Saturday, December 27, 2014

Goals for 2015

We've reached that time of year again...that week between Christmas and the New Year when many minds turn towards upcoming resolutions.  I personally don't make resolutions.  It's almost a joke to see how quickly they get broken.  Ask any gym member and they'll tell you how long they have to wait for machines those first 2 or 3 weeks of January, but by February it's back to the few regular exercisers who were already committed without a resolution necessary.  

Instead of  "I'll start doing this good habit or stop doing this bad habit for the rest of my life" I am choosing a set of goals.  They'll have a start and end (or be a singular event) and I'll be able to determine if the goal has been met.

1. I will post to my blog every week.  

I did manage to complete the blogging through the alphabet challenge, but didn't make my 52 weeks of Rescued Books in 2014.  I am still debating on a year long theme or just making sure I share with you regularly.  I will be part of the 2015 Review Crew so you know I'll be sharing my experiences with some great homeschooling products.

2. I will learn how to make good fried chicken

One of my husband's favorite meals is a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I know I won't be able to duplicate their recipe exactly because they pressure fry their birds.  Still, I'd like to be able to make an acceptable version at home.  I'll be saving gas money (our nearest KFC is a 26 mile round trip) as well as the food costs (think about it---one chicken at the store is $4-5, but $12-14 cut up in a bucket).

3. I will make Jesse Tree Ornaments

I came upon the idea of a Jesse Tree for Advent too late in the year to make one, but I've been pinning ideas for ornaments.  I've already spoken to another homeschool mom and we may organize an ornament swap.  I want to make a set for my family and give two as gifts for my mom and step-mom.

So what about you?  Do you still make resolutions?  What goals do you have for the coming year?

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully

Funny how I thought I’d just have one post on Advent Conspiracy this year, and now I’m on my third one.  Earlier this week my husband received and email from his prayer partner and our pastor asking for input on what keeps you from worshipping Christmas fully—the theme for tomorrow’s message.  The Toolman emailed back his response, but I decided to write this post on what my answer would have been had I been asked.

In 1998 I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land with my father & stepmother and a group from their church.  One of the many sites we visited was the town of Bethlehem –the very place where the original Christmas occurred.  Surely one would be able to fully appreciate and worship the babe in a manger there if anywhere in the world!  FYI: I didn’t have time to dig in the basement for my own pictures—I’ve still got holiday baking to do and presents to wrap. (Hmmm, there’s a clue for attentive readers)  So these are all images I found  on Wikimedia Commons.

We were actually in Israel the week before Holy Week, so I’m guessing we were at the high end if not the very peak of tourism crowds.  While the focus was on the Easter sites in Jerusalem, anyone who’s traveled around the world to be there wasn’t going to pass up the nativity sites in Bethlehem—especially since they’re only 5-6 miles away.

Entrance to the Church of the Nativity (7703543954)




I confess my excitement was building as we got off the bus and so the sites familiar but till now seen only in books or on TV.  We walked through Manger Square and had to significantly bend over to pass through the entrance known as The Door of Humility.







And once through the doorway we beheld …..a line as long as any you’ll find waiting to see a shopping mall Santa.  It seems we weren’t  the only tour group who thought they’d be clever and leave the Jerusalem crowds behind that day.  We had plenty of time to study these columns in our hour plus wait.

Bethlehem Church of the Nativity main nave

Finally we reached the main altar area (see below).  I’ll be frank here and say there must be something about flash photography that makes the ornate lamps and decorations appear glistening and gleaming.  My impression in person was that everything was extremely dirty and dusty—like a neglected (and slightly tacky) antiques store.

Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem)

What you can’t see in this photograph were the streams of people kissing the icons in front, nor the two “kiosks” on either side where priests were selling incense.  Perhaps it was being distributed with the expectation of a donation, all I know was that money was being exchanged—apparently Jesus’s rant about “a den of thieves” had fallen of deaf ears.  You may not realize that the Church of the Nativity is administered by three different denominations:Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic.  I don’t remember which two were doling out the incense, but as most of the exchanges were done in foreign languages I imagined them saying “Buy our incense and your prayers will reach Heaven faster!”

The stand to the right seemed to have the brisker business, perhaps because that side also had the entrance to the grotto, cave-like area where Christ was born.  At this semicircle of steps leading down all semblance of order from the line dissipated.  People wriggled and squeezed toward the doorway—holding hands with the others of their group so if one made it in, the others could snake in behind them.  That old Christian belief that the last shall be first was tossed out the window—there were busses waiting and schedules to keep.


The Grotto holds two features—the first is the spot where “it is believed” Jesus was born. If you ever travel to the Holy Land you’ll get used to that phrase.  Again, flash photography make this look more gleaming and less dusty.  People stand in line to place there hand on or kiss this spot.  Lest someone become overwhelmed with awe and want to actually worship, there is a priest standing by to instruct them to “move along.”

This spot I remember wasn’t administered by the Roman Catholics.  They had their own attraction across the room:  the spot where Mary laid Jesus in the manger.  At some point in history, a pope donated the marble replica that now stands there.  As I stood nearby, the voice of Indiana Jones popped in my head, “That isn’t the manger of a carpenter’s son.”

I left the Church of the Nativity with far different emotions than I’d arrived with.  The excitement and anticipation were gone, trampled on by the crowds, the commercialism, the constant urging to move forward and not linger, the gaudy decorations and the people seeming to worship them rather than the real Reason for the Season.  I left with disappointment that the day wasn’t living up to expectations.

The story isn’t over though – we got back on our tour bus and our next stop was…the middle of nowhere.  There were no crowds, nor any buildings to be seen.   I don’t know if we were in the spot actually designated “Shepherd’s Field” or not, but while we stopped to read the Bible passage about the angels bringing the good news a Bedouin boy came over the hill leading a flock of goats.  We stopped to help him draw water from a well.  We watched the kids frolic and butt heads.  It was simple and natural and the closest I’ve ever felt to the Christmas story.

