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Friday, October 30, 2009

Virginia Soaps and Scents Review

The TOS Crew was recently asked to review some products from Virginia Soaps and Scents. I was THRILLED, because in our house we have been using homemade soaps and other products for a few years, but I had not tried Virginia Soaps and Scents because they didn't exist when I first started buying homemade soaps (and now I make my own).
Virginia Soaps and Scents may seem like a strange company to ask a Crew of homeschooling product reviewers to look at, but actually its a perfect fit because VSS is a homeschooling success story. The company itself was born out of a unit study by a homeschooling family, the Spargurs. They decided to make a batch of homemade soap as a history lesson, and a passion was born. And being true homeschoolers, they decided that if they were to make a business out of this passion, they would learn to do it all themselves, and they have. Beyond making soap, they handle every aspect of the business, even down to the packaging.

We received three different products from them to review. The first was their regular bar soap. I found it to be quite attractive, and was happy to see that it was scented with real essential oils, not perfumes (although it appears some of their specialty bars are scented using fragrance oils.) I particularly liked the scent of the Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey bar. I thought the sample size is quite nice, and the soap is beautifully irregular on the top-as nice to look at as it is to use. If you haven't used a bar soap in a while, you will be surprised the difference it will make in how your skin feels, and if you've never used a homemade bar soap, then you've never experienced soap the way soap was intended to be-with all the glycerin in tact. Compared to other homemade soaps, the VSS soaps lathered with small but rich bubbles, and was perfectly fine for shaving with as well as washing. The bars are 4.5 oz each and are $4.50 for one, $12 for 3, $35 for 10, or buy 4, get one free.
We also received a sample size shampoo bar. Now again, we've been using shampoo bars for years in our house, but for most people it is a strange concept indeed. But "back in the day" there were no specific products for body vs. hair. One soap did it all. Today, most homemade shampoo bars are slightly different from homemade soaps. The process for making them is entirely the same, but soaps are often "superfatted", or left with some of the oils not converted to soap by the lye, therefore they are left suspended in the soap as moisturizers. Shampoo bars are typically not superfatted, and that's the basic difference. Shampoo bars take a bit of getting used to...when you first make the change you have to remember that you've spent a lifetime coating your hair with plastics (just look for anything in your hair products that says "vinyl") and you have to get your hair back to a natural state. Once you do that though, you'll never go back. Shampoo bars get your hair SO much cleaner, and because it is a more natural clean, you can go longer between washings and not have your hair look dirty or oily. And they travel with much less mess, especially on airplanes (as a bonus, you can carry them on in your luggage and not have to worry about liquid product limits). I liked the VSS Shampoo bar a lot, and the Coconut Lemongrass scent was nice. The 5.5 oz bar sells for $5.50, or two for $10.

Lastly, we received a sample of their homemade laundry detergent kit. Homemade laundry soap is really easy to make, but if you are at all apprehensive about it, this kit is the way to go. The instructions are easy to follow, and everything you need (except the water) is included. Their instructions are for making a gel-like liquid, although the same ingredients can be used without water as a powdered detergent. I'd never made the liquid kind, so I was excited to try this one. The advantage to the liquid is that you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to make your laundry smell good. I added a tiny amount of lavender to mine. I've been using homemade laundry soap for a while now, and their recipe is essentially the same as the one I use, so I didn't see a difference with their product, but I can tell you you will save a ton of money with homemade laundry soap, and like I said before, this kit is an easy way to start. The kit is $4.95 and will do 64-72 loads of laundry.

The bottom line to me is that the products we tried from VSS were all great. I would definitely recommend them to anyone who wanted to save money and be more natural in the way they clean themselves and their clothes. Homemade soaps typically sell for $1 and ounce or more, and their soaps are right in line with that. Plus, they look and smell nice too.

To order any of their products, or see some of the others they offer (lotions, etc.) go HERE. To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received 3 sample bars of soap, a shampoo bar sample, and a laundry kit free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Amazing Bible Timeline Review

My kids and I have started a chronological study of history based on the Bible, so receiving this Amazing Bible Timeline to review right now was perfect timing. Or at least it should have been. Unfortunately, it's kind of a double edged sword. Let me explain.

The Amazing Bible Timeline is HUGE-it's size alone justifies the "amazing" part of its name. (It's 38" x 46".) Here's a picture of it that shows its size a little better.
But that same huge size means it has to be curled up to be shipped, and because it is on heavy duty card stock with a varnished top, it took quite a bit of convincing to get mine to lay anywhere close to flat. We started with it face DOWN on the dining room table (to get it to uncurl) and then eventually flipped it upright, but had to cover it with a vinyl clear shower curtain to protect it and keep the edges from curling, and then the kids couldn't really see it, so now it's taped to our wall, and that seems to be working better. Except my dining room is now decorated in "early homeschooling".

