May 162011

Do you want your preschooler to make crafts, but hate a big mess?

123! Textured Products, may be just what you’re looking for.

Each project kit contains one colored card-stock cut out and 3 small bags of textured materials to glue to the card stock. Add glue and you’re set!

I received my choice of project kits to review. There are a lot of choices in many different categories including:

  • Zoo Animals
  • Reptiles
  • Forest Animals
  • Winter Fun
  • Holidays
  • Party Time
  • Transportation
  • Insects
  • Farm Animals
  • Christmas
  • Pond Creatures
  • Fall Fun
  • Summer Fun

I finally settled on a butterfly for my 4-1/2 year old.

She had fun with all the bright colors and textures.

She was proud of her finished creation.

It was convenient to have all the materials assembled in one place. I didn’t have to worry about purchasing large quantities of different materials or cutting out any shapes. I’m not sure that I would purchase these on my own though, because the activity didn’t take long enough. Even with the small amounts of materials, I still spent more time preparing and cleaning up than she did on the project. I think these would be a more useful activity in a group setting.

Disclosure: This product was provided to me to review as a member of MamaBuzz. I was not compensated for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.



May 132011

Institute for Excellence in Writing Student Writing Intensive

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) is perhaps the most well-known writing curriculum among homeschoolers. At least it seems to be among the people I know, both locally and on-line. I’ve been hearing people rave about it for years.  So although I’ve been curious about IEW for a while, I had never actually tried it. In fact, I’d never even had a chance to take an extended look at it. So I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to review IEW’s Student Writing Intensive  (SWI) Level B with the Homeschool Crew.

What do you get?

SWI Level B, designed for students in grades 6-8, includes 4 DVD’s, a student binder with dividers, and about 100 pages of teacher’s notes, handouts, and checklists. The teacher’s notes include detailed instructions for using the program, beginning with the Easy Start Instructions and the Student Notebook Set-up. These are followed by a Scope and Sequence Chart and a chart detailing every segment of the 4 DVD’s. Also included is a suggested course schedule, which breaks down the 15 lessons into daily sessions spanning 30 weeks.  There are Teacher’s Notes for each lesson that include how much of the DVD to watch, key details from the video, and the writing assignments for that lesson. The corresponding student pages follow the Teacher’s Notes.

How does it work?

The lessons begin with teaching students how to write a key word outline. The DVD’s are live recordings of Andrew Pudewa teaching the material to a classroom of students, so you are able to watch this process from beginning to end. Key word outlines include important words from every sentence of a source document. The student uses this outline to rewrite the information from the source document using his own words.

The concept of “dress-ups” is also introduced in the first lesson. “Dress-ups” is a term Andrew Pudewa uses to describe ways to add variety to writing. They are additions such as who/which clauses, “ly” adverbs, strong verbs, and because clauses.

Pudewa also makes use of banned words lists. Banned words are words that are overused and not particularly descriptive. The students on the DVD brainstorm and make lists of different words to use in place of specific banned words. The student watching from home has a sheet in his notebook to record these replacement words and can then use them in his own writing.

The students are given writing assignments to practice using the skills taught on the video. Some of these are the same assignments that the students in the video are given, but there is also additional source material included in the handouts for extra writing practice.

Building on the foundation of the key word outline practiced in Lessons 1-6, Andrew Pudewa moves on to teach Story Writing, Report Writing, and Creative Writing in Lessons 7-15. Grammar concepts are discussed throughout the course in relation to writing. Editing skills are also practiced throughout.

We also received a really nice supplement called a Portable Wall. This folder has graphic reminders of the writing process as well as helpful lists of strong verbs, adverbs, and good synonyms for said.

How do we like the program?

For the purposes of this review, I had my 7th grade son begin SWI. He doesn’t fall into either of the two stereo-typical extremes of young writers. He could be termed a reluctant writer, but not using the term in the usual sense. He could also be described as a natural writer, because what he writes is typically very good. But he doesn’t like to write. So he is reluctant to start writing, but given clear guidelines, he usually writes quite well. But with his strong reluctance (i.e. grumbling and complaining), I have failed to give him enough writing assignments. I have not used a writing curriculum before and have struggled to come up with meaningful assignments for him on my own. I am finding that even though I have great intentions, I need structured programs that are planned out for me. I am becoming less of a teacher and more of a learning facilitator.

