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    Seven Quick Takes on Fire TV Stick, Tag Clouds, Handwriting Scripture, and More!

    January 30, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    Seven Quick Takes

    :: 1 ::

    I’ve been watching Downton Abbey using the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Oh my heck. This thing is amazing! I bought it as a gift to my husband for Christmas because he likes to have something to watch while he’s working out and it was cheaper than cable.

    I had no idea it’d be an awesome way to watch Downton! For a few years now I’ve either been watching on a computer or a laptop, and it’s never worked great. Sometimes, I had to stop in the middle because our WiFi would get a little too slow for it to be enjoyable. I tried hard not to complain because that is the only TV I watch, but deep inside I wanted to watch TV the “normal” way: actually on a television.

    So hip hip for the PBS app! I feel like an old woman, marveling at all these newfangled gadgets people have come up with.

    :: 2 ::

    Thinking about scheduling? A number of you have contacted me lately about scheduling, especially with large families. While I don’t have a particularly large family, I do have four students, so there’s that. When it came time to add my fourth student, I thought that would be the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. It seemed like it’d be too much and I’d be overwhelmed and and and.

    Enter Sabbath Mood Homeschool’s series on Charlotte Mason scheduling. It totally saved the day. What I ended up doing isn’t exactly what Nicole does, but it is oh so much inspired by it. She really helped me wrap my mind around where I could combine some or all of my students.

    My theory has been: combine what can be combined. This is what I use Circle Time for. While I have each of my children in their own AmblesideOnline year, that doesn’t mean I don’t combine some things. We do church history together instead of individually. I’m combining the girls for geography. Etc.

    Anyhow, watch Nicole’s introductory video. You’ll be glad you did!

    :: 3 ::

    Where’s the tag cloud? This is a question that came in my contact form last week, and since this person probably wasn’t the only person wondering, I thought I’d answer here. The short answer is that when I switched from Blogger to WordPress, the tags didn’t transfer over nicely. I mean, a number of them did. But then I started noticing problems, like when most of the cooking posts were tagged as theology.


    So, behind the scenes, we’re working on it. Once everything is straightened out, tag and category navigation will be available once more. Sorry for the inconvenience!

    :: 4 ::

    First PeterIn The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater mentions handwriting Scripture passages. On a whim, I decided to try my hand at it. {Literally!}

    Oh, my.

    This is something I highly suggest.

    It takes I only do two or three verses at a time. I started in print. I don’t know why. I think cursive would have been less fatiguing to my hand.

    Anyhoo, after a few moments pretending to be a medieval scribe, I started paying attention to the words, and that was when the exercise got really valuable. Words were jumping out of the passage at me that I had never noticed or thought about before, even though I’d read the book numerous times over the years.

    It’s definitely a different way to Bible read — devotional writing, we might call it?

    The First Epistle of Peter: Sharpie pens on white index paper.

    :: 5 ::

    In Module 5 of the Simplified Organization self-paced course, Mystie encourages us to build the habit of doing a morning review. Building this habit has been huge for me. I need to do my review at night, though, because preparing for tomorrow unfortunately starts today. For example: what’s for dinner? Sometimes beans need to be soaked or meat needs to begin defrosting. If I wait until morning, I’ve already botched something. {And I’m expert at botching things…}

    So the practice has been a good one for me. A few moments at night, and again in the morning to remind myself what exactly my day is supposed to be about, keep me from wasting a lot of time trying to get my bearings on each new day. This is why taking the course is so good for me!

    :: 6 ::

    This week’s link collection:

    :: 7 ::

    Some questions you’ve asked:

    I’m swamped with questions, so I’m going to start answering a few of them here each week {well, when I remember…ha} because a lot of you are asking the same questions.

    • Question: How do we get outside in the winter in Minnesota {or some other cold state}
      • Answer: I don’t know. I think anything below 50 degrees is cold. Like seriously, I’m-staying-inside-and-waiting-it-out cold. I’m pretty sure if the rest of you knew what babies Californians are when it comes to weather, you’d be horrified. This is an example of the sort of question I am not qualified to talk to you about. Now heat I can discuss. Then the answer is: get wet.
    • Question: So my kid is six. Now what? How do I get her to narrate?
      • Answer: Subscribe to Newbie Tuesday! The answer to this is in the very first issue, which is delivered automagically to your inbox when you subscribe. 🙂
    • Question: If you could go back and start again, what would you do differently?
      • Answer: Well, that’s a loaded question. 🙂 I wasn’t very CM in kindergarten with my oldest. I really regret that. I mean, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but I still regret being way too academic. If I could go back, we’d spend way more hours outside and we’d be way more relaxed. We’d read more poetry. And I wouldn’t require a five-year-old to narrate. That was one of my biggest mistakes.

