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.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Egg Veggie Salad Wrap

My freezer and pantry stock piles are seriously dwindled. I am still not used to making everything from scratch. I really need to work on getting a schedule made up so that I can plan my shopping accordingly. Coming up with last minute dinner ideas is really getting difficult. When you make things from scratch, you cannot do it at the last minute. I did come up with a pretty good option though. I did use store bought tortillas tonight, though. I can't wait to get my grain and a tortilla press. Really, tortillas should have like two ingredients. There is no need for them to have all that other junk that they put in the store bought ones.

Mix the following ingredients together in a bowl:
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs chopped (farm fresh of course)
  • 1/2 c. chopped cucumber
  • 1/2 c. chopped zucchini
  • 1/4 c. shredded carrot
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped red onion

Stir together the following, then pour over the egg mixture and combine:

  • 1/4 c. organic greek yogurt (plain)
  • 2 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. almond milk
  • 1/4 tsp basil
  • 1/4 tsp paprika

Layer one whole wheat tortilla, romaine lettuce leaf, chopped plum tomato, egg mixture. Roll up and enjoy. It should make about 6.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Garbage In, Garbage Out

"Good spiritual food is for those who are strong in the Lord." Hebrews 5:14

This is from my boys' lesson at church today. God is amazing how he works. When He wants to teach you a lesson, He makes sure you hear it from several different sources. You know, like the smack upside the head. The food we put into our spirit is what comes out of it. If we spend our day watching garbage on TV, when the stress comes we are going to react to it much differently depending on what we've been watching. We are going to react differently, depending on who we spend our day hanging out with. Do you spend your day hanging out with negative people who complain all the time. That is what you will become. A couple weeks ago, we were at our Pastor's home. He used a teachable moment with the 11 yo boys. One was sitting down, the other standing. Do you think it was easier for the one sitting to pull the other down, or the one standing to pull the other up? I'm not sure if the kids got the lesson, but I did. It is what we do with our free time, and who we hang out with that affects how we react under pressure.

This also applies to the food we eat. Now, I'm getting to the point of my smack upside the head. I have been on this health journey for two whole months now. I have not had a headache in over a month. The thing that really inspired me was a friend telling me how sometimes our dealings with food can be sinful. Clearly, the Bible talks about gluttony. I just never thought about it like that before. I was addicted to food and especially sweets. Every time I would get in a bad mood, I would want a bowl of ice cream. If I had a headache, I would reach for a Diet Dr. Pepper (even though that's probably what was causing my headaches in the first place). My relationship with food was not at all healthy. I am not saying that my eating habits are perfect now, but they are greatly improved over what they were. I do not have the emotional relationship with food that I once did. Food is for nourishment. However, I still like to enjoy what I'm eating and have fun with cooking and recipes. Food is also a huge part of our culture. Things like parties, celebration dinners, church breakfasts all usually involve food. Sometimes these things like to stack up on each other. That was what happened this weekend. I cannot obsess about every little thing and eat perfectly all the time, I know that. I still try to make wise choices for the most part. Sometimes, however, temptation can sneak up on you. Friday, we had a big homeschool St. Patrick's day party. I had one kosher beef hot dog with no bun, a small piece of chicken, some carrots, celery, grapes, and one small brownie. That is not even close to what I would've eaten two months ago. It did contain ingredients that I should not eat. I was also outside all day and probably did not get quite enough water. Because of all the chaos of the day, I could not come up with anything to make for dinner. We went out to Chick-fil-a. I had two chicken fingers, some fries and a bottle of water. By that time, I could already feel the headache starting. It did not get any better yesterday. Little one had a baseball game. I made some popcorn before the game to help avoid the temptation of the concession stand. Instead of having fries and a Dr. Pepper, I had popcorn and a cup of detox tea. Then, my parents wanted to go out to Wendy's. I had chicken, a side salad, and a bottle of water. We then spent the afternoon outside enjoying the beautiful day. Again, not quite enough water and I could feel my headache getting worse. I did take ibuprofen both Friday night and Saturday night before bed. To finish off the day, we had pizza for dinner. I can't believe I agreed to that. I woke up this morning to a headache like I haven't had in some time. I learned my lesson. NO MORE JUNK FOOD!!!!! This morning when we went to church and they brought out the waffle iron, I was not even tempted by the smell. In fact, I was almost repulsed by it. I had eaten a good breakfast at home, and now I am sitting here enjoying my warm cup of Yerba Mate tea and listening to the rain. The dull pain of my headache is still there, but I am counting on it being completely gone by tomorrow morning to enjoy our field trip. I am also planning ahead to bring my own food. No more garbage for me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Blast of Chemistry

