Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Fix It! Grammar

Let me be perfectly transparent before we start this review:  This isn’t our first go-round with the Institute for Excellence in Writing (henceforth referred to as IEW).  My first year on the Review Crew we were introduced to their Teaching With Structure and Style and Student Writing Intensive programs.  After completing that I purchased their level A Continuation Course (and have Level B) waiting in the wings.  Last year we reviewed IEW’s Teaching the Classics and I’m using that as my base for teaching literature analysis at our local co-op.  I even used their Fix It! Grammar program last year, but wanted to check out how they revamped everything in their new edition.  I received two spiral bound books:

Fix It! Grammar: Robin Hood [Book 2] (Teacher’s Manual)  $19.00
Fix It! Grammar: Robin Hood [Book 2] (Student Book) $15.00

The six books in the Fix It! series can be used by 3rd-12th graders, each book building on the one before. Because we had already completed Book 1 I felt very comfortable working with Book 2, but if you’re not sure where to start with your students IEW has a thorough Placement Test on their website.  The concept for Fix It! Grammar is that students will learn while they edit a story one sentence at a time.  In addition, they will be building their vocabulary by looking up the definition for at least one bolded word each day. At the end of the 33 weeks, they’ll have written their own corrected copy of the story—in our case, Robin Hood (so you’ll need a blank spiral notebook or a ring binder and filler pages). 

What We Received:

The first page in the Teacher’s Manual (it’s blue) contains instructions to download a PDF version of the Student book and two free audio files: Mastery Learning and But…But…But…What About Grammar?  The back of the book has a 45 page grammar glossary with definitions and usage rules for parts of speech, punctuation, phrases & clauses, and the stylistic techniques used in IEW’s writing curriculum.  The bulk of the manual ( 200+ pages) has a brief introduction to explain the teaching process and then the lessons themselves broken down by week and by day. Each week begins with a page of concepts that you’ll be teaching, then follow four pages of sentences of the day, and finally an example of the completed paragraph/s the students should have rewritten for the week.


The daily pages show how the sentence should look once it’s  labeled for nouns, verbs, articles, etc. and editorial marks for indentation, capitalization, and punctuation added. The Fixes section will help explain why editing was needed and give definitions for the bolded words. The Grammar Notation deals with the labeling of the words and may include notes to the teacher about advanced topics or what’s to skip at this point.  For example, we came across the word “his” in a sentence and the teacher notes said it was okay if the student didn’t recognize it as a possessive pronoun at this time (even though my Schnickelfritz did, hooray!). The margins may also include notes for the real grammar lovers—really more for the teachers than to share with the students.

The Student Book has a whole week’s worth of sentences on one page so it’s only work section is only 70 pages long.  It has the same weekly concept page and 45 page Grammar Glossary as the Teacher’s Manual.  Also included are five cardstock pages designed to be torn out and cut apart into Memory Cards.  The card’s front may show an editing symbol or parts of speech label while the back gives more detail about the concept and states which week it will be covered.  You’ll need something to store these cards in and unfortunately they weren’t designed to fit in standard baseball card sheets.  We ended up just lumping them all together in a page protector in the same ring binder that held his rewritten story pages.

How We Used It

Each week has only four lessons.  At first we tried editing the sentences on days 1-4 and then having my son write the corrected passage on day five.  This lead to much whining and grumbling on the fifth day so we just rewrote each sentence on the day we edited it so we only had grammar 4 days a week.  This turned out to work well when our co-op started and we tried to keep Thursday’s course loads as light as possible.

I would begin each week by writing day one’s sentence on our chalkboard.  We’d discuss the new concepts for the week and mark up the sentence appropriately.  Some of the concepts may not be covered in the first sentence so I would repeat this procedure any day a new concept appeared in the work.

It was very helpful to have this proofreading marks poster mounted next to the chalkboard.

On other days my Schnickelfritz could work on his own in the book alone.  The top of the page lists all the labels and marks he should be adding.  He could pull out the memory cards if he needed reminding about the concept.  After I checked his work he could rewrite the sentence on a separate sheet of paper.  The curriculum suggests he keep a “dictionary” of the bolded vocabulary words and their definitions but I was happy for him to just look up the words.

What We Thought About It

Fritz has been very pleased with the “it’s just one sentence” style of learning—grammar never takes more than 10 minutes.  He’s also enjoying the story.  More than once I’ve caught him trying to read ahead, but I pull the book away.  It’s a little carrot to dangle in front of his nose to keep him interested in doing grammar again next week.

I have been pleased that concepts aren’t dropped the week after they’ve been taught.  In the past we used a grammar program that focused on prepositions for several weeks and then all focus switched to nouns or verbs and within a short time all things prepositional had been forgotten.  With Fix It! Grammar each week builds on rather than replaces the last.  In Week One I was banging my head on the wall because my son couldn’t  identify all the nouns, couldn’t even remember the definition of a noun.  Now in week 5, he’s tearing through nouns, articles, verbs, pronouns, conjunctions, and adjectives and we’re starting on prepositions. 

