Fall Welcome Sign

I hadn’t made a fresh welcome sign for our door in a few months, and it was well past time. I took down the spring one a few weeks ago, and we went without one for a while. But it was summertime, and I wanted to look toward fall instead, so I waited. But by the end of August, I couldn’t really handle it anymore and I got something up there, just in time for Bumblebee’s birthday party. Here’s what I did and how I made it (using all Dollar Tree items except for the paint).

First I found this “Gather Together” wood cutout. Dollar Tree does a really nice job with their wood laser cuts – they’re quite detailed and really high quality considering the price tag. I wanted to put it on a “fall” feeling background to make it more substantial feeling. I had a felt pumpkin in my hands, and I rather liked it, but then I found this pumpkin that’s made of planks. I liked that a whole lot better, so I bought it instead. I also picked up a door hanger that consisted of a ring covered in rope, a fall ribbon, and some jingle bells hanging from a sheer brown ribbon. I wasn’t entirely sure how I would incorporate that but I really liked it so I grabbed it anyway.

I started by removing the metal “Warm Hearts” bit from one of the pumpkin planks. If there’s one thing Dollar Tree loves, it’s adding metal and glitter to their wood signs! I wanted something a bit calmer though, so I took that off. Then I painted the top two planks with orange paint. I really liked the watercolor pumpkins at the bottom, so I left those unpainted.

Next I took my wood cutout and painted it. I chose red and brown to really emphasize the fall season. My red was a bit brighter than I wanted, so I took a tip from Kelly Barlow Creations and dulled it with brown. I really like how it turned out. The cornucopia is the weakest part of my painting, but it’s alright. When the paint on both pieces was dry, I hot glued the “Gather Together” to the top portion of my pumpkin planks.

Now I was left with my door hanger. I took all the pieces apart and laid out where I thought each piece would go best. The hanging portion, obviously, was ideal for the top, so I used hot glue to attach it there. I really liked the fall-themed ribbon and even though it would have been really easy to eliminate it and use it somewhere else in another project. I don’t do enough of these Dollar Tree projects to justify trying to save it, though, so instead I attached it to the top of the sign. Then I had the jingle bell ribbons. I really liked those, too, and I think they would really add to any project. For this one, I hot glued the ribbons right to the back of the bottom plank. I liked that the ribbons were each a different length, so they fall at varying points below the pumpkin.

I am really happy with the way this sign turned out. I like it quite a bit better than the spring one I made earlier this year, and I enjoy seeing it each time I approach my home.

Blessings,

Recipe: Angel Chicken

I have a recipe to share with you today. It’s so delicious, though probably not the healthiest thing in the world. It’s not that it’s full of “bad” things, but because of the cream cheese, butter, and pasta it has a lot of fat and carbs. You could counterbalance that by using a low fat cream cheese, butter substitute (or just lessen the amount of butter) and low-carb pasta (or skip the pasta altogether and serve with spaghetti squash or other “noodled” vegetables). You could also skip the “bed” entirely and just eat this sauce as its own dish (it’s definitely thick enough to pull that off) with a side salad or other choice of vegetables.

I originally found the idea for this recipe on AllRecipes.com. My version uses all the same ingredients, but I’ve modified the cooking method to make it easier to cook well. It’s not necessarily easier, per se, but whole chicken breasts can be tricky to cook well in the oven. The original recipe called for making the sauce separately, then pouring it over the chicken and baking it altogether. It could be because I have kids, or maybe because I get pretty frustrated when my chicken takes too long to cook, but I like to chop the chicken up and cook the small pieces. This saves the trouble of cutting them up for the kids later when you’re ready to serve. Also, baking chicken breasts can be hit or miss. Just a couple of minutes too long and your chicken is suddenly unpalatable due to dryness. So I’ve combatted those issues by cutting up the chicken in advance and cooking it in a skillet (you can add oil if you want, but I normally don’t need to) and then adding the sauce ingredients and cooking everything in one skillet. The other benefit of making it this way is that it’s just a one pot meal (excluding the pasta, but that’s an easy pan to wash later).

Let’s get to the recipe!

Angel Chicken

(serves 6-8)

1-1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, cubed
1 packet dry Italian dressing (find it on the salad dressing aisle)
8 oz cream cheese, cubed
2 cans Golden Mushroom soup
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
hot cooked pasta

Cook chicken. Sprinkle dressing mix over chicken and mix well. Add cream cheese and soup. Mix until cheese melts. Stir in butter and melt. Serve over pasta.