My son and I both enjoy watching these videos. Andrew Pudewa does an excellent job of instructing the students and is also quite funny. The assignments are very clear. They also have been relatively short, which is a plus for my son whose chief writing goal is brevity. I find the program easy to implement. We have not completed all 15 lessons, but I intend to continue with SWI next school year. I also plan to start my daughter, who will be in 6th grade at the beginning of next year, using the program as well.

Who should use Student Writing Intensive?

As I mentioned, SWI Level B is designed for students in grades 6-8. There are 2 other levels available (A and C). You can choose the one that fits the target age of your student, or if you’re teaching multiple ages, you can select B since it is in the middle. I am thoroughly impressed with this curriculum. Both systematic and thorough, it is great for the homeschooler who wants to teach writing, but doesn’t know how to teach it.

Where to purchase?

SWI can be purchased directly from the Institute for Excellence in Writing website for $109.00.  The Portable Wall can be purchased on the website for $7.00.  The company really stands behind their products and offers “an unconditional, no time limit, 100% refund guarantee on everything we sell.”


Linked to: The Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup.

Disclosure: I received this product for free to review. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions expressed are my own.



May 072011

For Lisa Velthouse’s whole life, Christianity had been about getting things right. Obeying her parents. Not drinking. Not cursing. Not having premarital sex. Vowing to save her first kiss until she got engaged, even writing a book called . . . well, Saving My First Kiss. (This, it turns out, does not actually help a girl get a date.) Yet after two decades of trying to earn God’s okay, she found her faith was lonely, empty, and unsatisfying. So she turned to more discipline, of course: fasting! By giving up her favorite foods—sweets—Lisa hoped to somehow discover true sweetness and meaning in her relationship with God. Until, one night at a wedding, she denied herself the cake but failed in such a different, unexpected, and world-rocking way that it challenged everything she thought she knew about God and herself. Craving Grace is the true story of a faith dramatically changed: how in one woman’s life God used a bitter heart, a broken promise, and the sweetness of honey to reveal the stunning wonder that is grace.

What is grace?

The Sunday School definition is undeserved favor.

Or God’s Richness at Christ’s Expense.

Those are both okay definitions, but you can understand those definitions and still not fully grasp God’s grace. Actually, I’m not sure we can ever fully grasp God’s grace.

Lisa Velthouse thought she had to earn God’s favor. I did too. So I felt a certain kinship with her as I was reading the book. Unlike the author’s, my testimony is not one of thinking I had done almost everything right, and that God was not giving me what I deserved. My struggle was with truly accepting God’s forgiveness for my sins. We both had a false view of God’s grace. The peace of realizing that there is nothing that I can do to earn His forgiveness is freeing. I finally understand that my salvation doesn’t depend on my ability to say the right words in a prayer or my ability to not sin, but on Christ’s atoning sacrifice that completely and totally paid for my sins. He’s the one that’s doing the saving. He’s powerful enough. What a relief! What a wonderful Savior!

I enjoyed reading this book. The author was transparent in sharing her struggles. I liked the way she told the story by going back and forth between two different periods of her life. However, it might be confusing to someone who is extremely sequential.

But I can’t neglect to mention one concern I did have about this book. The author previously served on the staff at Mars Hill Bible Church. That wouldn’t have meant a thing to me until about a month ago. However, the founding pastor of that church, Rob Bell, just published an extremely controversial book entitled Love Wins. I have not read the book, but it has been accused of espousing the universalist view that a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell. So I read Craving Grace looking for any evidence that Lisa Velthouse believes that. I didn’t find any. But I didn’t find any evidence that she isn’t a universalist either. However, it’s not a theology book. Craving Grace is a memoir, and it does what a memoir should–tells the story of a life.

***The author has contacted me and assured me she is most certainly NOT a universalist. ****

I Review For The Tyndale Blog NetworkDisclosures: Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a free copy of this book to review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own. This post contains an affiliate link.

