Dec 6, 2017

Best Ever Cranberry Bread Recipe

There are some things I hear a lot: "Do I have any clean underwear?", "When's dinner ready?", and "Mom, mom, MOM!" are in the top three. But around Thanksgiving and Christmas, I also frequently hear "This is the best cranberry bread ever!"

In fact, this simple quick bread has become a family tradition. I like to bake up a couple loaves for our family, plus more to give as gifts to neighbors, friends, and family. The flavors are heavenly - not just sweetened cranberries, but also cinnamon, nutmeg, and a hint of orange. Best Ever Cranberry Bread Recipe

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup halved fresh cranberries
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange peel
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

1. Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with water. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Fold in the cranberries. Strain the raisins and fold into the flour mixture. Stir in the orange peel.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly, then stir in the milk, butter, and vanilla. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

4. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire cooling rack and cool completely. Store at room temperature.

This post originally appeared in December of 2012.

Nov 30, 2017

How to Get Out From Under the Laundry Pile!

How to Get Laundry Done Easily
This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

Before I had kids, keeping up with the laundry was no big deal. When our first child came along, I still managed pretty well. But when our youngest child entered the household? Somehow, my ability to make sure everyone had clean clothes went amuck.

My husband began giving me withering looks when he discovered, in the wee hours of the morning, that he didn't have any clean shirts appropriate for work. My closet consisted of the laundry hamper, where I dug for the jeans I wore the day before - even if they were splattered with baby food. I even began making my oldest wear chocolate-milk stained jammies two nights in a row because I couldn't seem to keep up with the demand for clean laundry.

I won't say I have the laundry thing totally mastered. However, I have learned a few tricks that make the laundry pile easier to get through. Maybe some of my ideas will work for you, too:

* My best laundry tip is this: Instead of reserving one or two days a week for doing laundry, do laundry every day except the Sabbath. This keeps the laundry pile under control and makes the chore of cleaning clothes a lot easier. Through trial and error, figure out how many loads you must do each day; when my kids were younger, I did one load of laundry 6 days a week. Nowadays, I only need to do a load 4 to 6 days a week. Make your laundry schedule a habit, and it will soon become no big deal.

* Keep one laundry basket for every bedroom, if possible. As you pull things from the dryer or clothes line, sort them room by room into the laundry baskets. If you have time, fold as you sort. Then place the basket in the appropriate bedroom. Put the clothes away later, if necessary, or have the kids put away their own clothes.

* Easier yet, keep laundry loads segregated. By that I mean do one load that is only clothes for one child (or maybe all the kids), and a separate load that's just your clothes. This means you don't have to sort the laundry before folding it.

* Get the kids involved. Even toddlers can help with the laundry by bringing you dirty clothes and pulling out all the clean socks, or all of daddy's shirts, or all their own undies, for folding by you. Preschoolers can begin to help with folding and putting clothes away so that by the time they are in grade school they can do this chore easily. (No, they won't fold everything - or perhaps anything - perfectly, but a few wrinkles never hurt anyone.) By the time your child is 7 or 8, be sure he or she knows how to do a load of laundry without help.

* Treat stains before the clothes go into the hamper. If I put Spray N Wash Stain Stick on clothes as they go into the hamper, by the time I do laundry, those stains usually wash out. This saves me a lot of time because I don't have to soak or otherwise pre-treat stains. So, whenever clothes might come off, I keep a stick - including the bathroom and the kids' bedrooms.

* Wear clothes more than once. Truly, many clothes can be worn more than once without washing in between. Unless it's smelly or shows dirt, hang it up to wear another day.

* Buy fewer clothes. I know some women who literally buy their kids several wardrobes of clothes because they are always behind on laundry. If you follow the tips here, nobody will need as many clothes, which saves you both time and money.

* Hang any items that store on hangers as you take them off the clothesline or out of the dryer. It's a real time saver!

