Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

snail mail


Cassie at Our Adventures in Education has organized a postcard swap with one homeschooler from each state (minus Delaware, Massachusetts and West Virginia – click on over and let her know if you are in one of those states and want to participate). Ostensibly, this is a “learn the states” swap and obviously, my 11-year-old knows the states – but he loves to get mail and I thought this would be a fun writing exercise as well. I will post some of our postcards (because I am redundant that way) as they come in.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

destination disney (via heidi)

My friend, Heidi, is hosting a Destination Disney Q&A on her site and though I am already a week behind, I wanted to participate.

We are Disney freaks around here. We have visited the Florida Parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Disney Studios) quite a few times (10-ish?) and always have a great time. Since I write for parenting magazines, I have been fortunate to be able to attend a number of media events at Disney as well – the next is coming up in February to kick off Disney’s Give a Day, Get a Day promotion – and to share travel tips and event information with readers. I can write passionately about the Disney parks because it is a favorite destination for my family.

Our favorite character meal? Hands down, it’s the Crystal Palace. It is a world away from the hustle of the Magic Kingdom crowds just outside the window. When my son was a toddler, he was terrified of all characters he encountered at the parks, except for Pooh and friends at the Crystal Palace. Years later, he lost a tooth there while eating mac and cheese, but that’s probably TMI.

Heidi, want to know our favorite hotel? Favorite attraction (at each park)? Best hard ticket event? Best time of year to go? Favorite menu items? :)

Through the years:


We opened Disney Studios:

MGM opening photo


At Cinderella’s Castle Suite (I didn’t get to stay – only a quick media tour…)



My most recent Disney story:

Homeschooling at WDW

Monday, January 25, 2010

crackberry (or, boldly to go where no camera has gone before)


OK, I held out as long as I could. I didn’t really need to be connected ALL the time, right? But I like it – and it has a super cool camera, for a cell phone.


At the Peace Center for a performance by the Greenville Symphony Orchestra. They opened with the theme from Indiana Jones. The boy, he was pleased.




At the Upcountry History Museum for a homeschool class on the technology of World War II. And again, the boy was pleased.



keyboarding for the christian school

keyboarding1.jpg picture by homeschoolcrew

I was really pleased that we were asked to review Keyboarding for the Christian School as part of the TOS Crew. Our state requires a half-year of keyboarding for high school and really, I was tired of watching my son hunt and peck. In the past, he has used free online typing games, but this was our first attempt at a true keyboarding curriculum. This isn’t an online course. We printed the lessons from the e-book and just jumped in with both feet – er, hands. In any event, the curriculum is super easy to implement and compares quite well with the syllabus of the keyboarding class at our local public school (but it is Christian in content and includes NIV verses). We are using the edition for grades 6 and older, but an elementary version (K – grade 5) is also available. The “older kid” version includes 43 lessons, beginning with alphabet keys. The course covers works cited, business letters, envelopes, tables, timed writings and more. It is quite thorough and I am pleased to say that author Leanne Beitel has created a great product that (in my opinion) matches the requirements for high school credit in my state.


Discount pricing is available on bundles, but the basic course is $15.95.  Try before you buy with a slew of sample lessons.


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

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Absolutely fascinating. See how they did it at Now, back to my own deadlines...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

math score

I have to admit, I didn’t think my XBox playing 11-year-old would like this. We were given a free trial of MathScore as part of the TOS Crew. It isn’t flashy or graphics-heavy or any of those things my boy likes. But he likes this. Why? He can earn levels of achievement and being a goal-oriented male of the species, that is enough to keep him interested.

MathScore is web-based and it provides an unbelievable amount of math practice from basic math (grade one) through algebra. The program’s unique feature is its ability to adapt to how well a student does, increasing the difficulty as needed. Super cool, and yet not unpleasant for the boy. As he earns points, he increases his rank. It’s a simple ploy, but it is effective. I will take it!

We are using MathScore to supplement our pre-algebra curriculum. I love that I receive an email with a summary of everything my son did (on days he uses the program) with a score for each topic he covered. (Automatic grading – the two favorite words of every homeschooling parent.) From this, I learned that my son has no idea what to do with a restaurant bill. (Why would he? But that never occurred to me.) Ack. We are really finding this useful and all I have to do is mention the ranking to get the boy hooked on working again. :) Mwahahaha.

For homeschoolers, note that MathScore has a mini-lesson with each topic, so it could conceivably be used as a math curriculum, especially if you have a child who loves working on the computer and thrives on instant feedback.


MathScore is $14.95 per month for the first student, but a coupon code reduces the price to $9.95 per month for new users. A free trial is available. You even try an instant demo that does not require registration. And don’t miss the free worksheets.


