Random 5 on Friday {July 26th Edition}

I feel like all I am posting are reviews and Random 5 Posts. Guess I better finish up the Little Steps posts I have been developing.

1.  This was another week cut short by furlough days. Since Honeybear was needed all 5 days last week, he got two furlough days this week plus he took a “use or lose” leave day. So he was home Wednesday, Thursday, and Today.  His furlough day for next week is Monday.

2.  Since Honeybear was home and available, he canned green beans for us! He planted the beans, he cared for them, he picked them, and then he processed them.  I am so proud of him!


3.  We had some berries left from the farmer’s market.  Oh and some strawberries from the store.  I made a berry syrup.  Because the fruit was not “just picked” fresh, we’ve opted to use it right away rather than can it.  I should have taken a picture of the evidence that my husband had “got in the syrup”.  He sampled it and it spilled on his white shirt! He said it was good!


4.  Honeybear had his first cardiology follow up appointment today. I am pretty sure that random fact could be/should be expanded to a whole blog post.  The appointment brought home the reality that yes, yes my husband does really have heart disease and yes, he really did have a cardiac event.  Once again we were reminded how very very fortunate we were that it was not worse!

5.  On the way home from said appointment we stopped at our favorite cherry stand. They often have more than just cherries but we usually just pick up our favorite Rainier Cherries. The little baskets are $1.  The “buckets” are $5 or 2 for $9.  We always opt for the 2 for $9. As we were getting in the van, the lady came over to us and said that a watermelon had fallen when they transported and it split. She said we could have it if we wanted. We think she recognized us (we purchase cherries frequently during the summer!).  So we are enjoying watermelon tonight too!



The Pebble Pond

Come join us over at the Pebble Pond for this week’s Edition of Random 5 on Friday!


{Crew Review} Homeschool Programming: Teen Coder C# Series

I first heard about Homeschool Programming several years ago but didn’t think my girls would be interested and I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest the money.  Lately, though Turtlegirl has developed a strong interest in computer science especially computer programming. I’ve also noticed that more and more colleges want to see computer science on an applicant’s transcript. How perfect that just when I need it, the Schoolhouse Review Crew has the opportunity to review several different products from Homeschool Programming. 

Homeschool Programming TeenCoder Logo

I listed the TeenCoder C# Series as our first choice. This product is for high school (grades 9-12) and there are two semester long courses in this series.  We were blessed to receive both Windows Programming (1st Semester) and Game Programming (2nd Semester).

What will I Get?:

On the website, Homeschool Programming offers a printed textbook kit that includes the physical Student Textbook and a CD. The CD contains both Student Files and Solution Files. According to the Getting Started PDF, an electronic alternative is sometimes made available however normally it’s the printed kit. The Instructional Videos are an optional component and are not part of the course materials, though they can be purchased as part of a bundle.

As part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we received the electronic alternative. We downloaded a compressed/zipped file that contained the PDF versions of the Student Textbooks for both Windows Programming and Games Programming. Homeschool Programming sent us the physical discs for the Instructional videos.

What is TeenCoder C# Series?

The TeenCoder C# series is a hands on computer science course for high school students that teaches computer programming skills using the C# “language".  You need Microsoft Visual C# 2010 Express in order to complete the projects but information and instructions for downloading are included in the student textbook. Microsoft Visual C# 2010 Express is a FREE download.  You must register the software but registration is also free.

There are two ways to access the student and solution files, once installed on your computer. Both of these are explained in the Read Me file. For both Windows and Games you’ll find the following files on the menu interface:

Student Files:

  • Software Install Instructions
  • View Activity Documents
  • View Activity Starters
  • View My Projects
  • View ReadMe File
  • Visit Website
  • Contact

Solution Files:

  • Software Install Instructions
  • View Solution Guide
  • View Activity Solutions
  • View Tests
  • View ReadMe File
  • Visit Website
  • Contact

For both courses in the TeenCoder C# Series, you’ll find Chapters divided into 3 or four lessons, a hands-on activity for the student for each Chapter and a Chapter Review for each chapter.  (Some of the chapters in the Game Programming include more than one activity.)There is also a 10 question, multiple choice test provided for each chapter.

The Solution Guide PDF includes information for the teacher such as a scope and sequence and grading tips.

Windows Programming Covers (17 Chapters):

Although no computer programming experience is necessary before beginning Windows Programming, students should be familiar with basic computer use.

  • Introduction to Windows Programming
  • Fundamentals of C#
  • Windows Programming Concepts
  • Data Types and Variables
  • Basic Flow Control
  • User Input
  • List Boxes and Combo Boxes
  • Math Functions in C#
  • Working With Strings
  • Methods
  • Debugging and Exceptions
  • Collections
  • Object-Oriented Programming
  • Classes in C#
  • Sorting and Recursion
  • File Input and Output
  • Inheritance and Polymorphism
  • Final Project

Game Programming Covers (15 Chapters):

From the Student Textbook for Game Programming “You must have completed the TeenCoderTM: Windows Programming course prior to starting this course. The Visual C# and object-oriented concepts learned in the first course are prerequisites to learning and enjoying this game programming material.”

  • Introduction to Game Programming
  • Game Design
  • Graphics Concepts
  • Working With Images
  • User Input
  • Sprites
  • Completing Swarm
  • Animation
  • Music and Sound Effects
  • Game Physics
  • Maze Generation
  • Menus, Overlays and Deployment
  • Multiplayer Games
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Final Project

The Game Programming course requires the XNA Game Studio 4.0 software, a free downloadable plug in for the Microsoft Visual C# 2010 Express software. You do not need to set this up prior to beginning the course because downloading and installing the plug-in is the activity for chapter 1.

