Homeschool Posts

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mario Kart from K’NEX, a review

KNEX logo

When you’ve got boys…you’ve got building toys!  There’s something in boys that makes them want to build things, destroy them, then build something else.  K’NEX knows what makes boys tick and has been providing the building kits to nurture that create/destroy process for years.  It’s even better when the building toys are on wheels…and jump off ramps and zoom across your living room floor.

Brand-new from K’NEX:

Mario Standard Kart model

Meet Mario and his friend, Luigi, part of a line of K’NEX vehicles based on the popular Wii™ game, Mario Kart.

38002 Luigi Standard Bike Model




The Mario and Standard Kart Building Set features a buildable Mario figure, a pull-back motor and all the K’NEX pieces needed to recreate his Kart from the Wii game.

The Luigi and Standard Bike Building Set comes with the pieces to build his bike.  Both sets are for ages 6+.

Both David (age 11) and Peter (age 5) could not wait to get their hands on these sets.


Within 5 minutes of the package arriving at my door, they were building.


The instructions were pretty clear, though Peter needed some help.


009 011

And in no time, they were done. 

013 014 017

Yes, Mario’s bottom half is riding in the back of his Kart.  They will be boys.

The trickiest part was probably putting on the the stickers.  I will note here that some of the stickers are designed to go over adjacent bricks (the side stickers on Mario’s Kart each go over 4 adjacent bricks), making it impossible to take those bricks apart.  Not a biggie (think of them as new specialty bricks), but worth pointing out.

But the best part, was racing them.  K’NEX really thought this product out, right down to the packaging…the packages are designed to be used as ramps!  And they even went to the trouble to create pdf files that you can download for free, print, and tape to your box to make it look like Mario Kart track (complete with acceleration arrows).

Check it out:

Peter gives the pull-back motor a try.

I hear K’NEX has more fun Mario Kart fun coming in June!  In the meantime, you can find these these Mario Kart sets on the K’NEX website or in a store near you.

Disclosure:  I received this product from K’NEX for review purposes.  I received no compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own and I was in no way required to write a positive review.  My thoughts cannot be “pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.”  They are my own.

Credit:  The quote in my disclosure comes from the 1960’s TV series The Prisoner.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Latin Alive! from Classical Academic Press, a review


Language (all language) is constantly evolving.  It lives, in a way, by being used, changing and growing to fulfill our needs to communicate (the whole point of having language at all, after all).  But Latin, which isn’t really spoken in general conversation anymore, hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.  There’s no Latin words for cell phone, or even telephone, for that matter.  So we call it a “dead” language.  Some people mistakenly think that this means it’s not worth studying Latin…why waste your time on a language that’s already dead, after all? 

Classical Academic Press would disagree there…Latin is very much Alive.  It breathes through our English words every day in the form of derivatives that find their roots in Latin.  Studying Latin can increase understanding of our own language (and other romance languages) and allows us  to read a whole world of great works originally written in Latin.

Latin is an important part of any classical curriculum, and something that I want to incorporate into our homeschool studies.  I took a year of Latin in high school and know firsthand the positive impact it can have academically.  But I feel a little insecure about teaching it myself, and really, I wanted to get my knowledge of Latin back up to snuff.  I was thrilled when I received the opportunity to try out and review Latin Alive! by Karen Moore and Gaylan DuBose from Classical Academic Press…I wanted this one for me, lol.

I received the Latin Alive! Book 1 bundle, which includes:


  • Student Book (SB), containing twenty-nine chapters, glossary, and reference charts
  • Teacher’s Edition (TE), containing all the materials from the Student Book and answers, plus additional resource material including reproducible worksheets and unit tests
  • DVD & CD Set, containing 7 DVDs covering all twenty-nine chapters, plus an audio cd with recordings of the unit readings

Latin Alive! teaches classical pronunciation (as opposed to ecclesiastical pronunciation).  Debates abound over which pronunciation should be used and there really isn’t an absolute answer to that question…it really comes down to

  • personal preference
  • and why you are studying Latin.

I’m not going to get into the debate here (you can google it and read about it more), but I will say that if you intend to use the DVD set with Latin Alive!, go with a classical pronunciation.  If you intend to skip the DVD lessons, you can very easily use ecclesiastical, if that’s what you prefer.

 What grades is this for?

Middle School to High School, though I think this might be a bit overwhelming for Middle Schoolers unless they’ve had previous Latin instruction.

