Thursday, January 29, 2009

All About Homophones - Review and Discount!

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the next several months. I feel truly blessed to be participating in this review group and I'm looking forward to trying out the products and giving you my honest opinion.

"All About Homophones?" you might ask. "How much exactly is there to know about homophones?" Well, you might surprised to know that All About Spelling's Marie Rippel has put together a 240 page book All About Homophones and it is quite a fun read! So fun, in fact, that I decided to suspend all of our spelling studies for two weeks, just to enjoy some time studying homophones.

Homophones are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently. (Think: to, two, and too.) Teaching your children about homophones helps them to learn to spell and use these fun words correctly. All About Homophones is perfect for your 1st through 8th grader, including a long list of homophones and even a suggested grade year to introduce each one. There are tons of worksheets, crossword puzzles, riddles, and tongue twisters. This book includes cards to print (or cut out) and instructions for six homophone card games for real hands-on learning.

The kids and I really enjoyed our Homophone Unit using the All About Homophones ebook. I decided to let them keep all of their worksheets in their own homophone folders which they decorated themselves:

Inside they kept a running list of new homophones they were learning:

Along with their completed worksheets:
We also enjoyed some fun homophone books, most of them suggested in All About Homophones.
Here's the ones we read:

Using the books really rounded out the study. I can honestly say that the kids were excited every time I told them it was time to study homophones. It was like a game to them, but they were learning the entire time.
You can purchase All About Homophones as a paperback book for $29.95 or as an ebook for $27.95. I really think learning about homophones is a fun way to spice up your language arts studies in the middle of the year and this book is really the only tool you'll need to create a fun homophone unit. There is so much included within its pages.
Plus, there's a big celebration going on over at the All About Homophones website! Right now you can get $10 off any order when you type "FUN" in the customer code box during checkout. That means you can get the printed version of All About Homophones for $19.95 and the ebook for $17.95! But you'll have to hurry because the deal only lasts through Monday, February 2nd.
For more reviews of this product check out the TOS Crew Blog!

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ice in the Morning

Well, its a good thing I haven't quit my day job since my weather predictions were way off. Not only did we wake up to more snow, but we also had lots and lots of ice. There are entire counties in our area with power outages, but thankfully we still have our's.

This is our snow covered backyard.

And back deck.

You better believe that I was taking all these pictures from the safety of the indoors. My whiny self is not about to step foot outside in the frigid cold today.

The kids, however, are having a blast outside. This is a stick covered in ice that they found.

And an ice-covered leaf.

Here's E2 insisting that he's ready to go outside. Hmmmm. Actually, Hubby is off work today and did a thorough search of our closets and found snow boots and snowsuits for everyone, much to our surprise. Being a large family makes us an easy target for all of our friends' hand-me-down children's clothes. And being a large family, we know not to say "no thanks". We were quite blessed this morning to find all of this snow gear buried in our closets that we have been given for free!
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Snow in the Morning

Well, it actually snowed last night as predicted and we woke up to about 3 inches. Since every school district remotely close to us shut down today, I figured we could use a snow day too...well, at least a snow morning. I know, I'm a mean mama and made them do schoolwork on a snow day.

E2 and his trademark cheesy grin.

I made G8 stand in the snow drift next to our house so you could see how deep it is...yeah, it's not all that impressive but it's likely the most snow we'll see this year.

Baby L and I sat on a rocking chair on our porch all bundled up in a blanket. Isn't she pretty? I could just stare at her all day.

The snow was very dry and wouldn't pack together, making snowball and snowman making impossible. But H3 was undaunted and used the side of the house for an extra boost.

Eventually all the kids pitched and created "Bob."..."No, his name is Princess." ..."No, it's Bob." ..."No, it's Princess." ...Sorry, just re-living one of many sibling arguments we've had today.

Whatever his name is, he's kind of cute.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

January Creation Club - Birds!

Well, we had another really neat Creation Club meeting this week. Before starting this group I had no idea where any local nature centers were, let alone that there would be so many. We decided to study birds this month and we were really in for a treat. The nature center we visited had a "bird blind". This is a small heated building with large windows along one side. Outside the windows were several bird feeders. There was even a speaker feature that we could turn on inside the building and listen to the birds outside.

One of the moms in the group planned this trip. It was so helpful to have her there to help us to identify the birds. She gave the kids printouts with black and white pictures of the most familiar birds to our area to use to keep a bird count for the day. The bird above is a chickadee. Keeping count of the birds made it like a game for the kids and kept them interested.

