Friday, November 23, 2012

Be Left Holding the Bag...

Activity Bags is a company with a fresh approach to teaching your children at home or on the road, whatever the case may be.  Perhaps you have older children you need to focus on and also have preschoolers running around or begging to be taught right along with your older children.  Maybe you are traveling and need something to keep the kids busy while in the car or at Grandma's house for the holidays.  Activity Bags may just be what you have been looking for.  This company was started by two homeschooling moms who themselves were looking for ideas to keep their preschoolers busy.  After two years of testing and developing, they put together their first book, Preschool Activities in a Bag - eBook 1.  They now have several different eBooks available such as additional preschool ebooks, science ebooks for elementary grades, a math ebook, reading games, and travel games.  I had the opportunity to review the book you see to the left, Science Experiments in a Bag - eBook 2: Chemistry, Human Body & General Science.
You may be wondering why these books are titled " a Bag."  The idea is that a group of moms can get together and each be in charge of gathering the supplies for one activity or experiment.  All of the necessary items for that activity would be placed in a bag, each mom creating enough bags for all the moms in the group.  This way every mom would receive an activity bag for the activities assigned but not need to look for all of the items for every activity on their own, although this can certainly be done on your own if you are not interested in being part of a swap.  It will just take a bit more time to gather the necessary items and put them into bags, if you choose to organize this way.
These books are laid out very well.  They are easy to follow and provide thorough explanations for all activities.  There are many sections with questions and answers.  Most likely any question you'd have about this series of eBooks and activity bags would be answered in these sections, as it seems these are questions that have already been asked by other parents.  Here you can see an example of one of the activities in the science book.  It lists the supplies that are needed and gives very detailed instructions for assembling the bags.  An experiment label is included that provides the name of the experiment, the type, supplies provided and needed, and also provides a warning:
"WARNING: This activity may contain small parts and is not intended for children under 3 years of age. Supervision is required. Plastic bag may pose a suffocation hazard if placed over the head.  Before starting this experiment please do the following; ALWAYS wash your hands BEFORE and AFTER an experiment, ALWAYS work with an adult when doing any of the experiments in this book, NEVER taste anything in an experiment unless the directions say you can, and FOLLOW the directions exactly as it appears on your experiment log.  REMEMBER that some experiments take longer than others. You need to be patient and take your time. If you rush, you might ruin the experiment and have to start over. RECORD all your results thoroughly and completely. HAVE FUN!"  As you can see...very thorough.  If you choose not to use plastic bags for safety reasons, you can use large manila envelopes instead to hold all of the supplies.
The Science Experiments in a Bag - eBook 2 is geared towards grade K through 8 and includes 25 experiments for just $15.00.  Older children can do some of these by themselves.  Younger children will need the help of an adult.  This book works very well when used in conjunction with a chemistry, human body, or general science textbook.  "It is an introduction to the wealth of material in many other books available in libraries and bookstores."  The student learns how to use the scientific method and is provided logs for recording findings.  It is suggested that a binder be used for the logs when finished with each experiment.  This is a good way to hold onto all that data, especially if portfolios are required at the end of the year.  Another great thing about these science books is that they cause the student and/or parent to think of other experiments.  Perhaps the antifreeze experiment is done; the student may then want to see if another substance such as sugar has any effect on water freezing.  Answers to the questions for each experiment are also provided.  Science Experiments in a Bag - eBook 2 is also sold as a bundle with Science Experiments in a Bag - eBook 1 (which is Biology, Nature, and General Science) for just $27.00 (a savings of $3).
Each of the eBooks that Activity Bags sells is $15.00.  If you are interested in having a swap, the coordinator handbook is free.  This book will give you all the information you need to hold a successful swap.  There are also Daily Activity Journals with journaling activities, writing prompts, and games.  These sell for $15 a piece as well but are also sold as a bundle for extra savings.
At first glance, the activity bag idea seemed a bit confusing to me.  Once I really started researching, it all made perfect sense.  These two ladies want to provide the best experience possible for their customers.  They know what it's like to try to keep preschoolers busy, so they want to make life a little easier for other moms as well.  Everything is spelled out very clearly, and there are great experiments and activities.  They have been thoroughly tested by other moms and their kids.
If you do have further questions, you should not hesitate to contact Activity Bags.  Their email address is  The phone number is 303-288-0948.  If you would like to send them something by mail, their address is Activity Bags, LLC; 8090 Downing Drive; Denver, CO, 80229.
Go to the Schoolhouse Review page to read more reviews on the products sold by Activity Bags.
DISCLAIMER:  I received this product free of charge in order to provide an honest review of it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Vocal Coach - Learn How to Sing


