Friday, April 30, 2010

Review: Sue Gregg Cookbooks

Let's play a word association game.  If I say something like "Eat Healthy" what pops into your mind?  For some it may mean giving up favorite foods like pizza, nachos, hot dogs, chips or twinkies.  For others it means grazing on tasteless things like rice cakes, tofu and bean sprouts.  Some people see dollar signs flash before their eyes at the cost of switching to organic foods and shopping at specialty stores.   I think we tend to view diets as an "all or nothing" situation, and that dooms us to failure no matter how good our intentions.

Now what if we just change one word and think of eating healthier?  This allows for baby steps, working on just one aspect of our diet at a time--starting with easier ideas first.  I think that is the philosophy behind Sue Gregg's cookbook line.     I'll use her book An Introduction to Whole Grain Baking as an example.   It would be hard for any of us to not have heard about the value of whole grains.  If you missed the news reports and the TV commercials, you've probably seen the "Made with Whole Grains" on some box or package at the grocery store. 

Now you can make some of those whole grain products in your own home--I'm mean literally put the wheat berries in your blender.  Sue's book has some wonderful blender batter recipes--cornbread, banana muffins, pancakes and waffles.  This makes wonderful breakfasts and snacks.  My Schnickelfritz  has been raised on blender batter wheat/oat pancakes.  You don't need the serious commitment of purchasing a grain mill--any sturdy blender will do (I'll admit to owning a Vitamix that works REALLY well).

When you are read to take the next step and grind your own flour you can move on to  the Yeast Breads section of the book.   Mrs. Gregg guides you step by step through the choice of ingredients and the baking process.  The book even comes with a cd-rom of color step-by-step photographs which really help me. 

I have owned Sue Gregg's other cookbooks and used them since the birth of our son seven years ago and count many of her recipes among our family favorites.  I've served her dishes as company meals as well and never had one complaint.  In fact, I'm often asked for the recipe and I keep a second set of her cookbooks (I found on ebay) so I can loan them out.   I found many of the recipes in Whole Grains can be found in the other volumes so if you own those, this book might not be necessary.  Mrs. Gregg has updated some of her titles as new nutritional information is published (for example, she no longer recommends soy products) and this is one of her newer books so if you are committed to healthier eating and baking then I reccommend this book highly.  Be sure to check out the Talking Food Pages of her website where she also covers new information.

Sue Gregg's website has plenty of information for those wishing to making healthier meals.  There are sample recipes (with pictures),  and cookbook previews so you can try before you buy.   An Introduction to Whole Grain Baking retails for $23.00.   It is also available in the basic cookbook set (along with Breakfasts, Main Dishes,  Meals in Minutes, Soups & Muffins,  Desserts, Lunches & Snacks, and a Master Index) for $130.

You can read what my crewmates thought of Sue Gregg's cookbooks by clicking here.

I received a free copy of An Introduction to Whole Grain Baking for the purposes of completing this review.  I have received no other compensation.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wildlife Ranch

We had an invitation to join other homeschoolers at the Wildlife Ranch near Meramec Caverns.  I think this used to be called the Reptile Ranch for all the alligators they keep there.  They've expanded to include birds--turkeys and emus, and mammals--tigers and lions.   I think the reptiles are still the most educational part of the tour.  We were able to see a variety of Missouri snakes and learn to identify the ones we should avoid.

Here are some photos

Fritz holding a baby gator

Now he's got a python

A ringtailed lemur with her two babies (taken through a window)

For a little guy who used to hate bugs and outdoor critters, he's come a long way.  He was first in line to hold everything they brought out and often got in line for a second chance.  I was grateful to have picture taking duties and therefore unable to hold anything myself.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Review: Super Star Speech Games


Another wave of thunderstorms is headed our way.  I made sure the dog had her necessary time outside and we're headed back into the fort for some more fun school through game playing.   This time, we've got a series of games that cover science. 

Planets, Moon and Stars is a card game.  Correctly answering questions entitles a player to draw a solar system card.  The winner is the first to accumulate all the planets and a sun card (Pluto is included but you may opt to play without it).  The game is targeted to 3rd graders and up, but Fritz didn't have any trouble answering questions since we have been working through Jeannie Fulbright's Exploring Creation with Astronomy.   The game comes with 33 questions, which may not be enough if you have a lot of players.  If you have older students have worked through the Astronomy text, a good activity might be for them to come up with additional questions for the game.

All About Animals  deals with the classification of animals by classes : Fish, Reptiles, Amphibians, Mammals, and Birds.  There are two levels of play here--younger children can simply identify clip art pictures of animals; older students have to identify the class of a named animal or a trait of the class (eg. "Feed their babies milk"  would be a mammal).  The first person to get two cards on each class is the winner.  We haven't begun studying the Apologia Zoology yet, but we have read the Dr. Suess Learning Library books Is a Camel a Mammal and Wish for a Fish so Fritz was able to recognize several facts.    There are 48 animal fact cards and 48 picture cards, again I can see this game expanding as we study zoology in depth.

