Thursday, December 30, 2010

One Year Later

One year ago, I embarked on a journey. Well, actually, it was a three month weight loss/healthy gain contest. I can do anything for three months, right? Even though it was only for three months, I had my doubts as to whether or not I'd be able to do it. You see, one year ago, I was highly addicted to food. I was even more addicted to sweet food. I was most addicted to ice cream. I had struggled for the last 12 years, since my oldest son was born, to lose the weight. I had tried diets, but was seriously unsuccessful. I failed because I did not have the tools nor the proper information to succeed.

What was different this time?
  1. It was a contest. I am just slightly competitive.
  2. It had a deadline. In three months, when it didn't work, I could go back to the way I had been living and be just fine.
  3. I was ready. Seeing some of the health struggles that older relatives were going through, made me realize that I needed to make changes now. Seeing what the all natural soap did for my skin, made me wonder what would happen if I applied that same principle on the inside.
  4. I wanted my kids to be healthy, and to learn to be healthy at an early age.

After three months, I was about 20 pounds lighter. My face was clearer. My headaches were nearly gone. I was off the daily sinus pill and ibuprofen regimen. I felt better than I had ever felt. Why would I give that up and go back to the way I had been living? That is when the journey really began.

After one year, I am now 50 pounds lighter and I am once again finding myself in need of smaller pants. I did let up some after the first three months. I had the 80/20 philosophy. I figured as long as I mostly adhered to the plan, if I was out with others I could splurge. Over time, the splurging is becoming less and less. Once you start eating REAL food, homemade goodness, the rest of the junk out there seems gross. Every day, I am learning more and more. I have accumulated a lot of great recipes. I no longer enjoy eating out. I no longer enjoy convenience foods. For example, I made a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. It was dairy free and contained no processed sugar. The crust was homemade. It was delicious. I enjoyed it with some coconut milk ice cream and it was fabulous. I didn't have to feel guilty about it either. There was nothing bad in it. It was even made with a real pumpkin that I had pureed myself. For Christmas, someone else provided a store bought pie. The ingredient list was 1/2 a mile long, loaded with bad stuff. I tasted it. That's it, just tasted it. I'm sure a year ago, it would've tasted great to me. It was not good at all.

One year later, body and lifestyle makeover is here to stay. Do I have adversaries? Yes, I do. You would think that the dramatic changes would be enough to convince anyone that, "Hey, maybe she's got something there. Maybe I should watch and learn." Many have said that to me. Unfortunately, it's always those closest that are the hardest to convince. I have been accused of depriving my children. I am depriving my children by feeding them good food and trying to keep them healthy? Yes, that's a logical argument. I do allow my children to have the same treats others are having when we are out. I do occasionally still treat them to pizza. They are growing and are healthy. They have healthy teeth, for the most part, except for the one my 8yo decided to knock out a couple weeks ago at the park. No, I don't think my children are deprived in any sense of the word. Yet, I still find the need to defend myself against my attackers. Did I mention the attackers are the same as mentioned in point number 3 above? Enough on that already.

What's next? The journey is not complete. I am still learning every day. I don't think the journey will ever be complete. It is the same with my spiritual journey. Every day, I am trying to be the best that God wants me to be. Every day, that means something different. This physical journey is very much connected to that. I could not have done any of this without God. He is guiding my journey all the way.

That leads me to where He wants me to go next. This next year is going to be a totally different kind of makeover. I have been under serious conviction lately that I need to change the way I look at money. At age 16, I started working at a bank. I excelled in my high school accounting classes, and majored in business in college. I know how to balance my checkbook and work from a very limited budget. It's not about the math. It's about the attitude. I am going to work this year at taking frugal to a whole new level. I need to be a better steward with that which God has blessed my family. Get ready to join me on my 2011 Money Makeover.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Isn't Eating Healthy Expensive?

One of the most common questions I get these days is about the cost of eating healthy and organic. Many people go to the grocery store and suffer from sticker shock. You pay HOW MUCH for a dozen eggs? I will admit that initially, I didn't think that I could afford to eat organic or healthy food. However, over time, I have learned otherwise. Yes, I pay $3 or more for a dozen eggs. I have many other cost saving things that make up for it.

I will start by being completely honest. I do not buy 100% organic. I have some co-ops that I am part of to get much of my organic fruits and vegetables. I have a friend who raises chickens where I get my farm fresh eggs. I buy the best I can with the resources that I have. I do try to buy everything fresh to make all my food from scratch. Here are some of the ways I save.

1. Buy in bulk. I get all my grains in bulk from online sources or co-ops. I buy whole wheat berries to grind into flour myself. Instead of buying loaves of bread at the store for $1-$3 per loaf, I make it myself at home for about 75 cents.

2. Make my own broth/stock. I am not sure exactly how much cans of chicken broth go for these days, but let's say they are $1 for easy math. I don't know about you, but I don't always get to eat all my vegetables before they start to wilt or go soft. I don't throw those vegetables in the trash. Instead, I throw them in the crock pot with some water. Cook them all day, or start in the evening and cook them all night. I will usually put in onions, bell pepper, carrots, celery, and sometimes spinach. I've even been known to throw in some jalapenos. Add in some sea salt, pepper, a couple cloves of garlic, and any other spices you like. I can't really give a cost on this, but does it really matter. I've used up stuff that would've otherwise gone to waste. I can give you a better idea of cost on making chicken broth, which I just did yesterday. Instead of buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts which can be kind of pricey and sometimes have extra stuff added into them, I buy a whole chicken. Yesterday, I cooked the chicken in the crock pot with a couple of carrots, some celery, sea salt, pepper, and oregano. Cover with water. For dinner, we had chicken breast with salad and homemade biscuits. Put the leftovers through a colander. You have chicken broth. Pull the remaining chicken off the bones and save for another meal. Take all the bones, skin, and even the packet of giblets and put back in the crock pot. Add in whatever vegetables you've got on hand just like you would for the vegetable broth. I also add in about a tablespoon of vinegar to draw the flavor out of the bones. I use apple cider vinegar, but any other vinegar would also work. This I let cook overnight. Between the broth I got from originally cooking the chicken, and the second cooking of the bones I got the equivalent of 10 cans of chicken broth. Assuming a can costs $1, that would've cost me $10. I paid $6 for the chicken. We also will get two whole meals from the chicken. The easiest way to store the broth is to freeze it in ice cube trays. I like to use ice cube trays for simplicity when it is time to use it. One ice cube equals about two tablespoons. It saves me from trying to measure a big frozen blob of broth for a recipe. You could also measure two cups into a small freezer bag. Two cups is about equal to one can of broth.

3. Make the meat stretch. Meat is one of the more expensive parts of a meal. Rather than putting a big piece of meat on your plate, use the meat as an add in to a dish. Rice or beans are inexpensive ways to make a meal stretch. I make dishes like fried rice, rice and beans, chili, soups, stews.

4. Homemade laundry soap and cleaning agents. A box of "good" laundry detergent can cost $30 for the big bulk size box. I can make an equivalent amount of laundry soap at home for under $4. Not only that, but there are less chemicals in it. White vinegar makes a great fabric softener. I can get a gallon for $1.99. I know a small bottle of fabric softener is much more than that. Vinegar and baking soda can be used to clean many things around the house. I am researching more homemade cleaners also.

These are just a few of the things that I do to save money. As I think of more, I will create another post.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Afraid to Homeschool?