Thanks to Kim, from our group, I know that this bird is a carolina wren.

Many of you will probably recognize this bird, but I didn't know what it was. It's a downy woodpecker! Pretty cool, right?

Okay, the cardinal was the only bird we saw that I actually did recognize.

Look at how red he is! When going through my pictures, I realized I didn't have any of the female cardinals which are a much duller red, almost brown color.

Sort of like Where's Waldo. Can you see all four cardinals? When taking a bird count, you can only count the birds you can see at one time. So if you think there are four cardinals, you can only write it down if you see four all at once. We are in cardinal country, so we saw plenty of these. I counted four males and five females in the thirty minutes we were out there.

After the bird watching we made some simple bird feeders.

Use gallon milk jugs and cut out holes on the opposite sides of the handle. (see picture).
Then poke a hole under each cut out circle with a large nail or spike. Slide a dowel rod through the holes to create a perch on each side.
Use a small nail to poke several holes on the bottom of the jug for water drainage.
Use the small nail to punch holes on either side of the lid and thread and tie a metal wire through the top.

You can fill this with any type of bird seed you like and hang it on your back deck or a tree in your yard.

Want another cool bird idea for you and your kids? Try participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count in February. Here's some information from their site:

"The Great Backyard Bird Count (or GBBC) is an event that takes place over four days in February each year. It's very easy! All you have to do is watch birds in your yard, a nearby park, or maybe at your school. Then you tell us what you saw by entering your bird list online. We collect that information from people all over the United States and Canada so scientists can learn what kind of birds are being seen in the winter and whether there are more or fewer of them than before. You'll have more fun taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count if you first learn about the birds you're most likely to see. We have some fun ways for you to become familiar with birds. Visit our website at

Count for Fun, Count for the Future

New York, NY and Ithaca, NY—Bird and nature fans throughout North America are invited to join tens of thousands of everyday bird watchers for the 12th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), February 13-16, 2009. This free event is an opportunity for families, students, and people of all ages to discover the wonders of nature in backyards, schoolyards, and local parks, and, at the same time, make an important contribution to conservation. Participants count birds and report their sightings online.

“The Great Backyard Bird Count benefits both birds and people. It’s a great example of citizen science: Anyone who can identify even a few species can contribute to the body of knowledge that is used to inform conservation efforts to protect birds and biodiversity,” said Audubon Education VP, Judy Braus. “Families, teachers, children and all those who take part in GBBC get a chance to improve their observation skills, enjoy nature, and have a great time counting for fun, counting for the future.”Anyone can take part, from novice bird watchers to experts, by counting birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and reporting their sightings. Participants can also explore what birds others are finding in their backyards—whether in their own neighborhood or thousands of miles away. Additional online resources include tips to help identify birds, a photo gallery, and special materials for educators."

I was told that that if you put your bird feeders out now, you'll have plenty of them visiting in time for the Bird Count in February. Happy Bird Watching! Pin It Now!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Nana Star and the Moonman

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the next several months. I feel truly blessed to be participating in this review group and I'm looking forward to trying out the products and giving you my honest opinion.

Nana Star and the Moonman is the second book in the Nana Star series published by ee Publishing and Productions. You can purchase the book alone or as a set with an adorable light-up Moonman Lovey that plays music.

The authors of the Nana Star series are dedicated to inspiring character in young children. The story begins with the first book, Nana Star. (A pretty, posable Nana Star doll is available as well.) You can watch a video of the entire story on the Nana Star website. In the first book, children are introduced to Nana Star as she discovers a lost baby star. Nana Star then begins a journey to take the baby star back to her home in the heavens. Their adventure begins in Nana Star and the Moonman, when Nana finds herself afraid of the dark. This is when she meets the Moonman who tells her,

"I am the Moonman and I will be with you always. Even when you can't see me, I am with you, watching over you."

I'd like to mention here that God is not mentioned in the Nana Star stories (*though the authors do mention God being the only one to make things perfect in a challenge to the kids that I've explained in more detail below). This doesn't generally bother me in a children's book, but since the Moonman makes the above the statement, I like to take the time to talk to the kids about how even though the Moonman is a fictional character, he reminds us of how God is always with us and watching over us, even though we can not see him now.

The Nana Star website is filled to the brim with activities like coloring pages, songs, and videos. I particularly appreciated that the site even includes lesson plans for both of the books that include simple math activities, language arts activities, etc. that you can do with your little ones.