* Mark children's socks with their initials, using puffy fabric paint on the soles. This makes sorting so much easier.

* Don't separate darks from lights. This may seem revolutionary to some people, but I stopped doing separating darks from lights several years ago, and my family's clothes look just fine. If I'm washing new, dark clothes that I think might bleed, I wash them separately, once, with a cup of white vinegar in the wash water to help set the dye.

This post was originally published in October of 2009.

Nov 20, 2017

9 Reasons For Sheep on a Small Homestead

Why Raise Sheep
This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

A couple of weekends ago, we almost brought home sheep. We bumped into a wonderful deal with the "perfect" sheep for our homestead...but in the end, we didn't have housing set up for them yet, nor was our fencing quite complete. Our rule is to never bring home an animal until we are totally prepared to care for we had to take a pass. But the very fact that we came so close to buying sheep would have surprised me when we first moved onto our homestead. After all, our land is mostly wooded; we don't have pastures, per se. How could we economically raise sheep? And why would we want to? Turns out, there are many good reasons for small homesteads to include sheep.

1. Sheep are excellent brush eaters. I always thought goats were the perfect animal for eating wild berry briars and weeds, but it turns out sheep are better at the job. They are generally less picky than goats. This is the number one reason we want sheep on our homestead; even using only the fencing we currently have, a few sheep can take care of half the weed whacking my husband currently must do. That's huge!

2. Their fencing needs are less expensive. Among larger livestock, sheep have the least demanding fencing needs. That's because they are mostly docile and pretty willing to go where you want them to...unlike goats, for example, who love to escape and explore, and therefore require better (and more expensive) fencing.

Courtesy of Andrei Niemimäki
3. Sheep don't require fancy housing. A three sided shelter made from scrap materials is all they need for weather protection. (Do bear in mind that you might want a four-sided shelter to help protect them from predators like wild and domestic dogs, bear, and cougar.)

4. Sheep are not expensive to feed. If they have good forage, that's pretty much all they need. (Depending upon your climate and the forage available, they might require supplemental hay.)

5. Sheep don't require a lot of time. They aren't needy creatures. Give them forage and clean water, and maybe, now and then, some molasses and treats (like apples), and they are good to go. Periodically, you'll need to trim their hooves and remove their coats, too. (Sheep coats, left to their own, weigh the sheep down and encourage disease.)

6. Sheep manure is excellent for the garden. This year, my best garden bed was layered with sheep manure - and it showed! Everything I planted in the bed thrived. Bonus: Sheep manure doesn't need aging or composting before you put it in the soil (i.e., it's not "hot").

Courtesy of Antony Stanley
7. Lamb chops and mutton. Need I say more?

8. You can sell their fleece. Even if you have a very small flock, you can probably find somebody who wants their wool and is willing to pay for it. You can milk sheep. People all over the world drink sheep's milk, and cheese makers prize sheep's milk as the finest. If you think you'd like to try milking your sheep (hey, the more versatile a homestead animal is, the better!) know that some breeds produce more milk than others. Interestingly, sheep's milk is higher in protein, vitamin C, vitamin B12, magnesium, folate, and calcium than either cow's or goat's milk. It's also widely considered the creamiest milk and is naturally homogenized (just like goat's milk). Even better, it's easier for human's to digest than cow's milk.

For more information on adding sheep to your homestead, I highly recommend Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep.

* Title image courtesy of Peter Shanks

Nov 17, 2017

How to Teach Toddlers and Preschoolers to Put on Their Own Jackets

Teach Little Kids to Put on Their Own Coat
It's been a while since my kids were toddlers or preschoolers (sniff!), but there was a trick I used to teach them to put on their own coats and jackets that I don't see elsewhere on the Internet or in magazines. I LOVED teaching my kids this trick because:

* It saved me time and hassle
* and it made my kids feel more independent. (What toddler or preschooler doesn't love doing it all by herself?)

