Monday, October 21, 2019

E is for Early (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

image of a cannon

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Like so many other officers who served in the Civil War, Jubal Anderson Early attended the United States Military Academy. He graduated 18th of a class of 50 from West Point in 1836. He went on to serve in the Florida area fighting the Seminole American Indians in the Second Seminole War but resigned and became a successful lawyer, serving in the Virginia House of Delegates. Again, like so many other men of the day, he fought in the Mexican War.

Before Secession

Early was opposed to the idea of secession. As representative to the Virginia Convention in 1861, he voted against seceding and condemned the bombardment of Fort Sumter. But again like other men of the time, he joined his home state when they seceded. He accepted a commission as the Colonel of the 24th Virginia Infantry.

image of a cannon and Confederate flag in the background

Early Battles

At the first Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas), Early served with distinction. His unit helped drive the Union from the field. Shortly after this battle, he was promoted to Brigadier General. He also participated in the Peninsula Campaign and the battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862.

Throughout the Civil War

Early was involved in many of the key battles in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War such as the second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and others.

At the battle of Fredericksburg, Early led a counterattack against General Meade's forces which had broken through Confederate forces. Meade's men had penetrated Jackson's line. Lee was impressed by Early's performance. He was promoted to major general on January 17, 1863.

Battle of Fredericksburg
Battle of Fredericksburg

Early was involved in the Confederate invasion in Pennsylvania in 1863. He captured towns like York and demanded a ransom from the towns.

Shenandoah Valley and Move on Washington D.C.

General Lee put Early in charge of 14,000-15,000 soldiers (known as the Army of the Valley) in 1864. They drove the Union Forces from the Shenandoah Valley. Early and his men then turned north and fought the Battle of Monocacy on July 9, 1864. There were 6,600 Union troops near Monocacy Junction with Early's much larger force to the north in Frederick, MD.

The Battle of Monocacy would be known as "the Battle that Saved Washington"  

Union Major General Lew Wallace blocked Early's best route to Washington D.C. The Union would hold the Confederates off till their lines began to waver towards the mid-afternoon. By early evening, Wallace had to retreat to save his remaining men. Even though the Confederates won the battle, Early's advance on Washington D. C. had been delayed enough that Union reinforcements reached the Union capital.

On July 11, Early and his men were five miles from the White House. There was skirmishing that took place on July 12 at Fort Stevens. To witness this skirmish, President Lincoln stood with sharpshooters' bullets zooming past his stovepipe hat. Early and his men stood on the doorstep of Washington D.C. but Union reinforcements arrived and Early had to withdraw into Virginia on July 13.

While retreating, Early's men seized and burned goods and towns. They demanded money from the towns they went through including Hagerstown and Frederick. If the money was not paid, they would destroy both private and public property.

While Early did not actually invade the Union capital, his men's escapades at the outskirts of the city led some to believe that the Confederacy was still strong. In fact, the London Times stated "the Confederacy is more formidable than ever." And Lincoln called for 500,000 additional men to serve in the Union army.

Jubal Early Quote: "The Army of Northern Virginia was never defeated. It merely wore itself out whipping the enemy."
Early's writings after the Civil War contained many ideas to promote the Lost Cause of the South.

Little by little, Early's men would be decimated and destroyed and Early was relieved by General Lee before the surrender at Appomattox. After the Civil War, Early would help push the idea of the Lost Cause which condemned Reconstruction and promoted the cause of states' rights.

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Friday, October 18, 2019

Book Club: Book Review of Hope's Highest Mountain

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I found myself reading through Hope's Highest Mountain at a record speed. It was an easy, enjoyable read. I could not wait to find out what happened next to Ingrid and Micah because each chapter was filled with tension. I did not want to put the book down. I even stayed up late one evening to finish this enjoyable story by Misty M. Beller.

