Thursday, November 8, 2018

Homeschool Review Crew Applications are Now Open

This year, I've had the opportunity to participate in the Homeschool Review Crew. The Homeschool Review Crew is one of the divisions of The Old Schoolhouse® which also includes a quarterly published magazine, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and Schoolhouse Teachers which is an excellent on-line resource of self-paced classes for students and families. As a result of being on the Homeschool Review Crew, I have had the option to use and review products that we might not have tried otherwise. We have discovered excellent learning tools to use to our home school.

Each review was done after using the product with a student or students for a recommended period of time. Most here were done with my daughter, my current home school student. We have discovered useful curriculum and incorporated many new resources into our home school efforts as a result of doing the reviews.

There have been so many benefits to being a member of Homeschool Review Crew. An obvious one is the access to curriculum and products that I might not have tried otherwise. There have been side benefits beyond just added homeschooling materials. There is access to a supportive community of homeschooling moms and mentors via an online forum. Questions regarding products and reviews are welcome there, as well as, feedback for written reviews. 

Another added value for me has come from the increased writing that I have had to do. The external motivation that comes from a commitment with deadlines helps produce results! Being a part of "The Crew" has bumped up my writing confidence and my writing productivity. It has given me a group of supportive homeschooling moms who are also writing consistently and available for encouragement and information.

If you have any interest in participating, reviewing new products and improving your writing because you'll being doing more of it. Check out the info by clicking the banner below.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Balancing Diapers and Deadlines - A Course Review

Lisa Tanner is a writer, blogger, and work at home mom of eight children. She is a free lance writer and home schools her children. You can find her at Lisa Tanner Writing.
Balancing Diapers and Deadlines is one of the helpful courses she has created to share her knowledge of how to get things done. Based on her experience of running a business, while raising and homeschooling her children, she shares effective strategies to be productive and accomplish goals.

As a Homeschool Review Crew participant, I had the opportunity to take and review Lisa's course Diapers and Deadlines. For myself, with only young adults and a teen student still at home, our homeschooling responsibilities are coming to a close. I certainly don't have the needs of young ones to take into consideration anymore. However, the prospect of learning some time management skills from someone who manages to accomplish as much as Lisa, was enough for me to enthusiastically join in, on this one.

What Lisa has put together in this course is impressive! It is practical and encouraging. If your babies are grown, don't let the diapers in the title discourage you; this course is useful for anyone working from home. We can all use tools to help maintain balance in our work and home responsibilities, no matter the ages of family members. Presented in eight units beginning with an introduction and the basics, each unit includes 4-8 lessons within.

The Unit titles are:

Welcome to Balancing Diapers and Deadlines
Building Your Foundation with the Basics
Minimize Your Decisions
Minimize Your Decisions: The Annual Meal Plan
Sustainable Growth
Growing a Business with Your Kids Around
Boost Your Productivity
Closing Thoughts

In the study units, Lisa introduces overall concepts like; getting your family on board with your business, building a foundation and minimizing decisions. She describes how a concept applies to productivity and gives suggestions to address and complete tasks with examples of how an idea has worked for her family. She provides very doable action steps to use in your own situation. The lessons are sprinkled with sufficient reminders to be flexible and creative in applying them in your family.
"Planned fun helps with motivation." -
Lisa Tanner

If you have been homeschooling and/or working from home for a while, you might feel the pull, as I did at first glance, to quickly move through or even skip the units with titles that suggest lessons on the basics. After reading through a few lessons from the beginning, I began applying a few of the helpful action steps that followed. As a result, I started to evaluate some of my basic routines and my current situation in a new light. I am now in the process of returning to some routines that have fallen by the wayside and am completely overhauling others, most notably; meal planning.

One simple and basic I'm returning to was prompted by Lisa's 15 Minute Quick Clean. A time limited pick up/clean up is something I used when my children were small, to get them to participate. Reading her creative adaptation to the same idea sparked the renewal of this technique for myself. Along with the wonderful reminder to enjoy the process, put some music on! Why do I forget this? Might as well have a little fun and dance while cleaning up, even if (or now that kids are big) especially when, I'm cleaning by myself!

An example of a bigger overhaul in my routines, prompted by Lisa's course, falls under the concept of minimizing decisions. I see how we all get bogged down with too many daily decisions and how making as many as possible in advance can increase ones productivity tremendously. I'm on board with this and appreciate the suggestions Lisa gives about where to make decisions in advance.

