Friday, July 31, 2015

Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship

I’ve written a few times about my son’s involvement in Royal Rangers (although perhaps not enough).  He’s been earning merits and studying the Bible since kindergarten and he’s finally old enough to join their Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship.  This is an optional branch within RR where boys and leaders learn skills and trades from the frontier days. 

Schnickelfritz had to attend a Frontier Adventure and pass tests that involved throwing a knife & tomahawk,  setting a trap, and starting a fire with flint & steel.  Now he’s able to attend special camping events (called rendezvous) where he’ll learn about black powder shooting, dress in mountain man or voyageur clothing, cook in a Dutch oven, and more (even though I’m a mom and a female, I’m highly jealous).  In order to advance he needs to learn a trade and right now he’s leaning towards becoming an apprentice to his own outpost commander, who does blacksmithing.

Right now he’s learning how to build primitive shelters and primitive snares for trapping so this is very much a scouting program.  However it’s also a scouting program run by the church. For his regular Royal Rangers advancement he has to work on Bible merits as well as the skill merits.  To advance in FCF he has to perform 60 hours of volunteer service for the outpost, church, community and missions work.

If you’re feeling frustrated with the path taken by the Boy Scouts, you may want to give Royal Rangers and Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship a try.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: With Lee in Virginia

Family reunion……road trip…..over fourteen hours in the car in two days, and that’s if we were lucky. Last year we got stuck in road construction traffic and spent an hour to cover six miles.   What was one of the first things I made sure I packed in my car bag?


I tweeted the answer—our three audio adventures from Heirloom Audio Productions.  These folks have been bringing G.A. Henty stories to life for the past year.  Even though they’re relatively new to the world of audio/radio theater their production is professional, their narrative entertaining and thought-provoking, and their support materials superb.  We’ve already traveled around the world Under Drake’s Flag and battled alongside William Wallace In Freedom’s Cause and now we were going to relive the Civil War With Lee in Virginia.  The two CD set kept us entertained for about two and a half hours.  And just check out the cast of voice actors!

We tend to like to listen to the story and see if we can recognize the voices of the actors rather than look up their roles.  Sean Astin was easy, but Kirk Cameron stumped us.
The opening act of Heirloom’s audios have two boys meeting“ Mr. George” who proceeds to entertain them with a story whose main characters “just happen” to share the same names—in this case Vincent and Dan.  The other amazing “coincidence” is that the story characters always seem to encounter famous figures from history.  As the title hints, one of these men is  Gen. Robert E. Lee. Vincent also fights alongside Generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, and Joseph E. Johnston. 
To be clear Vincent is a southerner and fights for the Confederacy.  His family are slave-owners and he will inherit these staves when he comes of age.  I’ll even go so far as to caution parents of young listeners that the story includes very realistic sounds of slaves being whipped and slave families being separated and sold at auction.  Although Vincent defends the Southern Cause, he stops the whipping, intercedes in the auction to buy the mother and child, and risks his life to help the father escape to freedom in Canada.  While reading his father’s Bible, Vincent is convicted that no man should own another and does right by Dan.
As with all The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty, there is an underlying theme as well as an action-packed story.  For this title, the theme is Duty.  In between the CD’s in the case is a quote from Robert E. Lee—“Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.”  We hear this in the story along with a Stonewall Jackson quote—“Duty is ours, the consequences are God's.”  As the mother of a son about to become a teen, I’m thankful for every opportunity to expose him to honorable ideals.  It’s woven into the story without sounding “preachy.”
We have been listening to WLiV simply for pleasure since our study of the Civil War concluded the first quarter of last year.  Had the timing been right, we could have used Heirloom’s free Study Guide to make this more of a unit study.  Each track from the CD has its own page of words to define—some military/war terms and some things we just don’t see any more, like a livery.  The Listening Well questions test memory and comprehension. The Thinking Further questions deal with critical thinking, looking at actions/situations from a Biblical standpoint, and other historical/geographical research.  The background and artwork would make it “ink intensive” to print the 52 pages out, but I highly recommend you letting students at least look at the pages.  There are maps, inset texts with more information, and some thought-provoking photographs of the war.  Look at this image of a Bible that had been carried in the breast pocket of a young soldier.  It saved his life by stopping two minie balls and I pray it also saved his soul. 
The Study Guide is just one of the free bonuses available to purchasers of the Cd’s or the MP3 download.  Other gifts, depending on the package selected, include a download of the soundtrack, a PDF version of the book, a copy of Lee’s quote on duty, or a poster of the CD cover with the cast.
I think it’s safe to say that all future Henty adventures will end up as Christmas or birthday presents. We’re such fans of the audio format (my son has yet to read a Henty book).  I highly recommend this series to any family, but especially those with boys.  If you have younger children you may want to listen before they do or make sure you’re listening together as there are very realistic scenes of slave whipping and deaths in battle.
My reviews of other Heirloom Audio Productions titles:
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With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review

