Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Year in Review

2012


I love New Year's Eve.  It is my favorite time of the year because I love endings and new beginnings.  A new year is full of hope, 365 days to come that are not known to us.

I think 2012 has been our most eventful year ever.  We started this year with a desire to move to Florida.  We spent quite a bit of time painting and fixing up our Canonsburg house before we put it on the market in April.

The kids cleaned the brush off the hillside behind the house.

The kitchen before the remodel

The kitchen after the remodel
Our house was on the market for four days before we signed a contract with the first people who looked at it.  We saw this as a confirmation from God that we were definitely following God's direction.


While we waited to move, we finished out our school year at our co-op in Washington, PA.  I taught on the Civil War to the 6th through 8th grade class, so in April our family went to Gettysburg, PA.  The kids had never been there before, and I wanted them to experience it before we moved.  We bought an audio tour of the battlefield and followed it along to all of the sites.  I was very pleased to learn that my kids enjoyed Gettysburg and learning about the history.

Peace Light Memorial

Little Round Top
Nate's depiction of death after Pickett's Charge
We went to Destination Unknown with the junior high youth group from our church in McMurray, PA - The Bible Chapel.

Performing in a skit in which I rubbed peanut butter in another leader's hair. Sorry it is blurry.

Students playing games on the court.

Finding M&Ms in whipped cream in the rain with only their mouths.
Jacob turned 14 in January.  Nate turned 12 in March, and Paige turned 11 in November. Paige performed in her dance recital on June 1st, and she found a new dance school in Jacksonville.  She, however, is sure she will never find a dance instructor quite like Miss Bethany.

Jake found a Lego Robotics League when we moved.  His team came in 2nd or 3rd in his first competition and gets to move on to Regionals in February.

Nate took part in a Lego Movie-Making camp this summer and took a video production class at co-op.  He is as much into his Legos as he ever was and received three sets for Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, my brother and his family and my parents came to our new house for Christmas week.  It seemed very strange to not have any snow or cold weather for Christmas Day.  My mom is having a hard time remembering it is New Year's Eve today because the weather is so nice.  :-)

On Halloween, we moved into a house we had built.  Before that, we spent five months in a rental just down the road.  


Our house in the final stages before closing.
Since being here, we have found a new co-op.  We are working on making new friends.  I know it'll take some time to make the kind of friends like we had in PA, but we're off to a good start.  We have found a wonderful church and joined a small group.

We have gone on field trips to local forts, an alligator farm, Disney, St. Augustine Old Jail, many different beaches, camping in the panhandle of Florida with friends, among other things.

We got a puppy 3-1/2 weeks ago.  She is a chocolate lab mix named Cocoa.  She is precious, and we are thankful to our friends, the Konrads, for giving her to us.


So, as eventful as 2012 was and how evident it was to us that God was at work in everything we did, I look forward to 2013.  It'll be a year with new goals and new adventures, and God will still be at work in our lives doing immeasurably more for us than we could ever imagine or deserve.

May you have a blessed new year as well!!!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Arthur Christmas: A Movie Review

The husband/dad was going out, so I was left to figure out what to do with the kids.  I had a Redbox code, so I told them we could get a movie.  Before venturing out, we looked online but didn't see anything.  Our next plan of attack was to view the available movies on demand on Directv.  Jacob saw Arthur Christmas and asked if we could watch that.  I mistakenly thought Arthur was Ernest from the "Ernest Goes To..." movies.  There was no way I was going to waste my time watching one of those movies.  When I explained to Jacob that I didn't like Arthur, he helped me to realize that it was Ernest I didn't like and should hold nothing against Arthur.  I told him that I did see that movie online at Redbox, so we went to pick it up.

I didn't hold out much hope for it beyond a goofy kid movie, but I was pleasantly surprised.  It is an animated film whose main character is Arthur Christmas.  He comes from a long line of Santa Clauses, though he was not in line himself since he was the younger brother.  After delivering all the packages on Christmas Eve and going to bed, the elves cleaned up the wrapping from their own Christmas party and found a toy that had not been delivered.  Since it didn't seem important to anybody that one child would be left without a toy, Arthur took it upon himself to enlist the aid of his GrandSanta to deliver the toy before sunrise Christmas morning.

I laughed throughout this movie.  It was very cute and had some very funny lines in it.  I was not bored once and did not feel it was a goofy kids' movie.  I even told my kids that we should buy it and watch it every Christmas.  I didn't watch it for any deep meaning, just the entertainment value.  It has a lot.

Perhaps there was an underlying message somewhere about how technology does or doesn't make things better as Santa is seen traveling in the S-1 at 45,000 miles per hour, but GrandSanta was able to save Christmas by traveling in his good old-fashioned sleigh with only one metal reindeer left at the end.  If there was, I missed it.  Perhaps there was some bizarre twist with aliens like in every movie Hollywood seems to ruin these days, but it was funny (there weren't really any aliens in this movie).  Perhaps there was some anti-aging sentiment since GrandSanta was seen as a relic like his sleigh, but I missed it.  There really wasn't.  It was all just funny.

I highly recommend this movie.  It is fun, and it is lighthearted.  Come on, if you can watch Elf over and over again every year at Christmas, there is no reason why Arthur Christmas can't be enjoyed in the same way.

Monday, December 24, 2012

What Were They Thinking?

I was at work yesterday when two college-age girls came into the store where I work.  They seemed just like any other customer who comes into the store to browse.  They spent some time looking at some silver necklaces we have and seemed to really like one that had a tree within a circle dangling from the chain.  They moved across the room to the wall on which a hundred other necklaces hung and continued to talk about the tree necklace.  Another customer came in asking for directions while these girls were at the necklace wall.  I noticed them leave a few minutes later.  I turned around to the display where the silver necklaces were and noticed that the tree necklace was not hanging there anymore.  There is no guarantee that these girls took the necklace since I did not see them do it, but I was not able to find it anywhere in the store.  (The rest of this post assumes culpability.)

