Monday, June 28, 2010

Blog Walking---Week Three

Here are the links for this week's blog walk. I am enjoying visiting new blogs each week, and joining the ones with authors whose educational philosophy seems similar to mine. I am even picking up a few followers myself, since some folks have a courtesy policy of joining anyone's blog who connects to theirs. Awesome! (and thank you!).

With our heat index up near the hundreds today, it is a fine day for catching up on a little indoor "exercise." I hope you will join me on this walk. I'd love to have a bit of friendly conversation about it, so if you have a comment about some gem you find, please feel free to leave it. At lease wave when you pass by!

1. All American Family

2. Growing Fruit---if you have an autistic child, this blog may be for you. Even if you don't, you should check out some of her thoughts. She's quite fun. So is her autistic son. He reminds me of my friend's autistic boy who walked up to me the other day and said, "You are Superwoman. Can you fly?" He's awesome!
3. Learning to Teach

4. Stairsteps Homeschool Academy

5. Kingdom Academy

6. Living Sola Gratia

7. Wynfield Christian Academy

8. The Cow Queen-- I wish she could send some of her cows' hay over here for my horses. Or at least just the haying machine!

9. Peace Creek on the Prairie--She has six kids, just like I do. She is co-hosting an online book study group called Holy Housewives. You should jump over to her blog and check it out. They just started studying Holy Housewives by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald on June 21st, so you haven't missed much. This sounds like a lot of fun. If I can find a copy of the book, I think I will join up, too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Blog Walking---Week Two

Here's the Blog Walk List for the Week of June 21st- 27th.

I hope you are enjoying seeing what others are up to this summer. I sure am.

1. Second Star to the Right and Straight On Till Morning

2. Surviving The Testosterone

3. Family Style School

4. School Around The Table

5. 1628 The Story of The Goebels 5

6. Morris Family Madness--check out the pictures of her classroom set up...awesome!!

7. Homeschool Musings

8. Homeschooling (and then some!)

9. Heartfelt Homeschooling

10. following Him home --check out the recipe box she found at an estate sale...the recipe for Elephant Stew is too funny!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Made the TOS Homeschool Crew!!

A few months ago I noticed that The Old Schoolhouse Magazine (TOS) was having "auditions" for their 2010-2011 Homeschool Crew and I wistfully thought how much fun it would be to try out new products and give my opinions about them. Now, I like to write. If you have read any of my reviews here, you will be able to tell that. And I like to share my opinions...who doesn't? I even enjoy using the internet. Truth be told, the whole appeal of the "blog" idea didn't really sink in for me until during my last pregnancy when I was on limited activity and had extra time on my hands (read about that HERE), but after watching the movie Julie and Julia with my mom, I had to admit that blogging might be fun to try.
However, busy as I am with six kids, managing a 15 acre hobby farm complete with animals and gardens, and trying to set up my homeschool-for-free website, I wondered if I had time to even think about trying out. Finally, I decided that if I tried, and made it, that would be like God giving me his approval. If I tried and didn't make it, then that would be like God saying "maybe next year." I put time praying into this to keep the ball in His court, asking Him to move or not move, and set about the business of filling out the initial demographics sheet.

A few weeks later, much to my surprise, I received a notice that I had made the first cut. Wow! It was even better than when I made the Cross Country team in high school (I have to admit that they were so hard up for female runners they took nearly anybody, and I was still very excited about it!) This time it was somthing in my demographics, I guess, that worked in my favor and gave me the opportunity to show what I could do when it came time to review a real product.

So I reviewed the test-products and those are the first two reviews you see here (for Molly's Moneysaving Digest and Help, Lord, I'm Getting Ready to Homeschool my High Schooler!). I did not review them in a positive light on purpose, in case you are wondering. I reviewed them fairly, based on my use of them, and the benefit to my family. What would be the point of doing a review if it is not unbiased? That, my friends, is called ADVERTISING. In any case, I sent in my reviews after proofreading them at least a dozen times each (yeah, that was overkill, but I was nervous) and then I waited and waited and waited for what I figured must have been the usual amount of time for notifications of acceptance to be made and still I hadn't heard one way or another.