My older kids were excited by a cute challenge that the books offer as well:

*"All Nana Star stories feature a mistake because Nana Star believes in life we all make mistakes, yet, even with those mistakes, we can still create something beautiful. She reminds us that only God can make things perfect!"

If the kids find the mistake and write a letter to Nana Star describing how to fix it, they will become members of the Nana Star Little Twinkles Club and receive an autographed picture of Nana Star with certificate. I now have four carefully written letters sitting on my desk waiting to be mailed off.

My little ones like the Moonman Lovey. His face lights up which reminds me of the little glowworm dolls and he plays the Nana Star theme music when you squeeze his tummy. Here, I snapped some pictures of Baby L with the Moonman, but truly this cuddly doll has captured the heart of E2 who occasionally wants to sleep with it.

You can purchase a Moonman Gift Wrapped package which includes both the Nana Star and the Moonman book and the Moonman Lovey for $50.95 or purchase them separately.

For more reviews of the Nana Star products, be sure to visit the TOS Crew blog.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Giveaway at Classless and Lovin' It!

I can't remember when it was that I came across Jenn's blog...some time back in the summer I guess. I just remember finding her posts refreshing, honest, and witty. I can't tell you how many times I've laughed out loud while reading her blog, (I'm not laughing at you, Jenn...I'm laughing with you *wink, smile*). Anyway, the fact of the matter is I'm addicted and don't miss a Classless and Lovin' It post! I feel blessed to have found this bloggy friend.

All this to say...Jenn is hosting a giveaway at her blog this weekend and you should definitely check it out. She's giving away a copy of Angela Hunt's The Note. I enjoyed reading this book last Spring with the book club at our church. If I'm not mistaken, I think Hallmark made a movie based on the book last Spring as well.

I've been tending to sick kids all week as the stomach virus has once again effectively wiped us all out. I don't feel like it was a very productive week at all, but I think everyone is well again so at least that is good news. I'm really hoping that there are no more nights sleeping on the bathroom floor in my near future. Isn't it funny how hard, cold laminate flooring can somehow be so soothing? Pin It Now!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Two's aren't so terrible.

Happy Birthday to my sweet little man, he's now E2! Pin It Now!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

She likes it!

Remember when I showed you Baby L's look of concern over her first baby food experience? She really wasn't all that impressed with solid least not the kind that comes out of a jar.

I noticed when I made some homemade applesauce, that she gobbled it up. I've been wanting to make homemade baby food ever since I first watched Baby Boom when I was about 12, so I did a little research and found this site.

So far I've made sweet potatoes, pears, carrots, and bananas. Really all I'm doing is pureeing the food in the food processor. I boil it first if it is a fruit or vegetable that needs softening and add formula if it's too thick. You could add breast milk instead of the formula, but the breast pump and I have never been friends, so formula works for me.

This page is helpful for choosing first foods.

Once the baby food is made, just put it into an ice cube tray and cover it with plastic wrap. Freeze it. Once it's frozen, pop out the individual servings of baby food and put them in a freezer bag. Make sure to label the bag with the name of the food and the date it was frozen, so you know when you need to use it up or throw it out. Here's how long the food will last if frozen:

Cooked fruits and vegetables 1-3 months
Meat 1-2 months
Meat/vegetable combination 3-4 months
Egg yolks 1-2 months

What is this I see on Baby L's face? It's not a look of concern...could it be a look of intrigue?

Let's take another bite. Mmmmmmmm.

Oh, yes! That's the look we we're going for.

Really, it is so easy to make the baby food...just boil it, puree it, and freeze it. When she's ready it to eat, I pop a couple of cubes into a bowl and warm it up in the microwave. It's healthier for her and she likes it better. Good news all around.

Please do remember the four day rule when introducing new foods to your baby. Even though Baby L happily gobbled up her bananas the other day, she promptly began throwing up a couple of hours later. She also developed a rash around her mouth. As soon as she threw up all of the bananas, she was happy again. Is their even a such thing as a banana allergy? I don't know...but we won't be trying them again anytime soon. Pin It Now!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Creative Nature Study

I love the idea of nature study. I can imagine bundling my six little ones up to explore the wild wooded area behind our house. I can picture us bent over an ant hill, watching them scurrying to their work. I can feel the water as we splash in the creek or the spring breeze as we relax under a tree sketching. Yes, I love the idea of nature study.

It’s the application that I have trouble with.

I mean, really, there is so much book work to be done…not to mention cleaning, cooking, and surviving the life of a home school mom. Even when I get the kids ready to go outside, what should we do when we get there? Should we really just blow off all other lessons to go frolic in the outdoors?