The goal of this timeline is to present the events of the Bible in a way that you can see the whole Bible timeline at once...and see it concurrent with the other world events of that time. It covers everything from creation to the end times, with the BC stuff to the right as you view the timeline, and the AD stuff to the left. The centuries come out from the middle on spokes and are numbered along the outer edge too. Four different colors are used to show the descendants of Noah's sons, and also to show the major acting influences on the church (the reformation, the catholic church, etc.). It attempts to allow the viewer to get an idea, at a glance, of all the things that were going on around the world at the same time as any Bible event they are studying. It is an awesome task to undertake, and hard for any one resource to do well.

The pros to this product are that it really does help you see how things overlap in history. Even the early Bible genealogies are helpful. To SEE how Adam was still alive during the lifetime of Noah's grandfather, and even FATHER, was very eye-opening. And to see when Buddha or Confucius or the other major characters from other "religions" fit into the Bible timeline is all very interesting to me as a history buff. The timeline bases itself on the research of Bishop Ussher, who in the late 1500's, put together probably the most comprehensive Bible timeline ever, so it begins with a solid foundation (for Christians who subscribe to the "young earth" idea).
And it comes with a few free downloads, including a smaller version of the Amazing Bible Timeline for your computer, and an interactive map of the Holy Land.

Oh, but the cons...they are numerous too. First, there's the whole, "I can't get it to lay flat"thing, which is compounded by the fact that I did not want to have to tape it to the wall, but that proved to be the only way to make it usable. Then, there's the fact that it's not laminated, so you can't mark on it, and that tape that I used to tape it to the wall will now have to be a permanent addition because It would rip the timeline apart to remove it. Then there's the issue with it taking a bit of time to "wrap your brain around it" so you can really read it-this is not a tool a younger child could use. I'd say you are definitely looking at upper middle school and up. And the colors were confusing to me. I'd rather have seen the histories separated out clearly by continent, and then a side notation of which son of Noah they are believed to descend from. Except you couldn't do that because Africa is totally skipped over other than Egypt. Apparently nothing interesting in the history of the world happens there. But oddly enough, there's a LARGE focus on the pre-Colombian history of the America's.
It starts here.

And continues here (it's the outermost ring).

And keeps going HERE...and you might want to actually READ above, because yes, there is cited as a reference the Book of Mormon.

That explains a LOT of the emphasis on the history of the Native Americans, since the Mormons believe Jesus came to visit the Native Americans after His resurrection. That doesn't line up with God's Word, and so those references are not valid in my opinion. Now, I don't mean to take issue with anyone else's belief system, but I know personally that God's Word tells us in Jude 3 that we should earnestly contend for the faith against false doctrine, so that is what I must do here. The link to Mormon beliefs also renders all the references to end-time prophecy null, since their understanding of the prophecy of Daniel and mine are totally different. And since my kids are currently studying Daniel (they'll move to the end-times stuff in January) and they spent last year doing Revelation, that information being presented as fact when it is contrary to our understanding is just not okay.

The bottom line to me is that if you are among the 90% of the population out there who would take no issue with the incongruencies caused by the Mormon beliefs being presented as fact on the chart, than this is a good reference for you. And if you are handy with a sharpie marker and don't mind permanently disfiguring your timeline, than this is a good reference for you too. In fact, I want to be clear that I won't be ripping it off my wall anytime soon, because I do think it is a good tool, and since it's not laminated I can mark through things in sharpie marker to rid our chart from the information that runs contrary to our beliefs, so that's what I plan to do.

The Amazing Bible Timeline and the accompanying free downloads, are available HERE for $29.97 plus $6 shipping. To read what other TOS Crew members had to say, go HERE.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received the Amazing Bible Timeline free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Sue Patrick's Workbox System Review