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

math tutor dvd/numbers and counting & basic math word problems

YoungMinds-SmallerImage_amazonsize.jpg image by homeschoolcrew

Barney the Dinosaur was the big draw for toddlers when my children were little. (Pardon me while I shudder for a moment.) Now, the toddlers at church seem mesmerized by Christian Baby Einstein-like videos – it’s amazing how captivated they are. Young Minds: Numbers and Counting from Math Tutor DVD blows that concept out of the water with classical music (!), delightful images and a really sweet way to teach numbers and one-to-one correspondence. Though I have no littles here to enjoy it, I actually liked the video myself and I think parents of wee ones who need a minute to regroup, make dinner or take a shower will find that this is a momentary respite for them and a learning opportunity for their toddlers. The video is a delight. Numbers and Counting sells for $19.99 and has already won a slew of awards.

basic_math_word_problem_amazon_size.jpg image by homeschoolcrew

As part of the TOS Crew we were asked to review the Numbers video as well as the Basic Math Word Problems Tutor. Word problems – pardon me while I shudder again. While the subject matter here may strike fear in the hearts of parents (homeschooling or not) and their kids, this is a big help. With really in-depth teaching and clear explanations, we are already finding this useful. Sometimes I just need someone else to explain it in a different way, you know? If you homeschool, you understand. This is a wonderful supplement to a comprehensive math curriculum and I definitely recommend it for anyone wary of word problems. (That’s everyone, right?)

Don’t take my word for it – view samples online: Word Problems and Numbers and Counting.

This two-DVD set is $26.99 and it includes eight hours of instruction.

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

presidential penmanship

“If you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.” Ronald Reagan

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” Theodore Roosevelt

 5185.jpg picture by homeschoolcrew

These quotes made me smile immediately as I looked through Zeezok Publishing’s Presidential Penmanship Italic Style Complete Program, a product we were asked to review as part of the TOS Crew. I confess, we don’t work on penmanship – or handwriting, tomayto, tomahto – in our homeschool. That is really due to the fact that my son has good handwriting habits and beautiful penmanship already. I take no credit for that – those habits were established before we started homeschooling. As such, he is resistant to backtracking at this point. However, this program seems quite well suited for children of all ages (lessons for grades K-12 are included on the CD) and it is especially relevant for those who homeschool in the classical style since it is based on quotes from the presidents and other founding fathers.

Our grade level is the junior high program, which includes 108 lessons, proceeding from less than two lines to a full page. The italic style is lovely but several different programs are available from Zeezok if italic style doesn’t suit you. I prefer Zaner-Bloser style, but that is purely personal preference. For you anti-ZB types, a D’Nealian style is also available. :) A comparison of the fonts is available online. Each complete program is $39.99 via download or on CD. Grade levels are available for individual download for $9.99 each.


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

bertie’s war

9780825424328.jpg image by homeschoolcrew

“Bertie’s War” is a sort of coming of age story – both for Roberta and the Cold War era U.S. in which she lives. The book, by Total Language Plus author Barbara Tifft Blakely, has a Christian theme woven throughout as Bertie struggles to understand and overcome her fear of, well, everything. While some of the story’s characters come across as one dimensional, this book could certainly be included as a light fiction supplement to a Cold War history study. (We use a lot of historical fiction around here.) Girls, especially, should enjoy Bertie’s tale. The story’s overarching theme also provides an opportunity for discussion about fear – as well as why parents sometimes have to be a parent instead of a friend. This is a quick read and though it may not grab students early on, encourage them to hang in there for the resolution. They will find that Bertie’s real war isn’t what they expected.

(We received a review copy of “Bertie’s War” as a part of the TOS Crew.)



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

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

the modern homestead

Low tech:


High tech:


Monday, January 11, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010

leap year (the movie) – PG alert

We had the opportunity for a sneak peek at “Leap Year,” which opens today. No spoilers here, but the movie was very sweet and surprisingly funny. I first knew Amy Adams from “Enchanted” and she is indeed enchanting in this movie, as is Matthew Goode. The destination is predictable (but it doesn’t try to be an M. Night movie, so I’m OK with a little predictability) but the journey is still fun. And for fellow parents of teenaged girls who like chick flicks – this one is pretty clean. It is PG (PG!!) for sensuality and language. PG-rated movies are few and far between (I’m talking to you, movie makers.) Compared to the PG-13 offerings that are standard fare these days, this one is refreshing. But it does have the unpleasant side-effect of making viewers want to book a trip to Ireland.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

paved paradise


Welcome to South Carolina, home of eight months of northbound Interstate closure. This has been the source of much angst, as you can imagine. On our way home from seeing Baby B. Sunday, we made our last trip via I-385 northbound, which is now closed until construction is completed in August. (That’s the current timetable.)