I think the comment I get most often when people find out we homeschool is, "I could never do that." I often read about people getting mean comments about homeschooling, but I don't get a lot of that. The people I talk to seem to want to homeschool, but are afraid of failing, or maybe afraid of succeeding. Marianne Williamson had some words profound enough to be quoted by Nelson Mandela, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Whatever is the fear, I understand. This is our fifth year homeschooling, but we had to start somewhere. The beginning of our journey really started in 1998 when my oldest son was born. We immediately began teaching him how to eat, how to smile, how to love, how to roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, talk, make animal noises, and more. You get the idea. We discussed homeschooling at that time, but didn't really know much about it, and just filed the idea for something to think about later. At two and a half he was reading letter flash cards. At three we sent him to preschool, but did not stop teaching him. Just before his 6th birthday, he started Kindergarten at the government school. He had a great teacher there. The next year, he started 1st grade. That was the longest year of our life. The homework they sent home really should have taken about 15 minutes three times a week. It took us about 4 hours. I had to reteach everything, and it was a constant fight. He was tired after being forced to sit in a box for 8 hours, and we were miserable. We knew something had to change. We once again brought up the idea of homeschooling. However, with the experience of just helping him with his homework being so miserable, the idea of homeschooling scared me to death. Instead, we started looking into private schools. That was not to work out. I would've had to return to working full time just to pay for it, and then my little one would have to go into daycare. My whole paycheck would be paying for school and daycare. Plus, I would have a lot less time to spend with my children. I would be paying to have someone else raise my children.

If you recall, a few sentences ago, I mentioned that we started teaching our children from the time they were born. Everyone does. It is a natural parenting instinct. But what finally convinced me that I could homeschool? Well, I started researching a bit more, and then God led me to the path of a great homeschool mom. Up to that point, we knew no one that homeschooled. It was this foreign, scary, uncharted territory. Now we knew someone else who did it. It encouraged me to do more research. I started looking at curriculum, and started thinking maybe it wouldn't be as hard as I thought. No, not really. The days and weeks leading up to the time to start brought many tears. I was scared to death, and I felt backed into a corner. I didn't see another way to get my son the education he needed. I started anyway. I bought some curriculum, and just started. The first year was difficult. I was trying to make it like school. What else would I do? I copied what I knew. Clearly that was not the answer. After trying a few different curricula, I was getting more and more frustrated. However, I was still not nearly as frustrated as I had been with the homework in first grade. I was very thankful for my afternoon exercise class with the other homeschool mom. Then, in the middle of the year, we did something crazy. We moved across the country.

That move led me to find an incredible group of homeschoolers. That's when I really started to learn. I learned that each family's homeschool experience is very different. Really the only requirements to homeschooling are knowing how to read and loving your children. The rest is completely up to you. Some families get a complete boxed curriculum with all the workbooks planned out in order. Some families don't use any curriculum. Then, there are all kinds of families on the spectrum in between there. We kind of use a mishmash of curriculum. I have found books that I really enjoy for teaching science and history. I do not get all my books from one certain company, and sometimes I just make things up as we go along. You know the best part? It's all O.K. The bottom line is that we teach our children character and give them a love of learning. If they love to learn, they will be able to accomplish anything to which they set their mind. The other thing that we can give them is a program suited to their specific gifts. A classroom with 20 - 30 kids cannot tailor a program to suit every child's needs. They can only teach a preplanned program suited to the "average" child. If my child expresses an interest in science or drawing, I can look for extra materials in those areas to encourage them and help them excel. If my child is struggling in an area that is vitally important, I can look for the best way to help. Sometimes if they are struggling in something not vitally important, it is better to just move on and come back to it later.

My best advice if you think you want to homeschool, but are afraid or "don't think you can do it", talk to someone who is living it. I would even recommend you talk to more than one person. One person may use a method of homeschooling that wouldn't work for your family, but the next person may use a totally different method. You have to find what will work for you and your child. That is different for each family, and most of the time for each child in the family. Most of all remember, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10 and "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" Proverbs 3:5. Therefore, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." If homeschooling is the path that God wants you to take, He will be with you for the journey. Keep in mind what God says in Proverbs 22:6 "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." We are each responsible for training our own children, and as long as we ask and seek God, He will be with us. I leave you now with some final words of encouragement, "Let Go and Let God."

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Crazy Breakfast

If you don't yet know, I love smoothies for breakfast. I can pack them with exactly the nutrition that each individual needs. I used to always look for recipes, but gave that up a long time ago. Now, I just kind of make them up as I go along. I have learned what flavors go well together, what don't, and what flavors can cover up some of the nutrition taste. The end results, tasty as they are, are not always pretty. For example, this morning my smoothie came out to kind of a blah looking grey color.

Here are the smoothie making basics. Start with one cup of liquid of your choosing. I've used all kinds of juice, almond milk, rice milk, or coconut milk. Then just add in whatever else you would like for your nutritional needs. I usually use 1/2 a frozen banana and about a handful of some other frozen fruit for good smoothie texture. I prefer to use frozen fruit over ice cubes, because it doesn't get watered down and maintains its texture longer. It sometimes takes me an hour or more to actually finish drinking my smoothie because of distractions.

This morning, my smoothie was a bit more creative than usual, mostly in the 1 cup of liquid. I had a bowl of grapes in the fridge that just did not look all that great, and nobody was eating them. I thought, rather than waste them, I would juice them. I did manage to get about a cup of liquid, but then the kids of course wanted to try some grape juice. That took me back down to about 1/2 a cup. That's when I had to get creative. I had a couple apples to juice, but they weren't very juicy. I still didn't have enough juice. I ended up having to add one kiwi, a plum, and a starfruit. Did I mention that was just the juice? I poured that into the blender. Then I added a Tbsp of coconut oil, 3 Tbsp hemp seed, about 3 spoonfuls of organic yogurt, a handful of fresh spinach, and a whole frozen banana. Upon seeing the resulting color, I decided to add a few frozen strawberries to try to make it look better, but it didn't help. It really did not look good at all, but it tasted great and was packed with nutritional goodness.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Biggest Struggle

Someone asked me today what the hardest part of my journey has been. I didn't really have a good answer at the time. However, after pondering the question for a while, I've had some thoughts. I have been an ice cream addict for as long as I could remember. If I desired a comfort food, it was ice cream. I was a very emotional eater. When I would eat emotionally, I would always choose ice cream. In addition to that, we ate cheese with pretty much every meal that wasn't breakfast. For breakfast, we would generally have cereal, with milk. Our diet revolved around dairy products. That doesn't include all the prepackaged foods that contain dairy. Products that you would not think about having milk in them, actually do.

Why is this important? Dairy products are the leading culprit in many health issues that you would not even think about. Regular retail dairy products also contain growth hormones, and may or may not contain antibiotics. You may think it would be good to have antibiotics. You'd think that would mean that no one should ever get sick. Antibiotics should kill any infection that you come across. Really, it just kills the immune system. Organics are better, but still can cause issues.

Let me stress, that I have not cut out dairy 100% yet. I still do indulge in a pizza now and again, or the occasional ice cream cone. I do not eat near the amount I did, however. I do eat a serving of organic or farm fresh yogurt about 4-5 days a week. I have gone from having 75% of my diet being dairy, to less than 1%.

How did I break the addiction? First, I was challenged to try it for a month. I agreed to that. I can do anything for a month, right? That was the beginning of the end for me. After that month, I had some pizza. I got a headache. For about the last 12 years, I have suffered from nonstop sinus headaches. I was living on allergy meds and ibuprofen. I stopped dairy, stopped the allergy meds, and stopped the ibuprofen. I didn't need them anymore. Once I realized how poorly I felt after eating dairy, I didn't crave it anymore. My biggest struggle became easy. I have learned to really trust God for the emotional stuff, instead of my food. I eat for nutrition now. I know that the better I eat, the better I feel. The better I feel, the less stress and emotions get to me.