In the past two or three years, I have developed a real passion for science. Growing up, I was always good at science, but never really appreciated it as much as I do now. What I am most passionate about is make sure my children and others understand what makes a good scientist. A good scientist questions everything, and then uses the scientific method to reach their own conclusions. That being said, I am very picky about the science curriculum I use with my children.
I recently received "R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey, Chemistry Level 1" from Pandia Press to review. This program is designed for students in approximately grades 2 through 5. R.E.A.L. stands for Read, Explore, Absorb, and Learn. Pandia Press is a family company that publishes nonsectarian science and history curricula in a classical education style. The word nonsectarian can have slightly different meaning depending who you talk to. I do see reference to millions of years on the website.

Now, to get to the meat of the program. Chemistry Level 1 is a full year curriculum doing two lessons per week. I wish I would've had the full year to review it. Since I didn't, we did more than two lessons per week. We are actually up to week 11 according to the schedule in the book. In that month, we have learned a ton. The basic premise of the course is to teach young students about the periodic table and the building blocks of everything. The "book" that arrived, is not really a book. It is really a stack of paper, neatly 3-hole punched. I love that design. It makes it so much easier to copy the worksheets and activities, as opposed to a book that has to be bent and unfolded to try to copy. I also like it better than the e-format because I can take the book to wherever we are rather than being tied to the computer or having to print extra pages.
The reading is simple. It is written very story-like and even some poems to help kids remember the information. With every lesson, there is at least one lab or activity of some sort. So far, we have built atoms out of marshmallows, learned how to do chemical tests, made peanut butter play dough, and more. The boys each made an atom book, and are currently working on a notebooking project (kind of like a lapbook) to learn more about the elements. There are also other things like crossword puzzles scattered through the book.
Here are pictures of some of the fun we had.

I love how they included a lab supply list right at the front of the book. Most of the supplies are things you would have around the house anyway. You can also find a link to the supply list here. I did end up spending about $70 at the store, but that also included a few extra items. I also picked up some of the items I already had, just because I was running low and knew I would use them anyway. You wouldn't necessarily have to buy all the supplies at the beginning either. They do also break down the list by unit, so you could just pick items up as you need them. The big item I did have to spring for was a food scale. That was included in the $70 I spent.

What I like about this program:
  • The reading is simple, and the kids don't have time to get bored or lose interest.
  • The lab activities are fun and simple. They don't involve a lot of preparation.
  • All the activities and projects are explained very well and are simple to explain to the kids.
  • The kids LOVE IT, and they are learning. They beg me to do science.
  • I can teach both my kids (1st and 5th grade) at the same time.
  • The labs are all set up to help teach the scientific method.

What I don't like about this program:


Homeschool in the Woods Maps - A Review

Homeschool in the Woods is a publisher of history resources. I received downloads of their new Olde World Style United States and World Maps.

The World Maps set contains over 130 maps and 40 notebooking pages to go along with it. There are ancient maps, modern maps, maps of Paul's missionary journeys, and much more. The notebooking pages are a great addition to any curriculum. For example, one page is title "Flora and Fauna from the country of..." It has lines to fill in information about the flora and fauna from whatever country it is that you want to study. It also has a couple boxes to include pictures. The student can print pictures, cut them from magazines, or draw them.

