Monthly Archives: February 2010


What is it about treats? Seems as if every time we take the girls to see a CYT play, they end up fighting in the back seat on the way home. Today was no exception.

They apologized, as they always do, after a scolding, but really, I’m thinking I don’t want to go through this yet again.

Do your “dear” children act badly during/after special treats? Is there something about treating them to some out-of-the-ordinary-course-of-events special time that feeds the selfish side of their natures?

Got any suggestions? (Other than totally giving up treats. Believe me, I’m tempted. No more CYT plays, no more Oaks Amusement Park, no more movies… Let’s become Spartans. Or…?)

TOS Crew: Zeezok Publishing

I’ve been familiar with Zeezok Publishing for a number of years. We’ve enjoyed quite a few of their composer biographies, including Bach, Mozart, and Haydn. As a part of the TOS Crew, we received a set of Chopin biographies.

We were fascinated to read about Chopin’s life. These charming books were written by Opal Wheeler in the 1940s and have been brought back into print by Zeezok Publishing. They are sensitively written and suited for children’s sensibilities. That means that they work for our conservative tastes and sensitive listeners.

The set included a study guide (by Judy Wilcox) to use with the biographies. The guide contains maps, a timeline of the composer’s life, character qualities described in the story, and lots of background information on what was happening in the world around Chopin. There was also a CD with musical excerpts (music included in the book as examples of Chopin’s music) and PDF coloring pictures taken from the illustrations in the books.

The books’ illustrations are simple pen-and-ink drawings that appeal to children. As mentioned above, coloring pages with the same illustrations are available in PDF form on the accompanying CD, so that your young ones can color as they follow along in the story.

Reading through a composer biography, while talking over the background notes, mapping the composer’s travels and marking a timeline with historical events and the names of contemporaries, is a wonderful way to make both music and history come alive. As I mentioned, we’ve really enjoyed Opal Wheeler’s series on composers, and look forward to reading more.

The Chopin early-and-later-years special set (two biographies, study guide and CD) is available from Zeezok for $30.90.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of this book, click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received free materials from Zeezok Publishing for review purposes. No additional monetary compensation was involved. Opinions expressed here are our own family’s.

TOS Crew: The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling (Apologia)

You know, when you call a book The Ultimate anything, you’re setting up some pretty big expectations. (However, when that anything is “updated and revised” and over 500 pages, you know you may be on to a good thing.)

Debra Bell’s Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling is one of the books I turned to in our early years of homeschooling. I was desperate. We’d already tried public school, and private school. The merciless bullying and Russian Roulette of teachers (as in, our poor Eldest had four teachers in her first two years, succeeding and blossoming under two of them, but the other two…) meant that there was no way we were going to throw her back in to try to swim with the sharks.

Now, The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling might not be for everyone, especially those who bristle at someone who sets up as an expert and proceeds to tell you how it ought to be done. However, I find Debra Bell a competent voice of experience. She’s been doing this for awhile, and sprinkles her chapters with anecdotes that show how her opinions on various aspects of homeschooling were formed. She’s also enlisted other homeschoolers to chip in their two cents. Bear in mind that these are her opinions, and read the book in the same spirit you’d have in a conversation with another homeschool mom who’s trodden the road ahead of you and turned back to share from her experience.

The book is part advice, part resource list (books, websites, and more). The author starts out with foundational material, as in determining why you’re homeschooling in the first place, and if you’ve got staying power. Only after examining what factors contribute to homeschooling success (and how do you measure success?) does she tackle the nuts and bolts, like choosing curriculum, considering learning styles, organizing your time and space, dealing with teens and/or toddlers, resources, record-keeping, testing and college preparation.

There’s a lot of good stuff here, and you don’t even have to read the whole book to benefit. (Though I did. I’m something of a compulsive reader. I just can’t help myself.)

Like a lot of Apologia books, there’s a companion website with additional materials. Also check out the author’s website, with links to email discussion groups (forums), and her blog.

The Ultimate Homeschool Guide is available for $20 from Apologia Press or from retailers.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of this book, click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received free copies of The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling for review purposes. No additional monetary compensation was involved. Opinions expressed here are my own.

Spring is in the air!

Today for the first time this year, I hung out laundry — a load of sheets, actually. The sun (when it wasn’t behind a cloud) was so warm! I don’t know if the sheets will be dry at the end of the day, but they’ll smell fresh and need a lot less tumbling in the dryer to finish the job.

Looking forward to more laundry tomorrow. (No, seriously! What’s better than putting sun-dried sheets on the bed? Okay, going to bed and *sleeping* on those sun-dried sheets is actually better than wrestling them onto the bed…)

Do you line-dry?

Walking with your eyes open

The other day, Youngest was complaining that her eye hurt. She thought she had an eyelash in it, or speck of dust, or something. I couldn’t see anything in her eye, but thought I’d keep an eye out for the redness that is a part of pinkeye. I thought perhaps she’d had something in her eye and the eye was still irritated.

