Sunday, May 31, 2015

End of the School Year!!!

Friday marked the official end of our school year! Haylee finished 5th grade and graduated from elentary school (how did that happen?), and Holden finished 1st grade. I'm now officially the mom of one high schooler, one middle schooler, and one elementary schooler!

We kicked off our end-of-school-year celebration by having the kids do their little graduation ceremonies in the front yard with their completion certificates. Never mind that I completely forgot their graduation caps...the kids were entertaining enough all on their own! LOL


I also took everyone out for a Slurpee, which is always a welcomed activity in my house!

The next part of our festivities will involve going out for a celebration dinner. The kids take turns choosing the restaurant each year. I think we may take everyone out to The Highlander for fish and chips. Steve and I have been there a couple of times for date nights, but the kids would really enjoy it, too.

So how close is your family to finishing up your homeschool year?


Friday, May 29, 2015

Microsoft Live Writer No Longer Works in Blogger!!!

There is a big buzz amongst bloggers this week who normally publish to Blogger using Microsoft Live Writer (or any other 3rd party blog publishing software, for that matter). If you are one of the unfortunate bloggers affected, you've no doubt discovered that since about 11 pm on Tuesday of this week, you get an error message saying your blog is not found when you attempt to publish. Ugh!

Unfortunately, there seems to be no fix on the horizon. Google has updated the API protocol which enhances security but now prevents 3rd party software from initiating remote login. Apparently, they notified 3rd party companies that this change was coming, but none of them chose to do anything about it. And since Microsoft has not done any updates to Live Writer in about 3 years, the chances that they'll bother now are slim to none.

In fact, there are NO desktop-based software programs that have been updated to work with the changes at Blogger. That puts a lot of bloggers out on a limb, since most of us detest the extremely quirky and cumbersome interface that the Blogger Dashboard provides.

However, in researching alternatives, I discovered an iPad app called Blogsy that actually works, despite this week's changes to Blogger. In fact, this is my first post using Blogsy. It's $4.99 in the App Store. So if you are a serious blogger and find yourself out of commission this week like the rest of us, you might want to give Blogsy a try until *hopefully* someone comes up with a working desktop alternative.

Blogsy has built-in how-to videos to help you get started, and I literally had it connected to Blogger in just a minute. You can also drag and drop photos right into your posts, pull up and edit previous posts, and save multiple drafts of a post-in-progress to edit later. Inserting links is also super easy. You can also schedule your publishing for now or a future date/time.

Good luck!


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Spring Home Organization

I’ve been really busy this week trying to tackle a couple of really annoying closets in my house that really needed some attention:  my personal clothes closet and my pantry closet in my laundry room. 

Let me start by saying that I was somewhat inspired because of a couple of events that happened over the last couple of weeks. 

What led me to my clothes closet project was the fact now that the weather has warmed up in earnest, I’ve discovered that I’ve put on weight since last summer and can’t wear a good portion of my summer clothes.  Instead of getting depressed about that (I used to work out every day but have been unable to do so because I severely injured my Achilles tendon last summer, and it has left me with chronic pain), I picked up some really cute things at the thrift store that fit great and that I was really excited about.  That led me to want to go ahead and clean out my closet so I could hang up my summer wardrobe and get things organized.  I got rid of two kitchen trash bags full of clothing, and I packed away one bag of items I really like that may fit me again if I can see the doctor this summer and get something done to heal up this injury so I can resume regular exercise.  I still have to go through a whole row of winter clothing items, but I’m going to put that off until winter so I can see what fits when the time comes.


Summer Section



 Winter Section

The next event that happened was that I finally got new flooring installed in my hallway and downstairs bathroom.  Considering the fact that I bought the flooring 5 years ago for my husband to install, it’s been a long time coming!  I finally hired a flooring company recommended to me by a trusted friend in real estate.  Here’s what it looked like before and after.


Hallway Before



Hallway After

It turned out so great that I had them come back and install the same flooring in my laundry room and pantry closet!  Here’s the before and after of that.


Laundry Room Before



Laundry Room After


That’s what led me to take another look at my pantry closet.  When hubby replaced the flooring in the laundry room years ago, he never finished it and stopped at the threshold to the pantry closet.  But now it’s all done in one continuous flooring that’s beautiful and easy to care for!  So although my pantry closet had been organized previously, it had gotten untidy and a little bit unorganized again.  So I took everything out and re-sorted it all and put labels on the baskets.  Voila!  Like new again.  :)


Pantry Closet

We make our own laundry detergent, so the floor section has the big orange bucket and empty detergent containers that we fill whenever we make a new batch of detergent, which we’ll need to do very soon.  Every time we make a batch, it lasts a whole year!  There’s also a handy step stool tucked in there, just because I’m terribly short (5’3”), and I can’t reach the stuff on the top shelves without it!  LOL

Good luck on your own home organization products this spring!  Please share what you’re working on in your home…it might just end up on my list of things to do!

