Friday, November 20, 2009

summer is over


But this bee and I refuse to let go.

Photo taken at the butterfly garden at Roper Mountain Science Center last Saturday. It was about 25 degrees warmer then.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


3dcover_M.jpg image by homeschoolcrew

OK, super cool. Member of the TOS Crew were asked to review Gymathics, an exercise DVD for kids from Exploramania. The math portion (patterns, etc.) is seamlessly incorporated with the exercises, making for a fun mid-day break for us. Despite some eye-rolling from the boy about the math (it is too young for him), he has fun with the exercises and we are including it in our PE credit this year.

With the ark-worthy amount of rain we have had lately, we need something for indoors. This fits the bill. The math facts are targeted for grades 2 – 5, though I see there is a new video with math for grades 4 - 7. I was pleased that a range of ages were represented in the exercisers (an older boy –hooray!) . That definitely made it easier for my son to join in. And I have joined in, too. (I am tired of Jillian Michaels yelling at me.) If you have a kinesthetic learner, this is especially appropriate.

I just hope they hurry up and do an algebra version.


Sample videos are available online here and on YouTube.  DVDs are $24.99 each through Exploramania, but they are also available through stores and online retailers.


We reviewed this as part of the TOS Crew.


We received a free DVD for review. I was not compensated. My opinions are my own.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

thanksgiving turkey 101

Disclaimer: I am a vegetarian and will be eating a nice, juicy Tofurky at my house the day after Thanksgiving.(I noticed that the Tofurky roast no longer comes with Tofurky Jerky legs. How sad: legless tofu bird.)

Apparently there is widespread Internet panic about the Thanksgiving bird. Stress no more, people. Forget the dried out carcass that ends up on most holiday tables. Try this at least once – this is my husband’s method and he actually does eat turkey, so I have verification that it works. If you like this method, you may find that turkey is cooked as often at your house as it is here. Bird: It’s not just for Thanksgiving.

  • If your bird is frozen, thaw it in the fridge FOR A REALLY LONG TIME. Seriously, I read the recommendations on the package and then add a day. These things are disgusting blocks of poultry juice ice and they always take longer to thaw than any recommendation I have ever seen. YMMV. USDA recommendations are here. I heart the USDA and their food safety OCD.
  • When your turkey has thawed, remove the parts stowed inside the body cavity. (Think CSI and a drug mule.) Double check – sometimes those extra parts are sneaky. (More on the parts later.)
  • Wash the bird thoroughly and cut it like a chicken. (Google this and you will find step-by-step instructions, including videos. Learn this skill and save money! Or, if you are a veg and this is as gross to you as it is to me, convince someone else in the house to take care of the butchering. Be sure to cut the bird and not your hand.) A turkey is just a giant chicken. Not really, but use your imagination.
  • Arrange turkey pieces on a rack on a large roasting or broiler pan. Drizzle skin with extra virgin olive oil and if you’re feeling naughty, top with some tiny bits of butter. I sprinkle some sea salt and fresh ground pepper, but that’s personal choice. (At this point, you can stuff things under the turkey skin – not in the bird – like lemon slices, fresh rosemary and sage, etc. I rarely do this. I have no excuse.)
  • Bake that sucker at 325 - 350 until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast and thigh is 165 degrees. (I cook until it is 160-ish  and then remove from the oven and let it rest until the temperature has risen to 165. This is not USDA canon. Don’t listen to me. Listen to the USDA. I listen to Alton Brown.) If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you need one. Follow the USDA’s temperature recommendations because salmonella = gross.
  • I appreciate the food safety folks at Clemson Extension at least as much as the USDA. Read their turkey safety rules and commit them to memory. One little bout of food poisoning (not even meat-related) makes you wary. Wary, I tell you.
  • The baking time will be substantially less than that of a whole bird, but it varies by size. I have found that I can cook a beast of a turkey in under two hours. This means it remains moist and tender and does not become the desiccated ash pile so many of us remember from childhood holidays.

Now, about those turkey organs and such… Don’t throw them out. Those parts can be boiled to make stock and the bits can be added to gravy (or gra-by, as my daughter called it when she was little). Around here, they sometimes make it into homemade dog food. That’s a recipe for another day.

