Can finally eat my dinner without laser eyes boring into me

This is a bit off-topic, but maybe it will make you smile… ūüėČKong biscuit ball dog toy

This KONG Biscuit Ball  has been the savior of our dinner hour. Before I purchased the Kong Biscuit Ball, I had this problem…Every time I sat down to eat, my otherwise lovely lab mix would suddenly apply his laser eyes stare of doom. You just cannot escape those limpid eyes, staring, staring…staring. Reaching, boring – into your very soul – tugging, pulling…an irresistible force that always ended up in me throwing choice pieces of dinner into a ready and gaping mouth. And STILL, I’d have to submit to more of those…EYES. LOOKING. WATCHING. Every forkful was intensely studied. I could feel the eyes, tracking, observing, wanting, hungering…THE PAIN on my dog’s face was palatable. We weren’t sharing. He NEEDED little morsels from our plates or he would punish us with that unremorseful STARE. It was like this EVERY NIGHT. I was at my wit’s end. My toes were being DROOLED on. I had enough. I had to do something lest my heart give in and never-ceasing tidbits leave my plate in an attempt to find relief from my beloved canine’s masterful stares and looks of dejection and starvation.

I went to the Internet on a search for answers and found the Kong Biscuit ball. RELIEF! All I have to do is load this thing up with some big boy biscuits (little ones will fall out and result in laser eyes immediately turned upon me in an instant) and suddenly my dog is absolutely and totally occupied trying to pry a biscuit from the depths of this dinner-saving contraption with all the intensity of a category 5 hurricane.

Seriously…when there is a biscuit in this thing he will sit with it balanced in between his paws and go to town trying to dig and pry the biscuit out as if it contained the answers to life. He won’t stop until he’s retrieved every little crumb from the interior. His tongue muscles could probably lift 20 lbs from the workout they get exploring the inner cavities of this amazing red ball.

So far the biscuit ball has held up to his chewing and we’ve called our dog Mr. Destruco for a REASON – but the Kong is impervious so far. It’s held up to his gnawing and slobbering as well as his claws (which are sharp as they have accidentally raked down my thigh once when he was trying to prove that a 60 lb dog really can fit in your lap) as he tries every which way to get his treat out.

All I can say is that Kong should be in the running for the Nobel prize for the peace it has brought us during dinner (no more laser eyes!) as well as when we want to watch a movie without 50 doggie restroom breaks (he has a knack for knowing when we are busy and then insists he must be let out the sliding glass door into the backyard lest he pee a lake on our Pergo floors).

You need this ball if you want to keep your precious pooch occupied. It’s like a doggie babysitter in a ball. It’s a MUST HAVE cure for laser eyes and for adding a bit of fun to your doggie’s day. ūüôā

Highly recommended! Don’t forget your mutt this Christmas! Max says, “Get a  KONG Biscuit Ball !”


I wrote this review for Amazon and thought I’d share it here. If it made you smile, click here and give my review a thumbs up!

A Garden in Transition

It won’t be long until summer starts giving way to fall. I could feel it this morning when I went out to water the garden – that little nip in the early morning air that wasn’t present just a week ago.

I’m starting to think about our fall and winter garden and planning to go through my seed packets to see what I have. None of the local nurseries sells fall garden plants which is a shame. Our climate here (zone 9) is mild enough to have a garden year round and I plan on taking advantage of that this year!

Even though I’m in fall planning mode…there are a few summer stragglers that keep filling the veggie drawers in the fridge. The picture below shows some of our goodies – most of which I picked a couple of days ago except for the 3 1/2 gallons of elderberries which were given to us by some friends.¬†I popped them into the freezer and will be turning them into jelly when the weather cools down. I love having friends who enjoy¬†the same sort of stuff we are into (canning, etc.). It’s fun to trade jams & jellies and to share the abundance of our garden with others.

garden harvest

So what’s going on in the garden right now?

Our corn has ears that are just starting to swell. I can’t wait to roast some as soon as it’s ready! This will be our first successful corn harvest at this house. We tried growing it when the kids were little, but it was a total flop. It got some horrible corn disease and was all stunted and the ears were inedible. We are much more experienced gardeners now (with tons more to still learn!) and thankfully, this year our corn looks great. Otter took this picture at the end of last week. Even in just the last few days, the ears of corn have grown¬†bigger (and fatter).

corn stalks

Our tomato harvest is winding down (although there are a few of them like the cherry tomato plants that are still cranking tomatoes out). The pomegranates are getting bigger and our oranges are taking on the first blush of color. All of the stone¬†fruit is finished and we aren’t watering the those¬†trees as often to help them harden off before the cold hits.

