Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Quick and Easy Breakfast

My current breakfast of choice is a Luna bar and Fage yogurt.  I like to have something that I can just grab and eat with no thinking involved.  It isn't the cheapest thing I could eat but I like it and it keeps me feeling satisfied all morning.  My local Wal-Mart has recently started selling Fage yogurt at the best price of seen it (other than one time when it went on sale for $1 each), prior to that the best price was at Trader Joe's.  Trader Joe's and Wal-Mart both carry Luna bars for about $.98 each.  (In Wal-Mart they are with the protein bars in the pharmacy.)

I can get this flavor and a couple others at Wal-Mart.
 Wal-Mart carries S'mores, Nutz over Chocolate, Lemon and White Chocolate Macadamia.  My two favorites are Blueberry Bliss and Chocolate Dipped Coconut.  I have to get those at either Trader Joe's or a grocery store.

If you've never seen Fage yogurt the fruit is on the side
which tips up so you can squeeze it onto your yogurt.

The calorie count varies on this depending on which yogurt you get but it comes in well under 400 calories. What is your favorite grab and run breakfast?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

I had a really hard time planning this week.  None of this is set in stone.  :)

Monday: Chicken Tetrazzini (from The Freezer Cooking Manual)
                       (also making Simple Chicken Soup since I don't want tetrazzini)

Tuesday: Sweet and Sour Chicken with rice

Wednesday: Chicken Cacciatore with pasta (from 400 Calorie Fix)

Friday: Homemade Pizza and chips

Sunday: leftovers

Link up with your menu plan or see what others are planning this week at

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Slim Down Sunday

Goal: Continue losing weight at a steady pace. (My goal is to have lost 75 lbs total by the end of the year.)

Pounds Lost: 50.2 lbs (2.4 lbs lost this week)

How is it going this week?  This was a great week.  I finally lost over 50 lbs which was a major goal and really motivated me to keep going.  I wanted to exercise at least 3 times this week and ended up exercising 5 times.  I ended up doing a total of 15 miles with Leslie Sansone walking DVDs. I also blogged about How I Lost 50 Lbs.

My Plan for the Week Ahead: Just keep doing what I've been doing and exercise at least 3 days this week.

If you would like some encouragement or to encourage others in their weight loss join us at Heartfelt Homeschooling for Slim Down Sunday.  You can link up here

Saturday, September 24, 2011

BLT in a Bowl

I had mentioned in a previous post that I think half the battle of losing weight is figuring out what to eat.  I plan to share some of my favorite recipes and quick fixes that I have used while losing 50 lbs (so far).

This is a recipe I've had for quite a while, but sort of forgot about it until Rob mentioned it the other day.   It comes from the Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats One Meal at a Time. Honestly, my kids prefer just the plain soup so I made them plain tomato soup. (Yes, from a can.)

I really had forgotten how good this was until we had it tonight. It's super fast and only 260 calories in about a 2 cup serving.  (It made 8 cups and it serves 4 but I used 1 large can of soup instead of the 2 smaller cans and that makes for a little extra soup.)

B.L.T. in a Bowl

Two 10 oz cans less-sodium tomato soup (I just used the regular.)
2 cans water
6 to 8 oz. frozen cheese tortellini
one 6-oz. bag pre-washed baby spinach (about 4 packed cups)
4 tsp. real bacon bits (I bought some turkey bacon bits.)
2 T. grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Pour tomato soup and water into large saucepan and stir to combine.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Add the tortellini and cook, uncovered, according to package directions, stirring frequently. Do not drain.  Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes.  Serve in individual bowls and top with bacon bits and Parmesan cheese as desired.

printable version

I highly recommend this soup and The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers.  You'll find more recipes here.You might want to check the book out of the library first to see if you like it or better yet head over to their website. (or purchase it at Amazon.) They have a new book out, No Whine With Dinner that I haven't had a chance to look through but I'm going to see if it's at the library.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How I Lost 50 Lbs

As of yesterday, I have lost over 50 lbs since October of last year.  I posted on Facebook, "Goodbye 50 lbs-I hope I never see you again."  This set off lots of comments of congratulations and lots of questions about how I did it.  I thought I'd share about my weight loss journey....