If I had to pick the ONE thing that has had the greatest impact on our homeschooling since we began, it would be THIS system. And ironically, I stumbled across it a few months before the TOS Crew was asked to review Sue Patrick's book.
As most bloggers and blog readers have probably experienced, at times you can read one person's blog and then follow a link to another blog and then another link to another blog, and then POOF! there you are gleaning wonderful knowledge from a total stranger. That was how I was introduced to Workboxes. I was reading someone's blog who posted about something and had a link that I followed, and suddenly I found someone talking about how workboxes had changed their LIFE and their homeschool. So of course, I followed that link too, and just from what I read on that blog (I can' t even remember now whose blog it was) I knew this might be just the thing I was looking for. Less than a week later, a close friend posted a question to our homeschool group looking to glean information about workboxes, and at the same time, I got a peek at the TOS Crew vendors for this year, and Sue Patrick's Workbox System was there. It was like a COLOSSAL sign from GOD. Especially when that aforementioned friend bought the e-book, implemented workboxes, and started loving it too.
So, by now you might be thinking, "what exactly is this system that has so taken the homeschool world by storm?". The complete system that Sue developed is called "Specialized and Structured Teaching Workbox System" and it is a program she developed after devoting herself to trying to best help her autistic son.Because of the success Sue had with her child, others asked her for her help, and the business grew from there. She now has the Workbox System User's Guide, which is what the Crew was asked to review. It is that Guide that my friend has purchased, and I took a sneak peek over the summer because I was so certain that Workboxes would work for us that I wanted to start our new school year out with them and not wait until the Crew's assignment in September. Did I mention this has revolutionized our homeschooling? It's just great.
The genius of workboxes is its simplicity. And that very simplicity has caused some people out there to share this system with everyone they know free of charge and without crediting Sue Patrick. That's unfortunate because there is much to be gleaned from her book that you don't get when you try to do it on the fly. And she has poured hours and hours and probably years of her life into this system, so it would, I'm sure, be nice to get credit, both financially and intellectually. Because of all the "copycat" stuff out there though, I'm going to give you a general run down and encourage you to go to her site to view the rest of her materials for greater information.
Workboxes involve taking your child(ren)'s schoolwork for each day and placing each subject/topic in a separate box (she suggests a plastic shoe container) along with all the materials they need to complete the task. You then give them a schedule for the day as to what things to do in what order, and you allow them to be responsible for completing their work. They are allowed to ask you for help of course, and there will be some subjects, especially with younger children, that require teacher assistance, but the system allows for that.
Above are my daughter's workboxes. I fill them each day, she works through them in the order I tell her, and when she is done, she's DONE with school for the day. You can see our system looks very similar to the one in the Workbox System logo above, and that's because after a ton of thinking about how to make it best work for us, it turns out that Sue's system is the cheapest (go figure!) and worked with the space allocation we have.

Here's my happy daughter with one of her Workbox assignments, and TJ with his below. (Those $3.50 display boards were the BEST investment I've ever made toward peace in our homeschool!)

The Pros for the Workbox System: (This might be a long list, because I was in desperate need of somethign to help us get all the stuff done that I wanted to get done every day!)
1) Students know exactly what is expected of them, schoolwork-wise, everyday.
2) They know, at a glance thanks to the workboxes, how much more they have to do until they are "done"
3) They know that when the workboxes are empty, the school day for them is OVER. It's a huge incentive to sit down and get to work.
4) It fosters independence in work that previous to this year NEVER seemed to happen.
5) It allows me to "schedule" the opportunity to work with each of them separately while making sure everyone in actually doing something and not just waiting on me. Our math is teacher lead, so I MUST do math with each of my kids EVERY day. With the workboxes, I stagger who is working on what so that they each get to their "math" box at a different time and I no longer have everyone needing me simultaneously.
6) I'm not really organized, but even I can get my brain around this.
7) No more, "I need a..." I put it all in each box so they have everything they need when they sit down. I even give them a pencil for each assignment (can you tell broken pencil tips are a BIG issue in this house?).
8) Workboxes allow me to get housework done WHILE they are doing school-it's novel, but I can now start a load of wash or fold a load of wash and not have my kids waiting on me to do school-they already know what to do and can do it.
9) Workboxes mean I can even LEAVE the house to get my 4 year old from "school" (she goes to a local Pre-K) and know that the older three know what to do in my absence and EXPECT that they will do it.
10) And this might be one of the biggest for me, we are finally getting to all the wonderful curriculum and resources I've owned but never gotten to. I just pull them off the shelves, dust them off (most have been sitting there just waiting for me to use them), and make them one of the kids' boxes for the day. For example, we reviewed some Critical Thinking books last year, and I LOVE them, but I seldom remember to include them. Now, I can just put the book in the box, tell them the page to work on, and that is one of those things they do as their schoolwork. Same for handwriting, science experiments, craft name it, I'm finally getting around to doing it, and that makes the system priceless because it means we are actually using the resources I've already spent money on.