This is the 13th book I have completed in 2011. This is week 18 of the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge. I’m 5 books behind!


May 042011


I love them. Some might say too much. But among homeschoolers, I’m pretty normal. Actually our home library is a bit smaller than many others I’ve heard about.

I love to read. I want my kids to love to read, and I don’t want a lack of good books available to be used as an excuse to not read. So I collect books, I go to used book sales, I check out tons of library books, and I ask for and give books for gifts.

But I’m running into a couple of problems. One is I’m running out of space. I have bookcases in almost every room of the house. Our house isn’t huge to start with, when you add in 7 people and their stuff, well, things get tight. The other problem is money. I think just about every family is facing at least a little bit of tightening in their budgets. And once again, with 7 people and an income that gets effectively smaller all the time, the book budget has to shrink.

I got an iPod Touch last Mother’s Day and my husband got one for Christmas. We discovered that we liked them. A lot. And we discovered that we could actually read on them! In the past, I had sort of turned my nose up at e-books. But my opinion has gradually shifted. I’ve even been considering buying a Kindle, parting with some of my physical books, and replacing them in e-format only!

That’s where things stood when I got the opportunity to review a HUGE collection of e-books from Yesterday’s Classics. By HUGE, I mean enormous. Seriously, this is their complete collection of 225 classic children’s books. These books were published between 1880 and 1920, so many have been out of print for decades. I was already familiar with Yesterday’s Classics, because Tapestry of Grace uses many of their books. Our Island Story and This Country of Ours are just 2 of the ones we’ve been reading this year.

Yesterday’s Classics has done an excellent job of categorizing the books in genres. The collection includes 22 different genres such as world history, poetry, science, nature, and biography. The e-books include the illustrations and are well-formatted with clean, properly-aligned pages, and a table of contents that are linked to the chapters. That is an extremely helpful feature in an e-book!

The books are available in both Kindle and EPUB formats. The download instructions provided by Yesterday’s Classics were both clear and thorough. I was able to download all the books in the EPUB format. I then copied the files into my book folder in iTunes. After syncing my iPod Touch with my computer, all the books are available in the iBooks app. I also downloaded the files in the Kindle format in the hope that I will be purchasing a Kindle soon. I can read them on the Kindle reader on my laptop while I’m waiting too. There are no restrictions on the files, so you can put them on all your e-reading devices. And if you have different types of e-readers, they will even send you the second file type for free after you order!

From now until May 31, 2011, this entire package is available from Yesterday’s Classics for only $99.95. This is an excellent deal! The paperback versions of all these books would cost $2495.75! And the e-books purchased individually are $648.80. Please visit the special offer page to see the list and description of every book in this collection. There is also a free sample book you can download. I am thrilled to have these books and highly recommend them if you have an e-reader or other device to read them. I’m not sure I would recommend them to read on the computer alone, unless you already know that you like to read from the computer monitor or laptop screen.

You can visit the Homeschool Crew blog to find links to other reviews of this collection.

Disclosure: I received these book from Yesterday’s Classics free to review as a member of the Homeschool Crew. All opinions expressed are my own.


Apr 132011

(Cincinnati, OH) With unemployment rates high, the teen population is finding it harder and harder to find work. Adults are competing for the same minimum wage jobs. But there’s an alternative—starting a micro business. What is a micro business? It is a very small, one-person business that you can start easily and quickly with what you already know or own. No money needed, low risk and no debt! Students can spend as much time running a micro business as they wish and can even close it down during busy times. The best advantage for teens to own a micro business is that it not only brings in extra cash (often more than imagined), but students end up learning a great deal about business, money and themselves. It may lead to an entrepreneurial life or at the very least, prepare students for higher learning opportunities.

Starting a Micro Business will help teenagers earn money while learning how to start their own business. A micro business is simple to start, usually home-based, low risk, educational and easy for a busy student to run. This book offers ideas, a business plan, starting with no debt, pitfalls to avoid and resources to get a teenager started making money running their own micro business.

