For Those of You Interested in Avancemos Spanish

It was brought to my attention that some of you are having difficulty getting a response when trying to get the homeschool discount on the Avancemos Spanish program I recently posted about. Here is another way to get some assistance and the free code for a 20% discount and free shipping.

Go to If you click on the item you are interested in, it will take you to a homeschool contact form to fill out.

You can find additional contact information for the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt representative Shannon Cullip via her website by clicking here.

I don’t know why they can’t just make it easy and let us homeschoolers load up an online shopping cart like everywhere else, but it’s worth the extra trouble as Avancemos is an excellent program.

Summer School ;-)

drugsYesterday Otter started a new series of drug and alcohol identification and enforcement classes. CHP officers are teaching the Explorers all about the effects of drugs and alcohol, how to recognize intoxication, alcohol blood levels, when arrests can be made and so on. Otter’s learning that even if a person doesn’t necessarily look it, s/he can still be legally intoxicated, the blood chemistry behind all of that and smaller clues to look for – with those who can “hold their liquor”. He loves these classes and said he had to take a TON of notes. This week they covered alcohol. Next week they’ll be covering some drugs. He got to go on some ride-alongs recently too where he wrote some tickets for speeding and was instructed in many other law enforcement skills during the officer’s shift with the various things they ran into.

I think it’s important for homeschooled kids to get classroom time in some form or fashion. Otter’s Explorer classes have helped to fill that need – with a multitude of experiences including “pop” spelling quizzes, taking notes, tests, and teamwork.

He also got quite a bit of class time in one of his camps this year. He spent hours working on earning merit badges in First Aid (where he learned CPR and other valuable skills), Citizenship in the World and Emergency Preparation. He now has almost all the merit badges he needs to start working on becoming an Eagle Scout.

citizenship_in_the_world_lg emergency_preparedness_lg first_aid_lg

He added to his swimming skills this summer too. I am so proud that my boy who USED to be afraid of the water is quite the fish and that he was working with a younger boy who is afraid of swimming – trying to help him overcome his fear with the understanding and patience of someone who’s been there and done that. ;-)

Otter has been in a lot of leadership roles this summer. Earlier this summer he was Den Chief for the Cub Scouts and helped teach & lead a group of boys during Cub Scout Day Camp. He’s also been working as Senior Patrol Leader for his group of scouts. When he started Boy Scouts, he was one of the youngest scouts. Now he’s one of the “big boys” and helps teach (and corral, lol) the younger boys. His Scoutmaster has talked to him about moving up as a jr. assistant scout master in the future. He’ll be helping out in Vacation Bible School later this summer too.

I love watching Otter grow and mature as such a responsible young man who is involved in a lot of positive activities that allow him to interact with many different mentors and law enforcement officers who put in hours of teaching time as well as kids of all ages and backgrounds.

Switching Spanish Curriculum

I planned on continuing with Rosetta Stone for Spanish, but I found a more complete curriculum that will work better for Otter’s learning style. Rosetta Stone just doesn’t cut it for us when it comes to helping us understand Spanish in more depth. We both could understand enough to click on the correct boxes (most of the time), but weren’t really understanding the grammar or even what specific words mean, even though we could kind of figure them out in context.

We are going to be using Avancemos, which is by Holt McDougal and available via a special price if you order the homeschool package (more details on how to get that at the end of the post).

Here’s what we are ordering:

9780547858654 Level 1 Avancemos Homeschool Kit $96.75 – 20% (homeschool discount) = $77.40

For that price I’m getting the print student edition as well as the student and teacher digital access codes.

The access codes give you access to the digital textbooks (both student and teacher editions), all the teacher resources and answers, student worksheets, tests, videos, audio…There is a TON of stuff that is available for this program. I’ve included some screenshots below to give you an idea of what you get.

The online student text has all the video and audio integrated right into the text itself (just a click away) as well as self-checking chapter activities sprinkled throughout the online pages. I love that you can click on the audio icons as well as all the words highlighted in blue to hear them (no guessing when it comes to pronunciation)!

spanish curriculum


The online student text has a tab where all the unit resources are available at a click. There are animated grammar lessons, flashcards, self-check quizzes, interactive games and TONS of worksheets (all the answers are included in the teacher resources).


Here’s an example of one of the interactive games – a crossword puzzle you can fill out online.


Another online game:


Worksheets have numerous pages of varying activities to practice what’s being learned in the text:spanish3

There are also interactive online “worksheets” for additional practice:


There is even a “at home-tutor” option that walks you through practice materials step-by-step.

