Saturday, December 29, 2012

E-Reader Resources, or Where To Find Free Kindle Books

Maybe you're one of the multitudes who received an e-reader or tablet for Christmas. Or maybe Santa brought one for your child this year. Now you're wondering how to load it up with reading material.

I received a Kindle 3G with keyboard for Mother's Day in 2011 and for my birthday this year, I picked out an Android phone which of course I promptly loaded with a Kindle app.

Did you know you don't have to have a Kindle to read e-books? Of course there are lots of e-readers, one of the most popular being the Nook from Barnes and Noble, but you can also download apps for iOS or Android as well as for your PC or Mac.
At first I downloaded everything free I could see, but I soon realized I'd never be able to read all those books! So now, I always check the reviews before I download a freebie. I've only paid for a handful of books and I have hundreds now.

So, how does one find free e-books? Here are my tips for finding free books for your Kindle or Kindle app.

If you go to the Kindle store and look down on the right hand side, you'll see a link to the bestsellers - the tab showing is "Top 100 Paid" books - see my screenshot. Click the other tab, the one labeled "Top 100 Free." (red arrow in illustration) You'll get exactly that - a list of the 100 best "selling" free Kindle books. If you click on the Kindle store link there, you can poke around more and get lists of top 100 within each category. (orange arrow in illustration)  One caveat: Many authors self-publish on Kindle nowadays, which is a good thing. However, many poorly-written, self-published books show up as freebies. That's why reading the reviews is important. Also, be warned there are lots of romance novels with varying degrees of steam.

Just about every classic book (not copyrighted) is available for free on Kindle.

Other Kindle freebies are often short-lived - sometimes just one day. So don't wait! Click the links when you see them and download them immediately. Otherwise the price may go back up before you make time to look.

I've found a couple websites that send out emails with links to Kindle freebies. Here they are:

With eBookFling, swap unlimited ebooks with thousands of readers nationwide. Just fling an eBook to others and catch the eBook of your choice - choose from the hottest New York Times Bestsellers, timeless classics and even rare, eclectic titles, textbooks and tech manuals! Trade Kindle™ and Nook™ books using your e-reader device, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry™ or Android™ smartphone. Best of all, it’s free to join!

eBookDaily (referral link) alerts you to the best one-day 0.00 kindle deals We search Amazon high and low for kindle books in your selected genres that have recently dropped to no cost. Scoop them up today before they return to full price tomorrow.

Lots of freebie websites list Kindle freebies. Here is one:
The section “Free Kindle Books” on Pixel of Ink includes Limited Time Offers and often forgotten but Popular Classics. Grab these books while you can – most of these books are available for a Limited Time only!

Here is one specifically directed at homeschoolers:
Free Homeschool Deals created this page to feature a gigantic list of currently free books for Kindle – books that have at least been free for some time.  She also updates a list of daily Kindle freebies that you can find HERE.

Also, many libraries offer Kindle or e-reader books for borrowing. Ask your librarian. My library has a limited selection of e-reader books and MP3 downloads of audiobooks.

I picked out three more Kindle freebies just while researching this post! I'll never catch up with all my reading!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012 Report

Things I learned from NaNoWriMo this year
1 - I should have a plot outline before November 1st.
2 - I work better under pressure.
3 - I can write 10,000 words in one day.
4 - I should really try harder to let other commitments go during November.
5 - I love write-ins but they are often more social than productive. 

November 30, 2012 marks my sixth win for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My oldest child, a high school senior, has participated for five years and my other three children have four years under their belts. 

Children can participate in the Young Writer's Program which allows them to set their own goals. My two youngest did that this year. My ten-year-old wrote 5,000 words - maybe about 2/3 of that was on her own and maybe 1/3 of it was dictated - a HUGE accomplishment for her! My twelve-year-old (who turned 13 the day after NaNo ended) wrote 20,000 words. The two oldest, both in high school, managed the entire 50,000 to win as adults.

To make that happen, I make novel-writing the bulk of their language arts curriculum during November. I did assign more language arts this year than I have in the past for various reasons. Prizes measure the progress for the kids, ranging from candy to a large prize for "winning".

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lisa's Logbook - December 2

One place we visited: Suzy and I went to Port Huron today to see The Nutcracker. A friend of ours danced in the production. We had a lovely time attending with some good friends - lunch beforehand and ice cream (or coffee) afterwards. 