The United States Maps set contains over 180 maps and notebooking pages for each state (with answer keys). There are so many maps included in this set it is hard to know where to begin. There are maps of each individual state. Some maps have text, some are just outlines. The same goes for the complete US maps. This set also contains historical maps, like the original 13 colonies. There is even a map that shows where all the Native tribes lived before the U.S.

These sets can be downloaded individually for $18.95 each or together in a Combo-Pak for $28.95. If you prefer a CD, that is also available for $1 more plus shipping.

This is one of those investment pieces of curriculum. You buy it once and can use it again and again for years. It is a great supplement to whatever history and geography curriculum you currently use. I know there are many times when we were studying something and I had to search and search the internet to try to find a map. In fact, I think the one I had a really hard time finding was a blank outline of the states. Now I have them all in one place, any map I could possibly imagine.
To read what others had to say about the map sets, click here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More On Getting Healthy

In all my writing last night about getting healthy, I forgot to talk about my dh. Ever since I've known him, he has struggled with acid reflux. At age 28, he had his gall bladder removed. After that, the reflux got even worse. He was taking a prescription for a while, but then switched to OTC meds. He was taking them nearly every day. Since we've made the switch, he is completely off any kind of acid meds, PTL.

Part of the inspiration to make changes came from my 7yo. He was suffering from severe constipation. We had already been changing his diet significantly, because I knew I couldn't keep him on the prescription from the doctor forever. We had also found a few foods that helped him just as well as the Rx. One of them was a cookie recipe from a nutrition book I reviewed a while back. See that review here.

My whole life, breakfast has been about cereal and milk. There were the weekend days that my dad would cook eggs and bacon, or when I was old enough, I would get up first and make pancakes. Yes, I have always been a morning person. It's just how I'm wired, and I can't help it. What do you do for breakfast if you do not do cereal and milk. That has been a tough thing to get used to. All the options take more work than cereal. The kids really like oatmeal, and I have not totally transitioned them from the instant variety. I do try to sneak in some flax seed and/or coconut oil. My oldest also enjoys scrambled eggs. We love our farm fresh eggs that we get from our friend's chickens. Much cheaper than buying them from the store. Eggs are cheap, but if you want the good farm fresh ones you are going to pay. Finding a local chicken farmer is a much more affordable option. Of course, the best option would be to have your own chickens, but that doesn't really work for us at the present time.

My other favorite breakfast option is smoothies. They are very easily tailored for each person's tastes and health needs. Here's what I had this morning:
I made fresh juice in the juicer. I used one pineapple, three plums and a few grapes.
For a smoothie I use about 1 c. of juice.
I add about a handful of fresh spinach.
1/2 frozen banana (to freeze banana's I peel them, break them in half, and put in a freezer baggie)
1/2 container of greek yogurt (I used blueberry this morning)
1 Tbsp coconut oil
about a handful of frozen blueberries (we picked these last year from my friend's blueberry farm, we are almost out and I can't wait until we can go pick some more).

Really, you can put almost anything in a smoothie. It works best to use frozen fruits, because it give it a much better consistency. If you don't have frozen fruit you can throw in a few ice cubes to help thicken it and make it colder.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


OK, two posts in one day. Sorry, I don't want to overwhelm you, but the other post was just getting too long and I really wanted to post this recipe. For a food obsessed family this going healthy thing has been a bit of a challenge. We use food for everything. When we study geography, we like to have food from the country we are studying. We bake cookies to study math. We ate soup and bread for 3 days straight to get an idea of what life was like in the dark ages. So of course, when St. Patrick's day comes along we have to have food to go along with it. Well, last year the corn beef and cabbage did not go over very well. I don't even think the dh liked it, and he likes everything. However, cabbage is in season right now so I had some fresh cabbage from the organic co-op. What to do? What to do? My fb news feed popped up with the perfect solution, healthy Irish recipes. However, their definition of healthy did not quite fit in our currently dairy free house. So here is the modified recipe for Colcannon (which is a fancy Irish word for mashed potatoes and cabbage).