In October of last year, I had a Pampered Chef party, the consultant and my dear friend, Amanda had just lost 30 lbs on Prevention Magazine's Flat Belly Diet.  I was inspired.  I had taken the book out of the library several times but never really read it.  I decided it was time to get serious.  Everything I had tried over the past several years had ended in failure and I was at the end of my rope and ready to just give up ever trying again.

Good to read but my least favorite.

I can't remember if I bought the book right away or if I just used the library copy.  At any rate, the diet starts with a 4 Day Jump Start plan.  There is a special water concoction called Sassy water that you drink each day and there are specific things to eat each of the 4 days to transition you over to the diet.  It also starts you out on 1200 calories a day.  It's a diet designed to reduce bloating.  I think it claimed you could lose up to 7 lbs the first week. I think I lost 2 or 3.  It was kind of discouraging but it was a start.

I then began on the 1600 calorie a day plan.  With the Flat Belly Diet each meal has to have a MUFA which is a mono-unsaturated fatty acid.  This includes nuts, peanut butter, olive oil, avocado, olives (yuck) and dark chocolate (YES!)  A diet that includes chocolate is definitely a diet I can get behind!!

Great book to start with.  Lots of quick ideas for meals
 like  Brown Rice Salad.

It wasn't too long before I purchased some of the books in the series.  I was steadily losing a lb or two a week.  I bought the Flat Belly Diet, The Flat Belly Diet Pocket Guide, and the Flat Belly Diet Family Cookbook.  Also available are the The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook and the Flat Belly Diet for Men.

It wasn't too long after that I discovered The 400 Calorie Fix. This book which is also by Prevention Magazine still recommends 400 calories per meal and not letting more than 4 hours lapse between meals. However, you have COMPLETE freedom to eat whatever you want.  No MUFA's required.  This is something I can do forever.  It is the way I eat now.  I can eat out, I can have birthday cake, I can do whatever I want...and if I flub up I can skip my evening snack or just start again the next morning with a 400 calorie meal.

For some reason limiting myself to about 400 calories per meal is different from planning to eat 1600 calories a day...that never worked for me.  I really love this book!  It has a section on what to eat when you're out (specific things to order at restaurants including Dunkin Donuts!).  Also a section on pre-prepared meals and quick fixes.  The remainder of the book is great recipes for "regular eating" not diet food. (There is a new 400 Calorie Fix Cookbook out that I can't wait to get a look at.)

One other thing is that I sometimes exercise.  I am sporadic about it but when I am exercising I consistently use Leslie Sansone DVDs.  My favorites right now are The Big Burn, Walk Off 10 Pounds and Walk Slim: Fast and Firm 4 Really Big Miles.

I hope to blog more about what I eat and continue participating each week in Slim Down Sunday.  Would love to hear what you do to lose weight and if you'd like to read more about my weight loss journey, recipes etc.

Aletheia Writing Magazine Review

Aletheia Writing Magazine: Creativity for Christian Teens is a relatively new magazine, founded in August 2010.  It is a 40 page, full color, magazine printed on high quality paper and published quarterly.  It offers teens a place to submit writing and art work.  They accept fiction, non-fiction, fiction book reviews, artwork and nature photography.  Specific guidelines for each are available on the website.

Aletheia Spring 2011 Magazine Cover

From the website:
Aletheia Writing Magazine is a quarterly publication focusing on the literary and artistic works of Christian teens, ages 13 to 19. 

We are excited to offer Christian teens a healthy platform in which to express themselves, especially in a culture that so definitively shapes and saturates their worldview with unhealthy imagery and values. 

In addition to the literary and artistic expressions of Christian teens, each issue offers a variety of unique features: a Writer's Challenge, the Featured Contributor, a book review, Glory to God for the Beauty of Nature, Ancient Ink, and an interview or other feature for edification and enjoyment.

