Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Marcy's Thoughts About Fran

Remember Kaity and I picked up Marcy on our way to deliver the quilts to Fran's family?  I encourage you to read her thoughts on Fran and the day.  It was a blessing to me to read it as I'm sure it will be for you as well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Delivering Fran's Quilts

I feel as though I lived a Hallmark Christmas movie yesterday.  It was quite possibly the most perfect day I have ever lived, and it could only have been orchestrated by God himself.

When Fran passed away from breast cancer back in June her friends and fellow homeschool moms from the Five in a Row message boards decided to make quilts for her husband and two daughters as a way to show our love and support for them.  I had no idea at the time just what a blessing God had in store for me.

I am truly humbled and honored that I was able to help in the creating of these special quilts, although I never sewed the first stitch on any of them.  To be used by God as a vessel to get these quilts into the hands of Fran's grieving family is beyond the shadow of a doubt the most precious thing I have ever had the privilege of being involved in.

Yesterday started early for my oldest daughter, Kaity, and I as we jumped in our van and headed north-then-west to Louisville to pick up friend and fellow Five in a Row mom, Marcy.  It was a cold and beautiful Christmas-y feeling kind of day.  We tuned into a 24-hour Christmas music radio station and enjoyed the beautiful scenery on our 2 1/2 hour drive. 

We picked up Marcy (and promptly gave her the KENTUCKY BLUE-hatted penguin in a BLUE bag tied with a BLUE Kentucky lanyard we had brought her for Christmas- she's a Louisville Cardinals fan, who's color is red, BLECH!) but before we headed north to Fran's house in Indiana we had to stop for a bit of nourishment at Lynn's Paradise Cafe, the place Marcy takes all her special friends who come to visit! 

What a fun and quirky place Lynn's is!  (Oh, and the food is de-LICIOUS!)

While there we just had to try on some of Lynn's crazy hats!

 As we left and began to drive out of Louisville Kaity and I were amazed at the completely ice-covered sidewalks throughout the city...

Before long we arrived at Fran's house to meet her precious family.

Here's what her front yard looked like, completely ice-covered...

As we walked into Fran's home we were welcomed with big, real hugs from Ed, Fran's husband, the aroma of fresh coffee brewing in the coffee pot and a warm, cozy fire in the fireplace.  And it was a REAL, wood-burning fire, not one of those fake ones stores try to convince us are just as good today!  With the snow-covered ground and forest of trees outside the windows, a woodpecker that had landed on a bird feeder and that fire crackling while we sat near the Christmas tree... ahhh... it was a scene straight out of a movie.

We met Emma, Fran and Ed's 7-year-old daughter, Eden, their adopted 5-year-old daughter, and Elliott, one of Ed's three grown sons.  And let me just stop right here and say what an obvious blessing Elliott is to Ed and the girls.  He has helped take care of Emma and Eden since Fran passed away and his love for them was so evident in the way he scooped Eden up and held her, rubbing her little arm, then taking her to give her her feeding and laying her down for a nap.  What a fine, Godly young man!  I know Ed is proud.

Marcy began by sitting down and explaining to Emma in a way she could understand who we were, how we knew her and her mommy, and the reason we had come.  Then we showed her her quilt...

Much to our excitement, Emma and her daddy recognized what books many of the quilt squares represented!  They told us they own several of the books and plan on purchasing those they don't already own so they can always have them to go along with the quilt.  Emma told us that one of her two favorite colors is red, just like her quilt.

Next, we showed them Eden's quilt...

Once again we listened as Ed and Emma commented on several of the squares.  And guess what color Emma told us is Eden's favorite?  Purple.  I am constantly amazed how much God is in even the smallest of details.

Then, we opened up Ed's quilt.  I don't have a picture like the ones above because it got a little more emotional and I wanted to be sensitive to that.  But I have a picture of his quilt I had taken earlier that I'll share with you.

