Monday, December 21, 2009

Until We Meet Again...

Today is the first day of Christmas break for Michael. THE perk of teaching (and being a teacher's wife) is the lengthy break at Christmas and over the summer. During the next two weeks we will celebrate, visit family, and just enjoy some much needed down time.

I am signing off until 2010. Before I do, let me leave you with some of the highlights of 2009.

In January I published my 100th post, shared how you can make Math Time Story Time, and encouraged you not to Skidoo when homeschooling gets tough but instead to put on Christ and find your fulfillment in Him.

February brought home remodeling and a lot of prayer requests. By God's grace, in the midst of the chaos, we managed to complete a project for our homeschool association's International Festival.

The remodeling ended in March... Drum Roll, Please!

In April, I found myself in the middle of a teaching experience that was Not Exactly What I Had in Mind when I wrote my OLIVE goals. I also revealed more of our remodeling efforts in The Cubby Hole. Most exciting of all, we received our copy of Crayola's Youth Art Exhibition book in which Wilbur's painting was published! Praise the Lord for blessing my sweet boy!

I found myself reminiscing in May. Michael and I celebrated Fourteen Years as husband and wife, and I recalled a science experiment the boys enjoyed as preschoolers in If All of the Raindrops. My boys competed in the Youth Birding Competition and shared how they created their birding journals.

I posted my very first Not Me Monday in June. I did NOT know what I was getting myself into with that! I also began my journey on the TOS Homeschool Crew. I did not know what a BIG adventure that would be, too.

In July, I began the Plan-It School Series and wrote three articles about our goals for education, Compartmentalized Education, Debugging, and Developing a Strong Work Ethic.

Plan-It School was finally completed in August. The series was born from the love I have for homeschoolers and desire to see them succeed. I have links to the entire series in my side bar.

Orville placed second in our local run-off for the National Bible Bee in September. What a great time we had meditating on God's Word!

Orville turned ten in October. I made a big whoop-dee-doo of that. He is my baby, and I'm his momma. Couldn't help myself. ;)

In November, I posted two of my most popular articles to date, Preschool Peace and Poor Wally Is Dead.

I ended the year with a Freezer Cooking Plan and by sharing a neat technique for teaching your child to Read Music.

Thank you all for joining me in 2009. I have loved having you around and getting to "know" many of you. It has been an exciting year in which the Lord has prospered Olive Plants by bringing you here and making you a part of our lives. I value you and with God's continued blessing hope to bring you an even better year of school ideas and encouragement in 2010.

May the Lord bless you all! Have a very Merry Christmas!!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fun with the Flute

Writing my review for Maestro Classics brought to mind the moment I knew I wanted to play the flute.

In the third grade, I had the cutest little teacher. Seriously, she was little... about 4' 8". I have always been tall, so we were almost eye-to-eye. She liked to square dance and would wear her darling gingham square dancing skirt to school every Friday. When we finished our lessons, we would move the desks to the back wall and create a dance floor. We paired up, and she taught us to dosey doe.

She loved to dance and she loved music. She introduced us to many different styles, from country to classical. One day, she brought in a recording of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. I loved the bird theme, played by the flute. It was then that I knew I wanted to learn the flute. Little did I know that one day my third grade son and I would enjoy bird watching together, too. All that reminiscing made me want to share Peter and the Wolf with my sons, so I went to YouTube.

I found the video below, and my jaw hit the floor. I have no idea how he manages to beat box while playing the flute. I would hyperventilate and hit the floor, only after hitting many bad notes first. I don't know the performer or anything about him or his music, other than I like this particular performance. So don't take this as an endorsement. But, I hope you will enjoy this as much as I did.

Since I am taking the time to write a little about my life as a flautist, let me share the piece I am currently learning, Bach's Badinerie. Bach gave flautists a gift when he composed his Suite No.2. It is not as easy to play as this video makes it look. That's what makes a professional. They can take something very complicated and make it look so simple. One day, probably when I am about eighty, I will finally master the piece and post my own video. I have to stop hyperventilating and passing out first. :) Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Product Review: Mathletics


Mathletics from 3-P Learning has been a valuable addition to our school program. is a paid membership site where your child can log into his personal account and complete grade-appropriate math challenges.


There is an area for practice where he is given a group of math problems on a particular skill to solve. Instant feedback is given, and players receive points based on their performance. There is also an area for problem solving. Students can choose word problems from a variety of math topics. Printable activities are available for certain topics and grade levels.


Mathletics keeps a record of the points a child earns and awards him certificates based on his performance. Students also work to earn perfect scores, represented by a gold bar in their progress report. With these high scores and certificates, players are awarded credits which they can use to buy items for their personal avitar. My sons loved this and thought they were on Webkinz.

On the Mathletics homepage, there is a Hall of Fame where the top students for the day, both in the US and internationally, are listed. One of my sons made the list a few times. This was highly motivating.

I liked that I received a weekly report. It was sent to my inbox once per week and allowed me to easily monitor their progress. When we first registered, I was allowed to place them at the grade level of my choosing. After a few reports, I saw that one son was not being challenged and was able to change his grade level immediately. I like that flexibility.

Interested? Now is a good time to purchase a membership. A one-year subscription for one child normally costs $99, but currently, the cost is $59. I would renew at that price and feel like I had received a good deal.

I received 2 memberships to Mathletics, one for each of my sons, for the purpose of completing this review. I have received no other compensation and have offered my honest evaluation. Please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog to read more reviews.

Product Review: Maestro Classics

M.C. Tortoise and Hare

The Maestro Classics' CD I received to review re-creates the fable The Tortoise and the Hare to include narration and orchestration, similar to Prokofiev‘s classic, Peter and the Wolf. The tortoise and the hare each have their own musical themes, played by instruments whose tone personifies the character. The narrator, Yadu, tells the story with enthusiasm and draws the listener in with his character voices. The results spark the imagination and bring the story to life.