Mission statement from their facebook page:
Our mission is to provide readers with quality fiction stories, along with poems, that uniquely unveil or glimpse Christian truths in mysterious, beautiful, or wondrous ways, and to allow young writers, artists and photographers to fulfill this provision through submissions.

So, what is Aletheia and how do you pronounce it?  Aletheia is the Greek word for "truth" or "unveiling". It is pronounced Ah-LAY-thie-uh.

Those who have their work published do not receive any monetary compensation but they do get 3 copies of the magazine they are published in.  This seems reasonable to me.  They also have some fun blog buttons for those that are published (shown below).

I have mixed feelings about this magazine. I think it is a great idea to have a magazine that gives teens an opportunity to have their work published.  I also find the website to be informative.There is a page of writing tips for fiction writers that would be a help to any young writer. They also have a writing blog for teens called Christian Teens Write.  It is a beautiful magazine and I especially like the nature photos in the Glory to God: For The Beauty of Nature section of  the magazine.

However, I am not sure that the content lines up with what I consider to be Christian. ( I am a conservative Baptist.)  The featured story in the issue I received centered around a wizard.  They also list themselves as pan-Christian on their Facebook information page.  I wasn't exactly sure what that meant so I did a Google search, asked them on their facebook page and asked my pastor.  Aletheia responded by saying, "It means that the magazine is open to all Christians and not just Orthodox,or Catholic, or Protestant, or Non-Denominational."  My pastor said, "Pan-christian is a philosophy that puts together all religions and churches that claim any connection to Christianity without any regard of separation or doctrine. "  He then went on to explain that it was dangerous and should be avoided and shunned by the true church.

My personal feeling is that they are not necessarily promoting pan-christianity (I couldn't find it on the website, only on the Facebook page) but by accepting works from all types of Christians it is not what I would consider appropriate for my family.  I would recommend checking it out yourself before getting this for your teens.  You can read a sample copy here.  (the link is at the top right corner)

I also encountered several grammatical errors and that kind of bothers me too considering it is a writing magazine.

Aletheia Logo - Oval border

A one year subscription (4 issues) of Aletheia Writing Magazine is available at Aletheia for $26 (includes shipping) in the US and $29 in Canada.  

You can read what others are saying about Aletheia Writing Magazine on the TOS crew blog.

disclaimer: I received a free print copy and a digital copy of Alethia magazine in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tuna Rotini Salad Toss for Lunch

I am hoping to write a series of posts about what I have been eating while losing weight.  Sometimes I think half the battle is just figuring out what to eat and what a reasonable serving size is.

One of my favorite diet cookbooks is the Flat Belly Diet Family Cookbook.  This recipe comes from this book and it's delicious.  (It doesn't seem like diet food!) Actually, nothing I eat is "diet" food. I eat 400 calorie meals 4 times a day.  That's really all there is to it.  If you are looking to eat a healthier diet and lower your cholesterol then the Flat Belly Diet might be for you.  The recipes are all heart healthy.

6 oz. multigrain rotini pasta
1/4 cup canola mayonnaise (I usually just use regular mayo)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (I like to just buy the frozen cubes at Trader Joe's...simple and always on hand!)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 cans (5 oz ea.) water-packed solid white tuna, drained
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1 1/2" long strips
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1 serving (1 1/2 cups) is 404 calories.

After I ate 1 serving for lunch I divided the remaining servings into individual containers for an easy to grab lunch.  I used a glass container for one serving and the other two I put into trays that individual frozen dinners come in covered with Press N Seal.  I make my own frozen dinners this way too.  Often times my family is eating something that either has too many calories or I don't know how to count it so I eat something else.  Pre-prepared meals are perfect for that.

Let me know if you try it and how you like it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Brown Rice Salad for lunch

My current favorite lunch recipe is a brown rice salad.  If you've been reading my blog you know that I have been on an 11 month long weight loss journey.  I began it on the Flat Belly Diet by Prevention magazine.  In the FBD Pocket Guide there is a "recipe" for brown rice salad.