The TOS Schoolhouse Store will soon be releasing a brand new eBook titled, Creative Nature Study: Ideas to Jump-Start or Invigorate Nature Study in Your Homeschool. I had an opportunity to get a sneak preview at this eBook and was quite excited about it. I’ve researched nature study ideas before, but needed more practical suggestions and frankly…more motivation and inspiration. Creative Nature Study offers all of that.

I was happy to see that they start with the basics in Chapter 1: “What is Nature Study and Why Do It?” True to its title, this chapter will help you to overcome the “guilt” to carving out that home school time to enjoy nature study as you discover its many benefits. This book is a collaborative effort and throughout the book you’ll find ideas from several home school moms. In Chapter 2 there are articles on how to get started, even including what to pack in a nature bag. You’ll find ideas for several different fun nature walks in the next chapter and creative projects in the one after. I was personally inspired by an article about creating your own bird watching center right in your own home. There’s so much in the huge eBook including Creative Writing in nature, Nature Journal Ideas, tons of scavenger hunts, and even a helpful chapter about Nature Study with allergies or asthma. You may be surprised at how nature study easily fits in to all areas of study. I also found the extensive list of additional resources (I’m talking several pages!) at the end of the book quite helpful as well.

If you have always wanted to incorporate nature study into your home school, but just didn’t know how or if you are in need of some fresh nature study ideas, check out the Schoolhouse Store for Creative Nature Study. You’ll find all the inspiration you need to get your children outside. And once they’re there, who knows what God will reveal to them through his Creation.
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Week 1 Update

Okay, so I have a couple of things to update you on.

First, I wanted to tell you how the new diet and exercise thing is're supposed to be keeping me accountable, remember?

So I'm pretty happy with how this week went. I'll remind you of my goals:

Goal: 1700 Calories a day
Application: I kept a food journal using this free site and was under 1700 calories every day but yesterday. I was doing pretty good yesterday, but hadn't gotten around to adding up my calories yet, when we decided to grab to-go food for dinner. It wasn't fast food, but I'm afraid it probably put me over my calorie intake and didn't want to enter it in to find out. We're going out to dinner tonight, and I'm really going to try to do better by pre-entering in the journal what I'm going to eat to make sure it falls into the right amount of calories.

Goal: Drink lots of water
Application: I am really bad at this, but I was quite happy with my progress in this area. I have been drinking about 4 glasses a day...not where it needs to be yet, but better than none. However, yesterday I only had one glass. I'll keep working on it.

Goal: Exercise for 45 minutes, 5 Days a week (3 days of cardio, 2 days of strength training)
Application: Okay, so this went pretty well. I did exercise 5 of the 7 days...though it was hard to get in a full 45 minutes and impossible to get in 45 minutes straight. This week, I'm going to focus on increasing the intensity of the workouts and try to find ways to divide it up during the day.

Weight Loss: 3 lbs. Not too bad. I'll take it.

You maybe haven't noticed, but I generally only show pictures of me from the shoulders up. So let me take a deep breath....

The picture on the left was taken on Day 1 of the diet, and the picture on the right was taken at the end of Week 1. No real physical difference...except that I'm out of my pajamas (no symbolism intended)...but I didn't expect much change here in one week.

Some exciting news... my husband has decided to join me in this effort to lose weight and become more healthy! I'm happy for us and the changes this will make in our family.

SO, it was also Week 1 for "Back to Homeschool". I spent the week between Christmas and New Years reworking our schedule and evaluating our goals for the year. I was very happy with the way things went this year. We were actually able to accomplish everything I wanted to this week except for a couple of minor things on Thursday, when I took half the day off to gather information and raise awareness about the impact that the new Consumer Safety Improvement Act will have on the homeschool community. Improvements have already been made to the act this week, but more improvements still need to be made to ensure that the homeschool suppliers that we know and love do not have to close their doors on Feb.10th. This is very real. I have spoken with homeschool suppliers that are extremely please look in to this, pray, and contact your legislators to ask for an amendment for small businesses to be made immediately.

So here is how we are fitting it all in:

Bible: I am reading each day from a Bible story book and we are using a combination of Bible Songs by Twin Sisters Productions and Bible Story Songs.

Phonics/Grammar Studies: On Mondays and Wednesdays G8 is using The Bridge to the Latin Road To Grammar and A6 is doing phonogram review and dictation. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they both are using All About Spelling. On Fridays, they both write in their Writing Journals. This Monday, I am going to take a break from our regular phonics program with E5 and begin using Rocket Phonics each day. (Review to come.)

