Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Tale of a Turkey

As I type, the delicious aroma of turkey is beginning to waft around the house (we are a cook and carve ahead family).  Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday, I love the gathering of the family, trying new recipes and preparing the old stand-bys.  When I was younger we kids used to sit around the Sears' Wishbook and pick out what we hoped to get for Christmas.  Now that stores are pushing Christmas shopping before Halloween I mostly try to avoid all that crass commercialism.  When I was fresh out of college I used to organize the Thanksgiving Orphans (those who weren't able to travel home for the day) and we'd end up with 30 or more, each bringing the dish without which  it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving. 

I don't remember the first time I prepared the turkey, I suppose it was after we moved away from Grandma's house.  Those of us in charge of the bird know that some years turn out better than others.  Butterball sometimes publicizes the foul/fowl ups that they here about on their Turkey hot line.  Someone forgets to remove the giblets from the neck cavity, someone thinks that the golden brown skin means it must be done without checking the internal temperature.  I have my own turkey disaster story that might top them all--unless you are one of the poor souls that burnt down the house or garage trying to fry the bird.  I can share it now and laugh.

It actually started a week before Thanksgiving.  I had discovered an organic farm that was offering free range turkeys.  They wanted folks to pick up their birds on Sunday, but I asked if I could get mine on Tuesday since that's when I normally passed by (it was about 40 miles from home).  Not a problem, they would save a bird for me--I just wouldn't have a selection to choose from.  I was fine with that and only needed a small bird for myself and my parents.  When I arrived on Tuesday there were two turkeys left in the freezer and I took the smaller of the two but it was still a whopping 26 pounds!!! 

Problem number one:  this bird filled and overflowed my roasting pan.  Wednesday afternoon I stopped by Walmart on the way home from work.  They had moved their aluminum baking pans to the front of the store right behind the cash registers (liek they knew I'd be coming).   I found a disposable one that was plenty big enough and had the words "HEAVY DUTY" splashed across the front.  We'd gotten out of work early that day and I decided to cook the turkey that afternoon instead of the next morning because I figured it would take much longer owing to its size.

In those days I was a baster (now I follow Good Eats brining method).  On about the third time pulling the pan forward to baste my Heavy Duty pan sprung a leak.  Turkey juice and fat began puoring into the bottom of my oven at an alarming rate.   As it collected under the electric coil it started to smoke.  I didn't know what to do but take the turkey out of the oven and set it on top of the stove.  I transfered the bird to my old roasting pan where it mostly just rested on top and poured the remaining juice into a saucepan.  Now when I basted, the juice just rolled down the side of the turkey and joined the gooey blackening mess at the bottom of the oven.  I had to open my patio door and put a fan on to pull the smoke out of the apartment but at least the smoke alarm wasn't going off. 

I stopped the basting and decided to use the liquid I had left to make the gravy so  I turned on the burner under the sauce pan.  Remember earlier that I had put the punctured roasting pan on the stove top--well some of that fatty juice had collected in the reflector.  Soon I had a grease fire on my hands.  I knew not to throw water on it.   I had gotten out my flour jar to make the gravy and began throwing handfuls of it at the fire. PLEASE NOTE : DON'T USE FLOUR OR BAKING SODA ON A GREASE FIRE!!!   The Lord was really watching over me because I could have had an explosion at that point.  

My mother called me at about 9:30 that night to see if the turkey was finally done.  I told her the turkey was finished but that I still had several hours of clean up work ahead of me.  T

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Time Timer

There are some questions is life that every child must ask and one that ranks right at the top is "How much longer?"  For young ones still dealing with concrete matters, the concept of a few minutes or an hour are difficult to grasp.  That's what prompted Jan Rogers to develop the Time Timer.    The time to be measured is set by pushing a clear button around the dial for up to 60 minutes.  As it's pushed a wedge of red plastic appears, growing in size until it forms a complete circle at the one hour mark.  As the timer counts down the wedge grows smaller and ultimately disappears when the timer chirps time's up. 