When my friend, Amanda, told me about this salad I didn't think it sounded very good but decided to try it anyway and I love it.  Over the summer, I fell into a pattern of eating a 400 calorie lunch but it usually consisted of some kind of sandwich, baked potato chips and a Weight Watchers Ice Cream bar.(Dark Chocolate Raspberry!)  Recently, I decided that I should get back to eating some healthier foods for lunch.

The recipe calls for brown rice which I do sometimes use. But currently I buy a brown rice medley at Trader Joe's that is delicious.  I cook it in a rice cooker and then portion it out in half cup portions in Press N Seal and keep it in the freezer. Then I can have rice in 1 minute in the microwave.

So my salad consists of:

1/2 cup brown rice
1/3 cup pinto beans (I use whatever canned beans I have on calorie counts, they are not all equal)
1/4 cup avocado
2 T. salsa
2 T. lime juice
1 small tomato, chopped
black pepper to taste

(The original recipe also calls for 2 tsp. olive oil but I leave it out so I can eat an ice cream bar...yes..I know I said I wanted to be healthier but I LOVE them. :) )

(I usually sprinkle with a bit of salt.)

It's so yummy and nutritious.  Give it a try and let me know how you like it.  What is your favorite healthy lunch?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tri-Cross Game Review

Tri-Cross Logo

For this review, I was expecting to receive the Tri-Cross Eco-edition but was pleasantly surprised to get not only the travel edition, but also the board game version! I thought that was extremely generous.  Tri-Cross is a fun game for the whole family.  Children, teens and adults can enjoy this game together.  The game promotes logical thinking, cause and effect, predicting, interpreting outcomes, abstract thinking, memory (in the face down version), and visualization.

Tri-Cross Eco Board Game
The Eco version has a cloth board and folds up
neatly into a bag so you can take it anywhere.
The game pieces are the same for both games.  They are high quality, smooth pieces that feel nice in your hand and are a nice weight.  The Eco-version game board is made of organic cotton as is the carrying bag.  The cloth board doesn't stay completely flat but it isn't an issue when playing the game.  

The standard game has a nice game board that folds in half.  It seems very sturdy.  It's a bit too shiny so depending on the light you are playing in you can get some glare making it hard on the eyes if you're playing at night.

This is the standard version.
  It has a bit of glare on the board as you can see.

The object of the game is to occupy the center square with your Tri-Cross piece for 4 turns in a row.  The higher pieces jump (and remove) lower pieces with the exception that the Tri-Cross can jump the 6 (but only the 6).  There is a face up version where everyone can see the pieces on the board and a face down version that is more challenging because you don't turn the pieces over until they are flipped (when they are next to each other.)  Detailed directions can be found here.

This is a video tutorial for beginner Tri Cross players.  You can see the board game version in this video.  It's easier for me to learn a game by watching how to play then by reading the directions.

We like this game.  It is fun to play and it doesn't last a long time, making it a great choice to play with children and to play even if you don't have much time. The recommended age is 8 and up but my almost 6 year old can play so it is possible for younger children to play too.  You can play with 2, 3 or 4 players.  I think it is best with 3 or 4 players but it can be fun with just 2 also.

Here I am playing with daughters Emma (8) and Jenna (almost 6)

the view from above

deep in thought...

On their website, they are giving away 10 Eco-games free.  Rules and contest deadlines can be found here.

Mom's Choice Awards 2010

Advanced tutorials and complete directions can be found here. Also there is a nice FAQ page to answer questions that you may have or that may come up as you play. Though it really is pretty simple. You can read the interesting story of how this game came to be at Games for Competitors, the family owned business that produces Tri-Cross. If your family likes games I think this would make a nice addition to your game collection.

Dr. Toy Winner - Green Product 2010

Tri-Cross can be purchased on the Tri-Cross website or at a local game store (retail locations found here.)  Tri-Cross Eco-edition is available for $19.95.  The standard edition is $24.95 and a wooden edition for $35.95.  They also offer Tri-Cross t-shirts.See what others are saying about Tri-Cross on the TOS crew blog!


disclaimer: I was given Tri-Cross in exchange for an honest review.

