Monday, December 19, 2011

Catching Mabel

Despite all my best efforts, sometimes the animals still get through the fence.  When a fifteen hundred pound jersey cow decides the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, not much is going to keep her in.  So when Mabel decided she wanted a night out with the girls (the neighboring rancher's cows), she just plowed right over the fence.  Luckily, my neighbor, being a  neighborly sort of person, called me and asked if I had a cow and informed me that she was out with his cows.  I searched my entire property and no Mabel.  So I drove over to where he said he saw her, but no Mabel.  I stopped the car and got out and walked the area, finding no trace of her.  I shook the can of 4way grain that I had with me.  Still no luck.  I listened hard, but it was so windy I couldn't even hear the sound of the jeep's engine fifty feet away from me.  Night was  coming on, so I drove around the area in a two mile radius, but no Mabel.  With heavy heart, I went home.  Maybe I could find her in the morning, just past dawn, before the wind came up again.  I prayed she would stay put with my neighbor's cows and not go wandering off with a range herd.  I might never see her again.

After a fitful sleep, I got up and brewed some coffee, gathering lead ropes, halter, grain buckets and some muffins for breakfast.  As soon as the sun peeked over the hills, I got the boy up and threw his clothes over his jammies.  No wind yet, so once again we started with the "point last seen", and there she was, big as a dairy cow, grazing in the middle of my neighbor's field.  I shook the grain bucket and called her name and Marvelous Mabel, who can hear two oat groats rubbing against each other ten acres away and come running, TURNED HER BACK ON ME!!  I walked up to her and hooked up the lead rope and showed her the bucket.  She obligingly stuck her snout in and came up with a mouthful of grain.  I got back into the jeep, holding the lead rope, and coaxed her this way, all the way out to the road, at which point she jerked away from me and ran back across the field into the trees.

Resigned to my fate, I locked up the jeep, got the grain bucket, an extra satchel of grain and the milking halter and hoofed it after her, my son following with an extra lead rope and yet another satchel of grain.  It didn't take long for us to catch up to Mabel and her friends.  The friends ran and hid, but Mabel came for the grain. I slipped the milking halter over her head, with its training chain, and let her get a couple mouthfuls of 4way.  Then we began the one mile trek home.  Mabel only tried to sneak away twice, but the training chain gave her a gentle reminder to stay on course.  Thankfully, it was not as slow-going as I thought it would be, and we got Mabel back into the barn without further incident.  After a ten minute break and some refreshment, we headed back for the jeep.  Without Mabel in tow, the hike was much shorter, and we were back home in time to wash up and go to church.  Lessons learned?  Always keep your cows bred.  Do not let a cow in heat out to graze - especially if your fence needs reinforcing!  Check your fence lines regularly and repair!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Reports

This year we are learning how to do book reports.  Now that third grade homesteader can read quite well, he    can pick out some of his own books at the library.  After our friend and former librarian gave him "Diary of a Wimpy Kid", there has been no stopping him.  Thank you for the genius of Jeff Kinney, in writing his series of graphic novels for elementary age boys.  My older sons did not start reading for pleasure until they were ages 10 and 12, respectively.  And what got them going?  Harry Potter, and Goosebumps.  Never underestimate the power of children's literature.  

Our lesson plans from Catholic Heritage Curriculum provide 3 basic formats to use for book reports - written, oral and hands-on.  For starters we are using the fill-in-the-blank form provided for a beginner's written report.  By the end of the year, the goal is to have him use the decorative lined papers and completely write out his entire report, including narrative detail (why not shoot for the stars?!).  

The oral report format also has simple guidelines for my beginner, with the goal of a dramatic presentation or speech by year's end (no problem there).

The hands-on report format is the most loosely structured, and potentially most creative.  Students are encouraged to use their imagination in creating a project which will tell the story or a part of the story in their chosen book.  Suggestions are:  make a shadow box, a model of part of the story, a storyboard, illustrated story book for a younger sibling or friend, puppet show, etc.  (This could be really fun!!)

I like the variety of choices for book reports that Catholic Heritage Curriculum offers to my 8 year old son.  I see each format helping him to hone his communication skills, written and verbal, in practical ways.  At the same time, he is encouraged to focus on what he is reading, in order to retain the content and relay it to his audience - his family. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tour of Canada

Last year for Social Studies we took a tour of the seven continents.  This year, we are touring ten different countries.  Our first was Canada.  My son filled out his "passport" and I "signed" it.  Next came the travel brochure.  In creating a travel brochure for each country he visits, he has to learn certain information about that country.  Basic information for the first week of study includes drawing a picture of the country's flag, locating it on the map, planning how to get there from here.  Plane? Train?  Automobile?  He decided we should fly into British Columbia, then walk and take the bus to tour the country from there.  Then there is the issue of weather, clothing to bring and what else to pack.  Luckily, we went in September, when the weather is supposed to still be fairly mild.  Will he need a rudimentary vocabulary in that country's language?  For Canada, we planned to learn a few words and phrases in French. 

The second week, a map of Canada is drawn in the travel brochure.  Major bodies of water are labeled, landmarks are drawn in, and the map is colored.  Information on government, climate, population, area and religions are located and noted in the Information Box.

