Tuesday, July 28, 2015

{Review} With Lee in Virginia - an Audio Drama

Unexpected Homeschool: A review of With Lee in Virginia audio drama. An entertaining and educational adventure through the Civil War.

Heirloom Audio Productions has yet another great hit in their newest audio drama, With Lee in VirginiaAmber and I were excited to review this dramatized version of G.A. Henty's book by the same title. For the purpose of the review we received the physical two CD set of the audio drama recording, plus the all the features included in the Family Four-Pack:
  • Study Guide & Discussion Starter
  • MP3 download of With Lee in Virginia
  • eBook of With Lee in Virginia by G.A. Henty, including color graphics
  • Official soundtrack
  • Printable cast poster
  • Printable Robert. E. Lee quote
  • Access to the newsletter website.
For those unfamiliar with G.A. Henty, he wrote popular historical adventures in the late 19th century that are still relevant today. The details of the historical accounts are surprisingly accurate while providing a wealth of information about the events unfolding in the stories.

Unexpected Homeschool: A review of With Lee in Virginia audio drama. An entertaining and educational adventure through the Civil War.
Listening while following along in the study guide. She chose to use the CD instead of the MP3 version.
Audio drama or audio theater differs greatly from audio books in that the book is not simply read by a single person for the listener. Instead, this is akin to the radio dramas of the past where different actors voice each character and sound effects are used to enhance the experience. The audio drama format was not such a shock for Amber this time as when we reviewed In Freedom's Cause, and although she knew what to expect the sounds effects were still impressive.

With Lee in Virginia boasts an impressive cast including: Kirk Cameron as Stonewall Jackson, Brian Blessed as G.A. Henty, James Cameron as Will Upton, and Sean Astin as Gen. Jeb Stuart. Being a huge Lord of the Rings fan, Amber was most impressed with Sean Astin. She really didn't know most of the other voice actors, however that did not factor into her enjoyment of the story at all. All of the cast performed beautifully.

Since we are on summer break I allowed Amber to use the study guide as more of an outline to follow while listening, instead of going over it in detail after each section of the performance. The study guide comes in the easy to use PDF format and conveniently lists the disc and track number with which each section of the guide correlates. The study guide is divided by major events in the book, so a chapter of the actual book may have more than one study guide page. Each study guide page contains Listening Well and Thinking Further questions along with Defining Words sections if there are terms which may need explanation.

Unexpected Homeschool: A review of With Lee in Virginia audio drama. An entertaining and educational adventure through the Civil War.
Sample study guide page.
The Listening Well questions are basically to ensure the listening understood all the details of the events occurring in the drama. The Thinking Further questions ask the listener to apply the lessons of the story in various ways. In addition to the questions the study guide has a map of the major cities and battles in the story along with the route of the heroes.This is especially helpful for listeners who may not be geography buffs. The end of the guide includes a Bible study outline on Duty and Loving Your Enemy, which are two themes from the story.

Amber and I listened to the audio drama over four days, with Amber following along in the study guide on the iPad while she listened. Occasionally we paused the CD to talk about the events in the story. Amber has an affinity for the Civil War era, while I greatly dislike details of the prisons. She was enthralled with the story of Vincent and Dan who fight with the Confederate Army and show great courage and strength of character throughout. I did wander off a couple of times because the main character is imprisoned and it evoked too-real images in my mind.

Unexpected Homeschool: A review of With Lee in Virginia audio drama. An entertaining and educational adventure through the Civil War.
Relaxing times listening, but still following the study guide.
We definitely recommend With Lee in Virginia for anyone who enjoys a good adventure story, true or fiction. Although this is a fiction story, we found the accurate historical aspects intriguing and heightened by the way the details are woven into the story. This was both an entertaining as well as educational, high quality audio drama. We can't wait to see which G.A. Henty story is next!

Connect with Heirloom Audio Productions on social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WithLeeInVirginia
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/heirloomaudio
Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeirloomStories

Visit other members of the Review Crew to see their experience with this fantastic audio drama.