The granny smith apples are ROTTING¬†on the tree. We still don’t have that tree figured out and fixed. First, I thought it had fire blight. I sprayed it once this spring and it actually made bunches of apples (last year it never got past the blossom¬†clusters¬†because they turned brown &¬†rotted). This year it made apples, but they¬†all got brown spots that soon spread and turned the apples brown. I don’t think¬†they will be salvageable (although there might be a few way up high that are unaffected). UGH. I have so much more to learn about orchard trees. I’m going to spray it this fall and put it on a schedule of spraying (copper). Hopefully we’ll be able to cure it at some point and get an apple harvest in the future. Our Honeycrisp apple appears to O.K. but it’s still so small it only made 2 apples this year. Still, the one I ate was so delicious and juicy and perfect. It’s an aptly named apple as it does have slight tones of sweet honey in the flavor. I can’t wait for that tree to grow bigger.

Otter’s pepper plants are exploding with peppers all of the sudden. It’s as if the excessive heat this summer (100+ degree temps) kept them from producing¬†and now that it’s cooled down just a smidge, they are making up for lost time and seem to be healthier too. ¬†I had planned on¬†pickling some of the pepper harvest but it turns out I bought the WRONG stuff for it. I need pickling salt and instead I bought some pickling lime. Our local store didn’t have any pickling salt so it looks like I’ll have to order¬†some from Amazon. Pickling salt is just pure sodium chloride (salt) without any additives. The additives (anti-caking agents) in regular salt can make the pickling brine cloudy and can also, from what I’ve read, make pickled items turn a slightly purple/off color. You can read more about it here. Ah well, I keep learning about all of this.

We’ve have so many grapes we hardly knew what to do with them all! We’ve picked and eaten them all summer (and given away¬†tons¬†too). I even let the fat robins eat their fill because they hardly made a dent in our harvest despite making it a frequent breakfasting spot. They are so cute when they hop up from the ground to pluck grapes off the vine. I can’t bear to chase them off, lol. We still have some grapes hanging around, but a lot of them have started to dry or spoil.¬† Still, there are enough to tide us over for at least another couple of weeks or more. I’ll be turning some into raisins with my dehydrator before the week is done.

Anyway,¬†it’s almost time to get our fall garden into gear. I’m thinking about planting things like carrots, cabbage, greens, lettuce, fall peas, green onions and ?? It’s going to be a bit of an experiment to see what works as the weather changes but well worth the work for all of the money it saves us.¬†I love my garden and love learning how to better feed my family with it!

Geography Curriculum is Finished!

I’ve been in a frenzy working on my geography curriculum and am happy¬†to announce that¬†it’s finished! I may still add new materials as I come across them or tweak a little this or that, but it’s ready-to-go for those of you who would like to use it.

Click on the picture below to check it out!

Geography curriculum

Guest Hollow Geography Curriculum

homeschool geography curriculum

Coming soon! I started working on a geography curriculum that I hope will be finished in a couple of weeks for the new school year. ¬†I’ll post an update here on my blog when it’s finished.

P.S. The dog in the picture above is Beowulf. He’s a character in the book I’m working on that hopefully will be finished by spring of 2015!

Japanese, Russian and Writing Tutoring Services

I posted awhile back about my daughter’s e-tutoring site (email correspondence or Skype lessons).


 She asked me to let you all know that there are new options like advanced Japanese and Russian that are now being offered as she is partnering with some of her native speaking friends. The gentleman who is teaching Russian is a really brilliant and amazing young man (college student).

 She is also offering options for writing where she will either help edit, critique and grade assignments from any writing curriculum or will assign writing assignments and help students edit their work until they have a finished product. Another option is a pay-per-paper editing fee.

¬†The courses are for any age/grade and even adults. ūüôā

 If you use the code GUEST you can get 5% off of a course and there is also a 5% discount for early registration which ends tomorrow!!

 I hope this is helpful to someone. She is really a very talented teacher and loves working with students.

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. ūüėČ

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. ūüėČ

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.

Know why you believe Know why you believe 51fKZeTKOUL._SL160_ how to ruin your life by 30

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 РHe 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!