Friday, March 16, 2018

Great Homeschool Convention of Texas

I’ve never actually “attended” a homeschool convention…not in all of my 15 years of homeschooling!  A few years ago, I worked the Logic of English vendor booth at the HEAV Convention in Richmond, VA.  That’s as close as I ever got.  Since I had a vendor pass, I was able to shop the used curriculum sale and browse the rest of the vendor hall on breaks, but that was it.  I only worked one day.

I can’t imagine attending all of those seminars.  I’m in the winding-down phase of homeschooling with only one who will be left at home next school year.  He has just 4 more years before he will go to public high school, and then I can officially retire from this 19-year career as a homeschool teacher!  Image result for texas great homeschool convention 2018

But I have to admit I was excited to see that the Texas Homeschool Convention here in Fort Worth offered FREE shopping in the vendor hall on the opening night of the convention.  I decided to go and browse from 6-9 PM, and I ended up closing the place down!  I had to pay $18 to park (a bit shocking, but hey, it’s downtown Fort Worth), so it wasn’t totally free to go, but I probably wouldn’t have been happy to spend that and then pay to get in, too! 

Anyway, I really wanted to get some ideas of things I might use for Holden next Image result for bookshark 5year.  Since he’s the last one at home, I want to make next year fun for him.  It’ll be nice to do one-on-one homeschooling again, like I did in the beginning with Hayden as my one and only child.  I prepared myself by taking a list of the subjects I plan to teach, what I have that I could use to teach those (I have a lot of options since I’ve been reviewing curriculum for The Old Schoolhouse magazine for 7 years), and I put question marks next to things I wasn’t sold on so I would know what subjects to browse when I arrived.  I also had a printed list of all the books in BookShark History 5 where I had checked off the ones I already owned in the Sonlight version and circled the ones I needed to replace as new titles. 

20180315_191535I must say that most of all, I enjoyed chatting with vendors whose products I’ve already used.  I love giving feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and I guess that’s why I enjoy reviewing products so much.  I got a chance to meet Señor Gamache from La Clase Divertida, and he was such a nice man!  He offered to take a photo for Holden, who was dying to meet him.  Holden was at a soccer practice with his sister, so he missed the chance to go.  He loved seeing a real, live photo of him with mom!  Señor Gamache said the best part for him is getting to meet his “students!”

I stopped by the Sonlight booth to see all the changes they’ve made, and I spent Image result for eastern hemisphere notebooka good while discussing upcoming changes at the BookShark booth.  It looks like Core 5’s Eastern Hemisphere Notebook (EHN) will be coming out in color around June!  We start in late June, so I may not be able to wait for it, but I may order the 2017 version and then just update the EHN at that time.  I did get to peek at their new full-color IG’s for the early grades, which were really easy on the eyes!  And I got to peek at their new American History lapbooks, which I think are intended for Cores 3 and 4, but you could easily use them with Core 100, as well.  They were beautiful, and they were designed by Home School in the Woods exclusively for BookShark/Sonlight! 

I probably spent the most time talking with the representative at Classical Academic Press.  I decided to stop and ask them if they had considered Image result for song school spanishproducing a sequel to Song School Spanish, and he said YES!  In fact, they are releasing it probably in early June!  So Song School Spanish 2 is on the way shortly.  I can’t wait!  Haylee and I reviewed the first one when it first came out a few years ago, and I saved it for Holden to use in 2nd grade.  He loved it and finished the whole program!  This sequel is for upper elementary, so it will be perfect for him to use for 5th grade.  I think I’ll plan to buy that.  I also suggested they might consider doing another Review Crew run for the new one, and they seemed open to that!  I hope so.  I talked so positively about the program that the guy told his marketing director that I ought to be the one Song School Spanish at their booth!  LOL

At the Nature’s Workshop Plus booth, they had so many cool hands-on activity kits.  I picked up a few small oil pastel kits for Haylee to do.  She loves artsy stuff.  And I made some notes about potential human body models to get for Image result for apologia anatomy and physiologyHolden to use for 5th grade science.  We are currently reviewing Apologia Anatomy & Physiology, and I had ordered the Nature’s Workshop Plus lab kit to go with it.  We are enjoying all of the experiments so much that we plan to use the set for 5th grade science starting in June instead of doing BookShark Science 5 as we had originally planned.  It was nice to see that NWP had kits for all of the Apologia sciences.  If Holden really loves it next year, I may just continue with Apologia for the rest of his years at home.  I’ve reviewed Chemistry & Physics, Zoology 3:  Land Animals, and Astronomy in years’ past, so I have those on my shelves already.  I could just order the NWP lab kits to go with them, and we’d be ready to go.