After completing this 2nd semester course, your student will be “well-equipped to begin writing [their] own games.”

Using TeenCoder C# Series:

I had Turtlegirl walk me through a typical-for-her week.  She starts by reading through the lesson(s) for the day.  If she needs help she will pop in the video.  (She informed me that she rarely needs the videos, but her older sister chimed in with the fact that she found them very helpful and used them most of the time.)  There is usually only one activity per chapter. She would spend 2-3 days reading the lessons and then spend 1-2 days working on the Chapter activity.  Every chapter has a chapter review and there are chapter tests available through the Solutions file.

Though Turtlegirl rarely needs the Instructional Video, I am glad that we have it. I would not be able to explain these concepts and we would need to find another resource. Both Tailorbear and BooBear have used them regularly. When either of them says “I don’t get it this lesson,” I respond with “have you watched the video for that lesson?” Watching the video usually clears up and confusion.


Note: The opinions expressed below are based on using the first semester materials for the 8 week review period.

Thoughts from Tailorbear:

I explicitly enjoy everything about this program. Minus one thing. I don’t like the grey strips of code you find in the lesson. The actual Visual C# programmer doesn’t work the same way the grey strips do. However once I worked with it more I figured it out. The activities although equipped with instructions, didn’t have anything visual for me until chapter four. THAT was  frustrating. I look forward to making more programs. This program is teaching me stuff that I really enjoy doing. Even if I’m not that good at it.

Thoughts from Turtlegirl:

I really like this program. I like how with the activities, there’s a base-line that you have to cover, but there is a lot of maneuverability for me. There’s lots of room for creativity. I like this program partly because I love computer programming (it’s something I’m considering pursuing as a career) and this is really good at explaining the basics for me. I cannot wait to begin Semester 2, when I will get to program my own games!

Thought from BooBear:

I enjoyed this program even though it challenged me. It was nice to learn so much about the computers that I have grown up seeing. I like to know how they are put together even if computer science is not my strongest point. This program offers much information on how to work with C# code. I think it is one of my favorite codes.

My Thoughts: 

I love that the TeenCoder C# Series is a self-study program. I do not have the background or experience to teach a computer programming class and thankfully with Homeschool Programming I do not have to!  Homeschool Programming was written by home school parents who do have the background and experience. I also appreciate that guidelines for grading activities as well as tests and answer keys are included. This means that I can have my high school students complete this course and give them a grade for the transcript.

I am impressed enough with the program and with how well Turtlegirl is doing that I am considering both the TeenCoder Java Series and the brand new KidCoder Web Design series. I do recommend TeenCoder C# Series if your student is interested in computer programming or needs a computer science class for high school.

TeenCoder C# Series


The Details: 

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about the different courses offered from Homeschool Programming.

Schoolhouse Review Crew Banner
All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews by clicking here.

This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.


{Crew Review}Christi the Coupon Coach

Nearly 4 years ago a dear friend of mine introduced me to couponing.  I tried it for awhile and gradually let it slip away. Sometimes it could be quite addictive (and fun!) and it is wonderful to look at a receipt and see how much money you saved.

Recently, the Molly Crew, a branch of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, had the opportunity to review Couponing Made Simple from Christi the Coupon Coach. As a member of the crew, I received a PDF copy but you can purchase the physical book ($18) or Kindle version ($4.99) if you prefer an e-book version.

Christi the Coupon Coach Logo

Because I did not receive a version of the book that is available for sale, there may be some differences between my PDF version and the Kindle or Paperback versions. My PDF has 64 pages.  It looks (according to the “see inside this book”) like the paperback version has 129 pages including lined pages in the back of book for notes or listing your rock bottom prices for the items you buy.

Christi the Coupon Couch aka Christi Bassford, is a Christian mother of four who lives in Florida.  She and her husband, Robert, “have a heart for helping people live a life of financial success.”

This easy to read and understand book contains 10 chapters:

Chapter 1 Success Stories
Chapter 2 A New Way to Shop
Chapter 3 The Language of Couponing
Chapter 4 Organization System
Chapter 5 Step-by-Step Process
Chapter 6 Tips & Tools
Chapter 7 Couponing Ethics
Chapter 8 Networking & Communicating
Chapter 9 Bonus Section
Chapter 10 Beyond Couponing

Throughout the book, Christi sprinkles success stories to encourage the reader. She also includes photos with those success stories giving a visual context for the savings.  She gives clear definitions and easy to understand step by step directions for how to organize your coupons as well as how to keep track of all the newspaper inserts. 

In addition to sharing about couponing, Ms. Bassford also shares how yard sales and thrift stores have helped her to save money.

Chapter 10 Beyond Couponing, isn’t really about couponing at all. It’s an Evangelical Protestant presentation for accepting Christ. As and Orthodox Christian, I skipped over this chapter, but I admire her for sharing her faith.

My Thoughts:

I don’t know that I would be willing to pay $18 for the paperback version, however, I might be willing to pay $4.99 for the Kindle version. She clearly defines couponing terms such as “blinkies” and “stacking” which I found helpful and I appreciate her appeal to integrity. I was very happy to see a whole chapter dedicated to Coupon Ethics.

I don’t know that an experienced couponer would find anything new in Couponing Made Simple, but those who are just beginning or inexperienced might benefit from suggested organization tips. I was introduced to the “binder method” of storage years ago and found that I like Christi’s box method and accordion file system better.

