Monthly Archives: October 2009

TOS Crew: Life on the Farm game


The timing was perfect.

We were just sitting down to dinner when the UPS truck pulled up outside. I hurried to the door to intercept him — the dog goes bananas if someone knocks on the door, but if you get to the door first, she just grumbles more or less under her breath.

Well. When the girls saw the return address said “We R Fun” we had to open the box immediately. When they saw it was a game the rest of the evening was planned: We’d eat, wash dishes, and sit down to play the game. They’ve been begging to play a game after dinner for a long time now, but with the busyness that the school year brings (outside activities take up the calendar) we just hadn’t managed.

Three things combined to make the most fun and diverting game night we’ve had in months:

– We’ve all been sick, the last two weeks, and most (not all) of us are feeling better and looking for diversion

– Because we’ve all been sick, all outside activities have gone out the window

Life on the Farm is a lot of fun to play!

This award-winning game was created by a Minnesota farm family and is designed to give players a taste of the dairy farmer’s life. The aim is to build a herd of 60 cows, whereupon you may retire (that’s how you win the game). It’s not so easy as it sounds — a cow can get hit by a car, or struck by lightning, or shot by mistake by a hunter. Cows can get into your neighbors’ fields, requiring restitution. Not to mention the problem of cattle auctions: It seems as if they come along just when you’re short of money, and then when you have saved up a fair amount of money to buy cows, you keep missing the auction for one reason or another!

As you go around the board, you pick up Income and Expense cards (taking in or giving out money as you go), collect cows, lose cows, sell your milk, pay taxes, take a breather in the pasture. This last became rather a popular happening — after a few unexpected expenses or crises, we’d breathe sighs of relief to land in a pasture space and get to rest for a bit!

We started the game a little tentatively, but it wasn’t long before we were throwing ourselves into the game, naming our cows as we collected them, or had to say goodbye (“That Elsie, she was a good cow, she was. I’m gonna miss her.”), grumbling about hunters cutting fences and trespassing on our land, letting cows out and causing other problems, and watching warily for the “Infernal Revenue Service” to make an appearance. The grownups enjoyed the game as much as the kids!

Four of us played the full game (the fifth was too sick to play, but found the game interesting to watch for a little, before heading back to bed) in about two hours. You can play a shorter version as well, but I doubt the girls will let us take that route. We had way too much fun playing, to cut the game short.

It’s supposed to be educational (I think we learned a lot, actually) but it’s just plain fun!

Materials are sturdy and colorful. The girls especially noticed the cute design of the play money: farm animals, a farmer, the denomination (of course), and a plain, unapologetic “In God We Trust” notation right there on every bill.

The game is designed for 2-6 players, ages 8 and up. There’s also a preschool version for younger children.

Life on the Farm is available from the We R Fun website for $25.

To see more TOS Crew reviews of this product, please click here.

Disclaimer: The First Mates on the TOS Crew each received a free copy of Life on the Farm or the Life on the Farm Preschool Version for the purpose of using and reviewing the game. TOS reviewers receive no monetary compensation for reviews. Opinions expressed here are those of our own family. Individual results may vary (but we hope you’ll have as much fun as we did).

TOS Crew: Web Design for Kids (and Curious Grown-ups)


Hey, all. How’s it going? I’m a little behind my time, as Mr. Cratchit was, but trying to catch up with all the good stuff we’ve been exploring, so I can share our family’s impressions with you.

Most of the TOS Crew reviews of Web Design for Kids (and Curious Grown-ups) were posted a month or more ago, so my apologies to you for being behind the curve. On the other hand, perhaps this is just what you were thinking about, and so the timing is right for reading this now. (Looking on the bright side…)

We enjoyed watching this video, and I learned some things even though I’ve been using some basic HTML tags for years now. (Yes, I can italicize, embolden and underline text, even strike it out and center it!)

The girls have learned a little coding from their computer-savvy dad. One even knows enough to be able to put the church’s bulletin online each week, though a lot of the work is just search-and-replace to update various elements such as hymns and scriptures. With Web Design for Kids she gained a better idea of why she was doing what she was doing, as well as why things sometimes didn’t work.

As the genial instructor on the DVD teaches, even the littlest things are important. If you leave out a bracket, for example (on the video they are called “less than” and “greater than” signs), you can cause most or even all of your webpage to apparently disappear.

