Monthly Archives: October 2010

TOS Crew: PG Key

Online safety is a big issue. I can see it in my spam folder. I can even see it in my email, when spam slips through the controls. I have been blessed not to see much of the dreck that is available online, as I am very careful in my websurfing.

Still, there’s the memory of the day I had a very young Youngest sitting in my lap, and I clicked on an innocuous looking link, and a picture popped up, and even though I closed the link as quickly as I could, Youngest’s lisping question still rings in my ears. Why is he not wearing any clothes, Mommy?


I hope our girls have enough sense not to go looking for nasty things on the Internet, but I know Middlest has seen some, while doing web research.

No matter how “good” your children are, youthful curiosity can win out over good sense, or savagely inappropriate images may be lurking behind innocuous link names, or even (as happened in our house once) a neighbor’s child might sit down at an unattended keyboard and bring up something you’d rather your children didn’t see.

Enter the PG Key.

PG Key is an Internet filter, an accountability manager… and more.

Developed by dads in the IT industry, with input from law enforcement, parenting experts, parents, and children, PG Key is a simple-to-use physical device that plugs into a USB port. With PG Key, you can control the amount of time the computer is used, as well as monitor and filter websites, email, chatrooms, and more; and keep track of your children’s computer use (as in, see everything they looked at, recorded on the PG Key itself, sort of like the black boxes on an airplane record the pilot’s actions).

PG Key costs $49.99 plus shipping, with no additional fees or subscription costs. You can get a replacement key if your registered PG Key gets lost or damaged. One PG Key device will protect one Windows-based computer running Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7.

To order PG Key or to read more about what PG Key can do to protect your family, click here.

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

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were provided with a free PG Key for personal family use and review purposes. No monetary compensation was involved.

How the days do fly!

It cannot be the last week of October already. It simply can’t.

And yet the rains have come, and heavy rains at that, as the first group of winter storms sweeps across the area. We’ve been blessed not to be driving in it — yesterday it seemed as if we hit the “lulls,” and when the worst of the rain was pounding down we were inside at various errands. We saw the results — the deep puddles, water on the parking lots and roads, but everywhere we drove, we drove in relative calm, even sunshine and rainbows.

Driving home from the orthodontist, for example, we saw no fewer than three accidents, one a car that had skidded off the freeway and spun out, ending in long grass and up against a couple of trees, surrounded by emergency vehicles. Whew.

Whenever it rains hard, or there’s a lot of water on the road, I think of a billboard along the German Autobahn (that’s like a freeway, only there’s no speed limit, or at least, there wasn’t when we were there, so people would be cruising along at 100 mph or so…). “Ab 80 kommen Sie ins schwimmen.” Loosely translated, it means, “At 50 mph, jump in the pool!”

The point was, cars on wet roads have a tendency to start hydroplaning (the wheels lose traction and you’re basically skimming on top of the water on the road) at 50 mph.

We hydroplaned once on the Autobahn. I don’t think we were going 100 mph, probably a more conservative 70. We were traveling in the direction we were supposed to be, and then without warning we were spinning wildly.

The car spun 180 degrees and for a paralyzing moment we were facing the wrong way, looking into the eyes of the drivers behind us (and remember that this was the Autobahn, so you can imagine how fast all those cars were coming at us). The car didn’t stop there, though, it kept going until we were facing the way we ought to have been facing… and then all of a sudden it came out of the spin and kept going the way it had been going, the way it was supposed to be going, at about the speed it was supposed to be going.

How do you explain that?

The Lord must have had His hand on our car. No cars were near enough to plow into us, and my husband (who was driving) didn’t have time to turn the wheels so they were still facing straight when we came out of the spin. (If the wheels had been turned, the car might have flipped or rolled.) We just went on our merry way, scared and shaken, but safe.

Ab 80 Kommen Sie ins Schwimmen.

Slow down if the road is wet. Keeps us all safer, you know?

TOS Crew: Digital Frog

For some reason Digital Frog makes me think of dissecting frogs. (Might have something to do with the fact that they came out with virtual frog dissecting software some years ago, which — considering the squeamish stomachs at our house — I put on my list for our high school years.) Yes, they do sell software that teaches frog anatomy, without the need to sacrifice the life of a frog at home on the kitchen table. But they do much more!