He noticed one block in particular right away.  He said, "Oh, it's Fran's Thanksgiving tree."  Then he saw the one in the top right-hand corner with the three hearts that says 'Amazing Grace' and said, "Fran's favorite song."  That's when the tears gently rolled down his cheeks and I couldn't hold mine back any longer either.  We pointed out the breast cancer awareness symbol in the body of the butterfly and the hidden stitching in one of the blocks that spells out Fran and Ed's names.  It was obvious he was very touched and that these quilts are already a priceless treasure to him.  Ed even said, "We'll have to find a very special place to put these, won't we Emma?"  For a minute or two there was just silence as he took it all in.  It was a very humbling moment and one I'm honored to have been witness to.

I then handed Ed a zip-lock bag of all the notes and cards and letters several FIAR ladies had sent along with their quilt squares.  Whenever I received one in the mail with a square I simply put it in this zip-lock bag, unopened, for only Ed's eyes to see.  (Except for one that was addressed to Emma.  She found that one and as Marcy, Ed, and I talked I noticed she opened it and was reading it.)

After that we all sat and talked for a while and even laughed some, listening to what all was happening with Eden and Emma and the things Emma's involved in, what's on her Christmas list, and how she will soon be 'Aunt Emma' when her big brother gets married in January!  She will also be going to school for the first time in January after continuing to be homeschooled by Ed and Elliott throughout this past fall.  "Fran already had the whole school year laid out.  All we had to do was pull each week's sheet out and we knew what to do."  What a momma.  Emma will be attending a small Christian school very close to home with only 13 in her class, including a couple friends she already knows.  She's a very excited little girl!

We decided we had taken up enough of their time so we said we would go, but Ed said, "Let's have a word of prayer first."  Words can not describe the feeling in that room as Ed prayed.  The spirit of the Lord was there in a very real way and once again the tears fell, this time by all.  When I looked up little Emma had her head buried in her daddy's shoulder, crying.  He said, "Would you like to give these ladies a hug too?" and I got down on my knees as she melted into my arms, still crying.  I tried not to, but my heart was broken and I cried with her.  As I squeezed her tiny little body and caressed her hair I thanked her for such a wonderful hug, told her that her mommy loved her so very much, and then pulled her back to look at me as I told her, "I sure hope I get to see you again some day, but even if I don't, I want you to always remember that as you grow into a young lady, and one day a young woman, you will always have lots and lots of mommies all over the world who love you and are praying for you!"  That made her smile.

Our visit was over all too soon.  Pictures and hugs ended our time together, along with Ed offering to sell me his camper!  LOL!  (We may just take you up on that one of these days Mr. Konick!) 

(Marcy and Emma)

(Kaity and Emma)

I didn't get any pictures of Eden, although I wish I would have.  But again, I wanted to be sensitive to her needs and didn't want to appear pushy, so I'll just share with you my very favorite picture of her from Fran's blog...

(Isn't this the most precious picture?  At one point during our visit Ed reached down and got Eden's hand and the biggest smile spread across her face!  It was precious to witness.)

Elliott had shoveled all the ice off of the sidewalk while we were visiting (I told you that boy was a fine young man!) and we drove back to Louisville to drop Marcy off at home, but not before we stopped off for some yummy Starbucks treats and a bit more visiting.

(What's up with teenage girls making duck-lips in all their pictures these days?  LOL)

After leaving Marcy (and her precious family whom we got to talk to for a few minutes), Kaity and I headed back to Lexington where we stopped off at a Target, grabbed some taco's and Mt. Dew (for the drive home, it was getting late you know), and snapped these pictures...

I have replayed the day over and over in my mind and each time I do, or each time I tell someone about it, I cry all over again.  But you know, it's funny.  While my heart obviously breaks for those Fran left behind, my tears are not all sad tears.  I can't exactly explain it, but it's more of a humbled, amazed-at-God, thankful, cup-running-over cry.  I am simply honored that God chose to allow me to be His vessel to bless this wonderful family.  I am nothing.  Without Him I can do nothing.  I don't deserve the blessing He has given me through this, but oh I am so very, very thankful and humbled because of it. 