Maestro Classics

Both of my sons loved the music. With the London Philharmonic Symphony performing, how could they not? My son who plays piano and violin now wants to add the trumpet, the bassoon, and the timpani to his repertoire. Ay, ay, ay! Maybe the folks at Maestro Classics have done their job a little too well!

When I asked my younger son to give his opinion, he answered that he did not like the story at all. I was shocked by his answer and asked a few probing questions. He explained that the hare is prideful and his statements were rude. As I listened to him state his case, I realized how well Maestro Classics kept his attention and got him emotionally involved in the story. He was able to recall many details and defend his position.

Because of my son’s dislike of the story, particularly the hare’s attitude, I listened to the story a second time to make sure I had not missed anything inappropriate. The hare is rude, but not any ruder than in any other telling of the story I have heard. Keeping to the theme and moral of the original fable, this rendition teaches an unambiguous lesson.

There are a couple of statements on the teaching tracks of the CD that clash with my worldview. The sing-along is about a pretzel vendor on the Champs Elysees who sells his pretzels to American tourists on Sundays. Because we do not work on the Lord’s Day, I felt uncomfortable allowing my children to sing this song. In one of the teaching tracks, “B.C.E.” is used in place of “B.C.” However, we were able to work around these minor issues, and they did not affect our overall enjoyment.

I give Maestro Classics two thumbs up and may purchase other titles in the Stories in Music series, like Casey at the Bat, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and my personal favorite, Peter and the Wolf. Each CD is currently available for $16.98, a great price for such a quality product.

I received one Maestro Classics CD for the purpose of completing this review. I received no other compensation and have offered my honest opinion. Please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew to read more reviews of this and other products.

Product Review: Tektoma


When I received a Tektoma membership as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I felt certain my boys would love it.

Tektoma offers GameMaker tutorials and teaches you step-by-step how to create your own computer games. My boys set out to create a race car game which is right up their alley. They are gamers and particularly like non-violent, racing games.

The tutorials are very good, offering both audio and video support. You see what you should be doing at the same time you are listening to the instructor explain the steps to follow. It is simple to use and good for all ages.

Surprisingly, my boys were not that interested. I do not understand why. I guess they like playing the games but not creating them.

If you have a young gamer in your family who would enjoy making a game of his or her own, I highly recommend Tektoma. Membership costs $14.95 per month or $140 per year. For the quality of instruction offered, I think the price is reasonable.

Not sure if your child would fall in love with game making or be bored to tears by it, Tektoma offers a free 14- day trial.

I was given a free membership to Tektoma in order to complete this review. I have received no other compensation. I have offered my honest opinion. For more reviews, visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Not Me Monday: I am NOT scatterbrained.

Last week I did not end my Not Me post with a joke.

I did not say that you should come back soon so I can prove to you that I am not scatterbrained.

I did not write this purely as a joke with absolutely no intention of doing such a thing. I mean, I am not scatterbrained after all. Not me. No way! Writing a post to prove this would be unnecessary.

After I hit publish on my hee-hee, ha-ha of a joke, the following did not happen:

  1. I did not forget to email the Mathletes' problems of the week to the team members.

  2. It was not Tuesday morning when I finally realized I had not yet sent them out.

  3. I did not send an email apologizing for my tardiness, explain that the level 2 and level 3 problems and their solutions were attached, and type the level 1 problem into the body of the email.

  4. I did not promise to send a second email with the solution for the level 1 problem.

  5. After hitting send, I did not start to type out the solution to level 1 and realize that I had not written the problem down or sent the previous email to myself.

  6. I did not have to write another email explaining what I had done and attempt to write out steps for solving the problem, omitting the numbers. It did not sound like this:

    Take the first % in the problem of the second number. Then subtract that answer from the second % I listed from the third number. (I would never give instructions that are so vague. Not me! I'm a master teacher who can explain everything with ease!!)

  7. About an hour later, I did not begin to do the PoW with Orville and Wilbur and realize that I still did not have the numbers for the level 1 problem and that I, the coach, would have to write the team moms and ask them to send me the PoW!

  8. Before I had a chance to write that email, one of the team moms replied to the original email. My dilemma should have been solved since the reply contained the level 1 problem, complete with numbers, except that she had written to inform me that I had not attached the levels 2 & 3 problems and solutions.

  9. I did not send yet another email to the group with the attachments actually attached.

  10. About an hour after that I did not receive a phone call from another team mom. It seems that when scanning the level 2 problem, I did not place it cock-eyed in the scanner and cut off part of the text.

  11. I did not send out a fourth email with a fully legible PoW. That was not the worst job I have ever done... EVER!

There! That proves it! I am NOT scatterbrained. Not even a little bit.

Come back next time when I will prove that I am not…

Never mind. I won’t go there again.

Just come back next time.

I’m sure it’ll be interesting.

P.S. If any of my Mathletes or their moms read this, thank you for being the best, most understanding group ever! :)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Nutter Butter Snowmen

It just isn't Christmas until I've dipped something in melted almond bark.

I made the Nutter Butter snowmen, pictured above, for our church's annual caroling party. I found the recipe at Taste of Home, and they are so easy to make. You simply dip Nutter Butter cookies in melted almond bark, place on wax paper, and arrange the candy to look like eyes, noses, and buttons. The scarves were done with deco glitter gel after the almond bark had set.

I decided to stray from the Taste of Home recipe and make my guys armless.

Okay, I forgot to buy the pretzels.

I could only fit two M&M's on my snowmen, and they look a little bug-eyed. That would be because I missed the words "miniature chocolate chips" and "M&M's miniature baking bits" in the recipe.

My reading comprehension is much lower this time of year. I have the Fa-la-la-la-la LA-luh-luh-duh syndrome.

