Sunday, December 27, 2009

I Don't Want to be Exturbed

My Schnicklefritz is known for many things but being quiet is not one of them--if he's not humming a composition of his own he's making explosion noises.  Today on the way to church the back seat was silent.  My husband assumed he was admiring the falling snow and asked him what he saw out the window.  The question had to be repeated.  Finally a little voice said "Daddy, I don't want to be exturbed right now."  We hoped the giggles from the front seat about this new vocabulary word weren't exturbing him.  Finally he announced "I just finished counting to 300 by threes."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I had the opportunity to be a recipe tester for an upcoming Molly Green ebook.  We were assigned Sausage Macaroni and Cheese.  Anything with Mac 'n cheese already has my Schnickelfritz's approval, but we went ahead with this taste test to keep things honest (and I had to take a picture of the prepared dish).  The recipe was a simple, throw-it-all-in-a-crockpot deal.  The hard part was taking a picture--what color bowl should I use?  Does the flash wash out all the color?  Now the dish is starting to look dry.  I kept the picture honest--no photoshopping here.  When I flip though cookbooks I find I'm always trying the dishes with pictures first and I wanted to give other cooks a fair idea of what to expect.  I can't share the recipe here, but look for Molly Makes $7 (and under) Crock-Pot Dinners soon.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

First Snow

We had the first snow of the season overnight.  While the east coast is measuring snow in inches and feet, we would have to use millimeters to amount to any significant number.  It didn't even fully cover the grass.  In the eyes of a seven-year old though, we had a winter wonderland.  My Schnickelfritz dressed himself early with four shirts and two pairs of pants and announced he was prepared to tackle the elements.  

He stamped the front yard with a snow angel before heading to the garage to find a sled.  There is a slight hill in our back yard and I was surprised to see he was able to travel quite a distance considering how little snow we actually had.   In fact, I became a little concern because just past the barn it becomes a steep, tree covered ravine.  I could see Fritz getting braver and closer to the edge before "bailing out."  

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review: Maestro Classics

I love reading aloud with my son, but there are times when it helps to have someone else to the reading for me--during car trips, when I'm making dinner, etc.   That's when we pop in a CD like  Maestro Classics' The Tortoise and the Hare.

The concept of music playing an integral part of the story telling is not new.  We're probably all familiar with The Sorcerer's Apprentice or Peter and the Wolf (both of which are available in this series).  But Maestro Classics have gone a step further and created original compositions to go with other familiar children's stories, in this case one of Aesop's Fables.    They've also greatly expanded the story --in addition to falling asleep, the hare has time to stop at a bistro for a bowl of French onion soup. 

I have to say that the music really adds to the story. In fact, it was the hare's theme music that first caught my Schnickelfritz's attention and got him to stop riding his plasmacar around the basement.  The music and the lively narration then kept him rapt  in amusement.    He also picked up on two morals in the story:  the time-honored "Slow and steady wins the race,"  and thanks to the story's expansion, "It's not good to brag."  This CD is best used for car trips or during active times of the day, not as bedtime fare.  The lively music and narration would probably prolong the time it takes to fall asleep.

After the story came a track with more information about Aesop's original version and a track about the musical instruments and themes.  There is also a stand alone performance of The Pretzel Vendor of Paris song that occurs within the story.   Once you've been informed and educated there is a second opportunity to listen to The Tortoise and the Hare.   I'll confess that Fritz went back to riding his plasmacar during the informative tracks.   Also be sure to check out the booklet in the jewel case.  There are puzzles, information about the orchestra, and an explanation about why this is the "Tortoise and the Hare" and not "Turtle and the Rabbit." 

The Tortoise and the Hare CD is available at Maestro Classics for $16.98 or you can purchase three of their titles for $45.00 with the coupon code MAESTRO45 .   You can read what my fellow Crewmates thought of The Tortoise and the Hare by clicking here .

