Wednesday, May 29, 2013

TOS Review: Pointillism Fruit Art DVD

When my oldest daughter, Cassie, was 8 or 9 years old we found a wonderful art class for her through our local art league. One of the artists she learned about was Georges-Pierre Seurat, who painted with tiny dots. "Seurat the dot" (yes, a little pronunciation fudging), her teacher taught her ... and that little rhyme stuck for her and me, to this day when one of us sees a dot painting we know who made it, or at least who inspired it.

 photo ap_complete_4-small_zps3fd61aa8.jpgI was recently given the opportunity to review a DVD entitled Pointillism Fruit with Pat Knepley, available through See the Light.

The DVD contains four complete step-by-step lessons totalling 96 minutes. Each lesson contains history about the artist and the time period, information about the technique and art elements, and the "how to" information needed to create your own masterpiece.

In addition to the DVD materials required include cotton swabs, poster board or art paper, a pencil, and a variety of acrylic paints.

Pat Knepley is an enthusiastic artist and teacher. She is very conversational, without going overboard. Her lessons are presented clearly, knowledgeably, and patiently. There is a Christian element to each lesson, which I was aware of ahead of time, with a few minutes dedicated to a lesson focusing on the Bible and Christianity, throughout the rest of the lesson it isn't mentioned. As a secular home schooling family I found it noticeable, not overwhelming, and didn't mind it at all.

After the kids had gathered their supplies they sat down with the DVD and watched the lessons. One of the blessings of the DVD is that the kids were able to stop or replay as needed to be sure they understood the technique and lesson. We broke the lessons up over four different days, to avoid getting overwhelmed. We spent about 4 hours total watching the DVD and doing our projects.

Mia (13) seemed to grasp the concepts quickly, I think her previous art classes gave her an advantage.

Adam (11) said, "I liked it because we learned about an artist. I liked it because I liked pointillism art. I thought it was a fun project.".

Kaden (10) did find it a bit frustrating, making lots of little dots and then adding lots more little dots for depth and shading takes time, but he stuck it out and said, "This kind of art would inspire other people to do more art. I want to do more art. This is a good program for people of all ages. This will be good for everyone."

River (4), well, he really got the dot making part but the rest of it was a little over his head, as expected.

Mia, age 13
River, age 4; Kaden, age 10; Adam, age 11

I liked this program. I appreciate that the kids learned more than just drawing with dots; they also learned art history, technique, color mixing, and color value. Having the DVD will allow the kids to pick it up and do the program again any time they'd like.

Pointillism is recommended for kids aged 10+ and is available at See the Light for $14.99.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013


I truly get over the top excited when I get pictures of my ties "in action". This one is no exception ... I can't begin to explain how thankful I am that Scott and his bride invited me, through my ties, to be a part of their wedding.

Aren't they a beautiful couple?

Congratulations to you!

And an extremely handsome young man from the wedding party:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shop News

Quick news ... the shop will be closed from May 27th to June 12th.

There's still plenty of time to get orders in before I close for a much anticipated family vacation.

*These ties are not yet in the shop, but if you're interested in either of them, for men or boys, in bow tie or necktie, just let me know.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sneak Peek

Usually the sneak peeks make it to facebook well before they make it to the blog, so I thought I'd mix things up a bit and post a first peek here.

These ties, and their coordinating bow ties, should be listed in the shop within the next few days. Can't wait? That works for me ... just ask!

Enjoy your weekend.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Summer Color Fun

These ties weren't all part of the same order but they looked so good together I had to take their picture.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hillsborough River State Park

Because I'm Me, Hillsborough River State Park, near Tampa, FL

A few more images from our camping trip to Hillsborough River State Park a few weeks ago.

Because I'm Me, Hillsborough River State Park, near Tampa, FL
One third of the way in from the left and halfway up the image is a sunbathing alligator.
It was a gorgeous day, nice and cool at night, and comfortable in the morning with a slight breeze.

Because I'm Me, Hillsborough River State Park, near Tampa, FL

While at the park we saw a raccoon (he stole our trash bag and carried it up a tree!), a deer, an owl stealing fish, 2 smallish-medium sized alligators (one of which did not move, thankfully, when my son fell in the river), turtles, fish, and much more. Come to find out, this park is known for it's snakes. Some folks who were there the week after us saw a number of them. I am not good at all with snakes, not at all. Thankfully, we did not see any of those.