1 lb small red potatoes scrubbed and cut in half (It was so handy to have our new food scale that I had to buy for Chemistry class)
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1/2 onion, thinly sliced (we always use the PC food chopper for this job to get them really small and unnoticeable)
6 cups cabbage, thinly sliced (about 1/2 head)
1 c. almond milk
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1. Cook the potatoes like you would to make mashed potatoes, but do not mash yet.
2. Meanwhile, heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent (about 2 min), add cabbage and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the cabbage begins to brown (about 5 min).
3. Reduce heat to low. Stir in almond milk, salt and pepper. Cover and cook until cabbage is tender (about 8 min). Add the cabbage mixture to the potatoes and mash.

Get Healthy Mission

I have been so busy posting curriculum reviews that I have really been neglecting to post anything else. Shame on me for that, because I have started an incredible journey to take control of my health and my families. We are getting back to basics and trying to do things more the way God intended rather than eating and using chemicals. It all started back around October when I got soap in the mail to review. You can read my review here of Virginia Soaps and Scents to learn more about that journey. I never would have imagined that a bar of soap could change my whole lifestyle, but it really has.

After I saw the difference that using natural products for my skin, hair and clothes could make, I wanted to see what would happen if I changed the way I eat. Well, I came across the perfect opportunity. Lynette Pate with Breath of Green was co-sponsoring a green get healthy challenge. Through her book "Lose Weight the Pate Way" I have learned so much and totally revolutionized my lifestyle. I started her challenge in the middle of January. Since then, I have lost nearly 20 lbs, dramatically cleared up my skin, and basically eliminated my headaches.

Surprisingly, my biggest challenge has not been my sweet tooth or lack of self-control. That is partly due to the fact that I can still eat sweets, just not ones with processed sugar or high fructose corn syrup. You would be amazed at how easy it is to resist temptation once you eliminate those highly addictive things from your diet. There are so many great alternatives like honey, agave nectar, stevia, and more. I cannot lie, it does take more work and more planning. There are no quick, easy box meals and no drive through fast food. Even buying things like sliced bread and tortillas is not really an option. But eating healthy is too expensive, you say. Well, my goal is to make it as affordable as possible. There are some specialty items that I must buy, and I have been searching for the best prices. My goal here, is to help find the ways to make it affordable. Mind you, we are a single income homeschooling family so when I say affordable, I mean it. I have gone to some sites where they talk about meal planning and affordable food, and I do not have half that much to work with. That is part of the reason I have not been able to make the switch to 100% organic, but try to get as close as possible.

My first step to making organic affordable was to finally join the organic co-op. Twice a month, the co-op sends out a list of fruits and veggies available to order. They also have a few extras like salad dressing and honey. On co-op morning, I drag my kids out the door around 7:30 am so that we can help pack and check orders to earn a 10% discount. Yes, again it takes a little extra work but is very worth it. Thanks to my friend C, who told me about the Hefty Fresh Extend bags, my produces lasts much longer. If there are items that I need that I can't get from the co-op then I will try the local produce market, or at last resort the grocery store. I then plan my meals around the produce I was able to get. Of course the staples are lettuce (various kinds) for salads, and the ingredients to make salsa. Most salad dressings are not an option, and I do not much care for the oil and vinegar varieties. Instead, I use salsa to dress my salads. There are also many other items you can use it to top as well. Salsa is loaded with tons of nutritional goodness, if it's made properly.

The other leap we made was to order a grain mill to freshly grind our own grain and make our own bread. That is even an option if you are wheat and gluten free. I was disappointed to find out that it did not, however, grind flax seed. It was suggested that I get an inexpensive coffee grinder for that job. I will let you know how that works when my flax seed order comes in. If you live close to a store that sells bulk grains that is the way to go. If you don't, like me, I found another local co-op for that purpose. The grain is ordered from Bread Beckers, and by ordering through the co-op we save a tremendous amount on shipping costs. I ordered about 65 lbs of product that would have cost over $30 in shipping, but through the co-op it only cost me $8. Plus, we got an extra discount that basically covered most of the shipping.