I did come up with the idea of adding candy corn noses instead of using orange deco gel. I think that's pretty cute. Maybe a little big... but cute! I don't know if they make miniature candy corn.

What's most important is that my taste testers, a.k.a. Orville and Wilbur, give them two thumbs up!

Happy Cookie Making!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Freezer Cooking Recipes: Tater Tot Casserole and Orange Glazed Carrots

I hesitated to do the freezer cooking thing.

There was a dear relative we used to visit when I was a child who, bless her heart, did freezer cooking. Every time we visited, she would pull a thing of creamed corn out, heat, and serve it.

For some reason, it never tasted right. She could make a thousand other dishes, and they were all delicious... homemade waffles and syrup, roasts, casseroles, veggies, desserts. Everything was YUM-O!

But that corn.


So for that reason I've always thought freshly cooked... Mmmm.

Frozen... ICKY!

I decided to give it a try anyway and have been happy with the results. Now that I know these dishes do indeed freeze well, I will share my recipes. The first dish I made for the freezer was Tater Tot Casserole.

  1. Brown 2 lbs extra lean ground beef. As it cooks, season with salt, pepper, garlic powder (I don't measure but just give it a light coating), and minced onions (don't measure these either- a couple of shakes worth).

  2. When beef is cooked thoroughly, add 2 cans of cream of celery soup. I use the 99% fat free soup. Stir until beef and soup combine.

  3. Place beef mixture in a 9 x 13 foil baking pan.

  4. Arrange 1 bag of tater rounds (or tater tots- I like the rounds better) on top of the beef mixture.

  5. When cool, cover with press and seal paper and aluminum foil. Place in freezer.

  6. On the night you want to serve it, preheat oven to 350 and bake the casserole for 40 minutes.

  7. Remove from oven and cover with shredded cheese. I have used Monterrey jack, cheddar, a blend of the two, and pepper jack. Return to oven until cheese melts.

I found the carrot recipe here. I followed the recipe as is and let the carrots cool. Then I placed them in freezable containers, covered with press and seal, and placed the lid on the container.

I bought the bread at Kroger, ready to bake. It is called "Wholesome Harvest Fruit n Nut Wholegrain Bread". I found it in their bakery for $1.25 per loaf.

Next time I will share my Chicken Pot Pie and roasted sweet potato recipes.

Happy Cooking!


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Not Me Monday: I am not messy!

I have told y'all before that I am not messy.
Really, I'm not. Not me. Not a bit messy!

Saturday, when I finished making soap, my kitchen table did not look like this.

Why is the game cabinet open? Don't look inside! I didn't drink that Vanilla Coke in the foreground, either. As one commenter said last week, I am the "Energizer Bunny". I don't need caffeine.

I would never allow my work space to become that cluttered. I am all about organization and efficiency.

To further establish my case, I give you exhibit B. These pictures prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am not messy.

At least the floor's clean...

and this leak didn't require the services of a plumber, an electrician and a carpenter!

The soapy mess all over my kitchen floor did not spew from my dishwasher because I did not cram it full of measuring cups and spatulas covered in soap film. I realize that adding too much soap to the dishwasher is hazardous and carefully scraped away all dried-on soap before loading.

So there you have it. Proof positive that I am not messy.

Come back soon when I will prove that I am not scatterbrained. Nope, not me! I always remember....

Um... what was I saying?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Making Soap

I made soap today that I plan to sell at a Christmas Crafts Bazaar being held by my local hsa next week.

This is my cucumber melon collection.

I made these layered stars from olive oil and goats milk soaps.

These are my lemon verbena soaps. They make me think of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I made these glycerin soaps with kids in mind. There are vehicles, animals, toys, and other fun items kids like.

This is the Sweat Pea collection with glycerin and goats milk soaps.

Last but not least is my Christmas collection. There are smaller soaps for the sink or kids bath, popsicle soap, Christmas trees, and snowflakes.

If you are a local friend and are interested in purchasing my soaps, call me for more information.

If you are an online friend, I won't be selling via the internet this year. If the Lord wills, perhaps next. Feel free to let me know what you think of my soap collection in comments.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Edublog Awards 2009

Nominations are currently being taken by the edublogawards, and I would like to nominate in one category.

For Best educational use of audio, I would like to nominate My Audio School. MAS "exists to provide children with excellent audio content on a variety of school subjects in a format that they can easily use all by themselves."* My sons enjoy using the site, and it has enhanced their studies. You can read more of my thoughts about MAS here.

Thank you to Molly Evert, MAS creator and owner, for all of her hard work and dedication to creating a site to enrich the lives of students.

You can nominate your favorite educational blogs, too. Visit the edublogawards homepage for details.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Workboxes a la Olive Plants

I wrote in my review of Sue Patrick's Workbox System that I would share a few of the modifications I have made to fit our homeschool needs.

What I found most difficult about workboxing was having to fill the boxes every night. Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I love to teach/lesson plan/do anything school-related. However, filling the boxes was taking over an hour each night.

Maybe that's because I'm an overachiever and do too much.

Maybe that's because I'm getting old and don't move as fast as I used to.

Maybe that's just because workboxing takes that much work.

I don't know for sure but I do know that I could not keep up with it all.

Then I read this at the HSBA Post and decided to make some changes. Rhonda's idea of using Homeschool Tracker is great, but I don't have a subscription or the money to buy one right now. So, I did what homeschoolers do best and improvised.

I have nine boxes for each boy. I have designated one box for each of the following: math, writing, reading/journaling, geography, memory work, handwriting/copy work/coloring, other language arts (spelling, reading skills, etc.), project, extra-curricular.

These are Wilbur's workboxes.

Here are Orville's boxes.

