Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Project Organize- Teen's Closet

I was going to post about my teen's closet when I did our closet post, but after seeing the mess, I told her she had earned a post all to her own.  (should have made her write it for punishment.) I did help you write it.
R's comments are in blue.

This child can be neat.  Really, she can. Here is the inside of her desk...
I really am an organized person...

But open her closet and you might think about running for your life.  She has a problem with clothes.  She has too many!

So first we pulled them all out and put them into neat piles on the bed. (They really are neat, you just can't tell.)

I also have a lot of scarves. We worked on that too.


See how clean the closet is?  Then we tried on, threw away, put in stacks for Goodwill, put wrong season stuff away and started over!  We also had a discussion about less is more, the value of saving money and on and on.
It's much easier to choose outfits now that I have less stuff. I don't stand at my closet every morning staring at my clothes, wondering what to wear. Less stuff, less decisions.

The final result-

see? isn't that lovely? and I've kept it clean since we cleaned it out.
I really am organized.

Happy mom, happy teen!

Next week- a peek under the sinks, in the cabinets and a chat about stuffed animals!

CREW Review- College Common Sense

Have you sent a child away to college yet?  This year was a first for us, the first of four kids leaving the nest to fly on their own.  Letting them go is almost as hard as planning the details of how they are going to get there and who is going to pay for it.  Almost!  It is a difficult road, let me just tell you, especially the how are they, make that WE, going to pay for it part.  I now have a resource to help answer that question and am already putting it into practice with our next child up who is in her freshman year of high school.

 College Common Sense, and the program Going to College and Paying for it Online Video and Workbook  is the brain child of mom and college financial aid consultant Denise Ames.  Her goal with this program is to simply make sense of the financial aid process, help you navigate it efficiently and show you how to get as much "free" money as you can to send your child to college. 

Her program falls into two parts really.  The first is her website and her free monthly newsletters and lessons plans.  By signing up on her website you will receive a monthly newsletter with helpful ideas and goals to work on.  The weekly lesson plans that are sent to you get more specific on certain things you should try to accomplish that week or month.  For example- attend a college fair or fill out the FAFSA.  She also often references free videos to watch that are easily located on her site. 

Here is what is unique to these lesson plans as well as Denise's program- she breaks the assignments into four age groups- Seniors, other highschoolers, Middle school students  and Elementary school students.  Yes, even the younger kids can participate in this program.  So if the assignment is go visit a college campus, the assignment for the younger kids may be to come back and draw what they saw in their notebooks, while the older students will be focused on the details such as what majors the school offered.

The second part of the program is the DVD and workbook that can be purchased through College Common Sense.  The DVD consists of 6 video lessons, each lasting about 20-30 minutes:

The Big Picture
How Financial Aid Works
All About Free Money
The System That Works
You in the Process
Pull it all Together

There are several pages of notes in the workbook that correspond with each video lesson as well as additional worksheets for some.  Denise recommends that just the parent watch the videos in the case of younger students, but having teens watch independently or with you.  Though most of what you read in the workbook she repeats in the videos, I think the auditory learner in all of us will benefit from seeing it presented in two different mediums.

So how did we work through this-
My 9th grader and I watched the videos, sometimes together and sometimes separately to get the idea for the week.  We then picked one or two of the activities that Denise recommended to work on for a few days.  I found that one of the things we learned about that was an AHA! moment for us was the scholarship binder.  While we did apply to scholarships with my oldest, I felt we were rather willy nilly with the process and definitely could have stood to be more organized.  By creating a binder with 12 tabs, Denise gives you the organizational tool and many tips on how to aim for completing one "good" scholarship a month.  Just think, if you start as a freshman or sophomore, that is a lot of scholarships you can apply for with minimal stress to your child and no last minute scrambling.  Denise even says that there are scholarships out there for kids to earn as early as elementary school.  Who would have thought!

What did we think-
We had a slow start with this program at first, but I will have to say that by the time we got to the third video  I was sold.  Yes, some of this information you might know, but I would be willing to bet that a lot of it you would have to deliberately set out to find.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Why drive yourself crazy, and believe me you can, when someone else with years of experience can guide you through the often confusing system?   Instead of searching for random scholarships that may or may not be a good fit for your child, Denise gives you several websites to start with, but more importantly helpful hints on not only where to look but how to look for what is the best fit for your child.  Another area that I was especially impressed with was Denise's breakdown of how to write an essay for scholarships.  She gives a simple outline to use that makes the set up a breeze for highschoolers.  Trust me on this, any little hints and techniques you learn can and will make a difference in how cooperative your child will be when it comes time to put in the effort.

