Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: R.e.a.l. Homeschool Spanish

Vendor Name:  R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish (R.E.A.L. stands for Relax, Enjoy, Aspire, Learn Spanish)
Vendor Contact:  R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish  website
Age Range:  K – 8  (a kindergartner could certainly take part in the oral lessons, some of the review puzzles are geared towards older kids.  A High School supplement is in the works)
Price:  $49.95 for download version of the Book, Activity Book, Answer Book, and audio files
   $59.95 for all of the above plus Daily Curriculum Guide
   Hard copies (with audio Cd's) of above are available for $89.95 and $99.95 respectively  with free shipping

Foreign Languages:  I think we’d all agree that there are part of a well rounded education.  Many college admissions offices expect to see them on a transcript.  Being able to speak at least one can give you an advantage when applying for jobs.  The problem is how to teach it, especially if it’s not a language you speak.  In my high school days I had dreams of standing atop the Eiffel Tower in a striped sundress and a straw hat so I enrolled in French.  Those dreams didn’t work out for me and now I’m left in a pickle because both my husband and I agree that Spanish is the more useful language these days.

Our review product is designed to help those parents who are familiar with the concept of foreign languages (conjugating verbs, etc) if not the language themselves.  The author, Dr. Karyn Williamson-Coria  earned her doctorate in Expanded French Studies and married a native speaker of Spanish so she is certainly familiar with breaking down the study of language into digestible chunks.
The download files include both a color and a black & white copy of “The Book” which I would call an expanded teacher’s manual.  The colorized version has Spanish vocabulary and phrases in black and English translations in green.  A lot of the Tips to the Home Educator and enforcement ideas have green backgrounds so if you plan to print everything out B&W would be more economical.    
There are Ten units broken into smaller lessons:
    • 1A  Greetings
    • 1B  How are You
    • 2A  Colors
    • 2B Numbers
    • 2C More Numbers
    • 2D Telling Time
    • 3A Fruits and Vegetables
    • 3B Meats and Proteins
    • 3C Carbs and Desserts   [personal note-the title made me laugh, dieters should avoid this lesson!']
    • 3D Beverages, Condiments, Dairy and Other
    • 4A Family
    • 4B Family
    • 4C Adjectives
    • 4D Adjectives
    • 5A Face
    • 5B Body
    • 6A Clothes
    • 6B Clothes
    • 6C Weather and Seasons
    • 6D Months of the Year
    • 7A Places
    • 7B Days of the Weeks
    • 7C The verb “to go”/ir
    • 7D Transportation/Places
    • 8A Animals
    • 8B Animals
    • 8C Nature
    • 9A Sports
    • 10A Verbs Parts 1,2,3
    • 10B The House
    • 10C Things in the House
Most units also contain tips to the home educator on how to present the material, ideas for reinforcing vocabulary and some grammar tidbits.

The Activity Guide is designed to be printed out and only comes in a black & white version.  These reinforcing activities include crossword puzzles, word searches, fill-in-the-blank dialogues, scrambled tiles, and more.  I would classify some of this a busy work to occupy students in a classroom while the teacher works with slower learners.  Other exercises are really clever ways to see if a student is comprehending what they read, for example putting sentences in order to create a dialogue between two people or reading a dialogue and answering questions based on clues in the text.   The Answers Book are the solutions to the Activity Guide’s exercises.

The audio files are broken down to correspond to the unit sections (4A for example).  The female speaker will say the word in English first and then in Spanish.  The book has the Spanish listed first and then English so you are sort of required to read backwards but this isn’t terribly difficult to overcome.  Each word and phrase is only said once and there is no way to select a specific word to hear.  You must listen to the entire lesson to reach the word you are seeking.

The Daily Curriculum Guide is optional, but to my mind worth the extra $10.   The curriculum is divided into 48 weeks of daily lessons and each week includes a sixth day with preparation for the teacher.   Most helpful to me were the reminders to check R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish’s website for links to help bring the culture (mostly Latin American) to life. There are games, history, recipes and more.  If you prefer to do your own planning, the Book includes a page you can print out and fill in your own schedule.

Some of these files were zipped, but they were still big.  If you live in dial-up land like me and don't want to pay the premium for hard copies you may want to see if you can visit the library or a friend with high speed service and download to a thumb drive.

Schnickelfritz is in third grade so right now I’m content for him to learn to speak and listen to Spanish.  We can add reading and writing as he gets older.  The lessons are taught by me having a conversation with him of previously memorized sentences (an example in English is below)
Me: Good Morning Fritz.
Fritz: Good Morning Mama.
Me: How are you?
Fritz: Very well, and you?
Me: Very Well.
Fritz: See you later.
This is almost identical to the first lesson I ever had in French twenty-something years ago.   Looking ahead (because we haven’t gotten that far) I can see where we begin to conjugate verbs—those that follow a pattern and irregular; learn about masculine and feminine nouns and how adjectives are spelled differently for each.  I could not find a lesson on punctuation, specifically why some punctuation marks appear upside down at the beginning of the sentences.  Perhaps this will be covered in the more formal High School Supplement. 

We will be continuing our Spanish studies after Christmas break.  If you think you'd like to add Spanish to your lessons, check out the samples from the Book, Activity Book, and Daily Curriculum Guide .

You can read what other Homeschool Crew members think about R.E.A.L.  Homeschool Spanish by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I recieved a free copy of the R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish Book, Activity Book, Answer Book, Audio files and Daily Curriculum Guide for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opion.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


A homeschooling mom in our county offered to teach a class on Hanukkah.  Schnickelfritz and I had a similar lesson at her house last year.  This year was so much better attended (I think it's because most of the HS moms had been attending her year-long course on Biblical feasts) that we had to move to a church fellowship hall.  I hadn't planned it this way, but God has perfect timing; Fritz and I had just finished Daniel chapter 11 in our Discover 4 Yourself Bible study and so he was very familiar with Antiochus IV Epiphanes--the cruel ruler that desecrated the temple.  It was during the cleansing and rededication of the temple that miracle of the oil took place.

Several types of Hanukiah
 After a brief lecture, the group was free to go to several craft stations, play the dreidel game, and sample donuts, baklava, and latkes (everything fried to remind us of the oil).

The boys drifted to the dreidel station (could it be because there was chocolate involved?)  According to the tradition, Jews would hide their Torahs and pull out these tops to play with when Greek soldiers would stop by to make sure no one was involved in illegal worship. 

The younger kids could decorate a paper menorah with stickers.

More ambitious or older kids could make their own menorah out of paper plates and foam.