On Saturdays, I place all the materials needed for the upcoming week's assignments in each box. I include activities like computer work and musical instrument practice. Sometimes a box will be filled with materials for a project. Sometimes it will contain a workbook or a game. Sometimes it will simply contain a card that says, "Complete two levels of math practice on each day this week." It takes me about three hours to put it all together which is still a lot of work. However, it makes the week run much more smoothly, and I have the energy for it on Saturdays, unlike at 8 p.m. each week night.

Here is a better view of Wilbur's boxes. He has a card box that contains a game, a DVD to watch, workboooks, copywork, and a cd with one activity in the bottom row.

I place the index card with instructions for each day on top of the materials.

Here is an example card:

Occasionally, I write "see me" if the instructions are too complicated to write out or if I know I will need to assist or give a test.

After a couple of weeks, I also stopped using the schedule strip. I kept putting the same numbers on it in the same order every day, so it seemed superfluous. I let the boys decide the order they will complete their work. This means if they want to do box 6 first, then so be it. Just so long as it all gets done, right?

When each boy has completed a box, he removes the tag from the front of it (I have them attached to the front of the boxes with Velcro) and places it inside the box. When all his tags are removed, he asks me to check his work. If everything is complete, he is done for the day.

Those are our changes. I'm curious, though. How many of you use workboxes and what works best for you? Please share. I have started a conversation in my Blog Frog community.

Congratulations HSBA Winners!

The Homeschool Blog Award winners have been announced, and I was not among them this year. However, it really was an honor to be nominated, especially in three categories. I know who nominated me for Best Crafts, etc. and Best Encourager but have no clue who nominated me for Best Super. You really surprised me with that one!

Thank you to everyone who voted for Olive Plants, too. I really appreciate you guys and am glad that you are blessed by this blog.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Thank you to everyone at the HSBA Post. Hosting these awards has to be a HUGE undertaking, and all of us who participate profit from it, win or lose. Thank you!


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Freezer Cooking Plan

Those of you who read my Not Me Monday post this week already know what all I did (not) cook for the freezer this month. I really did as much as I could, feeling, for many reasons, the need to work ahead.

First, I am dieting. I most frequently fall off the dieting wagon because I don't have a proper plan for dinner or I don't have the energy to follow through with a plan I have made. On nights that I don't know what is for dinner or I am just exhausted from everything the day required, I make something quick and easy (read fattening) or we eat out (read fattening).

Second, menu planning and shopping exhaust me. These are my least favorite responsibilities, right behind doing the laundry. I would rather clean the bathroom, really. It is the perpetual nature of the tasks. I know I can't do away with the work altogether but I wanted to streamline it as much as possible.

Finally, I wanted to spend more time with my family each night and less time in the kitchen. With the major cooking done, dinner prep is so easy. Clean-up literally takes minutes, especially with all four of us contributing.

However, preparing for the cooking day itself and keeping the kitchen running on the cooking day required careful planning. There are many ways to go about freezer cooking. In fact, Money Saving Mom has a meme going right now on the topic where you can get lots of ideas.

Actually, that was my first step... to gather lots of ideas. For about three months, I read blog posts and thought about why I wanted to bulk cook. Some moms do a little here and there and some do a month's worth like me. Others bulk cook every other month or a few times each year. One group of moms co-op their freezer cooking day. It is really important to decide what will be most helpful for you and make your plans accordingly.

Once I decided that I would take the plunge and cook a full month's worth of breakfasts, dinners, and desserts, I bought a spiral notebook with five sections. I labeled each section as follows: breakfasts, lunches, snacks, dinner- main dishes, dinner- sides, desserts. Though I would not be cooking lunches or snacks for the freezer, I still wanted to gather more ideas. As I visited blogs and looked through cooking sites and books, I jotted down several ideas in each category.

Then I narrowed it down to seven main dishes with accompanying sides, three breakfasts, and two desserts. I created a page for each dinner dish and wrote its recipe along with ingredients and cookware needed on that page. Then I decided on side dishes and wrote them on the page with the main dish they would accompany. Some of the sides were things I could cook and freeze, some were things I could buy already frozen. A few things will have to be bought and prepared fresh. Everything can't go in the freezer. Trust me, I tried! :)

Here are the final menus:
  1. Chicken Pot Pie with roasted sweet potatoes and corn
  2. Tater Tot Casserole with orange glazed carrots and peas
  3. Swedish Meatballs (low fat version) with salad
  4. Chicken Stir Fry with fresh fruit
  5. Mexican Chicken with Molly's Mac n Cheese (for the non-dieters in the family), green beans, and fruit and nut bread (bought from the Kroger bakery, ready-to-bake)
  6. Tagliarini, okra with onions and peppers, and Italian bread (bought from Kroger, ready-to-bake)
  7. Baked Chicken (to be made the night of), brown rice, hominy, broccoli, fruit and nut bread
  8. muffins
  9. pancakes
  10. sausage biscuits
  11. two batches of cookie dough (frozen in sets of six- take from freezer and bake in a portion that does not tempt me to indulge)

I made 3-5 portions of each main dish. This gives us enough for one month with a couple extras to give to my parents. On weekends, I will make a crockpot meal. The breakfasts are for the boys. We thaw the night before or microwave in the morning, and they have a piece of fruit to go with. Also, this plan often provides leftovers for lunch the next day.