When my mother saw me use this trick with my first born, she said, "Why not just teach her to put on her jacket the normal way?" Well, because toddlers and preschoolers, generally speaking, can't do it the way an adult or bigger kid does. But they absolutely can put on their own jacket by following these simple steps:

1. Place the jacket on the floor, the right side facing down. At first, you'll probably need to do this for your child, but it won't be long before he figures out how to "do it myself!"

2. Have your child stand at the head of the jacket and place his arms inside the sleeves. It will look like he's about to put on his jacket backward and upside down. (See photos.)

3. Have your child flip the jacket over his head. Viola! It's on correctly and you or your child can now zip it up.

This post is an updated version of one that originally appeared in October of 2009.

Nov 13, 2017

8 Rooster Myths: Busted!

8 Rooster Myths
Poor roosters. They take a lot of flak - even for things they don't do. Are you guilty of believing any of these rooster-related myths?

Myth #1: Roosters always mean. 

Many roosters are friendly to humans and hens, and some are downright sweet. On our homestead, our rooster, Joseph (shown in the photos for this post), is a gentleman with his ladies and would never dream of pecking or hurting any of the humans on our property. He's a little hard to catch, but once we do catch him, he submits to us completely, and never tries to fight us. In his demeanor, Joseph is not unique.

How do you choose a rooster that's friendly? Selecting a docile breed is a good idea. But chickens, like humans, are individuals, and some are just more pleasant than others.

Myth #2: When you have a rooster, your hens will lay more and bigger eggs. 

Having a rooster in your flock won't change your hens' laying or eggs in any way...except that the eggs will be fertilized.

Myth #3: If you have a rooster, all your eggs will have blood spots in them. 

Blood spots can occur in any chicken egg, including those that aren't fertilized. Blood spots (also called "meat spots") occur when a blood vessel on the yolk surface or the wall of the oviduct ruptures. They never indicate fertilization, and eggs with blood spots are perfectly safe to eat. (Incidentally, those of us with backyard flocks are far more likely to bump into eggs with blood spots because commercial eggs are checked for blood spots, and those eggs that have them are discarded or put to a use other than grocery store egg cartons.

Fertilized eggs, however, do have "bullets" - a blastoderm, or the first stage of embryonic development. Most people don't even notice this bullet, because of it's subtle nature. (Click on over to The Chicken Chick to see a photo and a more detailed explanation.) In order for the blastoderm to develop into an embryo, the egg must be heated for a specific length of time, so there's no fear of finding a partially formed chick in your eggs...unless you let your hens sit on them.

Myth #4: Roosters crow only at dawn. 

Nope. Roosters crow whenever they feel like it, which is usually often. This is why it's a great idea to have the chicken run far enough away from your house that crowing is a pleasant sound in the background.

Myth #5: Only get a rooster if you want chicks (or fertile eggs). 

Even if you don't want fertile eggs or chicks, an excellent reason to add a rooster to your flock is that he will do everything in his power to protect your hens. Roosters are ever on alert, watching for any danger to the flock. If danger does appear, roosters will give their life to protect the hens.

Myth #6: Only roosters get spurs. 

Some people think they can look at pullets (teenage hens) and determine whether they are male or female by seeing whether they have bumps on their feet that will grow into spurs. But all young chickens have these bumps, including the girls. In most hens, those bumps don't grow into spurs...but it's not uncommon for hens to develop spurs as their egg-laying slows down. In addition, some breeds of hens (like Leghorns, Polish, Ancona, and Minorca) are more likely to grow spurs. Sumatras may even develop multiple spurs on each foot!

Myth #7: Roosters kill chicks. 

I heard this myth a lot after the recent loss of our chick. But the truth is, all chickens have the potential to kill chicks, and roosters are no more likely to do it than hens. Roosters do not try to kill chicks because they want to mate with the mother hen. In fact, most roosters are protective of the flock's chicks - sometimes even "mothering" the chicks the way a good hen does.