Because I'm Me, Hillsborough River State Park, near Tampa, FL
Mini Rapids

Because I'm Me, Hillsborough River State Park, near Tampa, FL

Because I'm Me, Hillsborough River State Park suspension bridge, near Tampa, FL
Suspension Bridge

Because I'm Me, Hillsborough River State Park, near Tampa, FL

Because I'm Me, Hillsborough River State Park, near Tampa, FL

TOS Review: One Minute Mysteries: 65 More Short Mysteries You Solve with Science

I received a copy of, and was asked to use and review Science Naturally's One Minute Mysteries: 65 More Short Stories You Solve with Science!, written by Eric Yoder and Natalie Yoder. Having used One Minute Mystery books in the past, I was very excited to be chosen for this review and it didn't disappoint.

This arrived at just the right time. Adam (11) and Kaden (10) had just finished their logic curriculum, and this book offered a perfect "end of school year" alternative.

 photo MysteriesMoreSciCoverFrontweb_0_zpse15319fb.jpg I kid you not, when the book came in the mail I had to hide it from the boys. They were so excited. The mysteries are short, as the title says, and I knew if they got their hands on it they'd devour it in record time, and well before I had a chance to do it with them.

If you've read any of my home schooling posts in the past you might have noticed that I love finding ways to sneak learning in almost unnoticed, much in the same way a Mom might sneak veggies into her child's diet. This is that kind of book ... it's fun and short and entertaining, but still contributes to our weekly requirements of reading, logic, and science (it is not a science program, but a fun supplement).

Using the book and incorporating it into our school day was easy peasy. The boys and I, and Mia (13) would sit at the table and I'd read the short, engaging one page stories, each of which have a question or statement at the end that needs to be explained with science (the mystery). After they'd give their answers and discuss their reasoning (when more than one solution was suggested) I'd turn the page and read the answer, based on science. The answers were more than just one-liners, they provided the reasoning behind the answer as well. After we were well into the book I casually left it laying around and, sure enough, they picked it up and read the stories to each other and worked through the answers.

The book is divided into chapters; life science, earth and space science, physical and chemical science, general science, and bonus math mysteries. Story topics include whales (they're mammals, not fish), a irrigation problem and solution, mosquitos, and balance.

The softcover book is 160 pages and is geared for ages 8-12.

The kids and I really enjoyed and appreciated this book. While they knew a lot of the answers they didn't know them all and learned from it. It certainly held their attention, the mysteries are quick enough to not lose their focus. It's a great family activity book, easy to do together. I think this would be a great book to have on a road trip, perfect for car entertainment (the boys are planning to test Ian's knowledge with it on our upcoming vacation) and something to do on a rainy day.

One Minute Mysteries: 65 More Short Mysteries You Solve with Science! is available at Science, Naturally! for $9.95.

Click here for more reviews of One Minute Mysteries: 65 More Short Mysteries You Can Solve with Science! from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Independence Day Planning

Image courtesy of Tamarack Lodge
Believe it or not, it's time to start thinking about the Fourth of July.  (I know, didn't this year just start yesterday?)

When I was growing up my family went to my grandparent's house most years to celebrate Independence Day. I have so many great memories of swinging on the porch swing with my cousins and drinking Ting soda. While we saw our cousins throughout the year, some more than others, Fourth of July was the one time when we were all together.

When I was 13 we moved out of state. Around that time some of the older cousins spread out to various colleges and began lives of their own. As happens, the annual Independence Day get-togethers became a wonderful part of my past.

Many, many years later, just after Ian was born, we had a huge family reunion for that side of the family on Fourth of July weekend. Not only were all my cousins there but so were their (and my) children, most of whom we'd never met before. A gorgeous family portrait was taken, with everyone celebrating the "red, white, and blue". That was a good 14 years ago and so much has changed (and now we have facebook to keep in touch!) but the recollections and pictures are always there.

Awesome memories!

Whatever your wonderful holiday plans, a tie may be the perfect icing on the cake for those family photos. Or for showing your spirit at a local parade (we love the annual parade in Waupaca, WI, though we don't make it every year).

"Girl, it's only May," you say. True, there's plenty of time, almost two months.

The shop, though, will be closed from the end of May to June 11th for my vacation so I'm recommending orders get in soon so there's no "down to the wire" worry. I will, as always, work to accommodate last minute orders, but I can't speak for the USPS, so I suggest playing it safe.

These ties, coordinating pocket squares, and more can be found in the Holiday section of the shop and are available for both boys and men. Red and blue gingham ties are available as well in neckties and bow ties.