Image result for eat your way through the usaAt some point, I need to plan to do a 50-state study with Holden, and a focused study on Texas history.  I have stuff to use for that already, but I did spot a really cool book called Eat Your Way Across the USA that had several recipes unique to each state.  Holden loves food and cooking and trying new things, so I think he’d really enjoy that.  I added it to my wish list at Amazon to keep in mind for when we finally getting around to doing that 50-state study.

I also jotted down that I liked the looks of Essentials in Writing 5 to possibly use Image result for essentials in writing 5for Grammar for Holden next year.  I reviewed the 9th grade version with Hayden many years ago, and it seemed like a good program.  He ended up enrolling in a charter high school, so he didn’t end up using any of the high school stuff I had, but I remembered that there were DVD videos that went with it.  When I got home, I stayed up super late, until about 2:45 this morning, doing more research on line about all the things I found, and I saw a video clip of one of the EIW5 instruction videos on YouTube.  It was pretty dull for an elementary student, so maybe I won’t go that route, or perhaps I’ll just use the workbook without the rest of it.  It’s something to think about. 

In any case, despite spending $18 on parking, I think it was a good trip.  I had a good time and got some ideas and information I was looking to get.  I always like to put my hands on new materials in person before making any purchasing decisions.  I’m not one to try something sight unseen.  That’s one of the advantages of reviewing products…I actually get to try them, and if we like them, sometimes I’ll stick with that vendor and keep buying their products or buy some more down the road when it seems appropriate.  But at least I already know what I’m getting and what will work for us.

I’m sure the convention center is packed today and tomorrow with all of those lectures taking place.  The vendor hall wasn’t too busy last night, so it seemed like the best time to go.  I’ll keep that in mind for next year, and perhaps I can carpool with someone and split the parking, or get Steve to drop me off and pick me up or something.  After all, it’s only 8 miles from home!  I feel lucky for that.

Are you going to a homeschool convention this year?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

C. R. Smith Aviation Museum

Recently, my kids and I went on a homeschool field trip to an aviation museum in Arlington, TX.  This was the first museum we’ve visited since we arrived here in TX last summer, so it was a treat to get out and see something new.  It was kind of unique, because it was attached to the American Airlines training facility.  It had lots of neat displays of things unique to that airline, like seats from their planes and uniforms of flight crew as they changed across the different decades.

The kids got to participate in separate educational programs based on their grade levels to focus on a particular topic.  I sat in Holden’s class with him, and we got to use some everyday household materials like foam bowls, paper cups, coffee filters, and masking tape to try to design something that would get sucked up into a wind tunnel with the goal being that it was float in the air without sinking or rising up out of the top of the wind tunnel.  We had fun attempting a couple of different designs.  We did pretty well at getting them to rise, but they kept rising slowly and always exited the top, so we needed something to weight them down.  Only one child was successful at getting theirs to float, but all of the kids had a great time trying.

We also had free time to explore the museum.  Haylee did a scavenger hunt with her group that allowed her to visit every exhibit and learn something from it.  Holden and I just browsed around, did some crayon rubbings of different types of planes, and went inside a passenger plane.  At the end, Holden went into the Big Blue Blocks exhibit with a bunch of little boys and had a blast jumping around and building things in there.  I got to meet some nice ladies there.
When we left, the kids and I sat in the van and ate our packed lunches, and then we shopped at a couple of places nearby.  When we got close to home, we stopped at the Sonic where Hayden works and got some slushies to end the day.
It was nice to get out with the local homeschool group again.  I’m looking forward to seeing what other events they offer this year.  One good thing about moving to a new state is that there are always lots of new things to see and do!

Monday, March 5, 2018

REVIEW: Magic Stix Washable Markers by The Pencil Grip, Inc.

We’ve really loved all of the wonderful products that we’ve tried from The Pencil Grip, Inc., so we were really excited to review the 24-pack of their new Magic Stix Washable Markers!


This 24-pack of washable Magic Stix markers comes in a clear, hard plastic carrying case with a built-in handle.  Each marker snaps in place so you can arrange the array of colors as you like.

These markers have no odor, come in bright, vibrant colors, and have vented safety caps. 