Myth #8: Roosters can't live together. 

Most people believe each flock can only have one rooster, or the roosters will fight until only one lives. However, more than one rooster really can live happily in a flock, though the males will scuffle with each other to work out their pecking order (just like hens do). Eventually, the roosters will sort things out - sometimes allowing mating privileges to only one male. Only breeds raised for cockfighting will actually fight to the death.

That said, it's smart to keep your rooster to hen ratio in mind. This can vary from breed to breed, but generally you'll want  rooster for every 8 - 12 hens.

Nov 3, 2017

Saving Money While Eating Keto (or Whole Foods)

Saving Money while Eating Whole Foods
This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

Last December, when my doctor informed me I had type II diabetes and that if I didn't want to take insulin I needed to go on a keto diet, I was worried this new way of eating would blow our grocery budget sky high. Maybe you're trying to switch to a whole foods diet but are afraid it will cost a fortune. Or maybe you're still eating lots of processed, carb-laden food but need to trim your grocery costs. Whatever the case, the following tips will help keep your grocery budget under control, just as they have mine.

(An important point: Many people find their grocery budget goes down when they switch to a keto diet, even without implementing these money-saving tips. It helps that keto keeps you more full than the more popular high carb, low fat diet, but it also really depends upon how much processed food you're used to buying. Our budget remained about the same; previously we ate a lower carb whole foods diet.)

Courtesy of

* Keto is a moderate protein diet; it doesn't require huge amounts of meat. That should help your budget, right there!

* Learn which grocery stores in your area have a meat clearance section and what day of the week they mark down their meat. Plan to use that meat the same day, or freeze it for later use.

* Watch for meat sales, via newspaper inserts, store websites, or store loyalty programs. Plan your meals around these sale items.

* But cheaper cuts of meat, and learn to cook them so they taste great. Most cheaper cuts are either less tender (so you'll need to learn to cook them low and slow in a crock pot or Instant Pot).

* Considered canned meat. If you're not used to it, canned meat may seem weird or even yucky. But I assure you that minimally processed canned meat, like chicken breasts, salmon, and tuna, is healthy and delicious! Sometimes it's cheaper than fresh, too - especially if you buy it on sale.

* Prepare your own meat. For example, instead of buying chicken tenders, buy chicken breasts and cut them down to size yourself. Or buy a whole chicken and use the meat for several meals.

Courtesy of Jules

* Buy what's in season; it's almost always cheaper. For example, asparagus is least expensive in spring, when it's naturally abundant. (Not sure what's in season when? Check out the USDA's website.)

* Consider farmer's markets. Sometimes they are less expensive than grocery stores. (But not always!)

* Compare the cost of frozen vegetables with fresh vegetables. Often, frozen is less expensive, yet still quite nutritional.

* Grow as many of your own veggies as possible. Even having a few pots on your porch or balcony can save a lot of money, especially if you choose greens, which grow and grow and grow until killed by frost. (Some greens, like kale and collards will even stay alive in the snow.)

In General

* Shop around. Familiarize yourself with all the grocery stores in your area, so you know for sure which ones are least expensive for the foods you most purchase.
Courtesy of Clyde Robinson
* Keep a price book. Don't rely on your memory to know the best price for the foods you regularly purchase or you may end up buying something on sale without actually saving any money. Click here to learn how to make a simple price book.

* Avoid processed food, even if you think it's keto. This will save you a ton of money - and processed food is frankly never as healthy as whole food. The Internet has a wealth of made-from-scratch keto foods. (Check out my Pinterest boards, for a start.)

* Eat simple meals most days. Few ingredients usually means spending less money to make a meal. Focus on one meat and one veggie for most meals.

* Although organic produce and grassfed meat and dairy are ideal for any healthy diet, don't feel you must buy them in order to eat keto. Sure Kerrygold butter and grassfed steaks are awesome, but you can be very successful at keto while eating conventional meat, dairy, and produce.