Friday, July 24, 2015

Looking forward to New School Year

Where oh where has summer gone?  I know that as a homeschooler I could stick to the calendar of old—you remember the one where we didn’t go back to school till after Labor Day.  Still, by mid August the pool will be closed, Six Flags will only be open on weekends, and PS friends will not be able to play.  Here’s what I have lined up.


We completed that year-long merit badge and we’ll be returning to the Discover 4 Yourself series with Revelation (divided into two workbooks) and a study of covenants.


We’re on the second year of IEW’s Student Intensive Continuation Course Level A (writing is still Fritz’s weak area but we’re making progress).


Another IEW product—Fix It! Grammar.  It goes so well with SICC.  We’ll be in Level 3—The Frog Prince.


We tried Teaching Textbooks for the last two years.  With all the math reviews we’ve done I think the disjointedness of switching products really hampered his learning.  Fritz also requested that we return to Math U See.  We’ll be going back to Algebra 1 with no disruptions.


A leap forward for us, but Dr. Wile—the author of the text says students are ready for Biology when they start Algebra.  We skipped General and physical science, but Dr. Wile says Fritz will more than make up for it by being able to use the advanced courses in his late high school years.


We’re going back to ancient times with Mystery of History Vol. 1.  I’ll be doing some supplementing to make it rigorous enough for Jr. High.


Most of the title will tie into history—Archimedes and the Door of Science, The Bronze Bow, the Landmark books about Alexander the Great and The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, and the Alfred C. Church’s The Iliad & the Odyssey for Boys and Girls.  I may try The Cat of Bubastes as a read-aloud. 


Fritz has a required merit on Healthy Body.  I think I will pair that up with the Bachelor merit (which covers house-cleaning, budgeting, laundry, etc.) for a Home Economics course.


This one is more up in the air….Fritz is now too old for Upwards Basketball and his karate instructor has retired. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: Project Passport Egypt

Summertime often means vacation time and we’re just finishing ours.  You know the drill—itineraries, tour guides, postcards, photo albums, souvenirs, exotic foods.  Did I mention our destination was Egypt?  Did I mention we traveled back in time?  It’s all true thanks to Project Passport World History Study: Ancient Egypt.  This is one of three world history titles available from Home School in the Woods, the other two cover The Middle Ages and the Renaissance & Reformation.  Two more titles are in the works for Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.  We received the download version of the study but it’s also available on CD-ROM.  Since you have to do all the printing you should stock up on paper, colored paper, colored card stock, and ink.  This is a good time to use a craft store coupon and buy a multicolor pack of 8 by 11 1/2 cardstock.

The program is Windows and Macintosh compatible (mine runs through Internet Explorer offline) and you will need Adobe Reader to access and print the texts and project printables. 