The place I currently most want to minimize daily decision making, in my own life, is in the area of meal planning. Lisa understandably, gives meal planning it's own unit. The process of determining what's for breakfast, lunch and dinner on a daily basis, takes it's toll and frequently results in less than optimal nutrition for my family. I have done weekly meal planning off and on over the years. It is a task I don't enjoy and am truly overwhelmed by.

Just beginning, still overwhelmed
but, determined to give meal
planning another try.
Balancing Diapers and Deadlines provided the motivation, so with printable pages provided through the course, I'm diving back in. Lisa's example of a yearly plan, quite frankly, seemed crazy and impossible at first but, as I read through the lessons in the unit and printed out some of her examples, the idea started to fall into place. Having themed dinner ideas makes sense to me. It still allows for some flexibility and creativity while providing the needed structure to get it done and minimize daily decision making - leaving energy for productivity in other areas.

My current challenge is actually preparing for and adjusting to the many transitions our family is undergoing, finding focus for my own endeavors as we move into a new season of life. While we have our routines in this phase, the rhythms are changing which can make productivity a challenge. Lisa created this course to give info to moms and help them accomplish their goals while still caring for their families. She offers down to earth practical advice and suggestions for the necessary day to day basics that need to be accomplished for the healthy effective functioning of a family.

At first glance through the early units some of the lessons seemed too basic but as I progressed through the units, I also found myself returning to those basics. I reflected on and re-evaluated my current routines and how they are addressing the needs of family members and my own needs as I pursue a new and developing list of my own goals.

To read more reviews by Homeschool Review Crew 
of Lisa Tanner's Balancing Diapers and Deadlines Course, 
Click the banner below. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Just a Little Bit of Trick Or Treat

Last night, we juggled our usual annual family Halloween birthday dinner for my son with answering the door for costume adorned children chanting "Trick or Treat".

It is always a festive celebration for our family of our second born. It is typically, a similar atmosphere to what we experienced on the actual day of his birth, at home on Halloween two decades ago. Family togetherness interspersed with short sweet visits from happy little ones asking for treats.

Probably, like in most neighborhoods, it is hard to predict the amount of trick or treat traffic that will wander our sidewalks and climb the too big cement steps to our door. This year, we had a picture perfect fall day with the trees still full of color, a few leaves gently drifting to the pavement and lawns. The temperature was just right, not too cold, not too warm. It was beautiful fall weather and the little goblins responded. Trick or treat turn out was high. I wasn't as treat prepared as I should have been. As we celebrated at our family table, we took turns answering the door.

After dinner, I answered for one very large pack of small tricksters, in the midst of their visit, I ran out of candy. With a bowl completely empty in my hand, I got quite the look from one very small fairy princess. From her expression, I gathered that I must have been the dumbest witch she had ever laid eyes on. How could I have dared to answer the door! It probably didn't help my cause but, her glare did make me laugh out loud. I'll try to be better prepared for future Halloween festivities. I certainly hope I am in case the fairy princess rings my door bell as a preteen.
But it was the comment from the sidewalk in regards to the lack of candy, that made my Halloween evening. In a cheerful voice from the little boy in the ninja turtle costume, in a wheel chair, he shouted with a big smile, "That's o.k. Happy Halloween!" He melted my heart!

The lessons just keep comin'!
Happy November!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

We Need To Talk - A Book Review

In recent years, I haven't spent as much time reading as I used to, or as I would really like to. Life is so busy, schedules full and screen time and scrolling have intruded. I intentionally shut the last one down on a somewhat regular basis but it creeps back in. When I visit a library or a book store though, my desire and compulsion to read the printed page kicks back in and I usually find a title, or two, or five, that end up in a stack near my desk or at least on a 'to read' list that I keep.

At the top of a recently gathered stack was; We Need to Talk How to Have Conversations That Matter by Celeste Headlee. Celeste Headlee is a radio host with NPR. She has conversed with many guests on her broadcasts. In her book, she addresses what many have noticed in our culture today, the increasing difficulty of having meaningful conversations. Important discussions have decreased, even amidst our increasing connectivity to one another through technology. She writes about this dichotomy with a fluid flow of words that makes for a quick, entertaining and encouraging read.