It’s a catch-22, of course – living here in this beautiful place. My husband grew up here. I am the swamp queen from east, where we have things like Spanish moss, chiggers and black, stagnant bogs. (I say that lovingly.) Here, despite the glaring absence of Spanish moss, the economy has fared well compared to the rest of the state/country. We have a thriving arts community, a gloriously diverse international presence buoyed by industry and a downtown that is the envy of cities across the nation.

It’s good here and people come. As a result, we have a vibrant city, good jobs, boundless opportunity, disappearing farms, bottlenecked highways, overcrowded schools and a building boom that continues to provide vast economic development with each disappearing tree. I am grateful for the relative economic stability here, the diversity that means my children grow up with a love for all people and the ability to reach three grocery stores in under five minutes.


I’ve stewed about this more lately because my favorite nearby view is gone. Between our home and well, a lot of stuff including our church, is a beautiful, narrow road that cuts a path through a tangle of tulip poplars. Each fall, the leaves turn in one collective breath, like God reached down and gold-leafed the forest overnight. The road opens up past a small pond that is (was) home to lots of deer – we have seen as many as eight at once. It provides a home for ducks, a family of Canada geese that decided to stay permanently, and a great blue heron that once flew so close he made me gasp. There’s an albino hawk that perches nearby, too.

Now, when I round the curve, I see a house under construction. It is so close to the pond, the homeowners will be able to skip stones from their front door. I haven’t seen the deer in weeks and the geese have moved elsewhere. The view up the smooth green hill is completely obscured.

I understand the schizophrenia of my distress. I moved here. I drive a car on the roads that are being widened. I shop. I wasn’t here first and I didn’t come in the booming wave of the last decade. I don’t use fewer resources just because I came somewhere in the middle, when cow pastures dotted every corner and “going into town” was still a relevant phrase.

I don’t know where the balance lies but I do know we haven’t found it yet. I tell my husband I can live anywhere as I long as UPS delivers and I can get Internet access. I am a spoiled consumer and I need to go where I can still see the geese. I am sure the geese hope I will just stay home.

Monday, January 4, 2010

newness, everywhere you look


Welcome, Baby B. Having a great nephew (“great” because he is great but also because I am his dad’s aunt – and ack, I’m old) was a wonderful way to start the new year.

Friday, January 1, 2010

new year’s day 2010

A chilly photo shoot:











ultimate guide to homeschooling

ughs_sm.jpg image by homeschoolcrew

While many experienced homeschoolers are familiar with Debra Bell’s Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling (published by Apologia – you probably know them as the science people), it was new to me. Well, actually, the 2009 edition is new to everyone, isn’t it? We received a review copy of the book as part of the TOS Crew. I would wholeheartedly recommend this to any Christian family thinking about homeschooling. I take issue with some things in the book that I think are more opinion-based, but the vast amount of knowledge and resources included in book far outweigh any tidbits with which I disagree.

This book - all 500+ pages of it – has everything for those considering homeschooling to those who have been doing it for years. I wish I had found the old version of this before we started. It is already proving to be a valuable resource for some concerns I had about our language arts curriculum, as well as questions about the methods of assessment I have been using. In both instances, I received some confirmation and some new ideas – exactly what I hoped for.

Sections include

  • Homeschooling: Is it for you?
  • Choosing a Curriculum
  • Organization and Planning
  • Preventing Burnout
  • What to Teach – When and How
  • Homeschooling Teens
  • Computers in the Homeschool
  • Creative Solutions
  • Measuring Your Success
  • and a great resource guide

At the web site, you can download a sample chapter and the table of contents.

The book is $20 if ordered from Apologia. Just go ahead and add it on to your science order. :)


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

jean welles’ worship guitar

DVD1-4sm.jpg picture by homeschoolcrew

We received a free review copy of Volume One of Jean Welle’s Worship Guitar as part of the TOS Crew. Just so you know where we stood, Nolan has been learning to play guitar through his homeschool co-op’s music class. However, because co-op only meets once per week, and they don’t play guitar every week, he has spent (too much) time at home sort of teaching himself. He seems to have a knack for it, but I was concerned that he might be developing bad habits. I know for sure that he needed more instruction in the basics. When we received this, he thought he was beyond it, honestly, but even though he already knew much of the information included, some things were brand new to him and critical to building a good foundation.

Volume One includes seven lessons on DVD, a small booklet kept inside the DVD case, and a larger book with detailed lessons and songs. (The DVD and accompanying booklet are in English and Spanish.) Jean is super gentle and easy-going as she teaches, encouraging prayer and worship throughout each lesson. She begins with the absolute basics and quickly (but appropriately) progresses through a variety of chords. I know the lessons have helped cement the foundation Nolan needs as he continues the play.

You can view sample videos online at The Worship Guitar class options include four volumes, a Christmas song version and a version for kids. The cost for the Volume One DVD and books is $29.95  Check out the web site for lots of free lessons and videos.


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