The two main characters of Hope's Highest Mountain are Ingrid Chastain and Micah Bradley. Their lives become intertwined through an unfortunate accident when the wagon on which Ingrid was traveling (to reach Settler's Fort and bring smallpox vaccines) crashes over the mountain, leaving her as its only survivor. Micah, a non-practicing doctor, was living by himself in the mountains after the tragic death of his wife and daughter.

Misty M. Beller created well-developed characters including Samuel and his mother, Joanna, that joined Ingrid and Micah on their journey through the snow-covered mountains to Settler's Fort. I felt I was able to connect with the characters on a personal level. They really came to life! The story of Micah and his loss as well as Ingrid's injury and her own loss at the beginning of the book were poignant and meaningful. I found myself crying on numerous occasions as I connected with the troubles and plight of the characters as they struggled to get to Settler's Fort.

Some may argue that there were too many things that went wrong for the characters as they trekked through the snow-covered mountains with their precious cargo but I do not find that to be the case. Keeping in mind that Hope's Highest Mountain is set during an approaching winter in the 1800s with a smallpox outbreak, there are so many things that could go wrong for the characters. These events and hurdles allowed Ingrid to demonstrate her trust and faith in God. In turn, Ingrid served as a role model for Micah as he developed a new relationship with God.

In the end, I think the only thing that disappointed me was that the ending did not explore what happened to Joanna and Samuel in more detail but I think they might show up in another book. (I hope they do!)

I recommend Hope's Highest Mountain to fans of Christian Romance, fiction, and historical fiction. After this first experience reading a book by Misty M. Beller, I will be on the lookout for more of her works.

Want to Know More About the Author

Abbreviated Biography from Misty M. Beller's website:

"Misty M. Beller writes Christian historical romance and is the author of the bestselling Mountain Dreams Series and the Texas Rancher Trilogy. 

She was raised on a farm in South Carolina, so her Southern roots run deep. Growing up, her family was close, and they continue to keep that priority today. Her husband and daughters now add another dimension to her life, keeping her both grounded and crazy."

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Building a World of Fun: A Review of Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks

Wooden Building Planks

Sometimes the best way to learn is through play. Our family has been playing with Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks for the past several weeks. During the review period, we have been building our own versions of the suggested towers, bridges, walls, trains, and houses along with using the wooden planks to create corrals for toy animals and furniture for dolls. Almost every day since Brain Blox arrived, our two younger children have had them out and incorporated them into their day somehow.

Note: I share a lot of photos in this post to show off our children's fun designs and use of the Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks.

box of 200 wooden building planks

200 wooden building planks from Brain Blox on drawstring bag

Brain Blox Wooden Building Planks are available in three different size sets: 100, 200 (which we received to review), and 300. With the 200 precision-cut wooden planks, we received a red drawstring bag to store the planks and a color idea booklet which helped our kids get started on building awesome builds. It was very easy for me to go to the Brain Blox website and download their free resources to provide additional ideas for our kids. We used the idea cards and Brain Blox World eBook to stretch our imagination and build new things.

free resources for wooden building planks

Brain Blox is a family-owned company whose "mission is to empower families to be more conscious & intentional with one another." Through the development of toys, games, and journals, Brain Blox hopes that children will live happier and healthier lives by turning off the screen and engaging in the world around them. In addition to the Natural Wooden Building Planks, they also have Fun Family Chess for families (the Homeschool Review Crew also had the chance to review the chess set).

building a tower with Brain Blox wooden building planks

How Did We Use the Wooden Building Planks in Our Homeschool? 

This was one item that I really just let our younger children play and use on their own without a lot of instruction from me. They played with them every day taking them out to either build towers or other buildings as suggested by Brain Blox or they incorporated them with their other toys.

They used the wooden building planks to build roads for their cars or toys, enclosures for their toy animals, and whatever else struck their imagination. They even built an ice hockey rink.

ice hockey rink built with wooden building planks
The ice hockey rink with nets built of Brain Blox.

I had lots of fun building towers with our children, too!

wooden building planks tower

top of wooden building planks tower

What do we think? 

