Monday, August 31, 2009

It IS Rocket Science! The Study Pod Book Holder

On Friday I received a really fun package in the mail.  At first I was a little confused because when I opened the box from Studypod the item inside was so compact and sleek  It could easily fit on my bookshelf and blend in with the other books on the shelf.  This couldn't be the bookholder I was expecting, could it?

I quickly scanned the instructions and began to set my Studypod up on the kitchen table to hold a notebook.  There are three quick instructions to follow when opening and using your studypod.  At first, this seemed complicated to me (I'm not an instruction-reader), but after the first time I didn't need to use the instructions at all to set up our book holder. 

I think that this particular book holder is genius maybe that's why the parent company is named Genio!  I can think of so many uses for it, in addition to our homeschool.  When my husband saw it, he immediately said, "Oh!  You could use that to hold your cookbooks when you're workng from a recipe!"  I also could use it to hold a knit or crochet pattern.  And I have visions of propping a book up in the studypod while reading in bed.  We will definitely use it in our homeschool.  Rght now I'm reading the boys a book about the Greek myths.  It's a large book with a lot of great pictures.  The boys always want to see the pictures, but because it's hard to hold, read,and show the pictures, I'm looking forward to using the study pod to take away the "holding and showing the pictures" part.  All I'll have to do is read!

I love how compact this unit is.  It folds into the size of a book and fits nicely on a book shelf.  What is exceptionally brilliant is the little pocket inside the studypod.

You can put your calculater, notecards, and/or pens in this little pocket and it will not disturb the display of your book at all! 


There are also page holders.  I knitted a book-weight last year.  The purpose of this item was to lay the oblong weighted piece across your book to hold the pages down.  This way, you don't have to hold the book open while trying to copy or read from it.  Well, with the study-pod, my book weight is obsolete!  The studypod has two metal bars that can hold your book open to a page for you.  If you don't need to use those, sometimes books lay open without a need for a holder, these arms make additional support at the base of your book.


In the information from the company, the studypod was designed to ease back and neck tension while reading or working from a book.  If you've ever gotten that pain in between your shoulder blades after spending a lot of time with a book open on a desk or table, you know what I mean.  This book holder was designed with the intention of improving student's posture while studyng!  I think that's fabulous.


Check out the studypod.  There is a very informative website here with more information than I can provide on this blog.  And my fellow review crew bloggers are all reviewing this item here.


The study pod costs $19.95, but the company has given me the opportunity to offer you a discount!  When you make a purchase on the study pod web site, use the code TOSBLOG5 in the coupon code to get $5 off your order.


Check out the study pod book holder.  You will find so many uses for this tool in your home that you will want to purchase more than one for every age in your home!  They are easy to store and even easier to use.  Genio also makes the same product but calls it Bookpod.  The Book Pod is offered in blak, grey, and tan, for those adults who don't want to feel like they are using a student's tool. 


If you'd like additional information not provided here or on the study pod web site, contact Genio at the following address: 

1613 Thornridge Way

Charlottesville, VA 22911

By telephone, they can be reached at:  (434) 974-7042


I've got to bring this review to a close.  It's time to put a book into my study pod and read to the boys!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Minnesota Poem

A few weeks ago the freebie at was the e-book:  "Poetry Forms to Use at Home."  We were just beginnning our new year of lessons, so I printed it out and began it right away with the boys. They really like writing poetry, so this was a good fit for us.


Today's poem is a sense-poem.  The boys each had a form to complete that guided them through a poem writing about the five-senses and a particular place or thing.  As I was reading through their instructions, I was inspired to write a sense poem about Minnesota.


My husband grew up in Northern Minnesota and we visited his home for almost two weeks at the end of May.  I fell in love.  We've visited before, but this time was different.  My love for his family grew immensely.  I could envision myself living in this place.  We have been praying for a year about God's plan for our future.  We have been feeling Him calling us to return to The Big Dog's home and be part of his family in a more real way.  As I looked through my pictures deciding which one to put on this blog, I was, once again, in tears.  I am homesick for a place that was never my home.


Below is a picture of Big Dog's dad, Grandpa, while we were fishing on Fish Hook Lake, and my poem follows.





I would like to see the lakes as we drive North.