Before I close I want to say, I’m not anti-religion or anti-catholic and I’m not saying you shouldn’t go see the Church of the Nativity if you have the chance.  What I am saying is that if you’re struggling to get that Christmas spirit this year maybe you need to lay aside the trappings of Christmas—the decorations, the entertaining, the cooking and baking, the crowds.  Remember, God himself didn’t enter the world with great pomp and circumstance. He chose a very simple story: a young girl, a humble manger, and some shepherds as witnesses.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Conspiracy & Living Water

My last post focused on our church’s annual participation with the Advent Conspiracy.  For those of you unfamiliar, there are four tenets (one for each Sunday of Advent): Spend Less, Give More, Love All & Worship Fully.  I did not mention the main charity promoted by the national Advent Conspiracy organization : Living Water International.  This group drills wells to provide clean drinking water in communities around the world. Events this week have forced me to focus on what life must be like for the folks who are still waiting for Living Water to come to their town.

Sunday evening my husband, the Toolman was preparing to brush his teeth before bed, but when he turned the faucet absolutely nothing happened!  He tried to turn on the shower…again nothing.  We live with a well system and depend on a pump to bring up water from 160 feet below our house and for unknown reasons the pump wasn’t working.   We checked the circuit breakers and confirmed electricity was still running to the controls but we’d have to call for service in the morning.

Now we’re not entirely new at this no water situation…if there’s an ice storm or other emergency to knock out the power we lose our pump as well so I usually keep 5 or 6 gallon jugs of water on hand.  Unfortunately, all the jugs in our kitchen had been used to fill the dog’s water bowl and certain parties (who now understand why I harp on such things) had failed to refill those jugs when emptied.  We managed to find a partial gallon of water in the downstairs bathroom (our tornado shelter). 

In the morning, the Toolman had to heat that water on the stove to shave.  Then I used the rest  for a sponge bath.  Oops…now we were out of water and I couldn’t exactly go knocking on the neighbors’ doors at 6 am asking to borrow a cup or two.  For the next several hours it seemed everything needed water—the dog’s bowl was empty, my son had to start brushing his teeth with a dry brush and complained that he couldn’t rinse, I was planning to make real hot chocolate  to drink and getting the sugar and cocoa to mix and dissolve without that little bit of water to kick start the process was a chore.

I figured 9 am was a safe enough hour to call on neighbors, but I couldn’t find anyone at home.  There I was going up and down the road with my little wagon load of empty ice tea jugs.  I ended up going home and trying to reach folds by phone.  Of course after nine I could also call the well digging service—they were out on calls and couldn’t get to me that day.  Finally I reached a neighbor who let me fill up five jugs and knew the name of another well service, the ones who had actually drilled ours. They were also out on a call, but thought they’d be able to swing by in the afternoon.

More waiting….dishes piled up in the sink—I wasn’t going to waste our limited supply on them.  High on my priority list was being able to refill the toilet tank because some things just have to be flushed down right away.  Decisions on what to eat and what to plan for dinner all revolved around how much what it would use up – rice and pasta were definitely out.

That afternoon the serviceman arrived.  The fault lay in the control box in our basement so they didn’t even have to dig up the yard or pull up the pump itself.  It was a real pleasure to turn on all the faucets and showerheads and flush the toilets to get all the air out of the lines. 

I share all this not to make anyone feel bad for me, my water problems were brief and now a memory.  I only wish to point out that for many people, the search for clean water is a daily struggle.  How far must they walk?  How safe is it to travel to the water and back again and once the task is done how clean is the water really? 

Living Water International is one of the charities recommended by Advent Conspiracy.  For around $25, they can provide clean water to a family of five for a year!  Look through your Christmas shopping list—isn’t there one gift you could purposefully choose not to buy so you could give this life-saving gift of water to someone really in need?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent Conspiracy 2014

Let me ask the question--what does Christmas mean to you?  There are many good answers: getting together with family & friends, beautiful music & lights, and of course we can't forget the real Reason for the Season.  Perhaps it's my proximity to Ferguson (my mother actually grew up there), but this year I'm praying for some real Peace on Earth.  What's not on my list?  Shopping malls, lists of gifts to buy, hefty credit card bills come January.

Since we've moved back home to Missouri, we've participated in our church's
Advent Conspiracy project and it's four principles: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All.  This video is several years old now and estimates are Americans will spend over $600 Billion to celebrate this year.  That would surely rebuild all those stores and buildings that burned down in the riots.

This week I thought I'd focus the middle two, specifically how I can spend less at the stores and give more of myself with homemade gifts from the kitchen.  BONUS: I can also give more quality time to my son if he helps me make memories along with the goodies.  So here's just a few ideas.


It's the standby, by who doesn't love it.  Can't bake?  You can make Rice Crispy Treats or those birds nests with melted chocolate & Chow Mein noodles.

Quick Breads

Pumpkin bread or banana bread.  Here's a link to the persimmon bread I love to give.

Yeast Breads

The sad part is you can’t wrap up the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread, but I don’t think that will keep anyone from turning down the loaf or basket of rolls you offer.


Try making some peppermint bark with white chocolate.  I’ll be trying a new peanut brittle recipe I found on Food Network.

Homemade Spice Blends

Got a secret recipe for a special BBQ rub—you don’t have to share the recipe, just bag it up.  It’s all in the presentation…here’s a link to the Southwestern Dip mix we shared two Christmases ago.

Gifts in a Jar

Don’t want to do the baking yourself?  You can layer cookie ingredients like sand art in mason jars—just be sure to include the directions and a list of perishable ingredients the recipient will need to add.  Or maybe you can make up a Russian Tea or Hot Cocoa mix.