While Hanukkah is not one of the Biblical feasts prescribed by God in the Old Testament, it is mentioned in the Bible, referred to as the Feast of Dedication.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Money Monday: Christmas and Commercialism

Yeah, there's a lot of bad 'isms' floatin' around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it's the same - don't care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck, make a buck. 
Alfred the Janitor,  Miracle on 34th Street, 1947
Poor Alfred, what would he think today?  In recent years we’ve been treated to headlines about shoppers being trampled to death and one lady resorting to pepper spray in order to grab a bargain before anyone else.  Does that put you in the Christmas mood?  Whatever happened to Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men?  This isn’t the holiday I signed up for—the one where people get in line two days before Thanksgiving to fill their shopping carts with Wiis and Ipads at incredible bargain prices.  It’s supposed to be about the Savior, not savings.  PS—to those stores that decided it was better to make a buck than let employees enjoy Thanksgiving with their families, I didn’t spend any of my money with you that day or any other since.  I will not worship at the altar of your cash register.
At the same time, though sadly not as prominently in the news, food pantries and organizations like the Salvation Army are struggling to stretch their resources even further as demand increases and donations go down.  The Boy Scouts’ food drive this year was down almost 30 percent in St. Louis.  Our local paper showed bare shelves at a pantry trying to serve 60 families each week.   Americans spent around $450 billion on the “Holiday Season” last year on lights, cards, ugly sweaters and Chia Pets.   The Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign took in $142 million, that’s 3 hundredths of one percent of the holiday splurge. 
For the past five years, our church has participated in the Advent Conspiracy—a radical idea to separate the birth of our Savior from the massive shopping frenzy.  It’s done in four simple steps as seen on their website.

It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

Before you think we’re getting all Scrooge on you, let us explain what we mean. We like gifts. Our kids really like gifts. But consider this: America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas. How often have you spent money on Christmas presents for no other reason than obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? Thanks, but no thanks, right? We’re asking people to consider buying ONE LESS GIFT this Christmas. Just one.  Sounds insignificant, yet many who have taken this small sacrifice have experienced something nothing less than a miracle: They have been more available to celebrate Christ during the advent season.

God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. Sounds a lot better than getting a sweater two sizes too big, right?

When Jesus loved, He loved in ways never imagined. Though rich, he became poor to love the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick. He played to the margins. By spending less at Christmas we have the opportunity to join Him in giving resources to those who need help the most. When Advent Conspiracy first began four churches challenged this simple concept to its congregations. The result raised more than a half million dollars to aid those in need. One less gift. One unbelievable present in the name of Christ.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: Vintage Remedies

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  I Corinthians 13:11

No disrespect to the Apostle Paul, but here is my version--

When I was a child, I ate like a child.  I wanted soft white bread and fizzy drinks.  I believed that all food came wrapped in plastic or boxed or canned.  I used pine scented aerosols and cleaning products that sent me running from the bathroom choking on the fumes.  I believed that the only way to get better was to ask the doctor for an antibiotic.  Now I am a woman with a child of my own.  I have seen that foods made of chemicals and preservatives have left our nation overweight and yet still undernourished.  I have seen children suffering from asthma and chemical sensitivity.  I hear stories on the news about organisms that have grown resistant to our best treatments.

Of course I want better for my Schnickelfritz.  I could just force changes on him and say "I'm the mom, I know what's best,"  or I could help him try to understand why I'm making the choices I do.  Enter a new Homeschool Crew review product designed to help me do just that: Vintage Remedies for Guys.

 This book, geared towards 7-13 year old boys is broken into three sections: Food, Nutrition and Culinary Skills; Health and Body, and Natural Living.   Chapter Headings include:

  • Real Food
  • Healthy Drinks
  • Growing Your Food
  • Healthy and Clean Bodies
  • Immunity and Prevention
  • Backyard Medicine
  • Aromatic Oils
  • Cleaner Cleaning
  • Reducing and Reusing
  • A Natural Home
The Appendices have quizzes,  tips for making this a homeschool or co-op curriculum,  and information about further learning opportunities from Vintage Remedies.

The book is written to the boy but an adult will want to stand by to elaborate on certain topics and help with the hands on projects.  Schnickelfritz is not quite ready for facial wash or homemade deodorant, so we stuck with the kitchen recipes-specifically yogurt, cream cheese, and ricotta cheese.

Technically, I don't know if what we made can actually be called yogurt or cheese because we're not using yogurt culture or rennet for the cheese.  Both the cream cheese and the yogurt recipes call for cultured buttermilk.  I asked the book's author, Jessie Hawkins, about her ingredient choices.  Her reply was that she was trying to use ingredients easily available for the average parent. 

Here is Fritz pouring our fresh, raw milk into a pot.  I didn't have one big enough to heat one gallon (nor was I willing to use up our precious supply) so I cut the recipe in half--the opportunity to practice dividing fractions.

We're adding raw apple cider vinegar.  I realize that not everyone is going to have access to non-homogenized milk or raw ACV.   The parent/teacher guide for each chapter gives you a list of ingredients and tools needed so you can determine what you can and can't do.

Our curds are forming.  Now the hardest part, waiting patiently for three hours.

Well, the recipe worked but I must say I'm disappointed by the quantity.  A half gallon of milk yielded about 2/3 cup of ricotta cheese--no wonder it's so expensive at the store.  Our cream cheese experiment didn't work very well either but I think the problem was user error.  At the time I didn't have cheesecloth (note to self: always check the parent guide and make sure supplies are on hand) so I used my yogurt strainers.  I think the mesh was too fine to allow the liquid to drain so I never got a thick cream cheese.  What I did have was perfect to substitute for sour cream in my Thanksgiving recipes.

Schnickelfritz was certainly more interested in doing the projects than reading the associated lessons, but he was certainly able to read the text (I was concerned about the font which resembles handwriting).  If you chose to use this for schooling,  the quizzes in the back would make great short essay questions to test comprehension.

Our book is for guys, there is also a Vintage Recipes for Girls.  My understanding is the main differences deal with hygiene.  There is also a kids book for younger children (ages 2-6).  Vintage Remedies for Boys retails for $45.  If you hurry to the Vintage Remedies website you can purchase the Boys and Girls material in a single volume called Vintage Remedies for Tweens for only $29.95.