I love educational toys and these fit the bill. Our kids worked out problems (like how to create ramps and balance the wooden blocks to build higher towers) and also worked on cooperation as they designed race tracks for their cars and zoos for their animals.

animal toys and wooden exhibits

 planks and then used the planks vertically to create the enclosures for the animals
We made paths with the planks and then used the planks vertically to create the enclosures for the animals.
bridge built with wooden building planks
They designed a bridge to be part of their car tracks.

flower built with wooden building planks
Our son designed this flower. 

I like the fact that it comes with a drawstring bag and all the planks fit neatly into the bag which closes up nice and tight. No loose wooden planks laying around. The bag also enables our kids to put the wooden planks away alone or without too much assistance. One child can hold the bag open while the other picks them up and drops them into the bag. I love seeing my children cooperate and work together. 

drawstring bag used to house wooden building planks

When asking our six-year-old son his opinion, he said, "I like pretty much everything." He likes making houses. His future plans for building including making airplanes from the Wooden Building Planks.

Our daughter enjoys using them for creative play. She incorporates them into her kitchen play as well as building towers and houses. She likes stacking them. She said, "I love making really tall towers up to the roof and making train tracks."

My husband thinks Brain Blox give our children a lot to do because they are versatile. They have a lot of fun with them.

I would recommend Brain Blox to families. They definitely foster imagination and allow kids to show their creativity!

Do you want to learn more about Brain Blox? 

Because the Wooden Building Planks are so versatile, please be sure to check out the rest of the reviews to see how different children were able to use them to foster their imagination.

Monday, October 14, 2019

D is for Davis (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

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Jefferson Davis is a man who is more infamous than famous. What do you know about him from your history books and history classes? One of the most-told stories is probably that of his capture. Rumors spread and entered into the American conscience regarding what Davis was wearing at the time of his arrest: It was said that he was arrested wearing women's clothing, but in fact he was only wearing his wife's rain cape. This isn't quite the picture that is depicted as him in a dress, bloomers, and bonnet. Shouldn't we be as truthful about those we consider to be enemies as we are about our American heroes? So who was Jefferson Davis?

Early Life 

Jefferson Davis was born on June 3, 1808, the youngest of ten children. Two years after his birth, his family moved to the frontier. The oldest son, Joseph, stayed in Hopkinsville, Kentucky to study law while the rest of the family joined their father Samuel Davis as they moved and settled for the last time. Samuel and his wife, Jane Davis, would live on several hundred acres where he would grow cotton and name it Poplar Grove. Davis had little memories of those early years but he did remember the "unparalleled devotion" of his brothers to America as they went off to fight in the War of 1812.


Samuel Davis imparted to his children that "knowledge is power" and sought to provide educations for their children. Jefferson Davis attended St. Thomas, a Catholic boys' school, for two terms starting in 1816. He learned Latin and Greek which would stick with him all his life. After returning home at his mother's request, Davis was sent to Jefferson College briefly and then Wilkinson County Academy.  He was educated at Wilkinson Academy until 1823 when his father arranged for him to attend Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. While Davis attending school, his father died.

After the death of his father, Davis' older brother, Joseph, succeeded in getting an appointment to West Point. On March 11, 1824, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun issued Jefferson Davis a commission as a cadet. By leaving Transylvania University, he would no longer be an incoming senior but would instead be a freshmen at West Point.

West Point 

In the first year, Davis studied mathematics which included algebra, calculus, geometry, trigonometry, analytic geometry, French with grammar and vocabulary, reading French military manuals, and being drilled on the field. In addition to studying, Davis also found himself getting into trouble. He missed guard mounting, disobeyed orders, did not keep his room clean, and even had his hair too long for which he earned a demerit. While he spent the majority of his four years at West Point getting in trouble, he felt the experience had changed him and convinced him that West Point had made him a soldier. He graduated twenty-third in a class of thirty-two students in 1828.