I have not worked in retail before so have never had to experience being the victim of shoplifting.  It wasn't my necklace that was taken, but I felt violated somehow.  I was taken advantage of.  In an instant when I was helping someone else, a thief very quickly swiped something that caught their eye.  What is it that possesses someone to do such a thing?  Is there anything so completely necessary that a person feels they have to resort to such low measures?  I get the person who steals something to eat if they are starving, but I don't understand stealing a $24 necklace.  I suppose it is a sickness.  I know that they have sin in their hearts because we all do, but is there a gene missing in their DNA?  How are people born without a conscience?

It took me quite a while to get over the fact that this happened.  Now I am just angry and saddened that someone has to live with the sickness that afflicts them.  Thankfully I am a positive person for the most part and will continue to see the good in people before the bad.  To assume the worst of people would depress me.  I suppose I can pray for them and hope that they will somehow be convicted of what they have done and seek to make amends or at least to never do it again to someone else.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It's All Fun and Games...



I was on thin ice on pay day when I set a mouse trap in my kitchen.  I was taking a risk with my life but did not have a clue.  I was the mastermind who thought it would be perfection to connect four traps together to catch the mouse, but I was sorry and needed an operation because in the dark I had to scrabble for the cheese that fell off and only found trouble when the traps snapped down on my fingers.

What's the common factor?


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Songs Aren't Written by Floridians

My title is probably a sweeping generalization.  I haven't done the research to know for sure, but I don't think anybody who has ever lived in Florida has written a Christmas song, at least not a popular one they play on the radio 80,000 times between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  I have been waiting for this time of the year since I moved here in June.  I wondered what it would feel like to not see snow during the winter.  I wondered what it would be like to not have 30-degree days on a regular basis.  Now that we are here and there is no snow and every other day is in the 70s, it seems a bit strange to be listening to Christmas music on the radio even though I know in my head that it really is the Christmas season.

Let's think about some of the Christmas songs we hear.  The obvious one would be "Let it Snow."  The song is about wanting the snow to fall so the two lovebirds would have an excuse to not have to go home.  If it were written in Florida the title might be something like, "Guess We Have to go Home Since it's Never Going to Snow."

How about "Frosty the Snowman?"  The closest we'll ever get to a snowman here is if we make a whole lot of shaved ice and roll it into a ball, but then "Frosty the Shaved Ice Man" doesn't really have the same ring to it.  "Sleigh Ride" has a line that reads "We're riding in a wonderland of snow."  It would be a wonder to see that much snow here to need a sleigh.

I suppose there is one song that could have been written by a Floridian - "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas."  It would have to be a dream.  Since the Christmas songs started on the radio the day after Thanksgiving, I have thought about how many songs talk about snow and how foreign a concept that is to those who live in warm climates.  Kids who have never seen snow really have no idea what it is like to be in that "wonderland."

I will agree that snow is pretty...if I'm inside and warm and don't have to go out in it.  I have decided I'd like snow more if it came when it was 70 degrees.  I won't miss having to scrape my windows.  I won't miss weeks on end of subfreezing temperatures.  I'll have to admit, though, that I'll miss the feeling of the Christmas season that snow brings, since that is what I grew up knowing.  It'll take some time to get used to Christmas lights on the palm trees and wearing shorts for family photos around the tree.

Here are some memories of a recent Pittsburgh winter...



Friday, November 23, 2012

Be Left Holding the Bag...






Activity Bags is a company with a fresh approach to teaching your children at home or on the road, whatever the case may be.  Perhaps you have older children you need to focus on and also have preschoolers running around or begging to be taught right along with your older children.  Maybe you are traveling and need something to keep the kids busy while in the car or at Grandma's house for the holidays.  Activity Bags may just be what you have been looking for.  This company was started by two homeschooling moms who themselves were looking for ideas to keep their preschoolers busy.  After two years of testing and developing, they put together their first book, Preschool Activities in a Bag - eBook 1.  They now have several different eBooks available such as additional preschool ebooks, science ebooks for elementary grades, a math ebook, reading games, and travel games.  I had the opportunity to review the book you see to the left, Science Experiments in a Bag - eBook 2: Chemistry, Human Body & General Science.
You may be wondering why these books are titled "...in a Bag."  The idea is that a group of moms can get together and each be in charge of gathering the supplies for one activity or experiment.  All of the necessary items for that activity would be placed in a bag, each mom creating enough bags for all the moms in the group.  This way every mom would receive an activity bag for the activities assigned but not need to look for all of the items for every activity on their own, although this can certainly be done on your own if you are not interested in being part of a swap.  It will just take a bit more time to gather the necessary items and put them into bags, if you choose to organize this way.
These books are laid out very well.  They are easy to follow and provide thorough explanations for all activities.  There are many sections with questions and answers.  Most likely any question you'd have about this series of eBooks and activity bags would be answered in these sections, as it seems these are questions that have already been asked by other parents.  Here you can see an example of one of the activities in the science book.  It lists the supplies that are needed and gives very detailed instructions for assembling the bags.  An experiment label is included that provides the name of the experiment, the type, supplies provided and needed, and also provides a warning:
"WARNING: This activity may contain small parts and is not intended for children under 3 years of age. Supervision is required. Plastic bag may pose a suffocation hazard if placed over the head.  Before starting this experiment please do the following; ALWAYS wash your hands BEFORE and AFTER an experiment, ALWAYS work with an adult when doing any of the experiments in this book, NEVER taste anything in an experiment unless the directions say you can, and FOLLOW the directions exactly as it appears on your experiment log.  REMEMBER that some experiments take longer than others. You need to be patient and take your time. If you rush, you might ruin the experiment and have to start over. RECORD all your results thoroughly and completely. HAVE FUN!"  As you can see...very thorough.  If you choose not to use plastic bags for safety reasons, you can use large manila envelopes instead to hold all of the supplies.
The Science Experiments in a Bag - eBook 2 is geared towards grade K through 8 and includes 25 experiments for just $15.00.  Older children can do some of these by themselves.  Younger children will need the help of an adult.  This book works very well when used in conjunction with a chemistry, human body, or general science textbook.  "It is an introduction to the wealth of material in many other books available in libraries and bookstores."  The student learns how to use the scientific method and is provided logs for recording findings.  It is suggested that a binder be used for the logs when finished with each experiment.  This is a good way to hold onto all that data, especially if portfolios are required at the end of the year.  Another great thing about these science books is that they cause the student and/or parent to think of other experiments.  Perhaps the antifreeze experiment is done; the student may then want to see if another substance such as sugar has any effect on water freezing.  Answers to the questions for each experiment are also provided.  Science Experiments in a Bag - eBook 2 is also sold as a bundle with Science Experiments in a Bag - eBook 1 (which is Biology, Nature, and General Science) for just $27.00 (a savings of $3).
Each of the eBooks that Activity Bags sells is $15.00.  If you are interested in having a swap, the coordinator handbook is free.  This book will give you all the information you need to hold a successful swap.  There are also Daily Activity Journals with journaling activities, writing prompts, and games.  These sell for $15 a piece as well but are also sold as a bundle for extra savings.
At first glance, the activity bag idea seemed a bit confusing to me.  Once I really started researching, it all made perfect sense.  These two ladies want to provide the best experience possible for their customers.  They know what it's like to try to keep preschoolers busy, so they want to make life a little easier for other moms as well.  Everything is spelled out very clearly, and there are great experiments and activities.  They have been thoroughly tested by other moms and their kids.
If you do have further questions, you should not hesitate to contact Activity Bags.  Their email address is info@activitybags.com.  The phone number is 303-288-0948.  If you would like to send them something by mail, their address is Activity Bags, LLC; 8090 Downing Drive; Denver, CO, 80229.
Go to the Schoolhouse Review page to read more reviews on the products sold by Activity Bags.
DISCLAIMER:  I received this product free of charge in order to provide an honest review of it.