Carol Topp, CPA advises teenage business owners though her Micro Business for Teens book series. Carol’s day job is accountant to business owners, and she enjoys teaching teenagers to succeed beyond their dreams. Students appreciate how she shares what they need to know in clear and helpful lessons. Her website is

Spring Cleaning: A Time For a Teenager to Make Money

by Carol Topp

Here are some ideas for a micro business a teenager can start this spring:

  • House cleaning: Offer to tackle large jobs like washing windows, moving furniture, etc. Many people are grateful for a young, strong teenager to help them with heavy lifting. What is easy for you might be very difficult for them, especially if they are an older person.
  • Routine house cleaning: Some customers need regular house cleaning and may hire you on a weekly or monthly basis. Don’t wait for them to ask: offer to come weekly or twice a month and see what they say.
  • Attic cleaning: Offer to help people do a job that they put off, such as cleaning an attic.
  • Garage cleaning: A big job that can earn you big bucks!
  • Yard cleanup: Offer to trim bushes, pull weeds, plant flowers and spread mulch to spruce up a yard.
  • Car and van cleaning: People spend a lot of time in their automobiles and their cars and vans need frequent cleaning. Melissa gladly paid to get her van cleaned inside and out every week because her four children could really make a mess in it. You can make some cash by offering to clean a van inside and out.
  • Organize. Organize a house, playroom or garage. Charge the customer for any bins, tubs and labels that you purchase for them and then add on the value of your time. Take before and after photos to use on your advertising fliers.
  • Declutter: Do you love HGTV shows on organization? You might be able to find someone to hire you to declutter their house like you see on TV.
  • Garage sales: Advertise, organize and run a garage sale for your neighbors. Get several neighbors to participate together and really earn the bucks!
  • eBay sales: Offer to sell your neighbors’ stuff on eBay and take a cut for yourself. Combine the decluttering, garage sale and eBay tasks into a full package to help your customers profit from their excess stuff.

(This is an excerpt from Carol’s article. Full article available at

After I received this book, I tried something sneaky. I just left it sitting out. I’ve heard of doing that with books you want your children to read. And it worked! My son picked it up and read it cover to cover. He thought it had a lot of helpful information and now he’s trying to decide if he should start a micro-business.

Sound interesting? Please leave a comment and you will be entered to win all 4 books in the Micro-Business for Teens series.

Apr 082011

I have a confession to make. I’m a math geek. Math was always my favorite subject. I was excited for my son to get to Algebra so I could help him with it. My favorites are word problems. Yes, I love those problems about paddling canoes upstream, 2 trains leaving Boston, or 2 people painting a house.  I guess I like word problems so much because you have to think about how to solve the problem before you actually do any computations. I told you I was a math geek.

When Timberdoodle offered me a copy of Daily Word Problems from Evan-Moor to review, you can imagine how long it took me to decide. Maybe I should make that a word problem.

Math crazy homeschool mom is offered a free word problem book to review. How many milliseconds did it take her to decide she wanted it?

There’s not actually enough information given for you to solve that problem. But I think you get the point.

The Daily Word Problems book provides 5 word problems per week, or one per day. (Clever name, huh?) Each week the problems all relate to a central theme like a swim meet or babysitting, but each of the problems are a different type. One week might have 5 different problems requiring 5 different skills such as: adding money, calculating percentages, subtracting decimals, calculating the volume of a cylinder, and a logic problem. There is a handy chart in the front that shows which skills are covered in which weeks.

The softcover book has perforated pages for easy removal. The copyright permits copying within a single classroom (or in our case, a single home), so I can use this resource for multiple children. The answers are provided in the back, but there are no solutions. Daily Word Problems provides a simple way to enhance any math curriculum.

My only complaint is that the problems seem too easy. I received grade 6+, and my daughter is finishing 5th grade math. She also thought they were too easy. (Hmm. I think I might be raising a math geek.) But, she’s been using a math program that I’ve heard is advanced. The Evan-Moor is correlated to state math standards so maybe what I’ve heard about our math program is true. I would recommend viewing the sample before purchasing to determine what is the best level for your child.

By the way, have you looked at Timberdoodle’s complete curriculum packages? They have put together some wonderful resources. I was drooling over looking at their catalog just yesterday.

Linked to: The Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Daily Word Problems Grade 6+ from Timberdoodle  in exchange for writing an honest review.

