01 December 2015

Mom Review: Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

The holiday season is upon us, so I'll keep this short and sweet.  I was sent a free sleek black Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener to test, and we put it through its paces over the past three weeks.  What do we think?

Why?  I'm glad you asked...

  1. The CF Sharpener quietly sharpens #2 wood pencils to a long, perfect point every single time without removing any length from the pencil.   
    • EVERY pencil, from the Ticonderogas to the Michael's glitter pencils.  We sharpened hundreds of pencils without a single glitch.
    • EVERY time.  Perfect points.  No wood left on one side like our angsty electric sharpeners.  No  pencils nommed into nubs like our crank sharpener with the identity crisis (he thinks he's a beaver).  No ear protection required.
  2. The CF Sharpener comes fully supported with faq's, videos, a PDF poster, and replacement parts on their website.
  3. We purposely abused our sharpener but couldn't break it.
    • We dropped the CF Sharpener from waist height several times on a hardwood floor, allowing it to fall on the crank, the metal case, and even the plexi shavings drawer.  No dents, dings, or failures.  The portability of the sharpener is an important feature for us, and we knew it would get dropped from time to time.
    • We forced pencils into the hole without engaging the autofeed and turned the crank until the lead broke and jammed the mechanism.  This was a key test -- I knew one of my kids would do this at some point even though they understood how the autofeed functioned.  Following the video, I removed the crank, pulled out the burr mechanism, removed the broken piece of pencil, and had it back together and working well in under a minute.
    • We sharpened things that were never intended to be sharpened in a pencil sharpener:  drawing pencils, tortillon stumps, watercolor pencils, Prismacolor art pencils, ends of paint brushes.  Not everything sharpened, but we didn't break the sharpener.  
Notice the nice sharp points on a glitter pencil, a col-erase (my favorite for maps and Bible Marking), and even a 6B drawing pencil.

Ooooo....tell me more! 

  • The Classroom Friendly sharpener sharpens any wood-cased 8 mm graphite pencil flawlessly.  The lead was approximately 0.5mm thick when sharpened, and gradually wrote down to about an 0.9 mm.  No needle points, crumbly graphite (a personal pet peeve when using Japanese hand sharpeners), or rough/uneven wood grips.  The autofeed mechanism leaves behind a couple of small dents on the paint.  This is a huge money and timesaver for me.  I know I can buy or pick up a pencil anywhere and this sharpener will work.  As much as I like my little handheld German sharpeners, they are time consuming and make a mess.
  • The Classroom Friendly Sharpener is portable.  The package includes a clamp which worked marginally well.  We keep it on top of the bookcase without a clamp, or pop it in my Reisenthel basket for trips to the library or other groups.
  • The Sharpener is enameled metal and every part feels solid.  Even the little "ears" on the autofeed mechanism and the shavings drawer feel solid and work smoothly.  It's cute, too!
  • The autofeed mechanism is ingenious.  My teenagers figured it out quickly, and a random elementary child who tested it for us was able to run the mechanism with no problems after watching the video.  
  • The sharpener operates easily and quietly.  You'll have to find another way to get a workout...so sorry!
  • The shavings drawer is large:  we don't even empty it once a day.
  • Against manufacturer recommendations I ran over 200 colored and drawing pencils through the sharpener.  [From Classroom Friendly Supplies:  "Colored pencils are the kryptonite of most sharpeners! This sharpener works best with standard lead pencils. It does work on colored pencils but they do break off much easier and jamming can be an issue, as with most other sharpeners. It is best to tell students to only sharpen the colored pencils partially. This means only turning the crank 2-3 times. This allows for a partially sharpened tip and less jamming issues. This sharpener creates a very pointy tip and by only turning the crank 2-3 times will be sufficient. "]
    • Watercolor pencils sharpened flawlessly.
    • Verithin and Col-Erase pencils sharpened every time with no problems.  These two brands are what we use for all of our map and science work because we like transparent color for those purposes.
    • Crayola and Roseart pencils sharpened well.
    • With care (slowly, checking every 3 cranks or so), we were able to sharpen Prismacolor Premier pencils.  I had a couple of leads break, but that isn't a big deal to fix with the Classroom Friendly Sharpener. 
    • With care, I was able to sharpen 2 B- 8B pencils and Sepia and White clay pencils.  The softer pencils got shortened a couple of times, and leads broke off. 
  • The one pencil that absolutely cannot be sharpened in the Classroom Friendly Sharpener is the Wopex.  This pencil brand made from a PVC/wood byproduct extrusion process was a hot mess in a burr sharpener.  Several of my beloved Wopex were eaten down to 3" long and still weren't sharp.  The leads broke and crumbled.  The grip was rough and had sharp flakes of the PVC/wood casing left attached.  If you like and use Wopex pencils, stick to a hand-held blade sharpener.  

