Blue series) that offers additional worksheets that you can print when your child needs extra help with a specific concept. Because it’s designed as a supplement, it doesn’t have quite the same level of explanation as the Light Blue series books; it really is just extra practice worksheets. This was also particularly helpful for Dragonfly because he is a memorizer. He is very good at memorization, and simply printing extras of the regular worksheets wouldn’t have worked for him because he would just remember the answers. (This trait of his has made it tricky to teach him to read because he easily memorizes his books after just one read through.) He really needs different problems for additional practice, not just more problems.

If you’re in the market for a new math curriculum, I highly recommend Math Mammoth. The books are reasonably priced considering how much you get in it. There is literally nothing else you need thanks to the instruction and practice being an all-in-one.

What’s your favorite math curriculum for the younger grades?




Remember to check out additional reviews from other members of the Homeschool Review Crew!

Tiger Rising (film review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through Momentum Influences Network.

When my teens were little kids, they loved Kate DiCamillo’s books, especially Scorpion. He was a total bookworm from the time he was 6 until about 12 or 13. He joined book club at the library, and his favorite book he ever read as part of that group was The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. He liked it so much that we got him his own copy of the book for his birthday that year. That is one of Ms. DiCamillo’s least famous books, though. You might know her better for Because of Winn Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux.

It was because of our family’s past experience with her stories that I signed up for this review. I wanted to share her work with my younger kids, and we were unfamiliar with The Tiger Rising, so it seemed like a pretty good opportunity. For this review, we received a special code to watch the movie (temporary – like a rental). I wasn’t able to figure out how to send it from my phone to the TV so we ended up watching it on the smaller screen, just me and the little kids (ages 9, 6, and 3).

About the film:

Queen Latifah and Dennis Quaid star in this beloved tale based on the New York Times best-selling book by Kate DiCamillo. When 12-year-old Rob Horton (Christian Convery) discovers a caged tiger in the woods near his home, his imagination runs wild and life begins to change in the most unexpected ways. With the help of a wise and mysterious maid, Willie May (Queen Latifah) and the stubborn new girl in school (Madalen Mills), he navigates through childhood memories, heartache, and wondrous adventures in this heartwarming adaptation.
You can watch the trailer on YouTube.
A family and faith discussion guide has also been put together for the film.
Our Thoughts:
My kids and I really liked this movie. It was exciting when the tiger showed up for the first time; I’d told Grasshopper (9) about the film, but not the other two, so they were really surprised to see a tiger n a cage. All through the movie, we kept pausing a bit to discuss, and it was a very valuable learning experience. I wish I’d had access through some sort of Roku channel so we could have watched on the TV instead of the phone, but it was good anyway. We loved watching Rob’s experiences as he moved through all the things he was going through and came out the other end of it all better than he started – a good lesson for people of all ages.
Make sure to watch the trailer, and see if The Tiger Rising is playing in a theater near you! And if it’s not (it was released in late January, so it might be out of many theaters by now), find it on your favorite streaming service. I know it’s one that we will likely rent and/or buy again in the future so we can show it to the rest of our family for movie night!

Crochet Vertical Rib Infinity Scarf

I have a fun crochet pattern to share with you today. A couple of weeks ago, Ballet Boy asked me to make him a long cowl, but I’ve been so busy with other projects that it took me a while to get done. I finally found the perfect yarn for the project and was able to get started. It only took a few days for me to make (it was one of two projects I had going at the time), and we are both so happy with how it turned out. He gets compliments on it everywhere he goes (so he tells me).

I used Big Twist Party yarn in the color Beach, but you could use any worsted weight yarn you’d like and it would turn out beautifully. The ribbing on the scarf is so well defined all the way through, and I think it’s a really nice texture for a scarf. It gives a lot of visual interest without being difficult to crochet. And because of the infinity scarf style, there are a thousand and one different ways you can wear it! Ballet Boy’s favorite way (which turned out to be a surprise to us both as it wasn’t something he’d been considering before I finished the creation) is to put it around his waist, cross it over his chest, and loop it over his neck. This gives him extra warmth around his body as well as up around his neck for those really cold days.

Crochet Vertical Rib Infinity Scarf

Chain 35.

Row 1: HDC in second chain from hook and each chain across. Chain 1; turn. (34)

Row 2: Slip stitch into the back loops only (BLO) of each stitch across. Chain 1; turn. (34)

Row 3: HDC into the BLO of each stitch across. Chain 1; turn. (34)

Repeat rows 2 and 3 until scarf is desired length. I made Ballet Boy’s 55 inches, using a size I crochet hook. You use whatever hook and yarn you like, though, so long as they play nicely together.