Mar 282011

My kids are growing up in a different world than I did. The advances in technology just in my lifetime are staggering. (and I’m not that old!) There’s actually a term for members of this computer generation. They’re called Digital Natives.

My oldest son has loved all things computer since he started playing with his very own Freddie Fish game. I remember asking him for help on Print Master once. The end of the conversation went like this.

“Thanks for helping me sweetheart.”

“You’re welcome Mommy. If you need more help, I’ll be in the living room watching Dora.”

I am not exaggerating. (OK, maybe he wasn’t that polite.)

My son’s interest in the computer quickly evolved from playing to creating. He started out using simple graphic software. (like PrintMaster). He learned how to draw using the computer (He draws with a pencil too). He has taught himself how to manipulate digital images and edit videos. Most recently he began creating games with Game Maker. It was obvious that at some point he should take his computer skills to the next level and begin to learn programming.

The problem was how?

I am not a computer programmer.

My husband is not a computer programmer.

My son is too young for dual-enrollment classes at the community college.

That’s why I cannot adequately express how excited I was at being given the opportunity to review the TeenCoder Series by Homeschool Programming.

homeschool programming

TeenCoder is a High School level course consisting of two-parts. Part One covers Windows Programming and has 17 chapters. Part Two covers Game Programming in 15 chapters.  Windows Programming is taught using C# and Microsoft’s Visual C# Express Edition (available free). Game Programming uses Microsoft’s Visual C# Express like the Windows course, plus adds Microsoft XNA Game Studio.

My son has been working through Part One during this school year. Both parts could be done in one school year at a pace of a chapter per week, but since he’s young, we’re spreading it out. The text is well-written with plenty of examples and activities for the student to complete. There are tests and solutions included for each chapter as well.

My biggest concern about my son taking a computer programming class was how I could help him. That  has not been a problem at all with the TeenCoder series. The text is so well-written that my son has needed very little help. But the Teacher’s Guide is written with this exact problem in mind. It tells you what you should look for when you’re checking the activities, and provides a disk with files to give your student hints on the code if they get stuck. And if that’s not enough, the authors invite you to contact them with questions.

The Homeschool Programming website provides helpful information about choosing the right program including sample pages and demo videos. The TeenCoder year pack can be purchased for $130 or each book can be purchased separately for $75 each. My son and I are very pleased with this curriculum and highly recommend it for the computer-minded student.

Disclosure: I received the TeenCoder Year Pack for free to review as a member of TOS Homeschool Crew. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Linked to: The Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup.


Mar 242011

I’m participating in the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge again this year, but I have done a terrible job of posting updates. (That means I haven’t posted any.) It’s not because I haven’t been reading, but my personal blogging time has definitely been affected by Baby Boy. And I am a bit behind on my reading too. However, Code of Justice by Liz Johnson is one of the books that I have enjoyed reading this year.

About Code of Justice:

Heather Sloan is an FBI agent on a mission. She’s on a mission to figure out what caused the helicopter crash that killed her sister. Only her mission would be a lot easier if she hadn’t been injured in the same crash. And if she were actually assigned to the case.  But those small details don’t stop Heather. She convinces Jeremy Latham, the Sheriff’s Deputy who is assigned to the case, to let her help him. In the process, they both learn about trusting God because He is just and because He is sovereign.

My thoughts:

This is another book in the Love Inspired Suspense collection. I also enjoyed Vanishing Act, the previous book by the same author. There are several reasons I like these books. They are mysteries, but not too intense or violent. There is romance, but they are clean. (There is some kissing, but that’s as far as it goes.) They are very quick to read, but that’s partly because I can’t put them down once I start. The characters are real and the book is not preachy. I do not like Christian fiction where it feels like religion is tacked on to the story after it was written just so it would fit the genre. If the character’s faith is not an integral part of the story, then please leave it out. If you’re looking for an exciting book that doesn’t keep you awake at night from fear, and with romance that doesn’t make you blush, I recommend Code of Justice. Visit for purchasing information and to read the first chapter.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author to review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links.