Frontier Posting 

After his graduation, Jefferson Davis served at outposts in the frontier territories of Wisconsin and Michigan. In the 1800s, there were problems in the area between the United States government and the Indians who lived in the territory stemming back to a disputed 1804 Treaty. In the 1830s, part of the Sauk tribe that lived in the area wanted to resist American expansion. Black Hawk emerged as a leader. He would lead raids and battles in what would come to be known as the Black Hawk War. Lieutenant Davis would escort Black Hawk and other Indian prisoners during the war.

While at Fort Crawford in the Michigan Territory, Davis met Sarah Knox Taylor – daughter of Colonel Zachary Taylor. Jefferson and Sarah were married on June 17, 1835. Davis resigned his army commission and planned, with the help of his brother, to become a Mississippi planter.

Zachary Taylor (image from

Life as a Planter 

Joseph Davis gave his brother eight hundred acres twenty miles south of Vicksburg, MS. Davis named his plantation "Brierfield." Shortly after their marriage, both Davis and his wife fell ill to malaria. Davis survived but just three short months after their marriage, Sarah died on September 15, 1835. For the next seven years, he visited his brother's library and read books about law, philosophy, and history.

During the Christmas season of 1843, Varina Howell visited Hurricane (Joseph Davis' plantation). Varina and Davis quickly fell in love and on February 26, 1845 the two were married. It was during their courtship that Davis began showing more and more of an interest in politics. In 1845, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives for Mississippi.

War with Mexico

With the start of the Mexican-American War in 1846, things changed again for Davis. He was elected colonel of a volunteer regiment organised at Vicksburg called The Mississippi Rifles. Colonel Davis led his soldiers at Monterrey on September 21, 1846. They continued south under the command of General Zachary Taylor, his former father-in-law, to Buena Vista. Early on February 21, 1847, Davis was shot in the right foot but he remained in his saddle until sunset and the American victory. He returned home a hero and was appointed to finish the term of a Senator who had died. He served in the Senate after winning his own election until 1850.

Battle of Buena Vista

Secretary of War 

In 1853, President Franklin Pierce named Davis the United States Secretary of War. He held himself responsible for all that occurred in his department and did not delegate. He did not promote the spoils system nor foster sectional favoritism during his time as Secretary of War. He oversaw the increase in the size of the army from ten thousand to fifteen thousand men. Improvements were made in uniforms and equipment. New arsenals and forts were constructed.

Final Term as U.S. Senator

Davis was elected again to the United States Senate in 1857 from Mississippi. The topic of slavery was at the forefront. People took sides and Davis argued in defense of the constitutional right of states to choose their own institutions which included slavery. With the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, many feared that slavery would be abolished. South Carolina seceded from the United States and one by one other states followed. On January 21, 1861, Davis resigned from the Senate.

A New Government 

After the secession, delegates from the states met in Montgomery, Alabama. A constitution was drafted and on February 9, 1861, Jefferson Davis was unanimously elected as the president of the Confederate States of America. He would lead the new nation through its entire existence as the Civil War was fought until it ended at Appomattox.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Literature Study Guides with a Christian Perspective: A Review of The Long Way to a New Land Study Guide

Using study guides for literature happens to be one of my favorite ways to approach reading lessons for our homeschooled children. So when we had the opportunity to review another product from Progeny Press, I was very happy to pick The Long Way to a New Land Study Guide which is geared for grades 1-3. (Last year we used and reviewed the Perelandra Study Guide with our teen.) This year, our first grader and I are reading through the book The Long Way to a New Land and use the study guide from Progeny Press.

What is Progeny Press?

Their mission: "To teach our children to think clearly, to understand literature, and to rely on the scripture for truth and values, and enjoy themselves while they do it!"

There are so many great products offered by Progeny Press. They offer their study guides in a variety of ways including printed workbooks, CDs, and e-Guides that you can download right to your computer. You can also purchase books to go along with your study guide on their site.

What Did We Receive?