I would like to hear the loons call while we’re fishing.

I would like to touch the velvety water as the boat drifts lazily along.

I would like to taste my mother-in-love’s cooking in her cozy kitchen.

I would like to smell the crisp cold morning air.

I wish I were there right now.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Online Math? Aleks Review

When I was given the opportunity to review Aleks math with my two boys I thought, "We always use the same math curriculum.  This will be a quick review and then back our old routine."  Our boys will be in 7th and 6th grades this year.  I've bought the same math curriculum since kindergarten.  As a matter of fact, I own the next three years' books because I got a great deal on them at a used curriculum sale.  I've seen the Aleks advertisements and received emails from them through TOS, but I always ignored it.  I've got math covered...always have...always will.


So, do you want to buy some great math curriculum that I got used at a curriculum sale a few years ago?


Aleks is phenominal.  We opted to do the 30-day free trial.  You can go here to start your 30-day trial.  I created log-ins and passwords for each of the boys.  With the student password comes an instructor or parent password so that you can sign-in and check your child's progress.  I haven't needed to do that as I've been looking over the boys' shoulders when they work each day. 


I was able to choose the level I wanted the boys to study.  I put our youngest in the sixth grade level and my oldest in the pre-algebra level.  There was a tutorial which both of the boys completed to teach them how to fill in the answers and use the tools provided with the lessons.  Upon signing-in the first day, the boys were given an assessment test based upon the level I had chosen.  When they were finished with the assesment test, they were shown a pie chart.  This chart features all the skill-sets that the student will master at this level.  From the assessment, portions of each of the sections were shaded showing how much of the skill that student had mastered thus far.


Each day the boys sign-on to Alex and choose which portion of the pie chart on which to work.  After less than a month, our oldest is almost finished with one section of the pie chart.  It provides a tremendous feeling of accomplishment to see those shaded areas growing across the pie chart.  But even when an area is considered to be "mastered" there may be review questions for them at the beginning of one day.  Just last week, the boys signed-on to their Aleks accounts to work for the day and instead of seeing a pie chart, they were given a list of review questions to complete first.  After they've finished their review, they are then taken to the pie chart to complete their tasks for the day.


So, we're all really enjoying this new way of completing our math and THEN I got two separate emails from Aleks, one for each boy.  They were progress reports!  These were well-organized, detailed reports telling me how much time each boy had spent on-line using Aleks (our youngest is winning in hours); how many areas each boy had mastered (our oldest is winning in the number of areas); and what areas remain to be conquered.  There was even a link to a more-detailed on-line report.  It was so great.  I can print these reports and place them right in the boys' portfolios for year-end review.  There are also quizzes to be taken but we haven't gotten there yet.


In our youngest son's level, he has the option of working "quick tables" as well as his regular program.  In Quick Tables you get to do drills of basic math to hone your skills.  This feature is fun with a robot graphic. 


Aleks is available for grades K through 12.  The higher maths are included such as Trigonometry, Geometry, and PreCalculus.  There are also a few AP courses available.  Aleks has a number of pricing plans available, including discounts for multiple accounts for one family.  Their initial pricing structure can be viewed here.  Family discounts are detailed for you here.


So, I'm ditching the purchased curriculum.  The boys love this new way of dong math.  Being on the PC has definite appeal for our guys, but the graphics are appealing too.  I love that it gives my guys more independence.  Our youngest son got up yesterday and started working on his math before his brother got out of bed.   You can give Aleks a try for 30-days free by going to their web site at  You can also email any questions you have to  Check them out.  I'm really glad we stopped ignoring the ads and gave Aleks a try.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Going the Quarter Mile

Our boys have always been good at math.  They can do math in their heads.  They are a few years ahead of their current grade in testing, as well as curriculum.  But they don't have their times tables memorized.  This is a problem.  When they work on their math problems for the day it takes FOREVER because they have to figure out every multiplication problem.  So I decided that this summer we would focus on memorizing those times tables.  I dug out the flash cards, Multiplication Bingo, Multiplication War,  and wrap ups.  I had to get them out of a yard sale box because I thought we were done with times tables!