Mar 022011

Elements of Faith: Faith Facts and Learning Lessons from the Periodic Table Vol. 1

by Richard D. Duncan

Elements of Faith Vol. 1 discusses the first 50 elements of the periodic table. For each element the author has included the following sections: Data, Analysis, Reaction, Quick Quiz, and Response. The Data section contains several facts about the elements. Analysis typically contains a bit of the history of the discovery or uses of the element. It often relates the element to the Bible in some way. The Reaction section always includes scripture and is related back to the Analysis section. This is followed by a multiple choice Quick Quiz which covers mainly facts about the element. The final section is a Response to the Reaction section and includes a prayer. Also included in the book are several experiments, a glossary, the answers to the Quick Quizzes and a Periodic Table.

But what do the elements have to do with Biblical topics? That is what makes this book unique. The author has done a spectacular job of weaving these topics together. For example, Bromine is the “smelly” gas. The Analysis discusses the sense of smell and the sense of taste and their respective roles in chemical identification. The Reaction section is about the raising of Lazarus. This is related because Martha warned Jesus that “by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39). The Quick Quiz includes questions on the origin of the word bromine, where bromine is found, what type of element it is, and who is the brother of Mary and Martha. Finally, the Response takes the Reaction section further and brings out that it was at dinner after the raising of Lazarus that Mary annointed Jesus’ feet and the perfume she used also had a smell – but this time a pleasant one.

I requested this book to review from New Leaf Publishing Group. I was interested in the book partly because of the educational background of the author. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering and spent most of his career working in water treatment and environmental engineering. I also have a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering and my husband has worked in the environmental field with a specialty in water supply. He currently teaches chemistry. Chemistry is definitely a topic of interest to us!

Although this is not a complete science course, I think it would make an excellent supplement for chemistry. It also would be suitable as Bible supplement for a science-minded student or could even be used in family devotions. (Especially in a chemistry loving family like ours!)

Disclosure: I received this book to review as a member of the Book Reviewers for New Leaf Publishing Group. All opinions expressed are my own. This post contains an affiliate link.

Feb 282011

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know we have a new member of our family. He’ll be 2 months old tomorrow! It’s been an adjustment, as new babies always are, but the blessings far outweigh the trials.

In the past, I’ve mainly reviewed homeschool products and Christian books. But with this new addition, I hope to be able to add a new type of review: Baby products.

Since I am nursing my little guy, the Pirose Nursing Cover was an excellent first baby product to review.


The Pirose Nursing Cover was developed by a nursing mother. It is lightweight, fashionable, and multi-purpose. It can not only be used as a nursing cover, it can also be worn as a scarf, shawl, or hair accessory, or used as a car seat or stroller cover. It is large enough to provide adequate coverage for discreet nursing, but small enough to fold up and carry in your diaper bag or purse. It comes with a draw-string bag for storage.

I nursed my 4 older children for about 1 year each . With each child, I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with the process and found myself needing to nurse in less private situations. Probably because with each subsequent baby, I’ve had older children that need to go places. So while I could completely center my schedule around the baby’s feeding times with my oldest child, that just doesn’t work anymore. However, I do want to be discreet so that I don’t embarrass myself or the people around me.

Over the years, I’ve tried using various blankets for covering up while nursing. I even tried out another brand of nursing cover that a friend loaned me. The Pirose is by far the best nursing cover I have used.

First, its thin and breathable fabric is so much more comfortable than a blanket. Also, since it goes over your neck and shoulders, the baby can not pull it down, nor can you drop it. It is completely hands-free once you get started. (Other than holding the baby of course!) I love that it is small so I can store it in my combination purse/diaper bag and don’t have to worry about not having it when I’m out. I honestly can’t see myself wearing it as a scarf after the baby is weaned though. But I never wear scarves, so I’m not the best judge of that. Even without using it for a scarf, I still think the Pirose is an excellent product for a good price. I highly recommend it!

The Pirose is available in a variety of patterns and sizes from for $35.00. For more information, you can also become a fan of Reno Rose on Facebook .

MamaBuzzDisclosure: This is a Mama Buzz review. The product was provided by Reno Rose Inc. for this review. The opinions expressed are my own and I was not compensated for this review.