Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Cone of Shame

We had just a few minutes before we had to leave for Co-op Spanish class.  The usual routine is to let the dog out for potty time while I go to the mailbox.  Della was sniffing around the leaves of our daylily bed when she suddenly jumped backwards and growled.  She was immediately ready to go back in the house.  Other than her being a little skiddish, I didn't notice anything unusual and we headed of to Spanish class.  We stopped at the grocery store on our way home and I was in the process of putting things in the fridge when Schnickelfritz yelled "It looks like Della's eye fell out."  Well, that will get anyone's attention in a hurry!

It hadn't fallen out, but it was hidden in the swelling and there was blood around the eye and on her snout.  After I got the perishibles put away, I put Della on her leash and we headed for the car.  Fritz was less than pleased about sharing the back seat with such a "feo" dog (we just learned feo means ugly in Spanish).   Rather than risk seeing the blood he turned his face to the window and cupped his hands around his eyes the entire trip to the vets.  I guess he won't be pursuing a career in medicine.

Fortunately there appears to be nothing wrong with the eye itself, but there is a gash on her eyelid.   We got some antibiotics and medicine for the pain and swelling.   Fritz covered his eyes for the trip home as well.  I couldn't help thinking about Hank the Cowdog and the case of the Double Bumblebee Sting (we have very small rattlesnakes and copperheads in the area, but I don't in fact know what attacked her).

At home we realized that she was trying to scratch the area and that would cause the bleeding to start again.  The Toolman had to make a trip to the big city to get a cone of shame for her to wear.  (we're big fans of the movie UP, in fact we've started calling her Luxo Jr. after the tiny lamp that comes out during the Pixar logo).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: Schleich Toys

Ever since I became a member of the Homeschool Crew I've come to think of our mailman as Santa Claus, wondering what wonderful item he'll bring next.    While my Schnickelfritz has to participate in the reviews as well (and he's usually a good sport about it), it wasn't until I told him the next package would contain toys that he really got that "waiting for Christmas morning" feeling himself.

The box arrived a little worse for wear but the Schleich figures inside were fine.  I'm not surprised.  Fritz has been playing with Schleich toys for more than half his life-on the sidewalk, in the tub, being smashed into each other and they've always stood up to the beating.    I have to search long and hard to find evidence of paint flaking or gouges and they appear to be molded as a solid piece so I've never had something break off.

 Schleich fits my philosophy of child play--I want Fritz's toys to be fueled by his imagination, not AA batteries.   The animals are extremely realistic in appearance.  That's not to say he has to play with them in a realistic way.  We've had giraffes and elephants next to cows and pigs in our plastic barnyard.  After watching Pinocchio, the big sperm whale became Monstro in the bathtub and after Fantasia 2000, there was a pod of flying whales in the living room.  

 Many of the animals come in a male and female version so you could set up your own Noah's ark ( not everything would be in the correct scale to other animals, but it never seems to bother my son).   There are also animal babies available to play with their parents or on their own (some so cute I can hardly stand it).

The individual figures are not very expensive (many less than $5.00), making them a reasonable "just because I love you" present.  They are also not out of reach for young people learning to save and budget allowances.   Sets of animals or structures like the castle for the knights can cost over $100.   In the interest of full disclosure: while all of the toys are stamped with "Germany" on their bellies, but below it says "Made in China."  I know Chinese-made toys have been in recent years.  The CEO of Schleich North America issued this statement in 2007.
... Schleich GmbH believes that toy safety is a maximum priority. Schleich has an internal quality control department and it is supported by external test centres. Our products have always been made using materials which at the time of production were classified as safe. Schleich toy figures comply with all national and international guidelines and regulations, e.g. the strict provisions of the European Standard for Toys (EN 71) and the American Specification for Toy Safety (ASTM F963-03). We have also in-troduced our own regulations and test methods which are often more stringent.We obligate our raw material suppliers and other suppliers to comply with these regulations. We also hire independent and authorized laboratories to carry out regular tests regarding the materials, the paints used for our products and the finished toys (saliva and migration tests, for example, are performed by these laboratories)...
Schleich toys organize their characters into Farm Life, Wild Life, Prehistoric Animals, World of Knights, World of American Indians, Fanatsy figures, and of all things---Smurfs.   The complete line can be found on their website .  The toys are not sold on the website but a store locator for finding retailers in your area is available (we find ours at Tractor Supply).   

To see what others on the Homeschool Crew think about Schleich figures click here.

Disclaimer:  I received a sampling of 8 small Schleich farm and wild life figures for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

City Museum

The email had been forwarded through several homeschool groups and individuals before we learned of an opportunity to visit the City Museum in St. Louis for $5.00 per person.  Everyone who had been raved about it and the savings on the tickets would more than cover our gas.   Schnickelfritz and I set out on our adventure not knowing what would be in store.

