Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Free Audio: Pilgrims, Puritans & the Founding of America

The turkey is in the smoker, and that leaves me plenty of time to relax and do other things.  I always try to read a portion of Plimoth Plantation as it was written by my great-grandfather (13 generations ago).  I'll be the first to admit it's not the easiest read in the world and you may want something else to share with your children. This year I learned about a free audio being offered by Great Homeschool Conventions and one of next year's speakers -- Michael Medved.  All you have to do is sign up for their email list.

I used to listen to Mr. Medved's radio program  and especially loved the holidays when they would play recordings of lectures on American history.  This one on Pilgrims is especially good (and I'm not just saying that because of family bias).  If you get the chance, download the audio and remember the first Thanksgiving with your family --  remember it's really not just Black Friday Eve. 

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saving Heirloom Seeds

An enterprising young man in town has opened up his own mini farmer’s market in what was a defunct gas station and then used car lot.  He’s in the process of converting from harvest theme (Indian corn, gourds, pumpkins, etc.) to Christmas (trees & poinsettias)so he posted on Facebook a great sale on pie pumpkins and squash.  I love winter squash, which grew around my Gram’s home in Massachusetts.  She would mash it and top it with butter, brown sugar, salt & pepper.

If I hadn’t just been down to visit Baker Creek Seeds  I would have passed by the extremely large, salmon-colored squash, but I recognized them as Pink Banana Squash which a fellow at Baker Creek highly recommended for taste.  Now however, I’m not only going to roast the squash for Thanksgiving but try to save the seeds for next Spring. 


As luck would have it, I had a butternut squash (I told you I loved them) on hand so you can compare the sizes.   It was the largest one I could find at Walmart  and cost me $3.00.  The heirloom squash was on sale for $2.00 and will probably yield 3-4 times the amount of meat.

I sliced the squash into sections and hut each section in half to remove the seeds and put the meat into the roasting pan.  This was a big ol’ turkey roaster, not just a 9 X 13 pan.

The pulp didn’t seem nearly as “slimy” as some squash I’ve dealt with and the seeds separated fairly easily.

See the seed all by its lonesome near the top of the mat.  I started looking over each one to cull any that had been nicked by the knife or seemed less than perfect.  Really, there were soooo many seeds in this giant that I only saved half for seed and roasted the rest for snacking.  Of course if you really want to start saving seeds you should cull them from more than one plant – you best specimens to ensure strong future crops.  I’m just using what I have available to me – which was the best looking squash at the stand.


I then had to wash all the little bits of pulp off the seeds by rubbing them between my fingers under water.  I have several Silpat mats I use for baking that I spread the seeds over for drying. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

TOS Review: Franklin Sanders


Let me be up front and say that I at least a third generation bibliophile so I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to review a book, especially one with such an amusing title—At Home in Dogwood Mudhole.  There really is such a place…it’s in Tennessee, and author Franklin Sanders moved there with his family before Y2K (does anyone else recall what a disaster that was supposed to be?).  The first of three planned volumes is subtitled “Nothing That Eats,”  a reference to wife Susan’s order not to buy any animals for their new home.  I’m not sure what wasn’t clear about that order but it didn’t take long before they had dogs, pigs, horses, and chickens, chickens, and more chickens.

I knew I liked the author’s sense of humor when I read of all things, the Acknowledgements page.  He began by stating:  People fudge a lot when they say ‘this book wouldn’t have been possible except for the help of’ and then list everybody they know from the president to the second assistant tire checker.”   I found myself giggling at all the zingers tucked in like Easter Eggs amongst all the pages, like “When we shop for chickens, ‘dog-resistance’ is our first concern….any chicken with a life expectancy greater than a quark needs both supersonic speed and a profound mastery of evasive tactics.”   Other times the humor is drawn out into more of a story – the $30 dog that ended up costing more than $1000 by the time damages and vet bills were factored in.