She presents some of the problems, mentions research, identifies strategies and provides inspiration for why paying attention to and improving our conversation skills is so important in all areas of our lives.

She discusses five key strategies for facilitating dialogue:
  • be curious
  • check your bias
  • show respect
  • stay the course
  • end well
She provides an overall memorable take away in the lovely example of playing a game of catch. Having played catch more that a few times with my sons, I find the simple metaphor delightful. Back and forth with an easy rhythm is the most enjoyable way to play the game. So it is is with conversation, as well. In our media saturated lives the art of conversation is losing ground. Maybe it's time to make a commitment to picking up a mitt and playing catch in a dialog. We could all use the practice.

The book challenges every reader to work at improving conversational skills. Celeste suggests asking questions as one great way to practice conversation and increase listening attention. To continue the game of catch metaphor, asking a question is like putting on a glove and tossing the ball to your partner. I plan to ask more questions while trying to keep in mind, one of the fascinating tidbits of information shared from the research; pleasure centers in our brains are stimulated by talking about ourselves, (it's like an addiction!). I'm going to try to remember that the next time someone (myself included) hogs the ball!

Read the book. Ask a question. Play ball!

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Wordless Wednesday Fall Photos

Living in a climate with changing seasons, there is nothing quite like an autumn day to inspire me to attempt to capture the beauty of the natural world. I think each of these photos says something about that beauty without a caption. Do you agree? Please, let me know in the comments below. I love an honest critique! Enjoy and find inspiration in your surroundings, wherever you are.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

CashCrunch Review

This is a review of CashCrunch Careers, one of the tools offered on the online resource of CashCrunch Games. CashCrunch Careers is a career survey and aptitude assessment tool developed by Paul Vasey. It is available on his website CashCrunch Games. We were provided access for two users to the CashCrunch Games survey. The survey can be taken in 10-15 minutes. The survey results are then available to the student to assist them in the process of evaluating their own interests, strengths and aptitudes. Following the survey results a Careers Report is provided with a summary of the students strengths, interests and attributes. From there they can further explore how their personal profile can lead to certain career choices. Using the results they can begin a more in depth exploration of potential career paths. Resources with additional information regarding general categories of work and more specific requirements of certain jobs are built into the website. 

CashCrunchCareers begins with a survey that takes about 15 minutes to complete.

Final survey results provide feedback to the participant. Two of my young adult children took the survey and explored the information provided. They were each provided with a printable download of Career Survey Report that included sections for:
  • Career Work Styles
  • Motivators & De-motivators The bullet point list here offered useful feedback for my daughter. I saw the explanations as true to her personality but don't think I or she could have pulled the synopsis together as clearly.
  • Career Attributes
  • Career Match
  • Matching Jobs This section is the section which is divided into job categories and within each category there is a list of jobs available within in that category. By looking deeper into each area more specific information is provided. It is here that more specific performance tasks are listed for jobs. This is where college lists and videos giving more info about tasks and activities involved in performing a particular job are provided.

After obtaining the survey results each student is provided with an extensive and linked list of possibilities of career options in the matching jobs section. Exploration of that list leads to the suggested paths to follow and to a more specific list of occupations with descriptions of the roles and tasks involved in that occupation. Each section is broken down into a list of specific job possibilities within the category and the roles involved. Click into the list deeper and you will find information regarding the tasks and activities to perform the job. Short videos are provided about each job as well as lists of potential colleges.


My daughter is currently in her last year of homeschooling. She intends to continue her dance training following graduation. She has a potentially workable plan but it also very aware that dance will probably be one of two or more lifetime career paths. It is the additional career options that she is still exploring. She completed her survey and we explored the results. She read the summary of her Career Survey Report, the suggestions and information provided. I'm don't think she came to any definite conclusions as a result of reviewing her CashCrunch Career Report but she is certainly more aware of the many possibilities ahead of her and of where some of her interests might lead.

My 19 year old son also took the survey and reviewed the results. For him, I think it was the initial report that reads as a personal traits summary that was most useful. He communicated to me that he thought the specifics about the jobs provided would be changing rapidly. Despite the information contained in the videos, my son didn't find them inspiring enough.
I don't see this tool as a one time use and move on resource. Given the rate of change and the dynamic aspects of our economy, this is a tool that can be returned to over and over. It could be used to begin a reassessment if someone is re-evaluating a job choice or looking to make a change. I see this as a potentially useful tool in that way for my 19 year old son. He is currently completing his general education requirements while in his second year of college and has not yet narrowed down his field of study. I will encourage him to return to this survey over the next year for info and to assist in pointing him in directions of further research as he plans for his second two years of college.