Menu Plan Monday

MondayLasagna Soup (I was supposed to make this last week but it got bumped.)

Tuesday: Baked chicken, baked potatoes and vegetable

Wednesday: Curried Chicken and Broccoli casserole

Thursday: Pampered Chef show (Rob taking kids out while I have my party.)

Friday: Homemade pizza and chips

Saturday: BLT soup (From Meal Makeover Moms cookbook) and bread

Sunday: leftovers

Lunches: sandwiches, macaroni and cheese (I want to try this one), tuna noodle casserole, hotdogs, Simple Chicken Soup

Link up with your menu plan or see what others are planning this week at

Freebie from Amanda Bennett Today

Last year we used Amanda Bennett's Download N Go unit studies as our main curriculum (for the younger kids).  We had a great time with Autumn Treasures.(my review)

Today she is offering Autumn Treasures free to the first 300 customers!  Check it out on her blog.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Slim Down Sunday

Goal: Continue losing weight at a steady pace. (My goal is to lose another 25 lbs by the end of the year.)

Pounds Lost: 47.8 (lost a whopping .2 lbs)

How is it going this week? This week I got back into exercising.  I use Leslie Sansone walking videos.  I did between 1 and 4 miles on Sunday-Thursday.  We had some events this week including a birthday party Friday night. In the early days of dieting, I would not have eaten the food at the birthday party because I would have been afraid that any deviation from the diet would send me back to eating too much but I no longer have that fear.  So, I try to eat in moderation when these things come up and then just get right back on track.  It's working for me so far.

My plan for the week ahead: Just keep doing what I've been doing and exercise at least 3 days this week.

If you would like some encouragement or to encourage others in their weight loss join us at Heartfelt Homeschooling for Slim Down Sunday. You can link up here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Before Five in a Row Review

Right up front I will say that I have been a Five in a Row fan for many years.  We have "rowed" many Five in a Row books over the years.  ("Rowing" is the term Five in a Row users use to refer to the current book they are doing a unit study of.)  I have owned a copy of Before Five in a Row for a number of years along with quite a few of the picture books that go along with it. (Unfortunately, some of my books are missing. :(  I hate when that happens!)  Anyway, I never really took the time to read Before Five in a Row and actually use it.  I was so happy to have this opportunity to review it because I knew it would force me to sit down and really read it and use it.


Before Five in a Row is a treasury of creative ideas to inspire learning readiness for ages 2-4 written by Jane Lambert.  In the first part of the book you will find 23 mini-units written by the author of Five in a Row. It is written in a similar style to Five in a Row but without the 5 day schedule. It is written for times when you "want a special story with 'ready to use' activities and ideas that inspire creative interaction." (p.4)

Each mini-unit uses wonderful books written for young children.   Each book is listed with a variety of activities to go along with it.  Many are simple activities requiring nothing more than a few minutes spent with your child looking for something in the book, or singing a song, while others can be more involved like art projects or acting out a part of a story.  There is a short Bible verse to tie in with each book if you'd like to, often with an easy way to tie a Bible story in with what you've read.  

When I originally started to write this review, I thought of Before Five in a Row as a wonderful curriculum for preschoolers.  But, as I've spent some time reading it, I don't really think it is curriculum.  I think calling it curriculum misses the point.

I have a few quotes from the introduction that I would like to share to further explain what I mean:

"Before Five in a Row suggests a wide variety of interesting topics and activities to present, now and then, after a story is read.  These discussions and activities provide added interest for both the reader and the child." (p.3)  
"The point is not so much to instruct or teach as it is to have a happy introduction to books, provide an interesting, light introduction to many different topics, and to build intimacy between the reader and the child." (p.3)  
"Before Five in a Row is not attempting to teach academics, but rather to provide a strong foundation of academic 'readiness'." (p.4)

In addition, this is the Before Five in a Row Vision Statement:

"Dedicated to protecting and nurturing the early years of childhood, Before Five in a Row opens up the world of learning through great books and creative play, and builds a solid foundation for more formal education to come."

