Thursday, December 26, 2013

IEW's 12 Days of Christmas Giving

If you're interested in learning more about the Institute for Excellence in Writing, sign up for their 12 Days of Christmas Giving! From December 26th - January 6th, you will receive an email with a special link to download a free gift.

Click here to register, and see today's gift!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Comfort Food for the Holidays

When I was growing up, I was blessed to live next door to both sets of my grandparents. I am not sure my parents always felt that way, as it did present some unique family challenges, but I loved it. My Grandma Shauver passed away almost 5 years ago, and I miss her terribly. The holidays can be hard when you're missing loved ones, as many of us know.

However, as I set my heart on remembering all the things I loved about her, I can't help but remembering how she loved to cook. She was a particularly excellent baker, and even made my wedding cake. One thing I especially loved was her macaroni and cheese. I collect mac & cheese recipes, but hers remains one of my favorites.

When I was a newlywed, I asked her for her recipe. I was just learning to cook on my own and wasn't very confident in my skills. I will never forget the phone conversation we had:
Grandma: First, cook your macaroni.
Me: How much?
Grandma: It depends on the number of people you want to feed.
Me: Um... all right. What's next?
Grandma: After it's cooked and drained, add some milk until it sloshes.
Me: What? How much is that?
Grandma: It depends on how much macaroni you have.
Me: (confused, but willing to continue) Ok, what's next?
Grandma: Then you add an egg or two.
Me: How many?
Grandma: It depends on how much macaroni you cooked.
Do you sense a theme in our conversation? I will never forget "milk until it sloshes." I seem to recall measuring and writing down a recipe back then, because I just couldn't wrap my brain around listening for milk to slosh. However, it really did work that way, just like she said, and that's how I make it now.

Recently, I made it to take to a church potluck. My dish was emptied quickly, and our pastor said at the end of the meal that several people had asked for the recipe. I was shocked! This is not what anyone would call "gourmet." It's quick to prepare and requires no planning, as long as you have the basic ingredients on hand, which I usually do. I made it because I learned of the dinner on the day it was happening and didn't have time to come up with anything more creative. However, it went over so well, this just might be my "signature" pot luck dish. I couldn't find the recipe I wrote down years ago, but I figured it out again for my church friends, and thought I'd share it with you as well. Click the link below for a printable version. I do hope you enjoy it!

I would love to hear of any favorite family recipes you'd like to share. I enjoy hearing about different family traditions and memories.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What's Your Blood Type?

Do you know what your blood type is? I know mine, because it was written on the little cards on the bassinets at the hospital when my babies were born. Actually, I wasn't sure if it was my blood type or theirs, but it turns out to have been mine: AB+. I asked my husband, and said he's pretty sure his blood type is O-.

At our last co-op meeting for 2013, my friend Sara, had us all test our blood types for nature study. She got some kits, which included cards, anti-A serum, anti-B serum, and anti-Rh serum, along with color-coded toothpick stirrers and needles to poke our fingers. The needles were pretty big, so she very kindly allowed us to use the finger-poker they use with their diabetic son.

First, we watched this helpful video explaining about blood types:

After poking my finger, I put a drop of blood in each of three spots on my card, then added the appropriate serum and mixed them. After a few minutes, I could see where my blood was beginning to clot and where it was not. My blood clotted with both the anti-A serum and the anti-B serum, but not the anti-Rh serum, so I knew I had both the A protein and the B protein, and my Rh was positive.

It was fascinating to see how the kids' blood types turned out! Of course, none of them was going to be the same as mine, as they got half their DNA from their dad and he's O-. Turns out we have 5 separate blood types in our family:

Beth: AB+
Todd: O-
Emma: AO-
Abbie: AO+
Isaac: BO+

When Sara's boys were tested, they were surprised by some of the results. Sara and her husband both testsed Rh negative, but a couple of the boys tested Rh positive. A bit of quick research showed that you can have one positive Rh allele and on negative. Genetics are never as simple as they seem, are they?

I learned that while Todd is a "universal donor," meaning his blood type can be donated to anyone as long as they are Rh-. I, on the other hand, am a "universal recipient," meaning I can receive blood from anyone, but I can't donate to anyone unless they have my specific blood type.

This was a neat experiment! It goes along with biology and anatomy/physiology studies, and it's just fun to do even if you're not specifically studying those subjects, too. Of course, if we need to know our blood types for an official reason, we'll ask the doctor or donate blood. :-)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nothing says Christmas like...

A praying mantis! Am I right? Okay, I'm just kidding.