Week three involves research about historical events in the country, as well as specifically Catholic information, such as saints or shrines.  He chose to learn a little about Jacques Cartier's explorations.

For our last week in each country, we get to explore.  We find out about native foods, holidays, native animals and plants, literature, art and music, and anything else of interest.  It all ends up with a pertinent activity and a picture for his passport.  Since hockey is a big sport in Canada, he dressed up in his full hockey gear for his picture.

To enrich our study of Canada, we also watched "Anne of Green Gables" again, discussed Prince Edward Island, and read "The Paper Bag Princess", by a Canadian author. 

This Social Studies curriculum is alot of fun, and I am very pleased that my son is learning about how people live in other parts of the world.  Next stop:  India.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Modest Dressing

I am a convert to modest dressing.  I have only been conciously trying to dress modestly for about eight years now.  Prior to that I was all about fashion and being "appreciated".  I have to put that in quotes because the kind of "appreciation" I got was not really what I was looking for.  In my pursuit of guidelines for modesty, I ran across a book by Colleen Hammond called "Dressing With Dignity", in which she discusses some very unpleasant but true facts about how we dress and how we are treated.  I did some research on my own, and concluded that her evidence was real.  In defense of women, I am not just speaking of us, here.  Modesty is just as important for men.  Women may not be as visual in nature as men, but we do take notice of physical attributes.  And in looking around me when I'm out in "the world", I realize just how important it is to encourage our children to dress modestly.  I mean, is it really that "cute" when little children run around topless, or a first grader bends over and you can see her entire torso?  Do we really think pedophiles are limited to the internet?

While there are many degrees of modesty, from fashionable to frumpy, I think most agree that basic modesty includes covering all cleavage and "privates".  This would include not only necklines and waistbands (as opposed to hip bands), but also sleeve lengths and hemlines.  Ms. Hammond's book gives one of the best basic guidelines I have found.  To paraphrase:  a woman's neckline should be such that cleavage is covered and when you bend over you are not giving a display; sleeve length should be long enough that when you lift your arms, you cannot see through to undergarments or what is underneath.  Also, fabrics should not be sheer or see-through. 

For myself, I prefer dresses and skirts, and I like my hemlines to be mid-calf or below, without slits, wraps or buttons that can inadvertently open to show my legs.  I like my legs just fine, but I don't feel I have to show them off to everybody anymore.  In cooler weather, I add a layer of leggings and socks under the dress.  I prefer my sleeves 3/4 length  or longer, I can always roll them up.  Again, I wear an extra shirt in cooler weather, a sweater is also an option.  I do wear shorter sleeves in hot weather.  I do not bear the burden of excessive cleavage, however, I do try to keep my necklines up near that little dip in my collarbone (forget what it's called).  Sometimes this involves adding a pin to close a low neckline a bit higher, or wrapping and tying a pretty scarf.

As far as head covering, sometimes I do and sometimes I don't.  This is more because of the fact that I have very fine hair that doesn't like to cooperate, and blows wildly in the slightest breeze.  I frequently wear scarves and hats, and have always enjoyed them.  I always try to wear a chapel veil in church, though there are many times I forget, and once in a while choose not to.  But that is a whole 'nuther issue.

Swimsuits are a challenge.  Though there are many options and offerings for modest clothing, there is a severe lack of choices in the swimsuit area.  I love to swim, and for years now, I have been wearing long shorts and a long sleeved tshirt to swim.  I have tried different materials, but unfortunately, the skin tight spandex seems to be the best choice for comfort, quick drying, and coverage.  Lately I have run across some great styles in modest swimwear, and hope to make a new modest swimsuit for myself for next year.  My favorite style is from Simply Modest, and consists of leggings ending just below the knee, and a tunic style shirt with short sleeves (which could be lengthened) and the tunic ending just a few inches above the knee, thereby covering the hip and buttocks area.  I am not sure how this would do in the water, but from my experience with the tshirts, I believe the spandex on the torso would stay put, while the longer area may ride up in the water, but could be smoothed back down upon exiting.  Another trick to keep in mind here, is choosing a patterned material for the top to de-emphasize the cling, and a solid, darker color for the leggings, for a slimming effect.  As for men and boys, I appreciate the long, baggy trunks, held up, of course, to cover their "cleavage", and the mesh shirts, popular for many sports are preferable, in my opinion, to a bare chest.  On a purely practical level, the more covered you are, the less need for sunscreen.

So there you have it - my take on modest dressing.  Now that I'm started, I'm sure I'll have more to say in future posts.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Recycling - Sorting and Storing

Recycling is a big part of our homesteading lifestyle.  Getting the best and most possible use out of everything we have just seems like good sense since we're trying to live simply and keep expenses down.  It also helps to have a place to put things so they are not cluttering up our life.  So recycling is not just about saving every scrap, but also putting it to use. 