The cons: Are you ready? Because there are two big ones...or at least there could be. The first is the expense. It's NOT expensive, as things go, but there is a very real cost to setting up the system. The plastic boxes are about $1 a piece, and Sue recommends 12 per student. Times four students (in my case) that's already $48. Then there are the racks the boxes go on. I got them for a good price at Target, but they were $15 with my four, that's $60 more. And then there are the numbers for the boxes, the velcro dots to hold the numbers, the dots for the schedule strips, the dots for the special cards (I need help or work with mom, etc.). Oh, and the laminating of everything that you don't want to replace every week. The initial set up is NOT cheap. But in comparison to the price of saving my sanity, it's been worth every penny (and if you know me, you know we don't have any spare pennies right now). The other con is that Sue Patrick's tone can be a little harsh in her book. She is CERTAIN her system works AS IS. She has helped thousands of families with her system AS IS. And she really makes it quite clear she expects you to use it AS IS....every aspect of it without a single change. But see, that's just not how homeschoolers work. In fact, EVERY person I've encountered who LOVES workboxes has tweaked them in some way. Whether it is to use magazine holders or hanging file folders instead of shoe boxes (think 9 kids in a 1100 sq ft house) or it is to use fewer boxes per child or it is to not use centers or poster activities, everyone seems to have tweaked it because that's what works for them. I personally only have 8 boxes per child, and we don't use all of them every day. And I bought shelf liner for the wire racks the boxes sit on because my child on the autism spectrum likes to act out when he's angry, and I got tired of the boxes going flying (plastic glides a little too well on metal). I don't do centers OR posters (NO room/husband unwilling to have the dining room look even MORE like a schoolroom). And I break the cardinal rule and I DO take advantage of the fact that my kids are independently engaged in learning to actually get a little bit done around my house without feeling guilty. But even with all those variations, I can tell you this system has totally changed our homeschooling and every bit of it for the better. I'm saddened by Ms. Patrick's hard stance against making changes to her system, especially when you read her beautiful "History" on her web page, and see that she herself says:
After attending seminars, conferences, and certification programs for nearly every therapy based work for special needs children, I did not adopt any existing program or other therapies because I thought a meshing of the best of all programs, along with a Specialized Parent-Based approach was the only logical choice. I am thankful to God every day for giving me that discernment.
So it was tweaking existing programs that brought her to what worked best for HER and gave her a framework to help others. I'm thankful GOD has given ME discernment to know that I need to take the parts of the system that works for me, and for my children, and leave the rest. Here's what workboxes look like in our house:

Tj's boxes. He moved his up to the top 3 shelves because he likes them that way. Green is his color, so his numbers are backed in green. His "privacy wall" stores behind the boxes.

Mimi's boxes. I even use them as a gathering place after school is over for all their things that migrate out of their room and need to get put away, so sometimes the "first" box is stuff to go put away in their rooms-like that purple jacket that's in hers now
Scott's are a typical mess. Because of lack of space, I store their "need help" and "work with me" cards on the top shelf between boxes one and two. I also keep a pencil sharpener there for each one of them. And currently, the last box (8) has all their lapbook pages in it-the ones they've finished and we need to put in the lapbook, and the ones still to be done.

So what's the bottom line? Did I mention this has totally overhauled our homeschooling? Really. It has been that life changing for us. But it was life changing because I took the system and made it work for us, in our house, with my kids, and living our life. I don' t feel bad about that, even if the author would prefer I use it exactly as intended. The e-book is $19, and I think it's worth every penny-but take what works for you and leave the rest. To purchase the e-book, go HERE. Free sample pages are also available for viewing on her site. And, you once you purchase the book, you receive access to free download-ables like the numbers/scheduling strip templates as well as some potential work box activities, and an area to share ideas between workbox users. Go check it out! It will change your life!
To read what other members of the TOS Crew thought, so HERE.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received the Sue Patrick's Workbox System e- book free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Educaching Review

This is by far probably the MOST difficult review I've had to do as a member of the TOS Crew. And as I explain what Educaching is, those of you who know me well will understand how this was a marriage of polar opposites from the get-go. But it is for those of you who are NOT technologically challenged as I am that I am writing this review because YOU will probably LOVE this product every bit as much as I hated it :-). (And it KILLS me to hate it, because this company has such a strong Christian base, so please, PLEASE keep reading so you can judge for yourself.)

Educaching was born after the author went geocaching with some family members. Here's what he has to say:
Teachers and students can use the amazing technology of GPS to participate in hunts that center around learning! I began to think of ways to do this with my own students, and after speaking with my principal and receiving funds to purchase GPS receivers, I began to write this manual of how I and other teachers could use this technology in the classroom.