The teacher’s resources contain even more printables and activities to help your students learn Spanish like conversation cards:


Clipart & flashcard printables:



There is so much more. I couldn’t fit all of the teacher resources in one screenshot, but you can get an idea of what is available by taking a look at this:




Each arrow and plus sign leads to a drop down menu of more choices. There are more things than you will ever need to use. I love having so many options. If we understand a chapter, we’ll be able to move on more quickly. If there is something we don’t get, we’ll be able to dig in and stay awhile. ;-)

Emily used Holt’s German program with great success. Avencemos has even more features than her program did so I think it will work out great for us. The homeschool pricing makes it even more attractive and the multiple resources & modes of learning make it more valuable to us as a Spanish program. It’s structured in such a way that I believe we will be successful with it, even though neither of us speaks hardly any Spanish.

In order to get the special package price you must be either a homeschooler, independent study or charter school family. If you meet those requirements you can contact Shannon Cullip (shannoncullip [at sign] or call toll free: 855-386-9297 option 1.

Happy homeschooling!

10th Grade Plans

10th grade is coming up and I’ve finally figured out what we’ll be using in our homeschool. I made a few changes to my initial plan and am much happier with the final result. Here are some of the things we’ll be using:

Sonlight Core 300 – 20th Century World History, Bible, Language Arts and Literature

I have to send a HUGE thank-you to my dear friend who is lending me this core as it’s not in our budget to buy it outright. She has been such a great support & help over the years in so many ways!!

Although Otter and I have really enjoyed using the Awesome History Timeline Schedule (which is available for free here on my website), this year I wanted something with a schedule with an integrated language arts & literature where I can just check the boxes and see at a glance what I need to do every week without having to think about it!  Sonlight Core 300 turned out to be a great fit.

Life has been really busy and I just didn’t want to have to come up with all of the related discussion questions, writing assignments, mapping assignments, related literature and more every week so I decided to go the packaged route for our next school year. Having everything laid out for me as a teacher will be a nice change instead of having to come up with everything from scratch for almost every subject! No more hours of prep-work and fussing with the library to try and get the books I need on time.

Take a look at a small portion of the awesome instructor’s guide. You just move down the column for each day of the week and then look over the notes for each day (not pictured below).

igClick here for a 3 week sample of the Core 300 Bible and history instructor’s guide here.

Here’s a sample of the parent’s language arts guide.

The core comes with parent and student guides with lots of notes, maps, timeline assignments, discussion questions, writing & vocabulary assignments, literary device discussions and more.

I’ve used Sonlight in the past and enjoyed it – but found that parts of it were not a match for Otter when he was younger. I also used other cores with my older kids who later moved on to other things like Tapestry of Grace for a bit of change.  I credit Sonlight for some of my daughter’s heart for and current involvement with the Japanese because of the worldwide and multicultural focus of Sonlight’s studies.

Otter used Sonlight for Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade but ended up needing something much more linear with easier readers and a heavier dose of non-fiction, more hands-on activities and books more customized for his personality and retention level. He’s flourished with the curriculum I made for him but I think this will work out better this coming year for us both. He likes to see what’s coming up via a schedule and right now, so do I, lol. I’ll continue to use the Awesome History Timeline for supplements, if we have time.

Take a look at the meaty and interesting books that come with this core. I’m so looking forward to them as I never used this core with my older (now adult) kids!

Click on any book below to see more about it on Amazon or visit Sonlight’s website to see their comments about each book.

First, there is a selection of Bible & Apologetics books. Sonlight also schedules readings from the Bible itself and verse memorization.

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Then there are the history books, biographies and historical fiction (with TONS of notes in the instructor’s guides, related mapping assignments, timeline entries and so on to make every book more meaningful):

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Next there are the literature & poetry books (with multiple notes, discussion questions, related writing assignments and more in the guides). I like that the language arts program covers the things Otter needs to work on for understanding literature as well as writing and that some of the selections are tied to the year’s history study. Some of the language arts topics that will be covered are: creative expression, response papers, creating a compelling plot, how to cite works, writing & tense, critical essays, elements of grammar, writing a script, advertising, the editing process, eliminating the passive voice and much more.

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I like the mix of books. There’s some heavy stuff punctuated by lighter reading. Perfect!

With Sonlight, we have all the major parts (or “core”) of our 10th grade curriculum taken care of. I will be adding in a couple more things for additional language arts practice in areas Otter still needs to work on like spelling and grammar. He will also probably continue with some materials I have on hand to improve his writing.