* Consider buying in bulk. Find local farmers from whom you can buy half a cow or a pig. When you find a good deal at the grocery store, especially on a staple, buy a lot to save yourself money in the future. For fresh foods, freeze what you won't use right away.

* Meal plan. This will save your sanity, as well as your pocket book, and it doesn't have to be complicated. I usually just determine how many days I'm buying for (typically 14 or so - because the less often I'm at the grocery store, the less I'm likely to buy!), pick that many dinners, and choose basics for lunch and breakfast. Make sure you plan around what's on sale and in season.

* Meal prep. Some people find that if they have pre-made, homemade meals at home in the freezer or fridge, they are less likely to grab unhealthy food elsewhere. If grabbing food-to-go is a temptation to you, commit to spending a few hours every weekend to prep the week's meals.
Courtesy of

* Make your own spice blends. Spice mixes can not only have hidden, unhealthy ingredients (including MSG, soy, and flours), but they are more expensive than homemade mixes.

* Grate your own cheese. Do this first because pre-grated cheese has additives that are high in carbs. Do it second because it's almost always less expensive to do it yourself. Hate grating cheese? Buy a food processor! You can also save a lot of money by buying blocks of cheese on sale, grating it, and freezing it.

* Use leftovers. Either freeze them for a future meal or eat them the next day.

* Avoid eating out. Eating at restaurants or grabbing food on the go is expensive! Bring snacks and drinks with you, and eat out only as a special treat.

* Eat eggs. They are a cheap source of protein. (Even cheaper if you raise the hens yourself!)

* Eat enough fat. Natural fats are healthy and make you feel much more full. (Don't overdo it, though, or you may stall your weight loss or begin gaining weight.)

* Fast. Intermittent fasting has health benefits - and it saves your bank account some cash. Don't starve yourself, though. Just skip a meal; you'll probably find that easy to do after a couple of weeks of eating keto. (Diabetics should only fast if they are unmedicated and have their blood sugar under good control.)

* Avoid snacking. Not only do snacks burn your cash, but they slow weight loss, too. Eat enough at your regular meals that you feel comfortably full.

Courtesy of
* Avoid recipes that contain expensive ingredients. This may seem like a big duh, but a lot of low carb or keto recipes for sweets - something every newbie craves - are costly. Keto-friendly, natural sweeteners, for example, and alternative flours like almond and coconut, hike up your budget very quickly. Keep these treats occasional, and you'll save a ton of money while truly taming the sugar dragon.

* Start doing Swagbucks. This is a site that let's you earn points toward gift cards by doing Internet searches, surveys, and other things. Depending upon where you buy groceries, you can earn gift cards to your grocery store. I mostly shop at Walmart, and find I can easily get $25 - $50 off my monthly grocery bill by using Swagbucks

* Consider a Costco or Sam's Club membership - or find a friend who has a membership and go shopping with her! But be sure to compare their prices to those in your price book! Not everything at these stores is a good deal.

Oct 31, 2017

Why I Withdrew My Kids from Connections Academy (After Only a Week)

virtual school, online school review
If you've ever homeschooled, you know that sometimes you need to shake things up a bit; in my experience, trying something new, school-wise, leads to unexpected learning opportunities. This reality, combined with the fact that my son was seriously struggling with reading and math facts, prompted me to enroll my children into an online school called Connections Academy this fall.

Enrolling in Connections Academy

For years, I'd heard about Connections Academy - a national virtual school, advertised on tv, radio, and the internet. Before enrolling, I read all the information on their website, as well as in their physical brochure, and thought, "Why not?" I enrolled them just a few weeks before school was supposed to start.

The enrollment process was mostly painless. I did it all online, but you can call and have a representative help you. The biggest pain was getting my children's immunization records and birth certificates. What can I say? As a homeschooler, I'm just not used to that. Still, it wasn't a real problem.