Awwwww, I told myself. I guess you didn't make it this time. Bummer. Oh well. I reassured myself that it was all right to not make it, because it just meant that God decided I wasn't ready for this. Too much to do, too little time, and all that. I was still a bit sad. Wouldn't you be? But I decided to be patient, to learn more about blogging and the internet, and then maybe next year I could try, try again. So I stopped checking my emails every day, twice a day for that acceptance e-mail, got busy putting in gardens and playing outside with the kids. My husband's grandmother passed away and he went away for a week, which made our schedules here that much more crazy and I spent a whole week without even logging on once.

Then one night, when I was having trouble sleeping, I happened to check my BILLIONS of emails (okay, that is an exaggeration, but there were at least three hundered), and lo and behold, there it email telling me I made the TOS Crew. Yahoooooo! I can't tell you, how excited I was. Yippeeeee!! I was nearly doing cartwheels in the upstairs hallway, but our hallway is pretty short and I would have wound up falling down the stairs instead, so I thankully refrained. It was at least midnight when I found out, so I couldn't call anybody and share my good news. How frustrating!

Instead, I sent a prayer up to heaven thanking God, because I figured He had decided it was a good time to take this task on and He had made this opportunity possible. Wasn't that nice of Him? He does the nicest things for us, both big and small. I pray that I will always be mindful of the things He does for me and not forget to thank Him. I am so grateful that as my site, homeschool-for-free is growing, I will also be sticking my toes in the waters of this new forum. I am thinking this will be a good year in our homeschool. Adventures await around every corner!

In any case, here I am, suited up and ready to take on the waves...of curriculum samples, new ideas, enrichement activities, and so on. My mailboxes, both physical and virtual are open and waiting for things to inspect, examine, and ponder. Be prepared for some fun reviews and I hope some interesting dialogue. I'd love if folks would feel free to toss in their two or three cents on the products I am reviewing, or if anyone has a particular interest in a book or topic we come across, perhaps you can give me a heads up and we can do a virtual discussion group centered around it.

The possibilites are endless...don't you just love that? I do.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Berry Good Day

We went berry picking at a "You Pick" farm about an hour away from our house yesterday. The trip requires a ferry ride, which was a highlight for the kids. Something about that "sea air" puts you in a mood to be outside. It was nice an breezy, and very pleasant, which was good, since the next few hours were to be spent in a field in upper 80 degree and high humidity weather.

The drive to the farm was gorgeous. I love small, older towns, and the interesting houses in them. I got lost once, but since the scenery was so beautiful, it was more like "exploring" than being in the wrong place.

Usually I am not a hot weather person, but once we drove up to the farm and saw the seeming endless rows of green plants dotted with ripe, red berries, the task of strawberry picking on a hot day became more of a challenge than a chore. It wasn't very complicated, either. All you had to do to get started was to pick up a basket at the counter, so I grabbed four and we headed out to the fields.

Our friends had called ahead of time and been told that the fields were fairly bare of strawberries, and that only a few rows of blueberries were harvestable, but we decided to try anyway. Since I have ZERO strawberries on plants at my house, seeing one, two, and sometimes even three ripe ones per plant seemed like a lot to me. Perhaps when the fields are completely in season it is even more amazing, but been a first-timer, I was pretty happy with what there was. It points out to me how so much of gratitude is based on perspective.

Ladybug went off with her friend and her mother, while Tex and his friend took the baby (how nice of them!). That left me with Firefly and Cowboy, which was just about right. Keeping them from eating more than they picked, or from picking unripe fruit, was a task in and of itself, let alone trying to pick berries to use to make jam later on. 