You can see what other Homeschool Crew members think of Vintage Remedies by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Vintage Remedies for Guys for the purpose of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gold Trail Award

After three years of hard word, my Schnickelfritz earned his Gold Trail Award for Ranger Kids.  The presentation was made in front of the whole church.  Royal Rangers is a scouting program, like Boy Scouts, but run through churches.  In addition to learning to tie knots, he had to memorize scripture and hymns, learn the names of the books of the Bible, the 12 disciples, and more.    Fritz has now moved up to the Discovery Rangers and is tearing through merit badges on his way to the Gold Falcon.  At this level he needs to complete two Bible merits (each one is a five week study on a particular book) for each skill merit in order to advance.  We've been able to incorporate the work into our homeschool.  He just completed a Presidential study learning each president's terms, home state, education, vice president, political party and two major events that occurred while they were in office.  He had to look up Bible verses on the topic of leadership and write a 300 word essay on his favorite president and how they displayed at least three of those leadership traits.  Wow!  I never assigned him anything that challenging in our history/English work before.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: Fractazmic

Well December has rolled around again...our burst of enthusiasm for a new school year has waned just as holiday activities and winter sports have kicked into high gear.  I don't want to drop school work entirely and yet I'm ready for a break from the "heavy" stuff myself.  That's when I like to pull out the educational games--there's still learning going on (or at least refreshing old facts learned), but it's all done in a spirit of fun.  It's a perfect time to review a card game like Fractazmic.  This is from I See Cards, the same company that provided our Pyramath  game last year.

Fractazmic's focus is on fractions, so instead of having symbol suits the cards are organized into tenths, twelfths, and sixteenths.   The fractions are reduced to their simplest terms (1/4 instead of 4/16) but you can still keep track of the fraction families by the colored border and the picture on the cards.   Tenths are green with a 1 liter water bottle, twelfths are blue with an egg carton, and sixteenths are red with  a magnified view of a ruler.  This was my one qualm with the picture choices: the magnified view focuses on half of the inch not the full inch. In the above example the grasshopper represents 4/16 or 1/4 of an inch but the picture itself looks like it's taking up 1/2 of the space.  This made it a little confusing to my son who's new to fractions.

The object of the basic game is to form "hands" by collecting cards of the same suit to equal one whole.  For students just learning their fractions, they can count the number of eggs, etc to make sure they have a full dozen or twelve/twelfths.  Once again, you have to keep in mind that the ruler suit represents sixteenths not eighths so you need to "fill" the ruler twice.  Players take turns drawing from the draw or discard piles (if you take a card from the discard pile you must use it in a hand immediately).  Schnickelfritz and I found that completing the final hand and going out was extremely long for a game with two players.  We developed our own rule that the final hand can be made up of different suits as long as it still totals one.  There are other game rules as well as samples of all the cards available at this website

Fractazmic, Pyramath, and Prime Bomb card games are available for $6.95 from the I See Cards website.   You can also try online versions of their games and possibly win a free deck.  Rather than an age range for this game, I would consider your child's math skills--are they ready for fractions.

You can read what other Homeschool Crew Members think of Fractazmic by clicking here
Disclaimer: I recieved a free deck of Fractazmic cards for the purpose of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Money Monday: The Sodastream

For those of you who don't know me personally, I've always had a passion for educating people about money.  My degree and business experience is in accounting.  When I would see all the errors on troop leader's deposit slips or spend twenty minutes on the phone explaining to a camp counelor why her paycheck didn't match the salary in her hire letter (taxes coming out), I always felt like our schools were really dropping the ball when it came to personal finance.  So I'm going to try and start a new series covering various money topics from earning to saving to keeping track of it all.

Today's idea came from a very real conversation I had with the Toolman last week.  Our weekly paper had a $10 rebate  for the Sodastream, a device that allows you to make carbonated beverages in your own home.   The Toolman is a devout cola drinker and I am a kitchen gadget junkie so this seemed like a good fit.  We are however,  both recent graduates of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University so we needed to look at this from a financial side.  

Kohl's has the Sodastream on sale for $89.99 and as luck would have it, they had just sent us a 30% off coupon.  Combined with the rebate the price of the Sodastream was down to  $52.99 (I'm not considering sales tax in any of my equations to keep things simpler).  The kit includes the machine, one carbonation canister, and one plastic liter bottle to hold to finished product.   The flavor syrups are on sale for $4.99, if I use my same 30 % coupon the cost comes down to $3.49.  Each bottle claims to make fifty 8 oz servings.  Now lets get to some math.  For any parents teaching math to their kids, this example with help them see the importance of including the units in their math equations: $/oz, oz/liter, etc.

50 X 8 oz =  400 oz

$3.49 / 400 oz =  $0.00873/oz

 That's not the end of the cost for Sodastream soda though--the carbonation canister is a consumable product.  Kohl's doesn't sell the canisters separately so I needed to do some online research.  According to, the canister to fit the Kohl's model holds enough gas for 60 liters ( 1 liter = 33.814 ounces).   There are no retailers in my area participating in the canister exchange program so I would need to get my canisters directly from the company.   Just to get the price of the gas, I'm not going to worry about shipping costs right now.  Two exchanged canisters cost $29.99 (of course I only have one to exchange from the starter kit)  $29.99 .   120 liters X  33.814 ounces/liter = 4057.68 oz.

$29.99/4057.68 oz =  $.00739/oz

$.00739/oz + $0.00873/oz = $.01612/oz

A can of soda is 12 oz so the equivalent amount of Sodastream soda is 12 oz X $0.01612/oz = $.19339 or 19.4 cents per can

For comparison, we can buy a 24 case of Coca Cola for $6.98 or  (6.98/24=) 29.08 cents per can.  Yes,  the Sodastream is cheaper but you would need to drink 544 cans before you broke even after purchasing the machine in the first place.  If I weren't able to get the syrup on sale that would raise the cost of a can's worth of soda to 26.8 cents--practically the same as the can of Coke.

Bottom line for us, there are a lot easier ways to save money so the Sodastream won't be under our Christmas tree this year.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas in Hermann

It's a tradition for us to go to Hermann in December, but this year there were a few changes.  First, the weather was MUCH warmer than in the past.  The temps reached the sixties, which doesn't do much to put you in the holiday mood but it helps wonderfully when you're outside learning about Lewis and Clark.  For the first time we skipped the school day for the Corp of Discovery re-enactors and visited on Saturday so we could take advantage of some other events in town: Kristkindl markt (arts and crafts) and Weihnachtsfest (German Christmas) at the Deutschheim historical site.    I suppose that a lot of folks picture a Dicken's village when they get nostalgic about Christmas but think how much the Germans have contributed to our holiday traditions: an evergreen Christmas tree, gingerbread houses, nutcrackers, Advent calendars,  and carols like Silent Night.

Paper Marbling

Here's an artisan making patterns with nails in the paint he's just dripped into a dish of water.  Then he'll lay paper on top to catch the paint and make the wonderful paper designs you see in the background.

This house has been decorated to celebrate a 19th century German Christmas in Missouri.   As you can see hanging Christmas trees from the ceiling is not a new idea.  I can't tell you why they did it although children will probably say to fit more presents underneath.
Cookie Molds

These molds are for Springerle cookies (although Schnickelfritz is demonstrating with Playdoh).  The cookies have a lot of anise seeds which gives them a licorice flavor.