Otter’s additional subjects and activities will be:

MathTeaching Textbooks Algebra (finishing up level one and moving on to level 2 when he’s ready)

Spanish – We will either continue with Rosetta Stone online or The Learnables and read children’s books written in Spanish and/or watch familiar movies dubbed in Spanish. Otter will also continue to learn Spanish from his friends and some of his teachers in other activities.

Otter at the range practicing shotgun

Police & CHP Explorers (2 separate classes) – With classroom time, ride-alongs, D.U.I. checkpoints, community service and other activities, Explorers will take up quite a bit of time and will continue to be an important part of Otter’s week. Just the other day Otter got to shoot a taser for the first time! The officers who work with him are doing a great job teaching him the many skills he’ll need to be successful as a future police officer.

Firearm Shooting – Otter will continue to hone his shooting skills in preparation for his future career in law enforcement. He got an invitation to join a local trap team this past weekend when one of the instructors saw him trap shooting (he’s pretty good if I say so myself), but we probably won’t be able to find the time due to his other various commitments and wow, is it expensive (ammunition is sooo pricey).

Boy Scouts – He is getting closer to his goal of being an Eagle Scout and will be going on multiple camping trips and other outings over the course of the year.

Piano – He’ll be continuing weekly lessons. Otter plans to work on various hymns in addition to the classical music he loves.

Tactical MedicineAnatomy, Physiology and First Aid – This is the only custom made curriculum Otter will be doing in the fall. I had planned on sharing my schedule but since I decided to use an out of print book for a portion of the first aid section (my husband’s textbook he used when getting his degree in law enforcement years ago) as well as other specialized law enforcement related books, I may not be posting it and just leaving the current schedule up.

One of the books Otter will be reading for the above course is Tactical Medicine, a textbook designed for SWAT teams.

We will also be signing him up to become certified in CPR and he’ll be earning his first aid merit badge sometime this summer.

Latin – I decided not to continue with Latin as we simply don’t have time for it anymore, but Otter will still be learning Latin roots in his vocabulary program.

I’m looking forward to 10th grade. I think it’s going to be a really productive year and one step closer to Otter’s goals!

Summer & Fall Tutoring

My daughter is offering e-tutoring for both English (language arts) and beginning Japanese.

From her website:

Enrollment is open for semester-length, month-length, and 2-week E-Tutor Writing courses.  Semester-length courses for Fall 2014 begin August 11th, unless other arrangements are made.  Summer courses can begin at any time.  Please check out the courses page for more details on courses offered.

She is has a variety of options available:

Course A -The first type is one in which I will help edit, critique and grade writing assignments from any writing curriculum.  This may be ideal for homeschooling families that already have a writing curriculum, but need help coming up with a polished product, and grading.

Course B – The second course option that I offer is one in which I assign writing assignments, and then help the student edit and critique their work until they have a finished product.  This is better for families or individuals that desire a more guidance-rich experience.  Please note that both course types cost the same fee, so the customization is up to you!

We have 3 available course lengths and pay-per-paper services.

The 3 course lengths are semester-length, 1 month and 2-week length.  We also offer a pay-per-paper editing/critique service.  Please see our courses page for more information on pricing and FAQ.

Additional Services:

Are you interested in studying a language other than English?  Hannah has N5 certification in Japanese and can offer discounted courses on basic or conversational Japanese.  Please contact for additional information.

Hannah (known as Emily on my blog) is a gifted teacher who really cares about her students. Check out her website for more info!

Inundated with Plums

This is what we’ve been dealing with:

Santa Rosa plums

Santa Rosa plums from our tree

The pile above doesn’t even take into account the ones we already processed before taking the picture. Then, a few days after we finished (after about 7 hours or so of pitting, chopping, storing in freezer bags and prepping some batches for the dehydrator), we had a pile of nectarines to prepare!

Now we’ve got lots of bags of fruit in the freezer ready to be made into jam whenever I’m in a jam-making mood. We will also use the fruit in cobblers and homemade fruit roll-ups. I made some quart bags of dried fruit too, which makes a delicious and healthy snack. Our dried Santa Rosa plums taste like sour-flavored candy. Yum!

This morning I also processed a gallon bag of apricots for the dehydrator. I cut them all in half and soaked them in a 10 minute water bath with ascorbic acid (vitamin C). The vitamin C keeps the fruit from darkening too much and also helps to kill bacteria during the drying process. It also supposedly helps preserve the vitamin content in the fruit better.  I can’t wait until they are finished. I love dried apricots, but they are so expensive to buy in the store. These were free and we’ll use about a dollar in electricity to dry them!

