Heart-to-Heart with Diane

Hello and Welcome! Isn't raising a family the greatest!? I know I've got the best job in the world, just being Mom! I love sharing things I've discovered that make being "Mom" better, easier or more fulfilling, and that is what this blog is all about. Welcome!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Peasant Blouse Mania

Louisa (13) has been sewing peasant blouses like crazy!

I love to sew! I want to teach my girls to love it, too, so we started with very simple projects when they were younger: pillowcases, a straight skirt with an elastic waist, and the like.

Now we are making peasant blouses which are super-easy, fun, and in fashion too! A peasant blouse has just 3 pattern pieces (front, back, and sleeve) and requires no facings, zipper, buttons, gathers, set-in sleeves or any other fancy sewing. It is feminine, cool and breezy—just perfect for summer.

Once Louisa got the hang of it, she started producing peasant blouses in an hour and with lots of enthusiasm! She is getting quite at-ease at the sewing machine too—just what I wanted. Since I have a too-big stash of fabric, and plenty of elastic and thread, these aren't costing us a penny, but they are greatly expanding Louisa's wardrobe. How fun!

Ammon calls them "pleasant blouses". And they really are!

Louisa (13) and Emily (19) sewed matching peasant blouses
(with different sleeve variations).

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Monday, June 15, 2009


Don't look at the number of rolls, or the number of sheets, or the size—
just hone in on the square feet total area.
(1419 square feet for this package)

I'm always on the lookout for bargains, and when I find one I buy as much as I can afford. Toilet paper stores for years, so this is one item I like to stash in my garage rafters. Nobody likes to run out of toilet paper!

It is amazing how widely the price of toilet paper varies, and it doesn't always have a lot to do with quality. I always felt like I was shooting in the dark when I bought toilet paper, until we figured out a way to determine a comparison price quickly, without a caluclator!

To figure out the best price: just look at the total number of square feet in the package and move the decimal place up 2 spaces. So, if the package says "total area 1419 square feet", mentally move the decimal place up 2 spaces to 14.19 and add the dollar sign = $14.19. A great price for toilet paper is .01 per square foot of toilet paper. So, $14.19 is the price this package (above) would be if it was .01 cent per square foot.

Now, compare the price of the toilet paper to the number you calculated in your head. If the sale price on this toilet paper was $14.19, it would be a nice bargain (at .01 cents per square foot). In this case, the price was even lower: just $9.99, so I got a real deal, and I bought a lot!

One ply or 2 ply? It doesn't matter, as ultimately you use about the same square footage at each application. (Did I say that delicately enough?) With 1 ply, you just have to unroll more and double it up, but you still use basically the same amount.

Need another practice problem?

Well, I just got home from shopping and I saw a pack of toilet paper on sale at the grocery store on a big end cap with a sign that said, "WOW! SALE! $8.88". That caught my eye, so I took a quick glance at the total square feet in the package. To qualify as a good sale, the package would have to contain 888 square feet (or .01 cent per square feet). Don't pay any attention to the other numbers (sheets, size, etc.). The package stated that there was just 651 square feet total area. No matter the "wow, sale" sign, it wasn't a wow deal. At just 651 square feet, it would have had to be priced at less than $6.51 to be a good buy.

Once you get the hang of it, you'll be surprised at how wildly erratic the pricing on toilet paper is. Maybe it is because consumers can't figure it out easily and just buy whatever looks like a deal, so they can take wide leeway. Even the little shelf label tags that figure it out for you at some grocery stores don't seem to help, as they often calculate the price per roll—but every roll is different!

Now that you know an easy way to make sense of the price, save some money and stock up!

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Homeschool + High School Credit

My son Ammon on graduation day!

I got so many requests for "how-to" on high school homeschool, that here I am again, with details this time. I'm sure there are as many variations on homeschool high school as there are homeschoolers, but this is what has worked for our family.

