Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jumpstart Giveaway Winner

Well, my Jumpstart contest ended and I have a winner.

The number of entries was small, so your odds were good if you entered.  (It sound like I need to work on increasing traffic to my blog, huh.)

The winner is....

Entry #2 (from Random.org)

Laura said... Kaylie loves to play the computer, so sign me up!

Congratulations Laura!  You and Kaylie enjoy your FREE 3-month subscription to Jumpstart.com.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nicaragua - years of strife

I would like to start to tell you about my first trip to Central America.

But to start out, I'd love to tell you a little about Nicaragua.  About a month before the trip, my dad, who is our Missions Coordinator at church and the leader of our trip, had me read a book about Nicaraguan history - Blood of Brothers by Stephen Kinzer.

It was a wonderful and insightful book about the recent (past 30 years) history of Nicaragua written by a fairly unbiased journalist who lived in Nicaragua for 5 years in the early 1980's.  His love for Nicaragua as a country and the people in particular comes across so well in the book.  As a reader you realize the Nicaraguan people have been through so much yet they are resilient.  For 47 years, ending in 1979, they were ruled by a family of dictators called the Somozas, the last being Anastasio Somoza Debayle.  As all dictators go, he ruled with an iron fist, imprisoning and killing people on nothing more than suspicion.  The sad thing is that during this reign, he was supported by America.  Yup, that's right.  The American government supported a Central American dictator by supplying money, supplies and enacting favorable trade agreements.

As often happens during years of repression, a rebellion grew up and a group of young rebels known as the Sandinistas started a civil war against the injustices of the dictator.  As the group was formed, they took their name from a famous rebel in Nicaraguan history, Augusto Cesar Sandino.  As a rebel in the early 1900's, Sandino had fought against a group of US Marines and had won a small victory.  That made him the only successful rebel in Nicaraguan history and a hero to his people.

The Sandinistas began their campaign around 1970 and continued a guerrilla-type war for almost 10 years until 1979.  Obviously during those 9 years, countless men, women and children died on both sides of the conflict.  Finally in July 1979, Somoza feared for his life and decided to flee Managua (the capital) and escape to Paraguay.  He remained in exile there until he was assassinated Sept. of 1980.  Ironically, after years of fighting, the Sandinistas just walked into the capital city and took over the government without a single shot being fired.

The people of Nicaragua were at first excited about the new regime - no more dictator to tell them what to do...or so they thought.  Unfortunately, the Sandinista government was made up of 30 year old rebels who knew how to fight well but not how to run a government well.  They were very good friends with Castro who had financially supported their revolution.  They respected and revered the Communist society that he had created in Cuba and looked to model Nicaragua after that.  They implemented more and more socialist practices without realizing what a strain it was putting on their economy.  They had a nation of individuals who just wanted freedom - the freedom to plant what they wanted and buy what they wanted without someone telling them what to do.  But instead the new government pushed its socialist, communal ideas on its people and caused the downfall of the nation's economy (now Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Americas).

Soon, history was repeating itself.  The Sandinistas elected Daniel Ortega as their president in a puppet election.  In short order, Daniel was acting as supreme ruler over the country and his government was imprisoning and killing people just as much as his predecessor had.  A new dictatorship was born under the guise of a socialist state.

Of course, as Americans, our government felt like it couldn't handle another Cuba-type government in Central America.  Under the leadership of Ronald Regan, they stepped in and started giving money and training to former National Guard members (the dictator's former police force).  As the Sandinista government became more strict and more corrupt, additional people joined this band, now called the Contras, and a second civil war was started. (See Iran-Contra affair for additional info.)

This war lasted about 10 years as well and many more men, women and children (and MANY teenage boys) were killed.  In fact, almost an entire generation of Nicaraguan men were wiped out.  The Contra war was fought mainly in northern Nicaragua and was made up of sneak attacks, homemade bombs and mined roads.  After 10 years, the Sandinistas and Contras met to discuss a peace agreement.  Against all odds and with great help from the president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, peace was declared.