Now, if you've never been geocaching, you might need a bit of an explanation. And the Educaching book does a great job of explaining what geocaching is, how it works, and how it perfectly segues into educational activities that bridge across many different subjects to provide a truly integrated form of learning. But if you have to idea what geocaching is, here's my really simplistic explanation. Geocaching is a high tech scavenger hunt. People hide little treasures (caches) and others try to find them. It's very similar to letterboxing, except that geocaching makes use of a handheld GPS system instead of a series of clues to guide you to your destination.

Taking that a step further, in Educaching the teacher is the one hiding the "caches" and the students are the ones using the GPS devices to find these caches and do whatever it is that the caches instruct them to do (or the teacher instructs them to do) to take what they find in the caches and apply it to their lesson. And to help you get started, the Educaching book has 20 sample lessons, starting with beginner ones and working up to advanced, to help stimulate your creative juices for applying this technology in your classroom or homeschool. And since this book is written for traditional school teachers as well, there are some sections that a homeschooler might not find helpful, like how to apply for grants to fund your GPS purchase.

The good: The idea behind Educaching is simple and brilliant. Kids like technology. Kids love treasure hunts. Why not combine the two? And Educaching allows teachers to take topics that are sometimes sedentary in their presentation and gets kids up and moving and makes them an active part of the learning process. The manual devotes plenty of space to teacher training so you know how to set up caches and takes you and your students through some beginning exercises to get familiar with the GPS and how it works. And the 20 lesson plans included show you how wide the implications for GPS in education are. The manual is a wonderful springboard to start you thinking about how to apply modern technology in the classroom or homeschool. At $32, the book is reasonably priced IF this type of activity is something that would appeal to you and your students.

The bad: This is incredibly teacher-time intensive. Really. You have to first learn the ins and outs of using a handheld GPS (if this is not something you already know how to do). And you have to take your lesson and figure out how you would take it from its traditional format and make it into a treasure hunt...what goes in the caches? What do the students do with them after they find them? Yes, the manual gives you basic ideas, but it still is a learning curve. You have to find hiding places for all your caches. You have to map out where you put them. You have to make a map for the students. You have to take the GPS device and mark the coordinates either on paper for the students to input or on the GPS itself. You have to do a trial run to be sure everything works the way you think it will. And, you have to go back and clean up all your caches afterward. It takes tons of planning and a good amount of time, all for a relatively short activity.

The ugly: Anyone who knows me knows technology and I are not compatible. But the kids and I have gone letterboxing, and this seemed like the next step. Only reviewers with a GPS (or access to a GPS) got this product, but I knew my friend's family went geocaching regularly and they said I could borrow theirs, so I figured I would give it a try. But then I got an iPhone, and they have GPS, so I figured I would just use the phone. (I'm telling you all this, because I am sure someone else out there will think the same thing.) That's where the problems started. The iPhone 3G do not have an internal compass, so you have to download a compass app. And it has to be one that you can input GPS coordinates into. My crazy-smart computer engineer husband spent the better part of a DAY trying to find me a free or low cost app that would do what I needed, but in the end none did. See, GPS is really cool, but it is not profoundly accurate. At least not on my phone or, based on the experience of others that I read about, on less expensive GPS devices. They are accurate to about 7-15 METERS. That's like having a 21 foot radius of error. For finding a tiny Tupperware container. Yeah. NOT easy. The activity my kids and I were trying to do was "Which Tree is Which" and it went along perfectly with Mimi's lapbooking assignment to collect leaves from different trees. Except that the GPS on my phone could not get us anywhere close to a specific tree despite the fact that I stood right in front of it and marked the coordinates. In fact, anywhere within sight of the tree generally showed as being "at the target"-not very discriminating. Luckily "the hubs" and I checked this all out first, but we wasted literal hours trying to find a way to get it more precise. If you were looking for a tiny item you'd never find it, and if you were looking for a large thing (like a tree) it was hard to know which one was the actual target. Oh, and GPS units have to have an unobstructed view of the sky, so they don't really work anywhere near trees, which makes it really hard to target one. Nor do they work if you are under cover. Nor do they work if it's really cloudy. Nor can you see the screen on the GOS if it's NOT really cloudy.
Basically, you have to have a big, wide-open field for this to work best, but big, wide-open fields don't generally have good hiding spots, and if they are good hiding spots, the GPS probably can't find them. ARGH! It was an exercise in futility. And it's hard to identify trees in tree-less fields, LOL.