Making Rope
We also spent time with the Lewis & Clark campers.  I was surprised and saddened by the small turn out of visitors, especially on so warm a day.  I suppose they were all at the Christmas events.  It just meant more attention for Schnickelfritz from the interpretors.  I've always said the best teachers are enthusiastic about their subjects.  These folk are definately enthusiastic if they will take a weekend in December to camp out and share their knowledge with boys and girls. Here's Fritz making a rope.

Starting a Fire

 Fritz got to start two fires--one with this glass lens and one with flint & steel.  He'll have to do both for his Royal Rangers merit badge someday so this was good exposure, but he was less than thrilled about holding combustible material in his hands.

Fife & Drum Corps

Okay, these guys don't really fit in with a German Christmas or the Lewis & Clark Corps, but it was very entertaining to hear Jingle Bells and Hark the Herald Angels Sing performed by fife and drums.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Tale of a Turkey

As I type, the delicious aroma of turkey is beginning to waft around the house (we are a cook and carve ahead family).  Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday, I love the gathering of the family, trying new recipes and preparing the old stand-bys.  When I was younger we kids used to sit around the Sears' Wishbook and pick out what we hoped to get for Christmas.  Now that stores are pushing Christmas shopping before Halloween I mostly try to avoid all that crass commercialism.  When I was fresh out of college I used to organize the Thanksgiving Orphans (those who weren't able to travel home for the day) and we'd end up with 30 or more, each bringing the dish without which  it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving. 

I don't remember the first time I prepared the turkey, I suppose it was after we moved away from Grandma's house.  Those of us in charge of the bird know that some years turn out better than others.  Butterball sometimes publicizes the foul/fowl ups that they here about on their Turkey hot line.  Someone forgets to remove the giblets from the neck cavity, someone thinks that the golden brown skin means it must be done without checking the internal temperature.  I have my own turkey disaster story that might top them all--unless you are one of the poor souls that burnt down the house or garage trying to fry the bird.  I can share it now and laugh.

It actually started a week before Thanksgiving.  I had discovered an organic farm that was offering free range turkeys.  They wanted folks to pick up their birds on Sunday, but I asked if I could get mine on Tuesday since that's when I normally passed by (it was about 40 miles from home).  Not a problem, they would save a bird for me--I just wouldn't have a selection to choose from.  I was fine with that and only needed a small bird for myself and my parents.  When I arrived on Tuesday there were two turkeys left in the freezer and I took the smaller of the two but it was still a whopping 26 pounds!!! 

Problem number one:  this bird filled and overflowed my roasting pan.  Wednesday afternoon I stopped by Walmart on the way home from work.  They had moved their aluminum baking pans to the front of the store right behind the cash registers (liek they knew I'd be coming).   I found a disposable one that was plenty big enough and had the words "HEAVY DUTY" splashed across the front.  We'd gotten out of work early that day and I decided to cook the turkey that afternoon instead of the next morning because I figured it would take much longer owing to its size.

In those days I was a baster (now I follow Good Eats brining method).  On about the third time pulling the pan forward to baste my Heavy Duty pan sprung a leak.  Turkey juice and fat began puoring into the bottom of my oven at an alarming rate.   As it collected under the electric coil it started to smoke.  I didn't know what to do but take the turkey out of the oven and set it on top of the stove.  I transfered the bird to my old roasting pan where it mostly just rested on top and poured the remaining juice into a saucepan.  Now when I basted, the juice just rolled down the side of the turkey and joined the gooey blackening mess at the bottom of the oven.  I had to open my patio door and put a fan on to pull the smoke out of the apartment but at least the smoke alarm wasn't going off. 

I stopped the basting and decided to use the liquid I had left to make the gravy so  I turned on the burner under the sauce pan.  Remember earlier that I had put the punctured roasting pan on the stove top--well some of that fatty juice had collected in the reflector.  Soon I had a grease fire on my hands.  I knew not to throw water on it.   I had gotten out my flour jar to make the gravy and began throwing handfuls of it at the fire. PLEASE NOTE : DON'T USE FLOUR OR BAKING SODA ON A GREASE FIRE!!!   The Lord was really watching over me because I could have had an explosion at that point.  

My mother called me at about 9:30 that night to see if the turkey was finally done.  I told her the turkey was finished but that I still had several hours of clean up work ahead of me.  T

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Time Timer

There are some questions is life that every child must ask and one that ranks right at the top is "How much longer?"  For young ones still dealing with concrete matters, the concept of a few minutes or an hour are difficult to grasp.  That's what prompted Jan Rogers to develop the Time Timer.    The time to be measured is set by pushing a clear button around the dial for up to 60 minutes.  As it's pushed a wedge of red plastic appears, growing in size until it forms a complete circle at the one hour mark.  As the timer counts down the wedge grows smaller and ultimately disappears when the timer chirps time's up. 


If you've been browsing the Homeschool Crew's reviews on the Time Timer, you're probably familiar with how this device helps young or special needs children "see" the passage of time by the diminishing size of the red disc.  I have a different take on it's use.  My Schnickelfritz has always been fascinated by time--in fact, I've come to the conclusion that someday he will be in charge of the U.S. Naval Observatory clock.  He once woke me up at midnight so I could share his thrill of seeing his watch register 0:00 (he often likes to use military time).  He studies maps of time zones and can explain Daylight Savings  to my husband who grew up in Indiana and still hates the idea of having to change all the clocks twice a year.  He could challenge Phineas Fogg (Around the World in Eighty Days) on precision for when events should begin or end.  If I can't find my kitchen timer I know to head towards Fritz's bedroom. 

Fritz doesn't need the timer to understand the passage of time, but it has several advantages to my digital timer as far as measuring the passage of time.  Fritz would often get mesmerized watching the "count down" on our digital timer, so much so that he forgets to work on whatever task we had set the time limit for in the first place.  This red disk moves imperceptibly and there's no sound to distract him either.  Now he can glance at the Time Timer, gauge how much time is remaining and return to his work quickly.   The timer only makes two little chirps when it's done so if Fritz doesn't hear it because he's engrossed in a story, he'll keep on with his independant reading until he actually looks at the time again--not really a selling point but I'll take any trick that keeps his nose in a book longer.  On the other hand, it means that you wouldn't want to use this timer to keep track of the cake in the oven lest you miss the chirp that it's done.

The timer is available in three sizes.  The smallest is 3 inches wide and retails for $30.  The medium is 8 inches across and costs $35.  The large has a 12 inch face and sells for $40.   Technology fans can also buy software or timer apps. 