My momma recommendation...

Worth. every. penny.  I'll probably be buying another for upstairs. 

Update:  I am now an affiliate for Classroom Friendly Supplies.  A purchase of a sharpener through this link will help support Dear Lissy.  Click the ad below to go directly to Classroom Friendly Supplies.

The Classroom Friendly Pencil sharpener also makes an amazing gift.  It comes packaged in a frosted plastic box that would be pretty with just a ribbon.  I can't imagine a Sunday School teacher, Homeschool group coordinator or homeschool mom that wouldn't be thrilled to receive a Classroom Friendly sharpener.  Print out and laminate the poster, and pop it into a cute basket or bag with a bundle of pencils.  Don't be afraid of those Christmas themed pencils in the Dollar Tree or Oriental Trading Post catalog -- they'll sharpen just as beautifully as a Ticonderoga.

13 September 2015

A shiny new baby blog

If you've been following along on Dear Lissy, check out my new nature journaling blog, Thursday's Brush.  Thursday's Brush is a collection of techniques, products, tutorials, and links as I learn how to step up my drawing, pen and ink, and watercolor skills.  Hope to see you there!

12 September 2015

One Quick Tip: Basic Body Stewardship

Dear Lissy,

:Every 24 Hours

30 Minutes Brisk Walk 

12 Consecutive Hours Fasting 
(usually from after dinner to breakfast the following day)

        7-8 Hours Sleep       

= Basic Good Health

Nope, these habits won't undo a 6 hour a day screen habit, decaying teeth, or a 4000 calorie diet, BUT they will give you a shot of discipline that helps you tackle the underlying spiritual and emotional problems that caused the screen and sugar habit.

These three changes won't turn you into an athlete or reduce your age by 10 years, either.  They are BASIC MAINTENANCE.  At some point in your life you'll probably want to add in strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility exercises.  Optimal nutrition for your body can dramatically change your energy and immunity levels, too.  The hundreds of tweaks available to your health and fitness do add up, but they don't make much difference if you aren't taking care of the basics first.

As believers, we have a responsibility to steward our body.  God may ask more of us than these simple disciplines entail, but he will not ask less while we have the freedom to perform them.  If He chooses to place us where we cannot accomplish basic maintenance tasks for our bodies, He will also give the grace to accept the limitations.

 Love you to the moon and back,

P.S.  Some basic sources for the three parts of the equation.  Most Americans are woefully undereducated on fasting.  Because fasting doesn't create income for pharmas or food companies, it gets swept out of the way as hoo-hoo witchdoctor level medicine.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If I had to pick just one consistent health practice for the rest of my life it would be fasting.  I've successfully treated hypertension, fibroid tumors, sciatica and cubital tunnel syndrome, and even a systemic yeast infection with fasting.  Very few people would debate the benefits of a 30 minute daily walk, but most wouldn't think it was "enough."  Sleep -- well, we all pretty much know how much we need to function, but that doesn't mean we make it a priority ever night like we should.