Mr. Richardson, the instructor and man behind Web Design for Kids, is an experienced middle school computer literacy teacher, and it shows. The DVD simulates the perfect classroom, as a matter of fact, with two students who seem interested in what they are doing and excited about the results they’re getting as they follow the simple steps. They even laugh at the teacher’s jokes! (Actually, I think everyone in the room, including the camera crew, laughed at one of the jokes. We did, too!)

Working right along with the video, his students (and the viewer) build a simple webpage using three elements found on Windows-based computers: Notepad, Paint, and Internet Explorer. You don’t even need an Internet connection for the first few lessons.

Some of the language is simplified, and the instructor re-names some technical terms to appeal to the student’s imagination, making concepts easier and quicker to grasp. (For example, he calls closing HTML tags, you know, the ones with the forward slash, that you use to turn off things, “stop signs.”) Our 11yo had no problem with the instructions. Mr. Richardson recommends the video for ages 8 and up.

The instructor insists on capitalizing the HTML within the brackets, something an online tutorial I took says not to do. I can see his reasoning, though. It makes the codes stand out.

In the course, you learn how to create the basic frame for a webpage, view it in Internet Explorer, tweak the text with colors and special effects, and add background and pictures. As a bonus feature, the DVD includes a simple explanation of file management.

If you go to the Web Design for Kids website, you can see sample websites created by students, view a one-minute clip from the video, read a list of frequently asked questions (why learn html anyhow? why not just use a program to build websites? I was going to talk about this in my post, but he answers it so much better than I would have…)

I almost left off the most important part. If you go to the website, you can order the Web Design for Kids DVD. Right now there’s a half-price special, meaning you can get the DVD for $19.99 plus shipping and handling.

A follow-on DVD with more advanced topics is due out sometime this year.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Web Design for Kids, please click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were each given a free copy of Web Design for Kids for personal use. The TOS Crew receives no pay for writing reviews. Reviews reflect the reviewer’s own experience with the product, and the reviewer’s own opinion. Individual results may vary.

Is it swine flu, or isn’t it?

Well, it probably isn’t, from what I read of symptoms, but it certainly is a nasty crud, and all five of us have it now. Our laptop has also been ill, curiously enough. (Can laptops catch a virus? Um, not this kind at least. What we think we’re dealing with there is the power supply, a replacement of which was supposedly shipped to us nearly two weeks ago. The thing is under warranty, and so the replacement part is free, but at this point I’m sorely tempted to go out and order the replacement part on Amazon or someplace.)

That means we have a ratio of one computer to five people who are all looking for some kind of diversion. Reading can be a lot of work if you’re feeling sick. Television is okay for a time but gets boring. Ah, but the computer… it’s so wonderfully soothing. And distracting. And addictive.

I’m up before the rest of the family to get a little ‘puter time in–have had almost none over the past few days. It’s telling that “up before the rest of the family” is nearly noon. We are not in the habit of lying in past 8 or 9 o’clock, even on a day of rest. However, the cough that goes with this virus is something that keeps you awake enough in the night that you don’t really want to get up in the morning.

Hey, take your vitamins and suppplements (garlic is supposed to be good but didn’t fend this bug off forever, for us) and drink lots of liquids and gargle and do whatever you can to stay healthy. While cocooning has its merits, it really wreaks havoc with our neat and tidy schedule of classes and outside activities. Not to mention housework and other things.

Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom

Got directed to this blog today via my subscription to The Homeschool Mom‘s Site of the Week (SOTW) email newsletter.

The Homeschool Mom itself is a great resource, by the way.

Anyhow, in today’s issue they linked to Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom. It looks like there’s a lot of good information there on planning and organizing your homeschool. The current series topic is taming those piles of paper that stack up around the house.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

I’m looking foward to reading more tomorrow when my eyes aren’t crossing from weariness!

One of my aims is to get to bed before eleven. Gonna have to hustle to manage that tonight.


TOS Crew Review: Amazing Bible Timeline


I love timelines, for a number of reasons. For one thing, I’m very visual. You can tell me something and it’s “in one ear and out the other.” I often have no idea if two historical figures lived in the same era, even though their biographies contain dates and events. However, show me their entries on a timeline, and I have an instant visual understanding of who was a contemporary of whom, and what events might have been part of their back-fence gossip.

I was, early on, excited to get the Amazing Bible Timeline. It summarizes about 6,000 years of history on an oversized poster. (This assumes that the earth was created about that long ago. I have no problem with that, nor with the idea that an all-powerful God could create everything in the space of six days. He’s all-powerful, isn’t He?)