For large items, such as lumber, scrap wood, posts, fencing, and potential water tanks, etc., we have a "bone pile", a designated area of the yard where these things are stored until needed.  Things such as "oops" paint, caulking, and other chemicals or supplies that would not do well out in the elements are stored in a shed.  For aluminum drink cans and other household recyclables, we have an old dog run where we have sorting bins.  One for aluminum drink cans, another for tin cans, one for plastics, which are further sorted by number or letter code at the recycling center, one for newspapers, cardboard, glass, etc.  We find this keeps these items from blowing around the yard with our frequent high winds, and the sorting bins keep the project manageable and easier to haul to the recycling center.  Also, when a need arises for a gallon plastic jug, or some newspapers, we know exactly where to find them. 

Inside the house, there is a smaller scale sorting system.  All junk mail, as well as waste from bills, etc., gets sorted into files:  letter size pages with one side blank are used in the copier for copies that don't need to be "official"; smaller papers and envelopes with a blank area are filed for further processing into notepads, which we go through an abundance of; burnable, non-glossy pages are put in the firestarter box, along with toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes, and other small, burnable packaging; glossies go in the trash, as they don't burn well.  When we had a paper shredder, we would shred alot of our junk mail, including glossies, to use as bedding for the animals and nest boxes.  From there, it would go into the compost heap or be used as mulch.

In the kitchen, vegetable and fruit trimmings and peels go into a bucket for the compost heap; other scraps go into a bowl for the dog or chickens; eggshells are dried in a pie pan in the oven (on pilot light), then crushed and fed back to the chickens;  coffee grounds and tea bags go into the compost bucket.  We have a trash can and a recycle can.  All cans, glass, and plastics get rinsed out and placed in the recycle can, later they are sorted into thier containers in our sorting bin area.

In the laundry room, worn out clothes, towels and bedding are washed well and placed in the rag basket.  Some are taken to the workshop for use there.  Some are placed in a mesh bag out in the tool shed to be used as oil rags or for other outdoor purposes.

Of course, many cities now have recycling programs as part of their trash pick up service.  Even so, in the city one can still set up a system that works for their particular situation.  If there is a recycling center nearby, you may wish to bring some items in for cash.  You may want to have a compost bin for your garden; you may want to recycle junk mail for the copier or notepads, as we do; worn out clothes and such are always good for cleaning rags.  In future posts, I will examine each area of potential recyclables, talk about how we repurpose them, and offer other ideas in each category.  Here's to a greener life;)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

by Jamie Ford, (c)2009,

An old hotel, a Japanese parasol, a secret World War II internment camp.  What do any of these have to do with a Chinese widower trying to get on with living?  "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" tells a story of lost love, family betrayal and wartime oppression, set in Seattle, Washington.

Henry, a Chinese boy, and Keiko, a Japanese girl, become best friends shortly after the start of the Great War.  When Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, the United States government starts "relocating" U.S. citizens of Japanese descent as well as Japanese immigrants, forcing them to abandon homes, businesses and treasured possessions.  Ford's depiction of the internment camps, though not as inhuman as the Nazi concentration camps, is nevertheless a frightening image of what a government is capable of, given too much power.  As grown-up Henry works through his grief and guilt after the death of his wife, events unfold that give him new hope and purpose in life, and maybe, in love.

This was our September Book Club read.  At first I thought it was a romance, which I don't care for.  After sneaking a peek at the first and last chapters, however, I realized it was historical fiction, which I greatly enjoy.  I could not put it down, and I appreciate that it addresses one of the "dirty little secrets" of our great country.  One of the benefits of books and now of the digital age, is the ability to expose such wrongs and make the general public aware, so that we can prevent them from happening again.  I highly recommend "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" for middle schoolers through adults.

I checked this book out of the local library, through our Book Club.  No compensation was received for this review.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Coyotes in the Classroom

Coyotes took over the schoolroom on Tuesday.  When we went out to feed our animals we discovered several holes in the chicken coop just about the right size and height for a coyote snout.  Add to that the fact that I've been waking up the last few nights to their howling, and what else could we do?  One more night and those holes would be big enough for a grown coyote to go through and we would be waking up to no more chickens.  Not to mention the two huge turkeys who will soon be making their way into the freezer.

Fortunately, the last time we had this problem, several years ago, I scrounged a number of pieces of sheet metal to block off the problem areas most of the way around the coop.  So just a few yards of flimsy wire netting remained to be reinforced.  I explained the problem to my student, and had him inspect the damage.  He agreed with me on what needed to be done. We managed to scrounge up one more length of sheet metal, and several pieces of plywood that were not much good for anything else, but perfect for this. So while he held up the "walls" and fished for nails, I hammered away.

After hours of laboring in the late summer sun, we were finally satisfied that our poultry were protected and called it a day.  We retreated to the house for shade, cold drinks and a late lunch.  With our schedule thrown into chaos, we spent the rest of the week catching up.  I am happy to report that we are back on track and ready to begin week 4 of third grade right where we are supposed home;)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Half Broke Horses

Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls, (c)2009, SimonandSchuster

This was a book club read, primarily because much of it takes place in our own area of Ash Fork, Seligman and Red Lake, AZ.  We also found out that the husband of one of our members grew up with the author's grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who is the subject of the book - boy, that was an interesting discussion!  After reading Shy Boy, the descriptions of breaking the ranch horses was rather disturbing.  But there is one section where the truck Lily and her daughter are driving breaks down in the middle of the range and the best option is to coax a wild horse into helping them.,  It was nearly Shy Boy all over again.  But only for that brief moment.  The most interesting part of this book was the description of daily ranch life and travel during the Great Depression and the Great War (WWII).