Dogs are a favorite topic, as are visits to the local flea/farmers market, Civil War (pardon me, the War for Southern Independence) re-enactments, family ties, and an ongoing legal battle with the IRS.  The book is really a compilation of newsletters written to customers of Sanders’ small business-- The Moneychanger.  You’ll find it organized by month and year (from 1995  to 2002), but really that’s the only organization.  Sanders jumps from topic to topic—he might recommend a restaurant in one paragraph and switch to talking about how his cows can herd up pigs in the next.  Some months he has a lot to say (June 2000 had over 5 pages about hauling hay) , but other months he’s pretty terse (January 2000 was only half a page when Y2k turned out to be no big deal).

I wasn’t drawn to curling up with this book and a cup of hot chocolate for an afternoon of reading, but it was easy to pick it up and start reading just about anywhere when I found 15-20 spare minutes.  True, it helped to try and stay chronologically so I wasn’t stuck wondering where this new dog had come from, but I could skip over the passages about the court case with the IRS without feeling like I missed something.  We live in a rural setting and every so often I fancy a go at raising chickens or beekeeping, I think a virtual visit to Dogwood Mudhole will keep my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds.

Volume One: Nothing that Eats (379 pp.) is available in paperback for $22.95 or eBook format (Kindle or PDF) for $16.95.  You can read a sample chapter of Volumes One and Two on the Dogwood Mudhole’s website.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

TOS Review: French Essentials

We're  winding down another year on the Review Crew.  This next to last review is for French Essentials.   The subscription we received for their Full Access Online Program  lasts for an entire year and we have access to all Modules (Modules 1-4 are available now, 5 will be coming soon, and 6-10 are planned).  The program claims to be the equivalent of 2 years of high school French but it can be used by any student from 3rd to 12th  by adjusting the pacing.  Finally, a foreign language review for which I feel qualified.  I studied French for five years in high school and college and spent a summer as an exchange student in Rouen, France (the town where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake).

The majority of this program needs to be done at the computer.  The lessons themselves come as PDF files, but they have embedded audio and video files built into them.  As my Schnickelfritz was reading the text he could click on boxes to hear the vocabulary words or hear and see them being spoken (being able to see expressions and hear tone of voice comes in handy when learning phrases like "I feel very bad" or "I feel well." ).

Each lesson contains several exercises.  I found I needed to sit with my son during the lessons as he didn't have a very good ear for pronunciation.  I could catch his errors and make him repeat the words.  He was able to do the written exercises with direct supervision.
  1. Listen to the vocabulary words
  2. Read a brief lesson about their usage
  3. Read a deeper explanation about pronunciation (nasal sounds, accent marks, silent letters at the ends of words, etc.). 
  4. Listen and repeat the vocabulary for Ex. 1.
  5.  Listen (and sometimes watch) native French speakers using the vocabulary
  6.  Listen (and sometimes watch) and repeat the vocabulary
  7.  You will hear something spoken in French and you must make the appropriate response in French.  You will then hear the answer for confirmation.
  8.  A written exercise.
We usually did this in one day and then did the online exercises the following day.  There were virtual flash cards -- you were supposed to be able to hear as well as see them, but we had hit or miss success with the audio for some reason.  Then Fritz took the quiz.  We were several lessons into the program before I realized I could customize the quiz (look in the box to the right on the quiz page).  I could set it up so he only had to match English and French phrases rather than ask him to type in French translations for the English sentences.  For older students, where typing/writing is important there are buttons below the type-in boxes so you can click and add any necessary accented letters.  Be aware that they will always appear, even when not necessary so it's not giving a hint to the student.

Matching Quiz for younger students

Older students can type in answers

Incidentally, when I took this quiz to create a screenshot I deliberately made a few errors--leaving off the period at the end and not capitalizing the first word.  I was curious how much leeway a computer would give.  I got number 1 wrong, they were apparently looking for the informal version of the question (although there was no note to that effect), if I were grading this I would give credit for having an equally correct phrase.  Question 2 was graded correct even without the ending period, but once my son got an answer wrong because he left out a comma.  Question 3 was wrong because I didn't capitalize the beginning of the sentence.  You can always ask the program to create a new quiz if you want to try again (Schnickelfritz wouldn't stop until he achieved 100 percent correct).

