That’s Only in Movies!?

We had the (good) surprise of our lives today, and were rather in shock for a couple of hours. Actually, some of us are probably still somewhat in shock over what happened.

We’ve been discussing for a year or more what to do with the engine in our van. It was obviously wearing out, but wasn’t bad enough to replace yet. Then, right after we moved over here, I started having trouble getting it out of fifth gear (it’s a manual). It wasn’t all the time, just sometimes, but we also noticed a strange whine when going the speed limit. I didn’t think much of it, and kept double- or triple-clutching when necessary to shift gears. Then, on Monday this week, I took the van to Simon’s boss to get a warrant of fitness. He told us that fifth gear was going out, but if we only used it when going downhill we should still be able to use the van for awhile. He advised that it wasn’t worth rebuilding the gearbox again (we did three years ago), given the age of the van (a 1994 model) and the state of the engine. The next time I used it was yesterday, Friday. I drove it the six minutes to pick Simon up from work, and both times in that short distance that I tried to shift from fifth gear to fourth it took everything I had to accomplish that—and the second time, I had to actually turn the van off after half a dozen tries, and then keep working at it for awhile. So, I didn’t use fifth on the way home, and the noise produced by driving in fourth, even below the speed limit, was such that conversation was impossible, and I had a headache by the time we got home.

After all that, we decided it was probably time to either never go anywhere as a family until we can take two vehicles, or get a different van. Esther and Simon started looking for them online, and we prayed for direction, but I could tell that Gayle was dreading making a decision. Simon’s boss came by this morning for a few minutes, and Gayle asked his advice about rebuilding the gearbox, since he hadn’t talked personally to him about it. Simon’s boss said he’d think about a vehicle for us. Three or four hours later, he pulled into our driveway in a very nice van, and his wife was right behind him in their vehicle. He handed Gayle the keys. We were absolutely speechless. This is something we never ever, in our wildest dreams, would have imagined happening. All we can do is say thank you, to a wonderfully generous brother in the Lord, and to God Who orchestrates such things. And, I believe we’ll be going to Easter Conference in Timaru again as we had planned on doing before the van started acting up! (Unless the Lord has other plans for us, that is.)


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Book Review—Fine Print

About the Book

Name of book: Fine Print, book 3 in the Meddlin’ Madeline series
Author: Chautona Havig
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Release Date: March 15, 2018

My Thoughts:

I’ve been enjoying the saga of Madeline Brown ever since the first book came out a couple of years ago. In Fine Print, she is back again, investigating another mystery—but with a twist this time. Previously, she saw things that made her curious about something, and started investigating a man’s character on her own. Now, Edward Gastrel has asked her to investigate something for him—not someone’s character this time, but a mystery his grandfather left for him.

Madeline first met Edward at a dinner party. He had heard her reputation, and tested her out with a riddle; when she answered it quickly, he asked her to help him solve the riddle in his grandfather’s will—if he couldn’t find the solution, he would not get most of his inheritance. Of course, Madeline couldn’t resist such a challenge—but what would she find? You may be as surprised as she was, in the end, but you’ll have to read to the last chapter for all the pieces to fall into place. Until then, it’s somewhat vague.

I was challenged along with Madeline as she saw how absorbed Russell was by the Bible. The advice he gave her is worthwhile for everyone! I’m appreciating the spiritual growth I’m seeing in her life from book to book in this series.

Madeline’s skills as a detective are definitely growing, from one book to another. I’m enjoying following her progress—and the next book is sounding quite interesting, too, if it continues on where this one left off! I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with Jimmy and Essie, two poor children Madeline has learned to know, as well.

I received an advance reader’s copy from the author and chose to write this review. Links in this post may be affiliate links, which will benefit Esther if  you chose to buy through them.

If you buy the book before the 31st of March, follow the instructions in this link to get a fun bonus!

The Author’s Synopsis:

Budding detective, Miss Madeline Brown, has gained quite the reputation for “meddling” in the circa 1900 city of Rockland. With two successful “cases” under her belt, it was only a matter of time before she found something new to interest her insatiable curiosity.