This timeline is necessarily abbreviated, giving about an inch-and-a-half of space per century. Very early centuries aren’t too crowded. Up until the Flood, as a matter of fact, you’re looking at Biblical genealogies of Adam and his descendants, one line descending from Seth and another, in a different color, from Cain. After the Flood, things really start to take off, with multiple colors to represent the families and cultures springing from Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Much of the information used to build the chart comes out of early church sources, like Ussher’s History.

Obviously, the further back you go in history, the less agreement there is on specific dates. The chart includes a disclaimer to this effect. Major world cultures are at least mentioned, though there’s not a lot of room for details. You have a visual picture of the early church splitting into Roman and Byzantine factions, a list of popes to the present day, and a brief record of the Reformation.

The closer you come to modern history, the more crowded the chart, and so the editors had to make some choices about what people and events to include. Thus, you won’t find a lot of rulers of France or England represented (something I was looking for, and so I noticed their absence) but you will find a number of the explorers who set out from Europe to the New World (something else I noticed, because we’ve been studying them in the past few weeks). The print is very small, to squeeze things in.

We’ve had some fun, tracing the Biblical genealogies and looking at the time frame we’re studying this year (we’re in the 1400s and 1500s at present). The girls have enjoyed finding familiar names and events. I’m afraid the timeline is too abbreviated to really add to our studies at present. We’ve done a lot of timeline work in the past and this timeline, in the girls’ opinion, doesn’t really add anything new, except perhaps… (read on)

A caution for your consideration: The early history of the Americas includes references to the Book of Mormon, and I’ve been told that the publishers themselves are LDS, though the publishers choose not to reveal their religious background. They do, however, publish an LDS version of the Amazing Bible Timeline, and admitted that the non-LDS version was re-created from the LDS version when the original was lost.

I have to admit that my knowledge of North and South American history is just sketchy enough to make me look at the timeline askance. I don’t know enough to recognize LDS historical claims that may be scattered among the notations, and so how can I tell our daughters which parts fit the scheme of things as we understand them, and which parts don’t? I do fairly well on the Bible references and European history (and the chart seems to reflect these accurately), but early American history is not something I’ve made a study of (yet).

Thus, we might look at entries in the timeline related to what we’re studying, just as a quick context-check, but probably wouldn’t use it for a primary source in our history studies, not, at least, until the confusion is cleared up about what on the chart is LDS-based history, and what isn’t.

The Amazing Bible Timeline retails for $29.95. Purchasers also receive links to an interactive Bible map and the timeline in PDF form.

To read more TOS reviews of this product, please click here.

I’ll be posting more about how we use timelines in our homeschool, in a future post.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew reviewers were provided a free copy The Amazing Bible Timeline for review. Members of the TOS Crew are encouraged to offer honest opinions of review products, positive or negative, and are neither required to endorse reviewed products, nor to return them to the vendor. TOS Crew reviewers receive no pay for trying products and writing reviews.

TOS Crew: Nature Friend Magazine


I’ve seen lots of ads for Nature Friend magazine. For years I’ve looked at the little postcard-sized ads that came in the mail, or in a homeschool conference packet, thought about it for a moment, and then recycled the card.

Then the good folks at Nature Friend sent the TOS Crew two issues of the magazine.

The first thing I have to tell you is that I almost didn’t get to see it! The magazine was an instant hit, and disappeared quickly from sight. I caught occasional glimpses of the first issue, in the hands of one or another of the girls, but it wasn’t until the second issue arrived that I was able to intercept and sit down with a copy.

(I did demand, and got, custody of the first issue as well, as the deadline for this review loomed closer… but I’m under orders to surrender the magazine just so soon as I hit the “Publish” button.)

You really have to see this magazine–hold it in your hands, turn the pages with their incredible images bursting off the page–to appreciate it.

I’ve heard Nature Friend compared to other, secular, nature-themed magazines for children, but the drawback to those magazines is, yes, they are secular and riddled with evolutionary theory. Nature Friend‘s motto is “Helping Families Explore the Wonders of God’s Creation” so you know right where they’re coming from.

Let me use the August issue as an illustration of what the magazine offers. On the cover is a dramatic photograph of an owl in mid-swoop, outspread claws an inch away from grasping an unsuspecting mouse. (When you turn the page, you get a two-page spread of the same photo, only expanded.)