12 Hour Eating/Fasting cycle, also referred to as intermittent fasting or eating window. Dozens of variations exist, from an 18/6 to a 12/5/5.  Extended  mutli-day fasts can heal issues that even our current pharmas and surgery cannot.  A 12 hour window is the minimum fast that had measurable results.  The No S diet we followed all through your adolescent years is a variation on the 12/5/5.
New York Times
Healthy Living

30 Minute Walk
Tesco: 10 Health Benefits of a Daily Walk
Mark's Daily Apple  Mark is known for extreme fitness, but still recommends walking (and fasting...)
Everyday Health
American Heart Association:  Walking briskly provides the same benefits as running.

7-8 Hours Sleep
Ironically, this was the most heavily debated of the basic maintenance tasks when I wrote this.  Every source agreed on at least a 12 hour fasting window and a minimum of 30 minutes of brisk walking, but sleep times varied greatly.  Best current advice?  Go to bed at a time that allows you to wake naturally without an alarm.  Newer research even indicates sleeping a split shift might be healthier.
Wall Street Journal

10 July 2015

Human 101: Don't Be Gross

Dear Lissy,

As we settle into summer work routines, it's easy to get sloppy with personal care.  We've had longstanding routines in our home for what we dub "Human 101".   The goal is to keep every person and their personal space neat & clean.  Eventually these areas will become
a) a testimony issue when you have roommates,
b) a health/safety issue if you are neglecting these tasks,
c) relationship busters.
We want to have these habits and routines so ingrained that they are second nature to you!

Personal Care

Have you showered daily (and after work/exercise)?
Is your hair trimmed, clean, and styled?
Have you washed your face, ears, and neck carefully?
Are your eyebrows groomed?  (Sounds silly, but we've got two unibrows and three Gandalfs living here...we can get looking pretty scary)
Have your brushed and flossed at least twice daily? Lip butter?
Have you shaved?
Clothes clean and not wrinkled/pressed?
Nails and toenails clean and trimmed?  No chipped polish on girls?
Clean feet?
Shoes clean and polished/brushed? Odor eaters/spray if necessary?
Taken allergy meds?

We don't include devotions, exercise, or healthy eating in this list, but if we notice a problem in one of those areas, we'll ask the person involved what their current plan looks like and help them make an adjustment.  Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Personal Space

Bed made daily and sheets laundered in the last week?
Dirty laundry in hamper?  (Workout and wet clothing has to be washed immediately.) Clothing level below lip of hamper?
Clean laundry put away?
Personal care items cleaned, dried, and stored in proper space?
Bedroom and computer stations tidy?

Daddy and I keep a running idea on these items and pull you aside if "always/usually" is slipping into "sometimes/never".  He deals with the boys, I take point with you no matter who notices the problem.  In the next couple of days, I'll write another letter about Human 102:  Live Well With Others.



19 June 2015

My Better-Late-Than-Never Garden 2015

Dear Lissy,

The 2014-2015 school year absolutely flew by!  I dealt with some major health issues in April and May as well as planning Nate's graduation and the garden "went to weed."  We enjoyed a good year of asparagus, strawberries, and rhubarb (perennial crops), but I missed out on all of the cooler spring crops as well as the long season storage squashes.  Daddy was ready to write off the whole season, and I was tempted to as well since both brothers are working full time and can't help in the garden this year. With the amount of veg I'm eating now, though, I really needed to get something into the ground to offset my produce bill.

My Better-Late-Than-Never Plan

I'm only planting gifted sets and last year's leftover seeds.
I don't want to invest a lot of money or time in the garden this year.  Nate is headed to college late summer, and you and Matt have full course loads that will require a lot of my time.  I'm only planting what we can eat, dehydrate, or sell -- I won't have time to put up much veg this year.

I'm pre-sprouting the seeds in damp paper towels so I get full beds.
Older seeds lose viability.  By sprouting them in paper towels, I know which seeds to plant in order to keep the beds full and easier to weed.

I'm only planting seeds with 60 day season or less.
I might be able to harvest the 100 day squashes, but it's a gamble at this stage of the game.  I'll save those for next year and try to pick up a bulk box from a friend or local farmer for storage.