Let me tell you, it wasn't going well.  They played the games and did the wrap ups but their memorization of the facts didn't seem to be happening.  Then we got a package in the mail from Barnum Software.  Barnum makes a software called "Quarter Mile Math."  Using this software, the student competes against himself to learn math concepts.  It is not just for memorizing facts.  This software can be used to reinforce many different math concepts.  If you are stuck on a particular area, such as fractions, the student can choose fractions from a list of concepts and race against himself to answer fraction problems.


Installation of the software was a breeze.  The Quarter Mile box had a CD in it.  All the codes that I needed during installation were printed on a label attached to the CD sleeve.  This software is able to run on most Windows systems as well as Mac with certain requirements.  Since I don't speak Mac, please read about those requirements here.

After the few minutes it took to install, we were up and running The Quarter Mile Math.  This software way made for our two boys.  As I mentioned earlier, we need to focus on multiplication right now.  So we set both boys up to race by doing multiplication problems, specifically, we began with the 7 times tables.

The boys were entralled with the racing screen which showed six racing cars on a straight track.  There is even revving engine sounds as the race begins.  The first race is against 5 fictitious cars, but after that the student races against himself.  In just a few minutes, the boys were racing against their previous five races.  As their cars were racing up the screen, the boys were typing answers to multiplication problems using the 7 times-tables.  When one race ends, the boys see that current race's time, plus the times of the five previous races.  Then their average time flashes largely in the center of the screen.


Our goal is to get those 7 times-tables under the 10 second mark.  Each boy has managed that once, so now they are doing 7s and 8s!  Not only are they getting those times tables memorized in a manner that really appeals to them, but they are also learning how to use the numeric keypad on the computer keyboard.  My husband once got a job based solely on the fact that he knew how to use that keypad.


Our animal-lover has chosen to race horses for his quarter mile races.  Our oldest is racing cars.  It's really great that the boys have a choice.  The sound-effects change and, of course, so do the graphics. 


The Quarter Mile Math offers six different products in their software line.  You can view those products here.  You can order just the grade level you need.  Or you can order the bundle package that can take you from Kindergarten to Pre-Algebra!  Barnum Software also offers a subscription to a Deluxe version which is downloadable and offers additional tracking reports and features.


With 323 subjects covered in the K-9th grade software I forsee us using The Quarter Mile Math program daily and for years, even after our multiplication tables have been memorized.  Using this program for review and to enforce new subjects will make math much more fun and much less routine for the guys.  I was very impressed with The Quarter Mile Math.  It's a great software to reinforce what was learned, but also to learn concepts with which your child might struggle. 


You can contact Barnum software to learn more about The Quarter Mile by going to or calling 1-800-553-9155.  Their mailing address is Barnum Software; 1910 Lyon Ave; Belmont, CA 94002.  If you would like to send them an email with your questions, send it to

All in all, you will find this to be a well-done, complete math program that you will use for years to come.  The racing-concept is simple and easy for a child to understand, and yet the math concepts taught are so varied you will use this every day to reinforce what your child learns.  And I promise you, they will not get bored.  Competing against oneself makes for daily entertainment!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Family Reunion

A few weeks ago, my mother's side of the family got together for a big summer picnic.  It wasn't just my mother's immediate family, which would include her sister, and three brothers, but it was the extended family.  Invitations went out to all the children of my mother's gradparents.  The picnic was large with almost 60 people in attendance.  Some families were not represented at all, they didn't respond to any efforts to contact them.  But my aunt came from Florida with one of her daughters.  There were family members from other neighboring states as well.

In my immediate family, there are 23 of us when we're all together.  Now, my sister has two older children that are dating, so more often than not, we are 25.  When we're together, we're loud.  We laugh a lot.  And we laugh loudly.  One of my mother's many wonderful traits is her loud and boisterous laugh.  I've inherited it and have had more than one friend comment on my willingness to laugh out loud in any place.

Although the gathering was a ton of fun, it was not the loud raucous event that is usually our immediate family gathering.  There were still many funny moments.  At one point, my Uncle, his cousin, and my mother were standing before the entire group listing the family geneology.  When they would get to someone who was present, they would ask him or her to stand and introduce their children and grandchildren.  When the list got to my mother, my Uncle George piped up, "We don't have enough time!"  Meaning that Mom's family was just too large to introduce!  We all laughed at that.  But Mom forged ahead and introduced all of us, including our oldest son who is named with the family name, Mom's maiden name.