Facial Scrubs

Not everything has to be eaten.  I’ve found several recipes online for facial scrubs that use sugar as the main ingredient (always on sale during this prime baking season).  Add a little extract or essential oil and voila!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: Time Travelers Civil War

Last spring as part of a blog hop I shared ways we’ve used Photoshop Elements in homeschool---specifically, how we’d enhanced/colorized/etc. the PDF files from the Home School in the Woods’ Time Travelers U.S. History Studies.  Of course I asked their permission before sharing any of their images and after seeing my posts they gave me the opportunity to review one of their products.  This fall my son and I have really been enjoying their Civil War CD-ROM.

Obviously, if I was using their products last Spring I’m familiar with the vendor but let me be perfectly clear up front: We LOVE Home School in the Woods!!!  We’ve now used five of their Time Travelers sets, their Project Passport Middle Ages, and their Timeline Figures.  If you hated history (or your kids do) because of dull texts or unending lists of only names, dates, and places I urge you to give their activity-based unit studies a try!

Everything is contained on one CD-ROM.  I always start by printing out the Teacher’s guide and Lesson Texts which I comb-bind for our use (the book on the left below).   This gives me a Lesson Plan of material to be covered and all the instructions for creating a notebook, lap-book, crafts and other keepsakes to remember our study.  We’ve always used the Time Travelers to enhance our regular history curriculum  so I look through the lesson plan page first to see how the subject material matches up with each chapter of our textbook (to be honest, Time Travelers could stand alone as your history study if you don’t mind not having quizzes or tests).

The book on the right is my son’s notebook.  Rather than four separate pieces: a notebook, a lap-book, a newspaper, and a box of biographical mini-books (referred to as the Library of Leaders);  we compile everything into one large bound notebook.  We mount all the printables on cardstock pages-- this includes the mini-books of famous leaders and generals.  In this case, we used Photoshop Elements to add flags to the image backgrounds so we could keep sides straight, but you could just differentiate with the color of paper you use for printing.

Some of the other notebook pages include a massive timeline….

and samples of the uniforms for both the Union and Confederate soldiers.

When we went to the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Pilot Knob, we took spare copies of the pages that taught us to identify ranks and corps badges—it was like having our own private program to know all the players! 

The Union Cavalry was stationed directly in front of our spot, and we quickly realized that the “real man in charge” only had the rank of First Sergeant even though there was a Captain right behind him.

I could go on and on about the materials in our notebook…copies of important speeches and documents, maps, flash cards of military terms, history makes & other vocabulary; even recipes to make our study a more immersive experience.  Want your kid to know what it’s like to be a foot soldier?  Let him spend the day walking all over a battlefield and when he asks what’s for lunch, pull out the piece of hardtack you made the week before! (and then when the shock wears off, go visit one of the food vendors—I’m not that cruel).  

Of course the heart of the study are the Lesson Texts.   Here’s where Time Travelers really shine.  Every subject from pre-war Slavery to Reconstruction, every battle in between is told in a Charlotte Mason/Living Book format.  Sure there are dates and places and General’s names to remember, but everything is fleshed out to give it real meaning.  I’d found a used book of Civil War battle maps that my son kept side by side with the lesson texts and he could follow all the troop movements on the maps as he read.  Everything was spot on!


  The Civil War won’t be our last product from Homeschool in the Woods (we’ve still got three more Time Traveler studies to go).  And lest you think I’m gushing over a product I got for free in exchange for this review—I was a customer LONG beforehand, having purchased every other product we’ve used.  Every one has been a treasure—a real “this is why I homeschool” experience.

The Civil War is available for download for $27.95 or on CD for $28.95 (plus shipping).  It is recommended for grades 3-8.  You can see more project photos and download a sample lesson on the website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

TOS Blue Ribbon Awards

I can’t believe another year on The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew has come and gone! You may be wondering…what happens once the review is over?  Well if the product has been really helpful/enjoyed, it becomes part of our school or home life.  My son still looks forward to each new book in the Hank the Cowdog series and that’s something we reviewed years and years ago, my first year on the crew.

By far my son’s favorite review this year was HomeschoolPiano!  Yes, he looks forward to piano lessons and piano practice every day (a mother’s dream, I know).   We’re working through Book Two now.  I don’t know what we’ll do after Book Three.  I’m hoping Willie Myette will keep adding to the series.

I’m more excited about Fix It! Grammar, at least more excited to see me son’s progress.  During the review, he might make three guesses as to what the verb of the sentence was.  Now he can mark main and dependent clauses and the subjects and verbs for each on his own.  It works so well with the IEW writing program we’ve been using anyway (a review from year one as well).  I’ll be using the whole series of six books, I’m sure.

The reviewers of the Crew have the opportunity to vote on favorite products at the end of the year.  If you’re interested in the results (many award categories and overall winners too) just click on the link below.

2014 Blue Ribbon Awards

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Smoky Corn Chowder


Snow……..cold……need something warm and hearty to eat…’s soup weather.  Normally, I don’t get in this mood until after New Year’s Day, in the dead of winter ( I was planning this for a Jan-Feb blog series).  Normally we don’t have 4 inches of snow on the ground before I’ve even finished raking up the leaves.  I checked the pantry, hit the recipe books and came up with this dish.  It normally calls for bacon, but that disagrees with my hubby’s tummy.  I had a smoked turkey leg from our local butcher on hand so I used that instead.  Know what—I think it made the recipe even better.  Both my husband and son asked for more over the weekend.  I’d say this serves 6-8 people. Anybody smoking a turkey for Thanksgiving?  Here’s a chance to use up leftovers.