The Vocal Coach with Chris & Carole Beatty has a product called Vocal Coach Singer.  My kids and I love to sing, and I know I don't sing well.  I recorded myself once in college because I thought I'd sing a solo at church.  I listened to it and have been self-conscious about my singing ever since.  I thought I'd finally have an opportunity to learn how to hit the notes I was just missing all these years.

This product sells for $99.99 as MP3s and $119.99 as CDs.  The MP3s come as zip files.  It is geared for junior high through adults.  They also sell a product called Teaching Kids to Sing that has a target age of 5 through 6th grade which sells for $44.99.  Since the majority of my family is junior high and older, with the exception of my daughter who is in 5th grade, we received Vocal Coach Singer as downloadable files for the purpose of the review.  The Vocal Coach website details what is included in the set:

7 Training CDS:

  • Getting Started
  • Complete Breathing
  • Complete Warm-Up
  • Complete Tone
  • Complete Expanding Your Range
  • Complete Diction
  • Complete Performance
4 Workout CDs:
  • Daily Workout High Voice 1 & 2
  • Daily Workout Medium/Low Voice 1 & 2
Plus these great educational tools:
  • Guidebook - Full-size instructional guidebook to ensure success
  • Printable lead sheets - each exercise in our course, plus track lists
  • Personal Singer's Journal (Getting Started Journal & Workout Journal) to track your progress
  • Vocal Coach Song Evaluation - Evaluation form to enable you to make more intelligent song selections

Each of these CDs is loaded with practice songs and exercises to help improve not only your singing but your regular speech as well.  Training in things like posture, breathing, and diction will help anybody who speaks or sings in public.  Not being a singer, I don't know what is normal as far as training goes, so some of the exercises seemed a bit weird to me and my kids.  They were often found standing straight up against a wall or lying on the floor.  My boys didn't seem to mind, but my daughter doesn't do things that are on the odd side.

One of the exercises on the Complete Warm-Up CD has you singing the phrase, "Hum-Chew."  As you "chew," you are supposed to literally chew; you are supposed to move your jaw like you are chewing while you are also trying to sing.  I could not keep from laughing.  It was hilarious to see and hear.  I did notice, though, that it worked.  It loosened up my jaw muscles and kept those muscles from tiring if I was singing for a long time, like when I was in the car going to pick up one of my kids from some activity.

One thing that was hard was being able to follow a simple tune without an instrument in my house that I could play for us.  Since the sheet music is included for the activities, it would be very simple to play the notes and sing along without the CD (after having listened to it first).  Since I didn't have that, I know I wasn't singing the same thing as the CD.  My kids seemed to do much better at this than I did.  Maybe they were meant to sing.

Chris and Carole Beatty provide a lot of great instruction.  It is evident that they have a passion for singing.  The CDs are of high quality and easy to understand.  The number of exercises that have been given definitely provide enough practice for a long, long time.  There was no way we could have gotten through all of them in time for this review.  The Workout Med:Low Voice CD alone has 35 exercises.

It is recommended that those using this product practice at least 45-60 minutes a day.  Most days we used this we were probably around 30 minutes or so.  If there was one person in my family who was serious about singing, if they were in musicals or choirs, this product would benefit them greatly.  When I first heard about this product, I didn't know what to expect.  I wondered how voice lessons could be done in this format.  I thought voice lessons meant you sang and the teacher told you to go lower or higher to hit the right note.  This is not that at all!  There is so much more to singing than I knew.  I do want to hit the right notes when I sing, but I don't think I'm ready for an hour a day of the exercises included in this program.