I received a free CD of The Tortoise and the Hare for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: Mathletics

As we progress through this year on the Homeschool Crew, I realize how fortunate I am to have a son that enjoys math.  There certainly seem to be a lot of products out there devoted to making math more fun (or at least tolerable) for students.  Our latest review product was a subscription to Mathletics , a website that helps students around the world learn and drill mathmatics.

Because this is an online service there are certain minimum requirements

  1. Windows XP/Vista or Mac OS 10.4 and above

  2. 512 MB of RAM

  3. Internet Explorer (7 or above) or Mozilla Firefox (2 or above)

  4. The latest Adobe Flashplayer

  5. Broadband internet connection preferred (we were able to use this fine with dial-up)

The annual subscription for one student is $59.  (DEAL--if you know the human calculator's favorite number is 9 you can save $10)

After subscribing, you set up your student: creating his or her own avatar, and assigning a grade level.  A word of caution: be sure to review the curriclum under the "About Mathletics" tab on their website to get an idea where to place your student.  I set up Fritz as a 1st grader to match where he would be assigned, based on his age, if he were in public school.  But as homeschoolers we know that our students can be doing 3rd grade math and 1st grade spelling.  Fritz is currently working on adding columns of 4 digit numbers, so the 1st grade "1 + 3" questions were absurdly too easy for him.  You can adjust grade levels for you student, but only a limited number of times. 

Fritz enjoyed the "work at your own pace" portion of site.  Most of his questions involved pointing and clicking at one of the possible answers.  (He's really in a gameshow mood right now and this reminded him of Who Wants to be a Millionaire).   Using a mouse is much easier for him than hunting and pecking keys.  The screens were colorful and he enjoyed watching his progress on the side meter.

The whole program seems to be incentive driven--he could earn certificates after earning a certain number of points.  Reaching certain point levels also unlock new features.  They can also "purchase" items for their avatar--new hair styles or sunglasses, etc.  Fritz doesn't play online or video games so the whole avatar feature held no appeal for him.  He accepted the standard model and didn't even try to make it look like himself.

As the teacher/parent, I was able to log on with my own password and see reports on Fritz's activities--when and how long he was logged on, which activities he tried and his scores,  and the number of points he scored.   There was a separate report that showed his strengths and weaknesses. It requires a sufficient amount of activity to determine  what these are.  When I had Fritz as a 1st grader it always said insufficient data under the weaknesses (he was getting 100s on everything).

This is a bit pricey for our budget and since Fritz is already excelling in math I don't think we will be subscribing at this time.  If you have a student that needs a little more "fun factor" in math you may want to give Mathletics a try.   It may also appeal to those with a competitive streak -- there is a daily listing of top scorers from around the world.

To see what my fellow crewmates think of Mathletics, click here.

Note: I received a free 45 day subscription to Mathletics for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

Did you know that Americans spent over $450 billion on Christmas last year?   Did you know that it would only take a small fraction of that (about $10 billion)  to make sure that everyone on the planet had clean water to drink? 

These are some of the things our church has been learning as we participate in the Advent Conspiracy.   We all complain about how commercial Christmas has become--well know we're learning how to do something about it.  It's just four simple steps.

Worship Fully   Jesus is the reason for the season.   Keep him first.

Spend Less   What if you got one less present for everyone in your family?  What if you stopped buying presents out of obligation for you second cousin's hairdresser's mailman?  What if you made rather than buy some presents?

Give More      Give the things money can't buy--give of yourself, give time.  Have a family game night.  Make cookies together and deliver them to the neighbors.  Adopt a grandparent at church and invite them to dinner.

Love All   Share God's love in a tangible way.  Take some of the money you didn't spend on Christmas and share it with those really in need.  I doubt you have $10 billion to bring clean water to the world, but it only takes $10 to bring clean water to one child for life.

This year Schnickelfritz and I made loaves of persimmon bread for the neighbors and Toolman's co-workers.  We're also making hand warmers and heatpacks from flannel sheets and deer corn. 