Reading: Each child is expected to read or look at books independently each day. We also read aloud each day. I am reading to them from The Boxcar Children Series and Chad is reading The Truth Seekers Mystery Series to them in the evenings. Our history includes lots of read alouds as well.

Math: G8 and A6 are using Math Mammoth daily. E5 and H3 are MathTacular 3 times a week.

History: Beautiful Feet Early American History 3 days a week.

Science: Nature Study and Creation Club. All the kids will be taking some sort of science classes at co-op starting next month, but I am still looking for something simple I can do with all the kids once a week. I a very weak in science and is one area I really want focus on improving for next year.

Art: Spears Art once a week and I'm very excited to incorporate Artistic Pursuits which will arrive soon!

Music Studies: I'm getting most of my ideas from this site. This week we listened to Peter and the Wolf online and reviewed instruments with these flashcards.

PE: Yeah, really. We're using Homeschool PE...Help for the PE Challenged Mom and loving it.

On Saturday's I'm working through Lessons in Responsibility for Boys with G8 and Home Ec with A6. A6 is also doing sewing projects using the Grandmother's Hope Chest Series.

Well, I think that's about it! This has been a long post and honestly my brain is too fried from staring at this computer screen to think of a less abrupt farewell for now. Pin It Now!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

URGENT! Please Read and Act!!!

**I will add links and updates to this post as I come across them.**

Okay People...I do not write this lightly. I am begging you to read this post, research the links, and act now!

About a week ago I received an email posted on a homeschool loop I am on about the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. This act was signed into law last August and will be in effect on Feb. 10th of this year. Rebecca Wilson from Hope Chest Legacy, a homeschool vendor who will closing down her business as a result of this Act explains it better than I can:

"This law may have been intentioned to protect American children from lead and high PCB levels, but what it will actually do is cause havoc in American homes and in our economy. It is a VERY badly written law, vague and open ended in many ways. Although written with China made products in mind, it is open for ANY item sold in the USA regardless of where the item was manufactured.

This law requires that ANY item that comes in contact with a child who is 12 years old and under, to be tested at a government approved testing facility and have a 'certification' placed on the item. Sounds simple enough, but the fallout is much more intense.

The cost of having a single wood block tested is $150. To have a wooden baby's teething rattle tested would be $4000. Even books, DVDs, clothing, handmade toys or blankets, children's clothing, the bags items are packed in and sold in, etc come under this new law. ANYTHING that comes into contact with a child under 12 years of age is required to be tested and certified."

I honestly figured this was hype when I received the first email and blew it off. Until I received the email from Rebecca Wilson. I adore her products and the fact that this was hitting so close to home had me concerned. So I started researching...

Check out this post on a forum from a woman named Kathleen Fasenella who has been to Washington D.C. in attempt to fight this. She says:

"Dear Friends
There is a grave crisis in the industry. I don't post here much so if you don't know me, I don't blame you for thinking I'm a kook, alarmist, extremist or conspiracy theorist. What I'm going to tell you is all too true. In a nutshell, as of 2/10/2009, it will be illegal to sell most products intended for children 12 and younger unless you undergo expensive product testing to certify your products as safe. There are no exemptions or exceptions. This includes wahm or grandmas making items for bazaars, craft shows, etsy, ebay, or just person to person sales. As of February 10, 2009 (National Bankruptcy Day) anything without a General Conformity Certificate is legally considered Banned Hazardous Material."


This means no more selling children's products on Ebay or Etsy.

I received an email that said Amazon has ALREADY contacted their vendors to let them know they will not sell children's items without the testing. I contacted an rep this morning who verified that vendors had been notified that they would need to comply with this act! But she obviously didn't understand that in order to comply with the act, anyone who wanted to sell their used copy of Goodnight Moon for $2 on that was published pre-2009 would first need to have it tested for $500+. She gave me the fax and address for their legal dept. for further questions.


Do you realize how this will effect the homeschool community? Almost every company that I buy homeschool books, curriculum, and products from are a mom and pop organization that will not be able to afford this kind of testing. We will no longer be allowed to sell used products for our children online and will be breaking the law if we do it in person. How many homeschool moms do you know earn extra income by making hairbows, blankets, and toys? They would no longer be able to do that.

My husband and I have been in contact with HSLDA and they just found out about this YESTERDAY! They are looking into it as I type.