The next day she woke up crying because her eye was so uncomfortable. I looked at her eye again, couldn’t see anything, and it wasn’t even very red. I called the eye doctor for advice, just to make sure I was on the right track — eye irritation, possible infection, since Youngest hadn’t had a cold or sniffles it might just need a hot, wet compress or perhaps an eyewash to moisten and help her feel better.

Compress didn’t help. Eyewash didn’t help. Eye was still not very red, so not pinkeye…

Consulted dh and decided to take her in to the doctor. Called eye doctor again and they said to come in. I am so very glad I didn’t just take her to our GP but to an eye specialist…

Turns out she had something lodged in her cornea, right in the middle of the pupil. Possibly happened while playing tag or climbing a tree.

One careful removal session and three days of antibiotic drops later, the eye seems to be okay.

Most people I know go to vision centers in the mall to get eye exams and glasses. We used to, before I got laser eye surgery and began going to an ophthalmologist (gee I hope that’s the word, it’s the one my spelling checker is insisting on) for checkups. It turns out our vision coverage covers one exam a year for the girls, but even if we had to pay full price it would be worth it.

I’m so glad he was there to take care of Youngest’s eye!

Whew. I never take vision for granted.

TOS Crew: Ray’s Arithmetic

Ray’s Arithmetic is math the way it used to be, before the “New Math” came in and changed the way our children learn (or don’t learn) math. (I remember the introduction of New Math in school. From one year to the next, I went from understanding and enjoying math, to confusion and hating the subject.)

Ringing endorsement

Talking about Ray’s reminds me of a conversation about math among a group of homeschool moms. One whose husband is an engineer told the rest that her husband insisted that she use Ray’s Arithmetic from the earliest years up until they were ready to start Algebra. He’d looked at a variety of math programs, and Ray’s was the one he chose. There’s an endorsement for you! (I’m not an engineer, but the most mathematically savvy people I knew in college were the engineering majors…)

I’ve been familiar with Ray’s Arithmetic for a long time. I bought a full set of Ray’s years ago, during our struggles with Eldest and math. (Didn’t seem like any program quite clicked over the years, one step forward, two steps back, that sort of thing, but we keep plugging away.) I have to admit, though, that I didn’t “get” it until I read the instructions that came with the download from Dollar Homeschool (Manual of Methods, in case you were curious).

The whole enchilada

You see, that “complete set” of Ray’s that I bought years ago… wasn’t. I have found out that there are books in the Ray’s Math Series that weren’t in my boxed set. More books. Lots more! There are 38 in the Dollar Homeschool set, to be exact, which is 30 more than I started out with. You can see a list of the books here, but in brief there are student books (basic, intermediate, and advanced math), keys, teacher editions, and “extra-curricular texts,” i.e. bookeeping, astronomy, logic, physics, and surveying and navigation among them. There’s a book that explains how to teach Ray’s arithmetic, and also a set of White’s arithmetic books as a bonus (similar approach, different author).

I paid about as much for my set of eight books, used, as Dollar Homeschool is asking for their 38 books on CD. A lot of the early work in Ray’s is done orally, which means that you can just read off the screen to your student, without having to print.

The books are in PDF format, making viewing and printing easy. See sample pages here. The pages are in their original format, reprinted from the books published in the 1800s, simple black and white pages sprinkled with old-fashioned illustrations, nothing fancy. The problems are straightforward and practical. Some concepts might seem obsolete (like the rod, a measure of distance — except that I’ve actually counted in rods, by which portages in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area are measured). You’re not going to find pears at three cents apiece, nowadays. Still, the math is sound.

Lose a book? No problem

One problem I have in our homeschool is misplaced materials. It doesn’t matter that books have a home on the shelf. Sometimes they don’t get put away, and sometimes they even disappear, and I just cannot emphasize how frustrating that is to me. That is why I love having textbooks on my computer. I can just reprint the pages I need!

I’m very excited to have the complete set of Ray’s Arithmetic books at my fingertips, and that’s not all you can find at Dollar Homeschool’s website. Their Eclectic Education Series is on my wishlist. The series includes, in addition to Ray’s, the McGuffey readers, as well as history, science, and grammar books.

The complete set of Ray’s Math Series is available on CD for $59 at Dollar Homeschool. At the moment, for a limited time you can get the entire Eclectic Education Series on CD for $159. (Just click on the Eclectic Education Series link above to find out more.)

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Dollar Homeschool products, click here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were given product downloads from Dollar Homeschool for their personal use and for review purposes. No monetary compensation was involved.

TOS Crew: Bertie’s War

I love supplementing our history studies with carefully written historical fiction, and so I was excited to receive a copy of Bertie’s War from Kregel Publications, set during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. As a bonus, the Columbus Day Storm is covered–something we’ve heard mentioned on occasion, here in the Northwest, but for the first time really got an understanding of what the storm was like. (Actually, the girls could really relate to this part of the story, after last June’s weird windstorm that–thankfully–turned out to be much less than we’d thought it would be. There was that element of word-of-mouth warnings, the sky turning a weird color, the strange feeling in the air… but thankfully almost no damage, at least where we lived.)