I also think it is worthy to talk about another huge health issue I've dealt with from childhood. Every single year of my life I have dealt with serious coughing issues. As an infant/toddler, these issues put me in the hospital more than once. Twice a year, during cold and flu season, I would catch a cold. Unlike most people who blow their nose for a week or so and get over it, I would continue coughing for weeks. It would progress into things like croup or bronchitis. Cough medicine would only make it worse. Cough drops did not help. It made it difficult to sleep, difficult to work, it was horrifying in middle school. I have been journeying over 11 months now. I should've had 2 episodes in that time. I've had none. I thought I was getting a cold at one point, but got over it within 24 hours.

I think the thing that was most important in overcoming the biggest struggle is that I was ready. I had to decide to make the change. If someone had tried to tell me all this stuff 18 months ago, I wouldn't have listened. I started the journey to lose weight. I started for 3 months. That's it. Except, that after the three months was up, I didn't want to stop. I didn't want to go back to feeling like garbage. I didn't want to gain those 20 pounds back. I didn't want to put on my fat pants again. Every month after that got easier and easier. I've gotten used to eating good tasting, home cooked food. I love the challenge of trying to take the junk that I used to eat and turn it into something healthy. I love blowing people's minds when I show up somewhere bearing baked goods without processed sugar or hydrogenated oils. It blows my mind that people are now looking at me to find out how I've done it. My question to you is: HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stock Your Pantry

Everyone has a different idea of what's healthy and what's not. Also, others may have different nutritional needs than I do. If you have gluten issues, diabetes, or some other allergy your pantry will likely look very different from mine.

When I first started my health journey, I was torn between the world of being healthy and the world of couponing. I am all about saving money. We are an one-income, homeschooling family. I need to save money where ever I can. If I could get $100 worth of groceries for $25 by using coupons I was thrilled. The problem is, most of the foods I was getting with the coupons were not on my list of edibles today. I had to figure out another way to save money. I can occasionally find coupons for some organic veggies, or a $5 off $50 coupon, but for the most part I avoid the grocery store as much as possible. I have a small list of things that I pick up at the grocery store like almond milk, organic butter, peanut butter and fruit spread (not sugary jelly), and a small amount of meat. I do not buy organic meat. I can't. It's just too expensive. I do the best I can with what I have. The rest of my food is bought in bulk from various co-ops and/or online sources.

I get most of my veggies from local co-ops or farmers markets. I also found some great containers and bags that are designed to extend the life of your veggies. Because the co-ops are only once every other week, I need my veggies to last. It has really cut down on the amount of waste.

I buy my grains in big 5-gallon buckets. I grind the whole wheat berries into flour and make all our own bread. I have three different kinds of wheat in my pantry. I have hard red wheat, which makes a bread that tastes like whole wheat bread. It gives it a really good flavor. I have hard white wheat (not the same as white flour). Hard white makes great bread also, but it tastes more like white bread - only more nutritious. The hard white is also great for making things like dinner rolls, hamburger buns, pizza crust, tortillas and more. I also have soft white wheat. Soft white has a lower gluten content than the hard and is better for making things like cakes and cookies.

Yes, I still make cakes and cookies, not to mention things like homemade cinnamon raisin bread. That brings me to the next section of my pantry: sweeteners. I do not buy white processed sugar, anything with corn syrup, or any artificial sweeteners. This is the section that you will want to ignore if you are diabetic. My first choice for sweetening is honey. That is what I use for all my bread, and many baked goods. Honey can get a little pricey though. Thankfully, because of its strong sweetness, you do substitute less honey than the amount of sugar called for in a recipe. Honey works well to replace white sugar in most recipes, but not brown sugar. For that, I use Sucanat, which is a brand name for evaporated cane juice. It is a less processed sugar. I order it in a one gallon bucket. That one bucket lasts me about 6 months. Although it is less processed, it is still sugar and still should be only used in moderation.

What else do I have in one-gallon buckets in my pantry? Rolled oats can be used for many things. We actually do not eat oatmeal for breakfast. I don't like the texture of oatmeal. I do make a baked oatmeal that involves peanut butter and raisins. Check the history. I'm pretty sure I posted about it. It can also be put in the food processor to be made into flour. I have used it to make blueberry muffins that way. I also keep a bucket of organic popcorn. I know popcorn has some issues, but I can't give up all my vices. I figure making organic popcorn on the stove is way better than the microwave variety, so there you go. I keep a bucket, or two, of organic virgin coconut oil. That is the oil I use the majority of the time. There is also a bucket of brown rice. That can be used to stretch so many foods. We make fried rice, beans and rice, rice soup, you get the idea. There is also a bucket of flax seed, a bucket of gluten, and a bucket of raw sunflower seeds. I want to order buckets of beans, but those are a little more expensive so I've just been getting the small bags from the grocery store. Of course two cups of dried beans, once rehydrated, can feed about 20 people.

I also keep my freezer well stocked with frozen fruits and veggies, a small amount of meat, veggie purees, homemade chicken and veggie broths, and sometimes baked goods.

I plan my meals around the fresh veggies that I get. I use the staples from my pantry to make them stretch and feed everyone. Things work much more smoothly when I plan ahead and prepare things ahead of time. I know this, but I still have problems always doing it. When I don't plan ahead, I get into trouble and we don't end up eating as healthfully as we should.

One more tip for money saving, I make many of my own cleaning products. I make laundry soap. I use white vinegar as a fabric softener, window cleaner, and much more. I have even made an attempt at making shampoo. I'm still working the kinks out of that though.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Victories and Frustrations

It has been 11 months now on my health journey. I am down nearly 50 pounds, which is great, but it is not why I continue. I have learned much over the last 11 months about foods that can help, and foods that can hurt. I continue, because I feel better than I have ever felt in my life. I continue, because I see positive results in my family. I continue, because at least 3 members of our extended family have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. I continue, because of health issues that I thought the doctors should be able to "fix".

Good health is not the result of doctors "fixing" problems. Good health, comes from a lifetime of taking care of yourself, listening to your body, and giving your body good fuel. Good health is not convenient, and does not come out of a box or a bottle of pills. I have learned that you really have to be committed to good health. Don't get discouraged, though.

First, let me tell you that I do not count calories. I do not follow some fad diet program that has strict rules about carbs. Those programs may help you lose weight in the short run, but they are not about gaining health. Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled to have lost weight, but I am more thrilled about feeling great. Did I mention that I ran (well jogged really) yesterday for 20 minutes straight? I have never been able to run in my life. I know now that, as a child, I suffered from exercise induced asthma. I couldn't run, because I couldn't breathe. No one really understood what was wrong at the time, and no one could help me. Now that I understand how to train, how to breathe, and proper techniques, I am running for the first time in my life. Oh, and I'm enjoying it.

What do I do, then, you ask. I look at ingredients. There are a few ingredients that I avoid at all costs. The first one is soy. Do not take my word for it, but research soy for yourself. You will soon discover why I avoid that one. You might even find some information in my past blog posts. That is harder than it sounds, too. Go to the grocery store one day and pick up any package of food. I dare you to find one that doesn't have soy in it.

The second thing I avoid as much as possible is dairy. I do eat organic (or raw milk) yogurt. When I say I, I really mean that my goal is for my whole family to be dairy free. This is where the frustrations come in. Frustration #1 is due to the fact that my family LOVES dairy: pizza, ice cream, cereal with milk, etc. If it's made from milk, they love to eat it. Frustration #2 relates to dealing with others. It is easy to explain to others why I don't do soy, but most still aren't willing to try it for themselves. Dairy, on the other hand, has such a good marketing campaign that it is very difficult to get people to buy not having it if you are not allergic or lactose intolerant. What I tell people is to try it for a month. Then, go out and have pizza and ice cream and see what happens. Most people, however, are not willing to commit to that for even a month. Really, you would be shocked what the results would be. It does affect everyone differently, though. The benefits in our family have been different for everyone. I have stopped getting sinus headaches (a little salsa helps with that too). My husband has stopped snoring. I can tell when he slips up and eats something with dairy, because then I can't sleep due to the snoring. My son has stopped being constipated.