But that’s just the start! You might very well judge this “book” by its cover… because in the Study Guide included with the issue is an article on how to photograph an owl in flight. (As you may know, owls fly silently, so being sure to get such a picture takes some work and planning ahead.) It was fascinating reading, though perhaps upsetting for younger readers as it involves using live mice as bait.

Within the magazine you’ll find articles, stories, puzzles, games, the Mailbox (questions and comments sent in by readers), fun facts, a drawing lesson, and investigations that spark wonder at God’s magnificent Creation!

…and let’s not forget the illustrations, the drawings and breathtaking photos!

(You can see photos at the Nature Friend website, for an example of what you’d see in the magazine. The photo at right came from the magazine website.)

Reader contributions (stories, poems, photographs, and more) are welcome, and one issue a year is completely devoted to reader submissions.

You can subscribe to Nature Friend for $36 a year for U.S. residents (that’s just $3 an issue, worth every penny and then some). For an additional $2 an issue, you’ll get the Study Guide, with additional reinforcement activities (plus answer keys) and lessons.

A subscription to Nature Friend would make a wonderful Christmas or birthday present! (Hint, hint.) If you have grandparents or aunts and uncles who aren’t sure what to give a homeschooling family, let them know this magazine is on your wish list!

As for me, having held the magazine in my hand, having seen our daughters’ enthusiasm, I’m subscribing. (And I’m going to hint to the girls’ aunt and uncles that an upgrade to the Study Guide would make a great Christmas present–for me!)

Edited to add:

Oops! I forgot the discount code! Use coupon code BLOG93 to save $3.00 on a new subscription to Nature Friend Magazine (valid until November 30, 2009).

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Nature Friend, click here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew reviewers were provided two free issues of Nature Friend for review.

TOS Crew: Growing Healthy Homes


Nutrition has been a concern for our family since Eldest was three, more than two decades ago. (How can the time have passed so quickly? Never mind, I’m getting sidetracked again. Please wait while I pour myself a cup of tea and get back on track.)

We’ve tried to eat in a healthy way, for the most part, due to multiple food allergies in our family. Sometimes we slide, especially around the holidays, but we’ve been trying to teach our children to make healthy choices. Part of this is teaching them about how our bodies use food, and part is getting them to notice how their bodies feel after eating certain foods. Eldest, for example, has been cutting down on sweets lately, of her own choice, and she’s being much more careful to avoid MSG in all its many forms, and the thickener carrageenan, and any form of red food coloring, as she has realized that they are migraine triggers for her. Youngest has noticed that certain foods give her a rash on her upper lip, and so she chooses to avoid them.

Middlest… well, she knows what’s healthy, but she hasn’t yet made conscious choices in her diet. In other words, she’d rather eat to delight her taste buds, and is resistant to making changes for the sake of physical wellness. It’s frustrating, but children do reach an age where they’re making their own choices, and if they choose to buy candy and chips with the money they earn, well, one can only hope that wisdom will eventually arise and they’ll make the connection, and want to be influenced by the knowledge that when they eat this they feel sick or lethargic and when they eat that they feel energized and well.

I’ve muddled along, condensing information I’ve gleaned along the way and teaching the girls from 4-H materials, Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, whole foods advocates, and other moms struggling with food allergies in their families. Being on the TOS Crew this year yielded a wonderful resource for our studies when Growing Healthy Homes provided Crew members with a PDF e-book of Nutrition 101: Choose Life!, a “family nutrition and health program.”

Packed with information and colorful illustrations, Nutrition 101 is a six-unit course in healthy living with a focus on what we eat. It makes a great supplement to a study of the human body, as the study is organized by body systems: digestive, nervous, respiratory, muscular, skeletal, cardiovascular, immune, endocrine, and more. I like that the authors’ approach is infused with scriptural principles.

If you’re familiar with naturopathy and nutritional therapy, you’ll probably be very comfortable with the material presented in Nutrition 101. If not, you’re in for an eye-opener. You are what you eat is not just a cliche, it’s reality!

It can be overwhelming to contemplate a lot of changes in your diet and lifestyle all at once, but working your way through Nutrition 101 makes for gradual change. It’s doable.

Each unit consists of four chapters, first introducing a body system and how it works, followed by the impact of nutrition on that system. Here you’ll find, also, discussion questions, activities, and additional resources, as well as recipes (and not just for food!). If you follow the authors’ suggested schedule, you can cover a chapter in a week’s time. As you go, you learn about how a system works, and then you learn how it’s affected (for better or worse) by the food you eat.