It’s also great that our grammar has coordinated with our writing program.  We’re still looking for strong verbs and who-which clauses.  The double exposure is making things stick that much better in Fritz’s head.  I’ll be honest, I really hadn’t intended to keep using Fix It! Grammar in its old format but now I think we’ll be buying the rest of the series.

In case you’re interested in the IEW products I’ve reviewed you can click on the links below

Student Writing Intensive

Teaching the Classics

Click to read Crew Reviews

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ville de Ste. Genevieve

Okay, I’ll admit up front that I’m stretching a bit to get my letter “V” post, but “ville” does mean town in French and Ste. Genevieve, MO was founded by French settlers.  It was in fact the first settlement in Missouri (we can’t just say west of the Mississippi River because of Spanish settlements in the southwest).  The city’s website lists its founding in 1735 but it may have been as early as 1722 or as late as 1750. The region had something for everyone among the early settlers:  Saline Creek and the springs provided as source of salt, there was an abundance of lead to be mined, and the river bottoms provided some of the richest soil for farming.  The original location for Ste. Genevieve was a few miles to the south, but destroyed by flooding in 1785.

If you’ll recall my T is for Thomas Hart Benton Murals post, I mentioned the artist correctly painted the colonial home as being built with vertical planking.  You can still see examples of that architecture in Ste. Genevieve.  Three of the five remaining “poteaux en terre” (Posts in the ground) style homes in the nation are here. 
A Front View of the Bolduc House in Ste Genevieve MO

You may want to start your tour at the Bolduc House and Museum.  He was one of the richest men in town (from growing tobacco).  The home was built in 1792 and survived the series of New Madrid earthquakes in 1811-12.  The director of the museum was a homeschooling parent and they have monthly activities for homeschoolers as well as a day camp in June.

Photograph from the street of the Amoureaux House in Ste Genevieve MO.jpg

"Photograph from the street of the Amoureaux House in Ste Genevieve MO" by Andrew Balet - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Our next stop, the Bauvais-Amoureux House was built in the same year (1792).  (Note: some sources spell the name as Beauvais). The focus on this stop will be a woman named Pelagie.  She was a “mulatto” and born a slave in the Vital Beauvais household, but fell in love with a white man named Benjamin Amoureux.  The two snuck across the river to Illinois and found a priest to marry them (illegal in 1830).  The widow of her former master freed Pelagie and her infant son in 1832, but that did not end her struggles.  Her children for example, all free, could not attend school because it was illegal to teach a mulatto to read or write.

Next stop is the Jacques Guibourd Historic House built in 1806.  The story here is about the owner’s harrowing journey to arrive in Ste. Genevieve in the first place.  He had been working and living in St. Dominique (now called Haiti) when the slave rebellion of 1791 broke out.  His own slave remained loyal, sealing him in a cargo barrel and loading him onto a ship bound for France.  France wasn’t any more peaceful—it was the height of the Revolution.  He ended up leaving his homeland and settling in this French-Speaking ville along the Mississippi River.  The tour of the house also features the architecture, from the posts in the ground to the beam supporting the roof in the ceiling.
The best way to visit all these homes (and others) is with a Passport to Ste. Genevieve—all the sites for only $15.  Of course you can visit the homes individually and pay an entrance fee at each if some interest you more than others.  In addition to the permanent tourist spots, there are several French inspired annual events:
  • La GuiannĂ©e—on New Year’s Eve the French settlers dressed in costumes and took to the streets singing a beggar’s song for favors.  There’s a great YouTube video that explains the custom and you can hear a recording of the song from 1957.
  • The King's Ball—was originally the French’s way of celebrating Twelfth-Night.  Today attendees dress in colonial attire and dance to traditional music.  Now the ball is held in February and there are some ties to Mardi Gras.
  • The French Festival is held each June with more dancing and music, French foods and wine tasting.  You can have tea with Marie Antoinette (who has everything to do with France and nothing at all to do with Ste. Genevieve as far as I can tell.
  • And finally Jour de FĂȘte in August has nothing historical about it, but it’s a great craft festival.
Because we’re an English-speaking country today, it’s easy to forget that a great portion of our land once belonged to France.  If you have French ancestry, Ste. Genevieve is a great place to come and get in touch with your roots.

I’m linking up with … Ben and Me

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: My Student Logbook

Sometimes a good homeschool day isn’t about fun (but messy) science experiments or seeing my son’s face light up when he finally “gets it” in math.  Sometimes the good comes solely from things running smoothly, everything being in its place when we look for it, and no arguments over what has to be accomplished before school’s done.  Today’s review product from My Student Logbook seems to be able to accomplish two of those three things.  While we’re still on our own to make sure everything gets returned to their places, we’ve been very pleased with the Planet-themed planner we’ve been using for school (and other tasks).  Don’t like space?  You can see all the cover choices for the Daily Student Logbook on their website.