I don’t think she and I define “extreme” the same way and purchasing multiple newspapers isn’t something I am comfortable doing, nonetheless her book has reminded me to be more aware of sales and store coupons.

I am going to try to apply these steps and principles to items such as shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste etc. We earn reward points at our local pharmacy store with prescriptions. We cannot use those rewards to pay for prescriptions. Couponing Made Simple has reminded me that I could combine sales with coupons to bring the cost down and then *pay* for those items using rewards. This would greatly reduce my out of pocket spending for shampoo allowing me to have more money to buy the items that are harder for me to coupon.

The Details: 


  • Vendor: Christi the Coupon Coach
  • The Author: Christi L. Bassford
  • The Product: Couponing Made Simple
  • The Format: Available as a physical copy or as an e-book in Kindle format from Amazon.
  • The Price:  Paperback book: $18.00; Kindle: $4.99






Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about Christi the Coupon Coach.

Schoolhouse Review Crew Banner
All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews by clicking here.


This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.


Random 5 on Friday {July 19th Version}

My motto, for many years, has been “the days may be long but the years are short.”  The weeks and months are even shorter! Where did June go?  Are we really over 1/2 way finished with July?  How can I get August to slow down.  I want to ENJOY the gorgeous, not too hot, SUNNY days that we sometimes have here in the Pacific Northwest! I love PNW Summers (well most of the time and this year I have really appreciated the “typical” mild summer).

1. Today is gorgeous.  GORGEOUS.  Yesterday started out cloudy but turned into a beautiful sunny day.  Our temps this week have been on the cool side (lower to mid 70’s). I think we’ll see some 80 degree temps over the weekend.  I am so spoiled. I love lots of sunshine without the sticky humidity and over 90 degree temps. I do NOT miss Minnesota summers at all. (Though I miss my family very much!)

2. I should do a separate garden update post. We have um 9 tomatoes growing (4-5 on each plant) and there is one zucchini starting to grow! Peas are starting to be on their way out but we’ve still got a picking or two or three left of them. Green Beans are starting to come in and we had our first picking this week.  I used them in a soup I made for lunch.

3. I finished reading Misery Loves Company for a Tyndale Bloggers Network review so I’ll be posting that review next week. Thankfully, despite the fact that it deals with authors and kidnapping it really is nothing like the book Misery by Stephen King.

4. The college thing for BooBear is getting more real.  Honeybear and I got “to the parents of” mail today for Family Orientation.  No. No. No.  My baby is NOT an adult and she is NOT going to be going to college in the fall.  No!

5. I bought spiral notebooks for 17 cents a piece at Wal-Mart. I’m 45 years old and I still get giddy about back-to-school-supplies.

The Pebble Pond

Linking up with Miranda over at The Pebble Pond! It’s fun come join us for the July 19th Edition!


{Crew Review} Science for High School: Chemistry

I was not a science person when I was in high school. I avoided science and math. I was planning on marrying a rock star or something and wasn’t going to go to college so I took classes like French, German, Psychology, and Choir. As a home schooling parent, I’ve been concerned about my ability (or lack thereof) to teach high school level science. Products like Science for High School help alleviate my fears about teaching. Turtlegirl and I have been blessed to use the High School Chemistry in Your Home program for the last several weeks.

 Science for High School Review Collage


Describing High School Chemistry in your Home:

This program is research based. What does that mean? It means the student uses the student manual as a guide to research the topics to learn chemistry. The manual is divided into semesters and broken down into weeks. Each week the student should answer the questions from the student manual using the library, internet, or textbooks. Teacher/parent should meet with the student weekly to discuss the questions and the student should do the accompanying lab.

We received the manual set which includes the Student Manual which comes shrink wrapped and ready for your three-ring binder and the softcover, spiral bound manual for the parent/teacher.

Included in the Student Manual:

  • Weekly Questions divided by semester
  • Lab Manual divided by semester
  • Quizzes and Exams divided by semester

Included in the Teacher Manual:

  • Introduction
  • FAQ
  • Syllabus
  • First Semester Supply List
  • Second Semester Supply List
  • Weekly Questions divided by semester including answers
  • Lab Manual divided by semester including notes on what student should observe and possible responses
  • Quizzes and Exams (including answer keys) divided by semester

Lab equipment and chemicals necessary for this subject can be purchased directly from Science for High School. You can see the kit options here.

Each student must have their own student manual, however, this course can be done with more than one student.  Students could come together to discuss the research findings and complete lab exercises. Science for High School Discussions

Using High School Chemistry in your Home

There is a section in the FAQ in the teacher manual that suggests a weekly type of schedule. The assignments are divided up by weeks, but I like to think of those as lessons.  Some of the research requires more time and effort than other questions and we’ve found that we prefer to focus on science for about an hour a day several days a week. The lessons do average out to about 1 per week.  I like the idea of giving Turtlegirl 3 to 4 days to work through the questions for the week and then take a day where we discuss the questions, then she can take a quiz.  I like giving the labs their own day and we’re trying to match up lab days with dad’s days off.

I appreciate that as a parent, I can use this guide even though I never took chemistry in high school nor college. The information that I need is right there in the manual. I’ve come to really enjoy the discussion time with Turtlegirl. This chemistry course allows me to be more of a mentor or coach without the pressure of trying to teach these concepts.  When her answer doesn’t appear to match the manual, we research together to reconcile the two answers.

We have found it very helpful to have a science encyclopedia and a science dictionary in addition to a textbook on hand for researching the questions. The internet has also been a good source for information.  Ms. Ardoin also recommends making use of your local library.

