Friday, September 25, 2015

Review: USAopoly Games

Every time the UPS man drops off a review product I feel like it’s Christmas morning.  That’s not always the case for my son, but this time he agreed with me because our box from USAopoly contained two games. Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone is a battery-operated game for 2-8 players. I’m not sure what gets more of a workout—my memory or my creative thinking.  Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game, for 2 or more players. proves you can’t take something as simple as stacking blocks for granted.

This review couldn’t have come at a better time…in an effort to help my Schnickelfritz fall asleep in a timely manner, we have turned off the television/computer/Kindle an hour before his bedtime.  To fill the void we’ve been playing games together and these two have quickly become favorites.  They also work well with larger groups, like when we get together with another homeschooling family and there are seven of us sitting around the table.

 The Tapple device has 20 tabs labeled with the most commonly used letters of the alphabet (no q,u,v,x,y,or z).   In each round players think of of words that begin with each letter and fit into the category listed on a randomly selected card.  I counted 36 cards with my game, each containing four color-coded categories- the white and blue ones are deemed easier and may be suited for younger players, the

yellow and red ones are tougher.  The cards store on the underside of the Tapple wheel. Two AA batteries run the timer—each player is allowed ten seconds to give an answer, tap the appropriate starting letter, and tap the red center to reset the timer for the next player.  If you can’t come up with a word using one of the remaining letters in your time limit you are knocked out for that round.  If you sweep the board and are still playing the yellow knob resets the letters and you go again—this time naming two words.

Scnickelfritz has issues with timers and since we were playing near bedtime when the goal is to calm down, not raise anxieties, we often played without it.  Our best category was fictional characters. We managed to make it through 4 rounds jumping from movies to books.  We hit all the dwarves from The Hobbit, Marvel superheroes, etc.  I was particularly pleased when Fritz came up with Ichabod Crane and Ishmael (as in “Call me…” from Moby Dick) for his I words.  This might make it sound like a game for intellectuals, but there are plenty of pop culture categories too like Sports team mascots.

Now first and foremost this is a game, a really fun game, that can be enjoyed by anyone—but since this is mostly a homeschooling blog I want to share how this can also be used as a review/drill tool.  Some of the categories naturally lend themselves to school subject.  I found: nouns, verbs, adjectives, bugs & insects, U.S. Cities, birds, body parts, etc.  That’s grammar, science, and geography right there.  You could also tweak it and decide the nouns and verbs had to be in the foreign language you are studying or make your own category.  

I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t sure how my son would take to WonkyHe’s been playing and building with blocks his whole life—(it’s his self-comfort thing), but these blocks are built with curved edges and less than perfect right angles. Would my perfectionist son be able to appreciate these slightly askew blocks?  Turns out he could. 

Each player starts with a number of cards that direct which block to place on the stack next based on the block’s attributes: size and color. For every block successfully stacked they get to discard the card.  If the stack topples they must pick up three cards.  First one out of cards wins (this takes several rounds since there are only nine blocks).

It seems like a game of dexterity and being able to sense center of gravity, but there can be a deal of logical thinking going on in a player’s head.  If you don’t have a playable card, you must draw until you get one.  I saw my son begin to intuit the value of

the cards—that it’s better to play the specific ones (e.g. stack the medium blue block) first when the chances of those blocks being available is highest and save the “wild cards” (e.g. stack any blue block, or better any size/any color) for later in the game.  I even noticed the boys judging when it was best to try and sabotage the stack for the next player in hopes of it toppling (so that someone down to 1 card would be forced to pick up more).

The Wonky game comes with a bag to hold the blocks and cards and fits easily in my purse.  I was able to take it to co-op and had several people play while they waited for friends and siblings to finish up tests.  All you need is a smooth flat surface.   If a table wasn’t available we’d use a book.  The picture to the right was the first time my son succeeded in using all nine blocks in a stack. I was so nervous that my getting up and crossing the floor to get the camera would send his hard work tumbling down.

Again, this is a game first but it could be a learning opportunity for very young ones who need to learn the small, medium, large, concept.  Because the cards show which block to play in addition to the text, it could be played by non-readers. 

If you’re looking for some Christmas gift ideas, I can recommend these two USAopoly games.

 USAopoly Review

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Cast Iron Pans

I’ve taken up ironing!  Not the kind that fights wrinkles but cooking in cast iron.  In another one of my maybe steps to improve our family’s health, I’ve ditched the non-stick pan (which let’s be honest had lost most of its non-stickiness). 

At an auction last month we picked up a 6 inch and a 10 inch pan.  These had both seen better days and were rusty so my husband had to go at them with a wire attachment on his drill and then reseason them.  That could be a post on its own and if I ever get the pictures he took off his phone maybe I’ll do one.  I will share that at one point he thought he’d overcooked the pans as the first layer of oil seemed to be bubbling and flaking.  It turns out there was a second layer of rust that had been seasoned over before and he had to get the wire attachment out again.

When he was sure he’d gotten down to good clean iron, we applied a thin layer of oil, baked it in the gas grilled, let it cool till he could handle it again and repeated the whole procedure two more times.  The final appearance of both pans were a glossy  black.  I was still a little skeptical—would they really be nonstick?

The best test I could come up with was scrambled eggs.  I didn’t put any oil in the pan and I hadn’t cooked sausage or bacon in it before the eggs—this was straight out the the drawer and onto the stovetop.  I did let it heat up for felt like quite a while (after all, you’re not supposed to have an empty non-stick pan over heat for long).  Well, a picture is worth a thousand words—take a look at my results….

And here’s another great thing—I can use this pan in my oven and over our firepit (in fact we originally bid on it for that reason).  I found a great recipe for a deep dish pizza in a cast iron pan that I can’t wait to try.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Rescued Book: The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

I like to try and tie my son’s reading assignments with the period of history we’re studying.  This year we’ve gone back to the ancient world—Greece, Rome and Egypt.  How fortunate for me that in the box with a personal collection of Landmark books I snagged at a library book sale for $1 each was W59 – The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.


The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.

Payne, Elizabeth Ann.  New York: Random House, 1964. 192 pp.

This book isn’t a single narrative story, but a collection of stories of the events and people.  Sometimes the chapter will be about a Pharaoh, like Cheops, Hatshepsut, or Ramses.  Other times the focus will be on an archeologist, like Jean Francois Champollion who translated the Rosetta Stone or Howard Carter when he discovered the still sealed tomb of Tutankhamen.  There’s even a chapter on “The Smiter of the Asiatics—Thutmose III,” the pharaoh from Henty’s The Cat of Bubastes that we will also read this year.

Did you know the cycle of the Nile flooding not only allowed the Egyptian civilization to develop along the fertile soil along the sides of the river, but also allowed for the building of the pyramids.  It was during those four months of flooding, when farmers couldn’t work in the fields, that the Pharaoh would “generously” offer to feed, house, and pay them to build the great pyramid.  The book cites historian James Baikie referring to this as the first unemployment program recorded.  I’d like to point out that these ancient men were being paid to actually work, not paid for not working as we do today.

This is one of the few Landmark books we have with black & white photographs rather than illustrations.   I also have a couple of DK books that we refer to because you really need to see Tut’s solid gold death mask in full color. 

You can see all my rescued books by clicking here

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