We are reading: David and Emily will be reading a couple O. Henry short stories for American Lit and then getting a head-start on Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Emily will be picking up an abridged version of Les Miserables to read for book club. I am now 1/3 done with the UNabridged Les Miserables; that is a HUMONGOUS book! James and Suzy both need new books and I haven't chosen them yet! Emily and I also are both reading The Hobbit in the next couple weeks to get ready for our book club going to see the movie together!

I'm grateful for: my Android phone I got for my birthday - love it! I can stay in touch so much easier now. And my kids can use it too for fun and educational apps. Very very pleased. (It's the HTC One V from Virgin mobile.)
Red Belt Promotion - PKSA Karate

My favorite thing this week: Getting promoted to red belt in karate! Halfway to black belt now....

Favorite Resource this Week: the boxes of Christmas stuff! Lots of crafty odds and ends in there that the kids are excited about.

Homeschooling advice to share: Don't do too much too soon with your younger kids. Let them discover the joy of learning.

A challenge we face: Getting everyone up and ready in the morning takes a lot of energy from me. Still! Wouldn't you think that kids this age could manage to get up on their own and get ready?

A link to share: Ditch Your Office Chair for a New ‘Standing Desk’ (We sit too much, meaning we as Americans, or maybe just first world civilization.)

I am inspired by: reading great literature

A homeschool debate we are living: Do I let the teens sleep in? And that usually means letting the elementary schooler sleep in too....

Coming up this week: Christmas School! Stay tuned! Also a Christmas party with our homeschool group, featuring rollerskating and cookies!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lisa's Logbook - November 24

What's working for us: I love starting the day with Bible lessons. We sing and pray and read the Word together. If you want to know more about how we do it, check this blog post

One place we visited: my friend's temporary rental house. She and her family were displaced from their home due to water damage back in September. The place they are staying is lovely and very pleasant. We had book club there Saturday night and Sunday we gathered for a write-in. 

We are reading: David and Emily have begun reading Walden by Thoreau. James is still working on The Hobbit and Suzy is reading a book about Arabian Nights. Emily will be picking up an abridged version of Les Miserables to read for book club and David will finish The Slumber of Christianity. I am now 1/5 done with the UNabridged Les Miserables and I like it!

I'm grateful for: friends that keep me sane
My favorite thing this week: Seeing my kids working so hard on their novels!

Favorite Resource this Week: Well, this was a light week for us and I let the kids sleep in. So, beds are a great resource. LOL

Homeschooling advice to share: Have your children do a LOT of writing - fiction, non-fiction, letters, lists, all kinds of writing. SO important! 

A link to share: My middle school composition class is learning to summarize fiction. Here's a helpful link for you to use with your children: Steps to Writing a Story Summary

I am inspired by: writing! The more I write, the happier I am!

Coming up next week: James will be 13. Suzy and I will be watching a performance of the Nutcracker and a friend of our family is dancing in the production. We have co-op which is always a fun day for us.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Christmas School Requested

My high school senior asked yesterday if we were doing Christmas School this year. We haven't done it in the last couple years, at least not to its full extent.

But David, my nearly eighteen-year-old, said something along the lines of, "I really love doing Christmas School. It's one of my favorite things." He mentioned liking reading the Nativity story (which we do every year).

How can I say no to that?

He expressed the desire to make a gingerbread cathedral. (He thinks big.) The other kids all wanted to do card houses again. Here are some posts about our past Christmas School experiences, including one from 2008 with pictures of the card houses.

Note: we did not design or make that cathedral. I just found it on the internet. You can see more pictures of it here. Hopefully David's will turn out somewhere between that and THIS.

Here's a funny article of 10 gingerbread house fails including the one I just showed you.

So, I guess my December lesson planning will include Christmas School! Stay tuned for how that pans out during my oldest child's last year of high school. Sniff.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lisa's Logbook - November 19

In our home education this last week...

What's working for us: A non-workbook-oriented approach to literature. I've tried a few of the more popular language arts curriculum but none of them fit my goals very well. So mainly I have my students read real literature (instead of lit textbooks) and write about them or discuss them with me. The writing could be journal entries, essays, or answers to comprehension questions (rarely). 

One place we visited: Lone Wolf Paintball in Metamora - David and James celebrated their birthdays (a bit early) at the oldest paintball field in Michigan on Saturday. They had a WONDERFUL time.