What’s more, they are guaranteed not to dry out for 7 days, even if the caps are left off completely!  That makes them especially ideal for children, but they are wonderful for adults, as well.

These are available at Amazon for just $14.72 + shipping and would make a great gift!


I had a chance to try these out for myself before Christmas, and I really fell in love with them!  I have used them at least once a week ever since I got them.  Of all the different kinds of markers that I personally have, these are my #1 choice!  I really enjoy using them in adult coloring books. 

What I like most about them is that they feel sturdy and comfortable to hold, and they a great for coloring both small and large areas.  The tips a firm and rounded, so you don’t have to worry about kids pressing too hard and damaging them, but you can still fill in detailed portions of a picture with the tips.  But when you want to fill in a larger area more quickly, you need only use them at an angle to take advantage of the broader sides of the markers.  I also really love the bright, vibrant colors!  You can really show off the array of shades when you are coloring, either by using complementary colors beside each other or by using contrasting colors.

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These are some of my adult coloring book pages that I completed with the Magic Stix.

My kids got to try them out this time, as well.  My youngest son is 10.  He doesn’t do a lot of coloring, but when he does, he likes a good, sturdy marker.  He doesn’t have great fine motor skills.  He is left-handed and was later in developing a good pencil grip and fine motor control.  But he does a pretty good job with these, and he likes the bright colors.

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These are more of my adult coloring pages done with Magic Stix.  You can see how bright and bold the colors are, as well as how you can really use the contrasting and complementary colors to make your pages “pop!" with these markers!

My daughter is 13 and is very artistic.  She’s always drawing and coloring both.  She also liked the feel of these markers, and we both really, really loved the handy storage case!  Since we color in adult coloring books so often (she does it probably every day after she finishes her school work), we both appreciate being able to align the colors by their shades, and this lovely storage case allows us to keep them in our preferred order and easily find the shade we want to use next.  The case has two plastic latches that make it easy to open and close.  You simply open and go! 

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These are my daughter’s drawings that she made herself and colored with the Magic Stix.  You can see on the left how you can even use the subtle differences in colors to accent with shading.  On the right, you can see the variety of colors!

The only disappointment we have is that both of us wish they came in an even larger assortment of colors!  It there was a 50 or 100 pack of colors, I know we’d just *have* to buy them!  I know I’ve used my original set a whole lot, and the color flows so easily…it gives me the impression that they contain a lot of ink and will really last a good while.  With other markers I’ve used, sometimes the colors start to fade as if they are drying out, even when you use them for a long time in one sitting, but not so with these.  And even if we’ve gotten distracted and have left a cap off overnight, they have not shown any signs of drying out at all!  That’s impressive to me. 

I know these are a fairly new product, but I do hope they come out with more colors soon!  I have other sets of markers in much larger sets, but despite that, these have still become my go-to favorite markers for coloring.

This is a great set for adults and kids alike, and I encourage you to give them a try!  You’ll surely see why we’ve come to love them so much.

Take a look at what other Crew members have to say about these wonderful markers by clicking the banner below.

Friday, March 2, 2018

FREE Soft Pretzel @ Auntie Anne’s Tomorrow!!!

Because it’s a 30th birthday celebration at Auntie Anne’s, stop by a participating location between 10 AM and 2 PM on Saturday, March 3rd, to get a FREE regular or cinnamon sugar soft pretzel, no purchase required!  Limit one free pretzel PER GUEST. 

In addition, they’ll be passing out coupons for B1G1F pretzels to be used during the month of March!


Monday, February 26, 2018

FREE Short Stack of Pancakes @ IHOP Tomorrow!


National Pancake Day®

Feb. 27 ★ 7am - 7pm

Pancakes with a purpose.


Tomorrow is National Pancake Day at IHOP, and that means it’s the annual herofundraiser to benefit local children’s hospitals and medical organizations. 

All you have to do is stop by your local IHOP between 7 AM and 7 PM to enjoy your free short stack of pancakes, and then on your way out, you are encouraged to drop a donation in the collection box for the charity. 

Their goal is to raise $5 million for these charities nationwide.  Since they began this fundraiser in 2006, they’ve already raised nearly $30 million!

So stop by, enjoy a hot breakfast on the house, and do your part to support sick kids in your area.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

FREE Recipe Storage and Menu Planning Website/App

I am *SO* excited!  I get daily emails from a home organization website that helps me stay on top of decluttering and organizing my home one task at a time.  Each week has a special focus on an area of the house, and each day within that week has a more specific task assigned to it to complete that area more thoroughly.  In the email are helpful related links to free printables, ideas from other readers with photos, and articles with more detailed tips and helps.  I usually glance at the daily target area and briefly browse the links and articles to see if there is anything that might organize my home better than it already is.  The newsletter is a great way to keep things purged and neat and orderly.