You can read what other Homeschool Crew members thought of the Time Timer by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free 3 inch Time Timer for the purposes of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Long and Winding Road… Homeschooling

I had never even heard of someone getting their education at home until I had graduated high school.   I was attending a Christ In Youth conference and the girl sitting in front of me mentioned this during our get-to-know-your-neighbor exercise.  I had the same reaction most people did at the time  “You can do that?” I assumed everyone went to public school or private Catholic school.  Looking back now I realize that her parents must have been some of those brave pioneers that literally had to wonder if the sheriff was going to come knocking at their home school door during its rebirth in the 1980’s.

 Fast forward nearly ten years---I was working for a non-profit agency that works with school-age girls.  In keeping up with events that might have that demography in attendance I discovered a Home Schooling conference was scheduled at the local convention center.  For curiosity's sake more than anything I decided to attend.  It was 1990’s now.  Home schooling was a little more accepted and there were over 2000 in attendance—most in denim jumpers and matching outfits and having arrived in a mini or regular-sized van.  Being an “only” myself, I could not get over the sizes of some of the families I met.  The curriculum hall and speakers introduced me to several new concepts in education.  Diana Waring spoke about making history come alive with original source texts, living books, and adding hands on activities or historical meals to the learning process---what a vast improvement to the dull textbooks I had to read.  I found some vendors with old favorites of mine like flannel board Bible characters and Cuisenaire rods.  Still others were explaining how their products could help kids that tended to take in information auditorily or kinesthetically.  Until that moment I didn’t know anyone learned differently that the visual way I took in information (and the method public schools tend to use).  However , the one thing that made the most lasting impact that day was when I left the closing ceremony to find a restroom.  In the hallway were nearly 200 children waiting to enter the convention hall to sing for the parents.  They vastly outnumbered the older teens assigned to watching them and yet I saw no one bickering, teasing, fighting, or seeing how far they could step out of line without being reprimanded (all things I’d experience in countless lines in my school days).  It hit me that home-schooling was about more than just where learning takes place but about character building as well.  I attended several more home school conferences in the following years.  I’d be embarrassed to answer the “How many kids do you have?” question from fellow attendees because I had none…I wasn’t even married yet.  Generally though their response was that it was good for me to educate myself beforehand.  When I did marry, my husband knew that I wanted to home-school any children God would bless us with.

Three years ago we moved to Missouri for my husband’s new job.  Although it would mean the loss of almost a third of our family income, we agreed that I would not look for a new job but stay home to teach our son who just turned six.  Some family members questioned why I didn’t find work and send Schnickelfritz to the private Baptist school just down the road from our new home as this would provide the Christian worldview we desired.   I knew I had to come up with personal reasons why home-schooling was right for us—something beyond the desire to avoid the risk of violence, the low standards, and the anti-Christian environment of public school.  I ended up with three key points.

 First,  I would be able to customize Fritz’s education to his speed of learning.   I had been one of the fast learners in school—in fact I seldom had any homework.  If a teacher were foolish enough to post the homework assignment on the board at the beginning of class, I would have it completed before class was over.  I was usually bored in school because teachers have to teach to the average of the class—leaving some bored and others still in a puzzle.   Currently Fritz is the age of a third grader but he’s doing fifth grade math.  On the other hand he struggles with writing and penmanship (don’t most boys) and he’s probably a grade or so behind there.  Since he’s not feeling the frustration of being pushed too fast though, we have a shot of keeping him interested enough that he’ll catch up some day as his motor skills grow.

 Second,  I can also use techniques and curriculum that use Fritz’s style of taking  in information.   He’s an auditory/kinesthetic learner.  He usually has to talk to himself during math or while writing, but he’s not disturbing other students (okay this might be an issue if he weren’t an only child).   Sometimes while I read to him he is bouncing on our mini-tramp.  He used to do math problems while standing on a rocking chair in front of a chalkboard.  I just knew that if I sent him to a classroom of kids he’d be the one the teacher was constantly reminding to sit still and be quiet.  Either he would comply, and not be able to learn because all his concentration would be going to not fidgeting or the teacher would send home a note about looking into Ritelin.

 Third,  Schnickelfritz used to have a terrible stutter.  It developed when we sent him to day care.  My own familiarity with school taught me that when the teacher wasn’t around kids will often seek out what makes one of their own “different” and then tease them mercilessly about it.  I didn’t want that for my son.  The amazing thing was that when Fritz was with us 24/7 for a week, even in a sensory overload environment like Disney World, his stuttering would decrease.   Having him home with me has nearly eliminated the problem.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Keyboard Town Pals

Back in the day when I was in school, typing was an elective class in Junior High (this was after the abacus but before the personal computer).  The computer and the internet have changed all that.  My son searches for roller coaster videos on You-Tube and looks at satelite images on Google Maps.  He has to know how to spell his desired targets but it also helps if he's not hunting and pecking for the proper keys.  Nowadays, typing skills are being taught to elementary students.  A perfect example is our latest product review, Keyboard Town Pals--an online typing program that can teach your child the basics in an hour.


This product is definately geared toward the lower grade levels, if fact the site recommends beginning typing lessons as soon as the child is able to distinguish the configuration of letters.  The lessons are presents by a series of puppets and a costumed figure called Sunny.  (My just-turned-nine-year-old found the characters a little childish).  Keyboard town consists of three streets: Home Street, where the fingers rest; Downtown, the lower row of letters; and Uptown, the higher row. ( I suppose the space bar could be considerred a fourth row that is only visited by the right hand thumb).  A single lesson is only 3-4 minutes long.  We are introduced to the character that lives on Home Street (for example, Amy) and the places she visits when she travels up or downtown.  Amy feeds  Zebras at the Zoo and a man named Qbert who asks Questions. 

This first lesson begins with the pinkie of the left hand.  I can't help but wonder if starting with the weakest finger might be frustrating to young children.  Most typing lessons start with the index fingers which have the most dexterity.  You can click on separate lessons to start where you want but the word typing practice is sequential and you may not have covered some keys if you don't follow their order. Beneath the video is a box where the student is invited to practice typing.   In an attempt to remove any anxiety from young learners there is no time limit, no grading, no way to correct mistakes (the space bar and backspace keys will not function).  This last feature actually created anxiety for my perfectionist son.

If you are only trying to expose your child to the idea of typing, this may be  just the gentle introduction you're looking for.  It is possible to just watch the videos and never use the keyboard at all.  If you want a typing course for school (grading, timed tests, number of errors, etc.) this program won't suit your needs.   Keyboard Town Pals is available as a web-based user license or on a CD-ROM for $39.95.  Both formats are available in English, French, or Spanish.