There did not seem to be a lot of review built into the program.  Once we learned "How are you?" and the appropriate responses (Lesson 7), we didn't see them again until Lesson 18.  That was several weeks later and the vocabulary had been flushed from my son's short term memory.  I would have liked to have seen some review exercises built into each lesson so the vocabulary could begin migrating to his long term memory.

A second area of concern was that we never learned to conjugate any verbs.  For those unfamiliar with the term, verbs are usually introduced in the infinitie e.g. "to eat" is "manger."  In English we usually just have to add an "s" to the third person singular (he eats not he eat),  but in French the verb has six different forms

  Singular Plural
1st Person I eat – je mange we eat – nous mangeons
2nd Person you eat -  tu manges you eat – vous mangez
3rd Person he eats – il mange they eat – ils mangent

Until you learn to conjugate, you really can't hold a conversation.  You're just learning to memorize canned responses to questions (e.g. Do you like to eat apples?   Yes, I like to eat apples.)    This may not be so bad for elementary students just being exposed to the language, but I don't think it would keep a homeschooled high school student from being on par with his public school counterparts for foreign language.  My son and I only managed to work through Module 1, but I looked ahead and the first mention I found for conjugation was Module 4. 

On the other hand, this program had something most public schools often don't get around to--learning about the culture along with the language.  French Essentials builds in exposure to France and French Canadian history and geography.

Because this is a computer based program we have to going into system requirements.  You will need:

Internet access -- they recommend reliable high speed
Mac users: Adobe Acrobat 9 or later, Flash Player, Quicktime
Windows users: Adobe Acrobat X or later,   Flash Player, Quicktime

French Essentials will not run on an Ipad.

The embedded audio and video the lesson files are very large (15-20kb for 3-4 PDF pages), but the lessons can be downloaded one at a time.

A full year,  full access subscription is $149.95.  You may also order modules individually for $69.95 (only 90 days access). 


Note: I received a free subscription to this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write  a positive review no r was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family.  I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Lego Birthday Cake

My Schnickelfritz turned 11 this week and we had his annual bonfire/wagon ride/leaf pile fight last weekend.  You can read more about the simple and thrifty activities in last year's post.  It always amazes me the fun kids have in the leaves -- we heard squeals of delight from two newbies when they pulled into the driveway.  Instead of renting a bouncy house for say $200, the kids got just as much fun and used up just as much energy and it only cost us time and $2.  You see, this year the Toolman had planted an object in each pile and the first to find it got a dollar. 

But I wanted to focus on the cake.  Last year Fritz wanted a cake in honor of Lego Indiana Jones.  I shelled out $15 for one of those pre-printed icing sheets with his name on it.  I don't remember reading anywhere not to cover it with plastic wrap, but when I went to take off the plastic and put on the candles all the icing started to come with it.  I ended up sticking the candles through the wrap so we'd have a good photo op when he blew out the candles and then apologized to all the guests for the messy disaster when I pulled the wrap off to cut and serve the cake.   I vowed not to try that method again, but I had also loaned all my decorating tips to a fellow homeschooler doing Cake decorating for 4-H so I didn't have much to work with. 