To read about how children were reaised and treated at that time made me glad for improvements in attitudes toward childrearing.  At 15 years of age, after spending 10 years working her father's ranch and breaking horses, Lily Casey Smith rode solo, on horseback, from New Mexico to Northern Arizona to work as a teacher in the district of Red Lake.  Her courage and resolve were inspiring.  There are also stories of Lily and her siblings narrowly surviving flash floods, tornadoes, and living in a sod house. 

I could relate to her feelings about the big cities of Chicago and Phoenix.  Culture and modern comforts are nice, but too many people.  My favorite lines are when Lily tells her husband "In the city people worry about themselves.  In the country we worry about the weather and the livestock." 

No compensation was received for this review.  I checked this book out from my local library;)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Shy Boy - The Horse That Came In From The Wild

Shy Boy - The Horse That Came In From The Wild, by Monty Roberts, (c)1999, HarperCollinsPublishers

I love this story about Monty Roberts' introduction to the wild mustang and his happening upon the language of horses which led to his great success in starting and rehabilitating dozens of horses, travelling the world to teach others to do the same.

Roberts tells the story of the wild horse, from its' origins in North America and migration to Europe and Asia, to its' arrival back in North America with Spanish explorers. From herds of millions which once roamed the great plains, to a few thousand survivors of government roundups, sport hunts and starvation. He also narrates the evolution of horse training, from brute force, to gentle cooperation. Nearly all these techniques have been around since man first decided to ride a horse but brute force tends to be thought the quicker, more popular way to "break" a horse. To get a horse to want to cooperate often takes more time and patience than most people have. Roberts shows in Shy Boy's story, that taking that time is far more important in the long run than just quickly getting a saddle on. The proof is at the end of the book, when Shy Boy make his final choice between the herd and his gentler...

No compensation was received for this review.  I checked this book out from my local library;)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Using Bar Soap

In my other life, when I thought of bar soap, it was an icky, slimy mess in the shower.  Then I embarked upon the homesteading life.  When I acquired my first goat, Jenny, I began to wonder - what ELSE can I do with all this milk?  The idea first came to me while I was browsing through my old Reader's Digest "Back to Basics" book - SOAP!  I threw the idea out at a 4H meeting and was met with instant enthusiasm.  So began my journey into producing homemade soaps and skin care products.

Though I occasionally make a liquid soap, by far my favorite is still the goats milk bar - with lavender and tea tree, or rose oil, or chocolate fragrance.  To get the most enjoyment, use and longest life out of your bar soap, here are some tips to consider.

- keep it dry.

There are alot of pretty soap dishes available, but you don't want your bar to be sitting in a puddle of water.  It will melt into goo.  Make sure you dump the water out every time you use it (and train the kids to as well).  It also helps to elevate the soap slightly. 

- expose it to air.

Soap takes five weeks to cure after it's made.  It continues to cure until it's used up.  Curing ensures that saponification is complete and the soap is gentle (meaning it won't wash the paint off the barn!).  It also allows excess water to evaporate out of the soap, making for a harder, longer lasting bar.  Exposing it to air will not only help keep it dry, but allow it to continue curing, making it clean and lather better.

- use it all up.

What do you do with those skinny little soap chips at the end of the bar?  Let me count the ways:
- put them in a cotton, organza or other fabric "soap" bag and continue using until they're all gone.

- save in a quart jar and when it's full, put the chips in a saucepan, cover with water and boil until dissolved.  Pour into a square cake pan and let harden, then cut into new bars (never use soap pans for food preparation after making soap).  No curing needed - this is called "remilled" or "french milled" soap.
_ add a little extra water while soap chips are boiling to make a gel and pour into an empty gallon jug and use for laundry soap.
_ my favorite:  put soap chips in and old (clean) sock, then get it soaking wet and clean the soap scum off the sink and tub - works much better than any cleanser I've tried.

So if you've been using a liquid pump soap, complete with unrecognizable and synthetic chemical ingredients, why not give old-fashioned bar soap another try?  And if you're already a convert, try some of these tips to get more mileage out of Mrs. D's great soap! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

And The Winners Are...

Such a fright! Another school year gone by. The Homestead School has had a great time testing lots of awesome homeschool products as part of The Old Schoolhouse's Homeschool Crew.

The whole Crew recently voted for their favorites in several different categories and a few of Mrs. D's and son's favorites made the list:

Favorite Science Product => Eagle’s Wings-Considering God’s Creation

Favorite Math Product => I See Cards-Pyramath

Favorite Reading Instruction Product => Talking Fingers

Favorite Preschool Product => Go Go Kabongo

Favorite Elementary Product => Speekee

Favorite Special Needs Product => See-N-Read

Favorite Christian Education Product => Apologia

Best Technology Resource => Collectorz

Best Children’s Book => Kregel Publications-Circle C Beginnings

Best Hands-On Resource => Corps of Re-Discovery

Most Unique Resource => GoTrybe

Most Family-Oriented Product => Growing Healthy Homes-Nutrition 101

We're excited to see many of our favorites here.  They each got a blue ribbon (above) to display.  Check out the full list on The Homeschool Crew's Official Blog here.