Finally, we were asked to take one large family picture.  Benches were hauled out into the sunlight from under the pavillion and all the cousins were arranged on the benches with their families surrounding them as much as possible.  Our family was placed at the far left of the picture.

We were lauging and joking the entire time a bank of family friends and dates were taking our picture.  My neice kept leaning over to me and saying, "Aunt Lu, we're the loudest.  Just listen.  We're the loudest family in this group!"  And we were.  Here's the picture to prove it.  This is what we were doing while everyone else was trying to take a respectable picture:

That's me in the orange, laughing, beside my neice, lauging, beside another neice, laughing.  My mother is sitting in front of my neice in the dark tank top.  Yes, she's laughing.  You can't see it, but my husband is to our left (your right) holding rabbit ears with his fingers behind my brother's head.  Behind me to your left you can see my brother holding his youngest child.  I think he's talking.  My nephew in the front of the group has his eyes closed and is eatting something.  It's never a dull moment when we're all together.  Want to see more?

I'm still laughing, but so is my mom.  Seated in the front are my sons...giggling.  And now you can see my husband with the rabbit ears to my brother.  Seated beside my mother is my Uncle, smiling broadly, probably at our antics.

It was a great day.  A great time for our boys to see their heritage right before their eyes.  With such a large family, Mom had every single child and grandchild at this picnic.  It was a great way to honor her.  When the party broke-up most people suggested that we have another reunion soon.  I don't know when that will be, but I hope we are all happy and healthy and able to attend.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Maverick Books

A few weeks ago the review crew got a message that we would be receiving a package from "Maverick Books."  I wasn't really sure what products were produced by Maverick Books, so I looked for them on-line.  I was so excited to see that Maverick Books produce the Hank the Cowdog series! 


Several years ago a girlfriend loaned us a set of audiotapes of Hank the Cowdog.  Our boys were pretty small at the time, but we listened to these audios and the four of us laughed out loud.  Then, John R. Erickson, the author of the Hank the Cowdog series was the keynote speaker at our local homeschool curriculum fair.  We picked up a few books and the audio tape of his first book "Hank the Cowdog."  We've listened to that tape several times, each time laughing out loud.  Our family has several catch phrases we've picked up from Hank the Cowdog.


Although the boys read a few of the books, we all prefer the audios to the books.  Mr. Erickson's voices and inflection on the audios cannot be duplicated.  Each audio we've heard is hysterical!  Most of the humor is in his delivery.


So, receiving the package with the "Maverick Books" return address was a highlight to our day late one Friday morning.  And, oh my, what a package!  Here is a picture of what we received:


In this package were a Hank the Cowdog game, a CD, and a book.  We are game-aholics in our house, so our first exploration was into the box containing the Tornado game.  We played a complete game right away.  The game was fun, similar to an older game by a major game manufacturer that we've played for years, but with a few unique features.  The thing I loved most about it was it's portability.  The entire game and all of its pieces fit into the game board when folded in half.  The game is fun, and definitely short enough to keep a young child's attention.  I believe it took us about 30 minutes to play the game.  One great feature of receiving this game is that it comes with an audio tape featuring clips from the book, "The Case of the Swirling Killer Tornado."  We listened to the audio while playing the game and giggled as we played.  You can purchase this game on the Hank the Cowdog website for $12.99.


While straightening up the kitchen, I listened to the audio CD we received "Tales and Tunes from Hank the Cowdog."  I'm telling you, Mom, these audios are wasted on the young!  I was in hysterics.  If you need a good laugh out loud on a tough day, get a Hank the Cowdog CD.  This particular CD features excerpts from 10 books as well as songs featured in the books.  Even the songs are funny.  Mr. Erickson's does the voices for all the characters and they are just hilarious.  This CD is very reasonably priced on the Hank the Cowdog website at $3.  It would be a great place for you to begin your Hank the Cowdog journey because it gives highlights of 10 of the Hank books.


Finally, we also received the book, "Hank the Cowdog: The Case of the One-eyed Killer Stud Horse."  This is book 8 of the 54 in the series.   Paperback books retail for $4.24.  Hardback for $12.49. Audio CDs are $17.99 and cassettes are $14.99.  They also offer read-along books with CD ($19.99) or books with audio tapes($17.99).  The five newer books cost slightly more.  You can see a complete list of the books offered here.