How is it set up?

The book is divided into 7 units, each containing anywhere from four to six chapters.  Some of the individual chapter features:

  • new vocabulary
  • new grammar
  • exercises for practicing new material (and reviewing old material)
  • important notes (Nota Bene) pointing out rule exceptions and other important points
  • translation exercises
  • a chapter reading
  • “Culture Corner,” tidbits on Roman culture
  • “Collaquamur,” practice speaking Latin
  • “Eye Latin,” seeing Latin cognates in English
  • and more

Each chapter is divided into smaller sections and it is advised that you tackle this one section at a time, allowing 1-2 days per section.  You can see a suggested schedule for Latin Alive! Book 1 here.  After the first chapter, which is devoted to Latin alphabet, pronunciation, syllabication, and sentence structure, Latin Alive! begins to introduce some 1st conjugation verbs, their meanings, and English derivatives.  Verbs are always introduced with their 4 principal parts and teaching conjugation.  This is important, as things like person number (1st person, 2nd person, etc.) and tense are determined by verb endings.  Latin does not use pronouns (you, he, they, etc.), so you need to be able to conjugate the verb properly to translate it. 

Chapter 4 begins by introducing some 1st declension nouns.  Nouns are introduced giving the nominative singular, genitive singular, the gender, English translation, and derivatives.  Latin is an inflected language (i.e., parts of speech are determined by word endings instead of word order), so it’s important to be able to decline the noun into its various forms.  Latin Alive does a good job of explaining what declensions are and how to decline nouns.

And it gets more complicated and interesting from there.

Each Unit ends with a review, consisting of

  • a history reading in English
  • a reading inspired by Titus Livius’ Ab Urbe Condita (Livy’s From the Founding of the City) in Latin
    • SB contains a glossary for the reading
    • TE contains a translation
  • a question and answer sheet on the reading

It is expected that the unit review will take about 2-3 days.

There are additional worksheets and other resources available on the Classical Academic Press website for each chapter, and the Yahoo group for Latin Alive! offers teacher support.

Latin Alive! emphasizes using multi-sensory approach to learning Latin, including using the video lessons (visual), reading the text (visual), chanting vocab (auditory), and writing (kinesthetic). 

The DVD lessons are taught by Karen Moore and explore each section in depth.  The DVDs are well done, with good sound and picture quality.  Visuals include Ms. Moore writing on a whiteboard and vocab chart overlays at the bottom of the screen.  Ms. Moore seems comfortable in front of the camera, knowledgeable about her subject, and, although she is clearly speaking from the book most of the time, she does speak extemporaneously at various points to get a point across and gives you some useful memory aids you won’t find in the text.

The CD contains the end of unit Latin readings inspired by Livy.  The recordings are of good quality with impressive classical pronunciation.  I would have liked to have had CDs with recordings of the vocabulary words being chanted so I could chant along (would be a great thing to have in the car and could even get the kiddos in on it), but that’s not available with Latin Alive.

For an overview of the program, check out this 5 minute video:

What about the DVD lessons, are they worth it?

Absolutely.  After watching the first lesson, I wasn’t so sure, but as I got further into the program, I found that I wouldn’t want to do this without the DVDs.  While you can teach Latin Alive! with just the SB and TE, I would highly recommend getting the DVD & CD set for 2 big reasons: 

  • pronunciation (this obviously doesn’t apply if you are using ecclesiastical pronunciation)
  • added clarity

While the text is very clearly written, there are some cases where having additional explanations of topics given by someone who is clearly knowledgeable is almost as good as speaking to a live teacher.  I found Ms. Moore’s little tips helpful and her explanations indispensible.  One example, in chapter 6 she explains the dative case as used as a indirect object, but goes on to explain it being used as a “dative of interest.”  After reading about this in the book, my response was “huh?”  I get indirect objects, but the subtle different between the two escaped me.  After watching Ms. Moore explained it with additional examples, I totally got it. 

Ms. Moore also gives additional assignments in the videos you won’t find in the book.  If you need a little more practice translating, conjugating and declining, you might find it helpful to have someone give you some more assignments.

You can watch a video sample from chapter 1 here:

What did I think?

I  will definitely be using Latin Alive! myself (hubby wants to join me, he likes it too) and will probably use it with my kiddos when they get a little older.  It’s a solid program.  There are some errors in the SB and, but Classical Academic Press has produced an errata sheet that’s available on their website and the DVDs go over most of the exercises.  I definitely recommend checking out the samples and considering Latin Alive if you are homeschooling high school.