I should mention how we helped pay for the grain mill through Swagbucks. Swagbucks is a search and win site powered by Google. You set it as your home page and use it to search the same way you would use Google. While searching you earn "bucks" which can be translated into prizes. My favorite is the gift cards. I have earned close to $100 in Amazon gift cards so far. I used some for Christmas, I used some to help offset the cost of the grain mill, and now I am saving up to order a tortilla press and a butterfly kit for my kids. Click here to sign up and start earning your own Swagbucks.

Please, join me on this journey. I hope you will be blessed with money saving tips, healthy recipes, and other useful links.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Homeschool Library Builder - A Review

It's funny, growing up going to school one of my least favorite classes was literature. I loved to read, but hated how we had to analyze stories. I just wanted to read and enjoy them. Now, homeschooling my kids, literature is one of my favorite tools to get them to learn. However, we are analyzing the stories in a much different way than I did in school. There are many great literature based curricula out there like Five in a Row, Veritas Press, Sonlight, and many more. The problem is obtaining the literature. Sometimes it feels like you have to spend an arm and a leg just to get the curriculum. The other option is to use the library. What if they don't have that book? What if it is not available when you want it? Let's face it, there are well over 200 homeschool families in my area (that I know of) using my same library system. There is a good chance at least a couple of them will be looking for the same book I am.

Homeschool Library Builder is here to help. They are a Christian family-run book business selling new and used books at less expensive prices. They offer a membership program that let's you earn points for every dollar you spend. Fifteen points is equal to $1 to spend on a future purchase. The membership is free. Many of the titles are between 25 and 50% below retail, and there are some even less. What is even cooler is the search by curricula function. Say you need books for Sonlight 2nd grade, you can click that option and they bring up the list of books they have available for Sonlight 2nd grade.

I was not in a position of needing to order curriculum right now, so I have not ordered from Homeschool Library Builder. I have thoroughly checked out the website, and am very excited to test it out when I do need to order. They even have some out of print books that are hard to find. Click here to read what some of my fellow Crew members had to say about this.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Graphics Toolbox: A Review

  • As part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a cool program called Graphics Toolbox to review. Graphics Toolbox was created by a team of software designers with over 20 years of experience in graphics programming. This is a program that can make:

    personalized cards and invitations
    science diagrams
    photo editing
    posters and business flyers
    photo cartoons
    scrapbook pages
    blog headers and buttons

I have used a lot of "publishing" programs before, and made many photo projects. I didn't have a program that worked on my current computer. I was excited to give this one a try. I was especially excited to be able to make blog headers and buttons. The plan of the program creators was to create a program for everyday graphics needs that would be easy to use and understand. I have to disagree, but that was also partly my fault. I did attend the 90 minute online training session, but with everything going on in the background at my house I couldn't quite get as much out of it as I should have. I did have grand plans of making a project to post with my review to give you an idea of what the program can do. I didn't quite get there. You can go here to see samples on their website here, as well as some tutorial videos. I do have to point out that the customer service we received was incredible. I have to say that my shopping decisions are highly influenced by the kind of customer service I receive. These people were very eager to help and make sure that we fully understood how to use the program. So even though the program is not a simple, self-explanatory kind of program, the assistance and some practice made it much easier than I initially thought.

What makes this program different from others? First, your workspace is set up more like a table or desktop rather than one sheet of paper. Most other programs I've used start with a template and you just plug in your pictures, clip art and colors. This one gives you much more creative freedom with your projects. The possibilities are limited only by the size of your imagination. Click here for a full list of program features.

This downloadable program is available for $149, which will give you a license to use it on one computer. If you need it for more than one computer, there is discounted pricing for additional licenses. You can get a 30-day fully-functioning free trial. Click here to try or buy. If you'd like to see more reviews first, visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog. Also, be sure to visit my blog regularly, because I will get some photo projects added very soon.