Mr. Erickson's books are a great read for early readers.  I remember the sense of accomplishment my boys would feel when they could actually complete one of these books on their own.  They felt like they were moving in a grown-up world of chapter books just like Mommy and Daddy.  My oldest son, who will be 13 in the Fall, asked to be the one to read this book.  So, in our house, these books and audios appeal to those ranging in age from 7 to 45!  The boys began reading Hank books early and are still interested in them. 


Hank the Cowdog books and audios come with the Lydell seal of approval.  For years, they have entertained us and given the boys enjoyable reading.  Now they are offering related items that enhance your relationship with Hank.   Maverick Books are available at  They have a very detailed on-line shop offering lots of fun "Hank" items.  I'm thinking my husband needs a "Head of Ranch Security" T-shirt for Christmas...hmmmmmm...  Check them out, if you haven't yet.  Everyone needs a little hilarity in the middle of the day.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stick-Figuring with Grapevine Studies

Ever since our boys were old enough to hold a pencil, they have drawn on every scrap of paper they could find.  We have sketch books full of their drawings and a wall in our living room with their framed art.  So when I got the opportunity to review Grapevine's bible studies, I knew it would be a good fit for our family.  You see, Grapevine's motto is "stick-figuring through the bible."  These bible studies give children the opportunity to draw a stick-figure that represents the portion of the bible they've just read.  


Grapevine has bible studies for children as young as Five-years-old. They also have studies geared throughout school age and into adulthood.  Prices begin at single lessons for under $3.00, but even the larger studies like Old Testament or New Testament reviews are under $30.00.  Subjects include but are not limited to The Birth of Jesus, Queen Esther, Biblical Feasts and Holy Days, New Testament Overview,  and Old Testament Overview.  I recently saw a list of the studies they are planning for the near future and even though I can't give you that list, I can assure you it is very intriguing.


I received two of Grapevine's studies in e-book form.  For each study there is a teacher's guide, which I highly recommend.  The student books are so open-ended, that I enjoy having the teacher's guide to give me ideas about how to direct the boys for their drawings in their notebooks.    The two studies I reviewed are Biblical Feasts and Holy Days at the Teen-Adult level (student book $14.95, teacher's guide $12.95) and New Testament Overview also at the Teen-Adult (or multi) level (student book $28.95, teacher's guide $24.95).  We are actually completing Biblical Feasts and Holy Days and when we're finished, it's on to New Testament Overview!


The studies all begin with a timeline overview as the opening lesson.   Of course, instead of writing, you draw stick figures and symbols to represent the items on the timeline.  Then a regular lesson gives several readings from the Bible that deals with the subject and space for a drawing representing each reading.  Each lesson concludes with a series of 5-10 review questions.  As we are completing our studies together around our kitchen table, we take turns reading the scriptures and we complete the review questions orally.  You can make a game, or several games, out of these review questions to keep your child's interest, too.   Part-way through the study there is a  lesson that is just a list of review questions to solidify what each student has learned thus far.  There is also a Final Review at the end of the study with plenty of space to have your student write or stick-figure their answers.


One feature I'm anxious to implement when we begin the New Testament Overview is the "character event cards."  In this study, each section features this rectangle entitled "character event cards."  Because I have two boys, who love trading cards, this will be a huge success!  They will make biblical trading cards as we learn about the New Testament characters.  I'm planning to print the page with the cards onto card stock so that they can build their own trading card collection from their bible studies.

I found this to be a very gracious company.  If you don't know where to start, contact them and tell them the ages of your children.  They will be happy to suggest the right study or studies for your family.  You can visit their web-site here or email  They can be reached by telephone at 1-877-436-2317 (toll free).  Their mailing address is: 

Grapevine Studies

PO Box 2123

Glenrock, WY 82637

And, if you are so inspired by this review that you want to purchase a Grapevine Study for your family, they have given me permission to offer you a 30% discount on all your purchases made within a month of my blog post.  So, if you would like to take advantage of this 30% discount, use the coupon code crews.  This code expires September 15, 2009, so don't wait too long to use it!


