Monday, August 31, 2009

i am not a mime (or, notes from the crazy house) and a giveaway


My hands are getting better now – after a trip to the allergist and lots of medicine that I hate putting on or in my body. I have battled my worst eczema outbreak in decades and I can’t pinpoint a specific reason why. I think it was the perfect storm of physical and environmental factors, but in any event, my hands are on the mend. White cotton gloves are awesome, by the way. (I look like a deranged mime, or Michael Jackson circa 1985.)

  • Method hand soap is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It is the only fragranced product I can use with eczema impunity. I heart you, Method.
  • Seventh Generation Free and Clear dish soap is equally wonderful. (Sadly, I can’t say the same for their dishwasher detergent. I want to love it, really I do, yet I can’t abide dirty dishes. If I have to run the dishwasher twice, it ceases to be environmentally friendly.)
  • In my ongoing quest for natural, homemade floor cleaner, I think we have a winner: water, white vinegar and washing soda. I want to give it one more test run before conferring the championship title upon this latest concoction.

Want some free stuff? Tell me the best thing about back-to-school -- homeschool or otherwise. The folks at MyBlogSpark will send one of my readers a super cool gift box with a reusable lunch bag, a ruler, a pencil sharpener, a pencil case and a coupon for a free package of Pillsbury Shape cookies. (They sent us a package as well. My son loves the school supplies and I love reusable stuff! My local grocery stores aren’t carrying Shape cookies yet, but soon…) Please comment by noon eastern, Sept. 2.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

the quarter mile math


As part of the TOS Crew, we were asked to review The Quarter Mile Math. It’s a game, er, a math program. I know there are horses there somewhere, but I haven’t actually seen them. That’s because I have a boy and Quarter Mile offers a race car option. Other options are ignored around here.

The boy is using Quarter Mile’s Deluxe Bundle, which allows him to accelerate as he correctly answers math problems. As he races, he competes against his previous best times. (Children race as cars or riderless horses – no harnessed and numbered critters for those of us who avoid animal-centered sports.)

The program is the software equivalent of sneaking carrots in spaghetti sauce – kids learn while playing a game. For my son, especially, the competitive aspect clearly works to my advantage as he wants to answer problems faster. It has been perfect for reviewing concepts that he has “almost” mastered and because it spans counting through fractional coefficients (hey, maybe I need to use it…), this is a product that will have great longevity in our homeschool. Practice produces speed which results in mastery. And this is much less painless than the timed math tests my son endured in pre-homeschool days.

Though this program is widely used (and is used in all Sylvan Learning Centers in the US and Canada), homeschoolers have their own niche with Quarter Mile since a new homeschooling section was added to the web site recently. Check it out and download a free demo of the program. A variety of purchase options are available, including CDs and online subscriptions, but in my opinion, the subscription program makes the most economic sense for homeschoolers. Obviously, the subscription program requires Internet access, but if you are reading this...


CDs are available by level or as bundles. A really affordable option is the subscription program. Current costs are $2.95 per family per month, $19.95 per family for one year or $34.95 per family for two years. This includes access to more than 70,000 problems and up to 12 family members can use the subscription. If you have high speed Internet access at home, kids can compete against each other in real time on separate computers. (I only have one homeschooled child, so we didn’t test this out. Maybe I will race the boy….)


From Quarter Mile:

The homeschool tab on the Quarter Mile site includes

--- “Getting Started” (Information that will help you understand the basics of the Quarter Mile Math quickly and easily and help your kids jump right in to using it.)

--- “Tips & Info” (This will be an ongoing series of emails to help you make the most effective use of the program. Once emailed, they will be posted on this page. Anyone can sign up to receive these emails.)

--- “Printable Progress Chart” (Helps you keep track of students’ progress in The Quarter Mile Math.)

--- “Users’ Forum” (A place for homeschoolers to see how others are incorporating The Quarter Mile Math into their curricula.)

cheater empanadas

Warning: There is nothing authentic about this recipe. I make it because my kids inhale it like candy.


Cheater Empanadas

1 pound ground turkey

1 small onion, chopped

1 t. Kosher salt

3/4 t. ground cumin

1 package rolled pie crusts or 1 recipe homemade pie crust (depends of how much time I have – rolled crusts have lard, which is gross for vegetarians who cook for carnivores)

1 egg, beaten with 1 T. water


Remove crust dough from fridge. Warmth equals pliability.


Brown the turkey with the onion. Mix in salt and cumin. Drain fat. Cool. (I’m serious. Otherwise, you cook the crust dough unevenly and prematurely. Ask me how I know.)