Actually, though, they were quite good and we all had a nice time. I was a bit intimidated at first, not being quite sure what to pick and what to leave, but after a few minutes, I got the hang of it. Other than the constant bending over, standing up, bending over, standing up, it wasn't that difficult to pick, even in the heat. It took about an hour and a half, maybe a bit more, to fill up a basket (it took extra time to stop and let the kids take turns picking the ripe ones I'd find). Tex and his friend managed to gather a basketful each in the same amount of time.

Ladybug was not quite as successful. She ate most of hers. Apparently, the folks there are used to that, as they were not perturbed at all. My method of avoiding Firefly and Cowboy filling up with contraband strawberries was to let them eat the mushy ones that I didn't want in the basket, but that were just going to rot on the plant anyway. Okay, I know we should have washed them first, but frankly, a bit of dirt never hurt anyone...consider it an immunity builder, or adding minerals to their diet.

Once we had our strawberry baskets full, it was time to take a break for water and to eat. My friend's boys had lost interest in the berry picking earlier and gone searching for a container to put tadpoles and frogs in. My kids retained their interest fairly well, but they were ready for a chance to cool off.

After refreshing drinks, apples, and PBJ sandwiches (using fresh peanut butter and jam another friend made with peanuts and berries from this very farm), the kids gathered for a rowdy game of Duck, Duck, Goose. I don't know where they got all their energy on such a hot day. Maybe it was all the sugar from the berries. In any case, it was very nice that the farm had a covered, but open and breezy building and tables for us to use. The kids also chased the barn cat a bit, and examined the birds' nests in the rafters, then wandered back towards the fields looking for toads.

Next up: the blueberry fields.

Now, if you thought strawberry picking sounded like fun, it was. If you thought it sounded like a lot of work, it was. If you want to go for the less work, more fun thing, and you aren't picky about what kind of fruit you get...pick blueberries.

After the constant bend over, rummage around, pick, stand up, move on, bend over, repeat...of strawberry picking, picking blueberries was a blessed relief. I was able to take Boo out of his stroller and plop him on a patch of dirt to play, while the other little ones and I sat in front of a bush and started picking. One bush yielded 1/8 of a basket or so, so there wasn't much need to move along too often. It was much quicker work and very satisfying for the little ones. If I had to do only one or the other, I'd choose blueberries, if the point was the kids' experience (and the kids were little). Tastewise, well, I prefer strawberry jam overall, but blueberry pancakes and muffins are might appealing, too.

After we finished with the blueberries, we took our baskets inside and paid for them. I couldn't believe how cheap the berries were compared to what you pay in the supermarket! If I can figure out how to make the freezer jam my friend recommends, then this will definitely represent a savings on our grocery bill, not to mention the fact that I can make it without all the additives, and the added benefit of the fun experience (and the sweet family memories).

Before we left, we couldn't resist buying each of the kids (and ourselves) a cup of fresh and homemade ice cream, which we topped with blueberries. Yum. If I lived closer, I'd go back just for the ice cream. As it is, I will just have to look forward to getting more next year. I am definitely hooked on the "You Pick" experience.

On the ferry ride back home, we spied an osprey in her nest with several young ones. The kids thought that was pretty swell.

Isn't it great how everything you do when you homeschool qualifies as a learning experience? We read about strawberry and blueberry crops on the flyers while we were there. We talked with the owner's neice about CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture farms). We saw several types of birds, various other mammals, amphibians, and insects, and we even discussed transportation when we were on the ferry. The kids worked on manners (especially at lunch) and the character traits of obedience and patience while we picked, plus thankfulness and helpfulness throughout the day. We listened to an interesting tape by Dr. Wile of Apologia Ministries about creation science on the way there, and finished it before the ferry ride on the way back. 

We did a bit of everything, and we had had fun doing it. We even had the bonus of something big to show for it at the end of the day that is more than just a grade on a fill-in-the-blanks test...two HUGE baskets of strawberries and two baskets of blueberries, and the promise of a follow-up activity (making jam and blueberry pancakes) in the near future. Awesome.