This time, however, the “curiosity” found her.

Challenged by Edward Gastrel, to prove her deductive prowess, Madeline embarks on riddling out the puzzle of a journal left to him by his grandfather. If she can decode the contents, the local gentleman may find himself in the possession of something quite valuable.

As usual, however, things aren’t as they seem, and Madeline finds herself in a race against more than time and ambiguity.

About the Author:
Chautona Havig lives and writes in California’s Mojave Desert where she uses story to point readers to the Master Storyteller.

Guest Post from Chautona Havig:

Denny’s. “America’s Diner.” It’s also my “office away from my office away from home.” Most nights I write at our local prayer house. But on Wednesday nights for a few hours, and then all night on Saturday, I sit in booth 14 and write.

It was a cold, frosty Wednesday night. With thoughts from Bible Study still swirling in my mind and heart, I ordered my loaded baked potato soup and began brainstorming with my writing and podcastingbuddy, April.

She left around midnightish—as usual. And another evening regular began chatting.

Look. I like this guy. He’s a fascinating conversationalist. We have a lot of fun talking books, movies, politics, history, computers… He’s even given me a great idea for a book (without meaning to, but still).

But… that night, I needed to get a bunch done on Madeline and didn’t have time for chatting. So, when he started talking about his evening, I wanted to bang my head on the table. I kept repeating, “People are more important. People are more important. People are more important,” over and over in my head.

I can’t tell you how often this has happened at Denny’s. Employees stop to chat. Regular diners stop to chat. This guy starts a long conversation and always on nights I can’t afford to spend… chatting!

But everything shifted in an instant.

The man said something—what, I can’t remember—and my brain started churning.

I asked a question.

He answered.

The next thing I knew, he’d moved into my booth and began firing questions at me. Suggestions. Most of what he suggested wouldn’t work with the story, but he had no way of knowing that. Still, every time he did I got a new idea. And I’d ask a question. He’d answer, suggest. I’d counter—ask or answer. Ideas blossomed and exploded into seeds of even more ideas.

And right there, at two o’clock in the morning, with Angela the wonder server keeping me in fresh glasses of Coke, Fine Print went from not only my favorite of the Madelines (thus far) but also became much more exciting.

The whole thing taught me a couple of lessons. First, I always say that people are more important than the “stuff” I do. Sometimes, that’s not so easy to live. But the Lord is always faithful, like He did that night, to remind me that it sometimes helps me, too.

Second, sometimes a mid-book brainstorming session is just what I need to keep my excitement high. And, if that means a “wasted” Wednesday night in booth 14, then I’d say it’s worth it.

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Nelson Creek

One thing the boys are loving about living here is that there is a good swimming spot just 15 minutes from home, within 10 minutes from Simon’s work. Several times, we have gone to Nelson Creek to go swimming after picking Simon up from work. The family he works for, with whom he lived for six months before we moved here, has gone each time, too, so there are lots of children having lots of fun in the water each time!

The first time we went, there were a lot of people already using the favorite swimming hole, so we went to a bend downstream. Here, Simon is trying to get up into a cave. As you can see in the second picture, he got there, and then Mr. Intellectual and Mr. Diligence got there, too, although it was difficult.


Looking downstream from where I was sitting.


The boys found a long log, and pulled it upstream so they could float down on it.


The other times we went we were able to be at the other spot. It’s still in the sun in the evening, so it’s warmer. There are also steps dug into the cliff face, so they climb up and then jump into the deep water at the base. The splash when they hit the water is tremendous!


Between the two families there are four inner tubes—or were, until Mr. Diligence overinflated one of ours and then it hit a nail! The boys love tubing from the walking bridge just upstream, down past where we sit watching to the bend just below us.