The most difficult part is breaking old habits. As I write this, my children are sitting here begging to go to a fast food restaurant. I think it is most difficult for my 12yo. I spent 11 1/2 years of his life, living conveniently. The first six years, I was working full time. We ate a lot of boxed microwave meals, fast food, and frozen pizza. I quit working full time, but old habits are hard to break. We continued on the same pattern for a long time. When he was 3, he started suffering from chronic ear infections. My chiropractor tried to tell me to take him off dairy. I refused. That would be too difficult. Plus, that couldn't be the answer. The doctors would fix him. I can't dwell on that and live in regret. The only thing I can do is move forward, and know that I am doing the right thing now. As you would expect, the husband is also a difficult one to convince. After 11 months, I think he is finally starting to see the light. I think he also understands a little more now the danger of diabetes. He knows that it's the right thing, just misses some of the old foods. He doesn't, however, miss the acid reflux.

The bottom line is that, after 11 months, I am more determined than ever to raise my family to be healthy, naturally. This is not intended to be medical advice. I am simply sharing my journey and what I've learned on it so far.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

To Be (political)...Or, Not To Be

It doesn't matter who the president is, someone is always not happy. Many people right now are frustrated and want to get involved in the political world. I have been very consumed with thinking about the government and what's going to happen in the future. Then, I started reading a book that changed my way of thinking a bit. I was reading an historical fiction novel about the apostles and the early church. First, a short history lesson.

Peter, Paul, Mark, John and many others lived and witnessed during the time of Caesar Nero in Rome. If you've never herd of Nero, you need to research him. He was the ancient Roman equivalent of Hitler. He made spectacles of executing "the Nazarenes", or followers of Jesus. He was the cruelest of cruel, a vile, evil man. Many, many believers and apostles of the early church were martyred under Nero, including Peter and Paul it is believed. It is even believed that he killed his own mother, a wife and a half brother.

All of the apostles and early believers faced many difficult challenges. They were all sought out and persecuted by both the Roman government and he Jewish elders. Paul was arrested, beaten, and shipwrecked for starters. John was boiled in oil, but lived to later be exiled to the island of Patmos. These were not men with special abilities. Peter was a fisherman. Paul was a Pharisee who was one of the first to persecute the early church before his conversion. Paul was also a tentmaker. These were just ordinary men who answered the call of Jesus. I think we can learn a lot from these men and how they dealt with their political environment, as well as how they focused their attention.

Paul was in Rome under house arrest. Acts 28:30-31 says, "For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kindom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ." Did you catch that? "Boldly and without hindrance" Pal did the very thing that got him arrested while he was still under house arrest.

1 Peter 1:24-25 says, "For ALL men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever." Therefore, putting your trust in a politician to fix things - no matter how charismatic or powerful - is futile.

1 Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood,a holy nation, a people belonging to God,that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into is wonderful light." Peter was clearly not referring to Rome as a holy nation. In fact, his letter was addressed to people in many nations. Peter was referring to the Church, the followers of Christ as a holy nation. He was referring to us. We are to be declaring God's praises. We have to be very cautious in the political arena. Politics have a way of stirring up anger. Anger does not declare God's praises.

Peter continues in chapter 2, verses 11-12, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in this world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, thy may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." If we are truly living our lives for Christ, we will be accused of many things. We will be persecuted. Jesus himself said in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." James 1:2 says,"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds."

Then, back to 1 Peter 2:13-17, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king."

In chapter 3, verses 15-16 he says, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

Bottom line is, we are to live our lives to spread the gospel. It matters not, who thinks they are in charge here. We know the truth. God is victorious, and the victory is ours. "As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:36-39

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Curriculum Plan

I am very excited about this school year. I loved reviewing all the curriculum last year, and it really gave me a feel for what I like and don't like. But alas, there is a time for everything, and I am very glad that I get to choose all our curriculum this year. I am really going to be focusing on language for my 6th grader. I do not have all my lesson plans done yet, because I just got the books today. I would still like to share my list of books we will be using.

History: We will be finishing up Mystery of History Volume II which goes up through the middle ages. This was one of my reviews from last year, but with everything else we were reviewing we did not have time to finish. I love it because I can teach both kids at the same time, but the activities can be tailored for approximate grade level. I can give a bit tougher project to the 6th grader.

Science: First, we will finish Real Science Odyssey: Chemistry. This was another review that we got toward the end of the year. After we finish that we will move on to Apologia's Exploring Creation series with Sea Creatures and Land Animals. I would like to finish both of those this year, because my oldest will be a 7th grader next year and will be ready for General Science.

Spelling: We are going to continue with the All About Spelling series. My 2nd grader is going to review book 1 first. My 6th grader is going to start with a review of book 2 and then move into book 3.

For the 6th grader:
Reading Detective from The Critical Thinking Company. He will be doing level A1 for 5th/6th grade. I ordered the CD-ROM as opposed to the workbook so I can reuse it for the little one.
Word Roots (Level A1) also from The Critical Thinking Company on CD-ROM. This is designed for grades 4-12. It teaches prefixes, suffixes, and latin roots. The benefits listed on the CD are improves spelling, increases vocabulary, enhances reading comprehension, and sharpens deductive thinking skills.
Red Herring Mysteries Level 1 (a workbook) from The Critical Thinking Company. It is for grades 4-6 to help with logic and critical thinking skills.
Novel Units are study guides to all different kinds of literature. They include activities to teach reading, thinking, and writing. I have tried a similar program from Total Language Plus, but have not tried Novel Units. I just ordered one to see if we like it. The study guide I picked was "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books 1 and 2. I think it should take about 8 weeks to complete. We also have a Total Language Plus to finish for "The Whipping Boy". I will decide what to do next after we finish the Novel Units book to see if we like that.
Wordsmith Apprentice, a self-directed program for grades 4-6 that will develop appreciation and enthusiasm for written language through imagination-stretching exercises. Basically, they become the editor of a newspaper.
Mind Benders and Scratch Your Brain from The Critical Thinking Company. Two more little workbooks to improve thinking skills.
I know that sounds like a lot. That is where the lesson planning is going to come in very handy. I need to plan very carefully how much he will do each day.
Finally, for math my friend introduced me to a very unusual program called Life of Fred. Fred is a five-year-old who teaches math at the university. The math book is written as a story, and all the problems relate to Fred's life. It totally avoids the problem of "when am I ever going to use this?" because they are all real life situations. This program starts after the student knows all their basic facts through long division. I ordered the first book in the series which is Fractions. It should take about 1/2 the year at which point if we like it, we will order the next book Decimals and Percents for the 2nd 1/2 of the year. Completing those two will have him ready for Pre-Algebra next year. I can hardly believe that he grew up that fast.

I do not have quite as long a list for the 2nd grader. For math he will be continuing Math Mammoth that we got to review near the end of the last school year. He is on unit 2 of 3rd grade. Yes, you read that correctly. He is starting 2nd grade on unit 2 of the 3rd grade math book.
I also got a Novel Units study to try with him. His is for three Frog and Toad books.
He has almost completed Language Smarts Level B from The Critical Thinking Company. I ordered Level C so we have it ready. This is a great program for teaching grammar and language skills. What is especially great is that he loves doing it. I wish I'd have know about this program when my oldest was that age. I probably wouldn't have to do all the back work that I am doing this year with him.
Cursive Handwriting from Handwriting Without Tears. He got interested in cursive near the end of the year last year, so I figured I'd go ahead and order it. The main problem we've had up to this point is that his thinking skills have developed far quicker than his fine motor skills. He is finally catching up, and now I think he is really going to start flying.
Reading Detective CD-ROM beginning level for grades 3/4. I ordered this, because I needed some kind of CD game for him to avoid issues of "my brother gets to play on the computer, I want to play on the computer too".