It was a berry good day.

And just in case you were wondering...Yes, they did all fall asleep on the way back home.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Curriculum Fair

If you think surfing the net and looking at vendors' curriculum choices is fun, you should try going to a REAL curriculum fair. "Fair" warning, need to either walk in with a budgeted amount that you MUST spend (lol) or you might walk out with your wallet uncomfortably lighter (and your charge card burden uncomfortably heavier). This year we are going through a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace Seminar, so we had the foresight to budget for the yearly convention ahead of time. The budget wasn't as large as I would have liked, but the money was free and clear, set aside for JUST curriculum. What a wonderful concept that is. It was as if I HAD to spend that money. No worrying about if it was too much, or if I was taking money from somewhere I needed it more (like the dinner table, for example). Just free and clear license to use it all up (and I did!).

In any case, along with my envelope of carefully budgeted money, I also went in armed with my "List." It is a much thought out list of all the things I needed to find at the convention that are much harder to find anywhere else, such as planners and manipulatives and some reading materials our library does not carry. I am all for free (you can check out my site homeschool-for-free if you doubt me), but some things are not made cheaper by getting them off the internet (such as planning pages), more long lasting by buying them at the dollar store (like manipulatives), and other things are just worth having in print (like certain books you will use again and again, especially ones you want to carry out of the house).

"The List" made it much easier for me to NOT get too distracted by the many neat booths just filled with loads of cool educational materials GUARANTEED to make my homeschooling year better. I didn't realize how much easier it was until later when I realized that the usual anxiety over not having been to see absolutely EVERYTHING before closing time was missing. I zoomed in, surveyed what was there, made my choices, and I was outta there!

Here's what I accomplished at the Curriculum Fair:
  • I was able to cross a few things off my list of possibilities for next year after having seen them enough to know they would not quite work for me and my family (catalogues are great, but can't tell you the whole story).
  • I was able to choose from several types of planners for next year and get what I really wanted, knowing I had seen almost every possibility.
  • I was able to get a few freebies and to get an evaluation test to administer to one of my students to determine his math level for a later purchase.
  • And finally, I was able to affirm a few choices I had previously made and take advantage of convention prices and no shipping costs. It was a real win-win situation.
Actually, it turned out that my adherence to my list was not only beneficial to my pocketbook and to my health, but it seems that my restraint was also rewarded. Can you imagine my excitement, when having walked out of the Used Curriculum Sale (conveniently located next door to the New Curriculum Vending Hall) having made only about forty dollars worth of purchases (and I got a LOT I can use for that much) AND feeling pretty darn good about not spending money I didn't need to spend, I later found out that they had opened the doors after final pick up to allow folks a chance to "glean" from the remaining items (rather than donating them or throwing them away)? AWESOME!!

I was in the middle of a conversation when someone told me and believe me, my friend (who IS still my friend) is probably wondering if I have super-speed as a super power because I ran-walked down the hall and started looking for treasures faster than the speed of...something fast. Zooooooooooom! Now you see her, now you...hey, where is she going?

My oldest son thankfully found me immersed in a pile of potential freebie finds and followed me around carrying a box, good-naturedly ribbing me about dragging home more than our sagging bookshleves could hold...but don't think I didn't notice the two or five books he slipped into my box for himself! My number one best find of the day was a box of tapes from previous conventions and other Christian speakers that apparently nobody else wanted (I was in there pretty close to the end of the line), so I grabbed the whole thing up and have been happily listening to the tapes as I drive along ever since. My mom even borrowed some the other day to listen to herself and laughingly called it my "tape ministry." Who knows, maybe that WILL be something I do with my bounty of tapes sometday...

It was quite a fun surprise and a fantastic end to a great convention. God is so good to us in so many ways. All thanks go to Him for that sweet treat!! (and to the organizers of the Homeschooling Convention's Used Curriculum Sale).