Cut crust into fourths or sixths. If you don’t care about wasting the excess, you can cut it into cute little rounds for easier shaping, but who does that?


Spoon cooled turkey mixture into dough. Fold and seal. (Use a little water to seal the edges if necessary. Place on a well oiled cookie sheet (again, ask me how I know) and brush tops with egg wash. Bake at 375 for about 15 –20 minutes, or until golden brown. (Timing depends on the size of your cheater empanadas.)

Serve to hungry children.

Monday, August 24, 2009

how to freeze 75 pounds of tomatoes and live to tell about it

You will need this:


That’s three of these, people:


Next, express buyer’s remorse when you realize that you bought 75 POUNDS OF TOMATOES. Proceed through the stages of grief until you find 1. acceptance, 2. extra virgin olive oil and 3. sea salt.


Wash, core and quarter those babies until you get assembly line hypnosis. Place them in a single layer on a sheet pan with a lip (important for catching juices – otherwise, prepare to clean your oven). Thankfully, I have a double oven, so I had four pans going at once. Toss them with a drizzle of EVOO and a dash of salt and roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Soon, they will look like this:


Cool, bag and freeze. In November, take as needed for winter blues.

You’re welcome.

Purists will take issue with the fact that I didn’t remove the tomato skins. Did I mention I bought 75 pounds? Some battles are not worth fighting.

We also canned two batches of salsa. Info to come.

Friday, August 21, 2009






Thursday, August 20, 2009

tastes as good as it looks


One day last week, I had one of those ice-pick-in-the-skull sinus headaches. And yet, the boy wanted lunch. I think I mumbled something like, “Please go find something healthy….” This was the result: pineapple, cole slaw, pretzels and peanut butter (fresh ground from Whole Foods – it’s good stuff).

We eat with our eyes first, I guess.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ALEKS math

Math is a challenge for me. There you go, I said it. In the great Murphy’s Law of Homeschool, it is also a subject at which my son excels.

We have been trying out ALEKS math, an online curriculum. ALEKS, Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces, offers very individualized learning that adapts to each student. Things got off to a hairy start when my son did the initial assessment. I had him take the test for the pre-algebra level since we are doing pre-algebra this year. He missed a lot -- and he was not happy. It became a teachable moment just to get him to understand the purpose of assessing him at the beginning of the school year. (“You aren’t supposed to know it yet!”) The ALEKS program provides a pie chart (I’m a visual learner, so I applaud the pie chart) divided by area of study. Each piece of the pie is color-coded and shows what the student has mastered and what still needs to be learned.


(This isn’t our pie chart, but you get the idea.)

Once my son realized that ALEKS would allow him to move forward in new areas without being assaulted by monotonous review, he was all for it. I can log in to my account (even while he is working online on a different computer) and see what new areas he has completed and how well he handled the material. I can also see the time spent each day and how far he has progressed since his last assessment. And I can assign quizzes in areas where I think he needs more practice. While we would not use this as a replacement for our current math curriculum, you could certainly choose to do so and be very well covered. We have found it to be a change of pace for us that really helped me assess my son’s math level (even if he doesn’t like assessments).

ALEKS is entirely web based and costs $19.95 per month, $99.95 per six months and $179.95 per 12 months. Discounts apply for multiple students.

A free 48-hour trial is available on their site BUT homeschoolers can get a free one-month trial --

Homeschool Banner

From the ALEKS web site:

What is ALEKS?
Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces is a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics she is most ready to learn. ALEKS can provide you with the instruction and support that you need to homeschool your children in mathematics for grades 3-12. ALEKS offers highly-targeted, individualized instruction from virtually any computer with Internet access, making it a comprehensive and mobile education solution for your children.

ALEKS is a Research-Based Online Program:

  • Complete Curriculum Solution for Math with Access to Full Course Library
  • No Textbook Required
  • Artificial Intelligence Targets Gaps in Student Knowledge
  • Assessment and Individualized Learning for Grades 3-12
  • New and Improved Master Account - Includes Quizzing, Attendance Tracking, Automated Reports, and More
  • Unlimited Online Access - PC and Mac Compatible
  • QuickTables - Complimentary Math Fact Mastery Program for Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction

hank the cowdog

“There’s a thin line between heroism and stupidity, and I try to stay on the south side of it.”

I laughed out loud at that line – twice. The humor in John Erickson’s Hank the Cowdog series is subtle enough to sneak up on you sometimes and just countrified enough to make you laugh in spite of yourself.