Nicaragua held its first true Presidential election in 1980.  Peace has reigned since that day but the wounds of war are deep.  Currently half of the Nicaraguan population are 18 years old and younger.  Most of men that should have been their mentors and leaders were killed during the two consecutive civil wars.  The economy in Nicaragua has still not recovered from its years of war and the failed socialist government of the Sandinistas.  The people there like Americans (and American money) but the name Ronald Regan still leaves a bad taste in their mouths.  They are trying to recover and rebuild but the process is slow.

Going into the country knowing this as their history was such a huge asset.  It helped me to understand that the younger generation didn't have a generation older than them to look up to.  It helped me to know that men and women as young as thirty had survived at least part of 2 civil wars.  Most still remembered the tanks in the streets and the AK-47s carried by all the men.  It helped me to know that the older generation had lived through a dictator's rule and valued peace and freedom above almost all else.  And it helped me love the Nicaraguan people all the more.

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More to come on my trip.  Don't forget my giveaway.  Tomorrow is the last day and so far, your chances are great!
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

We Jump for Jumpstart

OK, I admit it, I let my kids play computer - sometimes more than the recommended "dose."

And, yeah, David is somewhat of a computer junkie - not that he constantly gets to play, but he sure constantly asks to play.

So how do I live with myself at night. Well...part of it is that I just say, "It's OK.  They are still active.  They are still doing chores, playing outside and reading books."  But the other part is that I make sure they are playing educational games.

Who do we look to for that?  Why, Jumpstart of course!!  In the past we have bought and played several Jumpstart games including Jumpstart Artist, Jumpstart Preschool, and Jumpstart Kindergarten.  So when I was contacted by a member of the Jumpstart.com team to do a review and giveaway, I jumped at the chance.

I was given a membership to the site and a little bit of instruction about which lands were best for certain ages.  Then it was testing time.  When your child first starts out he or she gets to create a character - a "Jumpee."  They get to customize its hair, clothes, face, etc.
Jumpee Builder
My kids LOVED this part! Especially Julie.  Getting to play dress-up for a virtual character is right up her alley.  David enjoyed it too, but didn't get into it quite as much as Julie.

After you have created your Jumpee its off to find a world to play in.  There are worlds geared toward different ages:
Storyland - 3 to 5 year olds
Story Land - Monkey Game
AdventureLand - K to 2nd grade
Entrance to Adventure Land
MarineLand - 5 to 8 year olds
MarineLand Kelp Forest
FutureLand - 8 to 10 year olds
FutureLand Sea Lab

and there are special areas created for holidays, such as for St. Patricks Day or for promos such as dragon training arenas.

For parents, there is a Jumpstart Blog which tells about new characters and updates to the site.

Our Experience

Knowing how much my kids LOVE Jumpstart, we were eager to start using our online membership.  Both Julie and David created Jumpees and loved it.  Then we took those Jumpees for a walk.  In the main world (kind of the starting point for all the other worlds) there were some fun little things for the Jumpees to do, like a roller skating rink.  However, we had problems when we went to the specific worlds.  David started out in Storyland and Julie started out in Adventureland.  For both kids, after a few minutes in the land, the site would crash and kick us out.  We tried everything the support staff suggested (who were great, by the way!).  We closed all other windows, cleared the cookies...but the site still crashed on us.

I was about to write off Jumpstart.com as something our computer just couldn't handle, when I discovered the download section of the website.  Once you start a Jumpstart subscription, you have access to downloadable games.  There are four game choices and they take about 10 months each to play so your kids would be entertained for quite a while.  We first downloaded "The Legend of Grizzly McGruffin" (who was the only camper ever to earn all the badges at camp).  The kids then try to beat that record by earning all the badges themselves - which, of course, involves learning, although they may not know they are learning :).  We have downloaded "Trouble in Town" and "Quest for the Color Meister" as well.  (You do have to sign in each time you play the downloaded games, so you must keep your membership active in order to keep playing.) 

It's very helpful that the downloads tell what ages they are good for (one for preschool, kindergarten, first and second grades) and use the same 3D graphics as the online worlds.  Since the downloads take almost a year to play and there are 4 of them, it convinces me that this website is worth it.  And, hopefully, they can fix the crashing problems and we can start playing the online worlds as well.