The spiral bound book we received has a clear protective cover on the front and a heavy duty black plastic cover on the back. We chose the dated school-year version (7/28/14-8/2/15), but you can also select a Jan-Dec dated version or one without dates at all.  Behind the log pages are additional forms for lists most homeschoolers keep: All About Me, Prayers, Books Read, Field Trips & Activities, and Test Records.  There’s a bright blue page separating the two sections, making it easier to find those forms.

The front of the book has Set-up Instructions, a How-To Create High School Transcripts Using the Logbook guide,  and several Master Checklist pages.  If you use up all the Master pages, you have permission to make more copies.  The trick is to fill out a Master Checklist once and then use it over and over each week in the dated logbook section.  It’s not complicated to do, but rather than try to come up with my own explanation, I’m going to defer to the video instructions they provide on their website.

I have shared in previous posts how frustrated I used to get trying to teach my son.  At some point in every lesson he would ask me “What comes next” or “How much more do we have to do?”  For a long time I took these questions as a sign that he was bored with the subject, or me.  The more it happened, the more I took it personally until I’d snap at him to just focus on the present.  Then I learned from a Celebrate Calm workshop at my local homeschool expo that my son was just expressing his anxiety of not knowing what the day was going to hold for him.  If he could just see a list of what I had planned, he’d calm down and focus on each lesson in turn.  This Student Logbook is perfect!  At the start of our school year we wrote in each subject we’d be using—Bible, math, reading, writing, grammar, science, history, piano, and art.  He doesn’t really care about the specific assignment in each class (which I keep in my own planner). 

The beginning of each week he can decide which day we’ll do art and highlight that block in the logbook. Every day he can decide which order to do each subject (although I insist Bible be first). He seldom varies, but at least the choice is there.  And there’s no concern that we’ll miss something in the shuffle, because if it doesn’t have a checkmark it hasn’t been done yet.

There are more lines than we could possibly use for school alone so I’ve included his chores.  By lifting the Master List flap I can add notes for specific items like Fritz’s once-a-week chores or the book he should use for reading time.  There were still more blank lines and my son is reaching puberty so I added some grooming and hygiene habits we’re trying to instill (like using deodorant).  I have to admit, that hasn’t worked as well as I’d hoped because we keep the logbook in our basement schoolroom and the deodorant is upstairs and should have been put on long before school starts. Maybe we need a mini version of the logbook for the bathroom.

My Student Logbook can be used by any child who can read (mom can do the writing if necessary) although the vendor recommends it for 2nd Grade and up.  The printed version retails for $15 and a downloadable PDF version (which comes predated) is $10 for single use/$20 for family use.

Now you remember at the beginning of this post I said the Student Logbook could help me with two out of the three things—It finally dawned on me to make the last line of our school day “Return all books and supplies to their proper place!”


Click to read Crew Reviews

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

U is for Ulysses S. Grant House

If you were taking a quiz and asked which president was from Missouri I hope would be able to answer Harry S Truman, but he wasn’t the only president who lived in the state.  After graduating from West Point, a young Ulysses S. Grant was stationed at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis.  As a promise to a schoolmate Grant rode out to visit the Dent family at their White Haven estate and pay his respects.  He enjoyed himself so much that he returned on a weekly basis.  The following spring, Julia Dent returned home from boarding school and the visits occurred on a daily basis.  Julia was not the prettiest of the Dent daughters, but she was the best horsewoman.  The couple began to court while riding along the creek that cut through the 850 acre plantation.  When Grant learned he was being transferred in preparation for the Mexican-American War, he proposed.  The couple were finally married in a Dent home in St. Louis in 1848.
Grant remained in the army after the war and was stationed in California for a time.  Julia remained with her family at White Haven and gave birth to their first child, Jesse (eventually 3 of their 4 children would be born in this house).  When Grant resigned his commission (1854), he built a cabin on the Dent property for his young family to live in.  They remained only a few months and returned to the main house when Julia’s mother passed away.  They remained in the home until 1860 when Grant went to work in his own father’s store in Ohio before he returned to the army in 1861.

The Grant’s had intentions of returning to White Haven
as late as his second term as president.  The barn on the property was built to house Grant’s prized horses and based on a design he had sketched on White House stationery.  As it was being constructed, the house was painted a shade of green that Mrs. Grant had noticed and admired among the homes in Washington, D.C. The Grants never did return to Missouri though, instead settling in New York after he left office. 
This field trip was near and dear to my heart.  I grew up just up Grant’s Road and was very familiar with Grant’s Farm, his cabin, and the Clydesdales that were pastured there (Anheuser-Busch owns Grant’s Farm and used to breed horses for their Budweiser wagon team there).

I’d never visited White Haven though.  The property had been sold to a private family and I’d never even seen the house as it was hidden from the road and Grant’s Farm parking lot by the barn.  The property didn’t become available for public tours until the 1990’s.

We began our visit by watching a 16 minute movie about Grant’s life from his arrival at Jefferson Barracks until his death.  He had a tragic ending—he lost the family savings in a bad Wall Street deal and developed throat cancer.  He began work on his memoirs, hoping the proceeds would support his family after his passing.  He finished them just a few days before he died.