I'm only planting warm weather crops until the end of July.
I don't see any point in trying to keep lettuces and cruciferous veg cool through the hottest summer weather.  I'll purchase those vegetables as needed this year from a local farm stand.  I may put in fall crops at the end of July to catch the end of the growing season.  I do have two varieties of lettuce that grow well in the heat, so hopefully those seeds will produce enough to make my daily salads.

I'm weed-whacking the pathways, spraying with vinegar, and covering them with cardboard as I have time.  
Being French, I like a tidy, weed free garden.  This year, I'm working on one part of the garden at a time and foregoing all of the hand weeding.  Weeds in the walkways aren't going to affect the veg much at all.  Our grocery store boxes our groceries instead of using bags, so I have a surfeit of large cardboard boxes to use up.

I'm clearing one bed at a time to plant.
I find it emotionally painful to look at my beautiful garden beds all filled with weeds!  It will take more than a week to clear all of them, so I'm doing one at a time and planting it.  You can keep up with the daily weeding once I've cleared the bigger weeds.  As of today I've cleared and planted the nine racing slick mini-beds and four of the big beds.  I hope to have the rest cleared and planted by the end of next week.

I'm not allowing my expectations or Daddy's disappointments to keep me from doing something.
We had plans for a big garden that would provide a substantial amount of veg this year.  A business loss meant that we didn't have any money to invest in the garden or canning/freezing supplies we needed to make that dream a reality.  Dad is an all-or-nothing kind of person.  I'm not.  I can let his obvious frustration result in nothing, or I can be a true helpmeet, and just keep plunking away on getting something done.  Even if I only provide two months worth of vegetables for our family, that will help.  I have a large dehydrator and a big, cool basement; so I can put up some veg even if I can't can or freeze.

Often in life, our big plans and dreams will be thwarted by lack of time, health, or finances.  We may have to settle for good enough, and that's ok.  We thank God for the time, health, and finances he has given, and make that work to the best of our abilities.  Gardens, like most worthwhile things in life, require a small investment of time every day and then a big push once or twice a year.  I'm grateful I have the space and the health to plant a few vegetables this year even if I can't have the garden of my dreams.  When life hands you challenges, look at them as ladders, not as roadblocks!

Doing the next right thing,


10 June 2015

Momma's New Favorite Sandwich

Dear Lissy,

Had you asked me at any time up until last month for my favorite sandwich, I would have replied, "Roast Beef Croissant" without missing a beat. My tastes changed considerably after a 21 day water fast and follow up nutritarian refeeding.  I don't have any plans to give up meat permanently, but meat doesn't appeal to me at all right now.
Enter the " Nut-tuna" sandwich.  Crushed walnuts and crisp veg dice are held together by hummus and a dot of mayo.  I like to layer mine with spinach and very thinly sliced, seasoned cucumbers on a rice cake.  The resulting bites are pretty much my favorite tastes and textures ever in the history of ever.  I feel pleasantly full, but also full of energy all afternoon after eating one.

The point of this post isn't to give you a weird recipe that only 2 people in the world will eat, but to remind you how dramatically your tastes can and do change if necessary.  I eat Rainbow Stir Fry with thai peanut sauce for dinner a couple of times a week and omit the noodles because I prefer the veg.  I was a die hard mac and cheese girl for almost 40 years.  The thought of eating cheesy glue is repulsive to me now.
My about face was in response to a couple of age related health issues that don't respond well to medication and my Mom's battle with breast cancer.  Both of my health issues (high bp and fibroids) were completely resolved by the fast and holding steady with the follow up diet.  The direct correlation between dairy and breast cancer is a fact I can't ignore given the fact that I am now genetically prone to breast cancer.  I anticipated a lifetime of longing for favorite foods I was unable to have.  By God's enabling grace, my taste buds have dramatically changed. My favorite snack is Ak-Mak Sesame Crackers and Hommus, not Sour Cream & Onion Potato Chips.  I've lost all desire for sweet treats, and even some fruits are too sweet for me now.
If you're facing a health crisis at some point in life, please know that God can completely change your palate.  A steak loving, cookie eating girl can thoroughly enjoy (and crave!) a veggie stir fry.