My Thoughts:

Though this is working great for Turtlegirl, I do not think it would be such a great fit for Tailorbear. I do recommend this program but with this caveat: students need to be self-motivated and able to work without the structure of formal lessons or lectures. With this program students are not spoon fed the knowledge but rather must research from other sources to find the answers. Science for High School Indpendent Study

  Thoughts from Turtlegirl:

I am enjoying using this program. I like that I have to look up the answers for myself; I think it helps solidify the information in my brain. The questions are easy to understand. Sometimes the answers are hard to find. I like the format of the questions for the week. First are the ‘lecture’ questions, and then I have a few lab questions to answer before doing the lab. I like how there are a variety of question types. One of the things I like about the labs is that the instructions tell you exactly what you need and what to do. I also like how there are questions at the end of the lab for you to answer. One of the things that I suppose is a good thing although it frustrates me is that the answers in the teacher book are often longer and more complicated than what I can find. Overall, I am learning a great deal with this program. I think it is better for me because I can look up the answers and not have to go over a lecture in my head trying to remember if it did indeed say something about such-and-such a property. I can make sure I actually have the answers I need. I also love the weekly discussions I am getting to have with my Mom. This way, if I’m getting stuck, I can bring that up and she can help me. I am very much enjoying this program.

Science for High School Cover images

The Details:

  • Product: High School Chemistry in your Home
  • Vendor: Science for High School
  • Author: Bridget Ardoin
  • Sample Pages and Syllabus
  • Recommended Ages: according to the FAQ Chemistry should be taught in the junior or senior year because it is abstract and involves “lots of math and a grasp of some algebraic principles is needed.”  Ms. Ardoin does acknowledge that this is home school and if your student is grasping these concepts then “go ahead with chemistry!”
  • Price: $79.99 for the set of one parent guide and one student manual.  Extra student manuals are available for $24.99.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about Science for High School.

Schoolhouse Review Crew Banner
All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews by clicking here.

This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.


{Crew Review} Dig-It! Games: Mayan Mysteries

I first learned of Dig-It! Games about 2 1/2 years ago when the Schoolhouse Review Crew had the opportunity to review the Roman Town game.  Because we loved that game so much my girls were super excited to get try out the new game Mayan Mysteries.  This game is available in two formats: Online Subscription or iPad app. We reviewed the online subscription.


What is Mayan Mysteries: 

(Description provided by Turtlegirl age 15): Mayan Mysteries is an educational game that is also incredibly fun. The basic storyline is that someone is raiding the Mayan sites. The police chief calls his friend, “Q”, to come and help him solve the mystery. Q brings his niece, nephew, and their friend (you!) along. You are introduced to the story of Ichaak, a hidden Maya city. As you try to solve the mystery of the Raider and Ichaak, you are introduced to the geography, culture, and history of the Maya. (End Turtlegirl Description)

When you first log in to the game, you are greeted with a comic book style introduction to the problem, someone is looting archeological sites and stealing Mayan artifacts.  This is followed by a section with interactive activities teaching history, culture and geography. When you’ve completed all of the activities, you will get another comic strip style bit to read to move the story along.


What I especially liked:

  • The variety of activities.  These included: reading followed by multiple choice and true/false questions map work including labeling and shading, virtual archeology digs to uncover artifacts, helping people, decoding stuff and more
  • These are for older students, my teens found it challenging (as in they were learning something!) but fun
  • Because this is for older students, it means they could be independent and not need mom
  • Though only one person can play, my girls enjoyed working through it together as a team
  • This is only licensed for a single user but when you finish the game you can start another so more than one child could play the game.  My girls played as team and when they were finished, I started a new game to play myself.  When I am done, they can start another game and so on until our subscription ends.


Thoughts from Turtlegirl (age 15):

I really enjoyed this game. Part of that would be because I’m a huge fan of ancient cultures and history in general. I loved how you could choose which person (who has either some information about the Maya or an activity for you to do) to talk to first. There’s also a part of the game where you go back in time and can speak with the Ancient Mayans. I really liked that because I love science fiction like that. However, I was disappointed because at the end of the game, we did not solve who the raider was or get to Ichaak. We have to wait until the next one comes out. Tailorbear and I felt rather cheated. Other than that, we had a whole lot of fun!


Thoughts from Tailorbear (age 14):

I loved it! I liked how you were doing a whole lot of the “work”. I was really disappointed when I finished the game and we hadn’t really done much. By that I mean we hadn’t gotten as far in the story as I thought we would have gotten. I had SO much fun with it though and I’m looking forward to playing the game again and trying to get more achievements and artifacts than we did before. 

I think this game makes an excellent supplemental study when studying the Mayans. 

The Details: 

  • The Product: Mayan Mysteries Online Subscription Game
  • The Vendor: Dig-It Games!
  • Formats available:  Online subscription or iPad app
  • Price: $21.99 for a one year subscription for a single user (Online version)
  • Age Recommendation:  “Specifically Designed for grades 5-9”  My just finished 10th grade daughter loved it as much as my just finished 8th grade daughter. I enjoyed it as well.
  • A Note: This program took a long time load, we do not have the best internet speed. It is worth the loading but I think would be even more enjoyable if my download speed was a little better.  This was NOT a problem or an issue that my daughters even mentioned but just something I noticed when I played.

If you scroll to the bottom of this page, you’ll find a link to try a DEMO version of Mayan Mysteries.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about Mayan Mysteries.

