Friday, December 28, 2012

Counting on Co-ops - a look back

Photobucket Last Fall, during the Back to Homeschool Blog Hop, I wrote a piece about counting on co-ops.   I mentioned that we had participated in two in the past.  Truthfully, Schnickelfritz participated and I sat gabbing with the other moms.  Oh, I occasionally did a science presentation but for the most part I reaped the benefits without putting in the effort.  At the end of the post I mentioned that we had another co-op opportunity and this time I would be teaching a class based on the Science of Disney Imagineering Dvd's that we love.  For 10 weeks we spent the bulk of our Thursdays at a little church-based co-op.  So here are some of my thoughts now that we have a semester under our belts.

1. As much pressure as I feel making sure that I'm providing the best education for my son, it's that much worse worrying about providing for other folk's sons and daughters.  I agonized for weeks if the hands-on activities would be fun yet educational.  Would they be too hard or too simplistic.  I made up quiz sheets to help students remember key points as they watched the videos.  I think that most of the other moms felt this way too.  Schnickelfritz's Mapping the World by Heart teacher always had handouts and fun games for memorizing the names of countries.  The kindergarten class that met before mine had three hardworking moms organizing crafts every week. 

Studying friction on an icy slope
2. I was amazed at how draining  it was to be away from home for so long.  Fritz's first class started at 11:30, then we had lunch, two more classes, and then drove to the country to pick up our fresh milk.  We'd be gone for 5.5-6 hours including drive times.  And the organization involved--Fritz would need books and materials for three classes, I'd need a DVD and experiment supplies to teach mine, we had to pack lunches and I needed a cooler and containers for the dairy.   Just five years ago  I was used to being at work 8 hours every day, and I had to pack my lunch and all Fritz's things for daycare.  And  now I started dreading my Thursdays starting Wednesday night.  When we loaded back in the car after my science class finished it felt like TGIF.   Some of the other co-op teachers mentioned similar feelings.

Learning about levers
3. On a positive note, knowing our Thursdays were full of outside activities made me that much more committed to staying on track the other schooldays.  It was just the accountability factor I needed. If I ever felt like slacking in one subject, the first thought that would pop into my head was "You've already lost Thursday, you can't afford another," and then we'd forge full steam ahead.  I had already made most subjects fall into a four-day schedule (we did still do Bible and math on Thursdays before co-op).   

Eureka! We have a circuit
4. Schnickelfritz got a boost of self esteem when he saw he could keep up (even surpass) the older kids in his geography class.  It was listed for 5th-8th grade and he's only ten, but he has a passion for maps so the teacher gave him a chance.  I was pleased to see him behave and listen so well (I guess because he's interested in the subject matter) and he's often the only one who has completed the memory homework each week.  You try memorizing all the countries on all the continents sometime!   So far he's even been able to deal with his perfectionist tendencies when it comes time to practice drawing the maps--I'd expected him to be frustrated that he couldn't draw every boundary exactly right. 

My Hands-on Science class
The bottom line--I asked Fritz if he wanted to continue co-op next semester and he enthusiastically said "Yes!"  His Mapping the World by Heart class is continuing (we still have Asia and Africa to do).  He's switching from Prairie Primer to a boys' book club reading The Hobbit.   And because there we've been through all the Disney Imagineering DVD's and there aren't enough new kids to offer the class again, I'll be switching to a Championship Chess class.  I've already got all the books/DVD's and I made my own demonstration board--but that's another post.

So my look back on 2012 covered our first real co-op experience.  Other Crew members will have their own experiences to share.  Be sure to check out the first Blog Cruise of the new year, 2012: A Look Back  on Jan. 1st. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Gifts from the Kitchen

As part of our church's Advent Conspiracy [ Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All], rather than purchase gifts for Toolman's co-workers & our neighbors, Schnickelfritz and I make something for them in our kitchen.    Our friends will still  know that we appreciate them, but the money we don't spend at the store can be sent to provide fresh water around the world.  In the past we've made banana bread, blueberry jam, persimmon bread, and cereal snack mix (we try not to repeat ourselves).  Several recipients have diabetes so the typical cookie tray is out.  This year we decided to make a Southwestern Dip Mix recipe that I found on the Taste of Home website.