I LOVE my dehydrator!! We have a Nesco  Gardenmaster and it is SO handy. I’m glad I got this particular model. It has a programmable timer so you can set it and forget it. You don’t have to rotate the trays due to the airflow design and you can stack up to 20 trays for a total of 20 square feet of drying space. The power unit is on the top so I don’t have to worry about drips from fruit wrecking it. I only have 6 trays (it comes with 4) but will be ordering more so I can dry a lot more fruit at one time.

Nesco dehydrator

I’ve used it so much in the last year. Not only have we dehydrated fruit from our trees, I’ve also made fruit roll-ups with fruit roll-up trays, dried onions from our garden (which is great in recipes and hamburger patties), made apple rings, dried strawberries, dried tomatoes ( yummy and surprisingly very sweet), banana chips and more.

I’ve found that it’s really useful to process fruit or veggies that have gotten old in the fridge. You know the stuff like apples that aren’t perfect anymore and just past that fresh crunchiness (but not rotten or “bad”)? That kind of produce makes excellent dried food. No more wasted fruit that you forgot about in the back of the fruit drawer in the fridge! I store our dried produce in Ziplocs (you can also use jars or plastic storage boxes) and we eat it all as a healthy snack and use some of it for cooking (dried herbs from the garden, etc.). In the next couple weeks we are going to use it to make some sweet potato chips and zucchini chips.

I wanted a dehydrator for years and kept putting it off because it’s an expensive investment. Now that I have one, I’m so glad. It’s worth every penny and gets used a LOT for a variety of things. Even if you don’t have your own fruit trees, you can still process fruit you buy from the store or a fruit stand that’s on sale – or just save some of the produce from your fridge that is getting a bit old. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to make healthy snacks of all sorts and good for making emergency or camping/hiking foods.

There are lots of dehydrators out there, but I really like the Nesco and from what I’ve researched (and experienced so far) it’s a brand that is reliable. I recommend the fruit roll-up trays and at least a couple “Clean-a-Screen” trays for smaller items you want to dehydrate like diced onions, herbs or really mushy fruits. Extra trays are a nice addition as well, so you can dry more food at once.

This time of year can get busy processing fruit, but having the right tools helps! One of these days I’ll have to post about my other much-loved tool that is going to get used a lot: a Ball automatic jam maker! I am so in love with it!

In the meantime though, all this talk about fruit though is making me hungry…so now I’m gonna go grab a plum and get some lunch. ;-)

My Garden This Morning

When I was a little girl, my mom had a beautiful garden and a big peach tree. I remember eating fresh vegetables and being so excited to try our home-grown corn (see it in the corner of the picture below?!).

Our garden in the early 80′s:

A picture of our backyard garden in the early 80's

A picture of our backyard garden in the early 80′s

It’s kind of funny, because in posting the picture of my childhood garden, I noticed my mom planted marigolds with the plants. That’s a tradition I’ve kept alive. Every year I get several flats of marigolds along with the various veggies and plant them together. Marigolds supposedly keep away all sorts of nasty bugs like aphids, nematodes, tomato horn worms, white flies, squash bugs and thrips. Still, even before I knew that, it was just one of the things I copied from my mom without ever realizing I was copying it. I just knew that you had to plant marigolds when you planted a garden. Now I clearly see where I got it from. :-)

My great-grandparents also had a garden. Every year they would can tomatoes, homemade spaghetti, peaches and more. I remember looking at the jars on the shelves in their garage and thinking of the delicious and beautiful bounty each one held. I miss them so much! I wish I had a jar of my Papa’s spaghetti sauce or even just his recipe. He was quite the Italian cook.

My grandparents also had a garden at different times and so did my Oma and Opa (German grandparents). I grew up around gardens so it comes as no surprise that my dream was to have a garden of my own someday! My husband made that dream come true for me when we moved into our current home. He built raised garden beds and later put in a garden fence with a trellis over the gate when our new puppy decided to turn our garden into his personal buffet and poop area . No thanks Max, I don’t want your natural fertilizer, lol. Now Max is forbidden to enter the garden and has to watch me through the pickets in the fence.

Every year my husband adds in something that makes my garden more practical or beautiful. His next project is to build a big trellis near our compost pile (which is behind a fenced off area of the yard). The trellis will be in front of the compost gate and we are going to grow kiwi vines over it. I am so blessed and so thankful.

This year the garden is doing really well. We are growing lots of different types of tomatoes, different varieties of peppers, mustard greens, collard greens, green onions, yellow zucchini, green beans, cucumbers, cilantro (which turns into coriander), basil, eggplant and artichokes (they are done for the season and need to be replaced as they are 7-8 year old plants).