6 T butter                                                        16 oz. bag frozen corn

5-6 baby carrots, sliced                                4 russet potatoes, peeled & diced

1 sm. yellow onion, diced                             meat from 1 smoked turkey leg, chopped

1 t. diced garlic                                              4 cups chicken stock

1/2 C. flour                                                      2 C whole milk

salt & pepper to taste                                    pinch of nutmeg (optional)      


Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, onion & garlic and cook until slightly softened (2-3 minutes).  Stir flour into mixture, making a paste, until flour is lightly browned (4-5 min.). Remove saucepan from heat and set aside while you chop potatoes and debone the turkey leg.

Heat 4 cups of chicken stock in a large stock pot (my stock was frozen to start). Ladle some of the heated stock (a little at a time) into the veggie/flour mix and stir it until thoroughly combined. Add corn, potatoes, turkey and the veggie/flour roux to the stock pot.  Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until thickened (about 5 minutes)

Stir in milk and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are tender (15-20 minutes).

You might also want to throw in some grated cheese or just use some to garnish in the bowl.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: Purposeful Design

I once heard a motivational speaker say “You’ll be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  For that reason I’m careful with whom I keep company and the books I choose to read and keep around the house. I look for books that are thought-provoking, positive, and fill me with wonder.   Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation by Jay Schabacker hits all those marks.  His book, and the free curriculum available on his Purposeful Design website allow us to not only consider the wonders of God’s creation, but also build a positive self image as we realize that we too were created for a purpose.

Purposeful Design could be considered a “coffee table” book –the 90+ pages within its hardback cover are filled with gorgeous photography and verses of scripture.  On the other hand, it’s a book full of fascinating facts, questions to consider, and charts & diagrams too.  Mr. Schabacker spends a chapter on each day of the creation week and some of the amazing (and sometimes odd) examples of God’s handiwork.  Did you know a camel can carry up to thirty gallons of water in its hump? Or that even after spending years in the ocean a salmon can migrate thousands of miles back to the stream of its birth?  Water is one of the few elements that becomes less dense when it freezes—and why is that so important?  Along the way we learn things weren’t done just so, life on Earth wouldn’t even be possible: if the planet weren’t tilted at just the right angle, if a different percentage of the earth’s surface was covered by water, if the moon was at a different distance to control the tides, etc.  The seventh day chapter is filled with Bible verses for contemplation  and the epilogue wraps everything up with the statement “…the author wants to share his findings so that you can marvel at (and be thankful for) the love showered on us by a very personal and compassionate God. 

My son and I both loved perusing the pages—he had more interest in the astronomy and focused on Day 4 while I had more fun reading about the human body on Day 6.  This book is great to just pick up as time allows and read a page or two that draws your attention.  Then when we were ready for a deeper study, we downloaded  the free Young Explorers workbook (there’s a teacher’s answer key also).

Each lesson begins with the applicable verses from Genesis describing the creation of that day.  The author really had my son in mind when he phrased some of the questions…rather than ask “how does this verse speak to you” (as you might find in an adult Bible study) he asks “What is your favorite sentence or group of words? which was much easier for my son to understand.  Next comes a series of reading comprehension questions and then some additional Bible verses (again asking which is your favorite and why).  The other final questions for each day are 1.In your own words, what do you think was neat about what God did on Day ___? and 2. In your own words, how do you know that God loves you very much?  Each day we’re re-enforcing that God planned everything with no mistakes (including me and you) and He did it all because He loves us so much.  As I said at the beginning—positive message, awe-inspiring, thought-provoking. 

Purposeful Design can be enjoyed by all ages and is available on the website for $18.95.  The Young Explorer’s Club curriculum is free.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: Snake Oil

There’s no denying a change of season is upon us: it’s dark by 5:30 and it’s too cool to sit in the porch swing and read now.  We’re spending a lot more time inside and will be for a long time, so let’s look for ways to entertain ourselves rather than sit passively in front of the television.  Why not a family game night? Out of the Box Games specializes in games that 1) can be learned in minutes, 2) can be played in less than an hour, and 3) feature dynamic player interaction for start to finish.  I’ve found a sure winner from their product line --Snake Oil.  

If the title brings to mind images of a slick-haired, fast talking salesman pitching his “too good to be true” product to the unsuspecting masses, then you’ve already got a good idea about the game.  One player per round acts as the customer and draws an identity card (e.g. pregnant woman, pirate, or Santa). The remaining players each draw five word cards—grammatically speaking these are all nouns but they may be tangible or intangible.  Their job is two combine two of these words into a compound noun (here’s your grammar lesson for the day), a noun made up of two or more words which may be hyphenated or combined into a single word—representing the product they will be pitching to the customer. After hearing each spiel, the customer gives their identity card to the salesman with the best product of the round.  This continues until everyone has had a turn being customer, the winner is the one who’s collected the most customer cards.

As you can tell, the game requires at lease three players: one to be customer and two to vie for the sale. The rules suggest 3-10 players, but provide variations for classroom or a 24 player tournament.  There was nothing for a mom at home with her only child after a morning of homeschool….SO WE INVENTED OUR OWN RULES!  In our game we put down 12 words cards face up at a time so all were legible.  We left the customer cards in a stack and turned them over one at a time (the customer cards are two-sided, so we played the newly revealed side each time).  Then we competed against each other to find our two-word product from the available word cards.  It wasn’t enough to be the first to combine and create a sales item, you had to back it up with a sales pitch (to prove you hadn’t randomly thrown two cards together). In the example below, my son thought a hostage would benefit from a Freedom Cannon that could blast through the walls of any holding cell.

Next I took the game to our homeschool co-op and shared it with the drama/improvisation class.  The 7th grade and older kids were divided into teams of three. One was the customer, who shared his identity with his teammates (so they could come up with their sales product), BUT NOT THE AUDIENCE.  Then they improvised a scene and the audience not only voted who was the better salesman but had to guess the identity of the customer based on verbal and physical clues.  The kids loved it!  They asked to play a second round.  At the end of class, no one rated the activity less than 8 out of 10.