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Vocal Coach - Learn How to Sing

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The Vocal Coach with Chris & Carole Beatty has a product called Vocal Coach Singer.  My kids and I love to sing, and I know I don't sing well.  I recorded myself once in college because I thought I'd sing a solo at church.  I listened to it and have been self-conscious about my singing ever since.  I thought I'd finally have an opportunity to learn how to hit the notes I was just missing all these years.

This product sells for $99.99 as MP3s and $119.99 as CDs.  The MP3s come as zip files.  It is geared for junior high through adults.  They also sell a product called Teaching Kids to Sing that has a target age of 5 through 6th grade which sells for $44.99.  Since the majority of my family is junior high and older, with the exception of my daughter who is in 5th grade, we received Vocal Coach Singer as downloadable files for the purpose of the review.  The Vocal Coach website details what is included in the set:

7 Training CDS:

  • Getting Started
  • Complete Breathing
  • Complete Warm-Up
  • Complete Tone
  • Complete Expanding Your Range
  • Complete Diction
  • Complete Performance
4 Workout CDs:
  • Daily Workout High Voice 1 & 2
  • Daily Workout Medium/Low Voice 1 & 2
Plus these great educational tools:
  • Guidebook - Full-size instructional guidebook to ensure success
  • Printable lead sheets - each exercise in our course, plus track lists
  • Personal Singer's Journal (Getting Started Journal & Workout Journal) to track your progress
  • Vocal Coach Song Evaluation - Evaluation form to enable you to make more intelligent song selections

Each of these CDs is loaded with practice songs and exercises to help improve not only your singing but your regular speech as well.  Training in things like posture, breathing, and diction will help anybody who speaks or sings in public.  Not being a singer, I don't know what is normal as far as training goes, so some of the exercises seemed a bit weird to me and my kids.  They were often found standing straight up against a wall or lying on the floor.  My boys didn't seem to mind, but my daughter doesn't do things that are on the odd side.

One of the exercises on the Complete Warm-Up CD has you singing the phrase, "Hum-Chew."  As you "chew," you are supposed to literally chew; you are supposed to move your jaw like you are chewing while you are also trying to sing.  I could not keep from laughing.  It was hilarious to see and hear.  I did notice, though, that it worked.  It loosened up my jaw muscles and kept those muscles from tiring if I was singing for a long time, like when I was in the car going to pick up one of my kids from some activity.

One thing that was hard was being able to follow a simple tune without an instrument in my house that I could play for us.  Since the sheet music is included for the activities, it would be very simple to play the notes and sing along without the CD (after having listened to it first).  Since I didn't have that, I know I wasn't singing the same thing as the CD.  My kids seemed to do much better at this than I did.  Maybe they were meant to sing.

Chris and Carole Beatty provide a lot of great instruction.  It is evident that they have a passion for singing.  The CDs are of high quality and easy to understand.  The number of exercises that have been given definitely provide enough practice for a long, long time.  There was no way we could have gotten through all of them in time for this review.  The Workout Med:Low Voice CD alone has 35 exercises.

It is recommended that those using this product practice at least 45-60 minutes a day.  Most days we used this we were probably around 30 minutes or so.  If there was one person in my family who was serious about singing, if they were in musicals or choirs, this product would benefit them greatly.  When I first heard about this product, I didn't know what to expect.  I wondered how voice lessons could be done in this format.  I thought voice lessons meant you sang and the teacher told you to go lower or higher to hit the right note.  This is not that at all!  There is so much more to singing than I knew.  I do want to hit the right notes when I sing, but I don't think I'm ready for an hour a day of the exercises included in this program.

Like I said previously, however, this is a good product even for those who are simply interested in speaking more clearly, using their voice appropriately, even if not using it for singing.  So many people today mumble.  Their diction is lazy.  This program helps that.  An explanation is provided as to why breathing right, posture, speaking clearly, etc., is important.  

If you or your children are singers or public speakers, you may want to seriously consider this product.  I believe it will benefit you/them greatly.  If you have more than one child who would use this program, it is definitely worth the $99 (even $119.99) you would pay for it.  

I'd encourage you to check out The Vocal Coach website.  They have a blog and many free resources on their website.

You can contact The Vocal Coach at customerservice@rede-commerce.com or by phone at 615-280-0554 (9 a.m.-4 p.m. CST).

Read more reviews about this product at http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/786778/.

DISCLAIMER:  I received this product free of charge so that I might use it and provide an honest review.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hope

I think I have one political bone in my body.  That's it, no more.  I vote in the Presidential elections and usually in the midterm elections, but that's about it.  I'm sure I should do more.  I often read about things and think I should call my representative, but I don't.  I don't know enough about most things, and I don't want to sound like an idiot on the phone if I call to ask them to vote for or against something.