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Shelves and Tomatoes

We are enjoying Saturdays even more than usual right now. Because Gayle is still working at the job he has had for the past 7+ years, he is living on the other side of the island during the week and we only get to see him on the weekends. So, Saturday is a special day with Daddy! Yesterday, he helped the boys get started building shelves for me to store my jars on. Mr. Diligence had finished closing in one end of the garage a few days ago; there was a stud wall there already from someone else’s project. Yesterday, they added the framework for shelving, and last evening the boys got started putting down the bottom shelf. So far, all we’ve bought for the project was four sheets of cheap plywood for the walls; the rest of the timber is recycled, stuff we’ve salvaged here and there.

Here is Mr. Intellectual cutting boards for the shelves.


Mr. Diligence working on the supports.


This is the stack of boxes to unload onto the new shelves.3-IMG_4265

Meanwhile, Esther and I were working on tomatoes. Gayle brought me four big boxes of overripe tomatoes that had been rotting in someone’s garden over there. We got all this plus a couple of pots of juice from them! I’m planning to save seed from them; they are a heritage variety from South Australia, and this woman has been saving seed from them for many years. The seeds haven’t been sold on the market for over 50 years. Her father used to sell the tomatoes all over the island; he would ship them on the train from Cheviot. While we were working, I threw a bunch of rotten tomatoes into a jar, and then poured them into a bucket when the jar got full. Later, I said something about the tomatoes I had put in a bucket to save seed from. The boy who is in charge of taken garbage out to the chickens got a funny look and admitted that he had taken that bucket out, not knowing what I was doing with them. We immediately went out with a flashlight and found the pile of rotten tomatoes; I was able to salvage about half the seeds. Whew! There will be plenty, unless the bucket gets dumped again. I appreciate diligence—but I need to make sure everyone knows what is going on!6-IMG_4279

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Product Review—Drive Thru History Adventures

Last year when I joined the Homeschool Review Crew and was given access to, one of our favorite resources was the Drive Thru History videos. Mr. Intellectual watched all of them that were on there, and wished he could watch the new series, The Gospels. We were in the wrong part of the world to get on the review team for that one last year, though, which really disappointed him. This year, he was very excited when the Drive Thru History Adventures review came up and it was available worldwide! He had been rewatching the American History videos, along with Mr. Sweetie, and was thrilled at the thought that he could now watch the Gospels ones, as well. He was delighted when we were chosen to review Drive Thru History, and spent some time with it immediately, although, because of our move, he didn’t have time to get back to it for a couple of weeks. Since then, though, he has been using it every school day. Drive Thru History Adventures

Mr. Intellectual has been working his way through the lessons labeled Bible History. These go through the life of Jesus. The narrator, David Stotts, goes to places such as Nazareth, Jerusalem, or Bethany, for example, and tells the story of what happened in the life of Jesus. The story really comes to life as you see the place as you hear the story. He also shows or talks about artifacts related to the subject quite often. My boy feels like watching these has helped him to understand the Bible better. The main that stood out to him was the artifacts that help to confirm the Biblical account.

There are 18 lessons in the Bible History Adventures part of the curriculum. Each lesson includes a 30-minute video, artwork and photos relating to the topic, Scripture readings from the part of the Gospels that are being discussed here, “Side Roads” about related topics, discussion questions, worksheets, and Digging Deeper articles (which Mr. Intellectual has just admitted he doesn’t read). The lessons are supposed to be spread out over a week, but we’re doing one a day, as the amount he’s doing only takes about an hour.

We haven’t had time to use the lessons for American History Adventures or Ancient History Adventures yet. He has watched all the videos, about a year ago, and will probably watch them again sometime. There are 12 lessons for American History, starting with the discovery of America and going through the signing of the Constitution. The lessons are laid out the same way as the Bible History lessons. There are also 12 lessons for Ancient History, also laid out the same way. These include the founding of Rome and the persecution of Christians by Rome, the spread of Christianity, the beginnings of democracy in Greece. There are also trips to what is now known as Turkey as we follow the spread of the early church. I noticed that a number of these videos are 45 minutes long.

Besides the main site, there is also a section titled Adventures TV. Apparently, this is an app you can use on a phone, and be able to access all the videos that way. There are also extra videos on a wide variety of subjects, such as Christian special days and special events in American history, as well as behind-the-scenes peeks at the new Museum of the Bible. These seem to be around 5 minutes each; Mr. Intellectual is using them as an incentive to do his school work faster. (When he finishes a subject within a given time, he gets to watch one of those short clips.)