If you've been browsing the Homeschool Crew's reviews on the Time Timer, you're probably familiar with how this device helps young or special needs children "see" the passage of time by the diminishing size of the red disc.  I have a different take on it's use.  My Schnickelfritz has always been fascinated by time--in fact, I've come to the conclusion that someday he will be in charge of the U.S. Naval Observatory clock.  He once woke me up at midnight so I could share his thrill of seeing his watch register 0:00 (he often likes to use military time).  He studies maps of time zones and can explain Daylight Savings  to my husband who grew up in Indiana and still hates the idea of having to change all the clocks twice a year.  He could challenge Phineas Fogg (Around the World in Eighty Days) on precision for when events should begin or end.  If I can't find my kitchen timer I know to head towards Fritz's bedroom. 

Fritz doesn't need the timer to understand the passage of time, but it has several advantages to my digital timer as far as measuring the passage of time.  Fritz would often get mesmerized watching the "count down" on our digital timer, so much so that he forgets to work on whatever task we had set the time limit for in the first place.  This red disk moves imperceptibly and there's no sound to distract him either.  Now he can glance at the Time Timer, gauge how much time is remaining and return to his work quickly.   The timer only makes two little chirps when it's done so if Fritz doesn't hear it because he's engrossed in a story, he'll keep on with his independant reading until he actually looks at the time again--not really a selling point but I'll take any trick that keeps his nose in a book longer.  On the other hand, it means that you wouldn't want to use this timer to keep track of the cake in the oven lest you miss the chirp that it's done.

The timer is available in three sizes.  The smallest is 3 inches wide and retails for $30.  The medium is 8 inches across and costs $35.  The large has a 12 inch face and sells for $40.   Technology fans can also buy software or timer apps. 

You can read what other Homeschool Crew members thought of the Time Timer by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free 3 inch Time Timer for the purposes of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Long and Winding Road… Homeschooling

I had never even heard of someone getting their education at home until I had graduated high school.   I was attending a Christ In Youth conference and the girl sitting in front of me mentioned this during our get-to-know-your-neighbor exercise.  I had the same reaction most people did at the time  “You can do that?” I assumed everyone went to public school or private Catholic school.  Looking back now I realize that her parents must have been some of those brave pioneers that literally had to wonder if the sheriff was going to come knocking at their home school door during its rebirth in the 1980’s.

 Fast forward nearly ten years---I was working for a non-profit agency that works with school-age girls.  In keeping up with events that might have that demography in attendance I discovered a Home Schooling conference was scheduled at the local convention center.  For curiosity's sake more than anything I decided to attend.  It was 1990’s now.  Home schooling was a little more accepted and there were over 2000 in attendance—most in denim jumpers and matching outfits and having arrived in a mini or regular-sized van.  Being an “only” myself, I could not get over the sizes of some of the families I met.  The curriculum hall and speakers introduced me to several new concepts in education.  Diana Waring spoke about making history come alive with original source texts, living books, and adding hands on activities or historical meals to the learning process---what a vast improvement to the dull textbooks I had to read.  I found some vendors with old favorites of mine like flannel board Bible characters and Cuisenaire rods.  Still others were explaining how their products could help kids that tended to take in information auditorily or kinesthetically.  Until that moment I didn’t know anyone learned differently that the visual way I took in information (and the method public schools tend to use).  However , the one thing that made the most lasting impact that day was when I left the closing ceremony to find a restroom.  In the hallway were nearly 200 children waiting to enter the convention hall to sing for the parents.  They vastly outnumbered the older teens assigned to watching them and yet I saw no one bickering, teasing, fighting, or seeing how far they could step out of line without being reprimanded (all things I’d experience in countless lines in my school days).  It hit me that home-schooling was about more than just where learning takes place but about character building as well.  I attended several more home school conferences in the following years.  I’d be embarrassed to answer the “How many kids do you have?” question from fellow attendees because I had none…I wasn’t even married yet.  Generally though their response was that it was good for me to educate myself beforehand.  When I did marry, my husband knew that I wanted to home-school any children God would bless us with.