I voted yesterday.  My candidate lost.  C'est la vie.  I didn't wake up very happy, and it carried over into how I handled virtually everything negative that came my way today.  Perhaps I let every circumstance be negative because of my attitude.  I let myself forget that all is not lost.  I honestly don't know what our current President has done in the last four years that has been good.  I certainly don't know how he'll work to make anything better in the next four, but I don't want to be a doomsayer.  I can't believe that America will cease to exist in the next four years.  I'm sure there will be those who think I am being naive.  You know, I'd rather live with hope than live in fear.

It is disheartening that so many Christians are allowing the results yesterday to steal their joy.  When I think about how big my God is, I can't help but smile.  The sun will still rise in the morning.  God controls that.  The sun will still set tomorrow night.  He controls that, too.

When God is in control, as He always will be no matter what happens in life or what anybody says, there is always hope.  With God on the throne, there is always peace, maybe not in this world, but there can be in my heart.  There is always love.  It might not be seen very often in society, but I can be one who loves others as God has called me to do.  God has promised me that He will never leave me nor forsake me.  I have hope.

I don't hope in government to meet my needs.  I hope in the One who allowed that government to stand.  If God allows that government to fall, I won't be disappointed.  I didn't hope in it in the first place.  I will follow God.  His ways are always better than anything man can envision.


 

The Journey to Faithfulness

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PhotobucketApologia offers a book for mothers and daughters full of stories of Biblical characters and devotions that will encourage them to grow deeper in their faith, Journeys of Faithfulness.

This book is recommended for girls ages 12 and up, but I was able to use it with my daughter who is almost 11.  She enjoys the historical fiction genre and especially loved the story of Esther in this book.  She thinks Esther is just amazing!

Sarah Clarkson is the authoress of Journeys of Faithfulness. She has included devotionals in this book as well as stories of Martha and Mary, Esther, Ruth, and Mary (Jesus' mother).  The whole book is very well written, although I liked the devotionals more than the stories of the Biblical characters.  She adds a great deal of background story to each of the women's lives, so much so that I feel it is stretching a bit. Martha is made to seem quite angry and spiteful towards Mary who doesn't share her desire to prepare.  Esther hits a point where she has lost all hope.  Ruth's story begins with her life as a child living in a pagan society.  I felt I needed to be sure my daughter knew that most of what was written was fiction.  She said, "Of course it is, Mom."  The stories are well written but, because they are about Biblical characters, I feel caution needs to be exercised when adding things to their lives and events that took place.  So, I was a little bit uncomfortable while I was reading this book.

Each chapter ends with a short Bible study and thought-provoking questions.  Three or four Bible passages are given that relate to the story told in the chapter with a number of questions that can be answered in the space provided.  Being that my daughter is just 10, going on 11, some of the questions were a bit beyond her ability to answer.

This book sells for $13.00 through Apologia and is worth the read for older girls.  So long as they know that much is added to the story to make it more detailed and that a lot of what is written is made up, then there shouldn't be a problem. The devotions that are included after the Biblical character story are, I think, more enjoyable (like I said earlier).  They are true to life and not made up.  They are Sarah's own testimony, what God has done in and through her.

Paige, my daughter, has already said that she wants to read the story of Mary, Jesus' mom, next in the book.  (We've been skipping around.)  She is enjoying it enough to keep reading, but I think the reflection through the questions and Scripture passages will come when she is a bit older.

If you are interested in reading other reviews about this book from the Homeschool Crew, simply go to http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/786679/.

DISCLAIMER:  I received this product free of charge so that I might use it and provide an honest, unbiased review.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The New Addition - We're Home!!

I am sitting in my bed this foggy Saturday morning.  Notice I said my bed.  My bed had been lying in pieces in the garage of our rented townhouse for 5-1/2 months.  I am looking at my dresser, which of course sat beside my bed in the garage.  However, it was not in pieces.  :-)  I am also looking at boxes.  If I went out into my living room, I'd be looking at more boxes.  If I went into the guest room...you get the idea.

We moved into our brand new house on Wednesday, just 4 days ago.  We picked it out in the middle of May, and I felt the whole time like I was having another baby.  We'd drive by at least 4 days a week to make sure something was happening.  If time went by when nothing happened, I'd worry that it wasn't going to be done on time.  I was constantly asking the doctor, I mean construction supervisor, questions about the progress.  When was this supposed to be done?  Why was that done that way?  I'm sure he'll be glad to have his inbox back and no longer filled with emails from me.  Seriously, it wasn't really that bad, but I was anxious more than a few times.

The day of delivery, of our new house, I was thrilled.  It felt like Christmas.  Our closing went smoothly, and we were handed the keys.  We unloaded two U-Haul trucks full of boxes and furniture into the house.  The rest of that day was spent buying a washer and dryer and the furniture we didn't have.  So, Thursday was a day of unpacking.  This is when the postpartum depression started to sink in.  I wanted to enjoy my new home, but I was tasked with unpacking boxes and finding a place for everything where no place yet existed.  Screws for shelves cannot be found.  A power cord for a computer monitor could not be found (it finally was).  I cannot figure out how I packed our house in Canonsburg.  I must have been excited to leave.  All I know is that everything will eventually be found because EVERY box needs to be emptied.

Yesterday, I drove to the post office which is 25 minutes away from our house.  Normal post offices don't exist with frequency here in northern Florida.  You can buy stamps at the grocery store.  You can send your boxes and pay for shipping at the UPS Store and at many different gas stations.  I must be old-fashioned because I like to go to the post office where I work with a postal worker, not someone who owns a gas station, when I need to take care of my outgoing mail.  Anyway, I went to the post office to get our mail key.  (Our neighborhood has a centralized mail kiosk at the entrance to the plan.)  When I went there, the postman couldn't find the keys for our street.  He called someone who said our HOA had the keys for our street.  Does that make sense to you?  It didn't to me either, but I figured he must know.  I got in the car and called the HOA who said they didn't know where my keys were.  Needless to say, I grew extremely frustrated, more frustrated than I should have.  Two hours later I received a call from the HOA stating that my mail keys were at the post office.  Really?  When I was there earlier I thought about asking the postman to look again for the keys, but he probably would have been insulted.  John and I had errands to run after he got home from work, so we went back to the post office and got our keys.  The postman I had worked with earlier noticed me when I walked in and, though he was working with someone else and there were five other people standing in line, he did not make me wait for my keys.  He was extremely apologetic.  I couldn't be mad at him.  We got our mail key and, on the way home, our mail.  Yes, after only three days, we had a stack of mail.