Bertie is 12, and everything has been going wrong for her. It doesn’t help that the world around her seems to be going crazy. There are the big fears–that the Cold War is going to explode, literally, in nuclear devastation. There are smaller fears–her dad’s a logger, a dangerous job. Then there are the everyday fears, like making a fool of herself in front of her schoolmates. In short, Bertie’s shy and afraid of just about everything, and the problem just gets worse as the story goes along. She’s a bright, imaginative child who finds refuge in fantasy and make-believe… and unfortunately, such a refuge is really no refuge at all, solving no problems and even creating problems for Bertie.

The family is nominally Christian–they go to Sunday School and church, and her parents pray, separately and together, though their prayers are silent, so that Bertie never hears examples of someone talking personally to God. Her idea of prayer is the Lord’s prayer, which is fine for rote repetition but, with Bertie’s limited understanding, makes more distance between herself and God, not less. Edited to add: When I said “fine for rote repetition” I didn’t mean rote repetition is fine, just that this is how Bertie prayed–repeating the formal prayers she’d been taught, as apparently she’d never learned how to pray any other way. This aspect of the story makes for a good discussion of prayer.

I’ve heard that the father figures in your life have a lot to do with how you see God. Bertie’s father is cold and critical–though he loves his children, he is not effusive in showing his love. Her grandfather is gruff and demanding, even somewhat abusive. God is not really a part of Bertie’s life, though as the story progresses she begins to grope towards an understanding of His love and care.

Bertie doesn’t have anyone she feels she can trust… not even herself. (She keeps messing up. She’s a kid, finite and fallible, and all the magical thinking in the world is not going to make everything come out right.) The story captures the helpless, hopeless feeling of the children who grew up in the 60’s, listening to increasingly grim news reports, watching people build and stock bomb shelters, participating in “duck and cover” drills in school.

Barbara Blakey, the author, does a good job of painting the everyday details of life, while infusing the story with the constant background tension of the Cold War. In addition, she has provided discussion questions for further study at this link. (Barbara Blakey is the author of the Total Language Plus language arts program.)


Bertie’s War is aimed at a reading audience aged 10-14. I deemed the story too frightening for our sensitive 11yo. In addition, there’s a stomach-turning, upsetting scene involving disposal of a nest of baby mice. If you read this aloud, you might want to do some judicious editing.

There was one anachronism that caught my attention. The parents in the story perform CPR on a dying grandparent. That didn’t sound right to me, so I looked up the history of CPR on the web. While mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was invented in 1956 and external chest compressions had been reported as early as 1903, according to the timeline I looked at, in 1962 only doctors would have been trained in CPR, and general public training didn’t take place until the early 1970s.


While reading Bertie’s War you might also look at this ThinkQuest web page for background information and a better idea of the big picture of world events in 1962.

Purchasing information and more reviews

Bertie’s War is available from Kregel Publications for $7.99 (paperback). Check out the publisher’s website for more titles.

More TOS Homeschool Crew reviews can be found here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew reviewers received a free copy of Bertie’s War for review. Opinions expressed here are those of this reviewer. TOS Crew reviewers receive no monetary compensation for product reviews.

TOS Crew: Homeschool Library Builder (2nd time around)

TOS Crew

I’m glad to have another opportunity to let you know about the Homeschool Library Builder (HSLB) website. If you want to check out my previous review, click here.

HSLB was started by two homeschool moms who love books. The site is a bibliophile’s dream, as it offers new and gently used books at affordable prices, with the aim of helping you build a library of your own. I have cruised the virtual aisles, drooling over, er, perusing the titles, and I can tell you there’s lots of good stuff there. For each listing, you can see the item’s retail price as well as the HSLB price, which tells you how much you’re saving.

HSLB makes a point of stocking books for those using a literature based curriculum (Sonlight, Tapestry of Grace, Beautiful Feet, and AmblesideOnline are a few of these), or learning through Unit Studies. They also offer a service where they’ll search for out-of-print books for you.

I love the way the lists of books are easy to look through. You can search by category, keyword, see new arrivals, even find a list of books that suit the current season or upcoming holiday.

Some of their other customer-friendly programs:

– Frequent buyer program. Buy books, earn points toward future purchases.

– Helping Hand. Proceeds from the sale of certain books goes towards a good cause. The current focus is Haiti.

– Marketplace. HSLB provides a forum where members can advertise goods and services.

HSLB has periodic sales. Right now they are offering 20% off everything in the store, with an additional savings of 15% on Superbowl Sunday. That’s a total of 35% off!

Click here to explore the HSLB website. While you’re there, why not sign up for their monthly newsletter? That way you’ll be notified of new sales, activity ideas, articles, and more!

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received no monetary compensation for posting reviews of the HSLB website. To read more TOS Crew reviews, please click here.