We're also proud to announce that Mrs. D and son will be on next year's Homeschool Crew, testing and telling about more great homeschool products with The Old Schoolhouse.  Looking forward to a few weeks of rest, and then starting in again;)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Considering God's Creation by Eagles Wings

Considering God's Creation is an excellent Bible based natural science curriculum for grades 2-6, but can be minimally adapted for upper and lower grades as well.  Perfect for families schooling more than one grade level.  Although this is a wonderful stand alone text, we used it to supplement our existing science program.  The workbook pages were perfect for this.  Designed to be removed and 3-hole-punched and inserted into a binder, they make excellent activities to reinforce the lesson being taught.  Through games, puzzles, cut and paste activities, and research pages, students delve more deeply into the Solar System, the Speed of Light, insects, or whatever the week's lesson is.

Considering God's Creation has 36 lessons which can be covered in 1 year by older grades, or several years for younger grades.  Subjects covered are Creation, The Universe, Rocks and Minerals, Weather, Plants, Animals, Animal Anatomy and Physiology and Human Anatomy and Physiology.  Answers to crossword puzzles and word searches are provided, and additional resources are suggested for more in-depth studies for older students.  Projects call for common materials you likely have on hand, such as a cookie sheet, ice, glass of water, or an egg white.

We used the Weather pages to supplement our Weather study for several weeks.  We became Cloud Detectives, identifying various cloud types, tracking our daily weather on a chart, learning what makes hail (during a timely hail storm) and so on.  My son went on to educate several other people about hail formation.  We are looking forward to continuing to use Considering God's Creation as part of our science curriculum for the next several years.

Considering God's Creation also comes with a CD of original music, directly linked to each chapter, with clever songs to help children remember God's touch in each area of His creation.  Student workbook, Teacher's Manual and music CD come in a package for only $29.95.  Other products are available on the website, for history, math, phonics and more.

See what other Homeschool Crew members had to say about Considering God's Creation.

We received  one set of Considering God's Creation student workbook, teacher's manual and music CD to use and evaluate.  No other compensation was received for this review.                 


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Learn Spelling with Stories - Talking Fingers Word Qwerty


We had so much fun with our first Talking Fingers program, that when we found out we would get to try Talking Fingers Word Qwerty we just couldn't wait.  My son signed in and started "playing", and as I listened and observed, I was very happy with what I was seeing.  The same company that helped him learn proper finger placement on the qwerty keyboard and helped with his reading skills was now helping him learn to spell and write short stories!


Through a variety of interactive games and exercises, Word Qwerty teaches spelling rules and tricks, such as looking for patterns.  Catchy songs help children remember them.  As is explained on the website,  "Wordy Qwerty – Foundations for Reading and Writing Fluency, takes 7-9 year olds through the next steps of reading and writing fluency, and picks up where our award-winning software, the Read, Write & Type Learning System leaves off."

Students learn about spelling rules, word families and "outlaws" (words that don't follow the rules).  Next comes the spelling challenge - students hear a word and have to spell it correctly and put it in the right box.  The program prompts the student if he misspells the word. 


Then students are shown a few sentences, hear them read, and are challenged to write them as they are read back to them.  Parents can sign in and monitor student progress at any time.


Talking Fingers offers a FREE demo download for Word Qwerty.  The pricing for Word Qwerty online Home Edition is as follows:  1 user $25, 2 users $40, 3/$52.50, 4/$60, 5/$71.25.  CD version Home Edition $35; K-4 Reading Bundle which includes Word Qwerty, Read Write Type and other goodies CD version Home Edition $99.

See what other Homeschool Crew Members are saying about Talking Fingers Word Qwerty.

We received a limited license to Word Qwerty online, in order to use and evaluate this product in our homeschool classroom.  No other compensation was received for this review.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mad About Mad Dog Math


Mad Dog Math is a fun, downloadable way to have daily math drills.  A great supplement for any regular math program for grades K-5, Mad Dog Math features a friendly golden retriever who fetches math drills for addition, subtraction, multiplication or division.  Students are timed for 2 minutes down to 30 seconds on each level, and earn "club stickers" upon completion.  There is a challenge level that mixes up the fact drills so that children have to work a bit harder and pay more attention.  Progress is tracked for each level and can be reset so students can start over.  Multiple students can use the program by logging in under their own "name".


Initially, we had a lot of fun with this program.  But as the drills grew familiar, my son grew lackadaisical and kept resetting his progress so that he stayed in the 2 minute club and never earned any club stickers.  I knew I had to supervise his usage more carefully then, so as to derive the full benefit from the program.  Still, he likes it way better than his pencil and paper drills, though we don't time those.  In his math book he is working with triple digits and decimal points in addition and subtraction which our trial version of Mad Dog Math does not cover.  The advantage is, that once purchased and downloaded, the program can be used year after year, for multiple students, for drills in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts.  As the program's creators emphasize, a solid foundation in the basics makes math more fun, as well as preparing the student for higher levels of math such as algebra and so on.