The Insect Game  gave me flashbacks to playing the Cootie game as a kid.  Do you remember that game where you collected legs, a head, and curly-que tongue to build  a cute plastic bug?  In this case you're building a paper bug that's anatomically correct (head, abdomen, thorax, 6 legs and antennae).  You earn body parts by answering questions correctly.  This game had the most advanced questions and hardest vocabulary: entomologist, metamorphosis,  invertebrate, etc.   We'll be putting this game aside until Fritz gets a little older.

All three of these games would make excellent components for a lapbook.  The cards should be printed out on cardstock and probably laminated if you want them to last.  Descriptions for these and other games are available on the Super Star Speech website and the games can be purchased at Currclick for $3.50 each.

You may be wondering what "Super Star Speech" has to do with educational games.  Well, the games are just a sideline for a company that helps homeschool parents with speech therapy for their children.  There is an overall Speech Therapy Made Simple e-book and also e-books for specific sounds--my Schnickelfritz has just recently grown out of pronouncing "mother" and "father" like he's writing a letter from Camp Granada.  The Ch-J-Th book addresses how to teach the correct formation of the sounds and then provides oodles of games and activites to make practicing the sounds more fun.

You can read what other Crewmates thought about the games or Super Star Speech products by clicking here.

I received free copies of The Insect Game,  All About Animals,  and Planets, Moon and Stars games and the Ch-J-Th Therapy ebook  for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.


We've had a wonderful streak of sunny, warm days--it's enabled us to get the back of the house and deck painted after the tree fell on it. Now the law of averages is catching up with us and rain and storms are in the forecast for the next four days.   In our house rain outside means forts inside.

Materials are gathered from everywhere--couch cushions, kitchen chairs, sheets, our big whiteboard.  Today's fort spans the living and dining room.  Fritz made it large enough for both of us and the dog (she's scared of thunder and needs a hidey hole to run to during the storm).  We had a picnic in the fort today and have played several games. 

The favorite game this week is one that I just picked up at the Homeschool Expo called Muggins.  The board has holes numbered 1 through 36.  Each player roles three dice and then adds, subtracts, multiplies, and/or divides the three digits to come up with a number of an empty hole.  You then place a colored marble in the hole and try to build strings of marbles by coming up with calculations for consecutive numbers.  Your opponents are trying to come up with numbers to block your string from growing.    In the real game you don't have to reveal your calculation unless challenged, but Fritz and I are explaining our calculations because I want to check his math facts.  See, who said math class had to be boring worksheets?


Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Alphabet Beats

I have a way of keeping tabs on my Schnickelfritz's emotional well-being by just keeping my ears open.  I'm not sure he's aware of it, but he often hums or sings to himself while he plays, builds with blocks, or watches the world go by his passenger window.  Sometimes I can recognize the tune (it's often classical music) and sometimes it's his own composition.  Even my mother has commented on how she enjoys hearing Fritz's music in the background of our phone conversations.

The other day Fritz was riding his bicycle in circles around me and the dog on our afternoon walk and I noticed his melody had been replaced by this short little rhyme "up and around, back up and down...a."  I was thrilled.  To me this meant not only was Fritz in a happy mood, but our latest attempt to improve his handwriting was sinking in and  he associated the writing excercise with feeling good.  Up to that point, handwriting practice often meant whining, complaining, bargaining for every printed word, etc.

Fritz learned this little rhyme for forming the letter "a" from Miss Marnie on The TV Teacher's Alphabet Beats: writing lowercase letters.  It doesn't take long to pick up these little chants as they are repeated often.  Miss Marnie forms each letter by tracing it three times, by writing on a blackboard three times and writing it on lined paper a total of six times--always accompanied by the rhyme.  In between writing sections, the student is introduced to words that begin with the letter being studied.  You can see a sample teaching the letter "p" by clicking here


Alphabet Beats  Uppercase and Lowercase are currently available and Number Beats will be coming soon (Fritz also has a problem with forming numbers from bottom to top).  The menu allows you to go right to any letter so you could start with those in a child's name, or just focus on problem letters.  As I mentioned in an earlier post,  letter formation has not yet moved to the automatic side of Fritz's brain yet.  We are beginning a writing exercise by Dianne Craft and I plan to integrate the Alphabet Beats' rhymes into the exercise.

The Alphabet Beats dvds retail for $35 or you can get both for $64.99.  There is a free download for the lined paper Miss Marnie uses.  They do carry a lined whiteboard for writing practice but I have heard from Dianne Craft that whiteboards lack the friction necessary to help children develop muscle memory.

You can read what my fellow crewmates think about Alphabet Beats by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Alphabet Beats: writing lowercase letters for the puroposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A party going on in Heaven

Today was my son's second birthday!  This may seem strange to some of you who know he is seven years old.  Every year we celebrate the anniversary of his birth, but truly up until yesterday he only had one birth. 

As Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:3 "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."  Yesterday in front of his grandparents, a great grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousin, his Sunday school class, his Royal Rangers commanders, and the rest of the congregation, my Schnickelfritz made his public confession of faith and was baptized by his father.  I stood nearby with a camera, a towel and a heart full of joy.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Smart kids who hate to write

One of the greatest challenges of attending a homeschool expo is picking which workshops to attend.  I wished I could split myself into twins and cover twice as much.  There was one workshop I had circled and highlighted and marked with stars in my program--I wasn't going to miss it.  It was titled Smart Kids Who Hate to Write and presented by Dianne Craft.  My Schnickelfritz would work through Math U See from sunup to sundown my his own choosing, but getting him to fill a page from Handwriting Without Tears takes cajoling, reminding, etc. 

I felt better as soon as I sat down in the room because I knew I wasn't alone in the struggle--there must have been 300 parents in there looking for answers.  Mrs. Craft proceded to demonstrate a typical child she would evaluate by his writing the lowercase alphabet.  Now I don't recall her ever being at my dining table, but she'd obviously seen my son writing before--starting letters and numbers from the bottom, making his "o" with a clockwise circle, substituting capital letters seemingly at random.  I've shown him and drilled him in the correct way to make letters, but he never seems to do it that way when writing on his own.  I'd almost decided to let him write however he wanted and just be glad he was putting pencil to paper at all (technically it was usually marker to white board). 

Mrs. Craft refers to this as a blocked writing gate.  The movements necessary to form letters have not moved to the automatic side of the brain.  My son is having to use way too much energy and thinking to push his pencil around--no wonder he gets drained and cranky.  Other clues of a blocked writing gate include: solving math problems in the head instead of writing them down,  poor spacing of words in a sentence,  digits that don't line up when they do write math problems.

The good news is there is an exercise we can do every day to help solidify the muscle memory and make writing automatic.  It involves tracing a large sign for infinity three times and then practicing forming the letter.     I really can't do it justice trying to explain it.  If you recognize this problem in one of your students I would read the article Smart Kids Who Hate to Write at  Be sure to look at the photo of the writing excercise.


Monday, April 12, 2010

I need to brag on my husband

Last Friday and Saturday, I attended a Homeschool Expo in St. Louis.  You know how you are at the end of one of those?  My feet hurt, my back hurt, I was on information overload.   To top it off, this convention was held in a three story building and it seems I was always traveling from the first to the third floor--surely I was walking down the steps sometimes, but it seemed like one of those "back in my day" stories where everything is uphill both ways.

I had to swing and pick up my Schnickelfritz from a day at Granny's house.  When we left, I called to let my Toolman know we were starting the trek home.  When I pulled in the driveway I could see my husband had anticipated just how whipped I would be.  He got all the fixin's we needed for a cookout and was just starting a campfire.   Our woods are quite lovely right now with flowering dogwood and redbuds.  We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows and watched the stars pop out.  What a perfect way to relax and unwind. 

Review: All About Reading


Earlier this year, the Homeschool Crew had a chance to review All About Spelling and its Level 1 reader.   AAS has truly  revitalized the language arts portion of our school day and we continue to use it.  With perfect timing, along comes the reader for Level 2--What Am I?: a collection of short stories.


These stories are a lot more interesting than those in The Beehive Reader (which is being renamed Cobweb the Cat)  from level 1.  We're no longer limited to one syllable, short-vowel sound words.  Because our AAS Level 2 book predates What Am I, it doesn't include prompts in the lesson on which story to read.  I'm assuming newer editions will include this in the lesson plan.

The pictures are as charming as ever!   The stories vary from the zany "Broken Robot," to the cute "Skunk Hotel," to stories with profound life lessons like "The Bake Sale" and "Matt the Musk Ox."  Sometimes I think the author is a little heavy handed at inserting words to reenforce the spelling lessons though--in "Broken Robot" the title character "...slung a bunch of pumpkins into the bathtub" in a hotel.  My Schnickelfritz stopped reading the story to ask why there were pumpkins in the hotel room. 

On the plus side, this reader does introduce the student to more than just short stories.  "Broken Robot" is written in the form of a letter,  chapter 9 is a collection of poems, and chapter 10 is a word game with clues to guess "What am I?"

What Am I? is a high quality hardback book.  The first pages allow a student to write to whom the book belongs and begin to take pride of ownership.   It will retail for $19.95 and be available on a new website, All About Reading sometime this month.   You can read what my fellow Crewmates think about What Am I? by clicking here.


Disclaimer: I received a free copy of All About Reading's What Am I? for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Math U See

Steve Demme, founder of Math U See was a speaker at the Homeschool Expo we attended this weekend.   He was easy to spot as the tallest man in the halls.  It was amusing to see how children flocked to him--you'd have thought one of the St. Louis Cardinals was in the building.   Little boys waited in line for a chance to be asked a math question by the man they've evidently seen on their TV screens at home.  My Schnickelfritz had his turn as well.  He quickly provided the correct answer to "What is 3 X 4?"  Fritz  followed up by saying it was his turn to ask a question.  Here it is-- "What is 87 squared?"   And he made Mr. Demme solve it in his head.  What a tough teacher!!
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