Schoolhouse Review Crew Banner
All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews by clicking here.

This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.


Random 5 on Friday {July 12th Edition}

I can’t believe it’s Friday already!  [editor’s Tess Note: Ok so I started this on Friday and I finished it on Saturday.] This week has flown by but that’s because:

1. This week we had 3 doctor appointments, 1 dentist appointment, 1 final piano lesson and that was all just Monday-Wednesday.  One of the doctor appointments was a follow up for Turtlegirl because of her dislocated jaw, another was to get immunizations updated and certified for the college bound kid.  (It’s really real, isn’t it?  She really is starting college in the fall!), the third doctor appointment was really a spur of the moment since Honeybear was already there he talked to the doctor about some concerns with his bp and pulse.  He doesn’t see the cardiologist for a couple more weeks.  So our family doc squeezed him in right there on the spot and did some medicine adjustments.

2. We’ve harvested peas twice this week.  I used the first picking in hamburger gravy last night. I don’t usually put peas in my hamburger gravy but these peas were a few days old and I *needed* to use them.  I had planned on using them in Tuna Macaroni Salad but that didn’t happen.  Yesterday’s pickings looks to be enough for TWO meals.  We’ll use some in tonight’s veggie sweet and sour stir fry.  I have to figure out what to do with the rest.  I think I need to learn how to freeze peas!


3. Honeybear is now officially on Furlough (Government Sequester thing) and it started this week.  He was off on Monday.  He had last Thursday and Friday off so it was a VERY long weekend.  He’ll be off an average of 1 day per week.

4. I love my backyard.  Though we live in a subdivision our backyard borders a forest. I love the view we have :D


5.  Related to loving my backyard:  We have some wild blackberry bushes.  Blackberry bushes always makes me think of visiting my grandparents in Kentucky.  The road to their house (dirt road, like a long private driveway) was lined with wild berry bushes.  Mostly blackberry but also raspberry and other berries. If it was the right season when we visited we would just roll down the windows and pick berries as we slowly drove towards grandma’s house!  It looks like we’ll have some blackberries from our yard later this summer!


The Pebble Pond

Linking up with Miranda over at The Pebble Pond! It’s fun come join us!


Little Steps: Butter, Why it’s better and Better Butter Recipe!

*Note* I start off with lots of background information but I do share a recipe for “better butter” that is a blend of real butter and a good oil. Scroll down to find the recipe if you want to skip the *why* part.

Because of my husband’s cholesterol levels and his newly diagnosed heart disease oh and that pesky heart attack, we’re taking little steps to better health or baby steps to healthier eating. This post gives some background about where we’re starting from.

One of things the doctor recommends is a low-fat diet (not a NON-fat diet but a low fat diet). But not all fats are the same and not all fats are bad. Just because it is saturated, doesn’t mean it’s all bad either.

Eating a diet where 30-50% of your daily calories come from fat is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, if it is the right fats with the right ratios, it can be very healthy and beneficial for you. (I urge you to do your own research! Do not take my word for it and go to several different sources. There is lots of bias out there!)

I’m not going to focus on ALL fats or oils here I just want to talk about butter.  Butter gets such a bad rap from doctors. (See note above about doing your research!).

Butter, as you know, is an animal by-product. That means it’s going to contain cholesterol. That’s not something I’m going to truly address here but for some people it is a concern. Butter is also a saturated fat. That’s the big thing I want to address here. So one sees “source of cholesterol” and “saturated fat” and the AMA says “butter is bad so you must avoid butter.”  So they recommend a spread.  Let me list the ingredients for the particular spread that the hospital serves on the “heart healthy” menu:

Oil Blend (soybean, palm fruit, canola, olive oils), water, contains less than 2% of whey (milk) salt, natural and artificial flavor, vegetable monoglycerides, soy lecithin, vitamin a palmitate, vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, Lactic Acid, Beta-Carotene color and potassium sorbate and calcium disodium edta (to preserve freshness)

The label says 2.5g of saturated fat, 3 grams polyunsaturated fat and 3 grams monounsaturated fat. Please note that is says 0g of trans fat however monoglycerides fats (the type of fats in monoglycerides vary depending on source which can be animal or vegetable) including trans-fat  are never included in the nutrition information labels. (I did not know this until I started researching).  Also, it is important to note that foods can contain up to 0.49g of trans fat and still be labeled 0mg trans fat. It is very important to read the ingredient list and not just the nutrition information label.

Basically, I think putting chemicals on your toast is not healthier than butter. And despite what the label says it does not taste like butter at all.

Here’s what the label for butter says: 11g of total fat, 7g saturated fat, 0.4 polyunsaturated and 2.8g monounsaturated fat.  That is a lot of saturated fat isn’t it. That’s a scary looking number. But the ingredients are just pasteurized cream (milk) and salt. This isn’t the best butter on the market (it’s Kirkland Signature) but it doesn’t have hormones added. Here’s an article I found helpful about why butter is better.

Natural, real, butter contains natural vitamins. It contains lots of other good for you stuff that gets lost in the production of fake spreads that attempt to artificially create a “healthy” fat. According to Dr. Mercola :

The BEST butter is raw butter from grass-fed cows, preferably organic. Next is pasteurized butter from grass-fed cows, followed by regular pasteurized butter from supermarkets. Even the latter two are still a much healthier choice than margarine or spreads.