So, as I sit here peacefully on this no-longer-foggy morning in Florida looking out the back door in my bedroom to the magnolia tree in our backyard, I am thankful for the new addition to our family.  I am thankful that God made me feel like I was leaving home last November when we drove back to PA from Disney.  I am thankful that He has orchestrated everything and has put us here in this gorgeous house, complete with mail key.  LOL.  We will be receiving our washer and dryer and additional furniture this next week.  We will put things on the walls, and we will finish emptying our boxes; and our house will be a home. Hopefully a home where people feel welcome, a home full of love and blessings from God so we can, in turn, bless others.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Wonderful Alternative to TV - Sugar Creek Gang

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Have you been searching for something that could take the place of the computer or the television in your children's lives if just for a short time?  Do you see old pictures like the one below of families entranced by the voice emanating from the radio and wish that your family would do that every once in a while? 

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I grew up with a television.  We never listened to stories on the radio.  That "tradition" carried on to my children.  Of course, they grew up with computers. They barely even know what a radio is.  Thankfully, Beloved Books has made this experience available to us.  I was fortunate enough to receive the first volume of CDs of the Sugar Creek Gang.  This was a book series written by Paul Hutchens, a Baptist minister and evangelist.  His first book was published in 1939.  The book series was recorded in a studio by Paul Ramseyer.  The audio series is now available to us.


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While I was excited for my kids to have this new experience of listening and engaging their imaginations in a new way, I wasn't sure they would enjoy it as they are accustomed to visual activities.  When my daughter first heard we were going to review it, she balked at the idea.  She, however, was the one who ended up asking if we could listen to it in the car each time we went somewhere.  We actually finished the entire first volume of 12 CDs.  There are 36 books in the series, and each one is contained on 2 CDs.  In total, there are 72 CDs sold as 6 book sets, i.e., six volumes.  Each volume is $54.95 if purchased separately.  If you buy them as a complete set, the cost is only $279.70.

The stories in the first volume were "The Swamp Robber," "The Killer Bear," "The Winter Rescue," "The Lost Campers," "Chicago Adventure," and "The Secret Hideout."  Jacob's favorite story was "The Killer Bear."  Nate liked "The Lost Campers" best, and Paige enjoyed "The Secret Hideout" the most.  I didn't have a favorite story but liked the science lessons and random tips that were provided throughout like how to get rid of a tick.

While listening to it in the car once when our whole family was present, my husband asked that we stop listening to it.  He said that, while the stories are interesting, he did not enjoy listening to the different voices the narrator used and disliked the fact that he seemed to frequently correct himself.  He didn't feel like it was polished enough.  I hadn't noticed until John said something, and then it was obvious to me.  This was the only negative thing about the series.  For me, the benefits and enjoyment the kids received from listening to these stories far outweigh any imperfections.

Many Bible verses are used in the stories, and they frequently share the Gospel.  The stories are wholesome, which is a rarity these days.  Being that the books were written in the '40s, there are words that are used that we don't use today, like "rubbers" for rain boots.  So, it is funny to hear them.  My kids don't know any negative meaning of these different words because they aren't in a setting where they are used.

I feel completely comfortable leaving the room while the CDs are playing because I know there won't be anything I'll have to explain later.  Better yet, I know there is teaching on how to live a Godly life written into the stories.  This is done in such a way that it's not an adult telling the kids what they should or shouldn't do.  They are taught by "kids" through events that happen in their lives.  A great deal of admiration is given to his parents by the main character, Bill.  I find this extremely refreshing, especially when he remarks that he loves his parents because they don't let him think that doing wrong things is right and get away with them.

The Beloved Books website says that this series has had a "life-changing impact on countless young people."  We have only listened to the first volume.  There has not been any great change in my children over the past 4 weeks.  I do see how listening to this series on a regular basis, though, would do just that.  If they would fill their minds would good things, things of God, instead of junk they hear on the television, the natural outflow would be a changed heart.  There are five more volumes we haven't listened to yet.  I will be buying more.  Christmas is coming!

If you are interested in hearing the first book, "Swamp Robber," you can go to http://www.belovedbooks.com/freebie.html.  You can have them send the two CDs to you at a cost of $4.95 or you can download the story in MP3 format.  The story is under copyright, but you have permission to burn this one story to CD.  Instructions are provided on the freebie page.

Beloved Books does sell other materials such as KJV Scripture memory songs, a CD of songs set to the stories found in I Samuel to II Chronicles (sounds very interesting), The War for Mansoul (a retelling of John Bunyan's Holy War, complete with dramatized audio recording), missionary biographies on cassette (my children don't even know what these are), historical fiction on CD, G.A. Henty stories on CD, and more.

You can read other reviews of this product by going to the Homeschool Crew page.

If you would like to contact Beloved Books, their contact information is:

Beloved Books
PO Box 878
Fenton, MI  48430

810-735-0977

belovedbks@aol.com.

If you live in Michigan or visit there, the store address is 8572 Silver Lake Road, Linden.  Store hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11-3 Eastern Time.

DISCLAIMER: I received this product free of charge so that I might provide an honest review of it after using it for a time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Not Your Typical Snow White Story

A few weeks ago, Paige and I watched Mirror, Mirror with Julia Roberts as the Evil Stepmother.  Remembering there was another less kid-friendly version of Snow White that had come out, I said, "I'd rather be watching Snow White and the Huntsman."  If you are renting a movie for your young daughter, then  Mirror, Mirror is the right movie.  Otherwise, skip it.  I enjoy movies that have at least an ounce of reality.  This movie had none, but this post isn't supposed to be about that movie; so, I'll move on.