There is an answer key for the activities, and a number of appendices offering helpful charts and lists (foods, for example, that a rich in fiber, or calcium, or protein) as well as additional information on a range of related subjects, such as toxins found in household and health-and-beauty products, healthy food substitutions, and recommendations for food safety. I found the sections on asthma and cancer to be especially thought provoking, as both maladies are very prevalent in our extended family.

The activities are divided into Elementary and Secondary sections, and involve all sorts of learning, not just cooking or working with food, but making illustrations, completing charts, writing a song, making flash cards, studying scripture, conducting experiments, and doing further research through reading books and Internet searches. Each chapter contains lists of websites with additional information.

As I mention elsewhere, the recipes aren’t just for healthy foods, but also for nontoxic household cleaners and nail care products

I was already familiar with a lot of the material in this book, as we’ve been using alternative medicine for years, finding relief that allopathic medicine had not been able to provide. However, having it all together in one place has been a great help in passing this understanding on to our children. I’ve also learned a lot in the reading!

When Eldest was a cute little mite, she was diagnosed with multiple delays, some of them related to her almost-constant ear infections, plus a possibility of ADD or ADHD, though she was really too young to tell. She had a whole team of professionals assigned to her case.

One of them was her pediatrician, who kept track of the state of her ears and sort of provided oversight of the whole process. I’ll never forget one of our early visits, partly because of the tone: I felt like a spy, being given top secret instructions.

Partway through the visit, the doctor closed the door to her office, looked around, and lowered her voice. “Don’t tell anyone in the clinic what I’m about to tell you, or I’ll be a laughingstock.”

A bit taken aback, I nodded. She lowered her chin to look me straight in the eye, speaking in a near whisper. “Eliminate all sugar from her diet, as far as you can. That includes fruit juice and “natural” sugars like honey and maple syrup. Read labels. Learn all the names for sugar (dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, etc.) and avoid the stuff. Also cut out artificial colors and flavors.”

This would make her a laughingstock if her colleagues heard about it?


I read labels. I was amazed to find sugar in canned vegetables. (We switched to fresh and frozen.) While going around the store, reading labels, I found another mom following me, watching what I put in my cart. It was an odd feeling, until she walked up to me at last and said, with the air of a co-conspirator, “Are you using the Feingold Diet?”

(The Feingold Diet, it turned out, was a dietary treatment for hyperactivity, and her family eliminated sugar, artificial colors and artificial flavors for the sake of her son.)

For a month we followed our radically different diet. No more convenience foods! Cook everything from scratch! Perhaps the hardest thing: No more candy or soda!

The change was so gradual that I really didn’t notice it, until the day we were out and about and errands took longer than I’d thought they would. I hadn’t packed a snack, and we were hungry. I considered our options, and the pizza place seemed like the best, healthiest choice. What to drink with our pizza?

I remembered back to the conversation with the Feingold mom. She’d said that lemon-lime soda was the one soft drink that her family could have, because it used natural flavors and had no color added. We had lemon-lime soda with our pizza. Within minutes our little girl was bouncing off the walls, almost literally. She was running around the restaurant, and when I told her to stop, to come back and sit down, she said something that floored me.

“I want to, Mama, I really do, but I can’t!”

The desperation in her voice struck me. She was telling the truth. She really did want to obey, but the sugar had set her off. There was something to the pediatrician’s advice, after all.

Nutrition makes a difference. Not just that. Nutrition is important.

No, more than that. Nutrition can be crucial, not just to your health, but your well-being.

Choose Life, indeed.

You can download sample pages of Nutrition 101, or order your own copy, here.

The book on CD-Rom is $79.95, the pre-order price for the printed copy is $99.95 (I’d say the extra $ is worth it, because of the cost of color ink in printing from the CD version!), and a combination book-and-CD package is available for $129.95.

Would I buy this product? It’s a tough question. I think that if I’d had a chance to look at a friend’s copy, I probably would.  It would be easy to build a full year of science/health using this resource, using Nutrition 101 as the primary text for our younger daughter (along with such resources as Blood and Guts by Linda Allison), and as a supplement to a course on the human body for our high school students. There’s just so much good information here, that I’ve printed pages to use as a reference in our cooking and menu planning.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Nutrition 101 here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew reviewers were provided a free PDF copy of Nutrition 101 for review, from the publisher.