Monday, May 18, 2015

REVIEW: Privileged Species DVD by

FishFlix Logo

I had the opportunity to review the Privileged Species DVD by


WHAT IS IT?: offers a variety of DVD films and documentaries meant to inspire and entertain Christians.

The Privileged Species DVD is a 33-minute documentary film by the Discovery Institute about the presence of human life and its existence in the universe.  It reasons out and helps to answer the question of whether or not we exist merely by chance…a happy accident of sorts…or if all of the universe exists to support human life and its unique capabilities…a product of a thoughtful creation.

This wonderful DVD is available for just $9.99 and is suitable for both children and adults.

You can also watch the trailer to see if it’s right for you and your family.

The special features on the DVD include a preview of the paperback edition of Darwin’s Doubt and the trailer for the sister documentary titled “Privileged Planet.”



I watched this film with my 10-year old daughter, Haylee, who is finishing up 5th grade at this time.   We found the film to be very engaging and interesting, to say the least!  The graphics were visually appealing, and the narrator had a steady, pleasant voice.  The contents of the film were fascinating!  This film absolutely supports the concept of intelligent design.  Here’s a quick rundown of what the film is about and what we learned from it.  I found myself frantically taking notes as we watched, because it was so chock full of good points and information that was worth noting.

At the opening of the film, there is a clip of Bill Nye the Science Guy talking about how humans seem to be so insignificant in the grand scheme of things…that we are mere specks living amid endless specks of living things and planets and galaxies.

Then after the opening credits, the documentary begins.  It asks the question that is the overall purpose of the film:  Are humans an accidental creation in a universe that did not have them in mind, or was the universe created to support human life?

So many features of nature are exactly right for our existence.  The slightest change in any of them would not just make life difficult, but would make it entirely impossible.  There are four main forces at work that allow life to exist:  gravitational force, electromagnetic force, strong nuclear force, and weak nuclear force.

There are three elements required to promote life:  carbon, oxygen, and water.

  • It all starts with carbon.  The number and intervals of the explosions of supernovas create the carbon that is the basic building block of all life on Earth.  Any fluctuation in them would actually destroy life, so it’s a very delicate balance. 
  • Carbon compounds give us natural gas, anesthetics, sugar, petroleum, clothing, and plastics.
  • Water is the ideal solvent.  Water dissolves minerals so they can be used in the environment without destroying them in the process.
  • Its viscosity is one of the lowest of any liquid and is perfect to support life.
  • Its thermal properties help us deal with the heat of earth.
  • It has a high capacity for absorbing heat and helps us maintain a stable body temperature.
  • Humans evaporate more heat than any other mammal.
  • Because water is less dense when frozen, ice floats, leaving life-giving liquid water insulated underneath.  Without this property, a large portion of the earth would be encapsulated in ice, because it would freeze from the bottom up rather than the other way around.
  • Oxygen is required for all complex life.  Plants use photosynthesis to create their food.  The byproduct (waste) of this process just happens to be oxygen, which supports life for humans.  Light is the requirement for photosynthesis.  Our atmosphere has just the right composition to allow us to receive the sun’s light, but blocks out harmful radiation.
  • 20% atmospheric oxygen is needed to support our energy levels.  Diatomic oxygen in our lower atmosphere is at just the right level to support life without causing spontaneous combustion of that oxygen.  And the diatomic oxygen does not absorb heat, so it does not affect our temperature. 

All of these “coincidences” take place exactly right and perfectly support human life, which supports the idea of intelligent design. 

Human have unique qualities over other mammals that make us significant in the hierarchy of life.

  • Our brains have intellectual reasoning that surpasses other animals.
  • Our larynx accommodates speech and complex communication with a broader range of verbal sounds that includes more vowels and consonants than other species.
  • Our hand is better adapted for intelligent manipulation of things in our environment than any other appendage. 
  • Our brains and hands together are able to create fire, which advances our technology.
  • We are equipped for self-reflection and scientific reasoning, and nature supports our ability to practice that.

So taking all of these factors into account, it becomes clear that humans are not insignificant specks on an insignificant planet.  Instead, we’re a privileged species, and we are actually quite significant!