Having gotten a Redbox code for a free rental, I decided to get Snow White and the Huntsman to see if it was any good.  I enjoy movies that portray an empowered fairy tale character, like Ever After, which is a different type of Cinderella story than the usual.  I was hoping SW&H would be like Ever After.  The film begins with a very long backtory.  It left me wondering how much time would actually be left in the movie for the action.  Through the backstory, you learn that the evil stepmother, played by Charlize Theron, is nothing more than a witch.  She is truly evil.  They don't downplay this as the movie progresses.  She becomes increasingly evil and repulsive as in one scene she transforms back into a human being after being a flock of crows or ravens by the intermediary step of black goo.

Snow White was played by Kristen Stewart, known for her role in the Twilight movies.  I kept thinking, "Come on, she can easily kill the witch, she's a vampire for goodness sake."  Don't you hate it when you confuse movies?  Somebody should make a movie like that.  Have the actors play roles from other movies they've been in.  They could base it off of some other fairy tale.  That'd be a hoot!  Anyway, she is placed in the tower as a child after her father is murdered by her stepmother.  This leads me to a question I always have in these types of movies.  Why does it take evil people so long to get rid of their enemies?  No wonder the good guys always win.  The bad guys are so slow.  They always have to talk before they carry out their evil plan.

So, after 10 years or so in the tower, Snow sees a bird.  It must be the first bird she's seen in 10 years because she cries and goes over to it.  She happens to look out the window.  Again, must be the first time in 10 years she's thought to look out of the window in her cell because she sees a nail on the outside of all things.  Oh, if she had only found it 8 years ago!  She uses this nail (I won't share how) to escape from her cell.  She finds a magical white horse.  Well, not so magical if you consider it dies in a mud pit right in front of the Dark Forest.  I suppose if it had survived she would not have had to walk through the Dark Forest and encounter the evil that abounded in there.  I almost turned the movie off at this point.  While in the forest, she inhaled some type of gas that was emitted from the ground and then began to hallucinate.  I think she spun in circles for 10 minutes, seeing all kinds of creepy crawlies in her mind.  This movies goes overboard with the evil.  It is too much for the story and completely unnecessary.

Of course, this movie adds more to the Snow White story than the original version.  There are people made of glass shards, Snow escapes through the drainage system of the castle (they must have seen Shawshank Redemption). The Huntsman in this version actually falls in love with Snow White.  Snow's childhood companion, William, learns that she is still alive and tries to find her because he has been in love with her all this time.  It leaves you wondering, will she be in William's camp or the Huntsman's camp.  Reminds me of another movie she played in...Edward's camp or Jacob's camp.  I digress.  You may be wondering, "What about the apple?"  Oh, it's there, but it's been a long time since I've seen such a melodramatic and unrealistic death scene.  You want to shout at the TV, "Seriously?  Would you just die already," but that's not a very Christian attitude is it?

There is no shortage of black magic in this movie.  This, in my opinion, was the biggest disappointment.  The cinematography was beautiful.  They did a great job capturing the beautiful scenery and the majesty of all of the horses riding together on the beach toward the castle, but the evil really cast a shadow over anything good in this movie.

I would save your money.  If you have a code for Redbox, I'd see something else.  I most definitely wouldn't let your kids see this movie.  It left me feeling uncomfortable in my own home.  There is enough evil in this world without letting Hollywood fill our minds with it.  Hope this helps.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

This One's All Mine

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I had the opportunity to use this product all by myself, and I love it!  I know it probably sounds strange that I love learning about taxes, but since I do our personal taxes every year I was eager for this review so that I'd know without a doubt that I was doing them right and would hopefully get some tips to save even more money in the future.


PhotobucketNational Tax Training School offers a number of different products.  I am currently enrolled in Federal Income Tax Course.  They also offer a Higher Course in Federal Taxation, a California Tax Preparer Course, and a Federal tax refresher course for continuing education.  The Federal Income Tax Course is most appropriate for individuals who want to learn how to prepare tax returns for individuals and small businesses, and it requires no previous experience in the tax field.  This is also good information for those who want to know how to do their own personal taxes correctly.
The course has two enrollment options.  Both options include a 20-lesson course that comes with a manual which has practice problems and examinations, a grading service, practical case studies, student guidance, reference books, a book on how to build and operate a successful tax practice, a graduation certificate, and postgraduate services.  The first option includes four years of postgraduate support for $795 for payment in full upon registration.  There are two additional payment plans under this option that allow for installment payments.  The total amount paid will be more than if paid all at once.  With the installment plans, only a certain amount of lessons can be completed before the next payment is made.

The second option includes two years of postgraduate support for $495 paid in full upon registration.  The other payment plan under this option allows for payment in three installments; six lessons can be completed before each succeeding installment is paid.  Those currently serving in the military may be eligible for reimbursement up to 75% tuition under DANTES.

The initial product the user receives (the binder shown above) comes with 17 lessons.  Each lesson requires approximately eight hours of study.  Once these lessons are completed and the tests are sent in, the last 3 lessons, the tax practice book, a guide to the current year's tax law, final exam, and application for certificate of graduation, are mailed to the student.  I received these things early so that I might include them in my review.  I felt like I was opening a Christmas present.  I can't wait until I'm ready to use these additional items and put into practice all of the things I've learned.


National Tax Training School allows you to complete the course in as little as eight weeks, but you can take as much as a year.  It is all at your own pace.  You can file for 6-month extensions for $50, if you need more time.  

I have enjoyed the course so far.  I just finished lesson six, and I have learned a great deal already.  The one thing that really excites me is the idea of one day being able to have a small business of my own preparing taxes for other people.  I don't know if that is what God has in store for me, but this course is giving me the knowledge and the opportunity that I've never had before.  I feel good every time I sit down to take a test, knowing that I'm one step closer to accomplishing this goal in my life.  Once I've successfully completed the program, I'll be able to take the IRS Registered Tax Preparer Exam.  I'll have to let you know in a future blog how that turns out.