26 May 2015

Cold Queso Dip

Dear Lissy,

School's out and a heat wave's in...hooray for summer!!!!  We are a nacho lovin' family, but in this weather, something cool hits the the spot.  The queso base is three simple ingredients whipped together.  I've been known to serve just the cold queso portion of this on occasion, but it really is yummier as a layered dip.

Photo Credit and Original Recipe

Mexican Layered Queso Dip

Adapted from Allrecipes.com

Queso Base:
1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 16 oz tub sour cream
1 packet taco seasoning

Bring cream cheese to room temp or warm in microwave until soft. Mix in taco seasoning and beat in sour cream until mixture is smooth.  Spread on 12-15 inch plate or platter.  Cover with plastic film and refrigerate until serving time.  Add desired toppings right before serving.

Layers: Family Style (budget)
8 oz fresh salsa
2 cups finely chopped lettuce
1 small can sliced black olives

Spread salsa evenly over cream cheese mixture, leaving a 1/2 inch border
Top with chopped lettuce
Sprinkle with sliced black olives

For the family version, I don't add more shredded cheese or any other veg that's already in the salsa.

Layers:  Picnic Style
All ingredients from Family Style
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 cup shredded mexican cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped purple or vidalia onion
3/4 cup diced red, yellow, orange peppers  (Green overpowers the rest of the dish)
Peanuts, crushed

Spread salsa evenly over cream cheese mixture, leaving a 1/2 inch border
Top with chopped lettuce
Sprinkle tomato and shredded cheese evenly over the top
Sprinkle any optional ingredients over the top
Sprinkle with sliced black olives

Cover with plastic film and refrigerate until serving. 

Mom's notes:

For fancier events, make individual serving cups in halved and cleaned small bell peppers.  Garnish with one blue, one white, and one yellow corn chip right before serving.

I use non-fat/low fat alternatives in this dish.  Greek yogurt is good in place of sour cream, and Neufchatel cheese is just as tasty as regular.  Homemade taco seasoning works fine flavor wise, but doesn't have the starch to thicken the queso into a cheese consistency.


09 May 2015

Mother's Day Food for Thought

Dear Lissy,

How strong will your son's marriage be if he treats his wife exactly the same way he treats you? 

01 May 2015

Mother's Day and Wedding Gift Alert

Dear Lissy,

 I don't often put store items into your letters, but this is a broader principle that will serve you well 15 years from now as well as being a blessing to the ladies who read along as I write these letters.  One of my favorite gifts to give is a quality item that I've found deeply discounted.  A Cuisinart Knife set that normally retails for over $!00 just came up on Amazon for $22.  I've used the paring knife in this set for several years and absolutely love it.   A deal like this usually takes a bit of digging on favorite discount sites or in discount stores, but the ability to give a quality gift to a person I love while still maintaining our family budget is worth the work.

Cuisinart Advantage 12-Piece Knife Set


23 April 2015

Two Secret School Subjects That Bring Success

Dear Lissy,

Spring is the time we choose next year's school curricula.  Choosing curricula for you and Matt is both exciting and a tad overwhelming.  We're on a tight budget, so I look at free resources first, and then supplement with programs that cost money.  During my considerations, I have two "secret subjects" that I consider even more important than readin', writin', and 'rithmetic:  discipline and perseverance. In parenting, choosing immediate, complete, cheerful submission to God-given authority and thinking of others are the foundations for every other character trait.  In teaching, a child needs discipline and perseverance to master any (and every) subject.

 Instilling discipline and perseverance were my primary consideration from K-4 right up through 12th. 

Will this program allow me to teach my child to discipline themselves to work through tedious or mundane material?