While the survey itself takes only 15-20 minutes to complete, reviewing the potential opportunities, as would be expected, does take more time. There is enough information available for anyone to  follow up the survey with ongoing exploration and to obtain a fairly clear understanding of the initial requirements for a specific career pursuit. This is where I see the value for my son with his high expectations of this online resource.

Initially when my daughter first took the survey, I considered the $99.00 price point per individual user a little steep. After she completed her survey, explored the results, suggestions and further information provided, I can see the benefits of the use of this product over an extended period of time possibly justifying that cost. I do, however, still consider the price a little high for one user.

CashCrunch Careers was developed by Paul Vasey. It is one of several products that he offers on his CashCrunch Games website. There are other products that look useful. The Personal Finance Bite Size is a curriculum that I intend to use as a review with my daughter this year before she leaves our home. The Personal Finance Bite Size is available on the CashCrunch Games website or on the Old Schoolhouse Teachers members website. I had a question about access to the product we reviewed and got an immediate and cheerful response from Paul. He is obviously very enthusiastic about creating products to improve financial literacy among students. It is an important goal. I think the use of his products will help to achieve it.
To read more reviews done by homeschooling families of Cash Crunch Careers, click on a banner below to find the links on the Homeschool Review Crew site. 

Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Pets in Our Homeschooling for Wordless Wednesday

This post linked to Wordless Wednesday at Life at Rossmont. Click the banner to visit and join in.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Monday Muffin Motivation

I do love the autumn. Especially on those clear crisp days of beautiful blue skies and vivid colors of late blossoming flowers, end of season harvests and fall foliage, I love getting out to walk and take photos of the loveliness of nature at this time of year. 

Today though, here in Chicagoland, it is a dreary fall Monday but, even the cloudy drizzly days have their beauty and can be turned into some motivation. I currently have a butternut squash in the oven, preparing it to add warmth and vitamin 'A' to tonight's evening meal, as the main ingredient of a healthy comfort soup. The muffins will follow as a treat all week (if they last that long).

Butternut Squash Soup

1 small - medium butternut squash
1 16 oz.can chicken broth
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash lemon pepper or white pepper
1 tablespoon honey
chopped fresh chives for garnish

Halve the squash, remove seeds and bake at 350 in baking pan in shallow water cut side down, turn cut side up after about 20 minutes.
Bake another 15-20 minutes for a total 30-40 minutes total or until tender.
Spoon squash from peel into food processor or blender and puree. (When in a hurry, I have skipped this step, but the resulting texture isn't as nice.)
Combine baked pureed squash and broth in a large saucepan bring to a boil and simmer.
Over medium heat stir in sour cream, butter, cayenne and honey. Add salt and white pepper.
Cook soup until thoroughly heated.
Garnish with chives. And if you like a small extra dollop of sour cream.                                     

This one brings cheer to any autumn menu. Monday muffins, sharing the best last...

Another fall favorite of ours is this wonderful Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffin recipe. I have been making this one for years and have shared it on my doula website for almost as long. 

Pumpkin Muffins

A long time favorite in our household, this pumpkin chocolate chip muffin recipe has evolved and while still a bit decedent with the chocolate chips involved, it does have less sugar than the original recipe and the butter has been reduced. I use all whole wheat flour. 
These freeze well and are still yummy upon reheating. Make sure you put some aside to freeze or you'll have to start over as they will go so fast.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

12 standard or 48 mini
1 2/3 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
a pinch of cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup plain pumpkin (half of a 1 lb. can)
6 Tablespoons butter melted
1 cup chocolate chips (dark chocolate works for me)
Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, spice, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
Break eggs into another bowl add pumpkin and melted butter. Whisk until well blended.
Pour over dry ingredients and fold in just until dry ingredients are moistened.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Scoop batter into lined muffin tins.
Bake 20-25 minutes or until springy to the touch in the center.
Turn onto a rack to cool.

Put some of the muffins aside to freeze or you'll have to start baking all over again - they will go fast.