Photo of a stick of butter

Better Butter:

So if butter is already better than margarine or fake “heart healthy” spreads why would I want to make it better? And how would I do that?  Here’s some reasons for why I’ve gone back to making Better Butter:

  1. Butter needs to be refrigerated. It’s not spreadable when it’s cold. Mixing butter with oil makes it spreadable practically right out of the fridge. We take the container out when putting the bread in the toaster and when the toast is done the better butter is perfect spreading consistency.
  2. Butter is high in saturated fat. Saturated fat is necessary for optimum health but too much is not good especially if you already have heart disease which my husband does.
  3. Butter has cholesterol. The jury’s still out for me on whether or not the cholesterol in butter affects your own levels but why take a chance. By using Better Butter you reduce the cholesterol.
  4. “Everyone” seems to agree that Olive Oil is really really good for you. Better Butter is a tasty way to add more good fat, in the form of olive oil, to your diet.

Better Butter:

Remember that the quality of your better butter depends on the quality of the butter and oil that you use. The type and quality of oil you choose will also affect the taste.  The ratio of butter to oil will affect the consistency.  I recommend working your way up to a 1:1 ratio by starting with a 2:1 ratio.  I prefer to use Extra-Light Olive Oil but if you really like the flavor of a good extra virgin first cold pressing olive oil, feel free to try that. I just really like the taste of butter and by using the extra-light version, I get the butter taste without the olive oil taste. In the past I have also used Safflower Oil.  Look for organic or cold pressed and look for it at a natural grocery store or whole foods section. If you have a good source for Canola oil, that would work as well. Hmm, I might have to do some research and write a Little Steps post about oils. <grin>

You’ll Need:

Butter, Oil of choice, a Blender (I love my Vitamix!) and a container to store your better butter.


The butter in the big block is slightly cheaper than the butter sticks and since I am just going to blend it all up, I buy the blocks for better butter.  I purchased this bottle of Extra Light Olive Oil from Costco.

A month a go we started with a ratio of 2:1  2 parts butter to 1 part Olive Oil which translated to 1 block of butter (2 cups) to 1 cup of oil.   With the batch that you see in this picture we have increased the oil.  Now the ratio is 2:1.25  which translates to 2 cups butter and 1 1/4 cup oil.  This was just a tiny increase and I didn’t notice the difference on my popcorn last night. In a few weeks we’ll add another 1/4 of oil and we’ll keep adding a 1/4 cup every 3-4 weeks until we’re at the 1:1 ration (which would mean 2cups [1 block] butter and 2 cups oil)

Butter Collage

Linking this up to Try A New Recipe Tuesday over at Our 4 Kiddos


{Crew Review} PreScripts Cursive Passages and Illuminations

Recently, the Schoolhouse Review Crew had the opportunity to use and review the PreScripts books from Classical Conversations. Each selected crew member received one book. Turtlegirl (age 15, just finished up 10th grade) wanted to improve her handwriting so we choose the PreScripts Cursive Passages and Illuminations American Documents level.

I admit that I did not know much about Classical Conversations but I had the opportunity to stop at the vendor booth at my local home school convention a few weeks ago. Classical Conversations, at the heart, is a community of home schoolers who come together to use a classical based curriculum. It reminds me of a co-op.

If you visit the Classical Conversations bookstore, you’ll find resources for implementing the classical method in your home school as well as curriculum for teaching at home. Some of their products are only available through teaching communities.  PreScipts however are available for you to use in your own home.

What is PreScripts?

PreScripts is a series of 4 copy work books using cursive. Cursive is a dying art in schools because, as a society, we’ve become so dependent on the computer and other electronic devices. In addition to practicing handwriting, these books can be used for memory work and for art. Classical Conversations combines history and art so that handwriting does not end up being “mindless and disconnected”

For more details about the PreScripts Series including descriptions of each of the levels check out this PreScripts FAQ PDF.

Using PreScripts Cursive Passages and Illuminations:

On page 6 of the spiral bound, softcover book it states: “the key to good writing is daily practice.”  Classical Conversations also says “you choose the pace appropriate for your child.”   You could assign one page a day to a beginning student or a range of pages for an older student.

My three “big” girls already know and use cursive and Supergirl isn’t, in my opinion ready for cursive so I didn’t think we’d want this product.  I was wrong. Turtlegirl took a look at the website and the samples for the Passages and Illuminations book and declared, “I want to improve my handwriting and I’ve always wanted to learn how to do illuminations.”  She’s my artsy girl <grin>

Turtlegirl Illumination

She chose to start by first tracing each passage and then by copying the passage. Her hand would get tired because she was out of practice not having done copying since she was younger.  She wanted to go slower because she really wanted to ingrain the formation of the letters. In the past, when I required handwriting, she would often rush through the page “just to get it done.”  Now that this was her choice she wanted to take the time to do it well.

After about 3 weeks, she decided that she no longer needed to first trace the passage and has dropped that part of her nearly daily copywork.  She is also getting to the point where she will comfortably be able to copy one page in a sitting.

Turtlegirl works on copywork

Thoughts From Turtlegirl (age 15):

I really liked how many different styles of illuminations were included. I also enjoyed the passages they chose. I also like that they are in semi-chronological order. I am having fun using this product.

The Details:



Overall I am very pleased with the results we’re seeing.  Both her father and I see improvement in her handwriting.  What do you think?

Before and After Prescripts  

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about the different Prescripts levels from Classical Conversations.

Schoolhouse Review Crew Banner
All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews by clicking here.

This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.