You can read what others on the HomeSchool Crew think of Keyboard Town Pals by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received free access to Keyboard Town Pals web-based program for six weeks for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review: Bower Books

I love a good wedding, and I don't think I'm alone.  How many people woke up early to catch a glimpse of the royal wedding this past spring?  A quick look through the TV Guide and I've found shows where brides shop for their wedding dresses, one where brides pick out their bridesmaid's dresses, one where brides try to lose weight to fit into their dresses, and one where brides compete with other brides for the most entertaining wedding/reception.   It seemed we're obsessed with what should be a once-in-a-lifetime event lasting only a few hours.  Is anybody considering the days and weeks and years that follow that nuptial event?  Apparently not, as there is one celebrity wedding still being shown in reruns, even though the couple has already filed for divorce (72 days later).  By my calculations her wedding cost 33,000 times more than mine, but mine has already lasted 50 times longer than hers.  You can't throw money at a wedding and expect to have a successful marriage.

Our latest review product, from Bower Books, is designed to help return the focus to the important part of a wedding.  It's not the planning, the food or the venue but choosing the right person with whom to spend the rest of your life.  I sat Schnickelfritz on my lap (won't be able to do that much longer, he's turning nine) and we read The Person I Marry.


The pictures and Suess-esque style of rhyme make this book geared towards young children as in "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Prov. 22:6)  God's timing is always perfect and Fritz has just developed a real interest in poetry and rhyming so he was very attentive to the words and patterns.  The writing is carefully crafted so that either a young boy or girl could be speaking and the illustrations all show a young pair so you can share this book with a son or daughter.  I practiced a Charlotte Mason narration exercise after the book and he was obviously picking up on the idea that a person's insides matter more than their outside.   Decorating the background of the text are adjectives and phrases like : unpretentious, willing to open up,  faithful and modest.  If you had older children I think it would be wonderful to do a character study of these traits.

The illustrations are some of the most charming I've seen--not quite as realistic as a Norman Rockwell painting but certainly in line with his celebration of everyday life and sense of humor.  Fritz's favorite is of the fishing buddies  where the girl accidentally snags her baited hook on the boys hat.   There is genuine warmth and a glow on every two-page spread.

The Person I Marry won the 2010 Book of the Year from the Christian Small Publisher Association.  It is one of several titles available in the Bright Future Book series available from Bower Books.  The hardcover book retails for $11.99.  I would definitely recommend this book, especially to parents with young girls dreaming or playing about fairy-tale weddings to Prince Charming.  You can read what other members of the Homeschool Crew think about Bower Books by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received free access to an online version of the book The Person I Marry for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

The Person I Marry from Bower Books on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Science of Disney Imagineering: Newton's 3 Laws of Motion

We've been home from our Disney World trip for about a month so now we're reminiscing as we complete the Disney Imagineering DVD series.  This time our topic is Newton's 3 Laws of Motion--a pretty sophisticated subject for a program geared to 5th-8th graders, but I would say it is Schnickelfritz's second favorite in the series so far.

Asa's Invention:  There's no invention again.  This time Asa starts out in his work area juggling three balls--a recurring theme in the DVD, melons and bowling balls don't work so well although in theory you could juggle these too.  We also meet Asa's new intern, ironically (or perhaps predictably) named Newton.

Terms Defined:  force, net force, velocity, acceleration, Newton's 1st law, Newton's 2nd Law, friction, Newton's 3rd law, inertia, momentum.

Attractions that demonstrate the scientific principle:

With one exception, all of these attractions were new to the series.  The first is hardly an "attraction", in fact you may have walked by it several times at Disneyland's Tomorrowland and never stopped to look.   The Kugel ball is art meets science.  The 14 ton ball is normally an object at rest, even though it is round.  A small current of water from underneath removes most of the friction so that even a child can apply sufficient force to start the ball rolling.  There is still some friction  so the ball won't stay perpetually rolling (an object in motion stays in motion) or we can use the force of our hands to stop the ball again.   

Next, we learn about velocity and acceleration.  Acceleration is a change in velocity.  Velocity is speed in a certain direction so changing direction is also a form of acceleration.  The Golden Zephyr rockets would shoot off in a straight line if they weren't attached to a focal point by cables.   Because the rockets are constantly changing direction you get the thrill of acceleration (although I doubt the thrill is anything like that of Test Track).

Calculations also had to be made on how the ride would work with anywhere from one to twelve passengers of different weights and sizes.  It sounds complicated, but we often use Newton's laws without even thinking about it.  Ever try to figure out how hard to smack the bottom of a ketchup bottle to start the contents flowing--that's physics at work.

Newton's Third Law, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, is demonstrated with a paddle moving through the water.  The paddle pushes back on the water and the boat is propelled forward.  The principle works whether you're in a canoe at Fort Wilderness or on the big paddle-wheeler, The Liberty Belle.

More reactions occur on Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters at Disney Quest in Downtown Disney.  Every time the bumper cars hit they bounce off in the opposite direction.  Add to this the possibility of spinning out of control if the targets on your vehicle are hit and you've got quite a fun ride.  Again, more calculations were needed to determine the best force for launching the "cannon ball," too much and there's the danger of injury, too little and you've got a dud.

 Next we revisit California Screamin' (it seems this series likes to highlight the newer thrill rides).  A little time is spent on the launch of the ride (going from stand-still to 55 mph in four seconds).  What I found interesting was it's not the speed of the ride that makes it thrilling but the change of direction.  Think about it, we usually travel much faster in a car but that trip can be very dull over long, straight stretches of highway.

The lesson end's with a water slide.  Usually slides are in the down direction with water to help eliminate friction.  The imagineers have figured out how to use a powerful cannon of water to propel riders in inner tubes back up hill so now we're really talking about a water roller coaster.  The ride is called Crush n Gusher. 

Quiz:  15 multiple choice and true/false questions.

Try it Yourself:  Newton had three laws so there are three experiments.  One for each principle.

1.  The Egg in the Glass Trick.  A plastic plate is placed on three glasses of water near the edge of a table (the plate must stick out over the edge).  Empty toilet paper tubes are placed on the plate, each directly over a glass and in turn an egg is placed on each tube. (The kids might not be as thrilled, but you can use hard boiled eggs).   A broom is placed on the floor and you must step on the bristles and pull back on the handle.  When the handle is released it flies into the plate knocking it and the tubes out of the way.  The eggs fall straight down into the glasses. 

2. Put all your eggs in One Blanket.   If you throw an egg at a wall it will shatter and leave a big mess to clean up.  This is because the wall is a solid surface and the egg must decelerate instantly.  However, if you have to friends hold up a blanket, loosely enough so that there is some sag at the bottom, you can throw eggs at it with all your might and the eggs will not break.  The blanket absorbs the force over a slight distance and the egg settles in the sag at the bottom.  (Again you may want to use hard boiled eggs or at least limit the number thrown at the wall).