Tours of the home are scheduled on the hour and half hour.  The home itself is very sparsely furnished—most of the Grant’s furniture was lost in a fire while it was being stored on the Grant’s Farm property. In addition to the main house, you can tour the summer kitchen/laundry, icehouse, and chicken coop. 

It was interesting to see the contrast between the doors of the family entrance to the home and the slave entrance.  The Dents were slaveholders and Col. Dent even gave a slave to Grant at some point.  Grant freed the man when he moved to Ohio (a free state).  The ranger giving us the tour pointed out that Grant chose to free the man rather than sell him. My mother and I had been taught the Grant was a failure at business and farming and that’s why he had to move to Ohio, but the ranger said if Grant had truly been in such financial straits he could have sold the slave for up to $1500. 
Of more interest to me were the exhibits in the barn.  It may look like a horse stable on the outside, but the inside includes a first class museum.

You find portraits, family artifacts, and interactive displays from various eras in Grant’s life (not so much about his Civil War years). The exhibit below dealt with the four Grant children.  You could listen to memories each child had about their presidential father.  The display case and items of importance to each (one had a microscope while another cherished a story book).

I was keenly interested in a display about another widely held belief about Grant that may or may not be true.  He is often portrayed (especially in Civil War movies) as a heavy drinker.  The display doesn’t deny that Grant imbibed while he was stationed in California and depressed about the separation from his family.  During the Civil War however, it appears that a Gen. Halleck (Grant’s superior officer) may have started the rumor about drunkenness when Grant was promoted for actions at Ft. Donelson and he wasn’t.  When the rumor was published, Grant’s staff officers wrote it was “the most infamous and malicious falsehood that was ever uttered.”   The Secretary of Wayrsent his own man to investigate the charges and he wrote “To the question they all ask: ‘Doesn’t he drink?’—I have been able, from my own knowledge to give a decided negative.”  It may have in fact been Grant’s frequent migraine headaches or the doctor’s prescribing quinine (which can cause slurred speech and confusion)  that may have led those aware of the rumor to assume he was drunk.
Schnickelfritz wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about reading all the information on the walls, but the museum was prepared for such a contingency.  They had cubbies filled with hats and costumes for kids to try on and a full length mirror in which to view themselves. 

The Ulysses S. Grant home is open daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day).  Admission is free. 
I’m linking up with … Ben and Me

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: The 7-Minute Life Planner

Recently I was given the opportunity to review a product from a vendor known as The 7 Minute Life.  A seven-minute life…we must be talking about an insect or something.  No, according to the founder seven minutes is about the length of an average adult’s attention span (and this product is meant for adults).  I thought I could focus for much longer than that until I started to watch the introductory video for The 7 Minute Life™ Daily Planner.  It was twelve minutes long and I had to restart it three times because the phone rang, my son ran in, and the dog knocked something over in the kitchen.  So I guess this woman knows of what she speaks.

Now before we begin the review, you have to know where I’m coming from so it’s time for embarrassing but true confessions…

  • I write reminder notes for myself often—on the backs of receipts, envelopes and occasionally Post-Its. They accumulate with mail, things I’ve printed from the internet, and papers from my son and husband and are often lost until the thing I wanted to be reminded of has passed.
  • I love “to do” lists and checking things off (sometimes I add things I’ve already finished just for that little jolt of good feeling of crossing it off), but I jot things down in the order they come into my mind with no regard to priority.
  • I’m terribly distracted from tasks.  I used to think that meant I was multi-tasking, but the truth is if I carried something for one room to another (to put it away) I would see three things in the new room that needed to be done and never get back to the first room I was straightening. 
  • I wear multiple hats in life—I homeschool my son, teach at our co-op, lead Discovery Kids at church, and try to keep our home. 

What I Received—a 272 page, wire-bound notebook (roughly 7 1/4 by 8 1/2 inches) with plastic covers. Inside were exercises to determine my priorities, discover my purpose, set goals (personal, work, financial, life), list unfinished tasks, keep a contact list, track exercising and more.  The bulk of the pages are made up with 2-page spread daily progress reports—enough for 90 days. They’re undated, so you can jump in at any time—no need to procrastinate for the start of a new week or month or whatever, nothing wasted if you miss a few days.

How I Used It ---you might think I was tempted to plow ahead to the daily progress pages and start writing in my to-do list as usual.  Well, I was tempted but since this was for a review I thought I should at least start the way the creator of the product intended.  There’s a whole series of Getting Started Videos on the web page (you can view these now, with no purchase required).  After viewing them, I found a few quiet moments for myself, sat down with my planner, and assessed my priorities. My top three ended up being Faith, Family/Friendships, and Health.   Working on Discovering My Purpose was much harder as I struggled to separate “purpose” from “tasks I have to do” but having the question “At the age of 85, I will know I have fulfilled my purpose when:” helped me to organize my thoughts.