When we were asked to review a CD, a book from the series and the new Tornado game, I said, “Hank who?” I promise, my library card is almost worn out and I have spent the GNP of some countries on I just missed this one, I guess, and that’s a shame. I know a teenager in my household who would have been all over these books back in the day when Junie B. Jones ruled her bookshelf. The boy, who just doesn’t appreciate subtlety yet, is enjoying Erickson’s head of ranch security, but I know his sister would have loved it even more.

Erickson has created a series of 54 Hank books and he reads the audio versions himself, with voice characterizations and original songs. The CDs are wildly popular and I can see why. Our CD sampler made for a dead quiet (except for laughter) car ride. My son is still reading “The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse,” (I am not making that up) and I hear chuckles from the couch as he reads.


For wee littles, I think this series would make for fun read-alouds. Note that you may choose to edit Hank’s language as you read – it’s all G-rated, but “idiot” and “moron” are used on occasion. It’s cowdog talk, you know, and easy enough to deal with, just as we did when our then 2-year-old would only watch the original “101 Dalmatians.” I heard Cruella call Horace and Jasper one of those words at least 42,000 times, but my daughter knew that wasn’t a word we would allow her to say. YMMV.

I haven’t taken the Tornado game in the car yet, but it does pack up neatly in its own case, which is nice for siblings in close quarters. My son enjoys the game, but I think those who have spent more time getting to know the series’ characters will really love it.


Mosey over to to see the complete book list and a variety of cute products. You can learn more about the author (a former Harvard Divinity School student) and his ranch, too.

Hank’s Tales and Tunes CD ($3) includes portions of audio books and songs from the series.

The Tornado game is $12.99 and includes a bonus cassette tape.

back to school and homeschool


Off to 11th grade! Today, the girl hopped in her friend’s car and headed off to school. It’s the first time since 1997 that I am not driving a carpool. I am a happy camper, as long as the girl remembers to text me when she arrives and leaves.


Home for 6th grade! The boy is working hard. There is much more to do in middle school, but so far, so good. (Of course, we are only three hours in right now.) Tomorrow, he has online frog dissection, so that will be a hit. It was really hard to assemble the lab sheets without looking at the pictures, but I made it work. Currently, I am fielding questions about why robins don’t mate with blue jays. Thanks, Prentice Hall Science Explorer.

Hope everyone is having a great start to the school year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Hey, I have a blog. In my defense, our neighbor had a new cable installed last week and our line was cut in the process. We were creating petroglyphs on the family room wall and setting fire to the furniture by day three.

In other news, I have decided to uncomplicate my life by surrendering to the wondrous beauty that is Windows Live Writer. No amount of HTML (known by a liberal arts major) could make WLW work with my new template, so I am tweaking accordingly. All will be well soon.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

grapevine studies

Please click on over to Heart of the Matter Online and read my review of Grapevine Studies Bible Curriculum. (In short, we love it -- great for tactile/kinesthetic learners.)

Through Aug. 30, a 30 percent discount on all books is available by using the code “acrew” on

web design for kids

Not too long ago, my husband sent me an e-mail that began, “Roses are #FF0000, violets are #0000FF.…”
Get it?
When we were given the chance to review Web Design for Kids (…And Curious Grown-Ups), I saw the DVD case for about 30 seconds before my son took off with it. We both enjoyed watching Brian Richardson teach HTML in a basic, simple way. Brian is, well, nice. He isn’t intimidating and because his kindness comes through in the DVD, he makes the process enjoyable (much like Steve Demme in Math U See, in my opinion -- a topic that is not my favorite but a teacher I enjoy).
Hit the pause button here and get over the fact that your child probably won’t need to learn HTML. This program isn’t designed to make your child a computer programmer. It is an introduction to what my resident computer expert (Hi, Sweetheart!) called a foundational language.
The bottom line is that my son, who started with no programming knowledge, went through the entire DVD on his own and he created web pages that work. And he wants to learn more. I would call that a hit.
You don’t need to buy any additional software for this if you have notepad and Internet Explorer. (You probably do.) My son’s tip: If your computer plays DVDs, your child can run the DVD in one window while programming in another. (See photo for how he did that.)

(I am working on setting up my son’s pages online -- and by “working on it” I mean asking my husband. When that’s done, I will come back here and post a link. A word of warning: You might need to shield your eyes. He’s 11 and he likes sites that are bright and full of motion.)

Web Design for Kids (…And Curious Grown-Ups) runs 1 hour and 22 minutes. Lessons from the DVD can be used on PCs or Macs and the program is recommended for ages 8 and older. As of this writing, the DVD is on sale for $19.99 plus $3.99 shipping and handling. A portion of the sales benefits charities including Children’s Miracle Network and Ronald McDonald House.