#1 Find a Good High School
This can be a charter school, private school, or public school, but it most colleges will want the high school to be accredited.

#2 Enroll as a Part-Time Student
Enrolling as a freshman is preferred, as it gives you time to build high school credit, and establish yourself. Even one class is a good start. Not every homeschooler is eager to go to high school (mine weren't), but one class is usually doable. Orchestra is a good choice, as you get more sober-minded students, it seems. High school orchestra, choir, Honors or AP (Advanced Placement classes) seem to draw wholesome students, and many are homeschoolers.

What to avoid? Woodworking, Auto Shop, Welding, and often Cooking and Drama (depending on the teacher). Unfortunately, hands-on project classes that seem easy or non-academic often attract kids that don't want to be in school, have truancy issues, even have substance abuse issues. I think that is such a shame, because they would be ideal classes for homeschoolers! (I learned this by encouraging my sons to take Woodworking and Welding and having them experience some pretty vile topics of conversation and rough behavior amongst the students.)

Your best best when a class is in question is to ask people you trust who their favorite teachers were (and why), and if possible, go sit in the class as an observing parent to get a feel for it.

#3 Get "A's", Be Dependable, Volunteer, Behave
This is very important, as it establishes your credibility and proves you are a serious student and a good person.

#4 Get Someone to Work with You
Sometimes counselors are assigned, but if you have a choice, choose a counselor that you can work with, who can get to know you and your intentions, and who you can stick with through all your high school years. If you have other siblings before you and have worked with the same counselor, school credit can get easier as your family establishes a reputation for academic excellence.

#5 Plan to Go Above and Beyond
In order to build your credibility as a serious student, it helps to do "over-kill" on the subject. For example, if you are trying to get 10th grade credit for a homeschool English class, carefully look at the school's course syllabus. If they are planning to read 3 classic books during the school year, you read 6. If they are writing 2 major papers, and a research report, you write 4 major papers and a couple of research reports. If they require grammar review, get a good grammar program and master it.

It was exciting to watch the "wow" on the teacher's face who looked through our first "credit for homeschool" notebook. He was visibly impressed with all that we had done. It made it an easy decision for him to grant credit. And really, we didn't do anything unusual or over-the-top—just regular homeschool! His comment was that if his students did a fraction of what we had, he would feel he had done a good job teaching them and preparing them for college.

Often a teacher who is the department head will determine if you receive credit. You need to show second-mile effort if you are asking for an "A". And why not ask for an "A"? In my homeschool, I don't use grades. I want all of us to learn for the love of learning, and the whole concept of grades rubs me wrong. If my kids ever ask for grades, though, they get either an "A" or "Do Over". If you don't understand a math concept, I am not giving you a "B" or "C" and moving on. You need to learn the concept until it is mastered, and when you've mastered it, you deserve an "A". When asking for credit, we ask a teacher or counselor to evaluate the completed work with the same standard we use in our homeschool: "A" or "Do Over".

#6 Keep Detailed Records
And I mean, very detailed! Every book, movie, field trip, concert, audio-book, ethic restaurant meal, visit from someone in which you learn something, or personally mentoring session needs to be accounted for. We create a notebook for each course—one of those inexpensive report covers —with a page listing the books read, complete with a few sentence synopsis, author, number of pages, publisher, etc. Another page names movies and documentaries that have been viewed that have educational value and relate to the subject being studied. Another page details extra activities such as field trips, speakers, seminars, museum trips, educational travel, ethnic food eaten (that relate to our studies), and more.

So, for example, when studying World Geography, we ate at several ethnic restaurants in conjunction with studying different countries. We also went to a People and Places Museum, and took a trip to Mexico. A friend taught us how to make some authentic dishes from her country, and told us about her life growing up. All these educational experiences were noted (with a one line entry) in our notebook, as they are at least as valuable as what you may study about in a book.