There is nothing in the world so satisfying as picking a tomato off the vine and eating it in your dinner salad. Store-bought tomatoes don’t even come close in flavor and texture!! I love watching garden plants grow from little seedlings until they are big enough to produce the food that goes onto our table and into our cupboards in canning jars. Otter and I have been enjoying collard & mustard greens for lunch and we had home-grown peppers in our fajitas the other night.

We also have the following fruit trees: Meyer lemon (which is a cross between a lemon and mandarin orange), orange, mandarin orange, 2 different varieties of pomegranates, 2 types of apple, peach, nectarine, pear (not producing yet), apricot, aprium, Santa Rosa plums, Burgundy plums, an unknown variety of plum and 7 grapevines with the following types of grapes: Thompson seedless, Thomcord, Flame seedless and Black Monukka.


Thomcord grapes


My husband recently bought me 4 big containers so we can add southern blueberries to the long list of goodies growing in our yard and we are going to add huckleberries to a shady spot in the back.

I love puttering around the garden in the early morning before it gets hot (it’s been 100+ temps here lately). It’s so peaceful and beautiful. I’m so thankful for all the work my husband put into it so that I could have something I’ve wanted since I was little.

This morning I took some pictures to share here. Just imagine walking through the plants in the quiet, cool morning with the sound of water from the hose and an occasional buzzing from an industrious bee.

Part of my garden in the early morning light.

Part of my garden in the early morning light.

See those white things on the end of each garden bed? Those have the pipes for the drip irrigation (which is brand new and hasn’t been used yet) going down one side. They are also there for plants to grow up (via netting or strings). My husband made them from some plastic fencing that someone was throwing away. We also have part of the frame from our kids’s old bunk bed leaning across one of the beds. That’s for the cucumber vines, when they get bigger, to grow up and over.

Here are the marigolds in one of the beds. I put them in almost all of the garden beds. Not only are they good for keeping bugs away, they also are pretty and add a bit of merriness. Some of them have already seeded themselves so I’ll have a few extras growing up soon and putting on a cheerful show.


Otter’s eggplant:


Every year, Otter gets to choose some plants for the garden. This year he chose peppers and this eggplant. I’ve never grown eggplant before, so it should be interesting.




We pick the spicy leaves of the mustard plants and eat them both raw and cooked like greens. Even after they’ve flowered, everything is still edible and pretty tasty. I’m going to harvest the seeds and try to make some homemade mustard!

Yellow zucchini squash:



This is the first year we’ve grown yellow zucchini and it won’t be the last. The zucchinis are such a beautiful lemony yellow. The 2 plants we have are so prolific. I’ve been picking zucchinis just about every other day and they keep cranking out more and more. At this rate, our freezer is really going to be stocked up for awhile!




Our basil is so fragrant. We are looking forward to ripe tomatoes so we can make bruschetta!

A pepper hiding behind leaves:



I don’t remember what type of peppers these are but they have a good pepper flavor but no heat.

A couple green cherry tomatoes:


A baby Honeycrisp apple:



We’ve been battling fire blight with both apple trees. I didn’t even know what that was just a few years ago but it ruined our apple harvest last year by infecting all the newly budded apples and turning them into little apply mummies. This year we sprayed for it, but very late in the season  and only once. As soon as fall rolls around I’ll be spraying them religiously and watching for any signs of infection to cut out before it spreads. Hopefully we’ll have it all contained and lots more apples next year.

This is our Santa Rosa plum tree. Every year I turn these plums into jam! We were going to pick them this last weekend, but they are still a bit tart. Maybe this weekend…we’ll see!



Jeremiah 29:5-6

“Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;”

Even if you only have room for a little container on your porch with a single herb plant, growing something yourself can be so rewarding. It’s something you can enjoy the fruits of after a bit of patience and bit of love and is a great skill to pass on to your children.

Thanks mom for passing on a healthy dose of garden love to me (and for teaching me about marigolds)!

Get $10 worth of free Amazon coins

Amazon coin

Amazon has a great deal going on right now. Download 5 FREE apps and get 1,000 Amazon coins to spend in the app store. That’s the equivalent of $10! Click here to access the titles listed below.

They are all FREE:

Food Network in the Kitchen
Strawberry Shortcake Bake Shop
Don’t Step on the White Tile
Dr. Panda’s Restaurant

I got these freebies just to get the $10 worth of Amazon coins, lol. Don’t have an Android device? You can download the FREE Bluestacks program and let your kids play with apps on the computer.