Like I said previously, however, this is a good product even for those who are simply interested in speaking more clearly, using their voice appropriately, even if not using it for singing.  So many people today mumble.  Their diction is lazy.  This program helps that.  An explanation is provided as to why breathing right, posture, speaking clearly, etc., is important.  

If you or your children are singers or public speakers, you may want to seriously consider this product.  I believe it will benefit you/them greatly.  If you have more than one child who would use this program, it is definitely worth the $99 (even $119.99) you would pay for it.  

I'd encourage you to check out The Vocal Coach website.  They have a blog and many free resources on their website.

You can contact The Vocal Coach at or by phone at 615-280-0554 (9 a.m.-4 p.m. CST).

Read more reviews about this product at

DISCLAIMER:  I received this product free of charge so that I might use it and provide an honest review.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I think I have one political bone in my body.  That's it, no more.  I vote in the Presidential elections and usually in the midterm elections, but that's about it.  I'm sure I should do more.  I often read about things and think I should call my representative, but I don't.  I don't know enough about most things, and I don't want to sound like an idiot on the phone if I call to ask them to vote for or against something.

I voted yesterday.  My candidate lost.  C'est la vie.  I didn't wake up very happy, and it carried over into how I handled virtually everything negative that came my way today.  Perhaps I let every circumstance be negative because of my attitude.  I let myself forget that all is not lost.  I honestly don't know what our current President has done in the last four years that has been good.  I certainly don't know how he'll work to make anything better in the next four, but I don't want to be a doomsayer.  I can't believe that America will cease to exist in the next four years.  I'm sure there will be those who think I am being naive.  You know, I'd rather live with hope than live in fear.

It is disheartening that so many Christians are allowing the results yesterday to steal their joy.  When I think about how big my God is, I can't help but smile.  The sun will still rise in the morning.  God controls that.  The sun will still set tomorrow night.  He controls that, too.

When God is in control, as He always will be no matter what happens in life or what anybody says, there is always hope.  With God on the throne, there is always peace, maybe not in this world, but there can be in my heart.  There is always love.  It might not be seen very often in society, but I can be one who loves others as God has called me to do.  God has promised me that He will never leave me nor forsake me.  I have hope.

I don't hope in government to meet my needs.  I hope in the One who allowed that government to stand.  If God allows that government to fall, I won't be disappointed.  I didn't hope in it in the first place.  I will follow God.  His ways are always better than anything man can envision.


The Journey to Faithfulness


PhotobucketApologia offers a book for mothers and daughters full of stories of Biblical characters and devotions that will encourage them to grow deeper in their faith, Journeys of Faithfulness.

This book is recommended for girls ages 12 and up, but I was able to use it with my daughter who is almost 11.  She enjoys the historical fiction genre and especially loved the story of Esther in this book.  She thinks Esther is just amazing!

Sarah Clarkson is the authoress of Journeys of Faithfulness. She has included devotionals in this book as well as stories of Martha and Mary, Esther, Ruth, and Mary (Jesus' mother).  The whole book is very well written, although I liked the devotionals more than the stories of the Biblical characters.  She adds a great deal of background story to each of the women's lives, so much so that I feel it is stretching a bit. Martha is made to seem quite angry and spiteful towards Mary who doesn't share her desire to prepare.  Esther hits a point where she has lost all hope.  Ruth's story begins with her life as a child living in a pagan society.  I felt I needed to be sure my daughter knew that most of what was written was fiction.  She said, "Of course it is, Mom."  The stories are well written but, because they are about Biblical characters, I feel caution needs to be exercised when adding things to their lives and events that took place.  So, I was a little bit uncomfortable while I was reading this book.

Each chapter ends with a short Bible study and thought-provoking questions.  Three or four Bible passages are given that relate to the story told in the chapter with a number of questions that can be answered in the space provided.  Being that my daughter is just 10, going on 11, some of the questions were a bit beyond her ability to answer.

This book sells for $13.00 through Apologia and is worth the read for older girls.  So long as they know that much is added to the story to make it more detailed and that a lot of what is written is made up, then there shouldn't be a problem. The devotions that are included after the Biblical character story are, I think, more enjoyable (like I said earlier).  They are true to life and not made up.  They are Sarah's own testimony, what God has done in and through her.