I also choose a textbook or a reference book that covers the same topics as the book being used in the high school. (You are entitled to borrow the books from the school—you pay taxes for this purpose. But I rarely want to. I prefer homeschooling books which generally are Christian in perspective, and more kid-interesting). I photocopy the cover of the book and the table of contents. These go into our notebook as the first pages. As the semester moves along, and the reading is done in our chosen textbook, a checkmark is placed next to each chapter on the table of contents copy until the book has been completed. Samples of work, best papers written, maps drawn, photos from field trips and more are added to the notebook until a good "portfolio" of completed work is ready. This is a representation of the work you did—showing your best effort.

Don't make your notebook too big and overwhelming. No counselor has the time to wade through the entire semester's work. If they want to see more, you have it at home, ready to bring. What I have found is that a nice, approximately 8-10 page notebook per class is just right. Or if it is a sewing class you are trying to get credit for, bring 3 samples of your best work, not a whole closet full!

Some high schools have already created a "home study" version of the class, or an on-line version, and in that case, you must complete that course to get credit. What if there is no "home study version" of the course available at the school? All the better! This allows you to teach your own homeschool course, and then the school can evaluate your work and make sure it meets or exceeded their expectations. You may feel more confident if you take them your course outline before you begin, but I have found that it is easier to get credit afterwards when showing off your marvelous and impressive completed work, than to get approval or an agreement of what would qualify, beforehand.

So. . . why not just go to high school classes and get the credit?
Here's my short list (leaving out all my political, religious, and moral reasons!)

* Papers can be written on topics of true interest
* Class time can be spent with siblings or other good wholesome friends
* Subjects can be coordinated. History studies can be combined with literature reading of source documents from the time period, and papers can be written on themes from our history studies.
* Movies can be viewed that are uplifting and bring life to the time period studied
* The whole family can study the same topic
* Family field trips and travel can be coordinated to enrich the subjects studied
* Less time is wasted
* Less desirable teachers (and textbooks) can be avoided
* The environment at home is more conducive to study and learning
* Teenagers have more freedom and time to pursue their own educational interests
* Excellent literature can be selected to replace the often questionable reading assigned in high school
* It's fun to be with your kids learning together!

Frequently Asked Questions:
Q- You mention selecting a good textbook for the course outline—how?
A- I have selected textbooks that I have used in my homeschool successfully. You'll find the details in my book, Love to Learn! Homeschool Handbook, and on my website under the product descriptions.

Q-What if the counselor doesn't want to work with me?
A- School has changed so drastically over the past decade. There are many avenues to learning a subject including on-line courses, distance learning programs, college credit for courses taken at the high school, video courses, and more. Most counselors understand that sitting in a brick- and-mortar school building is not the only way to learn in our modern age, and as long as you can show that you have completed the course and learned the information, they will help you get the credit.

In general, our experience has been wonderful, but occasionally I have come across a teacher or counselor who feels that somehow "serving time" is essential to character development. One teacher told me he was reluctant to grant credit, even when competency had been proven. He felt that sitting in a desk and being bored for an entire semester has merit—"it prepares you for a job that you don't like". That didn't fly too well with me. I hope my children will not be consigned to such a future!

When I encounter such a person, I try to move on to someone more like-minded who will work with us. In one instance, after many attempts to work with a teacher, I went to the principal and explained what we were trying to accomplish and asked for cooperation and help, with the understanding that we would have to go to another school if they would not work with us. The principal was sympathetic to us. Since schools are granted government funds depending on enrollment, that helps too.

Q- Why not test out of the class and get credit for it?
A- That is a great option! My son Ammon took Spanish 1 and found it too easy, so he arranged to take the Spanish 2 final test and he got an "A" on it. The teacher was willing to grant a whole year's credit of Spanish. He enrolled in Spanish 3 and did "A" work. Math, foreign language and other more objective courses work especially well this way. Either you know it, or you don't. It isn't very hard to prove you've done your homework in these subjects.

Best success!