This isn’t an important issue as far as game-play, but I noticed how well the Snake Oil box stores and travels.  The packagers included cardboard grid pieces to hold the stacks of playing cards in place in the box--tell me you don’t hate having to organize loose cards/money/whatever before you can start playing a game?  But what I like best about Snake Oil is it’s not just a luck of the draw (or roll) game nor is it overly reliant on strategy or thinking out moves.  It IS all about exercising  that creativity muscle that seems to atrophy as kids get older.  Snake Oil has earned a place in our family’s game closet.

The suggested retail price for Snake Oil (ages 10 to adult) is $19.99.  The is also a Snake Oil—Party Potion  geared to slightly young kids available for $14.99.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: Countdown to Thanksgiving

True story: I ran into the local Wal-Mart the morning of Nov 1st in hopes of scoring some 75% off candy corn and other fall related treats for a bonfire/leaf pile party we were having that day.  When I got the the aisle—that just HOURS ago sported costumes and candy for Halloween I found that everything had been switched out to red and green, peppermint candy canes, and those cheapo gifts you buy for the people you don’t know what to buy.  I’m not knocking Christmas—I love that holiday, I’m not even complaining about the commercialism.  I’m just shouting out to whoever will listen that there’s another holiday that falls between the two aforementioned—and it’s a really good one!  DON’T FORGET THANKSGIVING!!!!

I’ll admit my bias here:  my son and are are the 12th and 13th generation descendants of Governor William Bradford so we’re talking family history as well as American history.  But everyone should enjoy the sentiments of Thanksgiving no matter their pedigree: gathering together, sharing food & good memories and being thankful.  The question is how to get that focus in your home when it’s being bombarded with Black Friday ads, parades, and football games. 

Well, have you ever participated in Advent?  It’s a time of slowing down and reflection before Christmas to think about the real Reason for the Season.  Well, thanks to Amy Puetz of Golden Prairie Press you can now have that kind of experience for the Thanksgiving season.  You may remember my reviewing her Heroes and Heroines of the Past American History curriculum last May.  She’s recently published Countdown to Thanksgiving: Memory Making Stories & Activities for 14 Days Leading up to Thanksgiving which she’s graciously given me access to in exchange for this review.

The 96 pages of the eBook are  mostly black & white print and illustrations (there are a few color photographs of sample projects).   I loaded mine on my Kindle Fire so we could read the daily stories in a cozier setting than around the office computer.  The stories were all written within two decades of 1900 (either before or after) and while some share about the Pilgrim fathers and mothers and their Native American friends, others just take place on Thanksgiving in a different era: a pioneer family struggling on the prairie, a newspaper boy buying a meal for a stranger, even how Sarah Hale inspired President Lincoln to create the national holiday.

In addition to the stories, you’ll find songs to sing, crafts to make, games, skits, poems, even some recipes if you’re still struggling to figure out what to have at your Thanksgiving feast.  So before you start fretting about what size turkey you’ll need or who’ll be stuck at the grandkids table, why not take 30-40 minutes a day with your kids for the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to slow down and really consider what this holiday is about?

Countdown to Thanksgiving retails for $17, but through Nov. 13th you can save $5 with the coupon code THANK .

Friday, November 7, 2014

I Sing the Praises of Charcoal

Before you wonder if this post will be about grilling or barbecuing--I'm speaking of activated charcoal and how it helped me with a terrible case of diarrhea (and I promise not to get too graphic).  A week ago my dear hubby started to get run down--what started with his own case of the trots has grown into a miserable flu.  I'd been managing to avoid it for five days when I woke up in the middle of the night to my own gurgling in the guts.

Drowsy as I was, I did the usual thing and reached for the pink stuff.  I was up three or four more times following the same procedure till morning.  Then, when I was finally wide awake, I remembered that charcoal was supposed to help with that sort of thing.  I'd seen the information in several resources, but the first one I found that morning was Karen Weaver's book Be your Child's Pediatrician so I'm giving her the credit.   She says"

Mix one tablespoon of powdered charcoal into one glass of water and drink the whole thing quickly, through a straw if your child minds the color and grit...Follow this dose with another glass of water, since charcoal can be constipating. Repeat the dose after each run to the bathroom and the problem is soon history.

This really is better a remedy given at night time when things are dark because drinking a glass of black water is unappetizing.  I actually used some mango juice I had on hand and did use the recommended straw.

Amazingly, within 15-20 minutes the pain was gone.  I had one more run to the bathroom (so I repeated the dosage) and that was it!  Yes, it is disconcerting to see an inky black toilet too but I felt so much better I didn't care.  It's now been two days and I'm felling great--I never did catch my husband's other flu symptoms if that's what I had.

According to another Weaver book, Be Your Own Doctor,  activated charcoal was used for treatment from the birth of America until the 1950's when drug companies started pushing their own over the counter remedies.  I guess people prefer drinking something pink rather than something black which is a shame because charcoal is good for treating so many things: drug overdose, counteract poison, diarrhea, intestinal gas, bad breath, vomiting, jaundice, bites & stings, infections, and draining wounds.  It's cheap, easy to use (albeit messy), and simply passes through the body once it's absorbed what's bothering you.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: Online Physics lessons



Recently the Homeschool Crew was offered the opportunity to review one of the three online science programs offered by Fascinating EducationAccording to their website, the material is designed to cover what you’d expect to find in a high school level course—which is a little above my Schnickelfritz’s head.  I did well in high school science, but won’t deny being worried that I’m a little rusty (because he’ll be ready for upper level science before I can blink) so for this review I was the student .  I chose the Fascinating Physics program, having studied physics in high school and two semesters in college as well as being the teacher’s aide my senior year. 