The lessons include many examples to clarify the text.  Real life types of examples are given to explain concepts.  This is extremely helpful to me.  Sometimes I read through the idea being taught and don't completely understand it.  When I read the example, the light bulb goes on in my head.  Each lesson has practice problems at the end for review before you take the test.  I got most of the answers right for each of the reviews for the first five lessons, but when I got to lesson six the concepts were a bit tougher for me to grasp.  I didn't get enough right answers for my liking.  I wished I had had more problems to practice.

Each test that is taken is to be sent in using the envelopes they provide for each test (you need to supply the stamp), and the teachers with National Tax Training School grade your test and mail it back to you within the week.  The school was on a break when I sent my first tests in, so it took a couple of weeks to get them back; but I have since received feedback on each test I have sent.  An answer key is sent back with each test to explain the answers and to tell you where to find the answers in the text.

This course is very professional, easy to understand, and the instructors are available to answer any questions you may have.  They want to be sure you enjoy the course and are getting everything out of it that you can.  The correspondence I've had with one of the teachers has been very helpful and friendly.  

National Tax Training School has been training tax professionals since 1952, and they are recognized by the CFP, nationally accredited by the DETC, an approved CE provider, and an accredited business through the BBB as seen below.

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Please visit the Homeschool Crew if you are interested in reading what others on the Crew have said about National Tax Training School's Federal Income Tax Course.

If you have questions for National Tax Training School, their contact information is:

67 Ramapo Valley Road, Suite 102
Mahwah, NJ  07430
(800)914-8138
info@nattax.com

DISCLAIMER:  I received this product free of charge in order to provide an unbiased, honest review.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Wonderful Way to Learn about the Pilgrims

I feel as if I've taught on the Pilgrims more than once for each of my three children.  I was pretty sure I had hit all the angles and couldn't add anything more to the story.  Boy, was I wrong!!  We have been reviewing what I think is perhaps the best resource for learning about the Pilgrims' story.


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Dayspring Christian Academy has put together a self-paced online course called, The Pilgrim Story.  This course is geared towards students in third through sixth grade and costs $99.  Since it is self-paced, you can access it any time you'd like and finish it at your own pace (beginning 48 hours after purchase and ended six months after purchase).  Dayspring teaches according to the Principle Approach of education which teaches Biblical principles using a classical method of teaching.  It helps equip "young men and women to help restore America to her gospel purpose, thereby helping to fulfill Christ's Great Commission."

The Pilgrim Story plays on your computer, laptop, etc., with an easy to understand voice narrating.   There are many resources to download and print out, if you so choose.  We usually print out the vocabulary, the student sheets which Paige fills in while listening to the lesson, and any extra activities there may be.  I have printed out some of the sheets that have Biblical quotes or people's names listed on them but not all.  Each page has color graphics, and I am very stingy with my ink.  I'd be more inclined to print all of the resources if some used a smaller font and had more than one "page" on each PDF.  They are all, however, very well done and create a nice notebook once each  lesson is completed.

The Pilgrim Story begins with a tutorial on how to use the program, which is very helpful, especially if the student is going to go through the program on his/her own for the most part.  Paige enjoyed logging in each day and going through the lessons.  She felt very accomplished after she had done a whole lesson.  The illustrations that are used are superb.  The music that is used is wonderful and adds a bit of suspense to what is being learned.  The student sheets that are filled out are verbatim of the text on the slides; the text that is to be written is underlined on the slides.  The narrator does not just read what is written on the slides but goes beyond the slide to explain things to the student.

The course begins with the history of King Henry VIII and the Geneva Bible.  So, it gives a very detailed account of what life was like for the Pilgrims long before they journeyed west.  This is the history that has been lacking in my teaching, or in the resources I've used in the past to teach.  I love that this program goes in depth into the history and the problems there were in England for the group that became the Pilgrims.  It doesn't shy away from the details like most other curricula about the Pilgrims do.

Besides the student sheets and the vocabulary, there are also maps to fill out, recipes for foods that were eaten on the Mayflower, self-reflection exercises, crafts to make, etc.  In some of the lessons, there are interactive slides where the student can click a picture and learn even more about a subject.  There are online reviews at the end of each lesson.  If the student picks the wrong answer, the correct answer is given with an explanation.  At the end of each unit, there is a multiple choice/true or false test.  I'd like to see a hard copy of the tests so that they can be graded and entered into the notebook.  Under the course administration tab, the grade that your child received on each test can be seen, but for some reason it doesn't give a grade for each lesson.  Therefore, Paige's score is 12.08, although she scored B's and a C on her tests.

Each day, Paige is excited to get on my laptop and do her DCA lesson for the day.  She asks which papers she needs to print from the resources tab.  Once that is done, she jumps right into the lesson.  She doesn't even grumble.  She is able to take ownership of this part of her learning.  She shows me what she has learned and what she has done and sometimes shares things she found interesting or gross, in the case of learning about the Pilgrims eating at night on the ship so they couldn't see the maggots that had invaded their food supply.  I've even learned a great deal through this online class.

There are 5 main units with a total of 17 separate lessons.  There is an introduction and a virtual field trip at the very end of the program to Plymouth, Massachusetts.  I feel this program is definitely worth the money.  There is so much learning.  It is done in a very creative and engaging way and doesn't talk down to the student.  It is my feeling from this program that Dayspring believes that kids are capable of learning at a higher level than most curriculum provide.  I appreciate this.  I love to see my kids challenged!

If you want to read other reviews of this product by those on the Homeschool Crew, visit http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/786524/.
If you'd like to contact Dayspring Christian Academy, their information is as follows:

Dayspring Christian Academy

120 College Avenue
Mountville, PA  17554

(717)285-2000
http://dayspringchristian.com

DISCLAIMER:  I received this product free of charge in order to provide an unbiased review.  I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any way.  I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Will I Never Learn?



     Oh, having a house built is just killing me!!!  I don't remember being this anxious and impatient when we had our house in Canonsburg built.  Perhaps I was and just don't remember; it was more than 8 years ago.  Last Friday I realized that we needed to have paperwork done so that we pay the right amount for our mortgage.  I sent an email and didn't like the reply I got from customer service.  John got involved and was able to set in motion a series of events that allowed us to have that paperwork complete by lunchtime Monday morning.  Today I passed by the house just like I do at least 5 or 20 times a week, but who's counting?  It looked to me like nothing had been done for a day and a half, and the weather is beautiful.  Since we were supposed to have all of our landscaping done by the end of the week, I wondered what the holdup was.  When I got a reply this afternoon to an email I sent about it, God decided it was time I remembered what He has done for us through this entire process.