Scholarship Binder

What did my child think-
Quite honestly, it overwhelmed her a bit, but it did get her thinking outside the box a little with her likes and dislikes and where she would like to head.  There is a lot of information out there to take in and with a military family there are still a lot of moving parts to consider. I think that by starting this program at an early age and approaching it as an adventure, you could take some of that scariness away.

If college is something you are considering for your child, I would recommend taking some of the work out of the process and allow a veteran in the field of Financial Aid guide you through the process!

Denise's website, College Common Sense, has free access to lots of information!  Start there!
The Going to College and Paying For It online DVD and workbook that we reviewed can be downloaded for $25.00 for a year's access.  The physical products cost $50.00.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

Monday, February 25, 2013

CREW Review- A+ TutorSoft

It is no secret that I do not love math. Therefore, it makes sense that I do not love teaching math to my children. That is why I was so excited to be able to get this review! We had the privilege to review a math curriculum from A+TutorSoft, Inc.  A+ TutorSoft offers lessons for grades 1st to 6th grade, as well as pre- algebra and algebra using either an online subscription or a full curriculum CD. For our review, we used the A+ Interactive MATH  CD for 1st grade. It is easy to install, and once loaded does not require you to put the disk in each time. Using step by step lessons, review practices, quizzes and tests, this curriculum covers a lot of ground in an orderly way. First grade concepts covered by chapters are Counting Numbers, Number Sense, Comparing and ordering, Addition, Subtraction, Fractions, Graphs, Time, Money, Measurements, Geometry and Algebra. Included are the lessons, quizzes and tests as well as their answers, additional worksheets, recommended lesson plans and a workbook.

A glance at our day-
We used this curriculum for CJ's math five days a week. He had recently finished his Kindergarten curriculum, so I figured this would be a pretty seamless transition. Luckily, I was right! Like many five year olds, my son likes the computer so he was quite excited to get to do his math on the computer. Each day we selected the next lesson from the menu and learned a new concept. After each lesson he would have the opportunity to practice. One of the things we loved was though you can print off worksheets for each corresponding lesson, you can also choose to just do the review on the computer. If you answer a problem correctly, you get a hearty "well done". If you enter the incorrect answer you will get a step by step explanation of the problem. Because at this level there are only about 7-12 problems per review, the time spent doing the problems was quite manageable for a younger aged child. The tests at the end of each unit are a little more lengthy, but not too overwhelming.

What we liked-
This is a pretty straight forward math program; no flashy games, graphics or rewards, though certificates are available to print out. That being said, A+ TutorSoft is colorful and engaging which we really enjoyed. I loved that even after completing the activities on the computer, we could print out the worksheets for further review if needed, as well as tests. The built in review is flooded with lots of positive reinforcement and an occasional animation that kept CJ engaged. The sidebar menu is well laid out and easy to navigate so we were able to jump around lessons a tad to explore new concepts. One of the new concepts we learned about was the greater than and less than sign. CJ had never been introduced to that and I was worried he might not be old enough to grasp the concept. A+ TutorSoft used the visual of an alligator, named Al E. Gator, who eats the biggest number and he got it right away. His comment after the lesson- "I am King of the numbers!" haha Because this curriculum uses auditory, visual and kinetic learning, it is able to appeal to a variety of kids' learning styles.

What did not work for us-
We found out early on that when a question is asked by the teacher, she answers very quickly, often not giving the child adequate time to answer for themselves. For that reason, I stayed with CJ as he went through each lesson, stopping the CD after the questions so he would have time to answer. I found if I did not, my son soon got wise and just waited for the answer to be given to him. It would be nice if they would lengthen that pause a little. I also would have loved if once you answered each question it could be "entered" in by hitting the enter key on the keyboard, rather than having to use the mouse to click on the "next" button. This did slow our process down and frustrate CJ at times.

Our bottom line-
I like this program. There were a few times I felt like the concepts were a little over the head of my son, but since he is technically just at the end of his Kindergarten year it may be that in a few months he would not struggle with some of those areas. It is a rather pricey curriculum, but let's face it, there are not many quality math programs out there that are cheap. You get what you pay for, and in this case, I do think you are getting a quality curriculum!

The details-
The CD Software sells for $99.99. The premium edition sells for $124.99, and allows you to track up to 5 students manually.

Online Homeschool edition sells for $19.95 per month, $49.99 per quarter, or $124.99 per year. The subscription covers one parent and one student. The online version automatically tacks the student's progress for you.

From now until the end of March A+ TutorSoft is offering a generous 50% off to my readers. Please use the coupon code below when ordering.
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Home four years. Happy Home Day, CJ!