3.  Bouncing Balls of Force.   Schnickelfritz and I were all over this experiment as soon as we saw it.  Hold a tennis ball on top of a basketball and let both drop to the ground at the same time.  The basketball will hit the ground first and start up when it hits the tennis ball.  Because the tennis ball is so much smaller, the force from the basketball launches it way in the air.  Fritz did this for more than half an hour while he waited for friends to come over.

We've only got a few more videos in the series.  If you'd like to read about the other's click on the Science of Imagineering tag to the right.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

If It Ain't Written Down...It Ain't Happening

If I were giving a tour of our homeschool, I'd probably be sharing all the bargains I've found over the years--the free chalk board, the binding machine from ebay, etc.  This week's Blog Cruise subject is lesson planning and if I had to choose the one item that keeps our homeschool going it would be the record keeping software I paid full price for (and still consider a bargain).   I purchased Edu-Track when I learned we would be moving from Indiana to Missouri and I'd be switching from checking off days on a calendar to tracking hours, specifically:  1000 total hours with at least 600 in core subjects,  of which 400 hours must take place at the regular home school location.  Edu-Track was developed by a Missourian so  all this core/non-core gobbledy-gook is built into the software and all I have to do is check a box here and there.

I like to start off my school year having as much scheduling done as possible.  I've found if I don't have it written down I'll discover that we haven't cracked open the spelling book for two weeks.  This year, for the first time, I'm sharing host duties for our science experiments with another local homeschooling mom.  If  we don't keep to a rigorous reading schedule, we won't be ready for the experiment on those pre-determined days.   I may have to tweak dates as the year progresses but I know my 1000 hours (or at least the 600 core hours) are accounted for up front.  Edu-Track has a great recurring activity feature that makes data input easy.  If I know we're going to start each week watching the next lesson of Math-U-See  I fill in the Recpeating Activity Screen as follows.

Just like that I have 30 core hours scheduled.  I can repeat this step for Worksheets B-D on Tuesdays-Thursdays and schedule a test for Fridays.  One hundred fifty hours of math input in less than 5 minutes.  For other subjects, like science, I may put in a generic activity like "Read pp ____ in Land Animals of the Third Day" to set up the repeating activity and go in to manually enter the specific page numbers later.

At the beginning of each week I print out a schedule by subject. 

The paper leaves plenty of room for me to "edit."  If a crisis occurs and we don't our social studies done on Wednesday, I just draw an arrow to Thursday.  If someone calls to let us know about a great exhibit at the Science Center, I can write in the details of the field trip.  When the week is complete, I'll make any necessary changes to our Edu-Track records and print out an updated and accurate copy to keep in our record book.  The software allows me to bump individual and groups of activities forward and backward with just a few clicks of the mouse.  When Schnickelfritz gets to college I can use Edu-Track to create transcripts.  For now, I use other features to keep track of chores to be done, books read, field trips, even Fritz's immunizations. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: e-Mealz

Benjamin Franklin gave us the quote "The only things certain in life are death and taxes."  I think if Mr. Franklin had consulted Mrs.Franklin she might have added one more--at sometime during the day someone will utter the phrase "What's for dinner?"   In an ideal world, it would be asked by my husband and he tries to identify that delicious aroma wafting towards him at the front door.  It's often my son who asks when his tummy starts rumbling around 4:30.  Worst case scenario:  I'm asking myself this question as I peer into cabinets or the freezer wondering what ingredients I can throw together to make the semblance of a meal.  When the Homeschool Crew got the chance to review e-Mealz , a tool to help organize dinner menus and grocery shopping, I was thrilled.

A three-month subscription to e-Mealz costs $15 and entitles you to download a meal plan and grocery list each week.  Plans are available for national and regional chains like Aldi, Walmart, Kroger and Publix.  You may choose a 2-3 person plan or a 4-6 person plan.  There are also options available for dietary restrictions like gluten free or portion control.  I selected the Aldi plan as I shop there anyway.  My three concerns were: Does the food taste good,  am I more organized,  and am I saving money?

Delicious or no?

If my family isn't willing to eat what I prepare, it's no bargain no matter how little it costs.  I might as well just throw cash in the trash.   I can report that my family enjoyed every meal I tried from Shepherd's Pie and Low Country Stew  to Swiss Chicken and Taco Salad.   Some of these recipes will definitely make it into my rotating line-up of family dinners.    There were also some dishes that I purposefully did not prepare--fish is not a favorite in our house and one week had two fish recipes.  It's easy enough to cross off ingredients you won't need from the grocery list as everything includes its meal number.  If I'm not making Tuna Muffins, I just don't buy anything with meal #7 beside it.  You can of course prepare the meals in any order.  When we started e-Mealz we had temps in the hundreds and I didn't want the heavy stew that was scheduled.  We swapped it out for a chicken quesadilla.  Three days later when the temperature dropped 50 degrees the stew seemed more appropriate.

Am I more organized?

I have to say that few things are more satisfying at four in the afternoon than the knowledge that dinner's already taken care of.  Even if I still have to prepare the meal, I don't find that nearly as draining and the frantic dash around the kitchen to see what I've got on hand and what I can make with it.  I even went the step beyond and kept each meal's ingredients grouped together in the fridge and the pantry.  And shopping was easier as well.  I think most Aldi stores have the same floor plan and the grocery list was organized by produce, dairy, canned goods, etc.  A word of warning though--always be sure to check the list of staple items at the bottom of the shopping list.  One night I didn't have pecans on hand because they were listed down in the staples section and I don't consider that as a staple in my house.  There was also one occasion when an ingredient wasn't available at Aldi--the shopping list noted this with an "n/a" in the price column.  The ingredient was a package of seasoning for white chicken chili.  I ended up referring to a cookbook for a similar recipe and copied the spices.

Am I Saving Money?

Shortly after beginning my review period for e-Mealz I was a caller on the Dave Ramsey show.  I was amazed at how frequently I heard a commercial for e-Mealz--usually with Dave himself touting how e-Mealz allowed a family to eat much more than rice & beans off a rice & beans budget.  I'll agree with him to a point.  If you don't have any plan and you're constantly falling back  on a trip to the golden arches for dinner, you will blow the family budget.   By the same token, if you are making multiple trips to the store to pick up missing ingredients you increase you risk of leaving the store with more than the one or two items you went in for--another budget buster.   When I first started e-Mealz, I was surprised that the average weekly shopping trip would cost $65-85 dollars at Aldi's and that's not even covering lunches and breakfasts.  I'm already spending much less than that for all my meals.   It didn't take me long perusing the shopping lists to see why the sticker shock.     Some of the "side dishes" include: potato, tortilla, and corn chips,  frozen Texas toast, and canned buttermilk biscuits.   I don't consider chips a suitable side dish for dinner.  They're snacks, and expensive ones at that.  I was also paying for the convenience of pre-cooked meatballs rather than buying ground beef and making my own.   Dave Ramsey may be impressed but I think it's possible to do better.