So fast forward to today, when all the forces of the universe finally aligned and God took pity on me. We borrowed a "real" (read"expensive") GPS from a friend who hunts. This is the mac-daddy of GPS's. This thing costs $300ish. And if I owned one, and knew how to do all the things it can do, I might enjoy Educaching more. But even with this improved technology, my kids HATED it. Really. I dragged them out there kicking and screaming. It may be that here in FL it is 87 degrees with a heat index over 90 right now, and trudging along through the great outdoors just is no-one's idea of fun.Or it may be that the kids recognized that the whole thing would be much easier if I just said to them, "go find a bunch of different trees and take their picture and collect some leaves". In any event, my oldest (who embraces technology full on) hated it. His sister hated it. My youngest abandoned me.
Only TJ was intrigued with the cool GPS enough to give it a try, but not even he was interested for long.
They are only smiling in this picture because I used some creative persuasion to encourage their good behavior.

Here's what I was having to try to navigate with on my phone. It was impossible.

Here's the "real" GPS. It makes all the difference in the world.

So what is the bottom line? If you are technology inclined, and you are familiar with a GPS, own a really good one, and would LOVE the chance to include it in your learning, than this is perfect for you. If you just want to get your kids up and mobile more in their studies, this might be a good way to do it. But if you are NOT technology inclined, be prepared for a HUGE learning curve. I felt over and over that it would be much easier just to revert to "absolutely relative" directions (go to the mailbox and walk 20 paces). We would have been done in a quarter of the time, and the kids would have enjoyed it more. Personally, I don't think the average person's GPS is capable of making Educaching all that it can be, but maybe someday soon that will be different. If you happen to have a mac-daddy hunting GPS, you should give it a try, as you will have much greater success with it than those with a cheaper counterpart (see NOTE below).

Several other TOS Crew members reviewed this product, so please go HERE to read what they thought. And I encourage you to go HERE to download a free sample lesson to see if Educaching is for you. If so, the book is available at that same site for $32 in a downloadable e-book, or $32 plus shipping and handling if you want it in a hard copy.

A NOTE FROM THE FOLKS AT EDUCACHING: In the last couple of years the manufacturers of GPS receivers have made great advances in equipment features and capabilities across the whole product platform that greatly reduce user frustration. Some of the reviewers make comments about poor signal reception (which may affect decision to purchase the GPS curriculum product) that can be easily resolved with using equipment that has high sensitivity features. The high sensitivity feature is basic on most, if not all, manufacturers newer units. It provides users excellent reception under heavy tree canopy, or on a cloudy day. In fact, Garmin now only produces hand held receivers with this feature. It's like radios in cars. You can't buy a car off the lot without it. These units can be purchased direct from Garmin for $135, or from dealers like Amazon, which lists the Gamin eTrex H (h stands for high sensitivity) for $75.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received the Educaching book free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Park pics from today

Sorry y'all. In my quest to take this photography passion to a professional level, there's a ridiculously good chance I'll be snapping pictures of anyone or thing that will stay still long enough. Here were some of today's gems.

Poor boy...he is SOOOO cute, and I am constantly sticking a camera in his face. Just LOOK at those eyes!

Given my love for photography, it's good that this child never tires of posing for me :-).

And since my son was so willing, my sometimes prickle-y Godson played along too. CUTE!

They came up with this series of "poses" all by themselves.


The clown who always makes me laugh!

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Bonus Offer-Sarah's Wish

The author of Sarah's Wish contacted us this morning with a wonderful discount for all our blog readers! This discounted price is ONLY available by mail order, NOT on his website. If you are interested in receiving the order form, leave a comment in the comment with your e-mail address and I will forward it to you (the HTML in the form was not compatible with, so I couldn't just cut and paste it here).

Sarah's Wish 126pg, regular price $10.99, blog reader special $8.50
Sarah's Promise 245pg, regular price $14.99, blog reader special $10.50
Sarah's Escape 304pg, regular price $21.99, blog reader special $15.50

If you buy all three, you can also purchase a second copy of Sarah's Wish to have as a gift for just $4. Oh, and the shipping and handling are FREE!

Again, leave me a comment in the comment section with your e-mail, OR e-mail me at and I will send you the form to order the books at this great price.
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Monday, October 19, 2009

Happy 10th Birthday Mimi!!!

We thought it was so nice of Epcot to install a birthday cake for Mimi right in the planter as you walk in. (It's really for the Food and Wine Festival, but hey, we'll take it!)

My Mimi and her girlfriend Mad on a "design your own roller coaster" attraction that just opened at EPCOT. They had such a blast on this that they rode it three times. The first time was a scaredy-cat run...then they bumped it up a the third time, they were upside down (above).