Three years ago we moved to Missouri for my husband’s new job.  Although it would mean the loss of almost a third of our family income, we agreed that I would not look for a new job but stay home to teach our son who just turned six.  Some family members questioned why I didn’t find work and send Schnickelfritz to the private Baptist school just down the road from our new home as this would provide the Christian worldview we desired.   I knew I had to come up with personal reasons why home-schooling was right for us—something beyond the desire to avoid the risk of violence, the low standards, and the anti-Christian environment of public school.  I ended up with three key points.

 First,  I would be able to customize Fritz’s education to his speed of learning.   I had been one of the fast learners in school—in fact I seldom had any homework.  If a teacher were foolish enough to post the homework assignment on the board at the beginning of class, I would have it completed before class was over.  I was usually bored in school because teachers have to teach to the average of the class—leaving some bored and others still in a puzzle.   Currently Fritz is the age of a third grader but he’s doing fifth grade math.  On the other hand he struggles with writing and penmanship (don’t most boys) and he’s probably a grade or so behind there.  Since he’s not feeling the frustration of being pushed too fast though, we have a shot of keeping him interested enough that he’ll catch up some day as his motor skills grow.

 Second,  I can also use techniques and curriculum that use Fritz’s style of taking  in information.   He’s an auditory/kinesthetic learner.  He usually has to talk to himself during math or while writing, but he’s not disturbing other students (okay this might be an issue if he weren’t an only child).   Sometimes while I read to him he is bouncing on our mini-tramp.  He used to do math problems while standing on a rocking chair in front of a chalkboard.  I just knew that if I sent him to a classroom of kids he’d be the one the teacher was constantly reminding to sit still and be quiet.  Either he would comply, and not be able to learn because all his concentration would be going to not fidgeting or the teacher would send home a note about looking into Ritelin.

 Third,  Schnickelfritz used to have a terrible stutter.  It developed when we sent him to day care.  My own familiarity with school taught me that when the teacher wasn’t around kids will often seek out what makes one of their own “different” and then tease them mercilessly about it.  I didn’t want that for my son.  The amazing thing was that when Fritz was with us 24/7 for a week, even in a sensory overload environment like Disney World, his stuttering would decrease.   Having him home with me has nearly eliminated the problem.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Keyboard Town Pals

Back in the day when I was in school, typing was an elective class in Junior High (this was after the abacus but before the personal computer).  The computer and the internet have changed all that.  My son searches for roller coaster videos on You-Tube and looks at satelite images on Google Maps.  He has to know how to spell his desired targets but it also helps if he's not hunting and pecking for the proper keys.  Nowadays, typing skills are being taught to elementary students.  A perfect example is our latest product review, Keyboard Town Pals--an online typing program that can teach your child the basics in an hour.


This product is definately geared toward the lower grade levels, if fact the site recommends beginning typing lessons as soon as the child is able to distinguish the configuration of letters.  The lessons are presents by a series of puppets and a costumed figure called Sunny.  (My just-turned-nine-year-old found the characters a little childish).  Keyboard town consists of three streets: Home Street, where the fingers rest; Downtown, the lower row of letters; and Uptown, the higher row. ( I suppose the space bar could be considerred a fourth row that is only visited by the right hand thumb).  A single lesson is only 3-4 minutes long.  We are introduced to the character that lives on Home Street (for example, Amy) and the places she visits when she travels up or downtown.  Amy feeds  Zebras at the Zoo and a man named Qbert who asks Questions. 

This first lesson begins with the pinkie of the left hand.  I can't help but wonder if starting with the weakest finger might be frustrating to young children.  Most typing lessons start with the index fingers which have the most dexterity.  You can click on separate lessons to start where you want but the word typing practice is sequential and you may not have covered some keys if you don't follow their order. Beneath the video is a box where the student is invited to practice typing.   In an attempt to remove any anxiety from young learners there is no time limit, no grading, no way to correct mistakes (the space bar and backspace keys will not function).  This last feature actually created anxiety for my perfectionist son.