I loved this quote from the website:

"Before Five in a Row is passionate about teaching, but the teaching comes through the subtle forms of play that are intrinsic to early childhood."
 Before Five in a Row is not a curriculum that tells you what to do each day or week or even month. It is a  treasury of ideas (like it says on the cover) to be used through the pre-school years.  Don't less this scare you off if you are looking for curriculum though.  I really believe you don't need anything more in these early years.  However, if you want to use Before Five in a Row that way there are loads of resources on the internet to help you to do that.  I however plan to keep it simple and use it as is. (Not that I won't ever find things online to do, it's just that I know I don't need to!)

Unfortunately, there are no sample pages available online for Before Five in a Row.  I will do my best to try to share with you how it works without the benefit of samples.

One of the stories we have been reading is Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey.  For each mini unit the book information is at the top of the page including title, author, illustrator, copyright year and any awards it has received followed by a summary of the story.  Next there are activities listed by topic. In this book the topics include Bible: Health and Safety, Math, History, Classification, Zoology and several others.

What I did was spend a few weeks just reading the story here and there several times a week so that it became familiar to them.  I also made up some animal classification bookmarks that I found online (from a suggestion on the FIAR message boards) and laminated them to use as we go through the stories as suggested in the book.  You could make your own using magazines or the internet but if I can find them already made up and all I have to do is print them, I'm going for it! :)  We have been using these just to look at and identify animals but as time goes on we can use these to practice sorting and matching them up with the stories we are reading.  Sadie (2 next week) and Ellie (3 yrs. 10 months) love to look at all of the animals.  Sadie will repeat each one as I tell her what they cute.

Animal Classification bookmarks from Homeschool Creations

For another activity,  I made a "tin pail" using a soup can and some craft wire and Ellie put blueberries (store bought) into her "pail" so she could hear the kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk as they do in the story...and practice counting some too.  :)

In the meantime, we are reading other stories, sometimes finding an activity to do and sometimes not.  We read a variety of books including Before Five in a Row books.  I like it because I can easily fit this in to my busy day.  I keep the manual handy so that when we have some reading time I can easily pick it up for an idea to enrich our story time and learn something new.

One other thing I have done is to create a small book basket just for the younger ones.  It is easily accessible for any of us.  Ellie and Sadie can look at the books or ask one of the "readers" in the family to read to them.  I love to see the older children reading to their younger brothers and sisters.  It really warms my heart.

So far I have only mentioned part one of Before Five in a Row but it is a two part book. The second part of the book is entitled, Parent's Treasury of Creative Ideas for Learning Readiness.  It truly is a treasury.  There are book ideas, music suggestions and activities, ideas for increasing large and small motor skills, things to do at bath time or in the kitchen or at the store, toy suggestions and more!

Though the book is recommended for 2 to 4 year olds, the stories are timeless and most can be read with children much older.  Many of the activities could be used with older children as well.  I plan to continue using this all year with Sadie, Ellie and even Jenna (she'll be 6 next week) and Connor (who is older but has a developmental disability).

In addition to Before Five in a Row, there are 4 volumes of Five in a Row (for 4-8 year olds) and  3 volumes of Beyond Five in a Row (for 8-12 year olds) and Above and Beyond Five in a Row based on Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. They also have a digital store with planners, units, Fold N Learns, audios and much more.  They also have the most fabulous homeschooling message boards for FIAR users.  When you use any Five in a Row product you will want to tap into the resources and wisdom of the moms on the boards.


Before Five in a Row is available exclusively through Rainbow Resource Center for $35.00.  They also offer a literature package and individual books. (note: a few of the titles are out of print but I have found them all to be available through my local library's interlibrary loan program)

You can read what others on TOS crew are saying about Before Five in a Row on the TOS crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Before Five in a Row in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Goal Plan Monday

Last week I only finished about half of what I planned.  I'll be putting the unfinished things on my list again but this is a very busy week so I'm not sure how much of it I will get to.

