Sunday, August 31, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – August 17th-23rd

Mid-week, Steve returned from Michigan to visit his family and to attend his 25th high school reunion.  He had a wonderful visit with everyone, spent some time with old friends, and got to spend some treasured time with his dad.  All in all, he had a great trip!


On Sunday, the kids and I went to Ocean Breeze after church.  Hayden always has the most fun on the log roller.  On this day, Haylee and Holden decided they were brave enough to give it a try themselves!

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Holden was so excited when I said he could try it!  I had Hayden stay nearby since Holden can’t reach the bottom of that deeper pool…I knew he might need some help paddling out of the way when his turn was over.  But he did fine, and despite a few faceplants on the log, he had a great time and couldn’t wait to do it again!  Haylee loved it, too.  I guess I know what we’ll be doing the next time we go!


On Monday, it poured down with rain something awful!  But before the rain hit, Haylee and I ran out to harvest some goodies from the garden.  Look how much we got!  We went ahead and harvested all of the remaining carrots for the season, and I had to pull up one celery plant early because there was some rot happening in the center.  But all of the other celery plants look great, and this was my first time attempting to grow celery! 

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We came inside just in time, and that storm was pretty severe!  It rained like cats and dogs, and there was lots of thunder and lightning.


Hayden has had a great couple of weeks at summer camp at his charter high school.  He’s done some really fun activities.  They wrapped up the camp on Friday with a family picnic.  Due to weather, they had to move it to the school cafeteria instead of the local park, so it didn’t turn out to be as much fun as it could have fun, but the kids still enjoyed getting balloon swords from the clown, and Hayele got her face and hand painted by one of the students. 

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I ordered a GRC pullover for Hayden to help support the school’s fundraiser, and he got to watch a bunch of kids and teachers do the ice bucket challenge in the back of the school.  The whole event was catered by a company that roasted pulled pork barbecue and hot dogs on pits outside all day long.  It was so good!


On Saturday, I tried to figure out something I could do to use up the plethora of organic homegrown tomatoes that I’d stored up in the fridge.  I decided to cook on the fly and just sort of figured it out as I went.  It turned out really good!


I blanched the tomatoes in boiling water and then a cold bath to peel off the skin, cored them, and put them in a saucepan with half a chopped organic onion, some Italian seasoning, a spoonful of sugar, some minced garlic, and some salt and let it simmer down. Then I sliced up some Trader Joe's Italian Chicken Sausage and mixed with it and served it over some brown rice, sprinkled with Trader Joe's Quattro Formaggio Italian cheese blend. Delicious! Hayden said there were 2 things wrong with it. One, he would have liked twice as much sausage in his bowl, and two, there's no more in his bowl, LOL! He keeps telling me I need to do more cooking on the fly 'cause he thinks I’m good at it. I'm glad it turned out to be a crowd pleaser, and the best part is that it finally gets the giant container full of tomatoes out of my fridge!


So what are your end-of-summer plans?  We’re taking next week off from school so the kids can all enjoy their last days with Hayden before he starts back to charter school again.  The weather should be nice, so hopefully we can squeeze in at least a couple of outings to round out the summer.

See you then!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – August 10th-16th

Aaaaah…the annual bash is behind us once again, and the summer is beginning to wind down.  Life will soon begin to fall into more of a routine…but only after Hayden attends 2 weeks of “summer camp” at his charter school and Steve spends a week in Michigan visiting his family and attending his 25th class reunion!


Alas!  It’s Tuesday, August 12th, and at 5:14 PM, Hayden is officially 15 years old!  Happy birthday, my dear son!


And of course, his birthday would not be complete without his favorite pineapple upside down cake with 15 candles on top!


Hayden began his school’s summer camp activities this week, so he was gone until noon with that.  I’m so glad the rain caused them reschedule their original plans for this date, or else I wouldn’t have gotten to spend most of Hayden’s birthday with him! 



He had to get his little “helpers” to finish blowing out the last couple of candles, LOL.


Hayden got to do some really fun things this week in his summer camp at school.  They took the whole class to Williamsburg on Wednesday and gave them a tour of William & Mary College.  Then they spent the afternoon at Busch Gardens just having fun!  The school paid for everything.  Because they are a charter school, they get to apply for lots of grant money the rest of the school system doesn’t get access to, and it has to be spent directly on the students.  So they get to do fun team-building activities and things they wouldn’t otherwise get to do.  On Thursday, they went out to the new Adventure Park located at the Virginia Aquarium.  They spent 3 hours doing rope courses up in the trees.  The school paid for that in full, as well.  Hayden was thrilled!  He said it was one of the most fun things he’s ever done, and he’d love to go back again someday.  He said they did 3 of the 12 courses available at there.


Then on Friday night, we went out to Ocean Breeze Water Park for the dive-in movie.  Unfortunately, it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen…The Goonies.  It was so bad, and it was so cool out, that the kids even got tired of being wet and cold, so we left before the movie was even over. 

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I regretted investing an hour and a half of my time into the movie that I could never get back, but at least we beat the crowd home.