My children found a praying mantis on our front porch in early-mid November. At least, I think that's when it was. Emma and I tag-teamed and caught it, and put it in our little critter carrier - one of those plastic boxes with a vented lid which we keep handy for just such an occasion. We had a fish tank sitting empty with no fish, so the girls got busy and cleaned that out while Isaac and I zipped over to purchase crickets, a mesh and coconut bedding. We found some nice climbing sticks, and with a small plastic dish for water we got our new friend settled into her home. I don't normally keep living creatures we find outside as permanent residents, but I knew this mantid was nearing the end of her life if left outside, and thought in this case it would be all right.

I haven't found any good living books about mantids, so if you know of one, I'd love for you to share it with me. I went to my trusty Handbook of Nature Study for information, only to learn that Miss Comstock didn't cover them in her volume. I was able to learn a bit from our nature guides, and beyond that, I'm just going to share what we've observed about her while she's been with us.

We named her Scipio Alfred Manty, a name which seemed to fit this elegant insect. It happens to be a boy's name, because we assumed she was a boy and had no idea how to figure out whether she was or not when she first came to us. However, after some searching on the internet, I learned that females have five abdominal sections, while males have more. We counted - a task made simpler because she spends most of her time hanging upside down on the lid of her cage - and found five sections. At least, we were pretty sure. It's hard to tell through the mesh and I wasn't keen to try to flip her over when we had her out of the cage. Our suspicions of her being female were confirmed last week when she laid a large egg case. I'm in the process of procuring something that will hold the little mantids when they hatch, because otherwise I think we'll have at least a hundred of the little beasties running around the house, and that would fun for no one except the cats.

So, what have we observed about this beautiful creature? First, she has become quite used to me and my family, and can distinguish between us. She seems to trust me most, and is fairly comfortable with the girls holding her, but she is not as keen to hang out with Isaac, although you can see from the picture that she has been amenable to hanging out with him occasionally. It did take her a few days before she determined she could trust us not to hurt her, but once she decided to like us, she would come right over and climb out on a proffered hand when we lifted the lid of her cage.

She doesn't seem to be able to see underneath herself at all. Her eyes are
positioned on top of her head, and when she climbs on us, she feels carefully with each foot to make sure she has solid footing before proceeding. Her eyes themselves are fascinating. Sometimes they appear to be clear with small black pupils, while at other times they are completely black. I read that because they are diurnal, or prefer the day, their daytime eyesight is better than their night vision, and her eyes do seem to darken at night, so perhaps that has something to do with it.

She is an amazing predator. The first time we put a cricket in her cage, we watched her head turn quickly as she locked her gaze on her unfortunate prey. We weren't able to see her capture it, but a short while later we found her happily munching away, hanging from the top of her cage. Her jaws are incredible. Perhaps all insects have mandibles like this, or at least the carnivorous ones, but this is the first time I've been able to observe them in action up close. They have several parts and seem to operate from side to side, rather than up and down as people's do. We were able to feed her a cricket from a pair of tweezers and observe her eating up close. I tried to post a video, but I'm having an issue with it, so I'll try to fix it when my in-house tech support gets home.

Let's see, what else? She has wings, but prefers to walk. She's never tried to fly, and we've had her out all over the house, climbing on us and the furniture. Her front legs have some wicked spikes on them, and it hurts when she stabs with them! She got Emma's hand while we were trying to catch her, and once I made the mistake of trying to pick her up and she got my finger. I didn't make that mistake again! She can climb just about anything, although last night she did slip off a  plastic spray bottle on our side table (kept for squirting naughty kittens away from the Christmas tree).

When she's observing something, she sways back and forth. She reminds me of a snake charmer when she does that. I read that it might help her distinguish something moving (such as prey) from the rest of her surroundings. In the wild it also seems to help with camouflage.

She is quite fastidious and often cleans her feet. She is very cat-like in that way.

Since she laid her eggs, she's slowed down quite a bit and seems less agile. I'm afraid her time with us might be nearing its end, and indeed, if she had remained outside she would have laid her eggs and perished with the first frost. I'm delighted to have had a few weeks observing and getting to know her. I never thought I'd welcome an insect into the house like this, but we've had a great time and learned lots.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Fun Living Math!

Someone just shared a link on Facebook to the Arithmetic Village website. The author, Kimberly Moore, wrote some fun little books to introduce arithmetic concepts to children, and she is now offering them as a free download! She also has some cool printables to go along with them.  Here's how you get the download:

  1. Go to her online store. Click on the "Free for download" link. You will be asked to sign up for her newsletter.
  2. You will get two emails - a "welcome" and a "confirm your subscription" message. Confirm your subscription; you'll get a "subscription confirmed" email.
  3. In a little while, you will receive another email with the link to download your files. 
I know this seems a little silly, but all the emails you receive are titled "Arithmetic Village Free Downloads," and it can be a little confusing.