With that in mind, I found filling out the 5 things I would do before 11 much different than my typical to-do list.  Since Health was one of my priorities (I am a cancer survivor and since my hysterectomy my blood pressure has been creeping up) I scheduled my Couch to 5K sessions during this time.  Regular exercise is a key in lowering blood pressure, but up till now I would save exercise until after schoolwork and daily chores was done (and then I might feel too tired and end up skipping it entirely).  Now I don’t feel guilty about scheduling time for myself because it fits into my priority—and let’s face it, if I’m in poor health I won’t be able to meet my other obligations.  Since making it a priority, I’ve seen my blood pressure average drop 20 points! The Planner also helps me track health priorities with boxes to track water intake, sleep, exercise, and reflection (which I count as prayer and meditation).

The Planner seems to be geared towards folks with wage-earning jobs: there are work goals, unfinished work tasks, a place to write names and numbers from voice mails, etc.  I decided for me, work would be anything associated with my teaching (at home, co-op, or church) and my blogging.  So my unfinished tasks included picking up science project supplies and completing blog posts.  My daily contacts aren’t customers and vendors, but websites with history information or books to find at the library (and in some cases other homeschoolers, bloggers, etc.).

What I Liked—I actually loved the 5 Before 11 section and the overall principles to Prioritize, Organize, and Simplify.  I’m getting closer to the 8 glasses of water per day and track my intake of cultured foods (another health priority) along with sleep and exercise.  I gained a lot of insight into myself by completing the Priorities, Purpose, Strengths & Weaknesses, and Goals worksheets. Most of these evaluation tools are available for free on the 7 Minute Life website.

What Didn’t Work For Me—The size doesn’t make the Planner convenient to carry in my purse. If something came up at 4-H meetings or church that I needed to remember  I would have to write notes and appointments on separate pieces of paper and then transfer them to the planner when I got home.  This may not be an issue for folks used to carrying briefcases or something similar.   Even with adapting things to my “line of work” I still found sections like Voice Mail useless for me. 

The Bottom Line--- I will continue to prioritize my daily tasks with the 5 Before 11 system, making sure those items are helping me meet my goals and fall within my priority categories.  I don’t know if I will buy another planner when this 90 days is up.

The 7 Minute Life Daily Planner retails for $24.95.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

T is for Thomas Hart Benton Murals

Looking back at our homeschool field trips, most of them have been for history/social studies purposes.  A few have been science/geology related, and some are just for fun.  Other than a trip to the art museum, this may be the only art related field trip we’ve taken and I’ll be honest, it was a small portion of a larger, civics-related trip to the Missouri Capitol.  Notice, that was with an “o” not and “a” so I’m referring to the actual building.  The House Lounge used to be a place for legislators and the committees on which they served to meet.  In 1935, Thomas Hart Benton (a native Missourian and one of the best known artists of the Regionalism movements) was commissioned to decorate the lounge with a mural, the subject being “A Social History of the State of Missouri.”  Benton was given complete freedom in interpreting and executing the theme.

No one can accuse Benton of not being thorough…while he sketched ideas to cover the more than 1400 square feet of wall space, he consulted a six-volume history of Missouri. The outer wall was filled with windows and he opted to paint cornstalks and power lines in the spaces between them.  The other walls would be covered with scenes of Missouri’s history, legends, and folklore.  Visitors were allowed in the room while Benton worked and it someone with a particularly interesting face walked in, the artist might stop to sketch a portrait and that face would end up on the wall somewhere.

When the room was revealed in 1937, the legislators were in an uproar.  Some were offended by the content (Jesse James, the outlaw was given a prominent spot over the doors), others by the bright colors and oversized figures.  One man was even worried that the artist had gone way over budget buying eggs to use in the paint base (Benton had receipts to prove he’d only spent about $10).  There were cries to install curtains or just whitewash over the whole mess, but the furor died down and the House Lounge is one of the highlights of Capitol tours these days. Here are some of the highlights of the panels.

Huckleberry Finn and the slave Jim were fictionalized characters of the famous Missouri author Mark Twain.  The steamboat in the background has been christened Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain’s real name.


Benton’s tribute to the city of St. Louis.  It’s probably best known as the home of Anheuser-Busch (notice the man drinking, the beer being put into kegs and the bar glass.  The artist did his homework though, St. Louis and surrounding communities had a lot of shoe factories (in fact, my grandparents used to work in one).  The St. Louis City Museum is built in a former shoe factory and the giant 10 story slide is how they used to move product from floor to floor. In the background is coal.

Kansas City is portrayed with its meat processors (ever hear of a Kansas City steak?).  In the foreground, a Bunsen burner reminds viewers of the advancement in  chemical research from the western side of the state. This is one of the upsetting segments of the mural.  The man with his back turned is Tom Pendergast, a political boss from KC who was later convicted of tax evasion. The site of his meeting includes scantily clad show girls in the background. Mr. Pendergast still held a lot of political clout when the mural was unveiled. Probably some of the men he helped elect had their feet held to the fire to whitewash over this image.