Whoever dreamed of calling this place a museum???  I've been to museums---they are stately places where people walk slowly and speak in whispers and children are told "For Heaven sake, DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!!"   At the city museum you are not only encouraged to touch, but to climb on, crawl through and explore every nook and cranny.  If people were whispering it couldn't be heard above the laughter and intermittent calls "I'm here, where are you?"  You knew this wasn't an ordinary museum when you pull up and see the school bus dangling over the edge of the roof.

The building used to hold a shoe factory but it's found new life, new use and is filled with other objects being recycled in ways never originally conceived.  The outside is a climbers paradise.  You can travel through steel tubes to visit the skeletons of two planes, a firetruck, and trams I'm sure I rode on at Grant's Farm.  Schnickelfritz was determined to climb as high as he could--about six stories in the air.

At the summit he yelled down "I'm never going this way again!"  Less than two hours later he called out "Remember what I said earlier?  Well, I've changed my mind about it."  It seems he had to conquer his fears and scale the heights again.

Inside on the first floor are mazes of holes and tunnels.  Now Fritz and I have been in tight squeezes before when we went to the Cave in Rockwoods reservation, There were a few instances where I had to send him ahead and find a roomier alternate route for myself.   One half of the floor is themed with aquatic animals dominated by a large white whale.  Even the floor has mosaic krill.

The other half was designed like a cave--but are they stalactites and stalagmites or giant teeth and spiny backs of dragonlike creatures.

The caves also led to an enormous ten-story spiral slide.  It was orignally used to move materials and shoes from floor to floor but now it delights kids and grown-ups alike.  When you need a rest from all your climbing and crawling there are a few "sit down" activities.  Today we saw a magic show but other days there is also a gymnastic circus.  Little ones can ride a miniature train.  In the section known as "Art City" you can express your creative side with clay, paint or make paper masks.  I visited the Snowflake Lady.  Her little room was covered with a blizzard of handcut snowflakes.  You may have done this activity as a kid--folding paper and cutting out notches.  Trust me when I say she has taken it to a new level.

In this one photo you can see the snowflakes are actually made up of koalas, tiger faces, dolphins, sharks, lizards, and other creatures.  Other themes are leaves, insects, and musical instruments.  She has the paper all folded for you and you just have to cut on the solid lines.  She'll even laminate your snowflake to protect it on the trip home.  I also sat in our her rag doll making class (Fritz was off riding the train).  All the materials are included in the museum admission.  You can purchase books of her snowflake and doll patterns to make other projects at home.

Before we even left the parking lot Fritz was asking when we'd take our next trip to the City Museum.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: Salem Ridge Press


"Five years from now, you’re the same person except for the people you’ve met and the books you’ve read."
— John Wooden


I don't know about you, but a lot of books on the market today would lead my Schnickelfritz down a path I don't want him to go.  It seems in order to generate any interest, each author must push the envelope a little further with horror, titillation,  or rebellion to authority.   I no longer visit the standard bookstore carrying newly published titles and instead hit  book fairs to rescue treasures that have been discarded from lack of interest by the general public. The folks at Salem Ridge Press are kindred spirits in that regard.  They find children's  fare from the 1800's and early 1900's and republish them for a new audience.   I received three samples of the kind of books they are trying to save.




Young Robin Hood  --   This title is from Salem's Younger Reader series--younger perhaps but certainly not beginning readers.    The sentences were extremely long with complicated punctuation, archaic words like "jerkin" and some characters spoken words were written with a cockney accent.   I have a chart for estimating readability and it puts the book at a seventh grade reading level.  I chose to read this book aloud to Schnickelfritz.   I was pleased with his listening comprehension.  I read the first two pages two him and then asked him to draw a picture of what was occurring before letting him see the illustration on page three.  He understood that the boy was riding behind someone on a horse even though the text never says so directly.   He also displayed a great deal of indignation at the way the swineherd treated young Robin so I know the book was engaging his imagination. 

Down the Snow Stairs  --This book is the only title in the web-site's Allegory category, but I assume others will be added.   The most famous allegory is  Pilgrim's Progress.  Rather than traveling to the Celestial City or going through the Slough of Despond, our heroine visits Naughty Children Land.   In 1887, when the book was written, people must have had a much different view of Christmas.  There is no mention of the holy birth or Santa Claus, instead Christmas is a time when elves and goblins roam about.   It may be tougher for children to determine if these unusual characters and destinations or real or part of a dream so I also suggest this type of book be done as a read aloud.