I wasn't asked to review the books, just thought they looked like a nice way to "play math." Check them out!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Season of Thanksgiving

Our church service yesterday was just beautiful. I tried to recreate part of it to share with you. Imagine yourself coming into our little church with the lovely stained glass window, sit down on one of our blue-covered pews, and enjoy some beautiful music.

Psalm 100:4-5
Enter into his courts with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Come, ye thankful people come, raise the song of harvest home
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storm begins
God, our maker doth provide for our wants be satisfied
Come to God's own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

For the beauty of the earth
For the beauty of the skies
For the love from which our birth over and around us lies
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of thankful praise!

Give to our God immortal praise;
Mercy and truth are all His ways:
Wonders of grace to God belong,
Repeat His mercies in your song.

Psalm 131:6
O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.

Praise, O praise our God and King
Hymns of adoration sing
For His mercies still endure
Ever faithful, ever sure.

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain
For purple mountain's majesties above the fruited plain
America, America, God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices 
Who wondrous things has done in whom this world rejoices
Who from our mother's arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Nothing That Eats

I don't get to read for pleasure as much as I'd like these days, so I was glad to have the opportunity to review At Home In Dogwood Mudhole: Nothing That Eats by Franklin Sanders. After I read the sample chapter (take a look here) I was looking forward to it! I received a paperback copy to read.

Mr. Sanders is a proud Southerner, born and raised in Tennessee, and passionate about Southern history and heritage. He and his family made the move to a farm in Dogwood Mudhole in 1999, in preparation for the potential and predicted end of the world as we knew it when Y2K hit. This book is the first in a trilogy, a compilation of newsletters he's written for subscribers to his monthly publication for his business, The Moneychanger. The book  is 379 pages long, and is divided into four sections: "Leaving Memphis Five Miles at a Time," "Living in the Country Changes You," "Learning Curve,"  and "A Real Farm." Within each section, the newsletters are dated and titled.

In this first book, I journeyed with his family as they left Memphis and moved to their farm. They began as a one nuclear family, Franklin and Susan and their seven children, which then grew with marriages and grandchildren. Mr. Sanders shares his faith in God and love for his wife and family unashamedly. He also shares contact information on business he likes, particularly local restaurants and such he's visited and enjoyed while traveling.Although they started out their life on their farm insisting they would get "nothing that eats," they somehow acquired chickens, horses, cattle, pigs, and sheep, and lots of dogs.

I had a hard time getting into this book in the beginning. Mr. Sanders wrote a lot about his passion for Southern history, particularly centered on the Civil War (which he calls the War for Southern Independence). I found myself wanting very much to argue with him, actually, about quite a lot of things. However, I enjoyed being challenged by what he wrote, and appreciated this passage:
"I thought I knew a lot about Southern culture and history when I started down this road. I had a college education and several years of graduate school. In fact, I didn't know anything much worth knowing, and have to throttle back my anger over what I was never taught, the history and wisdom of statesmen and of keen students of human nature and values of love and family and eternal things and of the painful, prickly truth at all costs. The value of tasting and loving, instead of gobbling your way through." (p. 22)
I was reminded of an American history course I took in college, in which my professor told us that history is subjective. How could that be, I wondered? Isn't history simply presentation of facts? Oh, how little I knew then! This isn't the place for that discussion, but while Mr. Sanders and I do not agree on some things, the last line in the above quote particularly resonated with me. The only thing I know as I walk through this life is that I have much to learn, and I think Mr. Sanders is a lifelong learner, as I strive to be.

I grew up in rural Michigan, and my parents built their house on a little piece of my grandfather's farm. My other grandparents built a house next door to ours. I loved growing up on the farm, and have wonderful memories of living in the country. While we were certainly not farmers, my grandfather did work his farm, and kept a few cows and grew hay and corn for them. I got to help with the haying once - I thought I would never get all the dust out of my nose. I loved reading how the Sanders family learned to be farmers, to live the agrarian life, and care for all their animals. They've had some adventures! I learned a lot about farm animals and their care.