Happy Home Day, Son!

Yes, it has been four years since our sweet boy joined our family.  Four years since we traveled from Guatemala and landed in Houston with a new US citizen, and then on to Wyoming.

For those who don't know our story, here is a short version.  I wanted to adopt for years.  Longed for it really.  My husband did not.  Yep, no longing.  So for years I would bring it up occasionally, show him a few pictures of the beautiful orphans waiting for families, and he would reply, "if God wants us to adopt he will have to sky write for me."

A few months would go by, OK, maybe a few weeks, and I would bring it up again.  Him- same answer, waiting for the sky writing.

It went that way for years.

Then, God did a little sky writing.  He can use anything, right?  This time he used the military and sent my husband to Africa for 7 months unexpectedly.


And a few weeks into that adventure my sweet, wonderful, loving husband called and asked if I still wanted to adopt.  Ummm, YES!

If you asked him what changed, he can't really seem to  say, but obviously God changed his heart.

Fast forward many months and this is the referral we got...

3 days old
4 months old at referral

How could you not just fall in love with that sweet baby?!

God's timing is always best, but I will tell you that after waiting for years to get a yes from my hubby, waiting another 17 months to bring our son home was hard.  Very hard.  Extremely hard.

But he did come home...four years ago today.  And we were blessed beyond measure.

This kid brings me laughter.
And love.
And the sweetest kisses.
And sometimes challenges beyond belief.  ;)

But mostly he brings me the reminder that God is faithful, that He loves us, that He wants the best for us and that He loves the orphans of this world.

So do we.  We are called to.

James 1:27- Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress..."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fun Friday- The Last of the Muffins

We are at our final week of Muffin Madness.  Where did the month go?  So without further chatting, another sweet and simple recipe...

Sweet Jam-Filled Muffins

2 cups Bisquick (we use homemade baking mix!)
2 TBSP sugar
1/4 cup cold butter, cut in pieces
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup raspberry jam (we have also used apricot, strawberry and one desperate time plain "ole grape!)

Mix all ingredients together, except jam, and fill muffin tins half full.  Put about a teaspoon of jam in middle of each muffin and then cover with more mix. (I use probably another tablespoon's worth) 

Bake at 425 for 10-12 minutes.

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. water
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mix together and drizzle on top!


Hope to see you back next week!  Fun Fridays in March are all about natural cleaning products. 


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Project Organize- A Peek in the Bedroom

It's not often I invite people I don't know into our bedroom.  Actually, not even people we do know usually.  I know that a bedroom is supposed to be a quiet refuge, a place to go to relax.  But ours- not so much.  At least not on a regular basis.  Instead it seems to be the catch all.  A place where things pile up, get stored and take up residence, whether they belong there or not.  It doesn't help that because we are in a rental home, our "office" and all that encompasses is in our bedroom as well.  Yes- desk, computer, papers, files, and more papers.  It's all in there.  And usually in disarray!

After our closet purge, I decided it was time to stop avoiding the bedroom and get busy.  I failed to take as many before shots, but here is one of what the desk typically looked like.

Pitiful, I know.  I think because this space is not on the main floor it is an area that we do not work at and so things just get stacked and forgotten.  NO MORE.  Not only did we clean it up, but we moved stuff out. 

You have got to love a shredder!  This entire black garbage bag, yes, that is the super sized one, is full of shredded papers.  I do not want to even tell you how long we have been hanging onto some unneeded paperwork.  That bag alone probably just cleared out another 20 pounds.  I kid you not.  The movers are going to love us.  Lean and mean!  haha

The second problem spot is my bench.  This is not the one that always sits at the end of our bed, but there is usually one there of some sort, depending on what house we are in.  It is always covered.  Always. 

So now it is not!

And it is going to stay that way! (It helps that our house was suddenly put on the market, but that is another story and I am determined not to go there!)

We also purged from nightstands and my dresser, even leaving an empty drawer.  Can you believe it?  Hubby's dresser is housed in the closet so it was in last week's purge.

The final result- a clean, uncluttered, retreat!

Now to keep the kids out!
Speaking of kids, see 'ya next week for the teen's closet!

Monday, February 18, 2013

CREW Review- Song School Spanish

I am so excited to be able to start my TOS CREW year off with this review!  Foreign languages have always been important to our family, but never so much as after we adopted our youngest son from Guatemala.  Now instead of just being a minor interest, we feel a huge responsibility to make the Spanish language a part of our lives.  Easier said than done when you are not bilingual.  I knew I should have paid more attention to my high school Spanish teacher.  Thank goodness for companies like Classical Academic Press.  For the past few years our oldest daughters have used their Spanish for Children with much success and have loved it.  You cannot imagine my excitement when I heard they had a new program out intended for younger children.