That's it for now. I will try to update as I get my lesson planning done as to how we are going to fit it all in. Then again, I will update when we start to see if real life actually works out as well as my plan. We are planning of starting August 16th.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Trouble With Treasure

I once again had the chance to review a book from Kregel Publications. This book is "Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure" by Susan K. Marlow.

Thirteen year old Andrea Carter, called Andi, is home for the summer from boarding school. Her home is the Circle C ranch in California in the late 1800's. Andi and her friends decide to go on an adventure searching for gold. Along the way, they run into plenty of trouble.

I am unsure as to what reading level you would label the book, and I don't think it really matters. I could've easily read the book in fifth grade. My fifth grade son, not so much. But he also wouldn't be particularly interested in the story line, because it's about a girl. There are boys traveling with Andi, and plenty of adventure though. Some boys would probably find the story interesting. After all, it is a treasure hunt. I found the story very enjoyable. I love historical fiction of any kind. I am not really picky about reading levels. I know some of my young friends, that I think will particularly like this story also. Overall I recommend this story.

The book can be found here for $7.99. You can also check out several other stories about Andi and her friends.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Peterson Directed Handwriting - A Review

Peterson Directed Handwriting is a unique method for teaching handwriting skills, both print and cursive. Their creator is very passionate about helping your child succeed by helping you succeed as a teacher. I was given the opportunity to review a couple of their products with my children in exchange for my honest opinion.

My 1st grader has never really worked on handwriting before. Therefore, I chose printing to work with him. He wanted nothing to do with it. "I already know this, Mom." OK, so let's work on cursive. He liked that idea. The program is very simple to use, however the idea of saying things out loud while writing did not appeal to the little one. He likes to work quietly and independently. Unfortunately, the speaking out loud and writing to the rhythm is part of what makes the Peterson program unique and beneficial. If you skip the rhythm part, it becomes the same as pretty much every other handwriting workbook out there. Though it did not work for my son, I can see how the program would work very well with others. I think that it would've worked very well for my older son had he used it at that age.

One of the perks of the program is that it is an e-workbook. They are available for download here for $19.95. Be sure to choose the individual license for home use. You can print the pages over and over again if your student has trouble with a certain item. That is definitely a plus over a workbook that they can only write in once. You can click here to view the workbooks before ordering.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

AP Chemistry Prep - A Review

Cerebellum Corporation produces educational DVDs and media product for students of all ages. I received from them Light Speed Chemistry AP Exam Prep to review.

I have to admit, this was difficult to review as to whether or not it would actually help as my students are still in elementary school. Oh no, my oldest has just started middle school (eeek). I will give you my best impression and tell you what is included. You can check out other TOS reviews here. I'm sure someone was able to use it with their students.

The DVD is hosted by high school (or maybe just out of high school) age students, not a boring old teacher. It goes back and forth between video of the students talking and notes on the screen much like a power point presentation. The format is pleasant to watch and easy to follow. If I knew I had to watch it and pay attention, it would not put me to sleep. As it is, I am a homeschool mom with 10,000 other things that need to get done and so it was a little frustrating for me to just sit and watch. Then again, my college Chemistry class was a lot like that too.

The DVD is broken into three parts. Part one, "Taking the Test", tells all about the parts of the test, what to expect, and how long each section is. Part two talks about the free response section of the test. This goes into more detail about the specifics of that section. Part three goes into the nitty gritty of what information you will need to know on the test. It breaks down the 30 essential topics into 30 minutes. As a bonus, the package includes a CD-Rom with a workbook for extra practice. The workbook contains lesson plans, worksheets, and quizzes. Some of the topics covered include atomic theory and structure, chemical bonding, gases, stoichiometry, thermodynamics, and more. Total viewing time for the entire video is under an hour. However, I'm sure the third section will be watched more than once when really prepping for the AP Exam.

This DVD is regularly $49.98, but you can order it right now for $39.98. Cerebellum Corporation also has AP Exam Prep for History, English Language & Comp, and US Government and Politics. I can't even begin to tell you all the other topics and classes they have available. I know I will be thoroughly investigating the website and looking for some stuff for our next school year.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Instant Oatmeal Alternative

My kids love eating oatmeal for breakfast. The only problem is, they will only eat the instant kind. I can't really blame them. That is what I grew up on, so that is what I always bought. I just cannot get past the texture of "real" oatmeal, even though I know it is so much healthier. Then, you have to love that the instant ones now have "low sugar" varieties - NOT. Read the ingredients. They contain the sugar substitute sucralose (brand name Splenda). There is much debate within the scientific community as to whether or not sucralose is safe or not. I'd rather not take my chances after my personal experience with phenylalanine (Aspartame/Nutrasweet).

Thanks to Five J's blog post I read the other day, I now have an alternative: Baked Oatmeal. Of course, I did change some of the ingredients to make it fit my requirements. It was a winner. Even Mikey liked it. Here's what I changed. Instead of brown sugar I used Sucanat (evaporated cane juice). Sucanat is still sugar, but it is a more natural, less processed form of sugar. It is not lower in calories or some magic formula, just more natural. For the milk, I used vanilla almond milk. As usual, I used coconut oil instead of butter. As good as peanut butter and chocolate are together, I could not do the chocolate chips. Organic chocolate is terribly expensive and quite frankly does not taste very good. I substituted raisins for the chocolate chips.

What's great about this recipe is that not only is it oatmeal that my kids love, but because it also has eggs they are getting the protein they need in the morning. Don't forget that you don't have to always follow recipes exactly. Once you learn what ingredients you can use in place of others, you can make pretty much any recipe healthier or more suited to specific dietary needs.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Madsen Method - Review

English for Life - The Madsen Method is a comprehensive K-12 Language Arts curriculum. This is a multi-sensory approach that the Madsens believe is how the "founding fathers" learned. Their multi-sensory approach uses saying, hearing, writing, and teaching. This is a heavily scripted program that really teaches you how to teach. There are a total of four levels. They recommend a daily schedule (5 days a week) of 35-55 minutes. At that pace, students should be able to complete all 4 levels in 6-8 years.

I received level 1 of the curriculum to review. Level 1 sells for $299.95, but for home educators it is discounted to $219.95. That may sound like a lot, but this is a complete program covering penmanship, spelling and grammar, composition and reading. It takes about 2 years to complete. So really, divide the cost in half and then compare the price to other curricula. Also, it is non-consumable. That means you can reuse it with multiple children. Level 1 starts at the very beginning. It teaches proper body position for learning and writing. Then, it moves on to forming letters. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

What I got in the box:

  • Spiral bound directions for Sections 1-3 of Level 1

  • Spiral bound directions for Section 4

  • 3 spiral bound direction books for Section 5

  • The Madsen Method Standardized Spelling and Reading Tests

  • Spiral bound book with copyable games, coloring pages, and a comprehensive index.

  • Folder containing copyable templates for record keeping, report cards, handwriting sheets and more.

  • 4 "Listen in Library" CD's

  • One "Sounds of the English Phonograms" CD

  • One CD-Rom of the templates.

There is no question that this curriculum has been well researched and planned out. It is very well laid out and fully explained. There is no wondering what to do today or how to teach. Everything is exactly scripted, and all the parent has to do is read and follow the directions. The program is not designated for a specific grade level. It would be great for a Kindergarten student just starting out. However, it is also great for older students who may have gaps in what they've learned. Also, for those who just haven't got it yet. My high energy students are a little beyond this, and got frustrated by the tediousness of the directions. We have a very different education style in our house. If you want to read standing on your head, well, as long as you're reading. Sitting in proper position at the table just did not work here. I know for a lot of people, that is very important and this program will work great for them.