After registering I was given access to the 15 lessons that make up the physics course:

  1. Movement
  2. Vectors
  3. Forces
  4. Energy-Work-Power
  5. Circular Motion
  6. Fluids and Gases
  7. Waves
  8. Light-Part 1
  9. Light-Part 2
  10. Light-Part 3
  11. Electrical Charges
  12. Moving Electrical Charges
  13. Electrical Currents
  14. The Atom
  15. The Nucleus

Under each lesson picture are tabs to view the lesson (similar to a Power Point presentation), access & print the lesson script, and finally take the test associated with that lesson.

Fascinating Education is assumes the student has no previous knowledge or experience in the science field being studied. Rather than reading any text, you will view a screenshot and listen to the presenter explain the illustration (they claim this method of teaching will use the right hemisphere of the brain for learning). The lesson screen allows you to see all the slide titles.  At any point in the lesson you may also click on the glossary tab (behind the menu) to get definitions for terms you may not understand.  The entire lesson from start to end lasts 45-55 minutes.  If you leave the lesson at any point you’ll be asked if you want to continue from that point when you return. 

It seems to me that the lessons are focused more on being able to solve physics problems (the old “If two trains start traveling towards each other….” scenarios) rather that the theories of physics. As you can see in the example above, you need to have an understanding of trigonometry as well (yet another area where I am rusty).  Apparently my brain doesn’t learn well with this right hemisphere method—trying to listen to the speaker work through equations with all the m1’s and m2’s in the example above just became alphabet soup in my head.

I tried printing out the scripts to follow along, but didn’t always find them any more helpful. For example the solution to the above problem (regarding a light fixture hung off center) is:

Slide 11: Solve the problem.
Let's solve for F1 along the x axis. F1 equals 0.51 time F2.
Substituting the value of F1 into the equation for forces exerted in the Y direction, we get the values for F1 and F2.
The force exerted by the shorter section of the wire is 81.8 newtons, while the force exerted by the longer section is only 0.51 of this, or 41.7 newtons. The wire must be able to withstand 81.8 newtons of force.

Clear as a bell, right?

The tests take the form of multiple choice questions.  I guess they’re not too worried about someone cheating by having multiple windows open on the computer because each question has a “Need Help” button that will replay the lesson slide associated with the question.  You’ll receive your results as soon as the test is done and be given the option of reviewing each question (with your answer and the correct answer), printing the test results or retrying the quiz. I found it helpful to print out the answer key to the test as it includes screenshots of the problems and a paragraph or two explaining how the answer was obtained.

You can access the Fascinating Education Physics course for a full year for $79.00.  You’ll need internet access, but I didn’t have any issues with my less than stellar speed service.  Supposedly the course also works on mobile devices, but I think you’d be happier with the larger screens of a a regular computer to see all the details of the formulas.  You can try a sample lesson on their website to see if the program will work with your family.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: If He Had Not Come

If you like to keep the true meaning of Christmas alive or like to keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year—have I got a book for you. David Nicholson is reintroducing the world to a story originally published in 1938.  Back then author Nan Weeks asked her readers to consider what life would be like if Jesus hadn’t come to Earth in the form of a new baby in the book If He Had Not ComeThe hardback book ($18.95) contains the 28 page story—each two page spread includes an full color illustration for the kids to study while you read aloud (it works great if you can hold it open and read it librarian-style). The pictures were done for this edition of the book and have a nostalgic look about them—not quite 1930’s but certainly not modern.  I’d place them in the 50’s.

The story follows a young boy named Bobby who wakes up on what he knows should be Christmas morning  to find no decorations, no presents and no day off work for the local factory workers and shopkeepers—and why would there be if we weren’t celebrating Christ’s birth.  It gets worse though as Bobby discovers no Christmas means much more than no presents, decorations, or carols—there’s no church, no orphanage, no local hospital, and no homeless shelter.  At every location Bobby finds the words “If I had not come” (taken from John 15:22).  Fortunately for Bobby he wakes to discover it was all a dream.  He prays to thank the Lord that He did come and promises to do everything he can to please the Lord on Christmas and every day.”

The story is recommended for ages 6 and up and I chose to read it aloud to my boys in Ranger Kids. I could easily read it in the 15 minutes we have for devotions (but you may want to allow for extra time if your kids like to comment during story time).  Although it’s technically a “Christmas story” I found it worked perfectly to share in the time of preparing- for-but-not-yet-celebrating the season.  After reading the story we took a little tour of the church building to see how we had opportunities to be God’s hands and feet.   Bobby tried to visit the Children’s Home to watch them open the gifts his class collected and I  took the boys to see the Operation Christmas Child boxes our church was distributing.  Bobby looked for the homeless shelter and we looked at the sign up sheet to ring the Salvation Army bell and talk about how they use the money collected.  We also stopped to see the box where we collect non-perishables for the local food pantry.  We talked about the hospitals in our area—St. Lukes, Missouri Baptist, St. Johns Mercy –all with religious affiliations. 

The book also includes discussion questions, a brief Bible study covering why Jesus came and what it would mean if he hadn’t come, and the ABC version of steps to lead a seeker to salvation.  All my K-2nd grade boys enjoyed the story and eagerly participated in our discussion about it.  I think it’s a perfect fit of religious scouts, Sunday School classes or your own family—especially before a service project of some sort done in Jesus' name.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: Jim Hodge’s Henty Audios

We’ve been studying the Civil War this semester and while I had several books selected on the subject for my son to read to himself we were given the opportunity to listen to someone else read aloud the G.A. Henty novel With Lee in Virginia.  The narrator was Jim Hodges of Jim Hodges Productions who specializes in unabridged recordings of Henty titles.  The physical CD we received had an MP3 format which works in computers and some stereos (like the one in our car).  We were also given a PDF Study Guide for the same title. We listened to the first portion of the story while traveling to and from a Civil War reenactment of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pilot Knob.  The whole story takes 11+ hours so a good portion had to be listened to at home.