Yes, Classical Academic Press (CAP) has done it again!  This program is amazing and I feel so blessed to have been able to review it.
Intended for kindergarten through second grade, Song School Spanish gently introduces young children not only to Spanish vocabulary, but also to basic conversation.  Through catchy songs, rhymes, stories and activities the child gets repeated opportunities to learn about five new words a week as well as phrases to use those words in.  CAP suggests a three day a week lesson plan, broken into very manageable segments for young children.  There are some work pages in the Student Book to write in, along with a few pages of cut outs in the back to be used for the puppet type activities. 
 In addition, the teacher's manual not only has all the answers for the worksheets, but also has extra pages for review, one for each chapter and two for each review section, and an end of the book review.  These are great for a child who needs a little extra practice or just really enjoys worksheets.
Another resource available is the CAP website you can go to for a fun game as well as free resources.
So how did we use this product?
My original intent was to use this three days a week, but let's just say that did not happen.  Instead we did Spanish five days a week!  We have really had fun with this program.  On day one I introduced the new vocabulary and listened to the corresponding songs.  If you have any trouble with pronunciation, there is an audio file that can be downloaded from CAP to help you out.  Bonus!  On day two we would review the words, taking turns saying them, sing the songs again, and do the lessons in the book.  Because CJ is not writing independently, I would read most sections and he would answer out loud.  He was able to do the activities that were matching or drawing a picture with just a little guidance.  I would suspect this would be the case for most kids in Kindergarten, though I have no doubt first and second graders could do the work independently.  On day three we would again review the vocabulary and songs and do the last section for the lesson, Show What You Know, a great summary of all that you learned.  We continued on days four and five singing the songs, using the puppets to make up stories, do the additional activity page in the teacher's guide and did I mention, sing songs?  And sing some more?
That was, of course, one of our favorite parts...the CD.  CJ loves these songs and begs to sing them, even on days we do not do Spanish.  I encourage you to hop over to CAP's site and listen to a few.  Beware, they are catchy.  You WILL wake up some mornings singing them!  The words to each song are included in the children's book as they are introduced, but once we learned them, we put the book aside and we danced!
Yes, I know the picture is blurry!  That is because now every time we put in the CD we dance.  And there is just no getting a motion picture with this kiddo that you can see clearly!
Meet Tortuga!
Because CJ is an active learner, we also used the puppet figures extensively.  We used not only the stories in the book, but also made up our own little conversations and plays.  They even came out when we sang songs...I figure if we can have fun while we learn, he will stick with it longer.  You can probably finish a lesson in about 15 minutes, but we often went 30 or more because of all the things he wanted to add.  Singing and dancing, anyone?
Our bottom line-
We loved this curriculum.  I love the blended approach Classical Academic Press takes in teaching a second language.  They call it code switching.  By combining English and Spanish in one sentence, they slowly introduce a child to the new words without overwhelming them all at once.  Using songs and chants on a daily basis further solidifies the new knowledge in a fun, catchy way that makes learning fun, at the same time reaching children with various learning styles.  If you are in the market for a Spanish program for your younger kids, this is the one I recommend!
The details- 
We received the student book and CD, which sells for $24.95, as well as the teacher's guide which sells for $24.95 as well.  An additional resource that you may wish to buy is the Spanish Amigo Match game or you can purchase the entire bundle which sells for  $66.95
 Adios Amigos! 
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fun Fridays- Muffin Madness

Most of us in this house like blueberries.   A lot!  So this is another one of those recipes that gets used often.  It is quick and easy...seeing a trend here?  We have tried many different ones in the past and this is by far our favorite.   For the ones that do not like the blueberries, I make a few plain and they love them still.  Must be that sprinkle of sugar on the top!



Blueberry Muffins
2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 400.  Grease muffin pan.
In small bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In separate bowl stir milk, butter, egg and vanilla until blended.

Make well in dry ingredients and add milk mixture until just combined.  Add blueberries, mixing gently.  Spoon into muffin tins and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake 20-25 minutes.

OK, here's the truth- I throw all the ingredients into a bowl and mix.  Always have, and they taste yummy.  Maybe that makes me a less than perfect cook.  But it also makes me smart-  1 bowl less to clean!  ;)

See you back next Friday for our last muffin recipe!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Project Organize- The Closet

I just want to start out with- UGH!  This was a hard one!  This is one I have been avoiding for weeks.  This is one I almost did not take pictures of because, well, you know, it is embarrassing! But, as my daughter would say, for the good of the mission, I did take pictures and I did tackle the closet.  And I am glad it is over. 