Be sure to check out The Madsen Method web page for all the detailed information on the complete program. There are also videos, samples, and other parent testimonials. You can also click here to find out what other Crewmembers thought of the program.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Beeyoutiful Hair Shine

Beeyoutiful is a company whose motto is "Healthy Living for the Real World." They have a variety of natural products to help you take control of your own health. I got to choose from a few different products which one I wanted to review. I picked the Hair Shine.

About six months ago, I had the opportunity to review some natural shampoo from another company and have been using it ever since. My hair is soft and healthy and didn't really need a conditioner. However, swimming season has started. I love, love, love to swim, but don't love the effects of chlorine on my hair. However, I am not going to swim in a lake, ewww.

Hair Shine is an all-natural spray-on, leave in hair conditioner. It can be used on wet or dry hair for conditioning and detangling. Hair Shine is an organic blend of aloe and essential oils of lavender, rosemary, and citrus. I tried it on both wet and dry hair. On a day to day basis, I prefer to use it on dry hair to get rid of the frizzies and give my hair a little shine. It does not feel greasy at all. After swimming, I put it on wet hair to help condition and detangle after the damaging water.

Last Monday, we spent all day at a water park. I was not able to get a shower before leaving. This was perfect. I sprayed a little on and was able to comb my hair right out. Beeyoutiful says on the website that Hair Shine also helps with sunburn. It makes perfect sense, because it is aloe. This was also beneficial after spending all day at the waterpark. We did use sunscreen, but it appears when we reapplied, both my husband and I missed a couple spots. I got a mild sunburn on the front of my shoulders. His was a little more blotchy. I have sprayed the hair shine on once every day. I noticed this morning that my shoulders look great (more tan than red). My husband did not use anything. He still looks bright red.

Hair Shine comes in a 4 fl. oz. bottle for $15. This is much higher than I am accustomed to paying for hair conditioner, but when you consider that it is organic ingredients and essential oils it is understandable. I am going to order two more to make sure I get through the summer. I have two more trips to the waterparks this month alone.

Be sure to visit the TOS Crew page to read reviews of other Beeyoutiful products.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Super Star Speech - Review

My seven year old is very bright. He excels in all areas of education. His speech skills were overall very good, but he had a little trouble with his TH sound. It did not offer me enough concern to pay for expensive speech therapy, but I did want to do something about it. Super Star Speech: Speech Therapy Made Simple! offers parents the tools to help their children improve their speech skills at home. It is available in a convenient 3 ring binder for $22.95, spiral bound for $18.95, or in an e-book for up to 40% off.

I was given the opportunity to review the all new Super Star Ch, J, and Th: Speech Therapy Made Simple. This was the perfect tool for what we needed. I skipped over the CH and J sounds, and went straight to TH. This is an e-book, that I was able to print off pages and work with him one on one at home. He thought it was great, because he didn't have to do "language arts" on the days we worked on this. He also had fun doing the short little lessons. I think really his problem was that he had gotten into a lazy habit saying the F sound rather than the TH sound. It took about 3 weeks of lessons to get him to slow down and think about the sound. I now notice a huge difference in his daily speech. He still has to slow down and think about it a bit, but he really is. He even makes up excuses to "practice". I will hear him playing and counting in ordinal numbers: fourth, fifth, sixth just so he can say them all. It is really cute. Super Star Ch, J, and Th is $12.95 and only available at Curr-Click. Also available are Super Star R & L, and Super Star S, Z, and Sh. These can all be used to supplement the core speech therapy system or on their own as we did.

Also available are Super Star Games. These are fun, printable games to supplement your language, social studies, or science lessons. Here are some of the topics: Explorers, The Solar System, Egypt, Insects, Parts of Speech, and more. Warning: These really are not for black and white printing. You need to print them in full color to get the most out of them. At only $3.50 each, using color ink is not a huge deal.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Happy, Healthy Update

This morning I stepped on the scale to discover that I have passed the thirty pound mark. I am in shock. When I started this journey 4 months ago, I really didn't think I would be able to do it. I have pretty much carried these extra pounds with me for the past 12 years. I gained about 30 lbs my first pregnancy, gave birth to an almost 10 pound baby, and still weighed 30 lbs extra. I am very good at math, but that just doesn't quite add up for me. I have continued to exercise off and on through the last 12 years, sometimes more than others. I lost about 15 pounds just before I got pregnant the second time. I was pretty careful, and only gained about 20 pounds during that. When that 9+ pound baby was born, I weighed less than when I got pregnant that time. Again, not getting the math there. When little one was around three, I got really serious about exercise for about a year. I was really in shape, and felt good but still didn't really lose any weight. Then, we moved. I no longer had access to a great gym to spend an hour or two every day at. Over the next 3 years, I slowly gained back about 20 lbs. Enough was enough.

Through the help of Lynette Pate at Breath of Green and her book "Lose Weight the Pate Way", I have now dropped 32 lbs. The thing is, I have not really added a ton of exercise. I try to walk as much as possible, and I am doing a lot more physical yard work. If I were to add in more exercise, I can't imagine what would happen. Even more exciting was going to buy new shorts today. I have not worn this size since before children. I finally have the strength to resist food temptation. In fact, the thought of eating some things almost grosses me out.

Pork is not on my recommended eating list. That is not a huge problem for me. I have never been a big fan of bacon. However, I had a rack of ribs in my freezer that I had gotten a while back buy 2 get 1 free, how do you resist that? Since moderation is really the key to every good eating plan, I thought it would be ok to cook them up to get them out of the freezer. I lathered them up with BBQ sauce and threw them on the grill. I took one bite and could not eat them. They were literally disgusting to me. I'm sure my hubby will be thrilled when he gets home to discover a nearly full rack of ribs for his dining pleasure. The garlic and onion potatoes cooked in coconut oil were absolutely fabulous though. I could've eaten them all, but was good and saved some for my sweetie. I may have to make some popcorn to help resist eating the rest of them before he gets home.

I have four pounds to go to get to my pre-child weight, but that is not my final goal. I would like to go about another 10 lbs below that. If my ice cream/sugar addicted self can make this change, so can you. It really is not as hard as you think. All you have to do is decide you are ready. It also helps to have great, supportive friends.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Homemade "Granola" Bars

OK, it's not really granola, but that's the easiest way I can think to describe these. I don't know if you know this, but boys love to eat. Even more than that, they love to snack. Well, you probably know that. The problem is finding stuff to keep them satisfied, but still be healthy. I have one that loves to eat fruits and veggies, but the other one doesn't. He would prefer things like cookies and candy. Granola bars are a simple snack, but most of them that are in the store are loaded with high fructose corn syrup or other not so good for you ingredients. It is easy to find recipes online, but a lot of those don't have the best ingredients either. After some research, here is my adaptation.

Begin by "greasing" a 9x13 pan. I would probably use coconut oil, but because I was almost out, I used butter.

In a small saucepan over medium heat combine:
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter (I made my own)
  • 2 Tbsp. Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut oil (again since I was almost out of coconut oil, I used grapeseed oil)
  • 1/4 c. Sucanat
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Heat until mixture just begins to bubble. Remove from heat and add 1 tsp vanilla.

In a large bowl combine:

  • 2 cups oats
  • 2 cups crisp brown rice cereal
  • 1/4 milled flax seed
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Pour peanut butter mixture over oatmeal mixture and stir. Press into baking dish, cover with parchment paper and press firmly into dish. Cool in fridge.

Warning, it did not get very sticky, and does fall apart a bit. They taste great, though. I will be doing some experimenting with ingredients like sunflower seeds, hemp seed, almonds, and other dried fruits. I will post the ones that work. If you have any suggestions for other ingredients, I will try that too.