I also got us set up to use Connections Academy's online system - which is basically a hub page for each child and parent. The parent's site shows the progress and grades of each child, plus any important notices from the teacher or school. Parents also have access to a (barely used) online forum, and lots of online materials about schooling at home. The children's sites allows kids to receive and send information to their teachers, see their day's assignments, and do online school work.

There was a dull, mostly common sense video I was required to watch before school began, plus orientation videos for each child to watch. I realized later that these videos weren't up to date, and covered some issues incorrectly. For example, the school had recently changed the way they mark attendance, and that information hadn't been updated in the videos or anywhere on the website.It caused a lot of confusion among the parents.

The Connections Academy Curriculum

Shortly before school started, I received an informative and friendly phone call from my son's teacher. It was immediately apparent she'd been a teacher for a long time and understood children well. She wanted to know all about his learning disability, what he loved to learn, what he was good at learning, and so on. I was excited for my son to work with this lady, who did an excellent job of keeping in touch with me - and with  my son, too.

I also received a phone call from one of my daughter's teachers. (She's in middle school, so you'd expect her to have multiple teachers. She was assigned two - one of which neither she nor I ever had contact with.) I was completely unimpressed with this teacher's phone call. He seemed disorganized and we felt we were just another thing to cross off his to-do list. He also forgot to tell us an awful lot of information.

We ended up starting school without any of the materials Connections Academy promised to provide. That was because I signed my kids up rather late in the game - and as it turned out, it wasn't a huge deal because books aren't very important at Connections Academy. When we did receive our supplies, I was disappointed.

First, we received one laptop. But, as I learned in our first week, Connections Academy is almost 100 percent online. There was no way for my children to share a computer. I ended up letting my daughter use the laptop supplied by Connections Academy, while my son used my personal work laptop. The children also received some art, P.E., and science supplies - but they were almost laughable. For P.E. both kids got a jump rope and a yoga DVD. Fortunately, there were options outside of yoga (which is religion based, so why was it offered by Connections Academy, which is publicly funded?). For science, there were cheap supplies, like tiny plastic magnifying glasses. On the other hand, there was a very long list of supplies I was supposed to provide, and as it turned out, many of them weren't even necessary.

The textbooks were disappointing, too. Oddly, my son (the youngest of my children) had far more books than my daughter. I quickly realized everything was Common Core. The social studies seemed accurate, but it was terribly dumbed down. (For example, there was an extremely simplified story of the pilgrims.) The same thing with the science book. (We're talking "tadpoles turn into frogs.") Both books were something I might have used when my kids were in preschool, and were way too babyish for my son now.

The reading was mostly done online and we could never get the reading website to function correctly. And the math. Ugh. It was all the bad things you've heard about Common Core. In lieu of teaching math facts, it taught strategies for figuring out math facts when you don't have them memorized. Worse, the methods were overly complicated. Instead of making math easier for my son, they made it so much harder. He was incredibly frustrated. I asked his teacher if we could choose a different curriculum. She said we could not.

My daughter was having a tough time, too. All her work was online, and often it was a way that made me think nobody had read the entire curriculum. Although she's a good student, she wasn't doing well. For example, she got a very poor grade in science - a subject she loves - so I wanted her to go back and re-read the lesson. We couldn't find a way for her to do that.

So I called her teacher. His line had been disconnected. So I emailed him. The following day (because, in our experience, Connections Academy teachers are never available until the next day), he emailed back and said there was no way for my daughter to re-read the material. There was no science book available to her; the material was only online, and once it was accessed, it wasn't available again. I was shocked. How does a student master a subject if she can't re-read and study it?

Connections Academy pounds into parents' brains that they are "learning coaches," not teachers. And yet the "real" teachers were mostly absent. I was never able to talk to a teacher the same day I called him or her. My son's teacher called once every other week to touch bases, but my daughter's teacher first forgot to set up our bi-weekly phone call, then never called on the day he was supposed to. Supposedly, there were a few times when the teacher and all his or her students would go online to a sort of chat room with the teacher Skyping, but that didn't happen often, according to the schedules I was given.