What’s your favorite chicken recipe? Pasta recipe?

Blessings,

Test Prep with ACT Mom (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew. 

If you’ve read very many of my posts, then you’ll know that my oldest son is putting his focus into getting his GED (he would technically be entering his senior year, but he’s ready to “be done” with school and start his working career in Will’s business). Even though the ACT college admissions test isn’t the same as the GED test, and even though Ballet Boy isn’t planning to go to college, we asked to review the ACT Mom Online Course with the thinking that if he could do well on the ACT, then the GED test should be a piece of cake for him. 

He and I talked it over when the product first arrived, and decided to start him with the math course. There are four sections all together – math, science, reading, and English. By working about 2 hours a week, it should take 4-5 weeks to complete each section. The entire course is 13 hours (excluding practice time). Here is Ballet Boy’s experience with ACT Mom.

ACT Mom is one of the best test prep programs I’ve done. It covers every topic in a way that is very thorough but also fun and easy to understand and keep up with. It’s not a super heavy workload, and for me especially that’s great because I can keep up with school and work without difficulty. It has an interesting way of teaching, and it’s one I always prefer to standard learning. Basically you learn by doing instead of sitting for a two hour lecture and trying to keep up with your notes.

There are videos and worksheets, but the basic way of teaching is a lot more action based. You learn by doing practice tests and questions, not by hours and hours of studying. It is how I’ve always done well with testing and it’s actually how I took my written test for my driving permit and license. I skimmed the book, but ultimately I learned by failing a few practice tests online. This isn’t to say that there’s no teaching at all – there is. But the focus is on practice tests (including some interactive worksheets on the website).

The ACT Mom course comes with an online account where there are lessons and quizzes, as well as a full physical workbook/binder. The binder has several ACT tests in it. It’s important to note that when I say it has ACT tests in it, I don’t mean homemade practice tests that may or may not be accurate. These are legit ACT tests issued by the ACT Board from previous years, so with this program what you’re practicing for is the real deal. Each page in the binder has a plastic sleeve on it and in the binder you have a dry erase marker with a fine point. This makes it so every test is completely reusable so you can retake them again and again without difficulty or complications. 

All in all it’s a great curriculum. It definitely caters to my way of learning and I think it’s going to be one of the things that puts me over the edge for my GED test this winter.

Please remember to check out other reviews from the Homeschool Review Crew as well.

Blessings,

Ballet Boy

How to Recognize Bad Reasoning (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Critical thinking is a really important skill to have, and part of that is being able to recognize bad reasoning, or “straw man” arguments. The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn aims to help students do just that. Over the past few weeks, my teenagers have been having good conversations together using the lessons in this book as a jumping off point.

I remember being in high school, and my World History teacher was huge on making sure we understood fallacies. What is a fallacy? “A fallacy is an error in logic, specifically a place where someone has made a mistake in his thinking” (from the back of the book). The main one I remember from my former teacher is the ad hominem or “personal attack” fallacy.

The book is divided up into five different parts, and each part has between three and ten lessons, for a total of 38 lessons. The first three lessons, in the “The Inquiring Mind” section, are designed to help your students understand why critical thinking is so important. (Hint: It’s so they can spot others’ faulty thinking more easily and be equipped to make their own informed decisions later on.) The rest of the sections each tackle a “big picture” issue, with the lessons showcasing the different fallacies that fall under that specific heading. Take my ad hominem from before, for example: that falls under the “avoiding the question” section because the whole point of that fallacy is attacking your opponent instead of focusing on the issues at hand. It’s easy to point fingers, but a whole lot harder to come up with a sound argument.

Each lesson has just a few pages of text (no more than 3-4), followed by some questions designed to help your student further understand the topic being taught. It’s sold as a workbook, so students are encouraged to write directly in the book. In the beginning, the questions are simple, multiple choice – just check the correct box. As you work through the book, they get a bit trickier, and kids need to pull specific examples of the fallacy being discussed from the sample. It definitely requires some fairly intense critical thinking skills! But through all that, there are also fun comics – both familiar (Peanuts, Dilbert, Calvin and Hobbes) and unfamiliar – to help illustrate (pardon the pun) the points being made. The comics not only serve to clarify the points in the lesson, but also break up the text a little bit, which is good for kids who get overwhelmed with too much reading.