What Am I?

Did I make you really wonder what this post was going to be about? I love it. "What Am I?" is the latest book in the new All About Reading series. This series can stand alone, or it follows along perfectly with the All About Spelling series that I reviewed here. "What Am I?" is level two and follows the Beehive Reader 1 that I reviewed here. I know, when I wrote that review I said that was the only book. I had no idea that they were going to introduce more. I love the All About Spelling program, and this is no exception. It is a great addition to the program.
Here are some sample pages of this really cute collection of stories:
The "What Am I?" reader will soon be available on the All About Spelling website for $19.95. You can also visit the TOS crew blog to find out what others had to say about this book.

Disclaimer: I received "What Am I?" free of charge in exchange for my honest review. No other payment was received.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Terrestria Chronicles - A Book Report

I never liked doing book reports when I was in school. However, it probably had to do with the kind of books I was reporting. I have been looking forward to this book report since I first opened "The Sword, The Ring, and The Parchment", book one of the Terrestria Chronicles by Ed Dunlop. As part of the TOS Crew, I received this and book 2 "The Quest for Seven Castles" in exchange for my honest review.

The Terrestria Chronicles are about a boy, Josiah Everyman. In book 1, follow Josiah's journey from slave to Argamor, the evil one, to Prince Josiah son of King Emmanuel, King of all Terrestria. Learn with Josiah what it means to be a child of the King. With castles, knights, and a dark enemy, this book does not lack excitement. What could be better than an exciting book to keep kids' attention? One that really illustrates and helps them understand the salvation message. The book includes a glossary of terms. That was helpful even for me. The words in the book were not difficult, but they used a lot of terminology that referred to knights and parts of castles that I was not familiar with. The readers learn about salvation AND learn vocabulary, all while having fun. Do you see yet why I loved these books?

Book 2 starts one year after Josiah was rescued. Up to now, Josiah has been living and learning at the Castle of Faith. King Emmanuel has decided that it is time for Josiah to go on a quest. He must journey to 7 castles: The Castle of Virtue, The Castle of Knowledge, The Castle of Temperance, The Castle of Patience, The Castle of Godliness, The Castle of Brotherly Kindness, and The Castle of Charity. Josiah will face many dangers and trials on his journey, but in the process learns many important lessons. The names of the castles kind of give away the lessons, so I won't bore you by listing them again.

In all, there are seven books in the series. The books are written for ages 10 and up. We chose to read them together as a family read aloud for reviewing purposes. That way, I could really know the content of the story and see my boys' reactions. I can definitely see a difference in how they responded to the book. My 7yo enjoyed the stories, but didn't really "get the point". My 11yo, however, really seemed to grasp the concepts. It was always fun when we would get introduced to a new character. All the characters have very significant names, Sir Faithful for example. Every time we got to a new name, my 11yo would pause and try to figure out if it was a good name or a bad name. This was another source of good vocabulary for him.

The Terrestria Chronicles are available as a complete series for $47.99, or you can buy the books individually for $7.99 each. There is also a companion study guide available (that I think I'll be ordering) for $5.99. The one study guide covers all seven books. You can also print some free coloring pages here. It is important to note that this series is best when the books are read in order.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks Virtual World

The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks is an online virtual world for 7-14 year olds. It is based on a series of children's books by John Bittleston. It gives kids a way to really interact with history, geography, landmarks, inventions, nature, and more. They get to travel around the world and meet historical figures like Galileo, Albert Einstien, Beethoven, etc. The basic account is FREE to sign up, or you can upgrade to an Elite Quest Traveler for $5.99/month. I received a one month free upgrade in order to review the program.

My kids, and many of their friends love games like this. There are a few virtual world type games that are very popular in the local homeschool group. In our house, it was actually starting to be a problem, so I cut way back on the amount of time my children were allowed to play. Of course, if they are going to play anyway, why not make it an educational game. The problem is, my kids did not really enjoy this one. They played it for a few minutes, but then got bored. That's not to say it is not a great game, and there are probably a lot of kids who would enjoy it. I just can't really say much more about it, because the boys would not play it. There are a couple of videos you can watch here to find out more about the program to see if it will work for you. You can also read some more TOS reviews to get some other opinions.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Making the Most of your Solar Dryer

When I start talking about the solar dryer, aka clothes line, I hear a few common questions.

1. I have an HOA, they won't let me have a clothes line.
A. From what I hear, HOA's cannot restrict you from putting out a clothes line. I guess global warming politics are good for something.

2. What about fading? Here is what I do, and I have not had an issue with fading yet.

  • Shirts: I have a pole in the laundry room. I hang all the shirts on hangers (even on days I use the electric dryer). When they are dry, all I have to do is hang them in their respective closets. This procedure has seriously cut down on the endless pile of laundry that needs to get put away.
  • I do not hang my pants or undergarments outside. I have an over the door drying rack behind the master bathroom door where I hang the bottoms and a hook in my private bath for the tops. My pants I hang over doors. They don't get quite as stiff as when they are out in the sun.
  • For the rest of the clothes, pjs, kid's and hubby's shorts, pants, and underwear, etc. I turn them inside out. I do this for two reasons. First, to prevent fading. When I take them off I make sure to shake them well and then turn them right side in. There is nothing worse than putting on a pair of pants with a bug inside.

3. The towels get so stiff and rough. Yes they do. Pretend it's a loofah. It matters not if you use the most expensive fabric softener. I use white vinegar as a fabric softener (which is also very good for color retention). If you wish, you can always throw them in the dryer on fluff for a bit to soften them up.

I'm not sure how much money using the solar dryer saves, but it really saves putting away time. Everything gets folded as it comes off the line. As I'm hanging them, I group like items together. Taking them off the line, I put my husband's clothes in first because that is my last stop when putting away. Then, I put in the kids clothes by child. On top, I put the towels. That way they don't get all smushed in the bottom of the basket. It maybe takes 10 extra minutes to hang them on the line as opposed to throwing them in the dryer. I have to hang mine out around 9 or 10. My line is on the east side of the house, so if I wait too late the sun moves and the clothes take longer to dry. That also gives me time to get them in before the Florida afternoon storms. If I put them out too early, it is still dewy. Depending how warm it is, the clothes will dry within 2 to 3 hours.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Convenience at What Cost?

We live in a very convenient society. We have all sorts of electronic gadgets, fast foods, convenience foods, convenience stores, and more just to make life more convenient. Is that really how we are supposed to live our lives? Before you say, whoa and stop reading, let me clarify. I am the queen of convenience, well I used to be. I am slowly learning that forgoing the convenience can save money in a lot of ways. Of course, what we save in money is going to cost us in time, but is that really such a bad thing? Are we really as busy as we think we are? Sometimes all we need is a little better planning. Here's a couple of things that I have changed recently to become less convenient.