{Crew Review} Institute for Excellence in Writing ~ TWSS & SWI-B

We began investigating homeschooling when my now 18 year old was a mere 14 months old. We started doing some preschool things when she was 3 and at age 4 began looking at more formal curriculum. The kindergarten  language arts program we started with listed creative writing assignments such as “write 8 sentences about dirt.” No they did not expect students that young to do the actual physical writing. Mom (or dad) would be the scribe. I struggled because I just couldn’t seem to teach Boobear to orally “write” 8 sentences!

Teaching writing quickly became my number one nemesis. I could recognize great writing. Occasionally, I might even produce some decent writing of my own, but teaching my daughters to write overwhelmed and intimidated me. That is until I discovered Institute for Excellence in Writing and Andrew Pudewa’s Teaching Writing Structure and Style along with the Student Writing Intensive program. We received the Teaching Writing/Student Writing Value Package Level B.

Photo of TWSS and SWI IEW products reviews by Tess

I was blessed to be able to review the TWSS along with SWI-C a few years ago so I begged (yes begged!) to be able to review the SWI-B with Tailorbear.  She wasn’t quite ready for SWI C when I used it with her sisters a few years ago and though she likes to write what she wants to write, she doesn’t always like to write what she needs to write. Before begging for SWI-B I looked over SWI-C and decided that Tailorbear would really benefit from doing SWI-B now rather than waiting for her to be ready to complete SWI-C. 

What is Teaching Writing Structure and Style?:

Photo from IEW of TWSS materials

TWSS is a DVD Seminar with a Practicum Workbook.  This program teaches teachers (and parents!) how to teach writing. Specifically TWSS is “a compete syllabus for teaching writings skills to children in grades 2-10.” I would go so far as to say that these methods could be adapted for first graders and I think it could be successfully used by older students and adults wanting to improve their own writing. In addition to the 6 Seminar DVDs, the program incudes a Tips and Tricks for Teaching through the Nine Units of Structure and Style DVD, and three Student Workshop DVDs labeled Elementary, Intermediate Level, and High School Level.

The Structure part of TWSS:

The structure part of the program refers to how to organize the material. Structure is a model or frame. TWSS teaches structure through nine units:

  • Unit 1: Note Making and Outlines ~ students learn to choose key words and to use a basic outline format. This is referred to as the Key Word Outline (KWO).
  • Unit 2: Summarizing From Notes: ~ with this unit students learn to write summaries using their own key word outlines.
  • Unit 3: Summarizing Narrative Stories: ~ In this unit children learn to identify elements of a story sequence (characters, plot, resolution) and use that information to summarize a story. This unit also introduces the very important concept that each paragraph has a purpose.
  • Unit 4: Summarizing References: ~ With this unit students are introduced to the Topic Sentence and Paragraph clincher. Students learn to use the library to finding reading material on a topic, take notes (similar to the KWO idea of units 1 & 2) and write a summary. Unit 4 is closely linked with Unit 6.  Unit 4 tends to be one topic first with one source (short) and move on to multiple topics and longer source text. Unit 4 uses only one source text even if the student chooses multiple topics (paragraphs).
  • Unit 5: Writing From Pictures: ~ One of the goals of this unit is to exercise imagination and creativity. The student gets to create all the details of setting, character motivation etc. This unit can be used to introduce or reinforce the topic/clincher relationship.
  • Unit 6: Library Research Reports: ~ Unit 6 is really a continuation of Unit 4 and the two are listed together in the seminar workbook materials. There are 5 stages described in the Teaching Procedure: the first three are covered as part of Unit 4. Unit 6 covers stages 4 and 5. With Unit 6 students use multiple sources.
  • Unit 7: Creative Writing: ~ This unit gives students a structure to use when writing about something that isn’t a report such as a letter to grandma or an essay about how they spent their summer vacation. I love that the seminar workbook materials include a list of ideas for creative writing assignments!
  • Unit 8: Essay Writing: ~ This unit will teach the proper structure for formal essays.
  • Unit 9: Critiques: ~ This unit is the structure for book reports, reviews, and critiques. Unit 9 combines the basic story sequence chart (Unit 3) with introduction and conclusion paragraphs to form a five paragraph essay.

Three pictures of different parts of TWSS program 

The Style part of TWSS:

If structure is the frame, style is what makes it pretty. The style part of the program is taught throughout the nine units at the student’s pace. In the TWSS seminar notebook, one tab is devoted to “Stylistic Techniques”. This is the syllabus for teaching style. In the DVD workshop Mr. Pudewa emphatically states that each technique should be taught one at time. He covers all of them all at once in the DVD so that teachers will be familiar with them but he tells us to not do that to our students. When a student has mastered one type of technique you can introduce another one. The techniques used are:

  • Dress Ups ~ there are six of these. Dress Ups are the first techniques taught
  • Sentence Openers ~ I think my 9th grade English teacher would get along well with Andrew Pudewa.  Ms. Bradovitch was very big on varying your sentence formats.
  • Decorations ~ When I think of writing style, I think of types of things you’ll find in the decorations section such as asking a question or using alliteration.
  • Sentence Styles ~ Also called Triple Extensions.  The idea is to repeat something within the sentence 3 times such as repeating three verbs, or three –ly words.

If you like lesson planning and are comfortable making your own, then you will find that TWSS will provide all that you need to create your own writing lessons custom fit for your students. The TWSS includes: Goals, Recommend Materials, Teaching Procedure, and Adjusting for Grade Level for each of the nine units as well as for teaching style. You’ll also find a sample year’s schedule and sample lesson plans as well as charts and information that you can use to make wall posters for your classroom. (For home use I highly recommend the Portable Wall).