   
     Back in April, we put our house on the market and sold it in 4 days!!!!  John didn't even have a job yet.  He got that at the end of April/beginning of May.  God provided that job.  We spent two days in Florida in May to find a house which we found in one.  We also found a rental which John was able to move into the next day.  (He started his job the following week, and I went back to PA with the kids for two more weeks.)



We needed a place to stay for two nights after we closed on our house before we actually moved to Florida.  Our good friends were going on vacation and let us stay at their house.  It worked out perfectly!!  We had a safe drive down and were able to empty our truck into the garage that is attached to our rental.  No cost for storage.  This rental has been a blessing.  God provided it.  It is more expensive than what our mortgage will be, but we pay for no water or cable, just electric.  We have that storage for our stuff.  We sold most of our furnishing before we moved, and this rental is fully furnished.  While I am using only a few of my own kitchen items, I don't have to repack all of my plates and cups, etc., to move into our new house.  This is a blessing I hadn't even thought of until now.

We live in Florida now.  We aren't going anywhere for a long time.  I am anxious to be in my own house again, using my own things, but I must leave it in God's hands.  His timing is perfect.  No matter how much I email or fret or get frustrated, I will not be able to control this situation.  God has provided for us throughout this entire journey.  He will always give us what we need when we need it.  Why is it so hard for me to remember all that He has done for us?  It hasn't even been 6 months since we moved down here and look at all that has happened.  

"Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal."
Isaiah 26:4


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Kids Built a Zoo...

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ZooWhiz is a free interactive online learning program for math, reading, and English.  It is geared towards children ages 5-15 and even older depending on their skill level.  With the free membership, children can participate in learning activities and earn virtual coins for correct answers which they can use to purchase a variety of animals to fill their zoo.  They can also use these coins to play games in the arcade.  ZooWhiz can be upgraded to a Premium membership for even more interactivity.  Currently, the annual price for the Premium membership is only $14.95.  With it, you can buy rare and endangered animals for your zoo, play more arcade games, and have access to ZooWhiz 24/7/365.  Parents also have access to ZooWhiz through a parent account where the child's progress can be monitored.

My children enjoy learning via interactive online programs.  ZooWhiz suited the needs of all three of  my children in that I could set their age/learning level.  Once a child has his own account, he can choose his avatar.  Here are some choices below.  One complaint my daughter had was that she wished she could customize her avatar a bit more instead of choosing one that had already been created.

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Each time one of my kids went to play ZooWhiz, they had a specific device they chose to play it on.  They learned that if you sign in to play on your "home" device, you get 100 coins for free.  Paige used my computer.  Nate used John's computer, and Jacob used the kids' computer.  The home page of ZooWhiz is seen below.  This is where students can see how many points they have and how many animals they have in their zoo.  In order to answer questions in math, reading, or English, they clicked "Learn & Earn."  Biodome took them to where their animals were being kept and where they could buy more.  The Arcade is where they could play games, and Milestones allowed them to see their own progress.

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Progress Page
There was a point about two weeks ago, after Nate had already played a few weeks and saved up a lot of coins and a lot of progress, when the system somehow lost all of his information.  He was very discouraged and, although he has still played, he has not spent as much time playing and learning as he did before.  He says, "It has a lot of bugs, and it occasionally loses memory of progress; but it is a lot of fun, and the creatures are cool to collect."  So, even though he had a setback, he has still enjoyed collecting the animals and playing the games.

There were some other issues as my kids used ZooWhiz.  Paige says, "The glitches are really annoying.  In the 'Words' section, there is a problem where you have to find the matching word, and you cannot even see the answers.  If you click on them, you can see them.  You can drag them into the box, but it seems as if the program can't see them and, if it is right, the program still marks it as wrong."  Even Jacob said, "It is fun but full of bugs."  It does seem that there are a lot of things they are adding to the program, especially with the Premium membership.  Perhaps there just needs to be a bit of tweaking.  

I have appreciated using the program despite the rare bugs.  I think my kids have learned a ton of new information.  I have liked the math program for Paige because she does not do well with textbooks.  ZooWhiz does not follow any logical order that I've noticed, just random questions that students should know based on the age that was chosen in the system by the parent, but when she gets to a problem that she does not know how to solve I am able to sit down with her and explain it to her.  For example, she was not sure how to find multiples.  I worked through it with her a few times, and she hasn't asked me again.  She now understands the concept.  She even said today that she did best in math and only missed one problem.  That is a huge success for her.

The kids have enjoyed being able to buy animals to fill their zoo.  Jacob, who is the ultimate animal lover in the family has soaked up the information about each animal that the kids are able to learn when buying them.  They all wish, though, that they could take care of their animals and train not them, not just collect them.

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This program was created in Australia and, therefore, has an Australian voice (which I love listening to).  There is an opportunity to change your country when you sign up, but it must be done as soon as you sign up and cannot be changed later.  This is unfortunate because I did not realize this until later.  I am not sure how that would have helped or if it would have at all.  Some of the spelling is different from ours in the Australian content, which confused Paige (she is the youngest of my kids).  For example, there was favorite and favourite and color and colour.  There were other times when the differences in their speech caused them to get a problem wrong.  It wasn't very often, but it happened.  There were a few times as well when I wasn't sure the answer they expected was the correct answer and times when the question didn't make any sense.  I think perhaps they teach some things in Australia that are not taught here and that is the difference.  

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Example of a math problem
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Example of a words problem
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Example of a reading problem
If you are interested in reading other Homeschool Crew reviews of this product, you can find them at http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/786479/.

ZooWhiz can be reached by mail at PO Box 658, Armidale NSW, 2350, Australia, or by phone.  In the U.S., the toll-free number is 1-866-215-4620.

DISCLAIMER:  I received this product free of charge in order to use it and provide an honest review.