Cutting the grass is a task that needs to happen quite often in the summer. Up north the grass cutting season is relatively short. Down here, we have a much longer grass cutting season, and much different grass to cut. The most convenient method would be to hire someone to cut the grass. Of course, most of us don't do that. We have a lawn mower and do it ourselves. Have you ever thought about how much your lawn mower really costs you? I'm going to use the gas mower example. If you buy a cheap model, you may be able to get it for around $200 (unless you can get one used). Our situation is a bit different, because we rent and the lawn mower came with the house. With ever rising gas prices, how much does it cost in gas over that grass cutting season? Half the summer, the grass would get overrun, because we had to wait to buy gas for the mower. Then, there's the problem that I can never get the mower started. My dad replaced all kinds of parts and did repairs to make the thing run. Finally, last fall the pull cord just stopped pulling. I'm sure my dad could fix it again, but in the meantime my grass continues to grow. The mower gets fixed again and then dies again. I was sick of it. When my neighbor came over and asked if he could mow our weeds, that was the last straw. I had to do something. I decided on a classic reel push mower, see it here. It starts every time, because all I have to do is push it. I don't have to buy gas (or pay electricity to run it), and it was very inexpensive at just over $100. Don't get me wrong, there are limitations. It is a pretty good workout to cut the grass that way, which really isn't a bad thing when you think about it. The other thing is, it does not cut the really long weeds that make up a good portion of our yard. I guess that really won't be a problem now that we can keep up with it regularly, but I did have to pull a lot of weeds by hand today. When you think about it, that's probably better also. They are getting out by the root and not spreading seeds all over the yard by being cut down. The biggest challenge of pulling the weeds was that most of them were full of flowers. Did I mention I am deathly afraid of bees? Once I got rid of the worst of the weeds, the mowing was actually quite easy. It does not do well if sticks get in the way either. So, I still have more work to get the yard cleaned up, but I figure if I do a little at a time that soon it will just be easy maintenance.

Sliced bread is another great convenience. At what cost? It's not terribly expensive to buy a loaf of bread. I think the cost here really isn't monetary as much as it is related to our health. The purpose of eating is to nourish our bodies. Does sliced bread do that? Of course, it's enriched with all those vitamins and preservatives. In order to mass produce bread and extend it's shelf life, the processed flour they use really has little or no nutritional value. Yes, I'm even talking about the "healthy" whole grain breads. I decided that if we were going to eat bread, we would have to make it ourselves. Again, it does cost us with a little more time. This is time that is spent away from the TV and computer, working together. I'm willing to make that sacrifice. I bought a grain mill and ordered a big bucket of wheat berries. The mill is not difficult to use. I pour the wheat in, and turn the machine on. When it's done grinding, I turn it off. It takes about a minute or two at the most. I mix the dough in my electric mixer, let it rise, and bake it. It really is not difficult nor that time consuming. If I cannot be home for the whole time to let it rise and bake, I could make a loaf in the bread maker. I find it easier to not use the bread maker, because then I can make more loaves at a time. The final cost is about the same as buying the cheap store brand bread at the store. Oh, and nothing beats a warm slice of homemade bread fresh from the oven. Not only that, but there are so many different types of grains that I am looking forward to experimenting with.

Those are just a couple of the conveniences I have decided to give up to both save money and become more healthy. What conveniences have you given up? I would love to hear suggestions of other ways to make our lives healthier.

Balance Benders

When I first saw the title of the book Balance Benders, it brought visions of yoga to my mind. Of course it has nothing to do with yoga. Balance Benders is a book from the Critical Thinking Co. to help students learn deductive reasoning through puzzles using balance scales. I really cannot say enough good things about the Critical Thinking Co. Critical thinking skills are something that is so crucial to life, but often overlooked in education. The Critical Thinking Co. has put together a vast array of resources to help teach these concepts to our children. Even if you don't homeschool, these are great resources for extra practice or even summertime exercises to keep your kids brains working all year.

I digress. Let's get back to talking about Balance Benders. This book is targeted for kids in approximately grades 2 - 6. I gave it to my fifth grader. If you were to categorize it into one of the core subjects, it would fit best in the math category. My fifth grader hates math. He loves Balance Benders. "Mom, can I do Balance Benders today?," he says. Then, he proceeds to do 4 or 6 pages. We've probably had the book for a month, and he is nearly through it. The concept behind the book is this: If a square weighs the same as a circle, choose the statements below that are true. They give about 6 choices. Do two squares weigh the same as two circles? Does a square weigh the same as a rectangle? Of course, in the book it is all in pictures. I think that is why he likes it so much. There are 4 levels of Balance Bender books altogether. We reviewed the beginning level, which is available here for $9.99. While there, be sure to check out all the other great products from Critical Thinking Co.

You can read other reviews of Balance Benders here. Also, some Crew members received Language Smarts Level C to review. You can see those reviews there also. My first grader currently uses Language Smarts Level B, and we both love it.

I received the book to review, but received no other compensation.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Family Mint

Through the TOS Crew, I was asked to review Family Mint's free online website designed to teach kids about money management. This website has a ton of great features. Parents become the bank for the children. The children can log into their accounts to set goals and enter transactions. All transactions must be approved by the parents. The parents can also set interest rates, automated allowances, and many other things. It is set up much like the modern online banking systems. Much of children's playtime is spent emulating mom and dad (or other grown ups). They think it is just for fun, but in reality it is preparing them for the real world and what life will be like for them. I really don't know what else I can say about it. It's free - so head on over to their website and check it out. If you like to see what others said about it, you can click here.

I was not compensated for my review, other than getting to use the product.

Math Galaxy - Whole Numbers Fun

I received Whole Numbers Fun from Math Galaxy to review. This is a computer math tutorial for students in approximately grades 1-4. It works on addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, time, money, measuring, and more.

This is a great program to really help kids visualize the math problems without having to have little blocks all over the house. I love the idea of the manipulatives, but hate the mess. This is the perfect solution, in my opinion. Plus there are some fun games. The player can either compete against the computer or another player. Whole Numbers Fun can be purchased here for $29.95. Math Galaxy also has Fractions Fun, Word Problems Fun, Algebra Fundamentals, and more. There are also some e-books and worksheet generators. This is a great supplement to use with any math curriculum.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Really Yummy 'Not so bad for you' Milkshake

My son wanted a banana smoothie for an afternoon snack. I discovered that I was out of orange juice (which I normally make his smoothies with). At that point, I got a little creative. Here's what I used.

  • 1 cup vanilla almond milk
  • 1 small container vanilla yogurt
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 Tbsp local raw honey (to help fight allergies)

Mix it all up in the blender. It makes about 2 servings. It was seriously like drinking a milkshake made with ice cream.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Seasons of Faith Illustrated Book Series - A Review

The Seasons of Faith illustrated book series is a series of 4 parables to teach kids about their faith in God. The stories are an adaptation of the radio script from Children's Bible Hour. Each book represents a "season" of our Christian walk. The books are $10 each, and come with a CD of the story read by Uncle Charlie. These are great little stories for reading aloud with your little ones at bed time. Elementary age students will be able to read it on their own. We took them along in the car hoping to keep my kids entertained for a 40 minute trip. My 7yo loved listening to the CD and turning the pages to the chime. The 11yo put his headphones on and wasn't really interested. However, I did catch him reading one of the books on his own yesterday and enjoying it. I loved the content of the stories. Also, Uncle Charlie is pleasant to listen to. He is very entertaining for the kids.

Here is a short description of each book from the CBH website:

Race with Midnight

Becky spends spring break on her cousin Sarah's horse farm in Montana. Taking horse rides amidst the beautiful mountains and valleys, Becky tries to share her faith with Sarah as she talks about God's creation. Will Sarah listen?

You Can't Come In
Adam and his new friend Zack decide to build a tree fort one warm summer day. After zooming down a hill and falling into a muddy pond, Zack asks Adam about going to church and salvation. Will Adam be able to explain his faith to Zack?

Seventy Times Seven
Batter up! When Brad accidentally breaks the ice cream shop’s sign, the owner forgives Brad. But when his best friend Doug ruins Brad’s favorite baseball cap, will he be able to forgive Doug?

Braving the Storm
When Thomás moves away from his neighborhood and into a mobile home in his grandparents’ backyard, he misses his friends. There’s nothing to do around the apple orchard with no friends, his dad works a lot, and his little brother was hurt in an accident. All his sister wants to do is play with her dolls. Will Thomás be able to rely on God to get through the difficult times?

You can check out what other reviewers said here.

I received these books in exchange for an honest review, and received no other compensation.