We were reading: Our reading is pretty much the same as last week. David continues with Ted Dekker's Slumber of Christianity and Emily continues her Jane Austen biography. They are both almost done with their American Literature reading - James Fenimore Cooper's Homeward Bound. James has begun The Hobbit, apparently the first time he's read it! Suzy is reading a selection of easy readers and doing better and better all the time. Les Miserables is my audiobook of the moment and I am just over 1/10 done yet. As far as print material, I am skimming through a ton of magazines.

I'm grateful for: David's second attempt at the ACT yielded an additional point on his score, hopefully increasing his eligibility for merit-based financial aid. He does not plan to retake the test a third time.

My favorite thing [last] week: Staying home for a whole day on Tuesday. That doesn't happen often! OK, and the free massage I had on Wednesday was a close second.

Favorite Resource this Week: Teaching Textbooks has been working really well for us this year, mainly due to the automated grading. Grading math is one thing that I was grateful to eliminate from my daily schedule. The instructional lectures on CD seem to work well for my kids, especially my senior who is doing Pre-Calculus. My struggling math learner has a harder time with this more independent method, so her dad works with her one-on-one most days. For the younger kids, the math 'worksheets' are on the computer. Pre-Calculus is not structured that way, so my senior does his math in a notebook and self-checks his work.

Homeschooling advice to share: Find other people to work with you to enrich your child's education. Especially as they move into their high school years, make them accountable to other people. Provide opportunities for other instructors to work with your children so that they get used to different teaching style and varying levels of expectation regarding performance. For us, our homeschool co-op provides many chances for my kids to work with different adults. Our karate class is another good example of this environment. As a writing instructor, my classes for homeschool students are increasingly designed to teach students study skills in addition to the writing skills parents expect.

Questions I have: I am wondering if All About Spelling will work for my struggling learner whom I suspect is dyslexic. Anyone have input?

A link to share: Here's a printable Bible reading chart that David is using this year. I set him the goal to read through the whole Bible during his senior year. 

I am inspired by: One of the karate masters addressing our class after our belt testing. He told us we had a strong test and encouraged us to keep progressing in martial arts.

Coming up next [this] week: Thanksgiving! Lots of writing! Hopefully some social time. And maybe even Black Friday shopping....

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Midwest Homeschool Convention - Getting Them Ready for College

Getting Them Ready for College
No, this workshop is NOT about the ACT or SAT, or about counting credits or transcript preparation. It is about getting children ready for LIFE at college and beyond. With two through college and one in his first year of college, Amanda has learned from personal experience how to help kids make the transition successfully. The high school years are vital in the transition from homeschooling to pursuing a college degree, and there are plenty of things that you can easily work on during this time. Preparing them for classroom lectures, “interesting” professors, educational bureaucracy, responding in new situations, and so much more – these are lessons vital to the success of your kids in college. Amanda takes time to explain these and more, and shares her heart about the importance of getting them ready for life, not just a diploma

Back in April, when I attended the Midwest Homeschool Convention, my oldest was still a high school junior, but I was anticipating his senior year. I viewed David going to college as a "someday" thing still, not an imminent event.

Well, now he's nearly done with the first semester of his senior year and I am panicking a bit. He's taken the ACT and we are talking about colleges and what will happen in less than a year from now. And it reminded me that I'd never posted the notes from this extremely practical seminar from Amanda Bennett, best known for writing unit studies, which you can find on her website. This past year was the first that Amanda had not homeschooled any of her 3 children since she began. The first is an emergency veterinary surgeon now, the second has a degree in business and runs a tree farm, and the third had recently headed off to college on a baseball scholarship.

So, here are some random pearls of wisdom from Amanda's hour-long talk on getting students ready for college. This is more practical than academic, but both sides of the issue were brought forth. As with all my convention posts, this post is based on my notes and so may be incomplete or inconclusive in some areas. I would definitely recommend getting an audio copy of this lecture.

  • First off, college has changed A LOT from when we as parents attended.
  •  She advises diving into students' interests in middle and high school. Her oldest (the veterinary surgeon) asked to learn to sew when he was in 7th grade, a request she honored and believes led to his career path in surgery. Seventh grade is about the time when gifts and talents become evident for many children, she says.
  • Textbooks will be changing to tablet or e-book formats (interactive). 
  • Prepare your students for the college methods of learning. (My interpretation of this is something like: Read book, write paper, take test, be independent.)
  • The "big 3" to focus on with our kids: Heart (faith, compassion, values), Mind (curious, inquisitive, quiet, self-motivated), and Body (immunizations, hygiene, fitness).
  • She mentioned Steve Jobs' biography as enlightening as to why to attend college.
  • People Skills - learning to work as a team
  • New areas of interest
  • The working world
  • learn about themselves
  • no one tells them what to do

  • Visit colleges
  • Talk to the admissions counselor
  • Visit the student union, classroom buildings
  • Go there first and see if they "fit"
  • Do the college weekends
  • find out where the health center is and other important things
  • Consider out of state vs in state tuition rates
  • Scholarships can affect/waive/change those rates
TALK TALK AND MORE TALK - They need to understand they can talk to you about ANYTHING. Develop lines of communication. Start texting with them. Drop everything to talk to them. Make sure to say, "You can call us ANYTIME ANYWHERE." They need to know you are there to help them, that you've got their back.