If you are like me and love the idea of creating tailor-fit lessons for each child but really need more structure and hand holding, then you’ll want one of the Student Writing Intensive courses. 

Three photos showing different parts of SWI B

What is Student Writing Intensive – B?:

IEW describes the SWI as a “jump-start for teaching writing to [your] students by providing direct instruction for students or model lessons for teachers.”  I think of it as a good friend/mentor who holds my hand. The Student Writing Intensive provides all the handouts and materials that you need. I love that source texts, mini-books, charts and checklists are all there for me and I do not have to go hunting for the right length of a paragraph or an appropriate multiple topic single source for teaching Unit 4 concepts.

IEW Photo of SWI B materials

Student Writing Intensive Level B is intended for students in the middle school range (6-8 grades). I am using it through the summer with my 14 year old who just finished 8th grade. She’s had some exposure to IEW in the past but has a desire to focus more on creative writing. I don’t feel she is quite ready for the formal writing of high school (which is covered very well in SWI –C). SWI-B is working out great. She’s building the skills and the confidence in those skills that she’ll need to be successful in high school.

SWI focuses on units 1, 2, 3, 4/6 and 7. It does not cover unit 5, 8 or 9. For style the students will learn the 6 Dress Ups and the 6 Sentence Openers. Andrew Pudewa teaches these concepts on the DVDs. Originally, these DVD classes consisted of four 2.5 hour sessions. (No wonder it’s called Intensive!). 

IEW has taken those intensive sessions and broken them down into 15 Lessons. The suggested course schedule (included!) covers each lesson over 2 weeks providing 30 weeks worth of assignments. You can double up and complete the course in just 15 weeks if you wish.

We’re choosing to modify the schedule a bit by focusing on writing 3- 4 days a week instead of 5 days, but we are still completing one week’s worth of material in one week. This allows us to add in literature studies and grammar lessons so that we have a more rounded complete language arts program. Neither the TWSS nor the SWI include lessons for spelling, handwriting, or formal grammar. This is addressed on page two of the Overview in the TWSS Seminar Workbook.

Tailor Bear creates a Key Word Outline.

Can you use the Student Writing Intensive program without the TWSS?:

Yes, you could. IEW now includes an Overview DVD with the SWI DVDs. IEW, in the Teacher’s Instructions for Using the Student Writing Intensive Level B, says this :

If you do not have the teacher’s course, you can still use the SWI successfully. Watching the Structure and Style Overview will give you an overview of our writing methods. Reading the archived newsletter articles on the Excellence in Writing website and exploring our Help & Support section will also give you more help using our programs.

But I really recommend begging, borrowing, or purchasing the TWSS. Never mind the fact that Andrew Pudewa is very funny and easy to listen to, he’s done his research. He’s tried this method. Successfully used this method. By watching TWSS, I gained confidence in my own ability to not only teach writing but to improve my own writing.

The TWSS makes it easier for me to require written essays and papers for other classes because this is a system that provides me with a solid way to evaluate those papers. TWSS even includes sample check off lists that I have used to grade Boobear’s papers for Music Appreciation and Government courses. As Tailorbear begins her high school career in the fall, I will actually assign the suggested weekly current events report for our American History program. I know that the SWI will teach Tailorbear the skills she needs to organize those 1-3 paragraph papers and the TWI provides me with the guidance to create a checklist for evaluation.

Because the SWI does not cover all the units, having the TWSS means that I can continue to implement the structure concepts not covered and I can continue to add to my daughters’ style repertoire.

My recommended plan for using TWSS with SWI:

Invest the time to watch the entire Teaching Writing Structure and Style DVD seminar. I found that if I tried to watch more than hour at a time though, my head would spin from information overload. Fortunately, IEW included a DISC menu with the Seminar Notebook so I could find excellent stopping points.

If you do not have an extra two weeks or so to watch the TWSS before you need to begin the SWI, I would make the time to at least watch the Overview DVD now included with the SWI DVDs.

Whether you watch the whole TWSS or just the Overview DVD, I encourage you to make use of the Lesson Plan suggestions in the SWI which tell you which parts of the TWSS to watch as a refresher. For example Lesson 7 states “If you have our teacher’s course you may wish to review Disc 2 starting at “Observation from Practicum” to the end of the disc. It goes on to tell you which pages to read in the notebook. (This feature is one of my favorites from the SWI materials. I like this connection between the SWI and the TWSS)

KWO and finished paragraph

My Bottom Line:

This program lays such a solid foundation that I strongly recommend using this program.  It does require an investment of time by the parent/teacher/mentor because students need feedback, however, with the DVD sessions, I do not have to do the actual teaching. Tailorbear watches the DVD and does the writing assignments. I have come to enjoy our weekly (and sometimes semi-weekly) meetings where I read her paragraph and we discuss her dress-ups and I make notes of any grammar.  I love the encouragement that I get from watching the TWSS.  Because of the TWSS, I know that I don’t have to worry about all the aspects of writing. I can focus on what she is learning now, knowing that we’ll come back again and again to the different concepts. I was afraid of IEW because I thought it would be so much more teacher intensive than it is and I was afraid because I had sticker shock. Don’t be like me and allow your fears to cause you to miss out on the best writing program on the market!    home page logo for IEW

Summary of Details:

Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed all three levels of the SWI (A, B & C). In addition to the TWSS & SWI combo. some Crew members reviewed Teaching the Classics another fabulous program available through IEW. Be sure to visit the blog to read what others have to say about Institute for Excellence in Writing.


This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.

All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.
You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews by clicking here.