This is not our first go with Homeschool in the Woods (I’ll link to my other reviews at the end of this post).  Project Passport Travel Guide & ItineraryStandard drill for me is to print out the lesson texts and teacher’s instruction manual.  Since this whole study is themed as a vacation tour they are referred to as the Guide Book and Travel Itinerary respectively.   If you are familiar with HSitW from their Time Travelers American History series, you know that students work on craft projects (souvenirs), build a timeline (Snapshot Moments in History), write a newspaper (The Kemet Chronicle), and build a notebook (Scrapbook Sights) and lap book (I guess they couldn’t come up with another travel themed name).  New additions to the world history series are Postcard Greetings from famous folks from the past, MP3 audios of tours through historic sites, and  a final wrap up with the creation of a trifold travel brochure.

Project Passport Newspaper Project


The other book I’ve printed out and bound holds all the notebook pages Schnickelfritz creates (we found a website that translated his name into a cartouche to add to the cover!).  I print out all the base pages and assemble them and we keep all the timeline figures and other things that will be added to the base pages in a clear plastic binder (mine actually zips up so I don’t have to worry about little pieces falling out).  I also include some blank card stock pages that will hold the mini books that would normally go in the lap book.  The only things I don’t print before we start are the newspaper pages.  Because my son has dysgraphia and doesn’t like to draw or color, I allow him to use Photoshop Elements to add photos and type in his articles (I actually wrote a tutorial about this process if you want to check it out).


With the Time Traveler series, I didn’t always follow the lesson plan in order however I do recommend that for Project Passport.  The audio tours are really more like radio theater and they do have a chronological order—referring to previous stops, etc.  When you start the program you can access everything you need for each lesson—the text, project instructions, any audios.  One improvement over the Time Traveler series is that the project photos are included in the lesson rather than collected in a separate page.  The other icons let us know what projects will be included with the lesson, the camera represents the Snapshot Moments timeline for example.

Project Passport Screenshot

I did mention that I like to print out the lesson text and instructions in advance so I wish they were also available in a single PDF file for quick printing.

I usually read the lessons out loud to Fritz while he added figures to the timeline.  Most lessons were 2-3 pages and while he could have read them to himself, the concepts—like the traditional vs. the new chronology of Biblical and Egyptian history were difficult enough to require us to stop reading and discuss.    I did let him look through the lesson and choose 3-4 sentences to compose his newspaper article (I wasn’t worried about plagiarism, I was just glad he could determine which facts were most important to remember).  Sometimes the notebook projects contained so much information they could have been their own separate lesson and if we hadn’t had the deadline of this review I might have scheduled them for their own day.

Project Passport Timeline

Project Passport Recipes To Try


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—we love how HSitW makes history come alive.  It’s not just names and places and dates, these were real people that had to eat and work and go to school just like we do.  There are lessons on what everyday life was like for the common men and women: what they wore, what there houses were like, what games the children played and best of all what they ate!  We may not do the craft projects, but we always like to try the recipes. We were already familiar with hummus and baba ghanouj but this cantaloupe juice was a new refreshing cooler for the hot weather. 

We love our Homeschool in the Woods studies.  They would be great if you’re teaching a range of ages.  The younger kids might not get all the details but they could take part in the craft projects or making the recipes.  They might even be the ones to color in all the printable images.

Here are the links to the other history studies we’ve reviewed:

The Civil War

The Industrial Revolution

World War II

The Middle Ages


Home School in the Woods Review


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Royal Rangers Bible Timeline

The Bible merit is one of three required merits for Adventure Rangers.  We’ve spent the better part of a year reading the Bible and working on a timeline of biblical events and persons.  The requirements state:

Create a biblical timeline from Genesis to Revelation. Use any of a variety of methods to create
this timeline, only be sure it is big and colorful. Make sure to include the following:

a. People

• Adam • Samuel• Noah • Saul• Job • David• Abraham • Solomon• Joseph • Jeremiah
• Moses • Elijah• Joshua • Daniel• Gideon • Jesus• Ruth • Stephen• Esther • Paul

b. Events

• Creation                                             • Rebuilding of the Temple
• The Flood                                           • Intertestamental Period
• Joseph’s Exile to Egypt                    • Birth of Christ
• The Exodus                                        • Jesus’ Earthly Ministry
• The Time of the Judges                    • Crucifixion and
• The Rule of the Kings                               Resurrection
• The Building of the Temple               • Pentecost
• The Kingdom Divides                        • Paul’s Conversion
• The Time of the Prophets                  • Paul’s Three Missionary
• Israel’s Exile                                           Journeys
• Judah’s Exile                                      • Sacking of Jerusalem
• Return from Exile                                     by Titus
• John’s Exile to Patmos

c. Chronology of Each Book of the Bible

Here was our take on the project…

We used a foldable pattern board as the base (definitely fits the “big” requirement as it’s 3 ft. by 6 ft.). The idea isn’t original to me—Mystery of History uses the same thing only we used a landscape arrangement instead of portrait.  Originally Schinickelfritz wanted to strips of poster board tom make the actual timeline, but it got complicated and didn’t look very nice after folding and unfolding the board several times.  We flipped the board over and used the grid as a guide to paint in the lines (this also help with placing figures later).

We divided the line into four rows and could place baseball card sized figures both above and below the lines.  The scale was 100 years for 8 inches with the bottom row being 10 years for 8 inches.  The lightning figures in the top top represent a break in the time line for events that occurred before the flood that we don’t really have a good estimate of when they occurred.  Since we had to add so many judges and prophets and kings we didn’t use pictures for them, but wrote their names and dates on symbols of scales, scrolls and crowns respectively.

Review: Homeschool Planet

While my son enjoys his summer break from school, I find it to be one of my busiest seasons.  I have to choose new curriculum, plan hours, shop for supplies…on and on.  This year I’ve had the opportunity to use  an online program from Homeschool Buyers Co-op help me with those plans. Homeschool Planet is a subscription based planner that comes with it all:
  • A calendar to track classes, appointments, etc..
  • A Planner for scheduling specific assignments
  • Shopping lists for school supplies, groceries, whatever
  • A Resources file to keep lists of books, DVDs, and websites to be used in your homeschool
  • Reports for attendance, grades, tracking core hours, or building a high school transcript
  • Lots, lots more

 Each family member can have their own login so each can appointments to the calendar to share with the rest of the family and students can get their assignments. Because the program is internet based, you don’t have to be sitting in front of your home computer to access it.  There’s even a feature that will send shopping lists to your smart phone so you’ll never again reach the store and realize the scrap of paper you used is still setting on the kitchen counter!

Entering data is fairly intuitive, but if you need help there are several tutorials to help you schedule a class, add grades, and track attendance.  For an example, let’s say I need to add our read aloud title for the fall and I want to finish by Thanksgiving…

When I first joined Homeschool Planet, I set up our school year with start/end dates and any holidays and vacations.  Now when I set up the class, it will automatically skip over those dates we won’t have school.  Look at all the options that pop up for which specific days I’ll be reading.   I found this feature very handy since we have a large chunk of time away from home on Wednesday so it’s a lighter school day.  I can “deselect” Wed. from most of our non-core subjects.

After setting up the class—reading, I need to make the assignments—what I’m actually reading each day.  If I click on the “More Options” in the assignment section I’ll get a new window where breaking up a long reading is one of the options.

 After completing the next few pop-ups, Homeschool Planet assigns about 6-7 pages per day.  If I’d been reading the Bible or some other text where I’d prefer chapters over pages I could type in “Read Chapter {1}” and the assignment generator automatically replaces the {1} and increases it by a value of one over the date range chosen. 

Above is the screen shot of an upcoming day in our school year.  I didn’t assign specific times for most subjects—we just move on to the next thing as we complete assignments.  Homeschool gym is a scheduled event so it appears below everything else in its time slot.  It may be hard to tell in this image but every subject is color coded and you can customize colors. 