Here is the plan I followed for cooking day:

  1. Cook all ground beef while boiling noodles for mac n cheese.
  2. Strain ground beef and store in fridge. Mix mac n cheese, place in four foil baking pans and bake.
  3. Boil pasta for tagliarini. Assemble tater tot casseroles, except for cheese, and freeze.
  4. Remove mac and cheese from oven and allow to cool. Strain pasta and mix tagliarini. Set aside to cool.
  5. Boil carrots while peeling sweet potatoes.
  6. Prepare sweet potatoes and place in four foil baking pans and place in oven. Strain carrots and add glaze. Set aside to cool.
  7. Wrap mac n cheese and Tag and place in freezer.
  8. Remove sweet potatoes from oven and set aside to cool.
  9. Prepare Mexican Chicken. Place in oven to bake. Wrap and freeze chicken breasts for Baked Chicken. Cube chicken and prepare stir fry.
  10. Set aside Mexican Chicken and Stir Fry to cool. Wrap and freeze sweet potatoes and carrots.
  11. Prepare Chicken Pot Pie filling and set aside to cool. Make meatballs for Swedish Meatballs. Set aside to cool.
  12. Mix muffins and bake first round. While baking, make sauce for Swedish Meatballs and set aside to cool.
  13. Mix second batch of muffins. Remove first batch and allow to cool. Put second batch in to bake. Wrap and freeze chicken pot pie filling, except for one portion which goes to the refrigerator. Wrap and freeze meatballs and sauce in separate containers.
  14. Remove second batch of muffins and allow to cool. Mix third batch and bake. Mix cookie dough.
  15. Remove muffins from oven and allow to cool. Place 1st batch of biscuits in oven to bake (I used canned... shhhhh).
  16. Spoon cookie dough onto Glad Press and Seal paper. Seal in groups of six, place in large freezer bags, and place in freezer. Wrap muffins individually, place in freezer bags, and place in freezer. During this step, remove biscuits from oven and place the second batch in to bake.
  17. Remove second batch of biscuits and allow them to cool. Cook sausage and cool.
  18. Mix pancake batter and cook. Stack pancakes on a platter and allow them to cool.
  19. Assemble sausage biscuits, wrap, place in large freezer bags, and place in the freezer.
  20. Wrap pancakes individually in press and seal paper. Place in large freezer bags and into the freezer.
  21. Line a deep dish pie pan with a pre-made pie crust. Fill with pot pie filling that was stored in the fridge. Top with second crust, seal, cut slits, and brush with egg. Bake in oven on 400 for 30 minutes along with one portion of sweet potatoes. Microwave frozen corn. Serve for dinner.
  22. Clean the kitchen.
  23. Take long bath.
  24. Take three Excedrine Back and Body pain pills.
  25. Go to bed and sleep well, knowing there will be very little cooking to do for the next month! :)

Happy Cooking!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Celebrating Advent

During the Advent season, our family worship takes on a Christmas theme. Last year I wrote Advent about our traditions. Michael reads to us from Scripture that explains one element of our Jesse tree each night. We sing Christmas hymns, memorize Bible verses from the Christmas story, and read The Advent book.

This year, Michael thought we needed to change things a little. The boys have reached that place in their development that they know the Christmas story inside and out. We are also incorporating a lot of Scripture memory into our regular school day. It's not that we think you can reach a place of knowing Scripture too well; however, he thought it would be beneficial to build on the foundation that has been laid. This year he is not reading the Advent book and we are not having the boys memorize Christmas verses.

Instead he is holding a sword drill. Each night he reads an Old Testament prophecy and the New Testament fulfillment and requires the boys to learn the Scripture reference for each. After he does some teaching and discussing with us, I read one of the passages for the night, not naming the reference. He and the boys seek it out in their Bibles and step forward when it is found. Once all three have located the passage, I call on one of them to read the reference and the first phrase, much like a traditional Sword Drill.

In between passages, I call out a book of the Bible. Each boy locates it and steps forward. Michael participates and occasionally pretends to have difficulty locating the book. The boys think this is a lot of fun and work hard to "get there" before Dad.

We still sing Christmas hymns and let the boys explain the Jesse tree ornaments. We are having such a great Advent season singing and worshipping, spending time in the Word, learning together, and having fun as a family.

When we finish our family worship time, the boys take a piece of candy from this candy tree we made quickly and easily with toothpicks and a Styrofoam base.

I would love to hear from you. What are your Advent traditions? You can leave a comment if you would like or participate in the new discussion I started on the topic in my Blog Frog community.

Happy Advent!


Teaching Tip Tuesday: Reading Music

I made this chart to help my flute student learn to read music.

I drew the staff on card stock and then laminated it. I drew a variety of notes, rests, and time signatures on index cards, laminated, and cut them out. Then I attached Velcro to the index card pieces and the staff. She is able to change the time signature and place the appropriate "amount" of notes within the measure. I also have her move a whole note from line-to-line or space-to-space and state which note is which.

I made this small, 8.5 x 11'', so it would be portable. She practices with it at home, and we use it during her lessons each week. If I could make a few changes, I would increase the size. Probably make it an interactive bulletin board for home use only. I would add in a space for the key signature. I would also make the treble clef interchangeable with a bass clef. Flute reads treble only, but for my pianist at home, I would want both.

Happy Teaching!


Avon Give-away

Heather @ Kingdom Arrows is giving away a set of Avon Naturals Pomegranate and Mango bath products. It is a great give-away, so don't miss your chance to win! Visit Kingdom Arrows for the details.

16 x 20 Rolled Canvass Print Give-away

Kimberly @ Raising Olives is giving away one 16 x 20 rolled canvass print of your favorite picture from Online Poster Printing. This would make a fabulous Christmas present and can be yours for free. Visit Raising Olives for the details.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Not Me Monday: Not an Overachiever

I have not been reading the blogs of some amazing women lately. They have not inspired me to try something new, cooking in bulk and freezing.

I did not set last Monday aside as a shopping day and Tuesday as a cooking day. I did not decide to make enough breakfasts, dinners, sides, and desserts for one month because I am not an over-achiever.

I did not make 3 chicken pot pies, four servings of roasted sweet potatoes, 5 tater tot casseroles, 4 servings of orange glazed carrots, 3 portions of Swedish meatballs, 5 dishes of cashew chicken, 4 platters of Mexican chicken, 4 trays of baked mac and cheese, 3 large trays of tagliarini, 6 dozen muffins, 6 dozen pancakes, 48 sausage biscuits, and enough cookie dough for 8 dozen cookies. Like I said, I am not an overachiever of the highest proportion. Not me… no way!