For this review, we downloaded the 49-page study guide written by Colleen Schreurs for the book written by Joan Sandin. We purchased the book separately but you could also pick it up at a library or purchase it through Progeny Press. The story, The Long Way to a New Land is set in both Sweden and in Ellis Island, New York in 1868. It is an I Can Read book level 3 (for children reading alone). The family is struggling in Sweden and decides to travel to America for a new opportunity.

As you and your children read the story, you can easily incorporate the study guide activities into your homeschooling day. The study guide contains a number of activities to complete with your child before, during, and after reading the book. For example, my husband and I helped our son complete a family tree prior to reading the story. We also worked on creating the different flags to represent where his ancestors originated in Europe. (Both he and his sister really enjoyed this activity!)

Those activities that relate directly to the chapters in the book contain the following parts:

  • Vocabulary 

  • Questions regarding the content of the chapter 
This was a fun exercise asking why the family packed different items into their trunk for America

  • Literary Techniques and Grammar (such as cause & effect, prediction, synonyms, action verbs, etc.) 
  • Comparing past and present 
  • A section entitled Dig Deeper that consisted of Bible quotations and questions for reflection such as read Matthew 4:4 "It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'" with a question asking children why the Bible was an important item for the family to take with them to the New Land

There were also a number of activities for when we were finished reading the book including writing letters to grandparents to learn more about ancestry of the family, the creation of a family booklet with photos, and a cooking center (the study guide contains a recipe for Quick Whole Wheat Bread).

There is also an answer key to help you correct the objective questions.

Note: All the units are written from a Christian perspective. The study guide contains references to Bible quotes using the NIV translation.

How Did We Use the Study Guide?

During the course of the review period, we set aside our other language arts work to focus solely upon reading The Long Way to a New Land and using the study guide. Our son read through the entire book as soon as it arrived. We then completed the before-you-read activities together. When we started working on the sections of the study guide that were specifically geared towards the chapters, I would read the chapter aloud to both our children before our son worked on the questions.

Referencing the book to answer the questions

I only required our son to complete one part for each chapter each day. If he were older, he could probably complete the entire work for each chapter during one day. So the way we worked through the study guide, it will take us about five to six weeks to complete. If you were working at a faster pace, it would probably take you about four to five weeks to complete.

What Did We Think?

I am very pleased with The Long Way to a New Land Study Guide. The variety of the activities means we had something new to work on each day. All the activities were closely connected to the book which I appreciated. This was a perfect fit for our homeschool day.

I also like how you could tie in social studies and history to this study guide. In fact, we were able to talk about the Statue of Liberty (which our son had studied a bit earlier in the year) and examine some stamps from Czechoslovakia as some members of my own family were from Slovakia.

I think the study guide would be perfect for a second grader. I found some of the work to be a bit more challenging for my first grader but as we are homeschooling, we have the flexibility to work through the questions together. Some of the ways we adapted the study guide was taking turns writing out the answers to the questions, reviewing the book as we answered each question, and I gave our son clues as to where to find the vocabulary words in the word search.

Our son's favorite activity from the study guide was creating the flags. He said, "It was so much fun."

He also enjoyed the vocabulary activity where he had to define the word in his own words and then look it up in the dictionary. Some of the words he had to define included homespun, copper, and seaport. From the vocabulary activities, he also really liked completing the crossword puzzle and the word search.

He also enjoyed being able to draw objects from the present that related to objects from the past and coloring in his pictures. For example, he drew a fancy tower (floor) lamp since we no longer use oil lamps like the family used in the story.

I would recommend the study guides from Progeny Press. They are excellent for focusing upon one story or book with your child and allow for tons of learning opportunities.

P.S. Progeny Press has a lot of fun activities and ideas pinned to a board just for The Long Way to a New Land Study Guide! We can expand our time studying about Ellis Island, Immigration, and the Statue of Liberty using their board.

Do You Want to Learn More About Progeny Press?

Progeny Press offered four different study guides for review. Please visit the other reviews to see how they incorporated the study guides into their homeschooling day.