All the ingredients were available in bulk at Sam's Club.

I used a seive to sift the cumin and chili powder so that no one ended up with a lump of spice.

After stirring everything together I divided the mix into equal portions and placed them in snack- size ziploc bags.  Next I needed to work on decorating the bag.  First I measured the width of the bag.

Looks like 7 in. will cover the top

Then I used my Graphic Toolbox software to make a label that will fold across the top of the bag.  One side will have our Christmas greeting and the other side will give instructions for using the dip mix.  Make sure that you flip one of the pictures/text over so it will look correct when you fold the label.

I printed the labels on card stock, cut them out and scored them with a bone folder.  When I held them over the ziplock bag I could feel the thickness of the seal to make sure a placed the staple outside the bag itself.
The Toolman will be taking this batch to work tomorrow.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A math lesson in couponing

First, let me be clear, if you're looking for tips on how you can be the next star of Extreme Couponing you've come to the wrong place.  I'm not organized or committed enough to score 90+ percent savings.  I also don't live in an area that doubles coupons.  There is a Schnucks 12 miles away that will double the first 15 coupons up to .50 which means at most I could save $7.50.  However I do think there are some tips that all of us can learn to use coupons more wisely.

For example, this week the Schnucks flier said they would TRIPLE the first 15 coupons.  They also had a good sale on ham so I decided to make the trip.  I had a few coupon circulars from the last two weeks in my newspaper pile so I began searching for the 50 cent-ers.  They were hard to come by--at least for things I would buy anyway.   I did find two yogurt coupons: one for $.50 off eight and one for $.40 off six.  So 14 yogurts went into the cart and I saved $2.70.  Let's look at the chalk board...

Now on the surface you would think triple coupons was a great thing, right?  I however keep a price book on things I purchase often and know that this same store often puts yogurt on sale 10 for $5.00.  And on any other week I can still have my coupons up to .50 doubled.  So let's look at that scenario on the board...

Wow, now I'm not feeling so thrilled about the Triple coupon deal.  I could have saved almost two dollars more by waiting for the yogurt sale to cycle around again.  The moral of the story is that coupons work best if they're matched up with a sale price.  Even if the store just took the coupons at face value I would have come out better--paying $6.10 instead of $7.10.  

I still bought the yogurt because I needed to spend $25.00 to get the deal on the ham  ($1.77/lb vs $3.98/lb) and the yogurts counted as $9.80 towards that figure (they didn't care whether I paid in cash or coupons).   I also track the price of ham because the Toolman likes it for sandwiches so I knew this was an extremely good deal.  Bottom line for me--coupons are good but a price book is better.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Soup's On! -- Cheeseburger Soup

After a freakishly warm Thanksgiving, the weather's finally plunged down to the temps that make me want a nice pot of soup on the stove.  I've got another recipe for you today--

Cheeseburger Soup

1 1/2  cups water
2  cups cubed russet potatoes (either scrubbed or peeled)
2  carrots, grated
1 small onion, chopped
1/2  bell pepper, chopped (red or green for contrast, orange if you need to sneak in veggies for kids)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp beef soup base granules
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 pounds ground beef, cooked and drained
2 1/2 cups milk, divided
3 Tbsp flour
8 oz Velveeta cheese, cubed

(Optional garnishments: crumbled bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, jalapeno slices)

In a large saucepan, combine the first 8 ingredients (in blue), bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes or until veggies are tender.  Stir in beef and 2 C of milk and let it heat through.  Mix the remaining 1/2 C milk with flour until smooth; gradually stir into the soup.  Boil for 2 minutes until its thickened.  Reduce heat and add cheese, stir until melted.  Serve with garnishments if desired.