If you need a way to make history come alive, Drive Thru History Adventures might be the perfect fit. Not only are these videos very informative, they are also entertaining. Boys will especially like the parts where Dave Stotts goes off on a rabbit trail, talking about his wonderful vehicle! I’m not much for vehicles, but it is funny sometimes. Apparently, he was telling once how wonderful his Land Rover was, and dropped the keys. Another time, he did a Car-B-Que, using his engine to cook his meal. (I’m not sure I want to try that one, judging by what I was just told about it!) I’m very glad we got to review this site, and we will be going back to it throughout the year. One thing I just learned—apparently, there is a code for 20% off a year’s subscription, in the most recent issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, so if you read that, search for the code.

Oh, one more thing—we got some fun mail from Drive Thru History this week! Living where we do, it is rare and exciting to get mail from America, so it was an extra-special thank you for being part of this review. They sent two iron-on badges and two large stickers, as well as a large post card. What fun!1-IMG_4229

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Product Review—Starfall Education Foundation

Most of the time, I don’t allow my little people to spend much time looking at screens. When I was asked if I wanted to review the program offered by Starfall Education Foundation, I decided we would give it a try. We were given a one-year subscription to The Starfall Home Membership. Unfortunately, because of our move soon after the review program began, we were not able to utilize it as fully as we could have. It did save the day, the day before we moved, however! It rained all day, so the little ones had to be in the house. Because I was trying to finish packing and cleaning everything and get the cow to her new home and wrap up all sorts of other odds and ends, I let the youngest three play with Starfall for a couple of hours. The rest of us kept an eye on what they were doing on the floor in the living room, and they were enthralled, listening to a voice read picture books as they clicked to turn the pages. Starfall

There is a lot for children to listen to and learn from on this site. For some reason, Mr. Imagination and Little Miss loved the introduction to colors—they played with that one over and over! They also loved the storybooks. There are simple books to introduce letters of the alphabet, and another set of folk tales. They listened to all six of them one day, and the next day went through all the nonfiction stories. I like the way these books are presented. If a child is able to, they can read them for themselves, but if they aren’t sure of the words or can’t read yet, there is a button on each page to click to hear the story read to them.1-IMG_4259

The audiovisual resources are available free to anyone. I wondered, when I gained access to the one-year Membership, what advantage it was, but when I started looking closer, I found a wealth of resources in the Parent-Teacher Center. There is a complete curriculum for Kindergarten and Pre-K, as well as a wealth of supplementary resources for 1st grade. The curriculum pages I looked at were scripted, so you don’t even have to think about what to say! This isn’t my style, so I didn’t do anything with it, but it’s there if you want or need it.

I did use some of the printables. When Mr. Imagination learned the short /u/ sound, I printed out a story featuring many words with that sound, and several worksheets he could use to practice writing it and sounding out words using it. He loved them! The story was easy for him to read, since he had gone through it on the computer a few weeks previously. He was excited to be able to read it for himself!


I also printed a few worksheets for Little Miss. Even though she just turned three, she has been talking for a long time about things that are the same or different, so I thought she might enjoy doing a page of that. She did! She was absolutely thrilled to get to circle things, and she got them all right. I also printed her a page of circling the longest of a group of pictures, and she got all of them right, as well. 01-IMG_424305-IMG_424710-IMG_4252

For our family, The Starfall Home Membership is probably not worth paying for, as little as I use it. However, the resources that are available free are good when you need something educational to keep little children occupied for awhile. As I said, it was great the day before we moved, when it was pouring rain and they couldn’t play outside, and all their toys were packed and things were in an upheaval! And, if you need a complete curriculum for Preschool or Kindergarten, it would be good.

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January 2018 Pictures

Ok, time to catch up with January pictures. These are the last ones from Cheviot, as we prepared to move.