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  • Reply Karen @ The Simply Blog April 15, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it. I imagine I would almost certainly be a fan of the PBS app too! I love a number of the Masterpiece Theatre productions! Especially their productions of Dicken’s and Austen’s works. And I very much enjoy a number of British TV shows as well. 🙂

    As far as broadcasting something from the computer to the TV (like your classes), I thought I read in the description of the Fire TV Stick that you can project something on your computer to the TV screen. If so, wouldn’t that work for your classes? Of course, I don’t know how that would work regarding using the keyboard if you need to type things in.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 16, 2015 at 7:34 am

      It was the keyboard issue that was tripping me up, actually! For the class, I’d have to enter a password to sign in, and I couldn’t figure out how to do that. But you have given me a could ideas here, so thank you! 🙂

  • Reply Kansas Mom February 5, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Our four year old got a trampoline for his birthday when he turned three and it was absolutely one of the best additions to our house. All the kids use it but he especially is on and off it all day long. That kid just needed to bounce. (Too bad he spent a year jumping on the couch before we gave up trying to stop him and asked for the trampoline.)

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 5, 2015 at 12:10 pm

      I really want to get one for ME. I keep reading how good rebounding is and I keep thinking if there was on in the living room I could bounce while listening to narrations. 🙂

    • Reply Karen @ The Simply Blog April 14, 2015 at 7:58 am

      We’ve thought about getting a mini-trampoline. Any suggestions on which ones are good quality? And Brandy, it’s been a couple months since you wrote this post. Are you still enjoying the Amazon Fire Stick? Any pros/cons you can share?

      • Reply Brandy Vencel April 15, 2015 at 3:07 pm

        I still really like the Fire Stick, yes I do. The only thing I wish it had was some sort of web browser so that I could broadcast a class I want to take onto my TV via WiFi. That would make it absolutely perfect!

        One thing I have learned is that the items in the navigation often change, so just because something was free one week doesn’t mean it is free the next. Also, saving things into the “watch later” category makes it easier to find things again later. I had thought that I would remember where things were, but they’d be moved, or I’d forget, and either way I wasted time wandering around.

        It really was an ideal way to watch Downton Abbey this season, and I’ve become a HUGE fan of the PBS app! 🙂

  • Reply Hannah February 5, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Anything less than 50 degrees is cold? You’re amusing. We’ve been having temperatures and/or windchills in the single digits (or lower) lately, and we’ve been going stir-crazy with two little boys in a house less than 1000sq.ft., one of whom has some pretty significant sensory processing needs and needs. that. outlet. O_o This is our first full winter in the new home, and I’m beginning to see that as the one big flaw about the place. That said, eventually they’ll be older, and I’ll (theoretically) be able to trust them to go outside on their own and recognize the early signs of frostbite in time to actually come back inside on their own. 😛

    Your little tidbit about handwriting Scripture has me itching to get out my copy of The Living Page. More accurately, it has me itching to be back in a season of life where most of my reading isn’t taking place on the Kindle app. Nursing will do that to you. *le sigh*

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 5, 2015 at 10:30 am

      I did not have a kindle when I was nursing (um, I don’t think they’d been invented yet!! and you should have seen the gymnastics. Plus I spilled stuff. It was awesome. We Californians (except those that live at the high elevations) are big babies about weather. True story.

    • Reply Mystie February 5, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Hannah. This is your winter lifeline: Seriously best purchase I made all year.

      • Reply Brandy Vencel February 5, 2015 at 12:08 pm


  • Reply Betty February 4, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Oh my!! Audiobooks have saved our homeschooling. I listen in with my daughter. Alot of times we have a cup of tea and knitting to work on while we listen and usually it’s just a chapter or 2. But when I’m having to read almost everything to my daughter, who’s reading ability hasn’t caught up, it is a lifesaver for both of us. I could not do some of the books justice. Truly, to hear the language spoken correctly with the correct dialect enunciation, really makes a difference. Then the books becomes something we both share as we are both the student. With my oldest daughter, who is a voracious reader, this was not an issue as she read most things on her own. But with this, my special challenged daughter, and her older stressed-out mama, it has made school so enjoyable again for both of us.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 4, 2015 at 9:26 pm

      I have often wished I had audio books for books with French words for exactly that reason — the pronunciation! Very good point. 🙂

  • Reply Melissa January 31, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    I LOVE the handwriting Scripture passage! I started the Bestvater book, but set it aside and forgot about it…YIKES! Thanks for the reminder 🙂 I don’t remember reading about handwriting Scripture, or maybe I did and forgot..ha! I need to pick it back up again. Your passage is lovely BTW.