Two beautiful girls-inside and out

For the record that's Israeli coke they are toasting with :-)

My daughter and my Godson share the same birthdate...we met up with them for a short time at Epcot today.

Happy Birthday Mimi. You are a blessing to me, and to the whole family. You are a true friend to everyone. You are endlessly creative, and when you set your mind to it, there is nothing you can't do. We love you!
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Sarah Books-Sarah's Wish Review

Books for children are a dime a dozen, but quality literature for children is worth its weight in gold. And if that's the case, Sarah's Wish is a treasure in paperback form.

Sarah's Wish is the story of a girl who finds herself an orphaned in the first chapter (talk about a way to grab you and immediately engage you in the story), and is then challenged with how to honor a promise she made to her mother that she would keep their secret (their house is a station on the Underground Railroad). The problem is that at the time her mother dies, there are "packages" awaiting transport to their next station, and Sarah must make difficult choices to ensure their safety that involve her breaking her vow of secrecy, a fact that Sarah struggles with. She also struggles always to tell the truth without compromising the people of the Underground Railroad by revealing critical information to the wrong people, especially some exceedingly mean slave catchers. And she struggles with her desperate desire to have a new family of her own but also to continue her mother's work of helping escaped slaves.

How do I love this book? Let me count the ways! Actually, I don't think I can count them as the list is extensive. The characters are colorful and real. Sarah's struggles are authentic to those of a 12 year olds, but also reflect a maturity forced on her by her circumstances. Through all that happens, Sarah's beautiful faith shines through, as does that of several of the other characters. The main antagonists in the story subject Sarah to trials that help her decide what truly matters. The book is a wonderful example of good historical fiction that "living book" lovers could embrace. The dialects that the different characters speak in offer a window into the life in the mid-1800's. The book includes a glossary of terms and (and this is HUGE) includes a FREE download of the audio book version of Sarah's Wish.

I can't find a single "con" to offer. Except that you are going to love Sarah's Wish so much you will find yourself wanting the other two books in the Sarah Series too.

The bottom line to me is that this book is GREAT. I really enjoyed it, and my daughter and her friend both enjoyed the audio version immensely. You really should buy this book...and the other two in the series. And did I mention that a portion of the proceeds go to charity? A children's home for orphans and special needs kids! Can it get any better? Yes, it can. Sarah's Wish is only $9.95. Seriously. You can't buy an audio book for that, let alone a paperback AND an audio book combined. To order Sarah's Wish, go HERE. To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

P.S. I have to tell you, in the interest of disclosure, that members of the TOS Crew, myself included, received this book for free in exchange for our review of the book. I can also tell you that in NO way impacted this review. This book is GREAT, even at full price.

*********New Bonus Offer just for YOU, my readers!*****
The author of Sarah's Wish contacted us this morning with a wonderful discount for all our blog readers! This discounted price is ONLY available by mail order, NOT on his website. If you are interested in receiving the order form, leave a comment in the comment with your e-mail address and I will forward it to you (the HTML in the form was not compatible with, so I couldn't just cut and paste it here).

Sarah's Wish 126pg, regular price $10.99, blog reader special $8.50
Sarah's Promise 245pg, regular price $14.99, blog reader special $10.50
Sarah's Escape 304pg, regular price $21.99, blog reader special $15.50

If you buy all three, you can also purchase a second copy of Sarah's Wish to have as a gift for just $4. Oh, and the shipping and handling are FREE!

Again, leave me a comment in the comment section with your e-mail, OR e-mail me at and I will send you the form to order the books at this great price.
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

You know the economy is bad...

When even Santa has to diversify ;-)
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WARNING! Soft porn below...

That ought to peak your interest. What's even more interesting is how soft porn ties into our lesson on CREATION today.

Only in MY house!

So we were studying Adam and Eve today, and the activity for the kids to do was to try their hand at "creating" by creating a MAN out of clay and then taking a piece of that clay man and making a WOMAN. My boys went straight to work with their clay blog-like people.
This is TJ's. The one on the left looks odd because it's Adam and his torso was a tad rearranged when TJ removed the rib to make Eve.

Here's Scott's even more odd looking pair, complete with the rib in between the two of them.

And then there's Mimi.

She apparently thought the Adam and Eve thing should be recreated quite LITERALLY.

As in sans clothes.

Sans clothes...but avec genitalia (sans means without and avec means with...but I imagine you could look at the picture and figure that out.)
You really don't want to blow this picture up, be trust me when I say that Adam's crossed arms only frame his...well, you can figure it out.

