Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: IEW Resource Materials

After years and years of reviewing homeschooling curriculum and products, I can only count on one hand the number of vendors from whom I’d accept any product, just know it’s going to be good.  The Institute for Excellence in Writing is one of those vendors.  Every time we’ve reviewed a product, it has become a permanent part of our schooling. I’ve been using their Structure and Style writing program since my son was in first grade.  A few years later came the Literature Analysis course and most recently was their Grammar program.  This time, the products we received aren’t curriculum themselves, but resources to enhance or supplement homeschool studies—and not just in the area of language arts..

We received a spiral bound book for all three titles. The Teaching with Games set also included two DVD’s and a CD-ROM. 


There are over ninety pages of charts in Timeline of Classics, each giving the Description or Time Period, the Title, the Author, and the appropriate age level of the resources.  I use the word “resources” because you will find much more than books listed.  I’ve also come across audios, movies, magazines, television shows, etc. A lot of listings have “Compact Classics” listed with the title—a little research determined this book provides two page summaries of many “classic” books. 

I would say this book provides a jumping off place if you’d like to add books or movies to your study of a period of history.  There is no synopsis of any title so you’d still need to do some research to see if the title is going to meet your needs.  For example, since we were in the middle of studying ancient Egypt, I went to that section.  There I found listings for Motel of the Mysteries (which I happen to know is a spoof of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut’s tomb) and the Cecil B DeMille version of The Ten Commandments.  I wouldn’t consider either resource for a serious study of ancient Egypt, but the might make for some family fun time to celebrate wrapping up our study. Often you’ll find a title in more than one format, for example most of the G.A. Henty books list the original book and the  audio versions available.  

Of the three books I received, this is the on I use the least.  If a book is worthy of being called a classic, then we will read the original (even if I have to read it aloud).  I’m not interested in two-page summaries or film adaptations.  I will keep the book with my other reading list resources because it does have a very thorough chronological list.

This year I’m help to teach a high school level biology co-op class.  We’re alternating labs with review sessions to prepare for tests.  What better tool for making reviews fun than the Teaching with Games Set.   The book gives instructions and often samples of games that require No Prep, versions of Flash Cards, asking Questions, drilling math facts, and games the students build themselves throughout the study.

I happen to learn best by having someone teach me as we actually play the game rather than reading the rules.  If you’re like me then you’ll want to get the DVD which shows a round of each game being played.  The CD-ROM has a PDF version of the book (so you can print your own copies of the sample games) and some bonus grammar games.

For our science co-op I’ve found the Hot Potato card game to be a great way to go through vocabulary terms.  Both the clue giver and the one shouting out the answer have to know the definition of the term so they can pass on the stack of cards before time runs out.  Other times we’d play a simplified version of Jeopardy or a game called The Question Bag when we needed to review information that required more than a one word answer.

The introduction in both the DVD and the book share how students are more likely to be motivated to learn when it’s done through a game.  I totally agree and can share my own story.  My son is the youngest student in science co-op—he’s only 12 but is taking this high school level course because he’s mathematically ready for it.  He has, however, won 4 out of 5 of the study games we’ve played thus far because he’s very, very motivated to win (winners get $5 gift cards to local stores and restaurants)—even if that means spending a lot of time with his nose in a science book. 

If you’re familiar with the structure and style method of writing, you might find A Word Write Now very helpful.  If you’re not familiar, let me give you an example from one of Schnickelfritz’s recent assignments.  He had to write a story based on three pictures, one of which shows a man swinging on a chandelier in a library. When he started revising his rough draft there were several required “dress ups” he needed to include in each sentence: strong verbs, quality adjectives, –ly words (the term used for adverbs), etc. 
The first half of the book is devoted to two-page spreads of various positive and negative character traits (e.g. courage, honor, and pride). Fritz decided the chandelier-swinging man could best be described as “exuberant” so he turned to those pages of the book and found plenty of examples of all three dress ups listed above—he settled on “high-spirited,” “reveled,” and “overzealously.”  The final word was chosen because Fritz decided the chandelier came crashing down when the man swung too hard.  The catastrophe caused the women who’d been watching to get very angry.  Of course Fritz’s next task was to turn to the anger section to find appropriate words to describe her thoughts and actions.  This idea of a thematic thesaurus is so helpful for my struggling writer because even if he looked up “angry” in a regular thesaurus it wouldn’t help him find words to describe how an angry person spoke or moved. 
In addition to words for various character traits, there is a section on descriptive words (color, size, texture, etc.) and a section on movement and the senses.  Fritz referred to this final section to find suitable replacement for words that have been banned (go/went, say/said, think/thought).  I think the descriptive section  will be a great help when we get back to writing essays and research papers.
IEW Review

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Review: Koru Naturals

I’ll confess right up front that you’ll never catch me in the cosmetics aisle of the drug store—make up and hair styling products just aren’t my thing.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t try to look my best, I’d just feel more comfortable with the face and hair that God gave me.  And I want the products I use on that face and hair to come from God’s creation rather than a chemical laboratory. That’s why I’m so thrilled with      Koru Naturals and the latest products I’ve received.