The ties are certainly not limited to the Fourth of July. They're great for Flag Day, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and every single day of the year.

Find a little American pride pinspiration here.

What are your Independence Day memories? Are you my age, old enough to remember the Bicentennial? I'd love to hear your stories.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

TOS Review: Spanish For You!

I was asked to review Spanish for You's Fiestas program by Debbie Annett, MDEd.

Spanish for You is a Spanish language course for kids in grades 3-8. The program I was asked to review, Spanish for You! Fiestas! was a downloadable e-book and contained an e-book, lesson guide, worksheets divided into age groups (grades 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8), audio files both by the teacher and in a native tongue, and flashcards.

I intended to use this with Adam and Kaden (ages 11 and 10). Mia (age 13) decided to join in.

To begin, I had to open and download all the files mentioned above. They were very large zip files and my computer found them very challenging. After the zip files were downloaded and opened I had the task of finding the files - audio, worksheets, and flashcards - I needed for each lesson. There was a lesson guide but the files weren't clearly labeled in the lesson guide and weren't necessarily in order on my hard drive, creating some organizational confusion.

To be truthful, we're a book family. Until the kids do schoolwork online (late middle school / high school) we sit at the kitchen table with our books and work away. I was out of my element with this program and I was beyond frustrated, which may have been lessened somewhat had I had much experience with downloaded programs. That said, I really do believe that the program needs to be, and can be, better organized. I spent a lot of time channeling paraphrased SirMixaLot lyrics:

          "I like big books, I cannot lie. You other brothers can't deny ...".

After fighting with the computer, the files, my SirMixaLot brain, and, ultimately, the printer I was tempted to give up on the program, thankfully I didn't throw in the towel, because my first impression was not a reflection of the quality of the program itself.

The program seemed to me to be kind of a hybrid between immersion and traditional classroom. Our program, Fiestas! teaches Spanish while talking about parties and events, rather than just the rote memorization I remember from junior high Spanish (as boring as that was, I can still conjugate a whole lot of verbs!). The first lesson teaches birthday party terms, which really got the kids attention and kept them interested. Even River (age 4) sat at the table and participated. The flashcards and worksheets, combined with the audio lessons, really worked. We spent about 20-25 minutes a day on the lessons and by the end of the first week all the kids had learned a dozen words in Spanish and after two weeks they were learning verb forms and had a grasp on some basic communication. What they were learning made sense because it was in "everyday" terms, and that made it much easier to learn and retain.

After the first few days we got into a routine ... they'd work on flashcards while I found the correct files for the day, nowhere near as frustrating as it was initially. I'm not sure if the kids liked watching me get confused or really, really liked the Spanish program, but they did ask every day to do Spanish (I believe it was combination of both). Each days lesson included a combination of sound files (very handy for non Spanish speakers), flashcards, games/activities, lesson pages, and worksheets.
From Kaden: The program helped us memorize Spanish, so we could speak it. It took a while to find the right pages but when we found them we could learn something. I think other people would learn from it when they did it.
Overall, I liked the content of this program for the kids because they liked it and they learned from it while still having fun.  The lessons were engaging and interesting, with a lot of variety in presentation and work required.

In it's current form this is not the program for me, I wish it were organized with everything needed for a lesson together, with a clearer, more navigable lesson guide, but I think this program has great potential. If a new lesson plan that I could follow more easily was released we'd likely continue with the program.

Spanish for You - Fiestas photo spanishforyou-fiestas_zpsa80f3c2a.jpgSpanish for You! Fiestas! 24-30 week program can be purchased at Spanish for You! for $34.95 for each specific grade level, or $64.95 for all three grade levels (grade 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8). Included in the $35.95 and $64.95 are:
  • soft cover book or e-book (currently only our trial pkgs.)
  • 24-30 week lesson guide for the grades you need (24 weeks for G5-6 & 7-8, 30 weeks for G3-4) (PDF download)
  • self-checking worksheets (PDF download)
  • audio files of entire book (includes bonus audio of native speaker of entire book) (MP3 download)
  • flashcard/activity pictures (PDF download)
Click here for more reviews of Spanish for You! Fiestas! from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

One Adventure Down

Jayco pop up camper, the chalkboard paint door adds an element of fun

We made it through our inaugural camper weekend. Last Saturday afternoon we headed to Ikea and then a state park campground for the night to test out the camper.

Worked perfectly.

There is still some organizing to do (we forgot scissors somehow) and a few more necessities to take care of, but we got so much done and had so much fun.