So what did my kids think of it?

Ballet Boy: I really liked this book. I enjoy studying logic in general, and this book was no exception. It was nice to have something specific to discuss with my brother, too. I liked having something to do with him in the evenings while my parents were getting work done and the little kids were in bed. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone – teen or adult – who is interested in learning more about different types of fallacies and how to combat them.

Scorpion: This book was pretty easy to read, but I found the fallacies a little tricky to identify. The comics were fun to read, and even though the lessons were kind of hard (I haven’t had the same amount of logic training as my brother) I liked trying to figure them out.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew are discussing both The Fallacy Detective and Archer and Zowie (also by Hans Bluedorn), so make sure to head over there to learn more.

Blessings,

Homeschooling High School: You Can Do This! (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

A lot of people get really concerned when their kids grow up and it’s time to homeschool high school. Elementary school is easy: read a lot of books, make sure they can do basic math and read, and you’re all set. Middle school isn’t much harder. Keep encouraging them to read; some of their reading time will shift from “fun” books to text books. More intense book reports. But middle school doesn’t seem to scare too many homeschool parents. But high school… that’s a whole other beast, and many parents get really concerned when their kids become teenagers and high school looms. But The HomeScholar LLC is here to help you through this critical planning time with High School Solution.

A lot of the things I have the privilege of reviewing are for my kids (students). But this time, while the product is directly related to homeschooling, it was a course for me. I’ve already gotten Ballet Boy most of the way through high school, and now it’s Scorpion’s turn. I was interested in seeing all of the different tips and tricks this course would give me as we start a fresh journey with my second son. (He will be attempting a more “traditional” homeschool high school experience than his older brother had, complete with a diploma at the end instead of a GED test.) There is a lot involved in this course, and I doubt I’ll even scratch the surface, but let’s go over what I learned from taking Lee Binz’s High School Solution.

The course is available as a streaming video, but you can also download all of the slides and read them instead if you want. Of course, if you do that, you miss out on Mrs. Binz’s lovely presentation. She has an intense passion for older teens, and it shows in this course (not to mention everything else she provides on The HomeScholar, which I’ll touch on at the end of this article). I watched the course while working on non-distracting crafty things to keep my hands busy. The course is quite long; I didn’t personally time it (I watched it over the course of several days), but the initial email said it’s about 4 hours long. The PDF with the slides is 123 pages, so that tells you that it’s a very full courseload. You can also download the audio file and save it to some sort of mp3 device (or your phone, I imagine) and listen on the go.

The main theme of the High School Solution seems to be “don’t be afraid; you can do this.” That concept runs through nearly every slide of the presentation. Mrs. Binz offers many reasons why parents are afraid of the high school years, and solutions for every argument. The main thing she drives home, though, is that you will be successful because you love your child. Think about it like this: you taught your child to read and add because it mattered to you that they learned those things. You taught them because you love them, and you wanted them to be successful in life. The same principle applies to homeschooling high school. You teach them advanced math, economics, music, government, home ec, etc… because those are the things you feel are important for them to know to become functioning members of society. And you want your high schooler to become a functioning member of society because you love him (or her). Keep that love for your child in the forefront of everything you do while you make your high school preparations, and you’ll be fine!

The High School Solution is built around an assumption that your student will go on to college. But what if that’s not in the cards for one reason or another? Well, you should homeschool high school with that assumption anyway, because Mrs. Binz argues that college prep is life prep. What harm comes if your child is ready for college and decides to go straight into the workforce or to a trade school instead? Absolutely none. This was a different way of thinking for me, and I can appreciate the ideas presented with this ideology.

Other things covered in the course are getting your child ready for the “high school tests” (SAT, ACT, CLEP, etc); a breakdown of what you should make priorities in each year of high school (starting with a vague middle school plan); catering your high school plan to your student’s interests (delight directed learning); determining a grading system for your student; awarding credits; writing a transcript; and more.

There’s also a printable workbook that goes along with the course. It lists the main point of each section and gives you space to take notes.

In addition to the prerecorded presentation, there are regular live webinars available with the subscription. (As a reviewer, I received 6 months of access, but if you purchase the program, it’s lifetime access. Even though it’s called a “subscription,” it’s not – one purchase price gets you that lifetime access.) And as I touched on before, The HomeScholar offers more than just The High School Solution.