  The company’s name is based on the Maori word for a new, unfurling fern frond (what some may know as a fiddlehead). It symbolizes new life, growth, strength and peace to that New Zealand aboriginal culture.  This single word reflects not only the origin of many of the company’s products, but their purpose as well.  Since 2002, Koru Naturals has been offering products to protect skin and promote good health.  In addition, all the company’s suppliers certify that there is no animal testing with the products.

  The Skin Clear Cream comes in a 4 oz. plastic tub with a screw on lid, about 3 1/2 inches wide and 1 1/2 inches tall.  There is a secondary lid inside that keeps the product from messing up the screw cap and holds a small plastic paddle (so you can remove the product without introducing your own body oils, etc.) The key ingredients are Manuka honey, manuka oil, and kawakawa. Please Note: Manuka oil is not recommended for pregnant women due to its spasmolytic properties.  I applied a dime to nickel-sized dollop of crème to my washed face when I wake up and just before bed. The crème absorbs quickly and has a subtle, refreshing scent (no perfumes, just the ingredients).  I have two competing concerns—my nearly 50 year old skin is drying out and I can see signs of crows feet, and yet my nose, cheeks, and chin still have oily blackheads.  The Skin Clear Creme is really helping both issues.  After a month, my black heads are nearly gone and my nose doesn’t feel as oily, but the rest of my face doesn’t feel dried out either.  I can hardly tell I’ve made a dent in the container so I know it will last a long time.  I’m anxious to see how it keeps my skin moisturized as we head into dry skin season. 

I let my son use the Manuka Honey Propolis Soap for his almost-a-teenager/developing acne face. The roughly 4 oz. cake of soap started out being about 3 inches across and 1 inch high.  Honey and propolis are both produced by bees and a known for their antibacterial properties.  I had my son wash his face with the soap nightly.  It seems to be keeping the small whiteheads that form around his hairline in check.  My son is very fair with sensitive skin, but this soap never bothered him.  The soap itself doesn’t seem to be disintegrating into goo the way some natural soaps do either.
Our final product was Argan Oil and Sandalwood Hair Tonic. It comes in a metal bottle (about 4 inches high, excluding the pump top). The metal is important to keep the bergamot essential oil out of sunlight (it’s probably even wise to stay out of the sunlight for an hour after you apply it).   I have naturally curly hair which can quickly turn frizzy when I step outdoors.  It also get quite tangled and hard to comb through by the end of the day.  Hair Tonic to the rescue! I’ve applied a pump’s worth to my towel-dried hair and kept the frizz in control.  Sometimes at day’s end I’ll get 1 or 2 drops (not even a full pump), rub it on my fingers, and run my fingers through my hair before attempting to comb it—and it seems to help.
While researching this product, I read that Koru Naturals suggests it can be used in aromatherapy.  Both the sandalwood and bergamot have sedative properties and helichrysum is a nervine (meaning it strengthens the nervous system and can help reduce anxiety or stress).  My son has terrible troubles unwinding at the end of the day and falling asleep so I tried applying some tonic on the soles of his feet.  It didn’t seem to make a difference—that may be because the Australian sandalwood in not as beneficial as the Indian variety.  I will keep using the tonic on my hair though.
Koru Naturals Review

Friday, September 25, 2015

Review: USAopoly Games

Every time the UPS man drops off a review product I feel like it’s Christmas morning.  That’s not always the case for my son, but this time he agreed with me because our box from USAopoly contained two games. Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone is a battery-operated game for 2-8 players. I’m not sure what gets more of a workout—my memory or my creative thinking.  Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game, for 2 or more players. proves you can’t take something as simple as stacking blocks for granted.

This review couldn’t have come at a better time…in an effort to help my Schnickelfritz fall asleep in a timely manner, we have turned off the television/computer/Kindle an hour before his bedtime.  To fill the void we’ve been playing games together and these two have quickly become favorites.  They also work well with larger groups, like when we get together with another homeschooling family and there are seven of us sitting around the table.

 The Tapple device has 20 tabs labeled with the most commonly used letters of the alphabet (no q,u,v,x,y,or z).   In each round players think of of words that begin with each letter and fit into the category listed on a randomly selected card.  I counted 36 cards with my game, each containing four color-coded categories- the white and blue ones are deemed easier and may be suited for younger players, the

yellow and red ones are tougher.  The cards store on the underside of the Tapple wheel. Two AA batteries run the timer—each player is allowed ten seconds to give an answer, tap the appropriate starting letter, and tap the red center to reset the timer for the next player.  If you can’t come up with a word using one of the remaining letters in your time limit you are knocked out for that round.  If you sweep the board and are still playing the yellow knob resets the letters and you go again—this time naming two words.