The key area of Homeschool Planet that I feel needs some improvement is the Class Hours report, and unfortunately it’s a deal-breaker for me.  For my state I need to log 1000 hours of class per year, 600 of which must be in core subjects: math, social studies, science, language arts, and reading (don’t ask me why reading is separate from other language arts). Of those 600 core hours, 400 must take place in the home.  This means I need to track core vs. noncore and home vs. away from home.  After inputting my lesson plans this is the report that generated.

 First, there is no way for me to track home vs. away hours. Second, you can see that I’m short in core hours but where? I don’t know if I need to add lessons to math or reading because this report just lumps it all together. I’m also not sure if God forbid I was contacted by a local official and asked to see my logs, they would accept just this number with no break down of subjects. 
If you live in a state where you only have to track attendance days or at least don’t need to track hours, Homeschool Planet is a very user friendly, feature rich program.   Homeschool Buyers Co-op offers a free 30 day trial to see if the program will fit your needs.  You have to join the co-op, which is free, but  unlike many subscription trials you do not need to enter a credit card number.
Please Note: I only have one child/student so there are many features of Homeschool Planet I never used.  You may want to click on the graphic below to see how other members of the crew tracked information on multiple students.
Homeschool Planet Review

Friday, July 10, 2015

Fermented Pickles

I’m excited to say I finally made my first batch of pickles.  “Big Deal” you’re thinking, you can lots of pickles every summer.  I have too, but this batch is special because I’m try to add lacto-fermented foods to our diet.  The concept is new to my husband, son, and me so I wanted to start with something familiar—thus the pickles. 

This is just the latest step on my journey to health.  The last of the three fermented foods that Donna Schwenk of Cultured Food Life calls “The Trilogy.”  I’ve been making dairy kefir for years now and have that routine down.  Last spring I began brewing my own kombucha and this spring I thought I’d give fermented vegetables a go.

One positive note—I really don’t have that large a garden.  When I’ve canned pickles before I’ve had to let some get too large on the vine or pick them and have them start shriveling while I waited to have enough to do a batch of canning.  With this method I just use what’s ready and adjust the size of my fermenting jar.  I’m using everything at its peak!

My tools:

Airlocks are not a necessity for fermenting, but I live in a very humid climate with high mold counts.  I didn’t want to be scraping mold off the top of my liquid.  You can find lids available online, but at a premium price. Some weeks ago, my son had an eye doctor appointment to which we had arrived quite early (it was our first visit and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to arrive).  In the same shopping complex was a home brewing store.  I purchased several airlocks and gaskets for less than $2 each.  At home I had my husband drill the appropriate sized holes in some of the plastic lids now available for mason jars—some standard sized and some wide-mouth.  I can now use the airlock lids on pint, quart, or half-gallon jars depending on how many cukes I harvest at once. Note: I also purchase some silicone lid gaskets as these plastic lids aren’t absolutely air tight on their own.

Pickle Pebbles—When researching the whole fermenting process I came across a company that makes glass weights to keep the fermenting food under the surface of the liquid.  At the time they only sold standard sized weights (and I’ve been able to fit 2-3 at the top of my wide-mouth jars.  Now they’ve come out with Pickle Pebbles Plus+ for the larger openings.

I’ve heard several tips for keeping pickles crunchy when canning—cutting off the blossom end of the cucumber, keeping the cukes in ice water until your ready to can them, and adding a leaf with high tannin levels to the jar (grape, horseradish, oak or black tea).  While we have abundant oak leaves at our disposal, I don’t think I want to learn what they taste like.  I bought some organic black tea bags and added one (with the paper tag cut off).