Every muscle in my body did not ache after I finished all the cooking and cleaning. I'm not getting old, either.

I also did not fill the freezer with frozen vegetables and ready-to-bake bread. There is not enough food in there to feed an army, and I will not have to do any major shopping or cooking for one month. I did not save a considerable amount of money on groceries, and so far, everything has not tasted great and been super convenient. I am not glad I took time to bulk cook. Not glad at all.

And, just so you'll know… this non-overachiever is not messy either. Nope! Not a bit. In fact, here's what my kitchen did not look like when I finished cooking.

See, I told you. I'm not messy. Not me!
This picture was not taken after I had done two loads of dishes.

Oh, and don't bother coming back anytime soon because recipes will not follow. ;)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


A spammer has made his way to Olive Plants. Shame on you, whoever you are.

He is leaving comments with ads for products I do not endorse and making my lovely little blog not so lovely.

So... I have changed my comments security setting and will now be reviewing all comments before publishing them.

I hesitated to do this because I welcome comments. However, I do not welcome spammy comments and appologize for the nature of the one remaining spam that I cannot delete.

Unless you are a spammer, please keep commenting. I will approve and post your comment asap.

Thanks, my friends.

And, spammer, stop spamming!


Friday, November 13, 2009

Product Review: GyMathtics


GyMathtics from Exploramania is a fun, DVD workout for kids that has them practicing math skills as they exercise.

The complete program includes four segments:

  • Shape Stretches Warm Up
  • Counting Calisthenics
  • Pattern Power
  • Well-Being Wind Down

In each segment, the adult instructor and her four young assistants demonstrate how to complete each exercise. Each exercise incorporates bending or moving to resemble a geometric shape, skip counting along with movements, or forming patterns. While the team completes the repetitions, math lessons are taught through graphics that appear on-screen while a voice-over teacher gives further explanation.

I thought GyMathtics had many good qualities:

  • Integrating math and exercise
  • Helpful graphics
  • Good explanation of math concepts
  • Exercises and number of reps are appropriate for young children
  • Staggering of exercise and math instruction so they do not compete for your attention
  • Good, easy-to-follow instructions
  • Modestly dressed instructor and participants
  • Repetitive music
  • Wind Down segment is a little too "self-helpish" for my liking

Overall, I give GyMathtics two thumbs up. Orville and Wilbur both enjoyed it. They have already mastered the majority of the math skills covered. That did not hinder their enjoyment. As they explained to me "math makes exercising more fun". They gave the DVD an average score of 7 out of 10.

You can purchase GyMathics and Exploramania's other educational exericise products at their website. The 30-minute long DVD costs $24.99.

I received one copy of GyMathics for free for the purpose of completing this review. I have received no other compensation and have offered my honest evaluation of this product. Your experience could differ from mine. Please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog to read what my crewmates have to say about this and other homeschool-related products.

Product Review: AVKO Membership


AVKO aims "to provide free and low-cost resources to home and school educators in order to achieve literacy for all, even despite learning challenges or dyslexia."* Their Research Director, Don McCabe, wrote To Teach a Dyslexic, and Sequential Spelling was born from his research and theories.

AVKO membership offeres many benefits:
  • 5 free downloadable ebooks, including To Teach a Dyslexic
  • Free access to Don McCabe's most popular workshops
  • Discounts on all printed AVKO materials, including Sequential Spelling
  • AVKO Newsletter
  • Supplemental materials for Sequential Spelling and for general language arts instruction
  • Pretests and placement tests

There were a few supplemental materials that I found helpful; however, I was not able to use most of what this membership provides. I do not use Sequential Spelling, and AVKO does not fit my homeschooling needs.

If you already use Sequential Spelling, you would most likely find the membership very helpful and well worth $25 per year for an individual.


I was provided a one-year membership to AVKO for free for the purpose of writing this review. I have received no other compensation and have provided my honest, unbiased opinion based on my experience with the product. Your experience could differ from mine. I recommend you visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog to read my crewmates reviews.

Now Presenting...


Our New Pet Beta


He is red, white and blue, so the boys decided against naming him Wally II and to give him an all-American name instead. His name is George, in honor of George Washington.

Thank you to everyone who emailed or commented on Poor Wally Is Dead. Your kind words were encouraging, and the boys appreciated the condolences.



Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poor Wally Is Dead

Saturday was a day of tears at the Olive Plants house.

Wally the fish died.

Actually, he died on Monday, Wilbur's birthday. There was no way I was telling the resident animal lover that the pet fish went bottom up on that day. I left poor, dead Wally in the tank, hoping no one would notice.

On Tuesday, I completely forgot about the dead beta. I'll blame it on the sugar rush from the birthday cookie followed by the withdrawal crash. Sugar intake does weird things to a dieter. Even though he was positioned sideways on the bottom of the bowl, the boys did not realize Wally was dead. They even continued to feed him.

On Wednesday, Wilbur awoke with a cold. I was too busy nursing him back to health to give Wally any thought. Wilbur was too sick to notice, and Orville never mentioned it. I assume that means he thought Wally was still alive and well.

On Thursday, I finally remembered that Wally's carcass was wedged between the pebbles lining the bottom of the bowl and the bowl itself. The boys had already gone to bed when I had this epiphany so we could not have a proper burial that evening. I did go to the fish bowl to assess the situation. I was totally grossed out by the decaying fish and politely asked (okay, screamed like a crazy woman for) Michael. He rescued me and flushed the critter pronto. I decided to tell the boys of his demise in the morning.

On Friday, I woke up with a cold, as did Orville. Once again, I forgot to mention the fate of our fishy friend, and Wilbur continued to feed an empty fish bowl, completely unaware that his friend was gone.

Saturday I was still sick and spent the afternoon in the bed, typing on my laptop. Late in the day, Wilbur came running to my bedroom.