The people at Digital Frog are teachers, and they create natural science software. In addition to frog dissection, you can learn about the structure of the cell, and… (here’s where the Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew comes in).

Virtual field trips!

You may well have taken virtual field trips already. The Internet offers opportunities to visit historical sites, for example. The Digital Frog company has put together three field trips to the wetlands, the rainforest, and the desert.

“You are there”

The graphics are vivid. You feel as if you’re standing in the middle of a path, with the ability to look up, down, and all around. You can zoom in on the organisms (plant and animal) at your feet. There’s a guide who’s come along on the trip, with ready information on specific features surrounding you, as well as general instruction about ecosystems.

Wide range of ages

The information ranges from simple explanations to very complex. (For example, the explanation of photosynthesis can be understood by elementary-aged students, but when you get into the details, you’re hearing about complex chemical interactions worthy of high school study.)

Our girls enjoyed exploring the habitats (desert, rainforest, and wetlands). The program is intuitive, and includes tutorials to help you get the most out of the experience. If you get stuck, help is just a click away. Navigation is simple. Not only can you easily move through the program in sequence, but you can also jump to any screen at any time using the program map.

If you don’t have a desert nearby (a desert would be a long drive for us, for sure), this is the perfect way to explore a desert ecosystem. (The same goes for the other field trips.) The simulations are built around real places.

More features than I can describe here

Each of the virtual field trips is loaded with features. For example, if you load the desert exploration, you have the option of a quick geography lesson on where deserts are found in the world. As you go deeper in the lesson, you can find pictures of deserts around the world (including some that might surprise you, like the “wet desert” in Antarctica and the northern polar regions).

Just some of the features we’ve explored so far:

– geography lessons
– the field trips themselves
– hyperlinked text, giving you definitions, explanations, and pronunciations
– lessons that fit well with any study of earth science or biology
– graphic and animated explanations of cycles and biosystems
– educational games to help make the learning more interactive


There is an evolutionary undergirding of the material, expressed in subtle ways. For example, in the quiz on land formations, “water erosion” is the answer to several questions (or as Answers in Genesis puts it, “a little bit of water over a long, long time”), where the Creation Science we’ve learned would call the same kind of water erosion “a large amount of water over a short time” (as in a worldwide Flood event). There’s mention of adaptation and evolution in various topics. However, we use this sort of thing as a springboard to discussing the various theories of how things came to be as they are.

Teacher helps and student workbooks

Each field trip includes PDF files: a teacher’s guide and student workbook among these. The teacher’s guide has information on installing the program and using the features, as well as learning suggestions, resources, and learning objectives for grades K-3 and 4-12.

The student workbooks are designed to help the students interact with the material, including questions to ponder and discuss, problems to solve, charts to fill in, and more.

Versatile, educational

You can use these virtual field trips to learn about various ecosystems. The ideal would be to explore all the topics before making a real visit to a desert, or rainforest, or wetlands area. However, there’s a lot of learning here, even if it’s not convenient to make a real-life visit.

Purchase info

You can purchase these field trips from The Digital Frog at this link. Any individual field trip (Desert, Wetland, Rainforest) is $60 for a home license or $84 for a single educational  license (suitable for a co-op class), or a CD set or DVD with all three field trips is $125 for private home use or $199.00 for a single educational license. A home license is for private home use only, and includes all the features found in the full educational version.

Visit The Digital Frog website for free downloadable demos and teacher helps.

Read more Crew opinions here.

These Digital Field Trips run under Windows or Macs. System requirements:


  • Windows 2000, XP, Windows 7 or Vista (32 bit) (some features may not work in the 64 bit version of Vista)
  • 32 MB of RAM (64 or more recommended)
  • 75 MB of hard drive space for QuickTime


  • Mac OSX 10.3.9 or later
  • 30 MB of available RAM

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received a DVD-Rom from the Digital Frog for review purposes only. Opinions expressed here are our own. No monetary compensation was involved.