Scnickelfritz has issues with timers and since we were playing near bedtime when the goal is to calm down, not raise anxieties, we often played without it.  Our best category was fictional characters. We managed to make it through 4 rounds jumping from movies to books.  We hit all the dwarves from The Hobbit, Marvel superheroes, etc.  I was particularly pleased when Fritz came up with Ichabod Crane and Ishmael (as in “Call me…” from Moby Dick) for his I words.  This might make it sound like a game for intellectuals, but there are plenty of pop culture categories too like Sports team mascots.

Now first and foremost this is a game, a really fun game, that can be enjoyed by anyone—but since this is mostly a homeschooling blog I want to share how this can also be used as a review/drill tool.  Some of the categories naturally lend themselves to school subject.  I found: nouns, verbs, adjectives, bugs & insects, U.S. Cities, birds, body parts, etc.  That’s grammar, science, and geography right there.  You could also tweak it and decide the nouns and verbs had to be in the foreign language you are studying or make your own category.  

I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t sure how my son would take to WonkyHe’s been playing and building with blocks his whole life—(it’s his self-comfort thing), but these blocks are built with curved edges and less than perfect right angles. Would my perfectionist son be able to appreciate these slightly askew blocks?  Turns out he could. 

Each player starts with a number of cards that direct which block to place on the stack next based on the block’s attributes: size and color. For every block successfully stacked they get to discard the card.  If the stack topples they must pick up three cards.  First one out of cards wins (this takes several rounds since there are only nine blocks).

It seems like a game of dexterity and being able to sense center of gravity, but there can be a deal of logical thinking going on in a player’s head.  If you don’t have a playable card, you must draw until you get one.  I saw my son begin to intuit the value of

the cards—that it’s better to play the specific ones (e.g. stack the medium blue block) first when the chances of those blocks being available is highest and save the “wild cards” (e.g. stack any blue block, or better any size/any color) for later in the game.  I even noticed the boys judging when it was best to try and sabotage the stack for the next player in hopes of it toppling (so that someone down to 1 card would be forced to pick up more).

The Wonky game comes with a bag to hold the blocks and cards and fits easily in my purse.  I was able to take it to co-op and had several people play while they waited for friends and siblings to finish up tests.  All you need is a smooth flat surface.   If a table wasn’t available we’d use a book.  The picture to the right was the first time my son succeeded in using all nine blocks in a stack. I was so nervous that my getting up and crossing the floor to get the camera would send his hard work tumbling down.

Again, this is a game first but it could be a learning opportunity for very young ones who need to learn the small, medium, large, concept.  Because the cards show which block to play in addition to the text, it could be played by non-readers. 

If you’re looking for some Christmas gift ideas, I can recommend these two USAopoly games.

 USAopoly Review

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Cast Iron Pans

I’ve taken up ironing!  Not the kind that fights wrinkles but cooking in cast iron.  In another one of my maybe steps to improve our family’s health, I’ve ditched the non-stick pan (which let’s be honest had lost most of its non-stickiness). 

At an auction last month we picked up a 6 inch and a 10 inch pan.  These had both seen better days and were rusty so my husband had to go at them with a wire attachment on his drill and then reseason them.  That could be a post on its own and if I ever get the pictures he took off his phone maybe I’ll do one.  I will share that at one point he thought he’d overcooked the pans as the first layer of oil seemed to be bubbling and flaking.  It turns out there was a second layer of rust that had been seasoned over before and he had to get the wire attachment out again.

When he was sure he’d gotten down to good clean iron, we applied a thin layer of oil, baked it in the gas grilled, let it cool till he could handle it again and repeated the whole procedure two more times.  The final appearance of both pans were a glossy  black.  I was still a little skeptical—would they really be nonstick?

The best test I could come up with was scrambled eggs.  I didn’t put any oil in the pan and I hadn’t cooked sausage or bacon in it before the eggs—this was straight out the the drawer and onto the stovetop.  I did let it heat up for felt like quite a while (after all, you’re not supposed to have an empty non-stick pan over heat for long).  Well, a picture is worth a thousand words—take a look at my results….

And here’s another great thing—I can use this pan in my oven and over our firepit (in fact we originally bid on it for that reason).  I found a great recipe for a deep dish pizza in a cast iron pan that I can’t wait to try.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Rescued Book: The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

I like to try and tie my son’s reading assignments with the period of history we’re studying.  This year we’ve gone back to the ancient world—Greece, Rome and Egypt.  How fortunate for me that in the box with a personal collection of Landmark books I snagged at a library book sale for $1 each was W59 – The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.