The Mad Dog Math download is available for Windows in 32 or 64 bit version, for $19.99/1year, $29.99/2year or $39.99/perpetual license.  The company also offers flash cards, timers and certificates to enhance the program.  A FREE TRIAL of the download is available here.

See what other Homeschool Crew Members are saying about Mad Dog Math.

We received a free trial version of Mad Dog Math to use and evaluate.  No other compensation was received for this review.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Eat More Greens!

ready for lunch

Mrs. D is obsessed with eating greens lately.  Daily large salads were becoming a habit until the sub zero temps hit.  Then it was lightly braised greens on the side of a baked potato, squash or meat.

Greens are great to grow indoors.  They don't need to be pollinated, and there are several varieties that are easily propogated in pots in a sunny window.  Lettuces, collards, beet greens, kale and spinach to name a few of my favorites.  Don't forget the lentil sprouts, wheatgrass and chives.  Garlic also grows well in pots, and don't underestimate the delight of fresh herbs - oregano, rosemary, mint and basil. 

indoor lettuce - just harvested some for lunch

Check out this great video by Leanne at Saving Dinner on how to cook greens.

Many stores have great prices on lots of organic produce now, and our local health food store stocks beautiful seasonal greens.  Of course,  here in Arizona we can get most greens locally within 50 miles or so, year round.

lentil sprouts ready to eat

Simple greens are some of the most economical, healthiest things you can do to improve your diet.  Even cabbage, which is usually a great buy anytime.  Mrs. D enjoys the versatile cabbage year round, red or green, cooked, raw or brined into sauerkraut.  A few slices in a stir fry, or a big hunk steamed and served with butter, salt and pepper are both winners for chilly evening suppers. 

Here is one of my favorite ways to include cooked greens in my menu plan:

Mrs. D's Chow Mein

1 lb. cooked spaghetti noodles
2 cups chopped greens - mix and match cabbage, chives, collards, kale, chard, parsley, etc.
2 cups assorted fresh or frozen veggies, chopped
2 T. olive oil
4 T. soy sauce
pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, to taste
dash turmeric
1 cup or less of water, vegetable or meat broth

Heat oil, add noodles, stir fry 1 minute.  Add assorted veggies, then greens.  Add soy sauce, stir fry 1 minute, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally and adding water or broth until veggies are tender.  Add spices to taste.  Turn off heat, cover 2 min. to allow flavors to blend.  Serve and enjoy!
Eggs or meat can be added for a heavier meal, rice can be substituted for "Fried Rice".  We love to eat this with chopsticks!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Go Trybe


We live a very active lifestyle, caring for our livestock, hauling and stacking hay; growing, harvesting and preserving some of our food; hauling and cutting our firewood, etc.  So I wasn't particularly enthused about trying an online excercise program.  Once we got into it, though, it was actually kind of fun.  My 8 year old son really had a blast!

He started right off creating his avatar, then went to trying out the different workout videos.  When he discovered that he earned points to spend on clothing and accessories for his avatar, he was "off and running".


Go Trybe is a fitness and wellness program for all ages, but focused on children and teens, with an aim to combat childhood obesity.  Children sign in and create their avatar, choose workout videos to complete, learn about nutrition, wellness and motivation and answer questions correctly, and earn points to spend on their avatar.  Favorite workouts can be saved or pre-built workout sessions can be used.  Workouts cover warmups, cardio, strength and flexibility training.

Three tribes address the needs and abilities of different age groups:  ZooDoos - up to 5th grade; Trybe180 - 6th-9th grade; Nextrybe - 10th-12th grade.  Trybers can make and message friends, post bulletins called "shout outs", and earn badges at various point increments.  Trybers with the highest points in each division make Trybal Leader.  The kids fitness blog posts the latest Go Trybe updates, and also provides a link to the trybal store where members can purchase shirts and other gear with the Go Trybe logo. 


For parents and other adults, the blog features tips, recipes and other resources to help encourage a healthier lifestyle.  Go Trybe also hosts forums to address members specific questions or needs.  There is even an opportunity for trybers to participate in Go Trybe video shoots in Tennessee by becoming a Trybe Athlete.

My only disappointment with this program is the immodest dress (so prevalent in our culture, especially in sports).  Parents with concerns, especially for helping their sons to keep their thoughts pure, should definitely make use of the FREE TRIAL, to evaluate whether this is something you want to use with your children, who will be watching it over and over...

To try Go Trybe for one day for FREE, go to the sign up page and enter the promo code GETFIT.  If you want to continue after the FREE TRIAL, the cost is $19.95 a year (regular $39.95).   The kids fitness blog is offering membership for only 99cents a month for a limited time, use promo code KIDSFITNESS.  There is also a discount for AAU members. 

See what other Homeschool Crew Members have to say about Go Trybe.

We received a free limited time membership in Go Trybe in exchange for posting our opinions and experiences with it.  No other compensation was received for this review.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Andi's Fair Surprise


Andi's Fair Surprise, one of the Circle C Beginnings books by Susan K. Marlow, introduces 6 year old Andi and her ranch family to young readers.  Written for ages 6-8, these chapter books take early readers on a rollicking ranch adventure in 1870's California. 