Soldier Fritz  --  One of the biggest categories for Salem Ridge Press is historical fiction.   Subtopics include church history, American history and world history.  Soldier Fritz  is one of twelve titles published so far from Emma Leslie's church history series and is set during the Reformation period.    This book could provide good context on  daily life  during Martin Luther's lifetime--a feudal castle,  peddler merchants carrying news,  and charcoal burners.  The book  never explains how Luther's views differ from Catholic doctrine (except perhaps mentioning the characters no longer pray to the saints) so other material would be needed if you were truly studying church history.    Catholic readers may also be offended by the way the priests are portrayed as "bad guys":  driving a mother and her children out of their home or risk imprisonment while the father is away at war. 


All in all,  I was quite please with the offerings of Salem Ridge Press.  If my son were old enough to read these titles on his own I know I could hand the books over and not have to worry about offensive language,   immodesty, or rebellious actions and attitudes shown without devastating consequences.   Since all the books promote family values, perhaps they are best as read alouds--the whole family gathered together to share in the tale.   You can look up titles on their website by time period and location if you're building a unit study.  Most titles are available in softcover and hardcover and range from $10.95 to $24.95.   You may click here to see what others on the Homeschool Crew think about the offerings of Salem Ridge Press.


Disclaimer: I received one free softback and two free ebooks from Salem Ridge Press for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compentation for this honest opinion.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Attention Missouri Train Fans

If you've got a little one who loves the I Love Toy Trains or I Love Big Trains videos, there's a once in a lifetime opportunity coming up in October.  The largest steam train ever built, the Challenger, will be passing through our state on a multi-day tour.  Arriving in Kansas City on Oct.   2nd, it will cross the state, turn around in Illinois, and eventually return to K.C. on Oct. 10-11.  There will be overnight stops or whistlestops in Jeff City, Washington, St. Louis, Pacific, and Sedalia.   A complete schedule can be found at the Union Pacific site.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Orienteering at night

If you follow my blog, you may recall that Schnickelfritz and I learned about orienteering a few weeks ago.  Tonight we had the chance to "kick it up a notch" with a Night-O, or nighttime race.   The event was held in a city park and there were hundreds in attendence.  It wouldn't surprise me if nearly half were under the age of 12.   A fair number of controls were to be found on the parks baseball diamonds or public buildings so kids of all ages could join in the fun.   Through the dark you could see bouncing lights and  hear squeals of delight as young ones found the orange and white windsocks. 

Other markers proved to be a challenge.  One was hanging from underneath a bridge.  I tried to hop on the rocks across and ended up slipping and soaking by backside.  Fritz found a more stable and shallower path a few feet away, but enjoyed laughing at my expense.  

In the woods,  the controls were only 4 inch squares on stakes.   You try to find a four inch target with a flashlight while your huffing and puffing and see how hard it is.   I'll confess at least once we ran right past a control and then heard a voice behind us yell "Here it is!"  A storm was approaching so the organizers shortened the amount of time we had to search.  We managed to find 11 controls in 45 minutes.  Sorry there aren't any pictures but I didn't want to risk the camera by stumbling in the dark.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Review: I See Cards


One of the first products the Homeschool Crew received this year to review was the Pyramath  by I See Cards.   While playing the game, the student will be practicing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts to build a pyramid of cards.  I'll confess right up front that math is my Schnickelfritz's favorite subject.  In fact, I will often dangle it as the carrot to get him to complete his spelling or reading assignment.  I'll also say that if I wasn't already calling him Schnickelfritz (a German endearment), the next most appropriate pseudonym for him would be "Young Mr. Competitive."    Pyramath was an instant hit at our house.  We play it for fun outside school hours (although we homeschoolers realize that learning never ends), but I will try to review this product for the parent trying to find a fun way for a struggling student to drill math facts.


The playing cards display both roman and arabic numerals and their names written in five languages.   The game begins by laying 5-7 cards side by side.  Taking turns, each player  draws a card and tries to place it over two adjoining cards.  In order to do so, it must be the answer to an equation made by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing the two original cards.  I've created an example using 3 and 5 as my base cards.

In cases where the equation creates a two digit answer (3 x 5 above)  we only focus on the units or ones digit.    The weak link in Pyramath comes from practicing division facts.  Besides dividing a number by itself or by one, there are a very limited opportunities to divide a one digit number by another.  Since division is our focus in math this year we had to come up with a new rule for Pyramath.  We chose to treat any adjoining cards as a two-digit number.  Then we could place a connecting card over them if it was a factor of that number.

The website includes rules for variations on the game.  You can also play 5-card and 7-card solitaire versions online.  (WARNING: These games are addictive.  Do not play if you have dinner on the stove or other reviews to complete).   If I were playing this to reenforce math facts I would stick to the basic game and require both players to vebalize the equation they're using as they palce their cards.   This will help you as the teacher  catch any math errors right away.  You may also see that the students areoverlooking opportunities to play cards because they choose to avoid the harder facts and just stick with addition or subtraction.   It may be necessary to give gentle nudges--"Do you see any numbers you can multipy that will end in 8?" 