On New Year’s Day, we were able to do a video call with Gayle’s family in America. It was fun to be able to see them! Little Miss was fascinated, and made sure she was right in front of Esther’s phone all the time.


The cats find the most interesting places to sleep!


An aunt in America sent these balloons. Little Miss and Mr. Imagination had a lot of fun with them—until they popped.


I took this picture to send to the person who gave her the dress.


One afternoon I went into Esther’s room to talk to her. Grizzly came along, and caught sight of herself in the mirror. She immediately arched her back and fluffed her tail, staring at that strange cat. She spent 5-10 minutes absolutely terrified, and of course, Esther teased her by moving the mirror closer—which sent Grizzly, hissing and spitting, under the bed!


Two weeks before moving day, we had a Saturday afternoon with not much that had to be done, so we decided to go to the beach. There were too many people at Gore Bay for our liking, so we went to Manuka Bay. See where Gayle is sitting, under the rock? The tide was coming in, and every so often a wave would come right up to him. He managed to push himself up on his hands enough that he didn’t get very wet—but after awhile he gave up and found another shady spot to rest.


Mr. Imagination lined all the teddy bears he could find up on my chair one day.


Mr. Sweetie made this boat for Little Miss for her birthday.


The day we loaded the container, a week before moving, one of the boys discovered a turkey hen with six or seven babies. We normally take the babies away as soon as they hatch, but these were about three weeks old—she had been hiding well! We had quite the chase to catch them; they were already able to fly.


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Product Review—Bytes of Learning

It was exciting to start another year with the Homeschool Review Crew and get to begin choosing more products to review! One of the first ones this year was the UltraKey Online Family Subscription from Bytes of Learning. I have been trying different typing programs for several years, trying to teach my boys to touch type. The one we used for the last couple of years was expensive, although it seemed to work, but it was time again to either pay for another year or find something else to use for the 2018 school year—and then the opportunity to try UltraKey came up. Just what we needed, and at the right time, except that we had to move during the review period, so that we didn’t get to try it for very long before writing this review. UltraKey Online Family Edition

I have seen enough of this product to be fairly impressed. There are a lot of instructional videos, and the option to have all directions read aloud. That makes it easy for younger children to use on their own, and the older ones were glad that we could turn that feature off by clicking the Auto button. After watching a video once, you are allowed to skip it; if you select Off for the Step-by-step Learning setting you can skip all of them if you want to. I allowed Mr. Intellectual and Mr. Diligence to turn off that setting, since they already have a fairly good foundation for touch typing. Mr. Sweetie is still required to go step by step through the program, since he is still learning the basics. Ultrakey screenshot 2

After a video about posture and an introduction to the course, there is a lesson on finger positions, and then the proper lessons start. After learning several keys, the student has the opportunity to practice words and then sentences. After that, it’s time for a skill check; the student chooses to type either a certain amount of text or a certain number of minutes. Once he has passed the skill check, he can move on to the next lesson. Passing is determined by reaching the preset goal. I was able to set goals for the boys myself. The goal I have set for Mr. Sweetie for this year is to become accurate; the other two boys are supposed to increase their speed. One thing I’m liking is the ability to see a report of what the boys have accomplished; here is the report from Mr. Sweetie. Ultrakey screenshot 1

After completing the lessons and skill check, if you need more practice, you can redo lessons or skill checks, or use the Typing Forum or Game Zone. The Typing Forum offers more passages to type to increase your speed and accuracy, or you can select Free Typing and just type anything you want to. The Game Zone offers practice with grammar and spelling as well as speed and accuracy. As typing games, they aren’t very exciting, but they are good practice. UltraKey Online Family Edition

We haven’t used this program long enough to really know if it works, but it looks to me like it is a good one. For the price, I believe it is worthwhile. I appreciate that they are offering subscriptions for various-sized families. After our free subscription for review expires, I will probably pay for a subscription for next year. If you are looking for a systematic way to teach your children touch-typing, look into UltraKey!

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What Are We Reading Right Now?

We often have quite a number of books on the go at any one time. We read some books for morning history time, others for afternoon storytime, and still others for bedtime.