The blurb on the Dogwood Mudhole website says this book, and the two that follow, contain the story of the Sanders' family's attempt to live an authentic life. Mr. Sanders is certainly authentic. He shares his triumphs and failures, his faith and struggles, and covering it all, his love of the Lord and his family. The book is well-written, and although a slightly different style than most books, since it's made up of newsletters, it's well worth the read. I do believe my favorite parts were when Mr. Sanders described how he could smell the onset of spring each year. Here is one:
"Y'all may remember that I am near sighted and none to sharp of hearing, but I can smell a rose at six hundred yards, so spring constantly intoxicates me. First comes the clover, then the faint, piquant smell of blackberry blooms. After that there is the sharp-sweet smell of rambling roses, then wham! The honeysuckle hits. Underneath it all—I promise I'm not making this up—the pale, sweet, green smell of new vegetation." (p. 354)

And just one more quote. When Todd and I were first married and living in Michigan, I remember one January the temperature got up to something crazy like 60 degrees F. My daffodils were coming up and I can remember encouraging them to go back into the ground, or they would surely regret it. I knew the warm weather wouldn't hold, and I loved Mr. Sanders' description of an unseasonable warm spell:
"Birds make the difference. The weather may warm up, the crocuses may croak, and the daffodils may daff, but until you get birds, it's only a quirky warm snap." (p. 328)
I have enjoyed reading this book, and I hope you will read it, too. It's written for adults, but I wouldn't hesitate to hand it to one of my children to read if they were interested. It's a lot of fun. It puts me in mind of James Herriot's adventures as a new vet: steep learning curve with lots of joy on the journey. It made me want to visit the farm at Dogwood Mudhole, meet the Sanders family and all their animals, and get to know them a bit. That, to me, is a good book, when it makes me want to visit.

At Home in Dogwood Mudhole: Nothing That Eats is available for $22.95 in paperback, and $16.95 for a Kindle/ePub/PDF version.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew!

MEP Math - Week 1, Day 2

We're on day 2 of MEP, year 1, and there is another poster with more stories to tell! (PDF lesson plans here, poster here; we're on week 1, day 2, poster 10.)

The Mouse Meeting - Belling the Cat, another fable from Aesop

The mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of  their claws that they hardly dared stir from the dens by night or day.

Many plans were discussed, but none of these was thought good enough. At last a very young Mouse got up and said:

"I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful, All we have to do is hang a bell about the Cat's neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming."

All the mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said:

"I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the cat?"

It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite another matter to do it.

The wolf and seven little kids - A Grimm Fairy Tale; I'm not going to post it here, because it's rather long, but the link takes you to a page where you can read it or print it.

The wedding of Cricket and Mouse - I have nothing for this one. Not a clue. Guess we'll be making it up.

Little pig and the wolves - One begins to wonder if the person thinking up these stories remembers things incorrectly, or if their parents made up their own versions of folk tales. The only thing I could come up with for this one is The Three Little Pigs, an English folk tale. If you know of a story about a pack of wolves chasing one pig up a tree, please tell me! This is another longer tale, so I won't put the text here, but the link takes you to two different versions of the story.

The ugly duckling - We know the story of the Ugly Duckling, who turns out to be a swan! This tale comes from Anderson's fairy tales, and can be found here.

In the lesson, you tell the story about each picture, and then count the number of living creatures and put a dot in a box for each one. If you look at the poster, you'll see the boxes for the dots. I tell shortened versions of the stories, because the lesson would take much too long for my busy little man if we read the long versions every time. I do find it helpful to know the stories, though, because it's much easier to summarize than to make it up myself.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

MEP Math, Year 1, Lesson 1

I'm using Mathematical Enhancement Programme (MEP) Math with Isaac this year, because I've heard such good things about it from other Charlotte Mason educators. Also, it's free - all the files can be downloaded and printed, or viewed electronically if you prefer. I would recommend printing the workbook for your student, but you could easily use the lesson plans on a tablet or computer. I did look at this when the girls were younger, but thought it was confusing. I looked at it again a few months ago, and it's not terribly confusing. I don't know if I'm more comfortable teaching math now, or what, but it seems very do-able, so here we are.

Anyhoo, in the very first lesson, we were instructed to look at a poster number 9 with five pictures, and tell the story about each picture. The links are to PDF files, in case you'd like to see what I'm talking about. If we weren't familiar with the stories, we were supposed to make them up. I have a hard time with making things up. I like to have All The Things ready to go, and can get stuck if I don't have them. I decided to look up the stories, and post them for other people who might have the same issue. I found them all except "The carrot comes home." I have never heard of a story like that. If you know it, and could link me to a book or online story, I would really appreciate it. My curiosity has been piqued.

The Little Cockerel's Golden Penny - Fable from Aesop, also called "The Cock and the Pearl" or "The Cock and the Jewel."

A Cock was busily scratching and scraping about to find something to eat for himself and his family, when he happened to turn up a precious jewel that had been lost by its owner.