Each track corresponded to a chapter of the novel – the chapter  title even appeared on the CD player.  There were no subdivisions within the chapter so if you couldn’t listen to the 30+ minutes it took to listen to  it entirely, you’d have to note the time where you stopped and fast forward to that spot on a subsequent  listening.  Mr. Hodges was an excellent narrator –reading neither too fast or too slow and enunciating quite well. I never had trouble understanding him (middle aged hearing).  The only weak point was his reading of dialogue.  At one point my son said Mr. Hodges reminded him of Data from Star Trek and looking back I can see his point.  Mr. Henty wrote with very few contractions so everyone’s words seemed more formal. There were also times (like when the protagonist was confronting an evil overseer whipping a slave) that Mr. Hodges didn’t seem to emote as much as we might have liked.  Part of that could be the written words themselves—we’re not likely to use the word “shan’t” especially when we’re upset, but as a narrator he didn’t have a choice in what to say.

On the whole, the story grew on us and as we became more concerned about the characters and their fate we focused less and less on whether Mr. Hodges had enough feeling in his narration.  And let’s be clear this is an audiobook—no background music, no sound effects.  We follow the main character through several famous Civil War battles: Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville as well as his capture and escape.  There are a fair number of chapters that deal with exploits away from the war too (helping a fugitive slave and retrieving that slave’s kidnapped wife). 

Along with listening to the story, we had study guide vocabulary to define and questions for each chapter.   The vocabulary was most helpful.  It’s more noticeable when your reading a page and stumble across an unknown word than when you’re listening to narration.  We worked on the words before listening and then tried to see if we could catch them being read.

The questions could cover anything from listening retention (e.g. How does Vincent bring Wildfire under submission?) to vocabulary (e.g. What does secede mean?) to history (e.g. What is the Merrimac, and what about it is very new to naval warfare?).  While we did try to answer the questions (some requiring outside research), we did not do the activities which could be a creative writing assignment or watching an online video.  I don’t know when the PDF file was created, but I found several linked web pages were no longer available.

In this review I’m trying to focus on the product, that is the audiobook, but I feel a word or two about Mr. Henty’s work itself is in order as some people might take offense.  The “N” word is mentioned several times and a character in the first chapter states:

“I consider that the slave with a fairly kind master is to the full as happy as the ordinary English laborer. He certainly does not work so hard, if he is ill he is carefully attended to, he is well fed, he has no cares or anxieties whatever, and when old and past work he has no fear of the workhouse staring him in the face…Were I to liberate all the slaves on this estate to-morrow and to send them North, I do not think that they would be in any way benefited by the change. They would still have to work for their living as they do now, and being naturally indolent and shiftless would probably fare much worse.’’ [emphasis added]

I don’t know if these sentiments are coming from the character (who was a southern slaveholder, but originally from England) or Henty himself, but it certainly warranted a pause in listening to discuss whether the slaves themselves would have agreed with these statements.  And maybe that’s the goal anyway – to be able to have meaningful discussions and learn from great literature of the past.

 The MP3 CD retails for $25 and the Study Guide is available for $12.  You can listen to a sample chapter on Mr. Hodges’ website before purchasing.  The audiobooks are not recommended for children under 8.  The study guide was created by a teacher who has worked with K-6 grade kids, and I would lean towards the upper end of that range before using it.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: The Forbidden Book

I mentioned last week that God was putting a lot of opportunities to the more about the Bible itself in our path lately.  We’re still studying who wrote it and how certain books were chosen for inclusion in both Sunday services and Schnickelfritz’s Bible merit.  Now we’ve got a another review product by New Liberty Videos with the Bible as its subject.  The title of the DVD, The Forbidden Book, might lead you to believe it has something to do with the Bible being taken out of public schools, but it in fact has to do with preserving the Bible throughout that era known as the Dark Ages.  According to the video, by 400 AD the Bible had been translated into 500 languages.  A century later it was only available in one – Latin, unreadable by the common man.

The majority of the video deals with the men that sacrificed (sometimes literally) their lives to see that God’s word was once again able to be read in the common tongue—mainly Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Luther although others are mentioned.    This obviously leads up to The Reformation and the separation of the church into the Catholic and Protestant denominations.  The video very seldom used the word “Catholic.”  Instead it substitutes “established church” but it does mention several Popes and the idea that communion becomes the actual partaking of the body and blood of Christ so its very clear who the narrator is talking about.

 I’ll be frank and say I come from a Protestant upbringing, but even I felt the narration comes down extremely hard on the Catholic church.  The video claims that the Latin texts were purposefully corrupted for the church’s benefit,  that the Pope’s ordered the Crusades just to conquer and claim Jewish wealth for the building of cathedrals, and the Pope himself called Christ a “profitable fable.”  With claims like these, I think it only fair to include source documents for proof, either as an insert in the DVD case or files that could be accessed on the computer but there is nothing.

I watched the video with my  son and it could not keep his attention, for which I am thankful.  In a documentary about translating the Bible into the common tongue there is no need to bring up the fees for indulgences of “ravishing a virgin” or “a priest keeping a mistress” nor a need to state that at one point the church employed 100,000 prostitutes.  And while martyrdom does apply to the topic, the discussion and images (mostly hand drawings, but some painted works of art) of how these saints were killed might be scary to younger viewers.  New Liberty claims their videos are for all ages, but you might want to screen them first if your kids aren’t ready for such content. 