-daily devotions
-schoolwork with the kids
-lesson plans for next week
-continue cleaning out closet
-declutter E/R room
-write B4FIAR review and post
-play Tri-Cross
-work on Tri-Cross review
-play Scruble
-work on Aletheia review
-meal planning for next week
-exercise at least 3 days this week
-start pulling out fall clothes

If I can get all of this done this week it will be quite an accomplishment.  You can link up for with your goals for this week at Mama Manuscripts.

Menu Plan Monday

I'm glad that I have started doing meal planning again.  Last week I even cooked several meals at the beginning of the week and really didn't have to cook all week(I put 2 in the freezer for the later part of the week.)

I am still keeping a pretty empty freezer.  I have one package of chicken sausage (to make minestrone) and no other meat on hand in the freezer.  It's kind of nice having a half empty freezer.  It's much easier to find things!  

Monday:Cheesy Rigatoni Bake

Tuesday:Hamburgers, Potato Salad, chips

Wednesday: Pizza with out of town relatives

Thursday: Mary Lu's Cheesy Tomato Mac Soup

Friday: Jenna and Sadie's birthday party-probably serving soup and bread

SaturdayLasagna Soup

Sunday: leftovers

Lunches: sandwiches, Spicy Noodle Edamame Salad, macaroni and cheese I want to try this one, tuna noodle casserole, hotdogs, spaghetti, Simple Chicken Soup

Link up with your menu plan or see what others are planning this week at

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Big IQ Kids Review

Big IQ Kids is an online spelling, vocabulary, math and geography website. They have also just recently added an SAT vocabulary prep program. The programs are designed for students in grades K-8 and encourage independent learning through multimedia reinforcement. (This is a secular program but I did not find anything objectionable thus far.)

Big IQ Kids offers Free and Premium programs.  The primary difference between the two programs is the ability of the Premium program to monitor the progress of the student and advance them only when mastery of the subject matter has been achieved.


With the PREMIUM program, students have their progress tracked, problem areas are identified and then these findings are reported to you via email . Students in the Premium Program are offered customizable buddies, full game page access and the ability to save game coins and high scores. .The games are a big motivator for kids to practice their spelling and geography (at my house anyway). The PREMIUM program has very limited advertisement and no ads are displayed during lesson interaction. More information about Free Vs. Premium can be found by following the links on the bottom of this page.

 Emma (3rd grade) and Ryan (6th grade) are using this on a daily basis.  Emma really loves learning the states and doesn't complain too much about doing spelling.  The vocabulary games are a nice feature as well.  Occasionally a word you want is not in the system but you can request to have it added (I didn't try this.)

Kaitlyn (9th grade) has been enjoying the free spelling program as well.  Since she doesn't have a spelling program we just used the included 8th grade spelling list because I thought it would be a nice review.

A Big IQ Kids customizable avatar.

You begin by logging in to Big IQ Kids.  A voice prompts you to enter your member name and password.
 Once you log on you can choose the program you wish to work on.  Here you can see how Emma customized her avatar:

We'll start by looking at the Spelling and Vocabulary page. For us, the spelling has been a wonderful addition to our homeschool.  Emma and Ryan are each using different spelling programs but it doesn't matter because I can take the word lists from their current curriculum and just add them into the program. (If you don't have a spelling curriculum, Big IQ Kids has their own graded program so you can just use theirs.)


It is very easy to add words by just clicking on Create/Modify Word List.  There is no limit to the number of words you can add.  I have been making a new list of words for each week (you can name each list) and naming it by the week of school we are on.  Once the words are added you have nothing else to do but let the kids practice their words with games and tests.

The first part of the spelling lesson is a word introduction. The words from the list are put into a sentence. Then the computer reads the sentence to you and asks you to spell it by typing it in or using your mouse to click on the letters on the on-screen keyboard. It also shows the definition, synonyms and antonyms.