I have just had my very first REAL Christmas, and I need nor want anything else.  I found Jesus in the tears of a beautiful, blond-headed little girl and through the prayer of her daddy.  No other gift could begin to compare.  THIS is what Christmas really is.

Merry Christmas my friends.  Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: ALEKS

I had heard of ALEKS before, but to be completely honest, I really had no idea what it was when this review was presented to me.

So what is ALEKS you ask?  Well, ALEKS stands for Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces.  If you'd like a quick and easy answer, it's a math-learning website.  But that doesn't really give it the credit it's due.  So the 'official' description of ALEKS is this:

"...a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system that uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS offers truly individualized instruction that meets the student at her learning level and instructs her on the exact topics that she is most ready to learn."

ALEKS can provide you with the instruction and support that you need to homeschool your children in mathematics for grades 3-12. With a comprehensive course library ranging from elementary school math to complex subjects such as PreCalculus (as well as higher education science), ALEKS acts much like a human tutor to help take the stress off of homeschooling parents.  ALEKS is accessible from virtually any computer with Internet access, making it a flexible and mobile educational solution for your children.

-Complete Curriculum Solution for Math with Access to Full Course Library
-No Textbook Required
-Artificial Intelligence Targets Gaps in Student Knowledge
-Assessment and Individualized Learning for Grades 3-12
-Master Account - Monitor and Direct Learning Progress
-Unlimited Online Access - PC & Mac Compatible

Since our oldest son, who's 11, has struggled just a bit with fractions I felt he might get the best use out of this site so he helped me with my review.  The first step, once you purchase a subscription to ALEKS, is that your student(s) will begin by taking an individualized, adaptive assessment to determine what they already know and what they are ready to learn next.

Once they have finished that they will be shown their 'pie'.  The ALEKS Pie summarizes a student's current knowledge and offers topics that the student is ready to learn next. The darkened portion of each pie slice represents the topics that the student has mastered and the lighter portion represents what the student has yet to learn.

While ALEKS appears to be a wonderful tool, my only real issue with it is that our family has always focused on the mastery way of learning math as opposed to the spiral method and the ALEKS assessment includes questions on several topics that my son has not learned yet.  This made his pie look like he knew very little, which was a bit discouraging for him.  However, students can work on one particular concept at a time until mastery is acheived, so if we had a paid subscription that we could use over an extended period of time I can see my children really liking and doing well with ALEKS.
Subscription prices are as follows:
*$19.95 per student, per month, or
*only $99.95 every 6 months, or
*only $179.95 every 12 months.
They also have a family discount plan.  And just for my readers, ALEKS has graciously extended a one-month FREE trial!

Visit ALEKS for 1-Month Trial

 While I really like ALEKS and belive it would be a great help in our homeschooling, our family simply can not justify spending this amount of money on something that isn't crucial.  Would it help?  Yes.  Would my children enjoy it?  No doubt.  But is it a neccesary purchase for us?  No, it is not.  While we would use ALEKS every day in our homeschooling, we do have our wonderful math books that we have used for years that are also getting the job done for a lot less.  For our family, four student accounts, even with the family discount plan, would cost us $300 for six months.  That's just not in our budget and I'm afraid that it's not going to be in a lot of homeschool family's budgets, the majority of whom are one-income families.

However, if you have a struggling math student and would be willing to pay for a personal tutor who is available 24/7, then ALEKS may just be what you're looking for.  Here's some more information to help you see just how many great things ALEKS has to offer...

ALEKS provides a free response environment and sophisticated input tools that avoid multiple-choice and require students to demonstrate content mastery.


The Learning Mode provides students with practice problems, and offers explanations of topics and procedures as needed. Once a student has demonstrated mastery in the Learning Mode, the topic is added to the ALEKS Pie, and new material that the student is now ready to learn becomes available.