My solution--I divided the 11 X 15 cake into four quadrants and iced each with a different color frosting.  Then I took some marshmallows from the bonfire stash and dipped them in the icing and stuck them on the cake to form "Lego bricks."  I went through Fritz's stash of mini-figures and dispersed them amongst the marshmallows and candles (to help anyone who couldn't figure out the cake theme).  The kids loved it!  The only problem was the high number of requests for specific pieces of cake--"I want the one with R2D2"  "I want the very center with the four colors."  I explained to the kids that the Legos were just for decoration, Fritz wasn't giving out his mini-figs as party favors but it didn't dampen their desire for specific pieces.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

TOS Review: Apologia Educational Ministries

Full disclosure time—we are very familiar around this house with Apologia Educational Ministries .  We’ve used their What We Believe worldview series since we reviewed it several years ago and we’ve always used their Young Explorers  elementary homeschool science books in our homeschool.  Author Jeannie Fulbright has been leading us to explore creation from Day 1 (Astronomy) through day 6 (Land Animals of the Sixth Day and Anatomy & Physiology—creation of man).  So we had a good idea what to expect when we had the opportunity to review the newest title in the series, Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics (in fact we were chomping at the bit to get it in our hot little hands).  Along with the main textbook we received  the Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics Notebooking Journal .   Let me cut to the chase and say we highly recommend all of the books in the series but I’m sure you’d like to hear a little more about this title in particular.

 Hardback, 280 pp.  $39.00
The text is divided into 14 chapters, spending more time with physics than chemistry. Apologia lists these books for K – 6 students.  Kindergartners may absorb some of the material if they sit in while you’re working with an older sibling, otherwise I’d suggest you save this book for 5th or 6th graders.
  1. Chemistry and Physics Matter
  2. Moving Matter
  3. Building Blocks of Creation
  4. Compound Chemistry
  5. Multitude of Mixtures
  6. Mechanics in Motion
  7. Dynamics of Motion
  8. Work in the World
  9. Sound of Energy
  10. Light of the World
  11. Thermal Energy
  12. Electrifying Our World
  13. Mysteries of Magnetism
  14. Simple Machines
Trust me when I say these chapters are packed:  the margins are smaller, the spacing between lines has shrunk, even the font appears slightly smaller.  The only thing that hasn’t decreased is the number of hands-on activities  (you’ll find them in tinted boxes labeled Try This!).   Where other Exploring Creation titles might have had one or two chances to Try This! per chapter, this book may have a dozen. According to the Introduction, ideally you will have the materials on hand to do the activity as you encounter it in the reading.  One day when reading a section entitled Density Matters, roughly three pages, we had four activities!  So you’ll either have to progress through the book rather slowly or pick and choose what you’ll do.  To my knowledge there is no kit to buy for Chemistry and Physics yet, but I’m sure third party vendors will have something available for next school year.  The supply list for the Try This! and chapter projects is six pages long!  You can download copies of the supply list, the table of contents, and Lesson 1 of the text on Apologia’s website.  

What’s making the egg on the left float?
In addition to “lab work" the Exploring Creation series does a great job at building in review of information.  Chapters end with a What Do You Remember? section (answer key in the back).  Every so often in the text the student will be asked to “Explain in your own words what you’ve learned”  (the text is written directly to the student and often refers to “you”).  You can either have the student do this orally or use the Notebooking Journal.

 Spiral-bound, 206 pp. (plus tear out sheets for mini-books)  $24.00
For some reason the recommend daily schedule is in the Journal rather than the textbook.  The table suggests reading assignments, Try This! activities, journaling and chapter projects two days per week/ two weeks per chapter.  The Journal has blank notebooking pages to write important facts from the text, crossword puzzles, Bible verse copywork,  a page to write out answers to the What Do You Remember questions and a place to document chapter projects.  Schnickelfritz usually explained what he remembered orally so we used the blank journal pages to document some of our other Try This! activities.  If your student were really getting into the topic, there are also pages with additional experiments and suggested further reading.
By an odd turn of luck, we also received the Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics Junior Notebooking Journal ($24.00) . It had coloring pages, larger space for writing (with the dashed line in the middle), simpler crosswords, and pre-printed vocabulary activities where the definitions were already printed for the student (mini books, draw lines to match, etc.).