Win it!

You too can try out the Jumpstart.com experience.  The wonderful Jumpstart team has offered a 3 month  subscription to one of my lucky readers.  International and American readers can both win this contest!

Required:
To enter, go to Jumpstart.com and read the latest blog entry (under the "What's New" link).  Then post a comment that you read it. 

Additional Entries:
Tweet the link to my giveaway - 1 entry
Post about the giveaway on Facebook - 1 entry
Blog about the giveaway - 1 entry
Post my button on your blog - 1 entry

Make sure you post a separate comment with each of the above entries. 

The winner will be announced in one week on July 28.  Good luck!

Disclosure: I was provided with a JumpStart membership at no cost by Knowledge Adventure in order to test the products’ abilities and give my own personal opinions on it. The opinions I have given are mine and may differ from others but were not influenced by the company or the free product provided.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Update

Hello, all you out there in blogland.  It's me, your world-traveling mommy returned home...with double pneumonia.  Yup, that's right, I got the pneumonia vaccine in November and now, 6 months later, I get real, full-fledged, confirm it with a chest Xray pneumonia for the first time in almost 30 years!

I have been ZAPPED of all energy since Sunday.  But I think it's returning slowly.  Once it returns, I WILL blog about my wonderful trip to Nicaragua, along with pictures.

I also have a review and giveaway planned for early next week (I'm banking on my energy going up this weekend).

But until then, enjoy this post by Missy at It's Almost Naptime.  I was laughing (and consequentially coughing) like crazy when I read it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Review of Little Labs: Stepping Into Science Kit

Originally submitted at CSN Stores

Begin a lifetime of scientific investigation and understanding with 25 fun experiments in five key areas: nature, physics, chemistry, air, and water. Stepping Into Science teaches science fundamentals with step-by-step, hands-on experiments, while also introducing children to the scienti...


Easy experiments for kid

By Stayinthecarmom from Kingsport, TN on 7/12/2010

 

5out of 5

Pros: Stores Easily, Easy To Use, Good Variety

Best Uses: School, Rainy Day Fun

Describe Yourself: Parent

Primary use: Personal

The lab kit is fun and has simple experiments with easy to follow instructions. The only materials needed beside the kit are easy to find ones, such as paper towels and water. I would recommend this for school teachers or for parents.

(legalese)

Friday, July 9, 2010

10 ten reasons I love my Vacation

10) You can play in the dirt all day and no one cares!


9)  You can be anyone you want to be at the beach.


8)  You can dig a hole and stick your kids in it...and they like it!


7)  You get by without, um, freshening up as much.


6)  You get to hang out with family and snuggle.


5)  You get to act like a kid.


4)  You get to ride a sea monster.


3)  You get to ride a roller coaster...inside.


2)  You get to celebrate special birthdays.



And the number one reason I love vacation...

I get to spend it with my family (sometimes even watching a cool new 3D movie, like Toy Story 3).



Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Special News

Yay!! I'm super excited.

Well to tell you the truth, I started out jealous.  I read several other blogs where bloggers were invited to participate in a cool new program.  And I was jealous...because I had not been asked.

But now I have!!

I am the newest CSN preferred blogger!!

Woohoo!!

That means every other month or so, I'll have a review or giveaway of one of the myriad of items they sell in the CSN stores - such as headboards, toys, luggage  (may have to check that out before my next trip), ...the list goes on and on.  Know why?  There are over 200 CSN stores!!!  That's why!!

So stay tuned for great giveaways and reviews coming really soon!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Nicaragua Day 2

Sunday

We started out the day as usual - breakfast, getting ready for church, orientation meeting in the eating room. I had started to get worried because we were supposed to leave for church at 9:15 (church starts at 9:30) but 9:15 rolled around and we were still in orientation.  Finally 9:40 hits and my dad asks what time we need to leave.  Oh, now, says our host when he realized the time.  But its OK, he says, you're on Nicaragua time now - where nothing is on time.  So it didn't matter that we were 45 minutes late to church or that the person preaching was with us.  They just kept on singing until we got there. 