If you are only trying to expose your child to the idea of typing, this may be  just the gentle introduction you're looking for.  It is possible to just watch the videos and never use the keyboard at all.  If you want a typing course for school (grading, timed tests, number of errors, etc.) this program won't suit your needs.   Keyboard Town Pals is available as a web-based user license or on a CD-ROM for $39.95.  Both formats are available in English, French, or Spanish.

You can read what others on the HomeSchool Crew think of Keyboard Town Pals by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received free access to Keyboard Town Pals web-based program for six weeks for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review: Bower Books

I love a good wedding, and I don't think I'm alone.  How many people woke up early to catch a glimpse of the royal wedding this past spring?  A quick look through the TV Guide and I've found shows where brides shop for their wedding dresses, one where brides pick out their bridesmaid's dresses, one where brides try to lose weight to fit into their dresses, and one where brides compete with other brides for the most entertaining wedding/reception.   It seemed we're obsessed with what should be a once-in-a-lifetime event lasting only a few hours.  Is anybody considering the days and weeks and years that follow that nuptial event?  Apparently not, as there is one celebrity wedding still being shown in reruns, even though the couple has already filed for divorce (72 days later).  By my calculations her wedding cost 33,000 times more than mine, but mine has already lasted 50 times longer than hers.  You can't throw money at a wedding and expect to have a successful marriage.

Our latest review product, from Bower Books, is designed to help return the focus to the important part of a wedding.  It's not the planning, the food or the venue but choosing the right person with whom to spend the rest of your life.  I sat Schnickelfritz on my lap (won't be able to do that much longer, he's turning nine) and we read The Person I Marry.


The pictures and Suess-esque style of rhyme make this book geared towards young children as in "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Prov. 22:6)  God's timing is always perfect and Fritz has just developed a real interest in poetry and rhyming so he was very attentive to the words and patterns.  The writing is carefully crafted so that either a young boy or girl could be speaking and the illustrations all show a young pair so you can share this book with a son or daughter.  I practiced a Charlotte Mason narration exercise after the book and he was obviously picking up on the idea that a person's insides matter more than their outside.   Decorating the background of the text are adjectives and phrases like : unpretentious, willing to open up,  faithful and modest.  If you had older children I think it would be wonderful to do a character study of these traits.

The illustrations are some of the most charming I've seen--not quite as realistic as a Norman Rockwell painting but certainly in line with his celebration of everyday life and sense of humor.  Fritz's favorite is of the fishing buddies  where the girl accidentally snags her baited hook on the boys hat.   There is genuine warmth and a glow on every two-page spread.

The Person I Marry won the 2010 Book of the Year from the Christian Small Publisher Association.  It is one of several titles available in the Bright Future Book series available from Bower Books.  The hardcover book retails for $11.99.  I would definitely recommend this book, especially to parents with young girls dreaming or playing about fairy-tale weddings to Prince Charming.  You can read what other members of the Homeschool Crew think about Bower Books by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received free access to an online version of the book The Person I Marry for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

The Person I Marry from Bower Books on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Science of Disney Imagineering: Newton's 3 Laws of Motion

We've been home from our Disney World trip for about a month so now we're reminiscing as we complete the Disney Imagineering DVD series.  This time our topic is Newton's 3 Laws of Motion--a pretty sophisticated subject for a program geared to 5th-8th graders, but I would say it is Schnickelfritz's second favorite in the series so far.

Asa's Invention:  There's no invention again.  This time Asa starts out in his work area juggling three balls--a recurring theme in the DVD, melons and bowling balls don't work so well although in theory you could juggle these too.  We also meet Asa's new intern, ironically (or perhaps predictably) named Newton.

Terms Defined:  force, net force, velocity, acceleration, Newton's 1st law, Newton's 2nd Law, friction, Newton's 3rd law, inertia, momentum.