The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.

Payne, Elizabeth Ann.  New York: Random House, 1964. 192 pp.

This book isn’t a single narrative story, but a collection of stories of the events and people.  Sometimes the chapter will be about a Pharaoh, like Cheops, Hatshepsut, or Ramses.  Other times the focus will be on an archeologist, like Jean Francois Champollion who translated the Rosetta Stone or Howard Carter when he discovered the still sealed tomb of Tutankhamen.  There’s even a chapter on “The Smiter of the Asiatics—Thutmose III,” the pharaoh from Henty’s The Cat of Bubastes that we will also read this year.

Did you know the cycle of the Nile flooding not only allowed the Egyptian civilization to develop along the fertile soil along the sides of the river, but also allowed for the building of the pyramids.  It was during those four months of flooding, when farmers couldn’t work in the fields, that the Pharaoh would “generously” offer to feed, house, and pay them to build the great pyramid.  The book cites historian James Baikie referring to this as the first unemployment program recorded.  I’d like to point out that these ancient men were being paid to actually work, not paid for not working as we do today.

This is one of the few Landmark books we have with black & white photographs rather than illustrations.   I also have a couple of DK books that we refer to because you really need to see Tut’s solid gold death mask in full color. 

You can see all my rescued books by clicking here

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Canning with Tattler Lids

A neighbor sent out a Facebook message that his apple trees were ready for picking.  This fellow does most of his business in Christmas trees, but he’s got a few dozen apple trees near the road and he let’s people pick them on the honor system.  The aren’t sprayed so they aren’t the prettiest things in the world, but I don’t care.  I got a bushel of practically organic Gala apples for $22. 

tattlerLast year I did a little experiment when it came to canning applesauce.  When I stopped to buy lids, I saw a box touting reusable plastic lids.  I bought a set of 12 and tried them—and they worked!  I got seals with all 10 jars I canned.  I even managed a seal when I accidentally used two of the rubber rings on the same jar.

This year I invested in two more boxes of Tattler lids—one wide mouth and one standard.  Last weekend I canned 23 jars of applesauce and all but one sealed on the first try.  The one remaining, I stuck in with another batch and it sealed on the second go.

The Tattler seals are a little more expensive than metal—mine were $9.99 for a set of 12 lids and rubber rings.  But by the third time I use them they will have paid for themselves.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Books to Read this School Year

I’ve always like to tie my son’s reading books to the period of history we’re studying.  This year we’re headed all the way back to the beginning and going through the crucifixion.  Here are the books that’s I’ve pulled from our shelves—most of these are old books that I’ve rescued from sales.

Dinosaurs of Eden by Hen Ham—This is the one book I bought new, when Mr. Ham was speaking at our church  It covers the creation (not evolution) of dinosaurs on Day Six, explains how dinosaurs could fit on the ark, and how dinosaurs and man lived at the same time.  Clearly a biblical worldview.

Men and Gods by Rex Warner—I just picked this up last weekend at a YMCA sale.  It’s Roman mythology as the gods have names like Jupiter and Venus.  I see Jason and the Golden Fleece, the Labors of Hercules, Midas, Echo & Narcissus, and more.  I’m interested in one chapter called the Great Flood—to see how it correlates to the Biblical account.  We probably won’t read all the stories, just get a good sampling.

The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer retold by Alfred Church.  I know one Mystery of History lesson covers Homer and another covers the legend of the Trojan War.  Church has taken the epic poems and rewritten them as prose for boys and girls. 

Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick---The book is part history and part science.  It covers Archimedes’ famous buoyancy discover (remember he ran outside naked and yelling “Eureka!”) buy also his work with math and measuring a circle ( pi ).

Pyramid by David Macauley—We have a whole slew of Macauley’s books: Castle, Cathedral, Mosque, etc. We’ve got some that have been reissued and redrawn in color, but I really love the original black and white line drawings. This year we’ll use Pyramid.

The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne—You didn’t think I was going to get through this list without a Landmark Book title, did you?   This is one of the few books in the series with photographs of many ancient sites.  The book covers Cheops, Hatshepsut, Thutmose, Akhnaton, and Ramses, but it also covers the archeologists that uncovered the treasures starting with Napoleon’s army and the Rosetta stone and of course Howard Carter and King Tut’s tomb.

Alexander the Great by John Gunther—my second Landmark book.  We obviously won’t be watching the Hollywood film so I’m glad to have my copy of this book.  If you enjoy used book sales NEVER PASS UP A LANDMARK BOOK!

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George—This Newberry Medal winner will round out our year since it takes place at the end of our time period. 



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