We really enjoyed this film and found it to be both educational and affirming in our Christian beliefs that God intentionally created us and that all the rest of creation supports our existence on this planet.  I would definitely recommend that you take a look at this compelling documentary!

Find out what other Crew members had to say about this and a variety of other films from by clicking the banner below.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

California Achievement Test (CAT) Results

Well, the annual ordeal is finally behind us, and we’re good for another year!  I received the results of Haylee’s and Holden’s CAT tests, and they did pretty well, I must say! 

Haylee improved 3 percentile points over last year, which did my heart good, considering that we totally revamped her curriculumMath Essentials Book 2 and DVD shortly after the school year began in order to accommodate her learning style.  The poor girl really struggles with math, so we made a switch to a workbook based method of teaching in order to boost her enthusiasm and attention level a bit.  She liked it much better, as she is drawn to colorful worksheets.  I was concerned that she just might not be progressing, though, but her math concepts score was quite good.  Computation was her lowest score, though, so we still have some foundational things to work through in math.  To deal with that next year, I plan to use Mastering Essential Math Skills, Book 2 in order to strengthen her core math skills and ready her for pre-algebra the following year.  The lessons are concise, and the mixed practice and drills last only 20 minutes a day.  It also came with an instructional DVD, which I hope will help boost her confidence and understanding a bit.  If that goes well for her, then I plan to stick with this series throughout middle school, completing No-Nonsense Algebra in 8th grade.  Hayden and I reviewed that a few years ago, and it worked pretty well for him after a long struggle with Algebra.

In any case, Haylee scored in the 92nd percentile overall, meaning she scored better than 92% of all 5th graders based on national norms.  She also scored as well as a 10th grader in the first month of school taking the same test.  Pretty cool!

This was Holden’s first year taking the CAT test.  He did amazingly well!  He’s a pretty sharp kid.  Despite his hyperactivity and high level of distractibility, he actually catches onto new things quite well.  He only missed three questions on the entire test!  One was in reading comprehension, and the other two were in language mechanics (darn punctuation!  LOL). 

Overall, he scored in the 99th percentile, meaning he scored better than 99% of all 1st graders based on national norms.  He also scored as well as a 6th grader in the first month of school taking the same test.  Awesome!

I got my annual Notice of Intent for Home Instruction with the attached description of curriculum and the copies of the CAT test results to show proof of progress mailed off to the School Superintendant, so we’re all set now for another year!  Yay!

If you live in a state other than Virginia, what does your state require of you annually?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful moms out there…you know who you are!  Just remember that you mean the world to someone, and you’re the only mom they’ve got.

I’m missing my own mom today.  She passed away very quickly of lung cancer last year on March 28, 2014, just 6 weeks after diagnosis.  It felt so odd to sense the approach of this special day and not be shopping for something special for her, picking out a card, and writing a heartfelt message about how much she means to me.  Oh, well.  She is with me in my heart and mind, and she knows I will love her forever.  I know she’s with my dad and brother, my grandparents, and all of her siblings…all the ones who went before her.  She had a lot of love to give, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her tremendously.

Mom, old and new

My kids made me cards this morning.  My husband greeted me with a hug and a kiss, some flowers, and a delicious breakfast sandwich.  He’d already made my pot of tea (my one requirement to function in the morning), and I feel relaxed and happy.  He also gave me a beautiful card that made me cry.


My daughter says she is taking over the cooking today (with a little help from dad).  I bought a big pork shoulder roast to put in the rotisserie to make it a bit easier for them.  It’s nice to not have to cook for a day.  Now we’re getting ready to head off to church services.

I hope all of you have a wonderful Mother’s Day, too!


Cinco de Mayo was this Tuesday.  I had tried out a new recipe the week before, and it was such a hit with the kids that I made it again for Cinco de Mayo.  It was delicious and so easy to make!  It’s called Cheesy Chicken and Bean Quesadillas, and I found it at 

I mixed the ingredients together in a bowl…organic black beans, Southwest-style rice for extra flavor, chopped fajita-marinated chicken strips for a little zip, chopped red pepper, and diced spring onions. 


Instead of cooking them in a pan, I got out my trusty Santa Fe Quesadilla Maker, which I absolutely love.  It makes perfect quesadillas every time and is so easy to wipe down and clean.  It only takes 4 minutes to cook in there, so it’s much faster than the directions call for in a pan.  And you get the added convenience of having the sections pre-scored so they are easy to cut apart into little sealed sections.  That’s nice and easy for the kids to eat, too.


Then I served them with a little tub of Pace Chunky Salsa and some sour cream for dipping.  Yum!  Everybody liked this so much that it will be added to our regular meal rotation on my menu board that I made last summer.