HOMESCHOOLERS, MOMS AND DADS, BLOGGERS we are a large voice in this community and the word needs to get out now! Please look at the following links, write a post on your blog, email friends, and more importantly contact your representatives! MOST IMPORTANTLY, PRAY.

Here is a link to a PDF of the act (refer to pg 7):

Here is a link to another interesting article which provides you with the address for the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Here is a link to an article interviewing a homeschool mom of 13 who will have to close her home-based used book business:

Here is a link that has lots of information about how this will effect the "Homemade" industry as well as a button that you can put on your blog:

Some people are calling Feb. 10th, 2009 "National Bankruptcy Day" because of all the businesses that will have to close. See here:

Here is a Facegroup site working to fight against it:

YOU can sign this petition:

Here is a link to the list of The Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
If any one of these Representatives are YOUR representative, PLEASE call & email them to voice your concerns about the provisions in the law as they affect you and the children's products industry in general:

PLEASE everyone, write your congress person here...

and your Senator here...

Also contact the CPSC about the CPSIA...


Are you a quilter or do you sew? Read this to see how you will be effected:

Here is a very simple letter that I have been sending and emailing to my representatives.

To (name of Representative)

I have recently read about the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and I am deeply concerned. I am a mother of six young children and know what it is like to worry about the safety of the products and toys that they are being exposed to. That being said, I am also a consumer of many small businesses that would be put out of business due to this law being passed. I could not count the number of books, toys, curriculum, and other products that we currently use and love that would literally disappear as a result of this law...products from small businesses that have been used in our home and others for many years without any safety issues. I have come to trust these companies to provide safe and quality products for our family.

I am writing to tell you that I am opposed to the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act as it is currently written and urge you to change it before it goes into effect! I have no interest in seeing the American home-based businesses that I know and love and the children's consignment shops, not to mention America's entrepreneurial spirit, vanish from this great nation.


Shanna (last name)


**UPDATE: As of today...there may be relief for resellers of used items:

Still nothing for home-based businesses marketing new products.**

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TOS Writing Contest

Exciting News from TOS!

Attention writers! Grab your pencils and get those creative juices flowing!

The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine is hosting our second Storytime Writing Contest! We have two creative fiction categories: adults (16 and up 2,500 words or less) and children (15 and below 1,500 words or less).

Deadline to enter is March 16, 2009. $7.95 fee per entry.

Grand prize winners in both the adult and child categories will receive prize packages valued at over $1,000, publication in the Summer 2009 issue of TOS, and publication in our Storytime 2009 Compilation E-Book.

Eleven Honorable Mentions from each category will also be included in the E-Book in addition to receiving gifts from top homeschool companies.

We look forward to reading your entries!

For a detailed list of prizes, official contest rules, to meet our judges, and to upload your story, please visit:

Need help teaching writing? We have over 200 writing products in the Schoolhouse Store!
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Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Our kids don't watch a lot of t.v. or play a lot of video games. I think this is the main reason that my mom and stepdad decided to go a little "extravagent" with G8's birthday this year. They bought him (well, the whole family really) a wii. G8's birthday is on Thanksgiving so many of the Christmas gifts were "wii themed" know, wii games and controllers and such.

Actually though, I am really glad to have it "for the kids" now. Sometimes Chad and I play it after the kids go to bed...hehehe...I always wondered what parents would do after bedtime. However, I am the Wii Master and Chad is unable to beat me at 99% of the games, so we haven't played in awhile. **smirk**

We quickly discovered how dangerous Wii play can get, especially when involving a hyper active 5 year old. Of course we make sure to have the wristbands secured, but E5 needs a little extra precaution put in place.

When E5 plays the wii, he has a tendancy to run....towards the t.v.....without stopping. So someone has to sit behind him and hold onto his belt loop (or pants, which is the case here).

These pictures were taken on New Year's Eve. We were playing the boxing game.

Here's this little gem of a fun or demon possesion? You decide.
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Monday, January 5, 2009


As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the next several months. I feel truly blessed to be participating in this review group and I'm looking forward to trying out the products and giving you my honest opinion.

I have to tell you, I have been excited about Kinderbach from the minute I received an email from Karri Gregor, the creator of the program, asking me to review it. We have wanted our children to take piano lessons for about three years now, but it has simply never been in the budget. Kinderbach not only makes it affordable to teach your 2-7 year old beginning piano lessons, it is also makes it so, so easy!