Haylee’s new math program for next school year (6th grade) showed up in the mail.  I pored over my options for several weeks before settling on this program. 

Because her current workbook-style math ends with 6th grade level this school year, I knew we’d have to switch to something else for the next 3 years before high school.  She really likes colorful workbooks, but she’s getting so she could use some extra help, too.  That’s what got me thinking about this program again.  I’ve reviewed No-Nonsense Algebra from the same author in the past and used it with Hayden, and we were both fairly impressed with it and the wonderful video instruction that’s included. 


Haylee will need a 7th grade-level math program, and Mastering Essential Math Skills: Book Two should be a good fit for that level.  She and I had looked at it together in a bookstore recently.  I could have purchased the downloadable version and still gotten free online video lessons with it, but I thought she might like to have the portability of a DVD.  It runs about $32 for the physical set with DVD, so I hunted around online and got it brand new on ebay for just $13 shipped.  Not bad at all!  I told her I’d put it onto colored paper for her when she works the problems so it won’t be all black and white.  I like that it’s just one page per day for 20 minutes, and it includes daily mixed problems so she doesn’t forget past concepts.  That’s important for her.  So I’m hoping this will be a good fit.

If it goes well, she can move into their Pre-Algebra Concepts book for 7th grade, and No-Nonsense Algebra in 8th grade, and then she’ll be ready for high school.  It was important to me to find something that would flow throughout middle school so she knows the layout and what to expect.  I don’t want to keep changing her math since it’s the subject she struggles with the most.


On Saturday, the latest Bark Box arrived for the dogs!  Lilly and Teenie absolutely LOVE their monthly surprise box.  It’s filled with organic, made-in-the-USA treats and high-quality, very sturdy toys.  We signed up through a group deal (I’ve forgotten if it was Groupon or Living Social or some other daily deal site) for a 6-month subscription, and it has really been worth it.


They’ve amassed a nice basket full of toys, and we leave it out for them so they can choose a toy and play tug-of-war to their heart’s content!  For the most part, the toys have held up well, and the treats have been very nutritious, natural snacks.  They include a price list for each item so you can reorder if you desire, and I’ve price-matched and found the prices to be accurate.  The monthly cost is well below the actual value, and even more so with the group deal I got, so I’m very happy with it.  My dogs are vastly different in size, so I chose the box for the largest size dog for the sake of the durability of the toys, and I just snap the snacks into smaller pieces for my little dog.  It has worked well for them!


That’s a wrap!  Steve headed off for Michigan on Wednesday to enjoy a weeklong visit with his friends and family there, so we’re enjoying a little less hustle and bustle at home, and a little less of an evening routine than usual.  I took the kids out to breakfast on Friday morning, and I’m sure I’ll take them out to lunch one day next week.  The summer will be over before we know it!

See you next week.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

REVIEW: UberSmart Math Facts by UberSmart Software

We were so fortunate to get to review UberSmart Math Facts by UberSmart Software.



UberSmart Math Facts is a Windows-based software program you download to your computer that allows students to be taught, to practice, and to be tested on all of the basic math facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  In this simple, straight-forward program, student progress and mastery will be tracked for up to 5 students per computer, and you can load the software to as many computers in your household as you would like.  You also get free updates and support.

It helps students not only learn the correct answers, but to actually achieve mastery by responding correctly within a set time frame.  That’s because mastery implies both a quick and accurate response.

You can purchase this program that’s yours to keep forever for just $24.95.  And in doing so, you can throw out all of those paper flash cards that you’ve got taking up valuable space in your homeschool!  This software is targeted for students in grades K-6, but it’s really appropriate for anyone who needs a little extra practice!



You might think it’s hard to get excited about a simple flash card program without lots of bells and whistles, but I’m here to tell you that I’m excited about UberSmart Math Facts!  It’s colorful but not distracting.  It’s simple and straightforward.  It’s great practice for my elementary students, and it’s a wonderful evaluation tool because of the fact that it tracks each of my students individually and tells me actual response times as well as results for accuracy.  It also allows me to pre-test my students to see where they are in learning their math facts, and I can re-test them at any time to assess their progress.  That’s really useful information for me as their teacher!  That means I don’t have to waste their time drilling them on what they’ve already mastered, and we can just focus on what is most needed.  That also means the kids don’t get bored quickly, and they don’t have to invest a lot of time on repetitive work.

There is an assessment test you can take that evaluates skills in counting, sequencing, relationship, odd and even, keyboard entry, and all of the basic math facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  So to start things off, I tested myself just for fun.  I mastered everything and answered all the questions in a fraction of the time required for mastery.  Oh, good!  I’m not a failure in basic math, LOL.  Then I had Haylee, my 5th grader, take the assessment test so I could see where she fell in her knowledge.  She has struggled with her multiplication facts in particular for a number of years but has improved somewhat over time.  What surprised me was that she had 100% accuracy with her answers, which told me that she has finally learned those few elusive facts she still struggled with last school year.  However, her time in all categories was less than required for a “mastery” achievement level.  This was important information for me to know.  It means she can get to the right answer, but she’s still not doing it by instant recall.  Clearly, this could negatively affect her ability to finish math problems in the allotted time on standardized testing, so it’s something she’ll need to continue to work on.