Do you feel comfortable with teaching high school, and you’re just unsure how to create a transcript that colleges will accept? Get the Total Transcript Solution. Is your student definitely college bound, but you have a strong plan for high school? Try the Comprehensive Record Solution. Need a strong push getting through those final 2-3 years of high school, with an emphasis on college applications and scholarships? Then the College Launch Solution is probably the right answer for you. Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have had access to all of those different options, so make sure to click through to find out more about the Solution you need the most.

Blessings,

One More Story (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Reading aloud is a magical time for many families, but there are times when it’s just not possible. Those times are the basis for One More Story. They’re here to help get your kids some literature time when you just can’t for one reason or another.

One More Story is available as a website or an iOS (Apple) app. For ease of use, I downloaded the app to my iPhone and our iPad. This way there was no issue with trying to remember log in credentials every time it was time to use the program.

When you first open the app (after the very first time, when you have to log in), the bookshelf is the main screen. You can easily choose a book to read, or have read to you, and off you go. It’s really that simple.

There are currently 87 books available, and each one has original music composed by Robby Merken, who used to work for Sesame Street. There are 30 different narrators, so this keeps the books fresh. You’ll find many different types of books here, but they are all high quality stories. Some are well-known (The Snowy Day, Stellaluna, and Pete’s a Pizza, for example), and others are not (Kiss the Cow and Sidney Won’t Swim). All are good.

There are two options for using the app: Read Aloud or I Can Read. In Read Aloud, the app does all the reading to your child, along with the original music I mentioned before. You can choose to have the pages turn automatically, or do so manually. In I Can Read mode, there is no music or narration. Children do the reading all on their own. If they don’t know a word, they can tap on it and the app will read it aloud to them, which helps to build confidence in reading.

We had a lot of fun with this app. My little kids really enjoyed the audiobook aspect of it (they love audiobooks!), and having the original illustrations to go with the music and narration was a nice bonus from the typical audiobook they’re used to.

You can connect with One More Story on Facebook or Twitter.

Make sure to head over to the Review Crew website for more information and links to other reviews as well.

Blessings,

Mickey Mouse sweater

I’m finding myself following a similar knit/crochet schedule as I did last year! I spent the winter making blankets, then did a few toys in the spring (I have a post planned for showing off some of those in a few days), and now I’m working on kid sweaters.

Using the Strange Brew sweater “recipe,” just like I did last year, I made a sweater for Bumblebee, who is 2 1/2 now. I didn’t end up liking this one as well as other things I’ve made recently, but my son really likes it, so that matters a lot more than me liking it.

To create the design on the sweater, I first printed the Strange Brew planning worksheet from Tin Can Knits. I drew out the words first, because I knew I wanted those to wrap around the bottom and I prefer to knit sweaters bottom up whenever possible. When I finished knitting the words and the body, and attached the sleeves to begin the yoke, I took a pause to create the yoke design on my worksheet. In the tiny size of 1-2 years, there are only a few rows of yoke design allotted, divided into 3 sections. The shorts and the Mickey Mouse head were easy enough to sketch out, but the middle portion was a bit trickier. I wanted to do the gloves, but I just didn’t have the stitches available. Instead, I went with a paper-cutout-doll style design. What I mean is that I did a sort of “body” with the arms all connected the entire way around the sweater.

For this sweater, I used JoAnn Big Twist yarn in the colors Medium Gray and Varsity Navy. I really love this yarn for crocheting, but I didn’t love it for a knitted sweater. I’m not sure what it was about it, but it just felt… “cheap,” if that makes sense. But again, Baby loves the sweater, so I’m okay with it.

Blessings,

Benjamin Franklin (YWAM biography review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew. 

We are no stranger to the Heroes of History series from YWAM Publishing. I read two of them with my older kids when they were younger (C.S. Lewis and Jacob de Shazer), and now I’m reading a new (to us) one, Benjamin Franklin: Live Wire with Grasshopper (he and I also read Corie ten Boom last year). The biography reads like a novel, and that’s part of what makes the Heroes of History series so good. You’re getting great history without it feeling like a history lesson. 

The book, like all of the YWAM biographies, starts with a “chapter one” that would be better named a “prologue,” not a “chapter.” In the case of Benjamin Franklin, we first meet him during the famous kite-flying experiment when he proved that lightning was a source of electricity. In chapter two, we are thrust backward in time to the time of Franklin’s youth and then move forward from there.