Then there are many other games and puzzles, a Word Jumble (you drag the letters into the correct order),Spelling Bee, Word Search and Hangbot (which is like the spelling bee only with a robot).  Next you will find vocabulary activities to go along with the spelling words.  You can match words to definitions, determine if a word is a synonym or antonym, drag the correct spelling word into a sentence, a crossword puzzle and a vocabulary test. It's a very impressive collection of activities and games that really familiarize the user with the words through repeated use.

The lessons can be printed as well so you do not have to do everything on the computer.

The parent has the option of setting a passing grade by increments of 5 between 70% and 100%.  There is a report card that shows the activities completed with the score, date completed and any of the words missed on each activity.

The only thing we don't like about the spelling program is that the voices used are very monotone and robotic sounding. (this is true of the entire website) Sometimes when being asked to spell a word it's hard to tell what word they are asking you to spell but overall it's not too bad. You can hear a sample of the voices by trying the interactive homework lessons on the bottom left of the homepage.

Big IQ Kids Math is good for practicing skills but the kids really didn't like it all that much.  I played with it some to see what it was like and  feel that it is a bit awkward to enter the answers once you get beyond working with single digits.
Students enter answers by typing them in or using the mouse to click on
the calculator.  There is a worksheet space on the right but it would be awkward
to actually use to figure out problems. I had fun drawing. :)

The math program adjusts to your student's needs.  If the problems are too easy it will advance the student to the next topic.  Later, you can re-set this if you wish. (I know this because when we first got it I was playing with it and advanced too far for Emma...oops) This would be good for a kid who would rather type in math answers than write them down.  As a parent, you are able to go in and customize it to your child's math level.  Also, you can put a timer on it or turn it off.  You can print lessons and print a progress report which tells you the amount of time spent, number of problems worked, grade and a summary.

This is the screen you see why you modify the math lessons.  You choose what percent of the problems you want to be addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  You also can set the starting digit for each section.  When the section is mastered it will show up here with a check mark.  This is also where you can turn the timer on and off.
When students move up in a level I am notified by an e-mail like this one:

Hi Ryan's Parent/Guardian: 

 Ryan achieved mastery for 'Division - Digit Number 1' and is moving up to the next level. If you would like to review or modify Ryan's lesson plan click on the 'Modify Lesson' button on the main menu. 

 Ryan is doing great! 

 Thanks for using

The kids favorite program is the States program. It teaches kids location of states, state spelling, state capitals and abbreviations.  I like the fact that they are learning US geography by just having fun doing it and then get to play games as a reward for the "work" they are doing.


For each lesson the child does they are rewarded with game coins.  At the end of the lesson they can play games or save their game coins for later (with the Premium program, this is not an available option for the Free programs).

This is what the game screen looks like:
This is page 1 of the games, there are 3 pages.  The kids enjoy the games.

I can go into their accounts at any time and check to see how they are doing or have their results e-mailed to me.  Ryan and Emma have both been scoring 100% on the spelling words at the end of each week. They have a Big IQ Kids test and then I test them on paper as well. I'd say that BIG IQ Kids is a big part of their spelling success.

I'll let you in on a little secret too. I like to use Big IQ Kids myself.  :)

Besides the programs I have mentioned thus far Big IQ Kids also offers a Junior Spelling Program, Interactive Homework Lessons, Spelling and Vocabulary Competitions and humorous chapter books that can be used on your Kindle, Nook or iPad.

In the graphic below you can see pricing for individual programs and further down I've listed the bundle pricing. You will find this page here.

More information about the SAT vocabulary prep is found here.

Bundle Package - Includes all 4 programs - Big Savings!

Individual Bundle Account: $19.99 - 1 month membership or 

Individual Bundle Account: $99.99 - 1 year membership ON SALE now for $89.99 during the Once a Year Back to School Promotion!


Overall, I give Big IQ Kids a big thumbs up. We will continue to use this all school year. You can read what others on the crew are saying about Big IQ Kids on the TOS crew blog.

 Disclaimer: 2 Free Premium memberships were given to us in exchange for an honest review.
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