Also, stuffing should include chopped boiled eggs, onions and sage. These ingredients are not negotiable. It is also never stuffed inside a bird or even polluted with meatish things. This is because I love stuffing and it goes great with Tofurky roast.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

i actually do work, sort of

I get paid to write stuff. I would be most honored if you would click over and read (and comment, where applicable and if you are so inclined – yay for job security!) on some of the things I have online currently. Much obliged, ma’am.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

whether it needs it or not

Every hundred years or so, I update Basically Green. It’s not that I don’t care, I promise.

big toys

So while the little ones got plastic fire helmets and delighted in sitting in the driver’s seat of the fire truck, I watched the big boys (my son and his friend) eyeing the gadgets. A very astute firefighter came up to them and said, “You boys ever heard of the jaws of life?”

Christmas came early this year, boys and girls.


Monday, November 9, 2009

american heritage foundation

AHEF_Banner_update_v4.jpg image by homeschoolcrew


Free stuff, people – We homeschoolers love free stuff, right? American Heritage Foundation has a slew of free U.S. History lessons online at The organization will send you a CD of the materials (free!) that includes differentiated lessons for elementary, middle and high school levels. You can also download pdfs of any of the lessons. (My download speed is actually faster than reading a CD, so don’t be deterred by the file size if you have high speed access.)

The lessons are built on four themes: freedom, unity, progress and responsibility. The program is essentially what was called “civics” back in the day, but grew out of favor over the years. American Heritage designed this curriculum to counteract that trend. Some of this material is quite useful – I haven’t gone through all of it, so as always, we will use what works for us and disregard the rest. Though it was designed for public schools, it is very, very adaptable for homeschool use. And it’s free. Did I mention it’s free? (You can order the lessons in a printed form for a fee, but go check out the pdfs first.) There is a distinct focus on the primary documents the resulted in the formation of our country, as well as character education. And if you are in Texas, you get the double bonus of a version that is specific to state standards.


Monday, November 2, 2009

if you need verification of the season…


My poor, unsocialized homeschooler at our co-op’s fall festival last week. There were inflatables, games and a fire truck but we found all the kids jumping in the leaves…

mystery of history, vol. iii & a young scholar’s guide to composers

Oh my. I love, love these books. The TOS Crew was asked to review books from Bright Ideas Press and ours included these wonderful selections. I have heard time again about Mystery of History (or MOH, as homeschoolers call it) but I never knew enough about it to differentiate it from other history studies available. Allow me to gush for a moment.

First, MOH, Vol. III covers the renaissance, reformation and growth of nations, roughly 1455 – 1707. It is adaptable for a variety of ages, but I found it dead-on perfect for middle school. The textbook appeals to my tactile book sense (if you know me, you understand) because it’s meaty and beautiful – the design exudes the time period. Unlike many other homeschool texts, this one spares nothing in the eye candy department. Illustrations are detailed and colorful and incredibly appropriate. The layout is beyond organized. I suspect that author Linda Lacour Hobar and I could have a great time discussing organizational neuroses over a cup of coffee – this book is broken down in a way that makes lesson planning effortless. I heart that. So. Much.

moh3cover.jpg image by homeschoolcrew

Now, for the content: This is a Christian curriculum. It is openly, unashamedly, evangelical Christian. If that’s not your cup of tea, look elsewhere, but if you see history as His Story, this book has that covered. The book’s design gives the appearance of a scholarly treatise, but the text itself is quite conversational in style. Kids can read this and understand it. The stories are easy to digest without being condescending. Hobar speaks directly to the students in her writings. Don’t take my word for it: view a 62 page sample.

And – ack – there’s an activity guide, too. (Still gushing over this one, too… here’s a sample.) The activity guide (also available on CD) is over 500 pages long and includes adaptations for different grade levels, as well as crafts and quizzes and worksheets and maps and Hobar’s kitchen sink (probably). This truly completes the study. I would buy this series just for me, which is probably where I will end up when I am no longer homeschooling. Just me, buried under text books and papers, learning stuff I didn’t get with my undergraduate and graduate degrees.