    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 1, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      You know, the Scripture thing was really a passing comment in the book, so I didn’t even notice it the first time I read it. But now my local group is going through it, and it came up in discussion, and when we went home I had time on a Sunday and that seemed like an appropriate Lord’s Day activity, so I tried it and found…I could totally see the benefits! 🙂

      Bestvater’s second chapter can be hard to slog through. If that if where you stopped, I would almost encourage you to skip and go to chapter three and then go back later, maybe even when you are done with the rest. I was tempted to quite there, too! 🙂

  • Reply Kortney January 31, 2015 at 6:43 am

    The handwritten scripture is lovely. A practice I need to return to, maybe a Lenten project?

    Sorry for all the separate comments; too much good stuff happening ; )

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 31, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      No apologies necessary. If you do it, you have to post a photo so we can see it. 🙂

  • Reply Virginia Lee January 30, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Just for information’s sake, since you are going to look into it, I also have to subscribe to each post I comment on. I have also tried to figure out how not to have to do this. It takes me to a page that lists every post I’ve subscribed to and lets me unsubscribe, but there is nothing I can chose to not have to do the email verification every time. Mystie’s blog does this as well, but other WP blogs I comment on do not. The two of you are just special! =)

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 30, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      Special…or too dense to know how to turn it off. Well, ME at least. Mystie isn’t dense. She probably has some other, more respectable reason. I’ll look into it! I hope I can turn it off. I know it’s annoying — I’ve experienced that on other blogs and had no idea mine was doing it. 🙂

      • Reply Mystie January 30, 2015 at 7:57 pm

        Nope, dense here too! I was annoyed by having to confirm my subscription to comments every time and had *no idea* mine was doing that too!

        I’ll make sure we both get that fixed. 🙂

        • Reply Brandy Vencel January 30, 2015 at 10:15 pm

          So…you’re going to tell me how? Or just hack my site? 😉

  • Reply Kirsti January 30, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    I think this illustrates your weather comment nicely.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 30, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Perfectly! 🙂

  • Reply Kelly January 30, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Oh, and this is related to your move to WordPress. I don’t know if this is something I have to do or if it’s a blog setting, but I follow another blogger that uses WP and I don’t have to do the email verification for every set of comments I subscribe to — when I click the subscribe button it does it automatically. I was looking around my WP subscriptions page to see if there I setting I should select, but I didn’t see anything. Do you happen to know?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 30, 2015 at 3:06 pm

      Hm. I don’t know!

      So I haven’t actually subscribed to my own comments before. Do you have to do the verification with my blog each time? If so, I can look on my end and see if it is my fault at all. Not that I know what I’m doing. But I can try! 🙂

      • Reply Kelly January 30, 2015 at 3:12 pm

        For each new post, yes, but only the first time I comment — I get an email verification asking if I really want to subscribe, which seems rather redundant.

  • Reply Kelly January 30, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Tell me more about the Fire Stick. I see that ESPN is listed, but can you just watch it, or do you have have to have a cable subscription in order to sign into it? Up until last year I was able to watch nearly all my football games at ESPN’s website (they quit showing bowl games for free a few years ago), but this year they’ve made it so you have to sign in with your cable provider. 🙁

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 30, 2015 at 3:05 pm

      Okay, I have to say that we haven’t installed the ESPN app yet, so I don’t know. I don’t even know if you have to pay for the app, or if it is free…

      Okay, I just googled. It looks like the app itself is free, but it still makes you sign in with your cable provider, so…it sounds POINTLESS. 🙁

      • Reply Kelly January 30, 2015 at 3:10 pm

        Exactly. Those meanies. Well, thanks for checking. I remember being all excited when I first heard about Roku, but it’s the same story. 🙁

  • Reply Kansas Mom January 30, 2015 at 8:21 am

    On the Fire TV stick, we didn’t even have a compatible TV until this Christmas when we inherited an old one from my sister and her husband (old, but newer than our previous TV). Time to revisit it. We watch everything online or through the apps, so it might be handy, but we also have a Wii that does most of that already.