Ultimate House Cleaning Calendar

Here’s a handy list I stumbled across today, courtesy of the Gluten-Free Homemaker.

Ultimate House Cleaning Calendar with entries for daily, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annual, and yearly chores.

Gluten-free, you say? We’re working at it. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that we’re trying GF eating to see if it helps Eldest’s health problems. So far she reports a decrease in migraines, and she hasn’t reacted to onions lately (just a little onion powder in a dish could set her off, making potlucks and restaurant meals problematic), so perhaps eating GF is helping decrease bad reactions to other foods.

Today we had our monthly breakfast out at a gluten-free bakery, and learned that blueberry scones and cinnamon sticky buns can be delicious without wheat. We brought some sourdough bread home with us, and will see how well it goes with homemade chicken soup. (Middlest insists on sourdough with chicken soup. Let’s hope for a good report now that we’ve entered the realm of GF eating.)

TOS Crew: Foundlings from Zoe and Sozo Publishing

This is one of those reviews that is difficult to write, because I really wanted to be wildly enthusiastic about this book. We are fans of fantasy, and it’s hard to find well-written books that suit our taste (meaning: good, clean, with a clear distinction between good and evil, and where evil is not graphically described but sensitively handled; you get the idea of the evil involved without glorifying that evil through gratuitous detail. I know. It’s a tall order).

We’ve found a few. I won’t detail them here, but if you really want to know, leave a comment and I’ll email you a list of some of our favorites.

Foundlings, Book One of The Peleg Chronicles shows promise. It meets most of our criteria in the “taste” department. The evil portrayed was occasionally a little too graphic for our (somewhat sheltered) taste. A lot of Scripture is quoted, to fit the context of the story. The hero is a follower of the God of Noah.

The book is set in the days after the division of the earth, following the Tower of Babel, which is why God of the Old and New Testaments is referred to as the God of Noah. After all, they didn’t have the New Testament back then, much less the Old. A bit of name-dropping goes on (for example, Job is mentioned as if he’s an acquaintance or something of a celebrity) but the main characters in the story come from the author’s imagination, so that he doesn’t have to deal with putting words in the mouths of Biblical figures.

The author tries to imagine what the world must have been like in those old days. It’s an interesting vision. Some of it works for us, and some of it stretches our credulity a little too far–every time I read a very Scottish name in the story, I mentally get thrown out of the plot and start looking around for William Wallace or Robert the Bruce. I can understand the author’s point, but it doesn’t help me to get comfortably immersed in the reading.

The last third or so of the book gallops to an exciting conclusion, ending in a cliffhanger that leaves you wanting to know what happens next. (Good thing there’s a sequel.) The first two-thirds of the book were hard to get through, even for our most avid reader.

As I said, the author shows promise. I really wish this could be a glowing review. I have read glowing reviews of this book, by people praising the exciting adventure with its upright hero and liberal use of Scripture, its basis in Genesis, its moral tone.

One of the first lessons I learned about writing is that you learn to write by writing. Consistent, regular writing teaches priceless lessons about character development, description, plot, dialogue, pace, timing, and more. I’ve heard that writing conferences, where you have a chance to discuss your work with an editor, are also wonderful learning experiences (I haven’t been to one, yet, so this is hearsay, and yet it makes sense). Meeting regularly with a group of fellow writers to critique each others’ work is invaluable, and if at least a few members of the group have a good grasp of their craft, the critique sessions will tighten and transform your writing into something that can amaze even you.

You can see the author’s skill progress as you work your way through Foundlings. There are flashes of brilliance from the start, and they come more often as you progress, until (as I mentioned) by the end the story is galloping along and pulling you with it. This bodes well for future books, though I have to warn you that you (or your avid reader-child) may have to work hard at reading, to get to the point in this book where it finally hooks you.

Foundlings: Book 1 of the Peleg Chronicles is available for $11.95 at the author’s website. You can also get it through and other booksellers.

Read more TOS Homeschool Crew opinions of this book here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Homeschool Crew received a free copy of this book for review purposes. Opinions expressed here are those of our family. No monetary compensation was involved in the writing of this review.