"Aha!" said the Cock. "No doubt you are very costly and he who lost you would give a great deal to find you. But as for me, I would choose a single grain of barleycorn before all the jewels in the world."

Precious things are without value to those who cannot prize them.

Two Stubborn Goats - "The Two Goats" in Milo Winter's version:

Two Goats, frisking gayly on the rocky steeps of a mountain valley, chanced to meet, one on each side of a deep chasm through which poured a mighty mountain torrent. The trunk of a fallen tree formed the only means of crossing the chasm, and on this not even two squirrels could have passed each other in safety. The narrow path would have made the bravest tremble. Not so our Goats. Their pride would not permit either to stand aside for the other.

One set her foot on the log. The other did likewise. In the middle they met horn to horn. Neither would give way, and so they both fell, to be swept away by the roaring torrent below.
It is better to yield than to come to misfortune through stubbornness.

The Three Rabbits - This seems to be a Turkish tale, and I found a nice retelling, which I've linked. I'm not posting the entire thing because it's done by a storyteller, and I don't want to infringe on a copyright. He has a button on the page to print the story. He also has a version of the Two Goats story.

The Bird with Borrowed Feathers - Another fable from Aesop, "The Vain Jackdaw and His Borrowed Feathers:"

A Jackdaw chanced to fly over the garden of the King's palace. There he saw with much wonder and envy a flock of royal Peacocks in all the glory of their splendid plumage.

Now the black Jackdaw was not a very handsome bird, nor very refined in manner. Yet he imagined that all he needed to make himself fit for the society of the Peacocks was a dress like theirs. So he picked up some castoff feathers of the Peacocks and stuck them among his own black plumes.

Dressed in his borrowed finery he strutted loftily among the birds of his own kind. Then he flew down into the garden among the Peacocks. But they soon saw who he was. Angry at the cheat, they flew at him, plucking away the borrowed feathers and also some of his own.

The poor Jackdaw returned sadly to his former companions. There another unpleasant surprise awaited him. They had not forgotten his superior airs toward them, and, to punish him, they drove him away with a rain of pecks and jeers.

Borrowed feathers do not make fine birds.

All the fables come from Milo Winter's version of Aesop, which is what I have at home and have used with my children. The website I linked has fables in English, Latin and Greek. Isn't that cool? You could have a lot of fun with that, if you were learning Latin and Greek.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


On the day after Halloween, Isaac and I made a quick trip to Lowe's, looking for a couple of things for a science project, and he found some little pie pumpkins in the gardening section. He really wanted to make them into pumpkin pies, or so he told me. I agreed to buy two of them, and he came home a very happy boy.

When we got home, he informed me he wanted to carve the pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns. That was not in my game plan for the day, so we compromised on him drawing faces on the pumpkins with marker. He got Abbie to help them, and they had a great time with their faces. I'll leave it to you to determine which child drew which face.

As soon as they were done, Isaac was instantly ready to carve the pumpkins. Do you know what he brought out for us to use? His child-safe knives, and children's bowls and spoons from Ikea. Bless him, he did, in fact, carve his own pumpkin with his little knife (to which he referred as his "chainsaw").  I was impressed by his perseverance and results! (I did have a larger knife and bowl for my own use, as well as a real spoon. Cowardly of me, I know.)

We both sat out on the driveway and carved our pumpkins. Isaac wasn't at all grossed out by the pumpkin guts, which was nice, because my girls have been known to be squeamish. He helped me get all the seeds out, too, without complaint. He did let me take over and finish up his pumpkin towards the end, and I was glad he did, because he was busily cutting it into rather small pieces, and the instructions I had said to cut the pumpkins in half to bake them.

Once the pumpkins were baked, I ran the flesh through a Foley food mill so we'd have puree for pies. Isaac was very clear that we would be making pies from our pumpkin, not muffins, bread, or cookies.

I had never cooked pumpkins before, and honestly, had never been inspired to try. This was fun, though, and even though it was a bit labor-intensive, I'm glad Isaac talked me in to getting the pumpkins. We ended up with lots of seeds for roasting, and about 3 cups of pumpkin puree after all was said and done. I'll try to remember to post pictures of the pies when we bake them.

One more picture: one of our kittens, Percy, decided he REALLY likes cooked pumpkin! He begged for it, and even growled at the other kitten when she came over to see what he was eating, in case she was missing out. She sniffed it and quickly backed away as if offended by the odor, and Percy was left to finish it all by himself. I have had cats who would eat some strange things, but pumpkin was a first! Perhaps it's because he's a pumpkin-colored cat?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

REVIEW: Chemistry & Physics, Apologia

Apologia Educational Ministries, a well-known publisher of many different homeschool resources, has just released their latest science program in their Young Explorers Series:  Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics. We received the following items:

The Notebooking Journal is appropriate for upper elementary students, in approximately 4th-6th grades. The Junior Notebooking Journal is intended for younger elementary students, approximately K-3rd graders, who haven't quite mastered handwriting. The junior journal includes coloring pages or other activities instead of some of the writing assignments, and elementary handwriting lines for copywork.