My 7 year old son was into this book before we left the post office with it and finished the first two chapeters by the time we got home.  He could not put it down.  I went to the Andi and Taffy website and downloaded the FREE activity booklet, with mazes, vocabulary, math, writing, history and crafts and printed it out for him.  We used it as a unit study for the next two days.  Then, without prompting, he wrote a short story about the book!  It is so exciting when something clicks!


The Circle C Beginnings books are great "living" books, portraying California ranch life in the 1800's.

Even weeks later, my son still has a renewed appreciation for his "farm life" and enjoying nature.  He frequently looks out the window for his "TV", watching our critters roam and play.  His cowboy make-believe has take on new aspects inspired by Andi's Fair Surprise.  He is teaching himself to throw a lasso, though the goats know they're safe for the time being...  He has finally summoned up the courage to try horseback riding again. 


I can't wait to get the whole set of these books.  I learned with my older sons - when something inspires a boy to read you get it!  Four books are available in the Circle C Beginnings series, with 2 more due out in August.  They can be purchased at Kregel Publications or personalized for your child at Andi and Taffy for only $4.99 each, $9.98 for 2 or $15.96 for all 4, plus shipping.  The FREE activity books and coloring pages can be downloaded at the Andi and Taffy website.

Other crew members reviewed some of the other Circle C Beginnings books as well as this one.  See what other Homeschool Crew Members had to say about this series.

We received one copy of "Andi's Fair Surprise" in paperback for us to evaluate and enjoy.  No other compensation was received for this review.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

See The Light - And Draw!


Okay, I may be artistic in many ways, but I cannot draw a stick figure.  I loved coloring when I was little; grandma (a real artist) used to sit me down with tracing paper and carbon paper and I could trace a picture and then transfer it to another paper and color it.  Drawing freehand?  No way.  Mrs. S used to come in and do chalk drawings on the blackboard at school and then take us through, step by step, to draw it ourselves.  Mine were less than impressive and I never caught on to the techniques that she was trying to teach. 

Pat Knepley, of See The Light, is reminiscent of those blackboard days.  With her easel and a clean sketchpad in front of her, she slowly explains each basic drawing technique and then illustrates it on the sketchpad.  The great part is that this is all on DVD, so you can replay it over and over until you and your students are able to do it yourselves.  For our free trial we received the first DVD in the 9 DVD series, "The Basics".  In it Pat shares her infectious enthusiasm for art and shows students how to set up their own tool kit, basic line drawing, contours and using common everyday items for their subjects.  There is also a bonus lesson, chalk drawing, by another artist.  After watching the first lesson, my son was so excited that he immediately began putting together his own tool kit, then had to watch the lesson again to make sure he had everything, making a list of what he still needed for mom.  Luckily most of the supplies we already had on hand for our everyday homeschooling needs.  No charcoal pencils or brushes and paints yet;)  We now have days of marathon drawing sessions and my son is much more careful with his coloring projects.  After watching all four lessons plus the bonus lesson, he started begging for more of the DVDs.  I have to say I agree with him, even I'm inspired!

Designed for grades K-8  I think even high schoolers and adults, such as myself, can truly benefit from this art curriculum.  Simple Bible lessons are woven in throughout.  The first DVD is FREE!  Subsequent DVDs are $14.99 each or all 9 for $99.99.  Each DVD includes 4 lessons plus a bonus lesson.  Year 2 is in the works and the company also offers a number of related products on their website.

See what other Homeschool Crew members are saying about See the Light.

We received the FREE DVD "The Basics" for this review.  No other compensation was received.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nutrition 101: Choose Life

I love this book.  Ever since I was in high school I have been reading everything I could get my hands on about health and nutrition.  My parents liked to tease me about being "the healthiest corpse in the graveyard", but I didn't care.  I've always thought that what life we do have we should try to enjoy fully.  I've also always had a strong suspicion that what we eat has alot to do with how we feel.  And at Growing Healthy Homes unbelievable as is may seem, are four people who agree with me. 

Based on sound scientific research and flavored with a Biblical perspective, Nutrition 101 is chock full of information on each of the body's systems and each one's specific nutritional needs.  This is a text that can be used year after year for health class in all grade levels.  With young children, you may just want to touch on the basics of each chapter, and do one of the fun activities and make the power recipe.  Older children can study in more detail, delving into such areas as the Nervous System and amino acids, diabetes, heart disease and natural and artificial sweeteners and their effect on the body.

My personal favorites were the alkaline/acid food charts in the Appendices, and the menu ideas.  I printed out copies of the "Food Pyramid Serving Checklist" and found out I wasn't doing nearly as well as I thought I was in trying to include more vegetables in our daily menu.  This has become a favorite reference for my weekly meal planning.

Nutrition 101 will help you to raise healthy eaters as children learn and understand how food is processed, what preservatives do to our bodies, advantages and disadantages of natural vs. artificial sweeteners.  There are lots of fun projects and a power recipe incorporated into each week's lesson (see activity guide starting on page 285).  In the very first chapter, The Brain, children make guacamole and sprout an avocado seed.  High schoolers study the effects of ethylene gas (from and apple) on the ripening process.