Success in adult life depends on the ability to motivate yourself to complete mundane, routine, tedious tasks.  Computer or paper programs that offer only games and reward systems with lots of color and flash may teach the subject well, but they often fail to teach the discipline of work. I especially like programs that are divided by day so a child can see their progress through the course in relation to the school year.  Some programs, like Apologia Science, have separate publications available for day-to-day assignments.

Will this program give me the opportunity to teach my child to persevere through challenges?

Teaching a child how to teach themselves is my number one academic goal.  I firmly believe that anyone can learn anything given the proper resources.  I want a program that reinforces that thinking. We use Saxon Math, not just because it is an outstanding curricula, but because the publishers place the relevant lesson number beside every review problem.  When a child can't solve a problem, they know exactly where to look to find a similar problem.  Still struggling? We have the teacher videos that work out each problem step-by-step.   Khan Academy videos are also grouped by subject and skill.  Still struggling?  Now I'll sit down and help you figure it out or find someone who can. 

Choose to teach your children or students these two "secret subjects" and they'll be well on their way in life.

It's no secret how much I love you!


19 April 2015

3 Things To Do On Sunday When You or the Kids Are Sick

Dear Lissy,

My whole life your Daddy has been front and center on Sundays preaching, leading music, directing the choir, or teaching Junior Church and Sunday School classes.  I try to minimize my commitments on Sunday so that we don't have to get subs when one of you kids is sick.  Because of that, I can miss a month of church by the time an illness runs its course through the family.  Missing that much church is not healthy for any believer!  I've come up with a "home-with-a-sick-child" routine that nourishes my soul that I want to share for you.  This would be equally appropriate if you face a long term recovery or disability that keeps you out of church.  Now that you are all teens, I spend the morning service time pursuing Christ through preaching, song, and prayer.  When you were younger, I often had to split these three up in order to care for your needs.  We have a "no computer" rule for kids home sick from church, so you often join me for my Quiet Time.

Find a preacher online and follow through a sermon series.

I've listened to Pastor Jon Lands for years when we have poor weather or sick family members and have to miss services.  His preaching style is succinct and rich -- "visiting" Fellowship Baptist via the net is as much of a treat as eating out. I also listen to sermons while folding laundry, so I usually just download the next sermon in the series to my phone.  If possible I sit quietly on the couch with my Bible and take notes, but if your children are younger or very ill you may have to pop in earbuds and listen while you care for them.  Most kids who attend church weekly can start listening to sermons at home around 8 or 9 years old.

Listen to a favorite CD or play several hymns on an instrument.

I have CD's that I love to listen and sing along with.  As long as I'm not waking anyone up, the CD is a great way to get my heart in tune.  I love to play the piano, too, if the person I'm caring for is sound asleep in another part of the house.

Spend Time in Prayer

I pray for all of the ministry team at my church, those who will be hearing the gospel, new visitors, our church's missionaries, and then each family pew-by-pew.

God promises to gently lead those who are with young.  My primary focus on "sick" Sundays is ministering to my babies who don't feel well.  Nursing a little one may mean that I don't have a couple of hours spent focusing solely on God, but He is still with me.  I meditate on His care and compassion as I comfort and care for the three of you.  I allow Him to strengthen me when my strength for nursing is at an end.  I allow His Spirit to give me the fellowship and companionship I lack when I miss a service, too.  

Hugs and Kisses,


 Love, Momma

13 January 2015

Dear Lissy...For the Boys!

Many of you have already purchased the The Girl's Guide to Home Skills STUDY GUIDE COMPANION (The Homemaker's Mentor) (Volume 2) that I contributed a couple of chapters to this summer.  I was also privileged to work with the Erskine family this fall in creating a book of lesson plans for teaching young men homemaking skills.  The Big Book of  (Slightly Dangerous) Lessons for Boys e-book is half price for a limited time! An outline and sample chapter are free, too.

Order Book Here

Note:  I was paid generously for my work in researching and contributing to The Big Book of (Slightly Dangerous) Lessons for Boys at the time it was written.  I will receive no payment for future sales.