The notebooks include lesson plans, which schedule 2 days of lessons per week, for 28 weeks of lessons. The first five lessons cover chemistry (topics include matter, atoms, compounds, and mixtures), and the remaining 9 cover physics (motion, energy, sound, light, thermal energy, electricity, magnetism, and simple machines). The book is written in a conversational style to the student, which all my children enjoy. It's so much nicer than reading a traditional textbook!

I chose to read the textbook aloud with all three of my children, and then have them narrate the reading and discuss what we'd learned. Then, we worked on experiments. I found the lessons as scheduled to be a bit lengthy for my 6-year-old. It worked better for us to break the lessons into 4 days most of the time. Also, my son wasn't quite ready for the junior notebooking journal, because he doesn't like to color and doesn't write at all, so we set that aside. We all enjoyed the experiments, though! I'd have to say my favorite was the density experiment, in which we poured several different liquid substances (honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, whole milk, dish soap, water, vegetable oil, rubbing alcohol) into a tall, thin vase and dropped different objects (a game die, a popcorn kernel, and a grape tomato, for example) into it to see where they stopped. We all formed a hypothesis for where we thought each object would land, and were surprised by the results! (The tomato stopped in the dish soap. I really thought it would sink to the bottom!)

While the notebooking journals are not required to use the textbook, they are a really nice addition to the program. First of all, all the pages are nicely spiral bound, which means children can't lose them. How many times have we started a binder, only to have papers spread about the house? I don't think I will tell you, actually, because that would be so embarrassing! There are also additional activities in the notebooking journals if your child is interested in pursuing the topics further. The activities are the same in both the junior and regular notebooks. Example: for Lesson 3, "Building Blocks of Creation," one of the suggested activities is to make a memory game out of the first 100 elements in the Periodic Table. You put the symbol on one card and the name on the other, and then try to match the symbols to the names. What a great idea! Mrs. Fullbright also includes book suggestions for each chapter for supplemental reading.

There is a link on the bottom of the Apologia site called "Book Extras." In the front of the textbook, there is a password which allows you to gain access to information related to the page of Chemistry and Physics links and printables. There are links to various activities and videos correlated with each chapter in the book for further exploration. There are some free notebooking pages if you'd like your student to have some structure for creating their notebook, or just want to try out note booking before you decide if you want to purchase the journal.

One thing I love about this curriculum is the way it presents concepts to elementary students so that they understand, but are not "dumbed down." In lesson one, we learned about the difference between mass and volume, and I thought the illustrations were excellent. First, we saw a picture of two loaves of bread, both with exactly the same ingredients, but for some reason, one had risen but one had not. They both had the same mass, but clearly not the same volume. Another example showed one girl with smooth, straight hair next to a picture of a girl with very curly hair. No question which hair had more volume! Along with narration, which is key to students making what they learn their own, the activities and experiments do an excellent job of illustrating the concepts and helping students understand the "why" of what they're reading. I enjoy learning along with my children so much, and it's always a joy to discover something that helps me teach them in such an engaging way.

This was our second experience with Apologia's Young Explorers Series, and I really am impressed by how well this curriculum is put together. As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I know there are many, many living science books out there, and for me, it's worth seeking them out and putting things together for myself. However, sometimes there just isn't time, or life intervenes, and it's a tremendous blessing and time saver to have someone else put the plans together. Apologia offers a wonderful homeschool science resource.

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Thursday, November 07, 2013


It's no secret that I'm always looking for ways to help my children practice math skills. I have one in particular who can use all the practice she can get. So, I was excited to have the opportunity to review IXL. is a website that offers math practice for PreK through 12th grade, and language arts for 2nd-4th grade (more to come). They are aligned with Common Core State Standards, as well as individual state standards, if you need that for your homeschool. We received a 1-year membership for the purpose of this review, and all three of my children used it: kindergarten, 7th grade and 8th grade.

IXL's website offers practice problems that remind me of an electronic workbook. The problems are more like math drills than games. There isn't much there to distract students, which is good. They have skills listed out separately, so it's easy to have students work on specific skills. Students can work at any level, so if they are advanced they can work ahead and if they need to catch up they can use previous levels. There is also an iPad app, free to download, and you can log into your IXL account for mobile practice. It's perfect for using while waiting for siblings at activities or long car rides.