    The kids have been encouraged to make illuminated pages of Scripture in our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd class and I’ve done the same at home with copywork. I told them if they wrote out Scripture and illustrated it beautifully, I’d laminate it for our prayer table. I hadn’t considered giving them Sharpies, though…they are so dangerous around Second Daughter.

  • Reply Anna January 30, 2015 at 8:18 am

    I agree with Mystie’s comments, and I don’t think that because our minds may tend to wander when listening, that we should avoid audiobooks. My mind wanders during sermons sometimes, but that just means I need to learn to focus, not stop listening to sermons. Learning to listen is just as important as learning to read, and I think audiobooks judiciously used can help us learn to pay attention to the spoken word. My AO Year 4 student is reading most of his books, but Kidnapped is one he’s doing as an audiobook (the narrator does the Scottish brogue wonderfully). He gave me an enthusiastic and very detailed narration of Chapter 4 yesterday, showing that he was certainly fully engaged with the story!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 30, 2015 at 11:16 am

      I like your point about learning to listen. I wasn’t taught to listen in my childhood education, which means I’m weak on sermons, too. I take notes SO THAT I can listen. The writing helps my focus. But I do wonder if our children are different. I think we forget human culture used to be primarily oral and everything was read or recited aloud…

  • Reply Mystie January 30, 2015 at 7:09 am

    What’s different between an audio book and listening to a read-aloud? The article breaks down three sorts of reading: 1) reading out loud (as in, being the reader), 2) reading silently, 3) listening. If we listen to their case, it applies also to us reading aloud to our children. They are saying listening is not a good way to engage. But I think we are teaching our children to engage by listening when we read aloud and use audio books. I don’t see that there’s any difference between me reading aloud Little House on the Prairie to my kids while they eat lunch or Cherry Jones reading it aloud to my kids while they eat lunch, except that Cherry does a way better job and doesn’t get a sore throat afterwards. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 30, 2015 at 8:02 am

      I think *maybe* one difference — and I agree, by the way, that there aren’t many! — is that when I’m reading aloud, I’m in the room, so I can notice when someone is zoning out. I think you are rare in that you are listening with your kids. A lot of people use them so that they can do something else, but I think that means they can’t monitor that sort of thing.

      Of course, having a child trained in the habit of narration might help, if they have to report back on it afterwards? I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing. We don’t use tons of audio books, so this is speculative for me. 🙂

      • Reply Mystie January 30, 2015 at 8:12 am

        Well, sometimes I’m listening with the kids (like at a mealtime or in the car), and sometimes I’m not. Audiobooks are also like our videos in our home. Instead of setting the kids in front of the tv, kids play Legos while listening to a book for fun or for quiet time. And I’m a narration failure, so I don’t require that. But I’m a fan of audio books. Pooh quotes would not be a part of our family culture if it weren’t for Peter Dennis, because before I heard Peter Dennis read Pooh, Milne made absolutely no sense to me. 🙂

        • Reply Kortney January 31, 2015 at 6:37 am

          Narration failure? How can that be?

          • Brandy Vencel January 31, 2015 at 2:58 pm

            It’s a big scandal, Kortney!! 😀

      • Reply Kortney January 31, 2015 at 6:41 am

        At our place kids listen to audiobooks (or as I still call them, books on tape!) by themselves during nap time, we listen together as we do chores like folding laundry, and I read aloud during school and before bed. So there’s all sorts of interaction with words.

        I think there’s a bit of snobbishness around audiobooks–like they just don’t *count* as reading. Rubbish I say!

        • Reply Brandy Vencel January 31, 2015 at 2:58 pm


    • Reply Kansas Mom January 30, 2015 at 8:18 am

      I know I miss things when listening to an audio book; it’s too easy to get distracted. I think when we have distracting things and I’m reading aloud, I pause, but I’m less likely to remember to do that when we have an audio book playing. I think, too, it might make a difference if we have grown up listening to read-alouds or audio books. It may be that a child from a Charlotte Mason homeschool would have responded differently in the study.

      • Reply Brandy Vencel January 30, 2015 at 11:15 am

        THAT would actually be an interesting study, KM — looking at how different educational backgrounds impact the ability to listen to an audiobook!

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