When a student is working on a particular problem, she can access an explanation of that problem by clicking on the "Explain" button. The explanation typically provides a step-by-step solution, with commentary. In some cases, an alternative or more detailed explanation is also available.

Students receive immediate feedback and, in some cases, suggestions for correcting mistakes.

Students have the ability to print out 16-question worksheets for additional practice or review. These worksheets are uniquely generated based on the student's current knowledge.

QuickTables is a research-based, math fact mastery program for multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.

Interactive games provide additional review and built-in rewards.

Master Account Homepage: Easily manage all student accounts, monitor student progress, view customized resources, and more.

Attendance Report: Track student time spent in ALEKS per day, the topics attempted, and the topics mastered and added to the ALEKS Pie.

Student Progress Report: Track student progress made throughout the course. The blue bar represents the percent of course material that the student has mastered during an ALEKS assessment; the green bar represents the percent of new topics the student has mastered in Learning Mode since the last assessment; and the yellow bar represents the percent of topics the student has yet to learn in order to complete the course.

Quizzes are automatically graded and the results are available to both the parent and student immediately.

So, overall I would give ALEKS an A-.  The 'A' for how well it is laid out and the numerous amount of help and options it offers.  Their customer service response time and the friendliness of their staff also contributes to that 'A'.  I had some issues setting up a second student account for our other son and while the issue still hasn't been completely resolved, I can't complain about the helpful emails I received regarding this issue. 
The 'minus' comes after that 'A' simply because of the cost.  If a subscription were half the cost it currently is, then I would seriously considering purchasing a subscription for our family.

*As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received this product free of charge in exchange for my review and honest opinion of it. As a believer and follower of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I promise you that all my reviews contain only my own honest opinions...'cause He told me to not lie!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Greatest Gift

Isn't this beautiful?  I found this framed picture, of all places, at a yard sale!  For $1.00!  Underneath the picture, within the mat around it, it says "The Greatest Gift" and has the scripture John 3:16.

I LOVE it.  It will never find it's way into one of our yard sales.

Fran's Quilts are Almost Done!

There are no words.  They are just absolutely the most beautiful quilts I have ever seen.  I know Fran would be so proud of her FIAR sisters for the love they have shown for her precious family.

They are almost finished, only lacking the binding around the edges, which should be finished within the next few days.  But I couldn't wait to show you how amazing they look!  The precious lady, Sharon, who did the actual quilting went far above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined.  What a blessing God sent us when He sent us her!  Between her and Mary Lou, who pieced all the squares together to make the beautiful design of the quilts (and whom I know God sent to us also... remember those 700+ books I bought this summer?  They were from Mary Lou, whom I had never met before, and before Fran even passed away), I have decided that I want to learn how to quilt.  Not someday.  Today.  What a beautiful thing to be able to do.

So, without further ado, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.  Look closely and notice all the details in the quilting.  Even though I tried to help you see how beautiful they are I realize it's nothing like being able to actual touch them.  I just hope you can 'feel' them through these pictures.  I took a lot, so enjoy.  As soon as the bindings are on I will post more pictures of the final results.

Ed's quilt

Emma's quilt

Eden's quilt

Love the stars she quilted.  Very fitting.

Notice the hearts?

Waves quilted in the water.

Again, the hearts just make this square.

Love this!

Hearts for Madeline.

Love the 'fern' pattern she did here.

I love the backs of the quilts almost as much as I do the fronts!

She did something very special to this square.  Can you see it?

Hearts again.  Love it.

Mary Lou added this square because we were short one.  I LOVE it.  The colors are amazing!

Love the swirls!


Notice the 'LOVE'?

See the cross in between the two hearts?

The back of the 'special' square I mentioned above.  Can you see it?

Isn't this gorgeous?!


The back of the bee hive (The Bee Tree).