Mom, Wally's not in his bowl.

Uh oh. Oh, bad mom. Bad, BAD MOM!

I've told y'all before that I'm forgetful. Cold medicine makes me almost amnesiac.

I gently explained poor Wally's fate and let Wilbur know that Dad and I intend to get him a new fish as soon as possible. Like the minute I am well enough to operate a motor vehicle without endangering myself and others. We discussed buying another blue beta and laughed about the possibility of naming it Wally II. I'm not sure why that's so funny, but he found it hysterical. I was relieved by his laughter, and he left my room, seemingly satisfied.

But not really because before I could say "3...2...1…."

Sobbing. Loud, sorrowful, I-just-lost-my-best-friend-in-the-world sobbing.

He returned to my room, and I scooped him up into my arms. I rubbed his head and gave kisses while he cried it out. We talked about death being a consequence of the fall. We talked about man having dominion over the animals, in part, for our pleasure. We talked about the temporal nature of pleasure and about those things that will last for eternity. We talked about Jesus, his victory over death and hell, and the security, joy, and hope we have in Him. I reminded him that although he will never see Wally again, one day he will see Jesus face to face. We agreed we would much rather see Jesus than Wally. We prayed for grace and peace and for help to trust God in the face of death.

Once again he left the room, this time completely satisfied. There were no more tears but laughing and playing and little boy stuff.

A dead pet is hard to face with a child, but Wally served his God-ordained purpose in our lives. He was here for a time for our pleasure , but in the end, gave us reason to contemplate Christ and experience the peace and satisfaction that we have in Him.

Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…. Rom 5:2-5

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Preschool Peace

When my boys were preschool aged, life could be a little chaotic.

Two boys. Not quite thirteen months apart. Whew!

There were many temper tantrums, a number of fights, a whole slew of "stubbing up", and the word "ME" used in epic proportions.

Oh, and there was discipline.

Lots and Lots and LOTS of discipline.

I remember on a particularly chaotic day I had done more disciplining than anything else. In fact, that whole week had been more discipline than anything else.

I was tired and wondered if it would ever get any better. Would the rest of my life be like this? Would I ever just be able to enjoy my time with these two little stinkers or would I always have to be firm and consistent and never let down my guard, even for a teeny, tiny second?

Reaching the end of myself, I put the Write Bros to bed for nap and called my mom. This was not long after our move from Tennessee to Georgia. Her house had been five steps from mine. Now, it was a seven hour drive away.

But we had unlimited long distance, so I called her up pronto and lamented. I proclaimed, "Mom, I need a break! Do you think FedEx would overnight these children to you?!"

They don't. I checked.

But it was our little joke for quite some time.

I imagine somewhere out there on the other side of my computer screen that there is another young mom, just like I was. You have corrected, trained, wiped up messes, fixed boo-boo's, calmed tantrums, broken up arguments, wrestled the resistant, warded off disasters, and generally not stopped all day. Or all week. Or maybe since you gave birth to your first child.

But don't stop.

Don't give up.

Don't despair.

You can't overnight your children to Grandma but if you are in Christ, you can confidently draw near to the throne of grace that you may receive mercy and find grace for timely help. (Heb 4:16)

Each time you do all those hard, child-training things, you are doing the will of God. You are Mommy, and your ministry is motherhood. And God has said that he will neither leave you nor forsake you. (Heb 13:5)

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all things for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you. (1Th 5:16-18)

Remember how blessed you are to be a mother. Sing Psalms and hymns. Thank God for granting you the greatest privilege a woman can have. And do these things with your little ones beside you. Even on the days that things are hard. Sing, pray, and praise God in the midst of it all. Don't wait for a quiet time because it may never come.

And know that it does get easier.

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Prov 13:24) Little by little, you will see the results of training. Certainly foolishness has not yet been driven completely from the hearts of mine, but each year I see a little more wisdom. Grace continues to abound, and my boys are growing in it. It is a beautiful thing to experience and well worth those weary days.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm Shocked!

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!

Olive Plants has been nominated in the Homeschool Blog Awards.

I am shocked, humbled, thrilled... this list could go on for quite some time. Olive Plants has been nominated in three different categories: Best Encourager, Best Crafts, Plans & Projects Blog, and (the one that caused my jaw to hit the floor) Best SUPER-HOMESCHOOLER.

Wow, my friends! Wow!

Y'all are good to me.

If you are an Olive Plants regular, just click above to be redirected to the HSBA Post where you can vote.

If you are new to Olive Plants, welcome! Take a little time to look around. I have listed some of my favorite series in my side bar with direct links to all the articles. I look forward to getting to know you.

For those who want to vote for Olive Plants, make sure you read the rules carefully. If anyone breaks them, I will be disqualified. I know you don't want that to happen.

Thanks again for the nominations. You have made my year!



Monday, November 9, 2009

Product Review: American Heritage Education Foundation


The American Heritage Education Foundation offers a full K-12 curriculum for teachers of American History and government. A full set of lessons are provided for three distinct level--elementary, middle school, and high school--free of charge to any parent or educator.

The elementary curriculum offers a variety of lessons on topics such as colonists, the first Thanksgiving, George Washington, the Statue of Liberty, and "What Is an American?"… just to name a few. Learning activities include role playing, games, reading primary sources, puzzles, and hands-on activities. It is a very structured program that gives the teacher detailed plans for teaching each lesson.

The middle school and high school lessons expand upon the topics taught in the elementary version. The middle school curriculum includes more primary sources. The high school program takes a closer look at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is essentially a course in American government and asks students to contemplate their rights and responsibilities as free citizens as well as other hot topics such as separation of church and state.

I am going to give this program two thumbs up for its methodology and for how well it teaches the Constitution and government. The activities in each level are well-suited for the intended audiences and will engage students in the learning process. Students are sure to complete this program as well-informed citizens.