Kinderbach's lessons can be viewed online or by DVD. We received our lessons online. You will need access to a keyboard (or piano), but any 36-48 key keyboard will do. I found one on ebay for $10. They are also sold at Wal-Mart for around $20. If you are viewing your lessons online, you will need high speed internet. (I would personally recommend purchasing a set of speakers for your computer if you don't have them, as the sound is a little low without least on my computer it is. I bought speakers for $15 the other day and they work perfectly.)

Kinderbach offers 60 weeks or two years of lessons. Each week has 4 short lessons. The lessons are taught by Miss Karri with the help of her friends...adorable cartoon characters. Miss Karri engages the children in a way that makes it feel like she is in your living room with you. Your children will learn so much from her! Here is a quote from their website:

"KinderBach not only teaches piano, but other factors of music. Music theory, note reading, rhythm, ear training, hand position and much much more!

KinderBach was designed to give your child the over all music foundation. Your child can take everything they have learned from KinderBach and apply it to another instrument or continue further with piano. KinderBach was designed to be a spring board, taking this information and just going to endless bounds with what they have learned!"

This program moves pretty slowly, geared toward the pre-schooler/kindergartner, but even my 8 year old enjoyed it. I was afraid he might think it was too "babyish", but he didn't have time to think that as he got caught up in how much the other kids were enjoying it! I would gather my 3, 5, 6, and 8 year old all around the computer screen. Generally we would watch 4 lessons (one week's worth) in one sitting. The lessons are only about 8 minutes long and you can view them over and over again for review. There are also worksheets that correspond with some of the lessons that you can print from your home printer. You can totally let Miss Karri teach your students without being involved in the teaching. Even so, I had fun watching the videos too, so I learned right along with kids.

I was even pleasantly surprised to find that A6 has quite an ear for music...well, not so surprised since she's been clapping the beat and singing in tune to songs since she was two. But now I have day after our Kinderbach lessons, A6 was playing on the keyboard. She came to me excitedly and said "Listen!" Then she promptly began playing a tune from the Kinderbach that had not been taught! As a matter of fact, in that point in our lessons we had not yet learned to play any tunes on the keyboard, but just to keep the beat to the song by pressing two keys over and over. I was quite impressed with my little musician!

You can purchase the Kinderbach lessons on DVD in sets of five weeks or get the entire first year (30 weeks) for $197.95. Or you can have access to all 60 weeks worth of lessons online for just $85.95 per year. I think that's a pretty sweet deal when you figure piano lessons usually cost no less than $40 per month per child. Kinderbach also offers a 30-Day money back guarantee and you can try the first two weeks for free! So with the risk of sounding like a corny, late-night infomercial...what are you waiting for?!

Check out other reviews of Kinderbach at the TOS Crew blog.
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Saturday, January 3, 2009


I realize this is utterly generic and somewhat pathetic to do this on January 3rd, but...

I have a scary new widget at the bottom of my blog.

Yes, you have to scroll all..the...way down.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

(Drumming fingers...)

Did you see it? Scary, huh?!

Yes, it's time to lose the weight I've put on from having 6 children in 8 years. I don't plan to stop having children, but I desperately want to do it in a healthier way. I have accountability from a trainer who put together a workout and diet program for me. I'll be only meeting with her once a month (as long as our budget allows). So feel free to keep me accountable. I'm planning to post a weekly update here.

My goals are:

1700 calories a day (a little on the high end since I am still nursing)
Lots of water
3 days a week of cardio (45 minutes each)
2 days a week of strength training (45 minutes each)

I plan to break this up throughout the day and include the kids as much as possible.

I've actually done this before with great results, so I don't feel like its impossible. I'm trying to be motivated by a healthier lifestyle and not just by pure vanity. I'm certain God will bless my efforts if I have pure motives, but its hard to not be driven solely by the fact that I have a meltdown every...single...time I try to find something to wear when I am leaving the house. I know that true beauty doesn't come from outward appearances, but it's still a struggle, ya know? Pin It Now!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Memories of Christmas

A few years ago my aunt asked me to share my testimony and sing "Mary's Prayer" by Bebo Norman at a family Christmas party. Believe me when I say my singing voice is NOTHING to brag about. But it was an honor to share my testimony with my extended family at Christmas and this year I taught the song to the kids to sing at each of the Christmas parties we have went to. Here's a very blurry video of them singing it to me at home...

I got very few pictures on Christmas Day. I always get a little caught up in the rush and excitement of Christmas and forget the pictures. And to be honest, I've never really cared for photos of the kids opening presents. I can never seem to get the right lighting or angle. These pictures were taken on Christmas Eve when we were dressed up. We go much more casual on Christmas Day.