We have just started a trip through American History for the three elementary-age boys, Mr. Diligence, Mr. Sweetie, and Mr. Imagination. We read a chapter about Leif Ericson and the Viking discovery of North America, then the book Viking Adventure, and now we’re learning about Christopher Columbus. Pedro’s Journal is our story to go along with the history book for this one. We read the history selections and fiction to go along with it in the morning while breakfast dishes are being washed.


We also read a couple of pages from this book in the morning before we start on school, too. Fascinating!4-IMG_4204

In the afternoon, while lunch dishes are being done and I hold Little Miss to try to get her asleep for a nap (which only happens once or twice a week now), I read other stories. Mr. Diligence and Mr. Sweetie take turns choosing one, Mr. Imagination chooses one, and I usually have two different series to read a chapter each from. I also have Little Miss choose a picture book to read. Today, she chose this one.7-IMG_4207

Next, I read a book from a series about children somewhere. Right now, we’re reading the series, The Adventures of Lily Lapp. We’re on the third book, and everyone is enjoying it. Esther loves Lily’s comments about her brothers—both Esther and Lily are oldest sisters with lots of brothers and no sisters (Esther didn’t have a sister till she was 16). Little Miss loves the story because it’s about a girl; she wants Lily to come play with her.51weegWSVyL

These are the other stories we’re reading in the afternoon. None of them have chapters that are too long, thankfully. Mr. Sweetie chose Whom Shall I Fear, and Mr. Imagination wanted All on a Mountain Day. I’ve been reading the Burgess books to the children for several years now; I think this is the last one, and then we’ll start a new series about animals. 1-IMG_4201

Sometime during the school day, we read from this book. I am loving it, as I have all the Apologia textbooks we’ve used! We had quite an interesting lesson a couple of days ago about vascular and nonvascular plants. The boys did a leaf rubbing to illustrate vascular plants (they were supposed to draw a leaf, but I said to rub it instead), and then drew a picture of a bit of moss to show what a nonvascular plant can be like.5-IMG_4205

Depending on the evening, we often read a chapter or two from another book while the evening’s dishes are being washed. We started this book before we moved, because I try to read ones Gayle wants to hear when he’s home. Now that he isn’t with us on weeknights anymore (he’s working at his old job still, and coming to be with us for the weekends), we’re going ahead and finishing it, but recording it so he can hear it later. It’s a great book, and we’re all really enjoying it.2-IMG_4202

We started this one before we moved, too; we’ll finish it in the evenings after we’re done with the one above. Mr. Intellectual had chosen it for morning readings, but now that we’ve started school again I’m reading history books for that time. This is quite a fascinating glimpse at Russia just before the Revolution.3-IMG_4203

I’m reading a couple of books for myself, too. A friend just loaned me Large Family Logistics, and I’m enjoying the encouragement I’m finding in it. My other one is Love, Amy, a memoir formed from many years of newsletters written from China. I am thoroughly enjoying this book, including her tips for writing newsletters sandwiched between each year’s collection of letters.




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Settling In

We have spent the week settling into our new home. It’s starting to feel like our own house, now that we have our things in it and have it in order. My goal for this week was to get the house tidy and everything ready for school to start next week, and we have met that goal.

For our first few days, we sat around the living room to eat.


On Monday, we unloaded the container—what a mess as we shoved things into the house to organize later! See the cats? They were thrilled to have their cushions back again!


Wednesday evening I started unpacking and sorting the books. Here I am, surrounded by about 1800 books!


Now the living room is tidy!


The kitchen is small, but well-organized.


The wide hallway is doubling as our library and Mr. Intelligence’s schoolroom.


The girls’ room.


The boys’ room.


Our room. That small room just off it will be the sewing room. It’s just big enough for a small table.


My garden.


The chicken coop that Simon and Mr. Diligence converted into a sleepout. They got it in place yesterday, and plan to start sleeping in it soon. I’m quite dubious about how they and all their stuff will fit in, but we’ll see. They are convinced it will work.


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