Latin Alive!  Book 1 is available as a bundle from Classical Academic Press for $139.95.

The components can also be purchased separately.

Latin Alive!  Book 2 continues the Latin journey with more advanced study.

Also available from Classical Academic Press for your younger kiddos:

Song School Latin (little ones)

Latin for Children (upper elementary)

For reviews of all of Classical Academic Press’ Latin products by other homeschoolers, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

Disclosure:  I received the Latin Alive Book 1 bundle from Classical Academic Press for review purposes.  I received no compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own and I was in no way required to write a positive review.  My thoughts cannot be “pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.”  They are my own.

Credit:  The quote in my disclosure comes from the 1960’s TV series The Prisoner.

Monday, March 28, 2011

HSBA Post Homeschool Swap

I love getting surprises in the mail…even when I’m sort of expecting them.  This month I participated in the HSBA Post Homeschool Swap and was lucky enough to be paired with Lynn at The Ladybug Chronicles.

blog 016

She sent me some light reading, yummy smelling spiced apple candles, a candle holder, and a couple of Mary Kay luxuries.  Thank you so much, Lynn!

The next Homeschool Swap starts April 8th, if you want to join in.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Crossing the Bridge…to Boy Scout

We’ll be packing away that cub scout uniform.

David took a little stroll last night…and became a boy scout.

scouts 004


scouts 009

Presenting the patch.

scouts 016

A word of encouragement.

scouts 017


Congratulations, David, we’re proud of you!

Big IQ Kids, a review


I have a love/hate relationship with my computer.  I love instant access to information and the infinite possibilities for learning.  I hate the way the bright, pretty screen sucks you in and keeps your attention away from other more important things…like living life.  I think there’s a place in my homeschool for educational computer programs, but there’s a careful balance to be maintained…so I approach all kid’s programs with my twaddle sensors on high alert.  Big IQ Kids sure looks colorful and pretty…but does it pass the twaddle test?

Big IQ Kids is a educational website designed for grades 2-5.  The site features activities in math, spelling, vocabulary, and the 50 states.  Some areas are free, but additional material can be accessed with a subscription.  Here’s video explaining the key difference between the free and premium areas of the site:

We received premium access for 2 kiddos, David (5th grade) and Mary (1st grade) to Big IQ Kids.  While the optimal age range for this program is 2nd to 5th grade, it can be used with younger and older students, depending upon their abilities.

First things first, how’s the recordkeeping?

First, while you do not have a parent account where you can access records of your children’s progress, the site does save each child’s progress and send you periodic reports when they finish a level of an activity.  To access their progress reports, you’ll see a little button at the bottom of each topics menu marked “Progress Reports.”

bigiqkidsspelling menu

Here’s a sample of David’s 50 states progress:

bigiqkidsstates progress

I like that I can access these records, and that I can easily print them to add to my own records, I just wish there was an easier way to get a clear complete picture of how my child is doing in each section.  You’ll notice that each aspect of that section needs to be viewed separately.   So I can’t see at a glance how well he knows his states overall, I have to first look at his location mastery, then his spelling mastery, and so on.  This is true of the other subjects as well.  I think the recordkeeping part of the program could be improved, if  only by emailing out a complete monthly progress report for each child.

And how about the educational part?

First, I like that most of the activities can be printed to do away from the computer, or for extra practice later on.  The few I tried printing out, however used color ink, which really wasn’t necessary (it was purely text, no graphics, no emphasis added by coloring a particular work or anything like that).  I’d like to see more ink conscious worksheets.

A word about the interface:  it’s easy to find your way around Big IQ Kids.  All instructions are audio, so kiddos with reading difficulties can still benefit from some of the program.  The audio is computer generated.  If you’ve ever used the “read to me” function on your computer or e-reader, you know what the instructions on Big IQ Kids sound like.  Since the inflection is not like normal speech, some children might have difficulty understanding it.  The instructor avatar’s (lower left in the pic below) mouth and eyes move (semi-animated) when speaking, but the rest of the face does not.  My kiddos thought this was a little creepy at first, but seemed to get over it.

The math section is primarily facts practice.