But I digress.

composers-book-cover-web-231x300.jpg image by homeschoolcrew

We were also asked to review A Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers, which covers the biggies from ancient music (Gregorian chants, anyone?) to John Williams. (Yes, that John Williams.) Awesome, right? The book includes 32 lessons that are designed to serve as a year’s worth of study for students in grades 4- 8. It’s taking us a little longer than that, because we are using this as a rotating unit. Each lesson includes wonderful biographical details about each composer, as well as student review pages. There are detailed coloring pages (can’t get the boy interested in those…), a timeline, composer cards and more. Most helpful is the section featuring listening suggestions for each composer. The links are to YouTube videos and include discussion questions for each. (I hate typing in those long strings of characters for YouTube links, but that’s a minor complaint, especially since they are free.) Here’s a sample featuring Bach.


We received free books for review. I was not compensated. My opinions are my own.

abc teach

I actually found ABC Teach a while ago, while Googling for worksheets on something or other. Sometimes you just need a worksheet, you know? :) The site is loaded with downloads, more than 5,000, and more than 35,000 available to members. When the TOS Crew was asked to review the site, I didn’t know where to start. There are so many things available, it really did take me a while to figure it all out. However, once I got the hang of it, I found plenty that fit into our school days.

ABC Teach is not a curriculum substitute, though some topics for some subjects can be taught quite well from the information on the site. We found it best for supplementing – for those little fill-ins needed here and there. For instance, my son had a co-op assignment on the Great Wall of China. Before Googling and sorting through 927,000 irrelevant things, we searched ABC Teach and found exactly the thing he needed.

The site is also great for extra practice. Writing… don’t even get me started. Sometimes my son needs extra practice on a writing topic. Again, when faced with coming up with the extra practice myself, I decided not to reinvent the wheel. I found much more than I ever could have come up with on my own.

abc_logo.gif image by homeschoolcrew

If you use workboxes, ABC Teach has many, many downloads that lend themselves to that system. The site includes materials for preschool through high school, on just about every subject imaginable. Here’s a great example of items available for a weather-themed study: (These are free and just touch the surface of what is available to members.)

Just a note, I think I probably have few classroom teachers reading this site, but if you are a classroom teacher or teach at a co-op or Sunday school, there are many classroom helps on ABC Teach. I actually did not need those here in our one-student homeschool, but you may find them helpful.

ABC Teach membership is $40 per user per year or $70 for two years. Substantial discounts are offered for groups. Do you need to join? If it’s in your budget, there is great benefit to be had, but first, you should cruise around the free areas of the site. Membership allows access to many, many more items, as well as the ability to create custom worksheets. Here’s a video tour of the site which provides more information: (Scroll down to see the video.)


We received a free trial for review. I was not compensated. My opinions are my own.


avko2_01.jpg image by homeschoolcrew

If you have a child with learning difficulties, especially dyslexia, then AVKO might be of interest to you. AVKO is a nonprofit organization that produces materials related to spelling, writing, reading and keyboarding. TOS Crew members were asked to review the site and its membership benefits. Many homeschoolers use Sequential Spelling and you will find many supplemental resources for that program at AVKO as well. (View AVKO’s materials list here.)

While I didn’t find this to be a necessity for our homeschool, that isn’t a reflection on AVKO, just on our particular needs. If you have a need for any of AVKO’s printed materials, it is definitely worth the cost of membership for the discount and extras it includes. Membership provides free access to several e-books, supplemental curriculum and discounts on orders. Don McCabe’s workshops are available for members to download in mp3 format, including his talks on dyslexia, spelling, phonics and more – as well as corresponding workshop handouts. (Sample some freebies here:

Individual membership is $25 per year and includes a 25 percent discount on printed materials. The Reading Teacher’s List of Over 5,500 Basic Spelling Words can be ordered for $29.95 but is a free e-book with membership. That book alone makes AVKO membership a good deal, one which is magnified if you have a child with dyslexia. There are enough free samples on the site to give you a good feel for its content. Take a look and you might end up adding more spelling lessons to your homeschool, like someone else I know….



We received a free trial for review. I was not compensated. My opinions are my own.