With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, July 27, 2015

An Interview with a Homeschooled Teenager

Recently, I interviewed Amber to get her thoughts on homeschooling. This was a time for her to answer honestly and openly. It also allowed me a glimpse into how she views the homeschooling life.

Amber has a slightly different perspective on homeschooling than some considering she spent the majority of grade school in parochial schools and now has a chronic illness which would require medical accommodations at a standard school.

Unexpected Homeschool: An Interview with a Homeschooled Teenager

Q: What is different between homeschooling and private school, besides the obvious location?
A: Homeschooling is geared more to the student and not the average kid. That's the big difference. It's fitted directly to the student and not to the test too. 

Q: What are some of the positives of  homeschooling?
A: There are many:
  1. I can take breaks when I need them;
  2. I don't have the many hours of homework after school time. Most of it was busy work that didn't help much.
  3. We start and end the school day when want. Even the school year too.
  4. Vacation days when we need them.
  5. I get to spend time with family at home.
  6. I can choose the curriculum and topics that I want, within reason.
Q: What are some of the negatives of homeschooling?
A: There really is only one that I've noticed.  If you are an only child you don't socialize as much with other kids and have to work to find groups to join. It's not a big deal because we join other groups and I socialize with nice people.

Q: What would you do differently in our homeschool?
A: Nothing - I like how it is and I've had input on my schedule and subjects already. My mom talks with me about my education and l can tell her when something isn't working.

Unexpected Homeschool: An Interview with a Homeschooled Teenager
Our teenager during her interview.
Q: If asked, how would you explain homeschooling to someone who had never heard of it?
A: You stay at home and are schooled the way you need to be based on your learning and physical needs. You learn more than you do at regular schools - you learn to think, instead of memorizing a bunch of facts and taking tests.  It's in a more comfortable environment that makes learning easier. Your teacher understands you better since it's your parent. Sometimes you join in outside classes or groups for more variety.

Q: Why do we homeschool?
A: We started because I was being bullied. Now I'm sick with POTS, but we really have continued because it works well for me and our family. We think it is a better way to educate me.

Q: Do you feel embarrassed when asked about homeschooling out in public?
A: No.  There's nothing to be embarrassed about. It's just a different way of educating.

Q: If you were healthy and had your choice, which type of school would you prefer?
A:  Homeschooling. I learn more, it's not so stressful, and all the positive reasons I already gave.

Q: What about the high school experience? Are you afraid you will miss out on something?
A: No. It doesn't seem very interesting and the way it is portrayed on TV isn't real. Regular high school is not like that. Besides we have teen groups in homeschooling too; I'm not stuck at home.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Another New Diagnosis (AKA The Never Ending Story)

Although formally our new school year isn't starting until August 3rd, we began our new literature studies this week as well as keeping up with math and some chemistry experiments.  Amber is having a great time so far with Illuminating Literature and even asked if we would be using it all school year, because she'd like to continue with it. Thankfully, that was my plan.

I finished almost all of our school planning this week too. It took days but history is entirely planned, entered into Homeschool Tracker, binders made, timeline ready, and other printed portions put into a binder for Amber.  I also made sure the lesson plans included every last possible detail so Amber can view her assignments online without coming to me when she is ready. After all of this I plugged the plans into the scheduler tool to project when she might finish history this school year... it's January. Seriously? I really hope I underestimated how long each topic is going to take, otherwise I'll be planning all over again in December.

I did manage to clean up the plans and post our medieval history lesson outline that was used for the majority of last school year. It doesn't include anything we did from Tapestry of Grace, because that is their copyrighted information. Still, it is all the plans I took months to create before realizing Tapestry of Grace fit with what we wanted.