Love the work space on the right, though my ds just used it to doodle.  The default for the math worksheets is 50 problems, but these can be customized for number of problems, as well as types of problems (you can set percentages of addition, subtraction, etc.).  It would be nice to have a parent account that would allow me to set up multiple worksheets ahead of time and then assign them.  Instead, I have to manually customize the worksheet in the program each time I want to change what he’s doing. 

Big IQ Kids will only present one set of math facts in each type of problem at a time (notice the pic is of the 2 x facts).  When your child has shown mastery of that set, they’ll be moved on to the next set on the next worksheet.  There are timed tests as well.

Answers can be typed in or your child can use the little on-screen keypad.  This aspect was a little glitchy for us.  As ds got to the bottom of the screen, the keypad would disappear under the footer of the screen, with no way to scroll it.  Since he could type the answers, not a big deal, but something to look out for.

The other parts of Big IQ Kids are a bit different, but similar in the use of either the computer keyboard or an on-screen keyboard for inputting answers.

The spelling section starts very gently by presenting the words on the screen and having your child spell them.  As she progresses, the words will be removed from the screen and she will have to spell from an audio cue.  Spelling activities vary from word scrambles, to spelling bees and a final test.


The vocabulary section presents the words with definitions, synonyms and antonyms and features activities like matching definition to word and completing sentences with the correct word.  There’s also tests to show mastery.


The states section provides informational tidbits about the states and teaches your kiddo state location on a US map, spelling, capitals and abbreviations.  Instruction starts gently by showing your child the states location and spelling.  With each level, he we be given fewer hints until he reaches mastery.


Of course, most online educational programs have some sort of award system.  As your child completes each lesson, he will earn a game coin.  Coins can be spent to play games from the sizable game menu.


What did we think?

The children liked Big IQ Kids well enough.  The vocab and spelling sections are a bit beyond Mary’s ability, so she primarily worked on the states and addition.  The vocab and spelling were a bit below David’s ability, so he was drawn to these (he tends to take the easy path, that one).

I was not particularly impressed.  I found a number of errors (some typographical, some otherwise), particularly in the vocabulary section (dubious definitions, an inaccurate antonym and so on).  Since I can’t always be at my child’s elbow to catch these things (part of the reason I use computer learning programs at all), this was disappointing.

I don’t like that for every activity they complete they get a game coin, no matter how well (or poorly) they do on the activity.  And most of the games only require one coin to play.  And my my son is a gamer…depending on the game, he can play quite some time on one coin.

In other words, I found that he was spending much more of his time playing games than learning anything. 

Overall, I recommend the free aspects of the site (there are also some measuring and time activities you can access for free) and would suggest you try that out before subscribing.

Big IQ Kids is a free site with premium options available through subscription.  You can check out the pricing here.

For more reviews of this product by other homeschoolers, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

Disclosure:  I received premium access to the site (free of charge) for review purposes.  I received no compensation.  The views expressed here are my own and I was not in any obligated to write a glowing review.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Free Planning Pages for You!

I’ve tried planners, notebooks, scraps of paper…while I like those neat planners with the little lines and grids, nothing ever seemed to quite fulfill our unique needs.  I guess I’m just not very good at fitting into little boxes. 

So I got into the habit of just writing out our plans on a legal pad.  But things got lost in there.  Important things.  Then I tried using multiple colors of ink.   Colorful, but frankly a little confusing.  Then I tried using a separate page for each kiddo.  Then added a page for our together stuff.  Then added a page for all the things I had to get done around the house…my disorganized self was really not becoming much more organized.  Just more cluttered.

But all this made me realize what I needed in a planner and why those great planner pages everybody’s designed don’t work for me.

I need a 2 page spread every week that can cover all my kiddos…and ME!  Life isn’t a bunch of distinct events to note down, but a subtle tapestry of thousands of threads all woven together.   So, while trying to get the baby to sleep, I’ve been designing some planner pages.  And I thought I’d share them with you (on the off-chance that there are 2 people in the world who can benefit from them).

I’ve tried to give you some options and some flexibility here, so you don’t have to use them the way I do. 

Here’s how I use them (you will, of course, use different names):

3plus3 color planner page1of2

3plus3 color planner page2of2

This is a 2-page landscape spread.  Columns are labeled with the days of the week we do formal studies.  Each horizontal section is color-coded to make it easy to zip my eye across the page (I have a black and white version, too).  There’s a line on each page to put in an abbreviation key for your books.