Another disturbing, but historically accurate scene deals with the way Mormons were treated in the state.  Their home is being burned and a man is being tarred and feathered.  In 1838, Gov. Lilburn Boggs signed an order to drive the Mormons from the state or exterminate them.  It wasn’t rescinded until 1976.

The real pictures are so large, I’m not sure how well the details will appear in this post.  Although the focus of this scene is the white man trading whiskey for furs (another unpopular, but true scene), in the background is a frontier cabin.  Benton correctly painted it with vertical planking just like the first French settlers built their homes.

The murals have never been modified, only cleaned and restored over the years. Touring the Missouri Capitol is free and the House Lounge is usually open (there may be a rare meeting in there from time to time).  If you’re coming to Jefferson City to study Missouri history of government, please stop by and see this artistic treasure.

I’m linking up with … Ben and Me

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: Under Drake’s Flag

Years ago the stereotype for a homeschooling family included a mom wearing a denim jumper and a family that read Little House books.  I guess we’ve become more sophisticated since I seldom see any denim at homeschool expos any more and the books in many of the booths have G.A. Henty as the author. My 11 year old son is close to  reaching the age I think he’ll have the maturity and reading skills to tackle one of the historical novels.  In the meantime though, I’ve been able to dangle a proverbial carrot in front of his nose with a new review product by Heirloom Audio Productions.  They’ve recently released a 2-CD set of their first Active Listening Audio Adventure entitled Under Drake's Flag.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard of an audio book—a recording of someone reading the text aloud which may or may not be abridged.  You’ve also heard of an audio drama (sometimes called radio theatre) where actors voice the dialogue and sound effects and background music accompany the story. But what the heck are Active Listening Audio Adventures?   According to Heirloom Audio, they are “fast-moving stories designed to keep the listener captivated…Quickly paced and Plot-rich…”  Having listened to the Cd’s with my son, I couldn’t have described them better myself.

My son listens to audiobooks as he winds down before bed.  This is NOT the time or place for Under Drake’s Flag.  We heard about sea battles, land battles, fighting sharks, surviving hurricanes, and ship wrecks…and that was just the first CD!   Instead my Schnickelfritz listened to the adventure as an after school treat while he built rollercoasters on his computer—in fact, he came up with a Drake’s Flag theme park while he listened (he had plenty of time since the drama was two hours long). Later, we took the CD’s on our road trip to see the grandparents.

The vendor recommends Under Drakes Flag for audiences ages six and up, but I would strongly caution you to listen to the whole production by yourself first before sharing it with anyone so young.  The second CD has a long segment where the protagonists are imprisoned and threatened with torture as part of the Spanish Inquisition.  The Inquisitor seems to almost take pleasure with the idea of breaking the body in order to save the soul.  My gentle-natured son only listened after I assured him the boys would be okay and since then he tends to skip over that track.  Along those same lines Catholics might be sensitive about their Church history as Spanish Catholics are made out to be the “bad guys” of the story.

Because Henty books are in the public domain, I downloaded the original book to my Kindle.  While I perused the novel (to see if my son could handle it), I noticed several changes had been made.  First, the adventures of four boys in the book have been assigned to only two in the audio version. The roles of other characters, like Donna Anna have been greatly expanded (to include a love story not in the book). Ned leaves his father behind in the book, in the drama he lives his mother behind and carries his fallen father’s sword (it actually becomes an important prop in the story). And finally, the book has several chapters devoted to Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe. The audio version covers the time on the Spanish Main and in South America while the rest of the voyage is briefly covered in the story’s wrap up.  I think we’re getting fairly used to adaptations (especially movies) making small  (and large) changes to books to make manageable scripts so none of this really bothered us, but if you have a real Henty fan they will notice the differences.  If you have an older student you could certainly discuss why they may have been necessary.

We were blown away by the production quality of Under Drake’s Flag.  One visit to the website explains why—several of the creative staff have worked on other audio drama series known and loved by homeschoolers.  AND we can’t wait for the next title to be released.  According to their Facebook page, they’re working on In Freedom’s Cause (William Wallace) and Billy Boyd from the Lord of the Rings trilogy will be one of the voice actors!

Although we listened just for fun, Heirloom Audio does have 30 page e-Study Guide for those who’d like to fit Drake’s Flag into more of a school curriculum mold.  After a brief introduction to Henty and Drake the rest of the pages provide vocabulary words, listening comprehension questions and questions to promote further thinking and discussion. 

The 2-CD set is available for $29.95.  The e-Study Guide is a free bonus.

Under Drake's Flag Reviews

Sunday, September 7, 2014

1 (teacher) + 1 (student) = ?

only-childI’ve never claimed to be an expert at homeschooling.  I make mistakes and I learn from them, and our schooling improves along the way.  But homeschooling an only child?  I’ve never done anything else. Complications from my pregnancy and an eventual hysterectomy means that our homeschool class will only have one student.  I don’t know if that makes me an expert, but it certainly makes me well experienced.    So with a doff of the hat to Clint Eastwood, let me share with you The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (cue theme music….) 