There are some things that need to be said. Write them down so you don't forget. Think back to when you were 19-20. Some are "mom things" and some are "dad things". 

Discuss things like the following:
  • alcohol poisoning
  • punch at a party
  • people can put stuff in your drinks
  • God cares. He will be there. 
  • You will have questions and doubts. 
  • I pray for you. Always.
  • Responsibility and Consequences - actions always have consequences
  • Public things vs. private things
  • Attendance in class is important.
  • Curfews
  • Dorms and housing options
  • Cheating (teach them to cover their test paper; as a homeschooler, they don't know that automatically.)
  • Differences in beliefs and religions; "other" people will be there
  • Roommates and getting along; when/how to compromise, when to talk to the RA (resident assistant)
  • Backlit keyboards can help at night 
  • Time management (let them mess up at home BEFORE they leave for college in things like schedule, laundry, getting up, planning your assignments. College students often have six papers due at once.)
  • Money management (open a checking account by their senior year, teach about safe use of a debit card, how to budget the grant $$ especially if it is paid to the student, gas $, shop for savings (like textbooks), think of ways to get deals, Brita pitcher instead of bottled water, ramen, etc...)
  • Dual-enrollment can get them used to college. 
  • Personal management (doing laundry, stains, WASH YOUR SHEETS, sleep schedule, warn about getting sick when sleep-deprived, new people = new germs, vitamins)
  • The goal is NOT to fit in. All kids want to be like everyone else. Remember why you are there. 
  • Don't let others plan your life. Don't let the counselor fill out your schedule for you. Be sure to check it and give your input. Go backwards from what you'll need to graduate. 
  • Practice Discernment, the ability to judge what is true. Teach your child how to decide. 
  • How to Disagree with Respect & Tact. The professor gets respect. Teach when/where/how to disagree. You're not going to change your professor's mind. Look at your assignment as an academic exercise. PARENTS: Contacting a professor on your child's behalf is not usually a good course.
  • Social Life & Priorities: Balance of play and work; keep your goal (graduation) in mind.
  • Watch out for the Freshman Fifteen. Discuss nutrition and how it affects health and performance.
  • Your faith will be tested.
  • Making the Grades: Your scholarships are probably based on GPA. GPA affects future opportunities.
  • ANYTHING you post on facebook or twitter or online IS public, even if you have it set to private. Don't allow others to post as you (unauthorized). Don't give your passwords out.
  • Study Skills & Test Taking Skills
  • Computer Skills (many colleges offer block buys on computers for incoming freshmen. They often require students to install a college firewall. Some computers have requirements for what computer to bring to college.)
  • Paying for college - check
  • Transportation - Check college's rules for your vehicles, discuss vehicle maintenance
A sober note for parents: Kids will change when they go to college. In some ways, it will hurt your heart. You may not approve. It may not match your goals for your child. Every time they come home, they will be different.

Back to me - I am thankful I took thorough notes and that I took the time to go back through them now. I have identified a few things to do with David right now and will be working on many others over the next few months. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up - Lisa's Logbook Revised

Thought I'd try a new meme format. I was getting bored with the old one. As you may have already noticed, I haven't posted it in quite a while.

In our home education this week... the focus was National Novel Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo! The goal is to write a novel (50,000 words) in a month (November). All the kids are participating for the 3rd time, except David who has one additional year under his belt. As of Friday, their word counts were David - 8300, Emily - 11,000, James - 5060, and Suzy - 516. James and Suzy are participating in the Young Writer's Program, so we set custom goals for them. I am at 7200, thus both my teens are ahead of me for once! Yes, I have been busy, but I've also been procrastinating! (Case in point: this blog entry. Ahem.)

What's working for us: the monthly lesson plan sheets we have been using for years now. I've included an old picture of these. If there is interest, I can write more about how I put those together each month.