The 1st page covers household and other stuff I need to get done, and group activities.  The 2nd page covers the kiddos’ individual work.  The little boxes are for checking things off as you get them done (it feels good to check things off!).  There are days at the top and the bottom, just helps me keep my brain organized. 

You’ll notice:  no subjects!  This is a hurdle for me with other planning systems.  In Maryland, we are required to cover 8 subjects!  And this doesn’t included things like Catechism, Latin, foreign language, etc.  Now, we don’t cover every single subject every single day, or even every single week, so a planner with subjects printed out would waste a whole bunch of space and leave me with itty bitty spaces to pencil in what I actually need.

But, if you use subjects, go right ahead.  I have this planner available for free download as xls files (color or black and white), and also as pdf files (color or black and white, and with or without day titles).  The xls files can be edited by you as much as your heart desires.  The pdfs you’ll have to print and fill in (the left column is blank). 

I only ask that you use this only for your personal use.  If you wish to share with someone, please direct them to this page so they can download it.

Here’s what the black and white pdf version with no days looks like…the possibilities are endless:

3plus3 bw planner page1of2 no days

3plus3 bw planner page2of2 no days


You can download these files from Google docs:

Excel Color pages

Excel Black and White Pages

PDF Color Pages

PDF Black and White Pages

Note:  The font used for these is Lucinda Handwriting.  You’ll notice if you look at the xls sheets in Google docs that the font is not rendered correctly (it converts it to a default).  The download itself is fine (I tested it).  And, of course, you can change it to whatever you like.

Let me know what you think.  And I might be posting more planning sheets later (I have a bunch that I created that didn’t quite work for me, but they may work for you).

Update: I tried opening the Excel files in Open Office---success! The conversion is not perfect, but very very close. Absolutely usable and attractive. I'd recommend trying it if you'd like a free type-in planner and don't have Excel. You can download Open Office for free here.

More Free Planning Printables and Assignment Sheets (full-color and black & white)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Carmex in Tangy Orange-Flavor?

Carmex original lip balm (in the little pot) is my chosen potion for healing chapped lips and cold sores. It works great, but the flavor leaves a little to be desired (although, it does tend to keep the kiddos from licking the stuff off). And cherry or vanilla...why do all lip balms come in cherry or vanilla?

Can you tell I'm not crazy about cherry or vanilla? I've never even tried Carmex's cherry, because the thought of sickly sweet cherry lip balm makes me cringe.

But orange-flavor, in a clear lip balm...that intrigued me. So when Carmex put out a call asking bloggers to try out their Carmex Moisture Plus Lip Balm in Orange, I had to try it out.

I like it. It has a little bit of sweetness to it (not at all sickly sweet) and a little bit of tang. It doesn't totally cover up the mediciny (is that a word) taste, but the orange mingles with it, making it less noticeable, and more pleasant (no more ick faces from the kiddos). It won't leave your lips feeling sticky. You might lick them a couple of times, but the flavor seems to fade after a few minutes, so you won't lick it all off.

And it'll leave your lips feeling smooth and moist, just like good ole Carmex. I hope they go forward with this and we see Carmex Moisture Plus Lip Balm in Orange on our local store shelves soon.

What do you think about flavored lip balms? Does orange-flavor sound like a treat?

Disclosure: I received this lip balm free from Carmex to try it out and give my thoughts on it. I was not obligated to post anything about it...just thought it might interest y'all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Freebie News Flash: FREE G.A. Henty Kindle Books at Amazon

A bloggy friend just let me know about this (thank you Tristan!).

G.A. Henty wrote a whole slew of historical fiction around the turn of the last century and many of these books are popular among homeschoolers as read alouds or for independent reading for boys. Some of the books in this list are always free...but many of them normally sell for 2 bucks a piece, so this is a great savings. I have no idea how long they'll be free, so check it out soon: G.A. Henty books on Amazon

And if you don't have a Kindle, you can download a free app for your puter or mobile device: Free Kindle reading apps

Aesop’s Fables for Your Little Reader from BrillKids, a review


These new little readers from BrillKids are specially designed for your little reader.  Each Little Reader Storybook contains a colorful adaptation of one of Aesop’s timeless Fables.


The set includes:

  • The Boy Who Cried Wolf
  • The Fox and the Grapes
  • The Turtle & the Rabbit
  • The Fox & the Crow
  • The Lion and the Mouse

But you’re probably thinking, “Ok, but there are tons of storybooks based on Aesop.  You can even find them in the dollar bins sometimes.  What’s so special about these?”