We are enjoying these bible studies so much.  If you are looking for an engaging way to get into The Word with your children, check out Grapevine Bible Studies, stick-figuring their way through the bible.

Web Design for Kids DVD

A few weeks ago I received the Web Design for Kids DVD in the mail from Click and Drag Solutions.    "Learn HTML" has been on our to do list for a year.  So last week, we watched a few portions of this DVD in the evenings as a family.  The day after our first viewing, our boys were begging to watch more!


On the first night, we chose to watch the DVD without being on the PC at all.  But we quickly learned that instant application was the best method for using the DVD.  We watched the first two sections and the boys took notes.  As soon as we stopped the DVD, one boy was on our desktop and one boy jumped onto my laptop.  They had each created a web page within 30 minutes!


As I said in the first paragraph, they were begging to watch more of the DVD.  I had to hold them back during the day because Daddy wanted to watch too.  The boys could hardly stand to wait until their Dad got home from work!  Each night after that we watched 2 more sections and the boys typed into the code for their developing website as the DVD was playing.


Web Design for Kids is less than and hour and a half in length and contains 7 chapters or sections dealing with everything from fonts to backgrounds to adding images to a web site.  Our 11 and 12 year old boys followed the course with ease, and so did their Dad and I.  The web site says that a child as young as eight years old will be capable of following along, and I agree with that.  Of course, it also kept the attention of a 45 and a 42 year-old!


Currently you can get this DVD for $19.99 plus S&H from their website here.  You can also order by calling toll-free 1-866-932-9122.  And you can feel good about ordering from this company.  They are a company with character who gives a portion of their proceeds to one of five charities.  They have also begun the Click and Drag Foundation which focuses on providing DVDs and instruction to at-risk youth in urban neighborhoods.


I am amazed by what my boys are able to do after watching this DVD.  It has sparked their interest in writing HTML to the point where they are doing their own research and learning new code to put into the websites they are building.  Click and Drag plans to release a Web Design for Kids II sometime late this year.  On their website they said they have pushed the date back because they want to keep the DVD very high quality.  As DVD number 1 was ending, the boys were chanting "Buy Disc 2!  Buy Disc 2!"  Our only complaint is that the instructor did not tell us how to put the website we are designing onto the internet.  Right now, it's just there on our PC waiting for a host...or whatever it is we need.  So maybe we'll learn more about that on disc 2.  I can't wait for this adventure to continue!


I highly recommed the Web Design for Kids DVD.  I could not believe the skills my young men were learning.  (and just between you and me...I learned a lot too!)  The DVD is worth the purchase, and the company is worthy of your business.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

We interrupt this summer for...

…a torn Achilles’ tendon, and all its complications.  A little over a month ago, my husband tore his Achilles tendon playing softball for the church.  We spent that evening in the ER.  Then we spent a week going back and forth to Dr.s and MRIs before he had surgery to repair the tear.  After a week at home on the couch, he returned to work.  Two days later we were in the ER again with symptoms of a heart attack.  It was not a heart attack, but just as serious.  Two large clots were found in his lungs and he spent 2 days in the Medical Intensive Care Unit.  After three days, we brought him home for another week on the couch.  Since then, he has returned to work.  Other than a little extra doctoring and blood work for the next six months to ensure that the clots disappear and no new ones develop we are returning to our more regular schedule. 


It has been a trying month.  He tore his right Achilles, so I have had to do all the driving.  The night we spent in the ER that ended in his admittance to Intensive Care was the most scary thing that has happened in our 16+ years of marriage.  I spent a long time sitting in the van crying more deeply than I’ve cried in years. 


All this to say, I’ve been absent from my blogs for this past month, but I’ve had a pretty good excuse.  Now, things are beginning to settle down. 


It seems trite to say, “God has been so faithful.”  He is God and that’s what He does.  He’s faithful.  But, although His faithfulness is shown in His healing and protection, He has been speaking to me and showing me so many things as we traveled this journey.  We have so much for which to be grateful.  I want to post a special gratitude list on my other blog as a result of the happenings of this last month.


So, stay tuned.  I have some great reviews, read a wonderful book or two, and other family adventures to share with you.  And thanks for understanding this hiatus. God is good.