In the book, we learn all about Benjamin Franklin’s troubled relationship with his father, and how he didn’t want to work in “the family business” (soap- and candle-making). We take a trip across the Atlantic with young Ben as he travels to London on official business with the guarantee of the governor of Pennsylvania, William Keith, only to find out that the governor was a swindler when he got there – Keith didn’t send Franklin with the paperwork required to purchase the printing equipment he was sent for. This setback left Franklin in London for over a year, scrambling to get the printing press so he could bring it back to America.

A few chapters later, we learn all about Franklin’s civic “duties” – how he developed and created the very first fire station, library, and hospital in the colonies. In his position as one of Pennsylvania’s VIPs, he met many inventors who inspired him to explore science himself. Both Grasshopper and I found these chapters (the science ones) quite interesting. It was fascinating to read about how, before they fully understood electricity, the scientists would put on “magic shows” where they shot sparks out of their fingers (and other places) to impress the crowds. One time, Franklin himself was planning a show in which he used electricity to kill a turkey for the town festival (they planned to eat the turkey at the festival), but something went wrong and he ended up electrocuting himself instead! He nearly died that day.

Benjamin Franklin retired from his printing shop in his 40s, and from that point forward he focused a lot on his scientific pursuits, as well as continuing to be a “mover and shaker” in the Pennsylvania colony. He was made the postmaster general, which gave him quite a bit of power. He personally guaranteed the bonds that were used to pay for the French and Indian War (though he was able to recover those funds from the government). And he went back to England.

This is the point where Grasshopper and I are now (we have 4 chapters left in the book to read). Because we’ve been reading about 3 chapters a week, we’re not quite done, but we should finish it up by the middle of next week, if not before.

In addition to the book itself, YWAM offers complete study guides for all of their biographies. Benjamin Franklin: Live Wire is no exception.  The unit study guide follows the same outline of the other unit studies, having students explore key quotes from the topic. In the case of Benjamin Franklin, there are a few quotes from he himself, as well as some from other notable scientists (Sir Isaac Newton, Aristotle), politicians (FDR), and authors (Ralph Waldo Emerson). On their surface, the quotes don’t seem to apply to the book, but when you discuss them and dig deeper, you can see the relevance.

There’s a guide for helping students create a display (poster-style) using the information they learned in the book. There are lots of reading comprehension questions, split up by chapter. And then there are options for expanding the study to include subjects beyond reading/literature and history. Overall, the study guide is a very good way to turn a simple book into a much more intense learning experience, especially for older children.

I am the only one reviewing Benjamin Franklin this time, but there are lots of other YWAM biographies being talked about on the Homeschool Review Crew website this week. Click through to find out more!

Blessings,

Easy No Bake Cheesecake recipe

I have grown to really enjoy cheesecake as an adult. I didn’t like it as a child, but it’s definitely one of my favorite desserts as an adult. I love the tanginess of cream cheese, whether it be in a cheesecake or a cream cheese frosting on top of a cupcake or even just as a bagel spread for breakfast or snack.

Baked cheesecake, while a lovely thing to eat, can be very difficult to get just right at home, though. I have a recipe from my mom that I’ve made before, but it’s so finicky that I wanted to find a no-bake version (plus, I don’t have any spring-form pans, and they’re a must for cheesecake baking). This is now my go-to cheesecake recipe. It’s always a hit, no matter who I serve it to.

No-Bake Cheesecake

A 9- or 10-inch graham cracker crust (store bought or homemade)
1 cup whipping cream
2 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp sugar, divided
1 tbsp lemon juice (orange juice works well too)

Pour the whipping cream into the bowl of an electric mixer and whip on high speed until soft peaks form. Add 1 tablespoon sugar and mix until the cream is lightly sweetened and the sugar is no longer grainy. Gently scoop the whipped cream into a small bowl and set aside.

In the same mixing bowl (you don’t have to wash it yet), whip the cream cheese, lemon juice, and remaining tablespoon sugar until well combined and smooth.

Gently fold (not mix) the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. You want to be careful here so you don’t knock the air out of your whipped cream. When the two mixtures are fully combined, gently pour the new mixture into the graham cracker crust. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. Keep refrigerated for up to 4-5 days.

Optional: serve with a fruit topping. Strawberry is always a hit in our house.

See? Much easier than a baked cheesecake!

Blessings,