The Good:

  • With only one student, my attention never has to be divided. No one has to be stuck with busy work while they wait for their turn with me. We can plow through all our subjects in about 2-1/2  to 3 hours.
  • It is easier to include some “delight directed” subjects since I only have to deal with him and no one else is around to get mad that “we’re STILL studying maps or the physics of roller coasters and when do I get my turn?”
  • Field trips can be less expensive only paying for one child and one adult.  I also don't have to worry about keeping track of a large brood where everyone wants to go a different direction.
  • I can cater every subject to his learning style.  Being somewhat kinetic, he can stand on a rocking chair in front of the chalk board working math problems.  To learn Spanish vocabulary I would tell him an English word and he would race around the basement looking for the Spanish translations written on index cards.  If I had two or three kids doing this, it would be chaos.
  • Once I discovered his learning style it was easy to choose curriculum that would best suit him.  I don’t have to compromise because I have several kids that each learn a different way.
  • He can participate in more sports and outside activities--Upwards Basketball, Karate, Royal Rangers.  Our funds and driving time don't have to be divided up among several children with conflicting schedules.
  • I have time to create "extras" like the Mystery of History Dates to Memorize posters  because I only have to plan and teach one lesson per subject, not three or four at different levels.


The Bad:

  • Occasionally Field Trips can seem more expensive when considered on a per person basis.    Our local co-op also divides the cost of renting the public pool on fee per family basis—the coordinators with their family of 10 kids save big time over a regular trip to the pool, but it costs my family more than 5X the regular pass price.
  • The cost of curriculum can seem higher for the same reason -- I don't reap the benefit of saving it to use with another student in the future.
  • Finishing school early gives my son more free time and his neiPuppet show instead of actorsghborhood friends are still in school so he must learn to entertain himself or I have to be willing to play a game with him.
  • Sometimes lesson plans call for brainstorming or acting out a drama--both activities work better with more than one person.  Last spring during a review of Golden Prairie Press we made puppets for one of the skits. Even then, who is around to watch the performance? For brainstorming, I usually let him bounce ideas off me but I struggle with what is me participating in the process and what is me as a teacher providing him with answers.
  • The work for science projects, etc. falls entirely on his shoulders—there is no one with whom he can divide the workload or share the fun.

The Ugly:

  • Do you get tired of answering the socialization question? Try being the teacher of a single student.  I’m even asked by other homeschoolers!  That’s probably one reason I allow him to participate in so many outside activities: karate, 4-H, Royal Rangers, Upwards Basketball, Centerpoint Archery.   But this comes at the price of getting to spend time as a family (because everything takes place in the evening, the only time my husband it home). During Upwards Basketball season we’re often busy 4 out of 5 week nights and Saturday morning.
  • Sometimes I feel an added pressure on myself to get everything right.  I only have one child and one chance to make sure he’s learned everything.  

Be sure and see what other insights other moms have for homeschooling their only child by clicking below.
Homeschooling an Only

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

S is for Silver Dollar City

Well here I was, all prepared to share about the Steamboat Museum outside Kansas City for my letter S (The Arabia sank in 1856 and was rediscovered 132 years later—now visitors can see its preserved cargo. which would have been taken by pioneers heading west on the various national trails).  It all would have been very educational I assure you, but it was the week before Labor Day and another homeschooling family offered to take us as their guests to Silver Dollar City, another S destination.  How was I to say no?

Outside the glare of neon signs, the roar of go cart tracks, and the miles of slow moving traffic that is Branson is one of the finest theme parks in the country.  It opened in 1960 with little more than a blacksmith shop, a general store, an ice cream parlor and a few other buildings that served as the background for the staged gunfights performed by costumed staff.  As a promotional gimmick, change for purchases was given in real silver dollars! (They no longer do this, in case you’re wondering).  When tourists spent their silver dollars back home, they often shared where the money had come from—word of mouth advertising.

SDC’s popularity took another giant leap when the Beverly
Hillbillies show filmed five episodes on site in 1969. The ice cream parlor became a hotel and several craftsmen like the blacksmith Shad Heller appeared in the shows.  Shad became the “face” of Silver Dollar City, appearing on all the billboards, etc.  I know there’s a picture somewhere of me getting to meet him at his forge during my first visit  (I was only three).

There’s something for everyone at SDC! Are you into coasters?  They’ve got five now, including Outlaw Run—named best new ride of 2013 and winner on the Travel Channel’s Insane Coaster War.  My Schnickelfritz had been chomping at the bit to get on this ride since we saw it being built in 2012.  That’s him with his hands up in the air in the front row while I’m taking pictures from the safety of the exit ramp.  Notice how empty the cars are?  That’s the advantage of homeschooling –we visit when the parks are empty!  (It wasn’t really empty, but most visitors were there for the Southern Gospel Picnic and not interested in thrill rides).