I suppose I should explain my philosophy of soup and cooking in general,  down here where I know my son won't see it and hopefully the Toolman stopped reading when he saw this was a recipe post.  The males of the family don't care for vegetable side dishes so I have to incorporate as many as possible into the entree.  Potatoes aren't a problem, the carrots and orange bell pepper are camouflaged by the cheese.  This makes the dish somewhat monotone for us.  If you're family isn't so picky, you can add some contrast with the bell peppers or add green onions.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mystery of History 2 Lapbook

My son and I have been working through MOH Volume 2 this year.  For those of you unfamiliar with the product, there is a lot of built in review through cumulative quizzes and what the creator refers to as memory cards.  Each index card is supposed to list the lesson subject, date, and important facts.   I suppose I could have jazzed up the cards with a picture on the back side, but I was looking for something more eye-catching so my son might look at it on his own to refresh and review.  One day while visiting the Bright Ideas Press website, I saw that they offered lapbooks for sale.  Maybe this was what I was looking for.  Unfortunately I couldn't find any sample pictures either on their web store page or  the MOH Yahoo Group forum.  I took a chance and bought it blind.

Here is a picture showing how to assemble the official lapbook.

I'm glad to have the sample so I can organize the lapbook (note how they grouped the Jewish history lessons together and the Roman lessons together).   I was surprised/disappointed that the graphics for the minibooks weren't from the textbook.  I guess they couldn't get permission to use the Homeschool in the Woods images.  Instead most of the pictures looked like they were drawn by kids. There were also a few (only two in the first quarter) lessons that didn't have a minibook.  So using the sample pictures as a starting point, I decided to make my own lapbook pieces.  I scoured the Internet to find images ( I didn't have to worry about copyright issues) or used images from my purchased copy of History Through the Ages figures.  I used my Graphic Toolbox and Photoshop Elements to create my own minibooks or add color to the ones I used from the MOH lapbook.

Official images on top, my substitutions below

The results are much more colorful and I was able to make minibooks for the missing lessons (like the Golden Age of India) and put them on what would have been an unused flap.  I also added the posters I made for the Dates to Remember.  Here's our first quarter Lapbook....

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Frugal Fall Birthday

Well, it finally Schnickelfritz joined the ranks of us with two digits in our age.  I'm not going to try and figure out where the last decade went so fast.  Instead, I want to share how we celebrated.  I now there have been TV shows where moms outdo one another with the most elaborate and expensive shin-digs they can muster.  We didn't rent a bouncy house, hire a magician, or visit that pizza chain where you spend $50 to buy tokens and "win" a $5 prize.

A frugal party takes advantage of and plays up what you already have--in our case: the fall season.  Our assets were a fire pit,  a tractor and wagon, piles and piles of leaves....and a leave blower.

We'll start with the fire pit.  The temps were in the mid fifties but everyone was nice and cozy around the fire.  We had plenty of hot dogs and marshmallows for roasting.  (That saves me from having to prepare a lot of party food--make them do it themselves).  There was apple cider from some of our nearby orchards to drink.

The fall theme has been a standard for this November birthday, but new this year was a hayless hay ride.  The Toolman had bought a wreck of a corn crib style wagon at auction earlier this year.  After removing all the rotted wood he was down to metal frame.  He built a new bed with lumber from his father's saw mill and we replaced the tires with two we'd saved when the pick-up truck needed new ones.  A can of spray paint and we had a really nice looking wagon.  The first thing Fritz said when it was done was "Now we can have rides on my birthday."  It was a big hit,  the kids were bumped and jostled for the off-road portion of the trip and then traveled down the road to visit the horses.  When Toolman needed a break for hot-dog sustenance, the kids all sat quietly in the wagon waiting for the next ride to begin.

But the highlight for the last two year's has been the pile of leaves!  The kids ask when it will start, the parents want to know so they can watch.  There's no shortage of trees on our property and we can make great leaf fortresses.  And then it's a leaf throwing war--all the kids vs the Toolman.....and his leaf blower pack. 

The funniest sight last year was when one boy's baseball cap blew off...every time he reached down to pick it up Toolman was there with a gust of air to blow it out of reach again. 

I used to feel bad that my son couldn't't have a summer birthday--his friend always gets to host a party with a homemade water slide.  But now I wouldn't change a thing about our birthday salute to fall. 
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