The initial investment in this product does seem a bit high, at $79.95 for CD, $99.95 for the book, and $129.95 for the combo, but keeping in mind that it is designed for repeated use, year after year with all grade levels, and that works out to about $10 a year for just one child, less than that for more children!  When you find yourself and your family actually eating better, likely there will also be a substantial savings in health care as well.  An extra bonus the company has offered to Homeschool Crew readers - that's you! Is a special 15% off.  Just go to their website and enter the coupon code at checkout:  TOScrew11.

See what other Homeschool Crew Members are saying about Nutrition 101.

We received a special download edition of Nutrition 101:  Choose Life for review purposes.  No other compensation was received for this review.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tomato Tales

I think our local Wal-Mart was being overly optimistic when they put out a rack of tomato plants.  As they became frost damaged, the price became 50 cents apiece and my friend and I were lucky enough to happen upon them on one of our infrequent trips to town.  (We are over 50 miles away from the nearest big town with a Wal-Mart.)  I took them home and set them up in my south-facing kitchen window, finally repotting them.  We still have a few more weeks of possible frost here, but after Mother's Day, it's usually fairly safe to harden off the seedlings and transplant them in the outdoor garden.

The bad luck I've had with tomatoes here in our volcanic clay soil aggravates me to no end.  Sometimes I lose the transplants to frost, but more often, they are lost to the withering dry heat and parching wind we experience in waiting for the monsoon rains to come and set everything growing again.  I refuse to give in and continue to try.  One year I got about a dozen green tomatoes that I brought in on the vine and let ripen.  We had those around Thanksgiving that year.  This year the plan is to put half the transplants in the more protected shadehouse/greenhouse I'm working on, and the other half in the front garden.  Maybe I can rig up some little shade houses over them with drip waterers until the rains come...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kinderbach - Music Lessons Made Easy


I have to confess, my son has been playing the piano since he could crawl up on the bench and reach the keys.  He has learned in a very natural, organic way.  As he has gotten older and his hands have grown into the keyboard, I have taught him the names of the keys, and a bit of how to read music.  We have been playing simple duets together, and I have taught them to some of his friends, too.  None of them are prodigies, but they have fun, and I don't have a hard time listening to them.  My son has also been composing short pieces for quite some time now.  I'm impressed, but then I'm his mom...

That said, for the average parent who doesn't have *&^% years of music lessons and performance behind them, Kinderbach can be a real answer to "how do I teach my child music?"  A keyboard is not even necessary for the first few lessons, and an inexpensive, toy model will do for the rest.  As long as it plays somewhat in tune, and has the keys in the right places.  Children ages 2-7 will enjoy learning about high and low sounds, loud and soft sounds, rhythm, beats, patterns and intervals, along with Frisco, Dodi, Carla and all the Piano Pals.  In six levels, with a seventh on the way, 22 hours of video lessons and printable activity books to complement each level, children will soon be playing simple songs.

Along with great instruction and fun characters, I feel like there is a bit too much music theory thrown into the program for beginners.  For young children, the video lessons are engaging and keep them moving.  There are coloring pages to reinforce the lessons and cut and paste activities.  Other advantages to the program are that it can be done at home, at the child's own pace.  No expensive instruments are needed.  Try the first 2 lessons for free, then decide whether to purchase an online subscription for $19.99 a month or $95.88 a year (that's $7.99 a month!).  You can also try it out for a day at $5.95.  Several DVD packages are available starting at $55.95.  Kinderbach stands by their program with a 30 day money back guarantee.

See what other Homeschool Crew Members are saying about Kinderbach.

We were given a free online subscription to Kinderbach in exchange for reviewing and commenting on our experience with this product.  No other compensation was received.

Monday, April 4, 2011

GoGo Kabongo!!


Start the school day with computer games?  No way!  But as reading is our first subject of the day, usually, GoGo Kabongo quickly became a favorite warm-up.  Designed to foster skills such as attention and focus, working memory, processing, successive and simultaneous processing, visualization, planning and comprehension, Kabongo captivates children with colorful alien guides, fast action roller coasters and frequent interactive rewards.


Three "habitats", Laughter Lake, Galaxy Garden and Twister Top feature three games each, with 6 skill levels each.  As children master skills they earn rewards such as a sticker for their comic book, ramps for their skate park, and cool collectibles to put in their treehouse.  Coloring and activity pages can also be printed out.  Ages 4-7 will benefit most from this program, as it teaches and reinforces pre-reading skills. 

My seven year old son is already an enthusiastic reader, but he still enjoys the games.  His favorite habitat is Twister Top and he has mastered level 6 of Crazy Maze!  I receive weekly progress reports, so I know what games he has been playing and what level he is on.  Also included in the emailed progress reports are helpful tips for reinforcing the skills he is learning.

Kabongo map

Right now, Kabongo is still in Beta format, some of the games load slowly, but Laughter Lake and Galaxy Garden are FREE for a limited time, and Twister Top is only $4.95!

See what other Homeschool Crew members have to say about GoGoKabongo.

We received all three Kabongo habitats FREE in return for reviewing this product.  No other compensation was received.