Join the free Declutter 365 missions to get a plan for how to declutter your entire house over the course of the year, 15 minutes at a time. These missions deal with all rooms of your home, lots of types of common objects we all have, and even has missions for digital clutter! {on Home Storage Solutions 101} #Declutter365 #Decluttering #Declutter

Today’s task was recipe and menu planning organization.  Within that email, there was an article included with reviews on some websites and apps that have been recommended by readers to help them stay on top of this task.  I track my recipes and nutrition information/calories in My Fitness Pal, but I don’t really have a good way of planning my menus.  I’m currently following the menu plans set up in the Taste of Home Comfort Food Diet Cookbooks, which keep total daily calories at about 1,400.  I use that in conjunction with my daily workouts from Summer Body Club.  I kind of loosely follow the suggested meal plans, mostly using recipes from the cookbooks, but sometimes rearranging them or swapping some out based on what my family likes.  When I make changes like that, I’ve just had to mentally store that information, and then I’ve been forced to make manual shopping lists by combing those recipes myself.  I often overlook something or intend to see if I have something and don’t write it down.  You know how that goes!

Pepper Plate Home Page

So I decided to give some of these websites/apps a try and see if any of them worked for me.  A few were free, but most had fees associated with them either up front for the app or monthly for the online service.  Some had a free version that set up limits on how many recipes you could store or what features were available to you, or an upgraded version that you paid monthly for.  None of those were the right fit for me.  Then I discovered one that was totally FREE, AND it had all the features I wanted with NO LIMITATIONS!  That’s right…unlimited storage of recipes, the ability to create menu plans, scale recipes, and create shopping lists automatically…AND you can use it online as well as on the app so you can access your information from anywhere, even on the go!  I knew I was in love!

Menu Plan

So here it is…welcome to Pepper Plate!  Best service ever.  I spent a good portion of my day glued to my computer, importing my recipes for the rest of the month, creating my menu plans, and finishing off my shopping list.  Now I’m ready to go!  I was so excited that I made my husband sit with me and look at everything it could do as soon as he got home, and I knew I just had to blog about it so you all could try it out, as well!  This is a game-changer for me.  Smile

REVIEW: UltraKey Online Family Subscription by Bytes of Learning

We were all excited to try out our typing skills by reviewing the UltraKey Online Family Subscription by Bytes of Learning!


UltraKey Online Family Subscription is a web-based subscription service that allows your family of up to 3, 5, or 8 users to learn and practice typing skills for one year for just one low price:

  • up to 3 users = $29.95
  • up to 5 users = $39.95
  • up to 8 users = $49.95

A parent can access the family dashboard to set parameters and goals for each student user, adjust settings, and view progress.  The parent also gets a free parent account, which is not counted in the total number of users, in order to practice for themselves! 

The program includes warm-ups, lessons, skills checks, free-form typing, and even a variety of fun games that help you practice your skills!

It is compatible with browsers in Windows, Mac, Chromebook, and iPad.  It uses HTML5, and no plugins are required.


I’m a pretty good typist myself.  At one point in my professional working years, I know I typed about 95 wpm consistently.  I figured I’m probably a little rusty these days since I only type on my computer at home now.  On top of that, I got a serious injury to a finger on my right hand some years ago that permanently severed nerves, leaving numbness in that finger.  So I suspected that would also be a factor in my current speed.  So for myself, I thought I could probably use to hone my skills again.  In addition, my two youngest kids who are still homeschooled have never done any formal typing lessons.  I know…it’s so bad of me…because really, every kid should develop good typing skills to benefit them in their adult lives.  They are ages 10 and 13, so I really wanted them to try out this program, too.

Before beginning the program, it’s very important for the parent administrator to read through the instructions carefully.  There are lots of settings and controls that you can customize for each student user, and I really liked that aspect of the programFamily Dashboard.  For instance, I didn’t need to see the visual hands on the screen when I was typing, but I thought my kids probably would benefit from that.  Also, I set the transparency level of the hands differently for each of them, taking their age into consideration.  You could also choose different backgrounds and color schemes.  I did something peaceful and pretty for myself, but for my 4th grader who has ADHD, I went with a solid color background so he wouldn’t get distracted.  Those are important things to consider for each individual user.  You can also decide if you want each student to have to progress through the activities in order, or if you want them to have full access to jump around as they choose. 