For Holden, my 1st grader, I opted not to give him the assessment test because he’s still early in the process of learning his math facts.  He hasn’t yet begun anything beyond addition and subtraction, and he’s practiced mainly with addition at this point.  He uses a math curriculum that requires him to complete daily drills on specific sets of math facts and to do it against a 1-minute timer.  He likes doing this but has wanted to improve the number of correct responses before the timer goes off.  So the way he used the program was to match up the facts he’d be drilled on each day with that specific set of numbers in UberSmart Math Facts.  So for instance, he’s most recently been practicing the +2 math facts, so I was able to select that specific set of facts in the software program and let him practice those just before taking the paper drill test in his math curriculum.  And guess what happened?  He improved his number of correct responses on his paper quiz every single time!  And I’m not just talking about one or two more, but the most significant improvements I’ve seen him make since we started his school year in June!  I can’t tell you how excited he has been to be able to improve his score so much.  It has done wonders for building his confidence and getting him motivated to do even better.  We will definitely continue to use it in this way each day alongside his math curriculum to help him continue to improve.  He does it willingly!  And because he’s only 6 and not really familiar with the numerical keypad, I let him sit beside me at the computer and orally answer the program so I can hit the right keys for him, and that is a good accommodation for him.  It worked well for us!

Since Haylee has already learned all of the right answers, we are just focusing on improving her response time.  Several times a week, she picks a set of facts and practices with them and then takes a mastery test on them so she can get the loud applause and message of congratulations at the end that tells her she has mastered that set of facts!  And because it only takes a couple of minutes to work on a set of facts, she is more than willing to add in the extra practice.  She enjoys the positive reinforcement she gets for a job well done!

When we’ve gotten further into our school year, I plan to give her the assessment test again and compare her response time with what she got before we started the regular practice.  I have no doubt that she’ll see some significant improvements, as well!

If you have younger kids in you family who hasn’t yet learned their numbers but is learning to count, this program can also do flash cards using dots instead of numerals.  This allows the student to count the number of dots in the math fact and then select the card with the correct total number of dots on it as their response.  That makes this program even more useful, because you can even include your wee ones in the fun and learning!

And although there is a suggested response time for the problems, you can adjust that time goal for each of your students as needed, adding to its flexibility for students who are just learning or who may have learning disabilities.

As an added bonus, when your student has mastered all of their math facts, the program allows you to print a certificate of achievement so you can reward your student for their accomplishment!

We really, really love this program, and we will definitely continue to use it in the years to come.  I just wish we’d had it sooner!  :)  It’s one of those things that would have been great to add to our homeschool right from the very start.

To see what other Crew members had to say about this wonderful program from UberSmart Software, click on the banner below.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – August 3rd-9th

There’s so much to do this week in preparation for our annual Burgess Birthday Bash!


I never have pictures of myself, but I had to get my son to take one for me so I could create a new 2014-2015 homeschool I.D. card. 


So here I am!  Surprise!


Friday was baking day.  I needed to do as much cooking done for the party today as possible so there’s that much less to prepare in the morning.  So I made and decorated a strawberry 1/2 sheet cake, 24 caramel cupcakes with whipped cream cheese frosting, and about 60 summer sausage rolls for the party.

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I also had to put out the decorations and get everything together on my dinner table so I wouldn’t be hunting for things on party day.  I was up until about 1 AM!  I’m always sleep deprived by party day.  :)


It’s Saturday, and it’s party day!!!  I spent the morning making 30 chocolate scones, 30 mixed berry scones, a veggie tray, haddock fish and chips in the fryer, cucumber dill finger sandwiches, 2 bowls of apple-orange punch (everyone’s favorite), and plenty of snacks.  I even set up a full tea service for the moms to enjoy, including a pot of apple juice for the little ladies.  For the fish and fries, I made cones out of newsprint-printed fry paper and displayed them in a makeshift thing I made out of some kind of rack I found at the thrift store set atop a canister!  I printed British flags to go inside of the canister so it would look like part of the display!

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Then we were on to the festivities, celebrating Hayden’s 15th and Haylee’s 10th birthdays.

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I was sure to take a photo of each treasured guest for my scrapbook…it’s a tradition!

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A fun time was had by all!  The weather was unseasonably cool for August…notably the most pleasant weather we’ve ever had for the party since it’s usually 100 degrees that day!  It was a lovely day indeed, and now my brain is already thinking about next year’s potential party theme…


I must say that as much as I enjoy the party and having all of our friends over, I’m also relieved to have the stress of planning and preparation over with for another year.  It’s so worth it, though!  The truth is, I enjoy planning it, and the kids enjoy being a part of coming up with the theme and watching it all magically come together every year.  These are memories they’ll hold dear for the rest of their lives.  That’s the whole point. :)

Until next week…