Leaving Connections Academy

I'd started Connections Academy hoping it would help my son. But the reading wasn't any different from what we'd done before, the math was totally confusing and convoluted, and science and history were far below him. I knew it was time to withdraw the children.

I emailed my son's teacher as a courtesy, then tried to call Connections Academy. No real person was available, so I left a message, explaining we were withdrawing immediately.

The same day, I received a phone call from my son's teacher. She was understanding and tried her best to be helpful, even saying I could call her if I needed help with my son's education. I was sad to say goodbye to this lady, even if the system she was working in really wasn't utilizing her talents effectively.

I also revived a phone call from my daughter's teacher - the quickest reply I'd ever received from him. He tried to talk me out of withdrawing and even backtracked on what he'd said about not being able to re-read lessons - but I'd had enough.

And then I waited for Connections Academy to contact me and tell me how to return their materials.

In the meantime, we returned to good old fashioned homeschool. And I kid you not, my children both learned more in one day of homechool than they did in a week and a half at Connections Academy.

Then I waited some more for Connections Academy to contact me.

Then, suddenly, I received a message that my children had been absent from school and I needed to remedy that immediately. I called Connections Academy again. No real person answered the phone. I left another message; this time, I was more firm.

Weeks later, I could finally no longer log into the parents' site. But I still had all the materials the school sent me. I was anxious to return them, too, because Connections Academy made a big deal out of the fact that parents are responsible for any damage to the laptops. That piece of equipment was a liability; I wanted to send it back!

Finally, a month and a half later, Connections Academy contacted me via email and explained how to return their materials.

Some Good Can Come From Bad

The good news is, we learned a lot from our bad Connections Academy experience. My children learned they like homeschooling a lot better than public school (even virtual public school) and that books are way, way better than computers. I was reminded what I love about homeschool, and I also gathered something I should have realized sooner: These online schools are all federally funded; therefore they are all Common Core. (There are some virtual and charter schools that, while Common Core, are based on sound learning techniques. Connections Academy, however, isn't one of them.)

In the end, we felt re-invigorated to homeschool, and discovered renewed interest in our subjects. And my son? He's suddenly making leaps and bounds in both reading and math.

Oct 24, 2017

What Fills Your Day? An Easy Experiment for Kids

Easy Experiment for Children
Years ago, my firstborn and I conducted a preschool experiment that, given the culture we live in, ought to be required for people of all ages. Not only does it illustrate how easy it is to fill our lives with less important things, it also shows there's always room for Jesus, every single day.

To prepare, I cut up some inexpensive sponges, dug out an empty glass jar (see-through plastic works, too), and filled a pitcher with water.

I laid the sponges and the jar on the table and asked my daughter to name some things that fill her day. She came up with many things, from brushing her teeth and hair to doing school work and playing with her toys. For each thing she named, I asked her to place one piece of sponge in the jar.

Soon I said, "It doesn't seem like there's room for anything else, does there?" We then took a few minutes to discuss whether she had filled her jar with time wasters, less important things, or truly important things. "If we remove some of the less important sponges - like maybe watching cartoons - will you have room for more important things, like visiting with friends?" I asked. She readily agreed.

Then I touched the pitcher of water. "Jesus is like this water," I said, as I slowly poured the liquid into the jar. She wasn't sure she understood, so I explained: "It seemed there was room for nothing else in the jar, didn't it? But there was plenty of room left for this water. Sometimes our lives seem so busy - much too full for us to spend time with God. But there is always time for Him. And what do you notice about the sponges now?"

She said they were bigger. "Yes, the sponges grew, didn't they?" I said. "That's what Jesus does to us. When we make time for him, he fills us up with lots of good things."

It's a lesson she never forgot.

This post was originally published in a slightly different form on 10/9/09.