Oh. my.
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Good News Express- The Birthday Gift Review

The Passkeys Foundation is a company I had never heard of before some members of the TOS Crew received a book from them for us to review. While Passkeys Foundation has many offerings geared toward developing kids of character, they have several lines of age-specific AMAZING character building books for kids.

The book we received was from their "Good News Express" line. This line is geared toward preschoolers/kindergartners ages 3-5. The line focuses on four character traits, sharing, thankfulness, cheerfulness, and friendship, each addressed in its own book. My family received The Birthday Gift, which is the book about sharing.
The Birthday Gift has a touching story about a bear who recognizes the needs of another and chooses to give away his own birthday present to meet that need.

The pros to me about this book (and I would assume the others like it in the series) are numerous. The book is nicely illustrated, and the story was engaging enough that my 12 year old read it, loved it, and is currently standing next to me asking to have it back so he can read it before he goes to bed tonight. It is every bit as professionally presented as a book you would find for sale at major chain stores. AND, it includes a CD with a recorded version of the story, and a few songs that reinforce the theme. At $7.50, the price is more than reasonable.

I don't have any cons for this book. I must say, the website for Passkeys is a little hard to negotiate, so if you are interested in ordering this book or the others they publish, you would do well to follow the link above or below and then scroll down to find the product you are interested in.

The bottom line is that this is one book you can feel good about your child reading. And hopefully learning solid life lessons from. Not only is the $7.50 price tag more than fair for this book, the set of four is available for $20-bringing the price down to $5 each. I'd absolutely recommend you checking out this book and the others they publish-they have quite an extensive line. If you want more ordering information, go HERE. To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Guardian Angel Publishing Review

Before the TOS Crew was given the chance to review several e-books from Guardian Angel Publishing, I must admit I had never heard of them.
The short description below if from their website:
"Where our publishing goals are to lovingly create fun, affordable and educational eBook computer experiences, great print books for your preschoolers and primary age children. And to embed positive, loving and worthwhile meaning into these books."

I received three e-books for review, and other TOS Crew members received some of the same books and a selection of a few others. The first book I received was Hamster Holidays.
Hamster Holidays is a cute book that uses the celebratory antics of a cast of 6 mice to introduce and reinforce the ideas of nous and adjectives. The illustrations are serviceable, and I do think the book probably is helpful to learning and reinforcing nouns and verbs. The bonus pages beyond the story are especially useful.

Andy and Spirit Go to the Fair is the second book I received to review. It is a story about a boy who is in a wheelchair but competes with his 4-H club in the horse riding competition at the fair. Andy and Spirit Go to the Fair is the second in a series of three books about Andy and the albino horse he rides named Spirit, and all of them subtly teach that being different does not mean you aren't as good as others, you are just different. Andy receives riding therapy for his condition, and that has opened up many new opportunities for him. The book accurately described our experiences with the fair and 4-H, and was an encouragement to persevere even in difficult circumstances.

Rainbow Sheep is the last book we received to review. I have to admit that this book had me sold from the get-go with it's unique illustrations. The story itself is fine-not stellar, but certainly good, but the illustrations are just too cool. Made from felted wool, these pictures are one of a kind. Even better, the directions for making felted projects like the picture in the book are in the back of the book so anyone can have a try doing it. It is the next "to-do" project for my kids, as we have a friend with a knitting business who has some fun "scraps" we can use.

The bottom line for me on this review is that the books were all okay enough, but none was stellar. I am a huge believer in "living books" , so I admit my bias is not toward this type of book anyway. The books are each available for $5 each to download, or $9.95 plus $5.95 shipping for the book on CD, or $10.95 with $6.95 shipping on hard cover books. A DVD book video is also available for $9.95 plus $5.95 shipping. At those prices, I think they are a little expensive, especially for anything other than the download-able CD. And it's so hard for kids to "cuddle up" to a computer screen like they do with a book. I would have a hard time paying even $5 for any of these (although the Rainbow Sheep on is probably worth it to me for its detailed craft suggestions) especially since I don't even get a tangible version for $5.

To order these books, or to see others they offer, go HERE. TO see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Sharing a fun idea

These were from Oriental Trading Co., but I love them so much, and they make me smile every time I see them, so we made some for other seasons too. Each child gets to make one and decorate it any way they want. We have green ones for Christmas trees (decorated with mini pom-poms as ornaments and pipe cleaners as garland), and red hearts for Valentine's day. Since the arms and legs are pipe cleaners, they are "pose-able" and I hang them from the light over our dining room table.

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