I was also able to choose a goal for each child or have the program pre-test them and set a goal automatically based upon the results.  Another nice feature is that if you make a selection in the settings, and then the users begin the program and find something you’ve set up isn’t a good fit for them, you can easily log in to your parent dashboard and change the settings instantly.  For instance, my kids initially had the program set a goal for them.  But for one of myGoals Report kids, I switched to set the goal manually.  Because one student has ADHD, I didn’t want the goal set too high so that he might get easily frustrated when he didn’t pass a skills test.  For him, it’s important that he feel an immediate sense of achievement.  So his goal was a bit lower.  The cool thing is that once a student completes the lessons and meets his or her goal, you can have them start the program over again, setting a higher goal for themselves the next time.  In this way, they are constantly being challenged and gradually improving their results.  Also for that student, I opted to have the program give audible instructions and cues so he wouldn’t have to do a lot of on-screen reading.  It gave him one less place to get distracted, and it worked great for him that way.

Once I set everything up, I went ahead and tried my free parent account for myself.  I have to say that I found it a lot of fun!  I had a hard time making myself stop the lessons.  And I also tried out every one of the games for myself.  They were all so much fun for me that I played many of them multiple times!  It was a little bit addicting.  Smile

Next, we alternated between the 3 of us trying out the program.  I didn’t need the initial instruction on posture and hand position, but of course, my children did.  So they completed those video instructions first, which include a nice activity where they had to identify good and bad positioning in the user shown on the screen.  I thought that was a great way to evaluate whether or not they had adequately comprehended the need for posture and position.  Then they each began their individual lessons. 

Holden, who is 10, had a hard time not looking at his fingers, so I stood to the side to remind him every now and then.  I wanted his results to accurately reflect his progress.  I also started having him work on it in the evenings with the light off in the room so he really couldn’t see the letters on the keys even if he tried, and that really seemed to help him break the habit.  He got really excited when he would complete a lesson and do the skills check and find that he passed by meeting his goal!

After each lesson, you are encouraged to take the corresponding skills check to see if you grasped the newTyping Test Report keys and could meet your typing goal using those keys.  I really liked the detailed report that you could view at the end of that, showing exactly what you missed in the text, what your gross speed was, and what your net wpm speed was after subtracting for errors.  It was helpful for both me and my daughter to see where our mistakes were being made, and it really gave us encouragement to try again so we could improve the next time around.

Haylee, who is 13, found she was doing pretty well!  Her goal was to achieve about 35 wpm, and she seemed to be doing a good job of meeting that in her lessons.  Sometimes, she had to try again, but I think she got a sense of satisfaction by mastering the lesson before moving on.

All of us enjoyed the Game Zone, though I think I probably enjoyed it the most!  I really love word games, and they had a variety of different tyGame Zonepes of games from filling in missing letters to rhymes and spelling games to rearranging a group of words into a sentence.  All the while, you were getting typing practice as well as honing your language and writing skills, and it would make a tone if you typed something incorrectly.  You also achieved a rating while completing the games.  I made it up to “Wizard 2!”

Overall, I really like this program, and I think the creators put a lot of effort into making the parameters very flexible so the parent administrator can customize the settings and make it just right for each individual user.  That makes it ideal for homeschool families who have different types of learners, learning difficulties, etc. 

My biggest snag with success was that when I learned to type in high school, I was taught to double space after a period at the end of a sentence.  In this program, it uses only one space after a period, so it kept telling me I was making extra keystrokes, and that slowed down my score.  So for the purposes of this program, I had to break that habit of double-spacing, which was tough after 30 years of typing that way!  But other than that, I was meeting my goal of 93 wpm pretty consistently, and I have no doubt that this program will help me to improve my speed even higher over time. 

I really look forward to continuing to use this program to improve my family’s typing skills over the next year, and that’s plenty of time to really make a different for each one of us.  The opportunity to complete the program over and over again with gradually increasing goals is wonderful and ensures that it will continue to challenge us to do even better in the future!

None of us has fully completed the program as of yet, but I understand that you get a little certificate of achievement on your screen at the end!  I’m sure my kids will absolutely love that.  Give this program a try and see if it’s right for your family!

Check out what other Crew members have to say about this family subscription service by clicking the banner below.