Students earn little rewards for meeting goals within the program, such as practicing for a certain amount of time or mastering skills. This feature wasn't a huge draw for my kids, but could make it more fun, working toward a goal to uncover the next picture. Here is what Isaac's board looks like:

Isaac did all right with IXL. He wasn't a huge fan;  it wasn't terribly interesting to him. One issue I had with it for him was that although there was an audio option so he could hear the instructions, if he answered incorrectly, the explanation wasn't able to be read. He could hear the correct answer, but since he's not reading yet, he couldn't read how to solve the problem correctly. I had to sit with him while he practiced, which was fine, except that I'd prefer something he could do independently so I could be free to work with the girls.

The girls were better able to utilize IXL. I didn't think they'd like it much, but they both said while it wasn't the most fun they'd ever had, they felt it was effective. I had to laugh, because Emma decided to try some of the language arts, and she didn't do very well. I was quite concerned when I looked at the material, because the questions she missed were so easy. She's in 8th grade, and IXL currently has language arts for 2nd-4th grades.  However, when I tried them myself, I missed quite a few because I didn't read the instructions carefully for each one. That was a good lesson for us both - we need to read the actual instructions and not assume we know what we're supposed to do!

As the parent, I received weekly progress reports for each student, showing both the amount of time they spent practicing and how well they were doing. I did like that the kids were practicing problems written in the same style they might see on their tests we do each year. They don't take the same end-of-grade tests used in public schools, but we do have to administer yearly tests in North Carolina, and sometimes they've struggled when questions are worded differently than they've seen in the curriculum we use. It's good for them to experience different ways of learning the same information.

In summary, IXL offers a solid, basic math practice program that allows children to practice all the necessary skills according to state standards. I plan to continue to have my girls use it as necessary, particularly since I can put the app on their iPads. It will reinforce what they're learning, and perhaps fill in any holes they might have in their math knowledge. I will probably not have Isaac continue. He doesn't need the extra math practice yet. I could see this being a great fit for folks using a traditional, textbook-style math curriculum, and for afterschoolers. 

IXL offers family memberships to their website for $9.99 per month or $79 per year, for one student using math. You can add additional children to your family membership for $2 per month or $20 per year, and you can add language arts for $50 total for the year. So, for my three children, we'd pay $169 per year for all of them to have access to math and language arts. Make sense?

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

REVIEW: Rosie's Doll Clothes Patterns

Did you learn to sew as a child? I did! I had the great fortune to be in a 4-H club, and my leader taught me to sew. My mom taught me a lot, too, and loves to remind me of the countless seams she had me take out to do over. I've wanted to teach my girls to sew, but wasn't sure where to start. I was delighted to have the opportunity to review Rosie's Doll Clothes Patterns! For this review, I received a 12-month online subscription to her sewing program.

Rosie's program consists of over 130 tutorial videos, which you can purchase on DVD or use online with a 12-month subscription. It's recommended for ages 8 and up. As you work through the course, Rosie provides 8 patterns for different items to sew for your 18" doll:

  • Sport shorts
  • Crop top
  • Sarong
  • Halter top
  • Summer nightie
  • Ruffled hat
  • Pumpkin costume
  • Underpants

The nice thing about these patterns is that you print them at home with your printer. No tissue paper pattern pieces - woo hoo! The pieces are simple to cut out, too, which is great for beginning sewers. The written instructions are nice, but you really need to watch the videos to understand what to do fully. I *love* having the videos. We watched some more than once, making sure we understood the instructions. Rosie has a lovely, cheerful voice with an Australian accent, and we enjoyed listening to her. While we were sewing, if we couldn't remember exactly what to do, we just went back to the video. Actually, I was the one going back to the videos. The girls caught on quickly and were instructing *me.* That's a little embarrassing to admit!

Each week, there are videos to watch that teach you about everything from the basics of fabric (woven vs. knit, nap, one-directional fabric, etc.) all the way through elastic and even puff sleeves! Every doll needs at least one dress with puff sleeves, don't you think? In addition to teaching basic sewing skills, Rosie shares great tips that are specific to doll clothes, as well, such as sewing hems first. have you ever tried to sew the hem on the sleeve of a doll's dress after you sewed the sleeve? It's not fun.

The patterns are a great way to practice the skills you learn from the videos. The first pattern, Sport Shorts, is quite simple, and is a nice, quick project to get your feet wet and build confidence - simple seams, waistband with elastic, and hemming. Then, when you sew the crop top, you build on those skills with top stitching, and a garment that goes together in a really nifty way.