It was interesting having a church service through an interpreter.  That was a first for me.  My dad preached and several people from our group stood up and talked before that.  After church we came back to eat lunch and I took a much needed nap that felt GREAT!

Then it was back to the church for a youth Bible study...at least that was what was on the schedule.  While the "adult" (those more grown up than me) were planning the younger crowd (which I'll include myself in this time) went outside to play with the kids.  There was impromtu kickball, soccer, and volleyball.  It was so encouraging to see our youth having fun with kids.  Even when you don't speak the same language, you can communicate through play and sports.  It also amazed me that there were older Nicaraguan teenage girls - we talking 17 and 18 year olds - who were out there playing games like kickball and volley ball with the little kids.  I don't think I'd see that in the states.  They are all too busy texting there.  It was a refreshing sight.

I think we set a good foundation for building relationships this week, which is our main goal while we are here.  Today we have eaten breakfast and are getting ready to leave for our first full, long day of service.  Keep us in your prayers and stay tuned for more.



Party all Week

These posts aren't necessarily in chronological order - just wanted to get that off my chest to start out with.  I'm kind of a chronological fanatic, but I'm OK with this (deep breaths).

Every other year of my kids lives, I have been insistent that they have separate birthday parties.  When your kids have birthdays 6 days apart, this is hard.  It takes up 2 weekends to do "friend parties" and another weeknight or Sunday afternoon to do an "extended family party."  All that can get exhausting and requires about 2 weeks of our time.

This year was different.  We went to the beach over Julie's birthday which took up 2 of our possible party weekends in June.  My mom had the brilliant idea that I just have one BIG party with everyone invited - Julie's friends, David's friends and all our family. 

So I did.

And it turned out great!  We rented a pavilion at a local state park (for free), cooked out hotdogs on the grill (that I got on sale and had coupons for), got one really big Star Wars cake and a Darth Vader pinata and we had ourselves a par-tay!  I ended up spending about $100 to entertain and feed 35 people.  I thought that was pretty good.

Here are the smiles to prove it (Oh, did I mention that my kids are huge Star Wars fans now).

I think I might regret getting the kids those lightsabers ...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Be flexible

I'm using a borrowed computer, so I don't know yet if I can upload pictures.  But here I am in Nicaragua.  We arrived safely yesterday at about 5 PM Nicaragua time (2 hours behind home) after leaving our church at 5:45 AM.  The airport was still 2.5 hours from our mission house.  So after going through customs, getting our luggage and driving to Chinendega from Managua, we got to our home away from home at 8:30 PM (10:30 PM home time).  We had some pizza and crashed after our very long day.

But backing up a little...the first thing we were told when we got here was that the town of Chinendega has been without water for 5 days.  The town pumps blew out.  Our gracious host went and got a cistern yesterday before we got here and filled it up with water for us to use - however conserving water is an understatement for what we must do to make that water last.  My shower this morning was refreshingly cold (it actually felt pretty good) but was more like a sponge bath standing up.  Get wet, turn off water and lather up hair.  Turn on water and rinse, turn off water and wash body with soap, turn on water to rinse, etc.... 

Our number one priority on this trip was to be flexible so we are flexing.  In just a little bit, we are off to our first Nicarguan church service, then they have planned a Fourth of July cookout for us tonight with hotdogs and hamburgers - which I think is incredibly sweet. 

Much love to my family who I already miss so much.  I'm showing everyone your pictures (even those who don't really want to see them).  Be good for Daddy and I'll see you soon.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ready for International Travel...I hope

This is it.  My last night here for a while.  Tomorrow I leave bright and early (or really dark and early) for a mission trip to Nicaragua with my church.  I'm excited and nervous at the same time.  I'd love to blog from down there, but I'm not sure how well I'll get internet access.  I'll certainly try.

In the meantime, my wonderful husband is going to take the week off from work to watch the kids.  He's decided to blog his adventures this week - both as a way to keep me informed of what's going on here while I'm gone and to reassure me that the kids aren't just running wild :).  If you'd like to check it out, you'll find his first post (Day 0) here

I'm going to schedule some posts for next week.  If I end up posting from our mission house in Central America, I'll just preempt those posts.  Have a great week!

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