One place we visited:
Great Harvest Bread Company - a small franchised bakery that uses whole grains and has a great business philosophy - check them out! Our group sampled the tasty bread, viewed the oven, mixer, grain grinder, and work areas, then got hands-on making dog biscuits. My two youngest kids attended and they enjoyed it a lot!

I'm reading: The Letters of Jane Austen in preparation for my book club. And I'm actually reading it! I just finished my listening to Drums of Autumn, the 4th book in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (my 3rd time reading that book). I'm also listening to Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Wow, it's long!

What the kids are reading: David is reading The Slumber of Christianity by Ted Dekker. Emily is reading a biography of Jane Austen. David and Emily are both reading Homeward Bound by James Fenimore Cooper; this is for their American Lit class at co-op. James just finished 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
My favorite thing this week: SCONES from Great Harvest Bread Company! A close second was participating in our karate testing and (hopefully) doing well!

Favorite Resource this Week: a free Android app for my phone that lets the kids practice their US Geography. U.S. Map Puzzle 

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share… Take the ACT early in your junior year. (...or the SAT, as the case may be. Here in Michigan, it's almost always the ACT.)

Questions I have:
How do I distill everything I still want David to learn into his last six months of homeschooling? He is in the home stretch and I am panicking!

A quote to share…
“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?“ – Henry David Thoreau

I am inspired by… National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) - I think more, I get creative (well, as creative as a left-brained practical person can get), I consider the future, I find like-minded friends, and I see my children writing and liking it!

I'm grateful for: Quiet time alone in the morning - it took a lot of years to achieve!

Coming up next week: working on memorizing the NE region of the US, Co-op on Friday, and I get a FREE massage!

Note: if you're not a homeschooler or if you just want my reports on daily life at the Wagner house, please ask for the link to my personal blog.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Had a couple hours to kill in town between karate and a soccer scrimmage.

I will often take my laptop to McDonald's and work when this happens, but not usually with all the kids. Today there was no other choice. So I told them to bring their schoolwork and we'd get some snacks and buckle down.

So, this afternoon we were McDonalds-schoolers. :-)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Red Blood Cells (Mine!)

Examining red blood cells under the microscope wasn't written in the lesson plans, but it seemed like a good idea! So we hauled out the microscope. (David said, "I love using the microscope!" Who knew?) I pricked my finger and made a slide and we were in business! Good thing David knows how to make it focus. lol

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Co-op is Integral to our Homeschooling Experience

Our homeschool co-op is a huge part of our lives. I am on the leadership team and was one of the founders of the co-op seven years ago (or is it eight?). The kids adore being part of the group and the community that co-op provides for us is such a blessing.

How is our co-op structured? Each child chooses 4 classes from the several choices for each age group. We break for lunch partway through the day. This provides some downtime for the kids to interact (and the moms too!). We meet every other Friday 14 times between September and April and finish up with a program at the end of the year to show what we've been learning all year. You can check out our website at

We had our third co-op session of the year on Friday and I realized I haven't shared here about the kids' classes. Note: the teacher's name is in parentheses and after that is the age range of the class.

David (age 17, senior) is taking the following classes:

Build It Break It Shoot It - a "backyard ballistics" type class
Computer Careers  - discussing various career options
American Literature
Play! Improv Theatre

Emily (age 15, sophomore) is taking the following classes:
Shutter Bugs Photography  - digital photography
Hang Loose  - a relationship-building class
American Literature  14-18
Cooking Techniques  12-18

James (age 12, 7th grade) is taking the following classes:
Backyard Ballistics - building cool things that shoot or blow up!
Hang Loose - relationship building and fun!
Duct Tape - making things out of duct tape
Sports - running around and getting sweaty (good thing it's last hour!)

Suzy (age 10, 5th grade) is taking the following classes:
PE - Gym class
Shutter Bugs Photography - digital photography
Upcycling 101 - making crafts out of stuff people might throw away
It's Not Magic It's Science

Usually I teach at co-op, but this year I am taking a break from teaching. I am still the assistant coordinator so there's plenty to do!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mom's Bday

My birthday was last week and the kids did some nice things to celebrate. Suzy made me some tasty cookies - Rolo-stuffed Snickerdoodles. She also soaked my feet and polished my toenails. James gave me a hug. lol Emily made me a slideshow on the computer - loved it! David gave me a neckrub and drew me a couple cool pictures. His team also won his soccer game on my birthday, which I thought was kind of them.

I also got a new phone - an Android smartphone! YAY!