Although I know how to sew, and have made doll clothes before, I learned a lot from Rosie's videos. Also, she taught everything in such a way that it seemed simple and clear to the girls, who picked right up on sewing. She teaches everything in a sequential manner so that you avoid a lot of frustration. For example, I don't think I would have remembered to tell the girls that you should watch the guide lines on the needle plate of the sewing machine so that you sew in a straight line, rather than watching the needle go up and down. I would have assumed they would just do that, when in reality, they had never used a sewing machine before and would not have known. Things like that saved a great deal of frustration and seam ripping. I also learned about some new-to-me sewing tools, such as the loop turner and the bodkin. Rosie taught me, too, that rotary cutters can be used for cutting out all kinds of pattern pieces, and not just straight lines!

My 12 year old jumped right in and had a great time sewing. She is the one who would show me how things worked when I had an issue (usually from trying to figure things out without watching the video or reading the instructions carefully enough), and would say "No, Mom, it goes like this." My 13 year old was less excited about trying something new, and resisted a little, until she saw how easy it was. Once she completed her shorts, she was having a good time, and she loved how the crop top came together! It really is an ingenious pattern, but not difficult at all to sew.

Unfortunately, we had a lot of sewing machine issues, so we didn't get as far as we'd hoped in sewing our doll clothes. However, we each completed a pair of shorts and a crop top, and we're looking forward to working through the rest of the patterns. We're going to sew lots of clothes for my little nieces' American Girl dolls for Christmas, so keep an eye out for pictures!

Rosie's online video course is available through her website for $47.46 (It's $49.94 AUD, since she's in Australia, and the price could fluctuate slightly with the exchange rates). She's also offering a special from now through December 24, 2013: if you purchase her program, she will include an extra pattern of your choice for FREE! That brings the total number of patterns you get up to 9. What a great gift idea for that special girl who wants to learn to sew!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

White Chili: It's What's for Dinner

It's been unseasonably cold here lately, and it's put me in the mood for soup. One of my favorite recipes is for white chili. My mother in law gave me this recipe when I was first married and learning to cook. I love it because it's simple, tasty, and quick - very little planning ahead needed. That works very well for me!

Here it is:

  • 1.5 lb. boneless chicken (If I have leftover chicken in the freezer, I use that. I freeze it in 2C bags and just dump one in.)
  • 28 oz. chicken broth (Tonight I used a 32 oz box of chicken broth - shh, don't tell the soup police!)
  • 48 oz cooked Great Northern beans, incl. liquid (Or, 3 cans. I used to be able to get a large jar of Great Northern beans when we lived in Michigan, but not in North Carolina. You could also cook your own beans, but that requires planning ahead. See first paragraph.)
  • 2-3 C chopped onions (You will get about 2 cups from a large onion. Trust me, that's plenty. After I have that sucker chopped up and ready to go, my eyes are watering so badly, I wouldn't dare attempt anything else with a sharp knife.)
  • 2T garlic, minced (I have a giant jar of pre-minced garlic from Sam's. This saves me from learning that my fresh garlic has all sprouted and is now useless. Again, refer to the first paragraph.)
  • 4 oz. green chilies, chopped, including liquid (One of those little cans. I don't have a clue how I'd prepare my own green chilies.)
  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp oregano (I do not like oregano, so I would add half this amount or less.)
  • 1 tsp each cumin and coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (I think that's a lot. My husband likes things spicy and hot, but the rest of us, not so much. I can't remember ever adding this in this recipe.)

You can add any vegetables you like. I usually add 1 C chopped carrots and 1 C chopped celery. You might like to add some corn, or some jalapeños.

  1. Lightly brown the chicken, and dice or chunk to bite size.
  2. Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until soft. (I put the celery and carrots in there too.)
  3. Add chilis to onion and garlic.
  4. Place all ingredients in a pot, bring to a low boil, and serve.

See? Isn't that simple? Here are a couple more notes: 

  • I use my mini-chopper to chop the onions and sometimes the celery. It's not as good for the carrots, though, because if you cut them up too small, they turn the soup orange. That's less visually appealing for this soup. 
  • I use my soup pot to sauté the veggies. No sense in dirtying two pans.
Alongside, I usually try to have a salad and some bread. I know we're all supposed to be eating low-carb and avoiding processed carbs like bread, but soup needs bread. It just does. I might also steam some broccoli if I'm feeling ambitious. 

Let me know if you try this! I hope you like it! Click here for a printable version.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Those Crazy Children

Go outside, I said.

Play with your brother, I said.

What did they do? They colored themselves blue.

Even the dog didn't escape unscathed.