Enjoy, and have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Alphabetizing Aid and Standardized Testing

DSCF4160 Do you have one of those nifty little pocket files from the Dollar Spot at Target?  You know, the ones with the clear slots for sentence strips and the two grommets at the top? 

Well, I came up with a a handy use for ours…as an aid for alphabetizing words!

I used push pins to tag one up to a piece of foam board from the Dollar Tree.  I keep the whole thing set up this way and stashed behind some storage drawers in our school room.  Then on days when Holden has to alphabetize a list of words for Saxon Phonics, I cut them out from his worksheet and drop them into the slots on the right-hand side. Then he moves them into place along the left-hand side as he alphabetizes them.  Voila! 

It’s much easier and more visual-kinesthetic for him than just trying to number them on a worksheet.  And it adds a novelty that makes it fun for him! 

So if you have one of these, or like this idea, pick one up at Target’s Dollar Spot and give it a try!  They always stock them for back-to-school time in the summer when they put all kinds of teacher goodies there, but I’ve actually already seen them there recently in a variety of colors.


It’s that time of year again!  It’s time for spring standardized testing for Virginia homeschoolers in order to satisfy the “proof of progress” requirement.  I’ve always chosen the California Achievement Test Complete Battery, even though we’re only required to provide proof of progress for Math and Language Arts in this state.  I just like to see where the kids are in the other subjects, as well. 

I always test at the end of April, and this year was no different.  We broke it up over the course of 3 days so that we did all of the Language Arts portions on Monday, all of the Math portions on Tuesday, and then all of the Science, Social Studies, and Study Skills portions on Wednesday.  Then I DSCF4201was off to the post office to Priority Mail it back to Family Learning Organization for grading!  It usually takes about 4 business days to receive the results, so I would expect to have them by Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.  I can’t wait!

This was the first year that Holden was required to test since he is just finishing up 1st grade (he was 6 in September, which is the requirement for testing here), and it’s Haylee’s 5th year of testing since she is finishing up 5th grade.  I know from looking over Holden’s shoulder that he only missed 3 questions on the whole test, and one was in the Comprehension section, and the other two were in Language Mechanics.  That darn punctuation!  LOL.  Seriously, though, I know he did great.  They both like breaking it up since we test during a week off from school.  Then they can play the rest of the day and not get too burned out from sitting and concentrating for long periods.  It works for them.

I’m curious to see how Haylee did with her math this year.  She is known to struggle with math, and I’m concerned about how she did.  She said it seemed easy to her, so that’s good at least.  She was working through 6th grade math this year, so it should really just be a review of what she learned last year.  We shall see.  I’m not entirely confident, but we’ll keep that between you and me!  LOL.


How about you?  Have you tested yet this year?

Friday, May 1, 2015

REVIEW: Adaptive Placement Test and Individualized Lesson Plan by A+ Interactive Math

I had the opportunity to have Haylee and Holden review the Adaptive Placement Test and Individualized Lesson Plan by A+ Interactive Math.



A+ Interactive Math offers both complete math programs as well as a program for closing learning gaps in math.  The Adaptive Placement Test and Individualized Lesson Plan program offers students the chance to check for comprehension in their current level of math to see if they’ve mastered concepts before moving on to the next level.  This is ideal for an end-of-the-school-year checkpoint so parents and students can feel confident that their children are ready to move on to new material.

The program is entirely online, and scoring is done automatically.  The chosen grade level is broken up into a series of mini-tests, and for each test the student does not pass, the program automatically generates an individualized lesson plan to help them cover the concepts that were included on those tests.  The student can then go and complete the lessons with instruction, and they can also go and complete worksheets either online with instant scoring or by printing them out.  When the student is ready, they can return and retake the test.

This program is available for just $29.99 for one student and $10 more for each additional student.  You’ll have access to the program for a period of 3 months.  You can take a look at a demo to see how it works.  You also have the ability to change the grade level at any time if you should decide the material is either too easy or too difficult for your student.



I signed up my 10 year old daughter who is in 5th grade but finishing up 6th grade math as well as my 7 year old son who is in 1st grade but finishing up 2nd grade math.

DSCF4127I started with my son, Holden, first.  Each of the questions had a time limit, so I sat beside him and entered his answers as he gave them to me.  I had a pencil and paper handy so he could work the computation problems. 

He did a great job with his tests and thought it was easy and fun.  His only feedback was that he liked it and would like to do it every day.  Well, that was easy!  He has passed all of the tests so far with flying colors and has not needed to do any of the lesson plans as of yet.  That was fine with him!  He was happy just doing the tests, and he really liked getting that giant smiley face with the thumbs up that said he’d done a great job.