How We Used It  

The schedule from the Notebooking Journal made each day too long for my son.  I broke the material down into smaller chunks and we do science daily rather than twice a week.  Some days we would read and journal, other days were all hands-on activities.  We still covered a chapter in two weeks.  The last Thursday we answer the What Do You Remember questions and complete the mini-books in our Journal and the final day is devoted to the chapter project. 
We didn’t do every Try This'! in the book, because frankly some were cost prohibitive.  One density experiment would have been really cool but it called for a cup each of honey, 100% pure maple syrup, dishwashing liquid, and whole milk.  That’s more (really expensive) food than I care to donate to science.  Still we tried to do about 75 percent of the hands on activities. 
For the most part the activities turned out as expected – when we did Land Animals of the Fifth Day we seldom got the results we expected.  The only flop (and it would have been a really cool activity if it had worked) was to stack colored liquids of different salt solutions in a straw.  We had four tubes of water, each one saltier than the last lined up in test tubes (the text says to use plastic cups but they’d have to be very narrow because the depth of the liquid needs to be at least 4 inches).  We inserted the straw into the first and when it had about an inch of blue liquid in it we put our finger over the top to create a vacuum to hold it in place (I think everyone has done this with their soda at one time or another).  The we pushed the straw into the next liquid—an inch deeper than before, and lifted our finger.  The denser liquid pushed the first further up the straw, but when we reapplied our finger trying to lift both liquids layers out we could never get the suction to work.  Both liquids ended up dribbling into tube #2.  Schnickelfritz and I both tried several times and this picture was as far as we got.  If someone has successfully completed this challenge and knows the secret please leave a comment.
After this review we’ll be returning to Exploring Creation with Anatomy & Physiology for the rest of the school year.  But both Schnickelfritz and I are already looking forward to sixth grade when we’ll go through the entire Chemistry & Physics course.   I will probably  be replacing some of the final chapter projects with something a little “meatier.”  For example, lesson 3 ends by making a sugar cookie periodic table.  While I want my son to learn a lot of the elements, this project seems more about Home Ec. than Science.  On the whole this does give homeschool kids the opportunity to go through the entire scientific method and have lots of practice documenting experiments and procedures.


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Friday, November 1, 2013

2013 Digital Scrapbooking Day

Heads up and fair warning!  Tomorrow is the first Saturday of November which means two annual events are occurring--my son's birthday party and Digital Scrapbooking Day.  Most of you are probably more interested in the latter.  At Schnickelfritz's party only he gets the gifts but by browsing online anyone can get freebies and sales on the digi-scrap items.  Fortunately for me a lot of websites started their sales today because I won't have time to go near the computer tomorrow.  I just bought the Mad Scientist kit and Quick Page add-on (both half price)  from Scraps n Pieces to record our science projects for the year.

If you check out my Pinterest page (look in the right hand column to subscribe) you can find other great kits under Digital Scrapbooking Science and Digital Scrapbooking History.   If you see something you like I encourage you to get it now.  I just cleaned up my boards to remove some kits that are no longer available--kits are retired, designers leave stores, and stores go out of business.  I'd been waiting to get a Civil War related kit when we study it next year, but the store went out of business and now it's gone.  Great thing about digi-scraps is they only take up space on a disk or hard drive so buy now and save it till you need it.

If you are just looking to scrapbook family memories, I've found two big blog trains that will provide you with mega kits if you visit every stop on the journey.  The DigiScrap Parade is offering an Our Life Kit with a green/blue/tan color palette (this one should be available for some time).  The Scrap Orchard is offering a the Oh Snap kit has a teal/lime green/yellow/orange kit with a photography theme.  It will only be available for free this weekend and some parts are only available if you participate in online events..  I have no affiliation with either site.

I'll also use this time to remind you of some of my previous digital scrapbooking posts in case you need inspiration/information.

5 Days of Photoshop Elements for School

 Day 1:  Notebooking & Journaling
 Day 2:  Record Keeping
 Day 3:  Flashcards & Organizing
 Day 4: Lapbooking
 Day 5: Classroom Posters

Other Digi-Scrapping Posts

Making Shaped Books with PSE

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