In addition to Pyramath, I See Cards carries Fractazmic (fractions) and Prime Bomb (prime numbers) for math card games.  Each deck retails for $6.95.    I see these games as inexpensive tools and you can customomize the rules to grow as they improve in math.    To see what others on the homeschool crew think about Pyramath click here.
Disclaimer: I received a free deck of Pyramath cards for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Insect Collection

This year we are using the Apologia text Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day.  After completing the introductory chapter, we jumped ahead to Chapter 9 on insects to take advantage of  outdoor observations while the insects are still around.

At one point

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Royal Rangers Day Camp

Schnickelfritz and I attended day camp today.  It had been postponed due to storms last spring (and it certainly looked like we might get soaked again, but their was a gymnasium for back-up).   The turnout was certainly lighter, I assume because most outposts are just gearing up for the new year.  This year's theme was knighthood.  The events included jousting, throwing knives and hatchets, decorating shields, and pummeling each other with "swords" made with pool noodles.   Commander Bob's obstacle course drew the largest lines and repeat participants.  It began with a rope bridge constructed that very morning.

A miscalculation in the number of medals purchased meant that rather than award gold, silver and bronze awards for each age level there would only be medals for over-all winners.  Fritz managed to earn a bronze and gold.  We never did hear what the bronze was for, but the gold was for the Court of Honor--where boys recited pledges to the flags, ranger codes, and Bible verses.    In this case, they were actually the verses they learned last year (since the event was post-poned).  I was so pleased and proud to see Fritz was actually hiding God's word in his heart.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Pear Butter

For the past two days I've run into a fellow homeschooling mom and both times she's been loaded down with pears.  We had a big storm blow through last night and this lady's mother was picking pears off her tree like crazy before the branches broke in the storm. 

I've never been one to turn down free food, but I just didn't know what to do with pears--neither Schnickelfritz nor the Toolman had requested pears to eat before.   It turns out you can use pears almost any way you can use apples--pies, sauce, butter.  We are awfully fond of apple butter on biscuits and cornbread so that's what I decided to try.

Fritz was quite excited to see the Squeezo food strainer I had assembled in the kitchen; it was a recent ebay find.  "That's some machine!" he said.  I promised he could not only look at it but make it work before the day was done.  The pears went into a large stockpot on the stove while we started our schoolwork.    When they were sufficiently softened we started to load them into the Squeezo.   Fritz, who is destined to be an engineer some day,  interrupted the work several times so that he could look from a different angle.   When his curiosity was satisfied he was more than happy to turn the crank or push down the pears.  He was also close at hand when I disassembled the strainer to clean it.

At this point what we had was pear sauce and we both agreed that it would be fine to leave it in that form--the taste was delicious, but we had pear butter as our goal.  We loaded it all into the crockpot and added nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice.  We left the lid off to allow steam to escape.  The boiling down took  the rest of the day.  In fact, I finally filled 4 pint jars at about 10:30 at night; long after Fritz had gone to bed.  He didn't get to taste the results till this morning on cornbread.  The whole family agreed it was a hit.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Separation of Church and State:  it's the phrase used in arguments to tear down desert memorials to fallen heroes and prevent prayer before high school football games.  Today the phrase is probably heard more often than the author's more famous work--The Declaration of Independence.   Just look at what I found on the Library of Congress website.

It doesn't appear in the Constitution, in fact Mr. Jefferson wasn't even in the country when that document was written. 

The phrase isn't even quoted word for word from its original source: a letter by President Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist.  Here is the phrase in context.

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

This letter was dated January 1, 1802.  Anyone want to guess what the President was doing just a few days later?  He listened to a sermon by John Leland in a church service held in the US Capitol building!!   The event was recorded in the Journal of Manessah Cutler, a congressman from Massachusetts. 

According to another source, Margaret Bayard Smith, this was not an unusual occurence.

In case you have trouble reading the script I will type the text starting near the end of page one:

"The custom of preaching in the Hall of Representatives had not then been attempted, there after it was established, Mr. Jefferson during his whole administration was a most regular attendant.  The seat he chose the first day Sabboth & the adjoining one, which his private secretary occupied,  were ever afterwards by the courtesy of the congregation were always left for him and his secretary."
If the source of "Separation of Church and State" had no problems with attending services in a government building (which I assume would include prayer, Bible reading, and perhaps communion) then why can't little Johnny have his hand drawn picture of Jesus on the wall at school?

I guess I've just answered my own question.  If I don't know the correct interpretation of "Separation of Church and State," I can't object when my right to practice religion is taken away from me.  I may never have been taught this in school, but you can be sure my son will learn it!
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