End the repeat with a row 3. Loop the two ends together, right sides out, and slip stitch through the front loop of one side and the back loop of the other side to join.


Why We Chose to Homeschool

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Twitter lately (too much time, frankly; I’m thinking of deleting the app pretty soon, at least for a while), and a lot of what I’m reading there is frustrated parents. They’re frustrated because their kids have to wear masks to school. They’re frustrated because the teachers’ unions in a lot of big cities are pushing for N95 masks on children, or school closures. It all seems to revolve around COVID protocols right now, and while I disagree with almost all of the restrictions put in place by the government (at least the one in my state), that’s not the debate I want to take today. Today, rather than push an agenda (something I’m not comfortable doing anyway), I just want to take a minute to discuss why we chose to homeschool our children.Back when Will and I were first married (we’ve been married 21 years now; our anniversary was earlier this month), before we even had kids, we decided that any future children we had would be educated at home. This was quite a bold decision at the time; we didn’t know anyone who homeschooled their kids, and we had both graduated from public schools. But we never, for even one minute, considered sending our children to public schools. Private school wouldn’t have been an option back then due to cost, though I can’t imagine we would have entertained that thought either. We were young, but even with our inexperience in life we knew that sending our kids to government-run schools wasn’t an approach we wanted to take.

It started with Will’s younger sister. She’s six years younger than him, and was still in high school when we got married. When she graduated three years later, in 2004, we had a casual conversation with her. I don’t remember the details on how the conversation meandered, but somehow the year 1776 came up. She had no idea, as a recent high school graduate, what the significance of that year was. If I could pinpoint the moment we decided to homeschool, that was it. We did not want our children to be able to “successfully complete” high school without having such basic knowledge. Now, nearly 18 years later, our priorities have shifted a little, but not much. We don’t care so much if our kids know the ins and outs of every aspect of American history (although a working knowledge is required). But we do want them to have a more well-rounded education than they’d get in public school. Will, being an entrepreneur, is especially insistent on this, and I support him wholeheartedly. It’s vital to us that our kids know how money works and how to run a successful business. It’s important for them to be able to take over his business one day, and in the meantime, for them to be able to run related businesses underneath his umbrella as they get old enough. They wouldn’t be able to do that with a public school education. Public schools are designed to create people who are willing/happy to be employees. We want better than that for our kids – we want them to thrive in life, not just survive.

(Also, our governor recently signed a law prohibiting schools from forcing kids to prove competency in reading, math, and language to graduate. So kids can literally graduate high school in our state without knowing how to read. That’s unacceptable in our family. They don’t have to like reading, but they have to know how. Same with math.)

So, in a nutshell, that’s why we homeschool. What are your reasons?


Crochet Hat a Scarf for a Ukulele

Over the past 6 months or so, Ballet Boy has been slowly building up his Instagram account. The focus of that account is cool pictures of his ukulele, which he has named “Ben.” 

When we got to the colder weather, he had an idea to dress Ben up for the cold. He asked me to make a tiny stocking cap and scarf for it. Then, within a week or two of that, we actually got a good amount of snow! That almost never happens around here, so Ballet Boy made sure to take advantage of the beautiful landscape and get some photos. 

Today, I want to share his photos as well as the pattern for the tiny hat and scarf. I don’t expect many of you to want to dress up a ukulele, but these accessories might fit a doll or favorite stuffed animal too. 

For my version of these accessories, I used Big Twist Cotton yarn. This is the JoAnn house brand, and their cotton is actually a cotton/polyester blend. Normally I would use a 100% cotton, but I happened to have this on hand and the color was perfect for a wintry landscape picture. 

Tiny Crochet Hat

Using a size H crochet hook, make a magic ring. Chain 1 and make 6 half double crochets in the ring. Tighten the loop to close the hole. join to first st with a slst. Ch 1.

Round 2: 2 hdc in each stitch around. Join. Ch 1. (12)

Round 3: *2 hdc in first st, 1 hdc in next st* around. Join. Ch 1. (18)

Round 4: *2 hdc in first st, 1 hdc in next 2 sts* around. Join. Ch 1. (24)

Rounds 5-10: 1 hdc in each stitch. Join. Ch 1.

Fasten off and weave in ends. Optional: Attach a small pompom (homemade or purchased).

Tiny Scarf

Chain 65.

HDC in second chain from hook and each chain across. Ch 1; turn. 

Rows 2-7: HDC in each stitch all the way across. Ch 1; turn.

Fasten off. Weave in ends. Optional: Attach fringe using matching or coordinating yarn. 

If you enjoyed seeing these pictures, make sure to follow “A Ukulele Named Ben” on Instagram. Ballet Boy has lots of amazing pictures of his ukulele there!