Isn't Baby L just the most adorable thing you've ever seen?! My dad and stepmom bought the girls Christmas dresses and I think Baby L looks like an adorable snowflake in hers.

This was also my first attempt at making her a headband and matching bow. I love putting baby headbands on her, but since she's past the newborn stage, they are all getting a little tight. I found these free instructions on how to crochet the headband and this site that shows how to make bows. I think it turned out cute and I can't wait to make more.

I'm still really trying to digest Christmas and how it went. Our Christmas morning was really nice. We read the conclusion to Jotham's Journey (our advent story), we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus, read Luke 2, and gave presents to Jesus...a tradition started when our oldest was a baby...we each write down (or draw) a gift for Jesus on a piece of paper. These are basically promises or resolutions for the upcoming year. In the past I have promised to read the Bible in a year, to pray more, to find more opportunities to serve. This year I have made a commitment to "choose love". Then we slip our pieces of paper into a wrapped box. We each took turns opening our presents. G8 told me that his favorite gift was a set of three chapter books we got him...can you believe it? Amidst wii games, an erector set, remote control cars and more, he chose books as his favorite...oh, my heart swells!

But I can't seem to get a few moments of deep sadness out of my mind...a wife celebrating without her beloved husband, a father who grieves each year for a brother lost on Christmas Eve, and then this moment...

I absent mindedly ask my cousin's wife if she will see her family for Christmas. I have forgotten that she has told me before her family doesn't celebrate it. I have become fast friends with her since she joined the family and Chad and I really enjoy getting together with her and my cousin, though it doesn't happen nearly enough.

"Oh, my family doesn't celebrate Christmas," she says.

"That's right," I say as I shake my head for forgetting, "I knew that."

"I really don't like to either," she continues. "I mean I like the family and the food, but I don't get into all this." She points to a Santa decoration nearby. "You know, the whole Santa thing...and the Jesus thing..." she trails off.

I pause for a moment. She knows of my faith. I smile and say as gently as I can, "Perhaps we can change your mind one day."

You can't see a wall being built up, but you can feel it. "No," she says. "I don't think you could ever do that. Just like I could never change your mind about your faith."

How my heart breaks for a heart that seems so unchangeable. Am I obedient enough to make a difference? Am I bold enough to speak when God tells me to and humble enough to be silent otherwise? Am I committed enough to pray for her as fervently as I should?

If He can change the heart of this sinner, I am certain he can change her heart as well. What a day of celebration that would be. Pin It Now!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

One year in 40 seconds.

Don't worry...God really does make all things new. Pin It Now!

Peterson Directed Handwritng

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the next several months. I feel truly blessed to be participating in this review group and I'm looking forward to trying out the products and giving you my honest opinion.

Peterson Directed Handwriting has been teaching handwriting since that in itself is quite impressive! Using this program you can teach your child fluent print and cursive handwriting.

The complete packages include Teacher's Manual, Student workbook, Peterson's triangular pencils, Audio CD and CD-ROM and cost around $38-45. If you are ordering for multiple children, you can order additional basic packages that are only $15.05 that don't include duplicate Audio CDs and the CD-ROM.

If you are looking for a very thorough program to teach your children handwriting then Peterson Directed Handwriting is the perfect option. Each of the lessons took us about 20-25 minutes to complete. You can even teach your child handwriting using your computer with Peterson's animated letter cards. (Click the link to see the animation samples.) Teaching letters is broken down into four steps:

1. Illustrate and Describe
2. Airwriting
3. Finger tracing
4. Write and Say

Peterson's site is plum full of research articles to help you with all of your handwriting needs from choosing the right program to helping your left-handed child. You can even meet live online with Mr. Pencil himself (Randy Nelson) for one-on-one help.

I won't go as far as to say that my children enjoy our Peterson Handwriting lessons, but it has not been a struggle to get them to complete it. However, I will say that this program is not one that I just love to teach. Broken down, each lesson is pretty easy to follow, but as a whole this method is a little overwhelming. Plus, we really haven't encountered any major struggle with pretty handwriting yet, so it hasn't been a priority for me. While I am confident that this program would really help the child who is in need of more structured handwriting instruction, I'm just not sure we are quite there yet.

Don't just take my word for it though...check out the TOS Crew blog and I encourage you to read Jenn's review as well. She seemed to feel the same way as I did, but toughed it out a little longer and saw some pretty amazing improvements with her boys!

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