Here are my top tips for surviving a Curriculum Fair:

1. Budget ahead of time. It is so much nicer to spend money on what you need (or just want) when you are not causing a shortfall somewhere else. Talk it out with your husband and decide a reasonable amount to invest per child and determine how much you will need to set aside monthly to meet your goals. Find creative places to pull the money from, such as the grocery budget, by using coupons and putting the money you saved in the "Curriculum Account" instead. Sell old stuff you didn't like or use and put that money away, too. Clean a neighbor's guesthouse or watch someone's pet and save your pay. Let the kids start their own fund using money they earn doing jobs you want done around the house or by working for trusted friends and family. They'll have more fun shopping in your wake if they can keep their eyes peeled for a bargain, too.

2. Get informed. Do your primary initial research ahead of time. Do NOT wait until the day of the convention to get ideas on how you want to teach math to your third grader. Ask friends what they use, inquire at co-op or support group meetings, or post a query on a forum online, then take all the suggestions and start looking them up. Many sites offer trial versions, trial periods, or at least sample pages for you to look at. Request catalogues, compare prices, and see how much of any of the supplemental materials you need for any given program are available at your library (the more you can borrow for free, the better). You may wish to visit your local homeschool second-hand store (if you have one) or check out Craig's List or e-bay (or any other online vendor) before deciding to pay full-price at a Curriculum Fair. Swap meets, library sales, yard sales, thrift stores, and sometimes even public school discard boxes are good sources of cheaper (or possibly free) materials that may meet the needs you have. See my post on How to Homeschool for FREE (or at least, more inexpensively) before you go to your Curriculum Fair.

3. Make a list. After you have compiled a list of "wants" that you haven't found yet, whittle it down to your actual "needs." Don't discard the "want" list. Just keep in mind that every bank account has a limit and even the strongest-willed person in the world can be sorely tempted to go overboard at a Curriculum Fair. It all looks so GOOD! Go to the fair armed with your two lists, shop for the "needs" first, then with what is left, HAVE FUN!

4. I HIGHLY recommend taking a suitcase or rolling basket to carry your purchases so you don't break your back (or the back of your teenager) toting all your finds around. Actually, though, our Fair this year had a booth that for a low fee would box up your stuff and hold it for you to pick up later. I thought that was pretty nifty.

5. Also, remember to take a bottle of is thirsty work...and maybe a snack or two (convention prices for refreshments do not tend to be cheap...they were charging three bucks for a soda at ours and two bucks for a small bag of chips). Oh, and my mom recommends a sweater as they sometimes really turn down the ac low to compensate for volume of people in the room and it can get quite chilly.

6. Lastly, PLEASE remember to give your kids a break once in a while by stopping at the booth with the cool science gadgetry. ;-) Many science booths are usually good for a few laughs, a few sparks, and maybe even an explosion or two. If you can just refrain from wanting to buy all that interesting stuff, you will be fine...

Well, if you get a chance, let me know how you made out at YOUR local Curriculum Fair this year. I'd really love to know what cool stuff you found. I might want to get one, too.



**Check out posts about MORE topics like this one by visiting the TOS Crew Blog Cruise archive HERE. Enjoy!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Blog Walking---Week One

There are over 200 members of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Crew. That is a LOT of bloggers, homeschoolers, excited reviewers, potential friends...

One way to get to know them all (in a small way) and to see what other folks out there are doing with what they have is to take a weekly "Blog Walk" of ten of the Crewmember's blogs.

Here is the list for Week One. I hope you will enjoy "walking" with me.

1. Reaping a Harvest

2. Pink & Orange Coffee

3. Live, Laugh, Learn!

4. Mrs. Mandy's Musings

5. The Fantastic Five

6. Refined Metals Academy

7. Just A Moment in Time

8. Providence Farm

9. My Journey

10.Petra School
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