Bottom Line:

I don't believe we will continue a subscription to e-Mealz.   I have my own collection of family favorite recipes and I save money by stocking up on loss-leaders at the stores and shopping from my own pantry to make dinner.  I just need to be more organized about planning meals beforehand so maybe a menu calendar is in order.  I would recommend e-Mealz as a starting point for someone who has does not have their own recipe collection, never planned menus, or shopped from a grocery list before.  It would also helpful if your family is adventuresome about what they eat--not from the standpoint that you'll be eating exotic foods but it does take some openness to eat a different meal every night with no repetition for months.  You can find one or two day sample menu plans on their website to see which one might be right for your family.

You can read how others on the Homeschool Crew felt about their e-Mealz experience by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free 3-month subscription to e-Mealz for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

School Budgets: What would Dave Say?

If confession is good for the soul then I'll feel better after I admit that for years I did not budget money for our homeschooling.   "What's the big deal?" some of you are thinking, "neither do I."  Well, I was an accountant by trade so I knew better.  When we were a two income family, I would purchase books and supplies years in advance so we'd have them when I stopped working to homeschool our son.  Schnickelfritz is in third grade now and we've pretty much gone through most of those materials now.   In the past I always assumed that we would have had costs associated with public school (we lived in Indiana and families have to pay hundreds of dollars to rent school books each year) and as long as I was doing it for less then we were ahead.  Then we moved to Missouri, I stopped working outside of the home, and our family income was cut by more than a third.  When I'd go to the homeschool fair I may have drooled over a lot of great products but I was VERY stingy about what I'd buy.  In the back of my mind I'd be thinking about how high the credit card balance already was and I didn't want to take it above what we could afford to pay in full each month. (Dave Ramsey, if you're reading this blog, this was before FPU.  I know how you feel about credit cards, even if they're paid off every month).

This fall my husband and I started Financial Peace University at our church.  Can I first say that FPU is not just for people in serious financial situations?  We actually had no consumer debt when we started the course.  While paying off debt is the topic of some of the classes, we also are learning how men and women view money differently and how to talk about money instead of squabble (or avoiding the talk all together).  Some nights we learn how to get the best bargain possible on purchases, what types of insurance are available and which we need, and we're looking forward to learning about sound investing.  I honestly don't think there is anyone who wouldn't benefit from FPU.  Wives, if you're worried your husband won't like being lectured to,  every man in our class that has found Dave Ramsey's humorous teaching style entertaining as well as informative.  On the Dave Ramsey's website you can type in your zip code and find classes in your area.

Now the point of this blog was homeschool budgets.  According to Dave, we need to have every dollar spent on paper before it every gets deposited in our bank account and we need to be in agreement on where it's spent.  When our FPU homework assignment was to create a family budget we purposefully included a line item for home school ($25 per month).  It's not a large amount, but when we have to pay an entrance fee to a museum or I need to pick up supplies for a science experiment I can pull cash out of the homeschool envelope and take care of it.  Of course, I don't spend all of the money.  Most of it will stay in the envelope until homeschool fair time.  Then I can purchase my ticket and peruse the curriculum hall without the nagging fear that I'm spreading our finances to thin.   Prior to the event, we may discuss adding more to the homeschooling envelope at our monthly cash flow meeting (budgets are meant to be flexible not written in stone) but it won't have to be as big a chunk since we've been saving for it year long.

Be sure to click on the Blog Cruise button to see what others have to say about budgeting for books and supplies.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A binding machine for the home

I just wanted to share a few pictures and thoughts about my latest toy I mean tool for better organization and efficiency.   I had been watching a crafting gadget demonstration on one of those shop at home channels and was drooling over a wire-binding machine.   Drooling but not buying,  I headed over to eBay to see what bargains I could find.  In the end I found a model that can use both plastic combs and o-wire--that way we can fill and re-arrange books throughout our school year and change them to a permanent binding when they're complete.   I found loads of different size plastic combs in the clearance section of Office Max (25  1/2 inch combs for $2) .  Above is a picture of some of the projects I done so far, going clockwise ....

Schnickelfritz has been working on his President's merit badge for Royal Rangers.  This book holds a page for each president in chronological order listing years in office, education, birth state, vice president(s) and two events from each administration.  Next comes 10 Bible verses that cover leadership qualities and finally and essay on Fritz's favorite president and how he meets some of those qualities.    This book is a definite keeper and I may switch it to a permanent wire binding.

I've been making up my own Missouri history curriculum this year using Where Rivers Meet as a spine.  This book contains a timeline specifically for Missouri (our main timeline is in a hallway in our basement),  one-page biographical summaries for famous Missourians,  a variety of maps, etc.  We'll probably add pages with postcards or travel brochures as well (I'm beginning to appreciate the flexibility of comb binding over wire binding more and more).  Recently, Post-It advertised an offer to get samples and coupons of their latest products on TV.  I found their tabs worked great to separate sections of this binder.

 Next is my first project--our school planner (we call ourselves Tanglewood Academy).  I've included two-page spreads for each month of the year, a page to list field trips, books read, goals, and more.  I use the calendar to note appointments and field trips and any activities I need to add to my Edu-Track lesson planner.  When the week is over, I print out the details (which are all accurate at this point) and file them in the back of the planner.

Sometimes I bind together projects for my own reference.  This is the users manual for Graphic Toolbox.  We reviewed this product during my first year of the Homeschool Crew.  I still use it all the time, in fact I made all of the covers for these books with GT.   I just find it easier to have a hard copy in front of me that switching back and forth between the online version and my project.   Other things I've bound include handouts from a canning class I took at the county extension office,  recipes for my pressure cooker and others for cooking in the dutch oven on our campfire.

Last is Fritz's newest merit project--Chess.  I'll use it to show you how I make books.  It is possible to buy clear plastic, pre-punched cover pages for binders but I much prefer to make my own.  After designing fronts and backs, I print them out on card stock and laminate them in 3 mil pouches.   I bought 200 pouches at Sam's Club for under $15.

 After laminating, you can punch the covers in the binding machine one at a time.  My machine has a separate mark for covers at 11 1/4 inches instead of the regular 11.  And take care when punching the back page--remember you're making a book so think about which side to punch so the correct side faces out.  Of course, you could leave the back blank and then it won't be an issue, but I like to put the date of our project on the back.  When assembling the book I start with the front cover face down.  This enables me to add any new pages to the back without having to completely taking the book apart.
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