Chemistry - building molecules.
And earlier that day the overflow storm water drainage swale went from dry to this in less than an hour. To say it rained here would be an understatement.
This was also a week of health learning. My barium swallow last week resulted in "normal" results. It was the easiest of the barium tests and only took 10 minutes, but the solution I had to drink upset my stomach and intestines for days. There was something in it that my body does not like. Wish I knew what it was since it isn't supposed to have that reaction. I was scheduled to take the fructose malbasorption breath test yesterday to help determine what foods are causing the problem, but the preparatory diet was not compatible with my diabetes. I got quite low before finally calling and canceling the appointment so I could eat properly to fix my blood sugar. In lieu of the test, I'm on the low FODMAP diet with Amber to see if it helps.

Amber's upper endoscopy test results were supposed to be back this week, and I guess technically they are, however her GI doctor is out of town so we can't really get information on it. That's okay, I'm good with waiting for now. I can only take so much at a time.

After a huge circle of doctor referrals and records requesting, we took Amber to her first rheumatology appointment on Tuesday. Thankfully, it was with the Washington University / Children's Hospital pediatric rheumatology department which makes it much easier now that she has been forwarded on to genetics at Washington University. Amber was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome - Hypermobility type (formerly type III), however that could change to the Classical type (formerly type II) after genetic testing.

A sample of hypermobile joints.  Her hips move quite a bit they said. Her left hand (shown) is less flexible than her right. She can actually put the thumb behind her wrist, but not when she's trying to show her top thumb joint at the same time. -- Also sitting like a normal person :)
Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is an inherited connective tissue disorder related to collagen production. All of the various EDS types use genetic tests for diagnosis except Hypermobility, which has no known genetic marker and is diagnosed through clinical exams and family history. Amber also exhibits symptoms of Classicsl EDS, but can't be diagnosed with it until the genetic testing is complete - in June of 2016.  Yes, you read that correctly. The first available genetics appointment with the pediatric EDS geneticist is in June of 2016.  Amber is on the wait list for cancellations though. (as a side note, we had a 9 month wait for Fred's genetic testing after his pheochromocytoma, so this is pretty standard).

Thankfully the treatment for both Hypermobility and Classical EDS is the same, it really is just a matter of being more specific and knowing for the future if there are changes in treatment between the types. Basically, she can't do anything that hurts her joints. If it causes pain, she is to stop. No impact activities. The rheumatologist said to swim; Mayo doctors said only upright exercise and specifically no swimming. We need a balance between the needs of her two conditions.

She needs physical therapy to strengthen muscles around her weakest joints. But that therapy won't happen until after she sees genetics because they are also the best EDS clinic in the area. Additionally the attending rheumatologist suggested Amber eventually have an echocardiogram since EDS can result in mitrovalve prolapse. I'm on the fence about requesting that through the pediatrician or waiting for the EDS clinic. The one doctor Amber doesn't have is at home is a cardiologist, though she saw one at Mayo. I might be ok with waiting, maybe.

Relaxed and playing games on her iPad while waiting for the rheumatologist. She amazes me. Then dinner afterwards.
And... a happy girl head bobbing and singing to Journey during dinner at McAlister's.
Amber is relieved and happy to have this diagnosis. She has known for years her joints weren't right. The kid can turn her feet backwards in a somewhat disturbing position. The rheumatologists (both a resident and an attending) took pictures because she's the most hypermobile child they have personally seen. They were pretty freaked out by the range she had on her fingers too. She can bend them nearly all the way backwards to her hand - but she's not always been this way. It's gotten worse over the last few years.

Again, I was in slight denial and figured they would tell me she was just somewhat flexible. Amber laughed at me, again. I'm stunned every single time she gets a new diagnosis. I really keep expecting it to all be our imagination or something. It's like a dream I'm not waking up from.

We definitely aren't going to have to worry about health credits for high school anymore. Amber will have plenty of education and therapy due to the EDS and dysautonomia / POTS.  As a side note, it's probable her dysautonomia is caused entirely by the same gene mutation which resulted in EDS. Of course it doesn't bring us closer to a cure, but at least they seem to be related and we aren't looking at two distinct causes.

That's the big news from here for this week.  I'm really hoping next week is less eventful.

Happy Weekend!

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