I must admit I ordered a memory foam mattress as soon as I walked in the door on Sunday. This old body doesn't do well on cheap concrete camper mattresses!

A little remodeling update ...



Jayco Pop Up Camper remodel in progress, white paint and white hardware goes a long way towards making this camper light, bright, and more modern, the bed quilt is fitted for a polished look all day long

Sorry the "before" doesn't show the same view as the after, but it should give a good idea.

All cabinets, walls, and drawers have been painted white to remove the two-toned brown and gold look (with oxidizing brass hinges). New white self-closing hinges and clear Ikea knobs have been added.

The quilts on the ends are from the girls bedroom, before they were replaced with Mama-made ones. I squared the corners and added elastic at the bottom so the quilt would stay permanently tucked in (the boys prefer blankets on top of the quilt).

In the top image you can see the front door. The bottom half of the inside of the door has been painted with chalkboard paint. Two coats over primer turned out just right, super easy to write on and wipe off.

Those benches will be recovered eventually, but today they aren't bothering me too much so it'll be a bit.

We're planning our next adventure already. In the meantime I'll be practicing my backing up skills (not easy my friends, not easy).

Click here for second camper update.
Click here for third camper update.

Sew Sew Much More handcrafted cotton camera strap covers and quilts

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

TOS Review: Papa's Pearls by Homefire Press

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I was recently given a copy of, and asked to read and review, the book Papa's Pearls, a Father's Gift of Love and Wisdom to His Children and Grandchildren, written by Diane Flynn Keith.

Papa's Pearls tells of the life of Diane Flynn Keith's father, Papa, from childhood to death, overcoming poverty and crime to become a successful father, husband, and businessman, while simultaneously sharing Papa's "pearls" of wisdom. Each chapter has it's own pearls and short accompanying anecdotes; I was reminded of all those little memes that float around facebook that I see and "must" remember and promptly forget ... except that the addition of the stories behind the "pearls" made sense, and made the little nuggets of knowledge much easier to remember and relate to.

The softcover book is a fairly quick read, with 112 pages. It's written for adults, as a parenting and personal growth book, and also worked with my older elementary and middle school aged kids.

I read the book first and then passed it along to Mia (age 13) to read in a doctor's office (have I mentioned that the child slammed her thumb in a car door - requiring stitches for the cut AND a splint for the break?). She enjoyed the stories of Papa's life and found a few pearls that spoke to her, particularly one about saving money and one about hugging more (everyone needs a lot more hugs than they're getting!).

The book was then passed on to Adam (11) and Kaden (10). In place of their regular creative writing, they were asked to pick a number 1 through 17 (the number of chapters in the book), then read the chapter, choose a pearl from it (they're listed at the beginning of the chapter), and write a page about how that pearl could apply to their lives. Teacher Mama hoped that they'd start reading and read the entire book but they stuck to the assigned chapters. They did do some good thinking, and wrote terrific papers about being honest and trying after failure. 

I enjoyed the book. The lessons are meaningful, especially as they're presented. Some of the "pearls" really hit home for me, like "Tell yourself you like it" and "Be grateful every day". Some of the anecdotes had me giggling, some had me near tears, and many had me rereading so I'd remember and put into practice the lessons being taught. The boys were very ambivalent about Papa's Pearls. They read what they had to, but really had no interest in digging any further into it. Mia, on the other hand, enjoyed it very much and talked about it quite a bit afterwards, she really did get a lot of out of it, and I can see other teenaged girls really liking it and finding great value in it.

Papa's Pearls is available at Papa's Pearls for $14.97 and $7.00 shipping and handling.

Click here for more reviews of Papa's Pearls from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

If You Need Us ...

.... we'll be on the road with our "new to us" pop up camper.

The interior is no longer brown walls and brown cabinets with gold detail and brass hardware. The cabinets and walls are now white (always nice to find a "use what you've got" project!). Much more my style and so much lighter and brighter.  A trip to Ikea will occur in the near future for cabinet knobs. I will share progress pictures as we transform this baby into "ours".

After deciding not to pay someone to install the tow bar and trailer lights hook up I bought the needed parts online; I installed the lights wiring myself and a friend did the trailer hitch. I was pretty darn proud!

Our first trial run will be this upcoming weekend. One night to see if we can figure out how everything works, which is imperative because all I know how to do is plug in the electricity; I've got a lot to learn.

And then ... at the end of May/beginning of June we're taking a 2 week trip to the Grand Canyon, with some pretty cool stops along the way!

Because I'm Me bow and neck ties for men and boys