I also give the program two thumbs down for regarding mankind and the American way a little too highly, in my opinion. Though the curriculum teaches that America's heritage is Christian, I could find no statements or lessons that attribute the founding and continued prosperity of our nation to God's mighty works of providence. Instead, it seems to attribute prosperity to freedom and the efforts of mankind.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this curriculum. If you are looking for a curriculum that teaches government and acknowledges a Christian influence on America's founding, it is a great resource.

However, if you are aiming to teach history as a means of leading your children to a better understanding of God's sovereignty and providence and you want to delve more deeply into our religious heritage, the American Heritage Education Foundation curriculum will most likely disappoint.

I was given this curriculum for free in order to complete this review. I have not received any other compensation and have provided my honest, unbiased opinion based on my experience with the product. Please visit the TOS Homeschool blog to read what my crewmates have to say about this and other homeschool products.

Not Me Monday: Not a Siren

A siren's song did not echo through my kitchen this week.

And by siren, I don't mean the ear-piercing, hurry-up-and-get-out-of-the-house type. Oh no, I would have preferred that siren.

This siren was the mythological type. The sort that lures people off course and destroys their ability to think straight.

I could hear it from the freezer, beckoning me with its sweet, soothing song.

"Dawn… Dawn… I'm here. Come to me."

I did not cave.

I did not race to the freezer and embrace my tempter, deciding just a little bit would okay.

I did not place the carton of luscious sweet butter cream on the counter and in a half-dazed trance jab my spoon into the frozen delight.


Ice cream never tempts me... NEVER!

In my delirium, I did not loose control of my hand and catapult the scoop of ice cream over the counter…


Oh, no... Not Me!

And into one of Orville's galoshes.


I did not do this. I am far too self-controlled.

The sight of the frosty, snow white goodness inside a dirty, smelly rubber boot did not snap me out of my trance.

I did not reprimand myself with the words, "that's what you get for fudging on your diet."

I did not shove the carton to the back of the freezer and quickly wash away the evidence of my transgression.


But only after taking pictures for my blog, of course.

empty boot

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Audio School Subscription Give-away

My Audio School is one of the best resources for homeschoolers to hit the web, and I am proud to say that it is the brain child of my dear friend, Molly @ Counter-cultural Mom and School. What began as an effort to meet the learning needs of her dyslexic son grew into a home-based business.

You may have seen the MAS button in my sidebar or read the promo I wrote soon after the site's launching. You may have noticed that I nominated MAS for Best Curriculum/Business Blog in the Homeschool Blog Awards. But... have you visited yet? Have you seen the oodles of free downloadable audio content that Molly has compiled?

You can access a portion of the content without a paid membership; however, a one-year subscription only costs $14.99 per family. It is a fabulous deal.

This week, however, you could win a free one-year subscription. Brenda @ Tie That Binds Us is giving away an MAS subscription to one of her readers. You can get all the details on how to enter at her blog.

Product Review: A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers


At the beginning of this school year, I began a composers study with the boys. I had decided to read aloud a book on the topic. I never preview read alouds but just do the editing as I read to the boys. While reading the first chapter on Wagner, I did more editing than actual reading. It went a little something like this:

Wagner was a German composer best known for his operas. He... uh... he did WHAT?! And he was uh... um... well, um.... He... oh, eeek, ugh. Well, that's enough about him.

I decided to shelve the book and the composer study until I could find a better source.

Then entered Bright Ideas Press. Their Young Scholar's Guide to Composers provided the resource I was looking for. Here is what they have to say about the sensitive issue of studying a man's life without applauding his sin.

There is much material available about these composers that is not information we feel is appropriate for the age level of students for whom this book is intended. Composers, even classical composers, were sinners like the rest of us! It takes no real digging to come across sins of every nature.

They go on to explain the caution they exercised in creating this curriculum and selecting which composers would be included... or not. Not every composer included was known to be a Christian; however, they did choose to omit a few, like Wagner. His openly immoral lifestyle makes it difficult to study him with any depth without also having to tackle issues too complicated for the intended audience of this curriculum. I appreciate their commitment to protecting the minds of our young ones.

I also like the presentation of the content. The study begins with ancient music, moves through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and then delves into classical and modern music.

They include an overview of each time period followed by biographies of the composers of that period. I liked how they present the big picture first and work inward. I saw the fruit of this approach as we listened to pieces by each composer. As my boys listened to the works of Bach and Handel, they commented on the use of staccato in the Baroque period. They did not just gather a bunch of random facts about the men but gained a greater appreciation for their music and became more discerning listeners as a result.

The curriculum is a bit routine and does not offer much variety. The study repeats a cycle of reading the section, answering questions, time lining, creating a "composer card", mapping, and listening to music from the time period. The reading sections are long, and I had to break them into shorter segments. I did the same with the questions. My boys could not process all the information included during one sitting.

My boys did enjoy creating the composer cards, mapping, and time lining. The curriculum suggests a way to arrange these into a modified lapbook. Their "folderbooks" are easier to assemble than a traditional lapbook. The emphasis is on keeping the study simple; however, I would prefer more variety and think additional hands-on activities and games would make this good study great.

Suggested music selections are provided. Most of the pieces can be found on YouTube.

I give the Young Scholar's Guide to Composers two thumbs up for its commitment to protecting young minds, organized presentation, and easy, hands-on composer card activities. I intend to continue this study but will look for additional hands-on activities and music games to include.

You can purchase the Young Scholar's Guide to Composers at their website. The paperback book costs $34.95 and the CD-Rom costs $29.95.

I received the Young Scholar's Guide to Composers for free in order to complete this review. I have received no other compensation and have provided my honest evaluation of the product based on my experience with it. Your experience with this product could differ from mine. Please visit the TOS Homeschool blog to read more reviews of this product written by my crewmates.