There was also a little progress bar you could look at that showed a little man running across the screen for each test and stopping at the point that indicated the child’s score for those tests, and there was a little red bar that showed the “goal” for a passing score.  Holden loved watching the little men run past that goal line!  He giggled as he watched it.

My daughter, Haylee, however, had different results.  She truly struggles with math, and it’s very challenging for her.  She is also not enthusiastic about doing it because it doesn’t keep easy for her.  She was the main reason I wanted to try the program out.  I wasn’t confident that she had grasped the 6th grade math material this year, and I wanted confirmation of that before finalizing my selection for math for our new sDSCF4128chool year. 

As it turned out, she did not pass the first test that she attempted, and she was really upset at having spent the time on it and not passing it.  The next day, we went to the individualized lesson plan, but she became overwhelmed there with how many lessons were generated by a single test.  I was a little disappointed that it seemed to just give lessons for all of the concepts on that test, whether her wrong answers were related to them or not.  I had hoped that it would truly be individualized and only give her lessons that pertained directly to her missed questions, but that didn’t seem to be the case.  I had her begin working through the lessons next.  It provided good instruction for the material, and there were some questions to answer to see if she understood what she learned.  Then we could go over to the worksheet section and do additional practice there.  She could complete it online with instant scoring, or she could print it out.  She chose to do the worksheets online.  There were a lot of questions, so it provided plenty of practice.

I tried to help her select a handful of the lessons to work on based on the questions she had missed so she wouldn’t have to work on material she already understood.  Seeing all of those lessons listed there really frustrated her, so if I could offer any productive feedback to the vendor, it would be that the individualized lesson plan should truly only reflect missed questions.  I did like how she could look at her missed questions and see what she had done wrong.

DSCF4202She wanted a break from the lessons, so I let her go on to the next test, but she did not pass that one, either.  Seeing yet another lengthy list of lessons, I realized she just hadn’t mastered this level of math, so I talked to her about shifting the test down to her actual grade level of 5th grade.  She realized this would erase all the work she had done and she’d have to start over, but she agreed that this would probably be best.  We were preparing for our spring standardized testing during the review period anyway, so I thought it would be good practice for the kind of math questions she’d be facing on that test.  After we switched grade levels, she was finally able to pass a test!  That really helped to build her confidence to see that big smiley face with the thumbs up at last!  As she moved on, there were some concepts identified that she needed to practice on, but she didn’t fail as miserably as she had on the 6th grade material.

So although she did not like working on this program, it was simply because she does not like doing math.  I had to make her do it, just as I have to make her do her math homework for school.  That’s all about her dislike of math in general and is not a reflection on the program at all.  Holden’s enthusiasm for it shows that clearly.  But I’m still glad that we worked on the program, because in the end, it did, in fact, confirm my own suspicions that Haylee is not ready to move on to new math material.  It was also good preparation for the standardized testing, which she felt she did well on this week.  As a result, I’ve decided to have her focus on an essential math skills program this next school year so she can firm up basic math concepts before moving on to pre-algebra material.  I do think, though, that the material in this program was a bit more difficult than the math program she was using, and I think that contributed to her inability to pass the tests.  But by switching the grade level as needed, I think we were still able to use it in a useful way.DSCF4203

Now that our standardized testing is behind us, I’ve also decided to have her continue working through the material in this program for 30 minutes/day for the remaining few weeks of school during her allotted math time.  I love that it is self-grading and provides all of the instruction she might need for any concepts that still give her pause.  And I love that I can log in as a parent and view each of the tests they’ve taken and actually review their responses so I can see for myself what areas caused them difficulty.  In some cases, I was able to go over the missed questions with Haylee and found that she just misunderstood the question or clicked the wrong answer but really did understand the concept and knew the correct answer, in which case I did not need to have her complete those lessons in the lesson plans.  So I was glad that I could look at the tests after the fact in this way.

Overall, I would say the program is useful for parents to see if their children have mastered math concepts and to fill in gaps in their learning, regardless of what math program they may have used that school year.  The ability to adjust the grade level as needed is great.  There were occasional glitches with the program, but I think the vendor was having some technical difficulties early in the review period that were resolved.  We did not see any problems after that.  This program could be a great tool for your students.  The one drawback for me was that I think the individualized lesson plans should have been more specific rather than generalized with each test.  I would encourage you to check out the demo and see if it could work for your family.

Take a look at what other Crew members had to say about this and other products by A+ Interactive Math by clicking the banner below.