Actually, we tackled the closet!  My dear husband came along for the ride.  Isn't he dear?  I think he was afraid that if he did not I would just throw all his stuff away and call it good.  (I thought it was a good idea!)  It took us hours.  Several!

Something else you need to know before we move forward- this closet is huge, but it also just about our only storage other than the garage.  So yes, it holds a lot more than just clothes.  It has files.  It has luggage.  It is my gift closet.  It holds all our family's winter clothes.  It has extra linens. (read here, tons of curtains and such that have been used in one of our 12 homes and someday may be needed again.  Let's not go there right now.)

Here is what we decided going in.  (Can you tell I am stalling showing you pictures?)
-  We have too much.
-  We are trying to downsize!
-  We should not hang on to clothes that are 20 years old. (not naming names)
-  Someone else could be blessed by the extras!
-  Sometimes it is not a matter of does it fit or is it used, but instead, how much is too much? and how much is enough?   You know, that whole justification thing we do, "yes, I like this"?  But do I need five of this?  Or ten?

So, keeping that all in mind, and knowing you all will not judge...

This shot shows the luggage and piles of stuff that should be put away.  What it does not show well is that the two shelves above it are packed with STUFF!

Did I mention the treadmill lives in there too?  This shows my side, stuff that should be put into the bins but that never quite makes it, junk, junk and more junk.  If you could really see the shelves at the end of the room, well, let's just say, they are almost out of the picture for a reason.
After hours of work...
Here is the pile of things we took to the Goodwill in town. Yes, you counted correctly, that is 11 bags of stuff plus an extra backpack and a few things on the other side you cannot see from this angle.

This is the stuff that was deemed complete trash and headed out the door to the trash can.  Sigh!
Here is the same shot of the suitcase area.
Here is my side.  The totes are still there, as that is the only storage place we have for them, but they are now organized and labeled better (love a labeler!)  Extra bags- gone!  Extra shoes- gone!  Extra clothes- gone!  Were some cute?  Sure!  Were they all needed- NOPE!  What you see there are my everyday clothes, church clothes and still-probably-too-many military "occasion" dresses. (again, let's don't go there right now!)  I want to talk about clothes in more detail, but we are going to save that for another post that has been rolling around in my brain for a few months.  See, even the shelves at the end look better.

The hubby's side.  I have to hand it to him, he did great!  My husband is a "just in case we might need it" saver, but he got rid of A LOT!  I just kept saying, if we die tomorrow, do you really want our poor kids to have to deal with all this stuff?  Nice, I know, but oh so true!

OK, so how do we keep it at this level and not slide back into the old ways?

First- our No Spend January and No Spend February have helped a lot in seeing what we need and don't need!
Second- Resolve to put things away at that moment.  Don't save for later, it never comes.
Third- Repeat after me, how much is enough?
And fourth- take a look at all those things we get rid of, quickly think about how much money you spent on those things and realize how wasteful we are being.  Good stewards of our money?  I think not!  Shame on us.

Spending money just to spend money SHOULD make us feel badly.  If you need something, go get it.  If not, don't!  Just yesterday we went by Bed, Bath and Beyond and I saw that beautiful yellow clearance sign and it called my name.  Seriously!  I had to tell myself and my husband who was laughing at me, YES, I want to see what is in there and yes, I could surely find something, OK - lots of things I liked,

How about you?  Do you need to let go of junk?  Do you need to stop buying things that are not necessities?  Do you need to declutter? 
I challenge you to take the first step today.  Pick one small project, can I recommend NOT the closet, and get started.  You will not regret it.  And I am cheering you on!

Next week, join us in the bedroom.  To organize, that is! ;)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Fun Friday- Muffin Madness

Here we go!  Another one of our favorites and simple to make.  This recipe only makes a dozen so you might want to double up if you are sharing.  The recipe came from A Taste of Home magazine that came out YEARS ago.  My 15 year old requests these all the time!

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

2 cups biscuit/baking mix (we make our own!)
1 pkg. instant lemon pudding mix
1/4 cup of poppy seeds (that seems like A LOT to me.  We only use about 3 TBSP)
1/4 cup grated lemon peel
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup oil

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.  Mix up wet ingredients and add to dry ingredients, mixing until just moist.  Fill muffin tins 3/4 full.  Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes.

Combine 3/4 cup of powdered sugar with 1-2 TBSP lemon juice.  Drizzle icing over muffins.

Here's my quick tip for the day: after filling muffin tins for years with various utensils, I found that my 1/4 cup measuring cup is the perfect way to fill them up without a mess.