Paige, my daughter, has already said that she wants to read the story of Mary, Jesus' mom, next in the book.  (We've been skipping around.)  She is enjoying it enough to keep reading, but I think the reflection through the questions and Scripture passages will come when she is a bit older.

If you are interested in reading other reviews about this book from the Homeschool Crew, simply go to

DISCLAIMER:  I received this product free of charge so that I might use it and provide an honest, unbiased review.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The New Addition - We're Home!!

I am sitting in my bed this foggy Saturday morning.  Notice I said my bed.  My bed had been lying in pieces in the garage of our rented townhouse for 5-1/2 months.  I am looking at my dresser, which of course sat beside my bed in the garage.  However, it was not in pieces.  :-)  I am also looking at boxes.  If I went out into my living room, I'd be looking at more boxes.  If I went into the guest get the idea.

We moved into our brand new house on Wednesday, just 4 days ago.  We picked it out in the middle of May, and I felt the whole time like I was having another baby.  We'd drive by at least 4 days a week to make sure something was happening.  If time went by when nothing happened, I'd worry that it wasn't going to be done on time.  I was constantly asking the doctor, I mean construction supervisor, questions about the progress.  When was this supposed to be done?  Why was that done that way?  I'm sure he'll be glad to have his inbox back and no longer filled with emails from me.  Seriously, it wasn't really that bad, but I was anxious more than a few times.

The day of delivery, of our new house, I was thrilled.  It felt like Christmas.  Our closing went smoothly, and we were handed the keys.  We unloaded two U-Haul trucks full of boxes and furniture into the house.  The rest of that day was spent buying a washer and dryer and the furniture we didn't have.  So, Thursday was a day of unpacking.  This is when the postpartum depression started to sink in.  I wanted to enjoy my new home, but I was tasked with unpacking boxes and finding a place for everything where no place yet existed.  Screws for shelves cannot be found.  A power cord for a computer monitor could not be found (it finally was).  I cannot figure out how I packed our house in Canonsburg.  I must have been excited to leave.  All I know is that everything will eventually be found because EVERY box needs to be emptied.

Yesterday, I drove to the post office which is 25 minutes away from our house.  Normal post offices don't exist with frequency here in northern Florida.  You can buy stamps at the grocery store.  You can send your boxes and pay for shipping at the UPS Store and at many different gas stations.  I must be old-fashioned because I like to go to the post office where I work with a postal worker, not someone who owns a gas station, when I need to take care of my outgoing mail.  Anyway, I went to the post office to get our mail key.  (Our neighborhood has a centralized mail kiosk at the entrance to the plan.)  When I went there, the postman couldn't find the keys for our street.  He called someone who said our HOA had the keys for our street.  Does that make sense to you?  It didn't to me either, but I figured he must know.  I got in the car and called the HOA who said they didn't know where my keys were.  Needless to say, I grew extremely frustrated, more frustrated than I should have.  Two hours later I received a call from the HOA stating that my mail keys were at the post office.  Really?  When I was there earlier I thought about asking the postman to look again for the keys, but he probably would have been insulted.  John and I had errands to run after he got home from work, so we went back to the post office and got our keys.  The postman I had worked with earlier noticed me when I walked in and, though he was working with someone else and there were five other people standing in line, he did not make me wait for my keys.  He was extremely apologetic.  I couldn't be mad at him.  We got our mail key and, on the way home, our mail.  Yes, after only three days, we had a stack of mail.

So, as I sit here peacefully on this no-longer-foggy morning in Florida looking out the back door in my bedroom to the magnolia tree in our backyard, I am thankful for the new addition to our family.  I am thankful that God made me feel like I was leaving home last November when we drove back to PA from Disney.  I am thankful that He has orchestrated everything and has put us here in this gorgeous house, complete with mail key.  LOL.  We will be receiving our washer and dryer and additional furniture this next week.  We will put things on the walls, and we will finish emptying our boxes; and our house will be a home. Hopefully a home where people feel welcome, a home full of love and blessings from God so we can, in turn, bless others.