True, I’ve probably got a whole shelf of them, myself.  But BrillKids has done a truly brilliant thing with these readers.



Each book has a flap on the back cover that can be flipped down over the picture while reading the page.  If you have a child who tends to look at the picture and guess at what the words say, or who memorizes the story and uses the picture as a cue to recite the words (rather than actually reading them), these might work for you.  Once she reads the page, you can reveal the picture as a reward.  An added bonus:  you can use dry-erase markers to write on the flap (it’s glossy), and wipe it off easily.  Use it to practice copying letters or words.

Ok, you’re thinking, “I can just cover the picture with a piece of paper.”  True, but then you would miss the really big bonus…

…the Little Reader Storybooks are compatible with the Little Reader software.  When you purchase the books, you’ll receive a special code.  If you own a license, you’ll be able to download animated audiobook versions of the books for your Little Reader software.aesops screen 1

The book plays as a slideshow with audio, first the text page, then the accompanying picture.  The pictures have little touches of animation, so it’s not like an animated film, but not a static image, either. 

aesops screen 2

As you can see, the program displays the words divided by syllables (alternating red and blue syllables).  This is the default.  You can change it so all the syllables are one color, you can also change the colors used for the text or have it use a random color (being able to change the colors could be important for children with vision issues). 

Playback is customizable in other ways too: 

  • set it to play through automatically or click to advance the slides
  • choose whether the picture is captioned
  • select the audio file for each slide
    • 3 different readers to choose from:  a woman, a man, and a girl
  • add your own audio files (Little Reader gives you the option of recording a new file)
  • turn the pronunciation off (program then will not read the text slide)
  • add your own picture or video file
  • even change the text
  • and more

If you set the program to not advance automatically and to not pronounce the text slides, you can have your child read each text slide aloud, and then get a treat when you advance to the picture slide and she hears the program repeat what she just read.  There are lots of ways you can play around with this and make it work for you, it really is well thought out.

What do we think?

I’m not super crazy about the illustrations in these books…they aren’t dissimilar to the kinda Disney-esque things you see at the dollar store.  But, opinions on illustrations, ah, everyone has their own taste.  What you see above is representative of how the books are illustrated.

And these are not my personal favorite adaptations of Aesop, either.  They have kind of a stilted rhyme scheme that seems forced and a little off-kilter.  Here’s one example from The Lion and the Mouse:

Then a man from the zoo

comes looking around.

He sneaks up to the lion,

and ties it to the ground!

So, it’s not great literature.  Few early readers are.

What the kiddos (both Emma and Peter) really really love, though, is the audiobook portion in the Little Reader.  They would sit there and listen to these stories over and over again for hours if I let them.  What I like is that since the Little Reader software is fully customizable, I can tweak this to work exactly the way I want it to.  I think it’s really a great interactive tool.  And yeah, the wheels are turning in my little brain…we’re definitely going to keep using this.

The Aesop’s Fables Little Reader Storybook bundle (volume 1) is available from BrillKids at the special introductory price of $37.50 (reg. $50).

You can read opinions on this product from other homeschoolers on the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

Disclosure:  As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received this product for free to review.  I received no compensation and am in no way obligated to write a positive review.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Garden Plans: Check out the Sun

It’s been 2 years since we’ve had our own garden.  Last year we moved into this house too late to have time for it.  The year before that we were selling our old home and moving several states away.  We really miss the taste (and savings!) of growing and picking our own veggies, so a garden is a priority for us this year.

Our yard is tiny.  But the kiddos are willing to sacrifice some play space.  And hubby is willing to sacrifice some lawn to mow {wink}.

The first thing we did was make a visual record of what kind of sun we get in our backyard (our front yard is all shade all the time).


10 am

Veggies need full sun several hours a day.  I knew that we got lots of sun in our yard, but was a little fuzzy on how many hours and where.  That sticky-outy shadow you see there is from my neighbor’s mobile home, which is parked there most of the time.


11 am

Yes, that really is a sled in my backyard.


You get the idea.  By 1 pm, our entire backyard is in full sun.  But, by 5 pm, the shadow from the western fence has started to spread across the yard.


Having a record of our sunlight will help when planning not only where to put the garden, but also where to place plants that can bear a little shade or easily scorch under direct sun.

What are some of the things you consider when designing your garden?

Frugal Compromises and a recipe

There was a time when it never would have even occurred to me to buy pie crust mix.