The DVD retails for $19.95 and is almost an hour long.  I do give kudos to New Liberty for including closed captioning for the hearing impaired (many educational DVD don’t do so).  The documentary is actually produced twice on the DVD—once without captions followed by one with them.  Sometimes the captions take up the majority of the screen, making it difficult to see the picture behind them though.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Review: Clued in Kids

Recently we were given the opportunity to review two treasure hunts from Clued in Kids.  The first, Homework Reward Treasure Hunt was completed by my son alone.  The second, Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt was used at his birthday party.  Both were PDF downloads that I printed at home and retail for $5.99.  The hunts can be used by kids of all ages although younger ones may need some assistance.  All you need to do is cut the pages in half and hide the individual clues (they even say at the bottom where it should be hidden).

The treasure hunt for a day stuck in the house

Sniffles, congestion, and a low grade fever.  My Schnickelfritz was under the weather—and it was homeschool gym day.  He wasn’t so sick that he didn’t want to play, but I also didn’t want him to pass on germs so we had to stay home.  His consolation prize was his own private treasure hunt.  I hid the clues while he was doing schoolwork in our basement classroom. The set up was easy-peasy, even when my son in the house.  How often do kids pay attention to mom puttering about.  I did have to wait until he left his room to take a shower to plant clues in specific drawers and put the prize under the bed.

This homework themed hunt was written from a traditional school point of view with references to the yellow bus,  school bell, and the need for a backpack but it was all still do-able for us homeschoolers (even we have a back pack, although it has a cooler and we use it for picnics).   If you’re using this with younger kids, they need to be able to multiply 10X10, read a clock face, and recognize playing cards.  One of the challenges involved folding and flying a paper airplane, something my son really hasn’t done, so I had to find printable instructions online to place with that particular clue.

It took my son 34 minutes to work through all the clues and find the new DVD at the end.  Most of the time was spent finding the clues – although the locations are set by the clues, I can be devious in where they’re hidden at each location.  For instance the “bath” clue was wrapped around the shower pipe in our basement bathroom.  The hardest clue for him had to do with pajamas—the letters P, J, and S were spaced far enough apart that he didn’t recognize it as PJ’s and he was trying to come up with words to fit the initials, like Peanut butter & Jelly Sandwich.

Treasure Hunt for the party

My son’s birthday is in the fall and we always celebrate with bonfires, hay rides, and a romp in the leaf pile.  This year Schnickelfritz asked for an “orienteering” themed party.  Rather than have the kids race through my house, typed up a sheet with all the answers written randomly with each assigned a specific number.  The number pointed them to a map (I used a Google satellite image) with recognizable points on our property (back of the barn, wagon wheel, etc.) where they would find there next clue.  By the way, make sure all the parents are there to watch the kids run around the house three times gobbling like a turkey.  The party treats were hidden at the final location. The Thanksgiving theme worked with our fall event (we don’t celebrate Halloween, but there is a themed hunt for that available) and 12 years old-12 clues was a perfect match..  












Since we’re talking about groups of kids at this point, let me say that each clue has a spot to write in the name of a child at the top.  This way you can make sure everyone has a chance at solving the clues.  I know from experience that letting the one who gets there first be the clue-reader/solver can lead to pushing and shoving and eventually hurt feelings. 

The only downside to these treasure hunts is they can only be used once with the same kid or group of kids.  Still it was nice to have around for taking a sick child’s mind off what he was missing and entertainment for a party.

The treasure hunts are designed for kids ages 4 and up, and they say 1-10 kids (you decide if you really want 10 kids running through your house). Want to try a Clued in Kids treasure hunt for yourself.  You can receive the same Homework Reward hunt we did by signing up for the Clued in Kids newsletter.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Friday, October 24, 2014

Z is for the Zoo in St. Louis

I can’t believe we’re at the end and I can’t believe I managed to post every week, but here we are at letter Z.  There was no doubt in my mind that I’d be sharing about the wonderful St. Louis Zoo.  It’s ranked one of the top zoos in the nation and it’s FREE!  That’s not to say there aren’t attractions within the zoo that you must pay for, like the train or the opportunity to pet stingrays (the stingrays and the Children’s zoo are free during the first hour of the day).  There is a fee to park in the zoo’s lots, but you can park in Forest Park for free and walk in.  (While you’re in the park, you can check out the Art Museum, the Science Center, and the Muny).

The zoo really has it’s roots in the 1904 World’s Fair (ever see Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland?).  The Smithsonian Institution commissioned a large flight cage for visitors to walk through and see rare birds.  The city purchased the cage when the fair closed and within a decade more than 70 acres around the cage were designated for zoo land.  

My memories of the zoo began in the 70’s when  big changes were occurring at the zoo—up to this point the animals had been housed in cages and the elephants and chimpanzees performed in shows.  Now cages were being replaced with large pens with moats and most of the animals weren’t expected to perform (they recently added back the sea lion show).   Here’s a great example with a glass window allowing us to see the hippos above and below the water surface.  Yes, there are fish in the water—a sign nearby explains the symbiotic relationship.  Let’s just say the water would be a lot murkier if the fish weren’t doing their jobs and leave it at that.

As a young Earth, creation-believing family zoos can be tricky places—there’s always a concern that the signage will reference evolution and millions of years.  I noticed most of the animals simply had their common name on the enclosures (see below).

That’s not to say they aren’t learning opportunities.  In good weather there are several stations to touch fur or study a skull, etc.  There are also several permanent displays like the jungle classroom with its chalkboard of a cheetah….

The zoo realizes that while moms would like to focus on the educational aspect of the zoo, kids just want to have fun (and get some wiggle out of their systems).  You can find several sculptures around to climb on or crawl through.


Last year’s new exhibit was a tunnel through the sea lion pool.  Here’s Schnickelfritz seeing if he can hold is breath as long as these pinnipeds.  He’s turning red, don’t ya think?

This last shot was taken inside that flight cage that started the zoo so many years ago.  It’s still standing strong.


I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

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