For seasoning I used some heads of dill straight from the garden and cloves of garlic.  I threw in a few shakes of pickling spice I had on hand fow extra measure. I left my cucumbers whole, or nearly whole while they were fermenting and sliced them after they’d reached a taste I was happy with.  Of course I sampled a few and they really were still crunchy and delicious.  You can see, I’m already working on my second batch!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Review: Prasso Ministries

Since we began homeschooling eight years ago, we’ve always started our day with Bible study.  It represents the place God should have in our lives and let’s face it…sometimes we can really use the prayer as we start the day.  This fall my Schnickelfritz will officially become a teenager (gulp), so this summer I’ve been checking out a Bible study for this age range published by Prasso Ministries.  The thirteen week curriculum consists of two spiral-bound books the Teen Prasso Teacher's Manual and Homework Manual.  To be clear, I used the Bible study myself, not my son.  I worked in the Homework Manual during my quiet time and read the message & story from the Teacher’s Manual once a week.

Teen Prasso is designed to be used in a group setting.  There are 13 weeks (or one quarter) of group lessons and the teen will have 12 weeks of homework assignment to complete (no homework after the last lesson).  These are essential as they will be discussed at the next group session.

The Homework Manual (it says Student Journal on the cover) breaks down the weekly material into 5 regular days and a sixth day to rethink everything covered for the week.   Each teen will need their own copy of the Manual.  Most days consist of reading and rewriting scripture verses before writing out what you gathered from the text (usually answering  “What did you learn?).   There are occasions to check boxes, like a list of over 40 choices of ways in which you seek relief from bad circumstances.  I would say the Homework Manual is meant to keep private, so the teen will answer honestly (how many will mark that they turn to anorexia or cutting if they think that mom or a Bible Study leader is going to browse through their book?).  Each week does end with the questions that will be brought up at group discussion so the teen can prepare answers.

Teen Prasso Student Journal

The Teacher’s Manual provides most of the material needed for a weekly group study.  There is an ongoing story about two teenaged hikers and their dealing with a past family tragedy as well as  current dangers.  Then there’s the Message portion—what I’d call the lecture or lesson.    Each week also includes an outline with some additional material the teacher will also need to prepare (e.g. verses to look up and read, questions to ask, preparations to make for next week).  Each group lesson alternates back and forth between sections of the story and the message. 

My Opinion:

Let’s start with the group lessons from the Teacher’s Manual.  The hiker story is absolutely engaging—I even read ahead to finish it before the review was over.  The Bible teaching is sound and speaks to teens on their level.  Reading it on my own, I preferred to read all the sections of the story and then all the sections of the message rather than alternate.  I suppose this old brain needs continuity to stay focused. On the other hand, I know my son would be wondering in his head about what would happen next when we got back to the hikers and probably would miss most of the lesson if he heard this in a group situation.

I had no problems with writing out the Bible verses daily.  It’s one thing to read the verse, but the act of putting it in your own handwriting really makes you slow down and ponder the words, whether you mean to or not.  My son, on the other hand has dysgraphia,  and would find all the writing very frustrating. 

Because Teen Prasso is really designed to be done with group discussions, we won’t be using it for our Bible study this fall.  If I were leading a Sunday School class or Bible study, I’d sure keep this Teen Bible curriculum in mind.  I think it could work with young adults as well as teens.


Prasso Ministries Review

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Words of Thomas Jefferson

Considering it’s the 4th of July, you may think that I’m going to refer to Jefferson’s most famous document—the Declaration of Independence.  Instead, in light of some recent court rulings I would like to share quotes on Jefferson’s view of the Supreme Court.

In an 1820 letter written to William Jarvis

You seem …. to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions;  a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.  Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so.  They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps.  Their maxim is “boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem,” and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control.  The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots….The judges certainly have more frequent occasion to act on constitutional questions, because the laws of meum and tuum and of criminal action, forming the great mass of the system of law, constitute their particular department.  When the legislative or executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity.  The exemption of the judges from that is quite dangerous enough.  I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves ;  and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

In a letter to Judge Spencer Roane, Sept. 6, 1819

The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.

In a letter to Justice William Johnson, June 12, 1823

On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the test, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.  [emphasis added]

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