When you’re through twisting, turning, and inverting and it’s safe to eat again check out some of the stick to your ribs grub.  In case you can’t read the sign, these giant skillets are used for succotash (corn, yellow squash, okra, peppers, onion, and chicken).  Another concoction is green beans, carrots, redskin potatoes, and ham.  It’s not your typical theme park food, it’s home cookin’.  You can also find barbecue and corn on the cob roasted on the grill. 

My favorite thing to do is visit all the craft shops.  They don’t just sell cast iron and hand blown glass, they make it on site!  They generally explain what they’re doing and they’re happy to take questions when it’s safe for them to be distracted.  You can find people working with wood, leather, iron, pottery, glass, and candy all over the park.  There’s even a lathe making baseball bats.  If you’re really into crafts you may want to come during the Harvest Festival in the fall when they bring in an additional 125 craftsmen.

If it’s really hot outside or if you’re into spelunking you’ll want to be sure and tour Marvel Cave (it was the original tourist attraction back in the 1800’s).  For an hour you’ll be walking through the 54-60 degree cave, the temperature actually goes up the deeper you descend and this is the deepest tour cave in the state.  If you’re trying to earn the Missouri Cave Patch, this can count as one of your five caves.  We had a great guide.  During the descent of all those stairs in the Cathedral Room entrance, speakers were playing the soundtrack from Batman—talk about your perfect set-ups.  Eventually a youngster would ask about Batman and the guide would say “No, this is Marvel Cave, Batman is DC Comics.”

Fair warning, it can be strenuous—lot’s of steps up and down, the guides spell out what will be expected of you in plenty of detail so don’t say you weren’t warned.  And before you can even get in line you’ll have to stoop through an opening that represents the tightest squeeze in the cave, just four feet high, for a length of about seven feet.  It is do-able, though.  We had an older lady with two prosthetic legs on our tour and she made it.

Silver Dollar City hosts six special festivals throughout the year:
  • World-Fest April 5th - May 4th featuring performers and food from around the world
  •  Bluegrass & BBQ May 8th –June 1st Think ribs and down home music
  •  Star Spangled Summer June 7th – July 20th  This may just be a new name for Kids Fest
  • Southern Gospel Picnic Aug. 22nd - Sept.1st  You can purchase a fried chicken dinner and listen to God honoring music all day.
  • National Harvest Festival Sept. 12th - Oct. 25th The craftsmen arrive in droves
  • An Old Time Christmas Nov. 1st - Dec. 30th    Five million lights –‘nuff said.
Homeschool weekend falls during the Harvest Fest.  They’ve got special activities for kids of all ages (for an additional fee).  Even if you can’t come that weekend Silver Dollar City has a special rate for homeschoolers.  The normal daily admission rate is $59 (12 and up) and $49 (4-11).  Homeschoolers can get a TWO-day ticket for $47 (12+) and $37 (4-11) with the code 3703.

I’m linking up with … Ben and Me

Monday, September 1, 2014

Orienteering at Queeny–Farsta race

You know how washing your car guarantees it’s going to rain? Well apparently scheduling an orienteering race means it’s going to be hot.  In July we couldn’t believe how cool it was until the day of the Forest Park race and then the heat and humidity returned (and stayed while we attended the Muny afterwards).  We had another gorgeous string of days until the temps just went higher and higher.  The day of the Queeny Park race the temps and humidity made it feel like 113 F, and that was before noon!

We decided that today would be about practicing skills over any real racing.  My Schnickelfritz was in control of the map and made all the decisions.  I would advise if he asked but mostly served as encourager to persevere and reminder to take sips of water from our camelbaks. 

We were introduced to a variation on the standard orienteering race—the Farsta (I’m assuming it’s named after a district in Sweden since orienteering originated in that country.  The course is made of two or more overlapping loops and there is a mass start.  Everyone is given the same map that shows all the controls, but the clue sheets that show the order in which you must visit the controls are all different.

Here’s our map.

Notice how all the odd numbered controls have two choices.  We visited one on the first trip around and one on the second time around.  Where we went to 1B first someone else was sent to 1A.  Everyone visited the even numbered controls on both laps but we’d approach them from slightly different angles depending on which control we were coming from.  We used e-punches to verify that everyone went in the order they were assigned.  In the end, everyone covered the same distance and it was just a matter of who finished fastest.

Except we weren’t racing remember, it was too hot.  I had to remind my son every time he muttered we were going to finish last.  In the end we didn’t finish last.  Another team got confused and had to backtrack to the 1A control they had missed.   Fritz got a lot of practice making course decisions.  For example, getting from 2 to 3D: the gold color indicates this is open land and should be easy running but we learned from our first lap that the field was filled with chest high weeds (although none seemed to be thorny).  Fritz had to decide if we would make better time forcing our way through the weeds or altering our course to the road which would mean a longer distance but easier to travel.  He opted for the road.  Perhaps he remembered a similar issue to a race last year (or perhaps he’s still picking burrs out of his jacket like I’ve been).

Next race is Fritz’s favorite Night-O.  We’ll report back soon.

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