Attractions that demonstrate the scientific principle:

With one exception, all of these attractions were new to the series.  The first is hardly an "attraction", in fact you may have walked by it several times at Disneyland's Tomorrowland and never stopped to look.   The Kugel ball is art meets science.  The 14 ton ball is normally an object at rest, even though it is round.  A small current of water from underneath removes most of the friction so that even a child can apply sufficient force to start the ball rolling.  There is still some friction  so the ball won't stay perpetually rolling (an object in motion stays in motion) or we can use the force of our hands to stop the ball again.   

Next, we learn about velocity and acceleration.  Acceleration is a change in velocity.  Velocity is speed in a certain direction so changing direction is also a form of acceleration.  The Golden Zephyr rockets would shoot off in a straight line if they weren't attached to a focal point by cables.   Because the rockets are constantly changing direction you get the thrill of acceleration (although I doubt the thrill is anything like that of Test Track).

Calculations also had to be made on how the ride would work with anywhere from one to twelve passengers of different weights and sizes.  It sounds complicated, but we often use Newton's laws without even thinking about it.  Ever try to figure out how hard to smack the bottom of a ketchup bottle to start the contents flowing--that's physics at work.

Newton's Third Law, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, is demonstrated with a paddle moving through the water.  The paddle pushes back on the water and the boat is propelled forward.  The principle works whether you're in a canoe at Fort Wilderness or on the big paddle-wheeler, The Liberty Belle.

More reactions occur on Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters at Disney Quest in Downtown Disney.  Every time the bumper cars hit they bounce off in the opposite direction.  Add to this the possibility of spinning out of control if the targets on your vehicle are hit and you've got quite a fun ride.  Again, more calculations were needed to determine the best force for launching the "cannon ball," too much and there's the danger of injury, too little and you've got a dud.

 Next we revisit California Screamin' (it seems this series likes to highlight the newer thrill rides).  A little time is spent on the launch of the ride (going from stand-still to 55 mph in four seconds).  What I found interesting was it's not the speed of the ride that makes it thrilling but the change of direction.  Think about it, we usually travel much faster in a car but that trip can be very dull over long, straight stretches of highway.

The lesson end's with a water slide.  Usually slides are in the down direction with water to help eliminate friction.  The imagineers have figured out how to use a powerful cannon of water to propel riders in inner tubes back up hill so now we're really talking about a water roller coaster.  The ride is called Crush n Gusher. 

Quiz:  15 multiple choice and true/false questions.

Try it Yourself:  Newton had three laws so there are three experiments.  One for each principle.

1.  The Egg in the Glass Trick.  A plastic plate is placed on three glasses of water near the edge of a table (the plate must stick out over the edge).  Empty toilet paper tubes are placed on the plate, each directly over a glass and in turn an egg is placed on each tube. (The kids might not be as thrilled, but you can use hard boiled eggs).   A broom is placed on the floor and you must step on the bristles and pull back on the handle.  When the handle is released it flies into the plate knocking it and the tubes out of the way.  The eggs fall straight down into the glasses. 

2. Put all your eggs in One Blanket.   If you throw an egg at a wall it will shatter and leave a big mess to clean up.  This is because the wall is a solid surface and the egg must decelerate instantly.  However, if you have to friends hold up a blanket, loosely enough so that there is some sag at the bottom, you can throw eggs at it with all your might and the eggs will not break.  The blanket absorbs the force over a slight distance and the egg settles in the sag at the bottom.  (Again you may want to use hard boiled eggs or at least limit the number thrown at the wall).

3.  Bouncing Balls of Force.   Schnickelfritz and I were all over this experiment as soon as we saw it.  Hold a tennis ball on top of a basketball and let both drop to the ground at the same time.  The basketball will hit the ground first and start up when it hits the tennis ball.  Because the tennis ball is so much smaller, the force from the basketball launches it way in the air.  Fritz did this for more than half an hour while he waited for friends to come over.

We've only got a few more videos in the series.  If you'd like to read about the other's click on the Science of Imagineering tag to the right.
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