In fact, I would have turned up my nose and said, “Pie crust mix?  Surely you jest.  It’s just flour, salt and shortening, right?  What do you need a mix for?”

It’s amazing how much little things like having a potty training toddler, a hubby with 2 dinner meetings in one week, and soccer practice 4 nights a week during the dinner hour changes your perspective.

So I saw this mix in the store.  And it was on sale.  And I said, “Why not?”


Fastest pie crust I ever made.  And no pastry cutter, measuring cups or other extras to wash.


I didn’t intend to make pie.  I was thinking something to feed a family of 6.

038A couple of golden quiches.

With some veg (yup, it was frozen) and some bread (off the day-old rack) on the side, we had a full, well-rounded meal (and lunch leftovers for the next day) with minimal prep that wouldn’t take my attention off my family.

Now, I could have made the crust from scratch, this is true.

Or even made omelets instead of quiche (though omelets don’t have the advantage of being able to wait around for everyone to sit down to dinner and I didn’t know when everyone would be sitting down to dinner).

Or made a crustless quiche (not as filling, though).

I could have made the bread from scratch.

I could have purchased fresh produce and prepared it and cooked it.

And sometimes I do make those choices, both to save money and to share my love for good food with my family.

But this time I chose to save my time.  And to make something a little special.

I decided that the actual monetary expense was minimally more than preparing it from scratch, and I could afford it more than I could the time.

And it was nearly as good as from scratch.  I don’t think anyone could tell the crust was made from a mix.

The point is that sometimes frugality is a balancing act where you can make choices, not just based on how much something costs in coins, but also in terms of time and the relative good of the final product.  Sometimes we don’t have that luxury.  But sometimes we do.

And while buying the generic pasta that’s 20 cents cheaper might be a no-brainer (although it might not be if your store happens to double coupons, wink), to buy or not buy a “convenience” food isn’t always.

And I’ve learned to never say “never” (ok, I’m really still learning that).

Ok, I promised you a recipe.Winking smile

The inspiration for this recipe came from the Betty Crocker Cookbook’s recipe for Quiche Lorraine, I’ve changed just about all the amounts and ingredients, though.


Pie crust for 2 pies

1 c. plain yogurt (I used homemade)

1 c. milk

6 eggs

1 8oz brick cheddar grated (I can do this in about 2 minutes)

seasoning as desired (salt and pepper and whatever else you want)

up to 1 c. finely chopped onion and bell pepper (I used what I had on hand)

whatever leftover cooked meats and veg you have, chopped up (I had some bacon and pepperoni), up to 1 c.

  1. Roll out your pie dough and put into 2 pie pans.  Line with foil and bake at 425 for 10 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake another 2 minutes.  Remove from the oven and turn it down to 350.
  2. Sprinkle your onion, pepper, meat and veg and cheese into the bottoms of the pie crusts.   I did one with meat and one without since we would be having the leftovers on Friday.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add your yogurt, milk, and seasoning.  Mix up.  Pour into your pie crusts.
  4. Bake for 45-60 minutes.  Check them at 45 minutes.  They are done when they are golden brown and not wobbly.

Quiche is best served NOT piping hot, so these can cool a bit as you wait for your soccer players to arrive.

Weekly Wrap-Up: the Spring Fever Edition


Spring is finally rearing its warm, sunny head and we are feeling the effects of springtime activities…like soccer practice.

With 2 kiddos in soccer, in 2 different age groups, that means 2 different practice times/week, 2x each…we’ve got soccer 4 times a week.

Wait until the games start…next week!

Wait until a 3rd kid decides he wants to play soccer, too!

As a definitely non-sporty mom, I never thought so much of my schedule would be dictated by a sport.

Add in Boys Scouts (David will be initiated next week) and the evenings are pretty much spoken for.

I never thought I would long for those long dreary wintery nights with nothing going on.

So, what did we learn this week, you ask?

In addition to the 4 R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic, and reasoning), we…

…learned about crystals and started growing some,


…enjoyed some good books,


… learned more about St. Patrick and attended a library program for his Feast day.

Peter had his 2nd PE class and (almost) loved it.

David continued to write his 2nd book.

We all spent hours at various playgrounds.

And we started planning our vegetable garden!  I’m super excited about this (so excited I’m going to write another whole post on it)!

What did you learn about this week? 

Be sure to visit Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers for this week’s Weekly Wrap-Up.