(You can find the instructions here).   I sew and he pours in the corn.  Toolman and I are spending less than $20 on our gifts to each other.  We'll be sending our money to Living Water International.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A small town Christmas

The first community event we attended when we moved to Missouri was the Hometown Christmas party.  They close down the streets around the courthouse square and the merchants invite you to step in from the cold and get your face painted or decorate Christmas ornaments.  Where else can you get a ride in an open sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer (pay no attention to the red Kowasaki 4X4 in the very front).

There were big barrels holding bonfires for roasting marshmallows,  giant urns with hot chocolate, and hot dogs to eat.  The cafe off the square made dozens of sugar cookies for the kids to decorate.

You can see the penguin Schnickelfritz had painted by someone in the insurance agency.  I had a snowman on my cheek.  While we were holding very still despite the ticklish brush, another little boy came in.  They asked what he wanted painted and he answered "A mustache."  One of the ladies painted on a curly, handlebar mustache.  Little did this kid know what a trend he had started.  Fritz immediately requested a mustache to go with his penguin.  As the day went on we saw dozens of boys and girls sporting facial hair--some in traditional colors, some in red and green.

As dusk approached (around 5:30), there was a parade around the square.  Hand decorated trailers were pulled by tractors and pickups.  This is probably as close as I can get to living in Jan Karon's Mitford.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Lewis & Clark

Last May the Schnickelfritz and I traveled to St. Charles, MO for the Lewis & Clark Heritage days.  He was so taken by the costumes, fife & drums, and cannons!  The reenactors, known as the Discovery Expedition, is spending this weekend in Hermann, MO.  They will be having a parade and Christmas Ball tomorrow night, but today was reserved for teaching school children.

According to their website: "Discovery Expedition volunteers, like their predecessors, sail separated from swift waters and eternity only by thin-but-sturdy layers of wood. Whether buckskins or uniforms, their clothing accurately re-creates the dress of 1804. Their weapons are firelocks. They cook over campfires. They sleep under canvas. They know their history, and they teach.

By bringing Lewis and Clark to life on the banks of rivers—and in classrooms and gyms—Discovery Expedition reenactors have helped more than 80,000 school children see their teachers as storytellers and know that history is high adventure. "

These men are passionate about their history--they have to be to sleep in a tent in freezing temperatures!!  If they have an event near you, by all means try to attend.  This event was set up in stations.  The students had the opportunity to learn about the uniforms, the medicine, the maps, fire-starting, and firearms of the expedition.  We started out joining a group of parochial 4th graders.  I'll admit my Schnickelfritz was a little bit young for the long lectures.  "Captain Lewis" himself invited us to explore the camp on our own and when we had one on one time with the reenactors, he really seemed to catch their enthusiasm.

We were welcomed by "Captain Lewis."  The man in the background was portraying President Jefferson.

The flag being raised only has 15 stars.  The Star Spangled Banner hadn't been written yet, so the reenactors sang a song called "hester, which according to Wikipedia was second only to Yankee Doodle in popularity during the American Revolution.  Look up the lyrics--no separation of church and state here.

This station covered all aspects of the uniforms worn by the Corp of Discovery. 

 Thanks to detailed record keeping, they were able to restock a recreation of Capt. Lewis' medicine chest.  He only received a few months of medical training by Dr. Benjamin Rush (signer of the Declaration of Independence).  

Fritz is not fond of modern doctors and shots--he was horrified to learn about the practice of blood-letting.  This reenactor also offered to take care of any of Fritz's loose teeth with another ghastly instrument.

Fritz got a personal lesson in starting fires with a flint and steel (something he'll need to learn for Royal Rangers down the road).  It was only in the teens that day so a big fire would have felt good.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review: All About Spelling

I may have admitted this before, but I don't consider myself a typical homeschooling mom.  I loved math and science as a student so I am not intimidated about teaching those subjects.  I always got good grades in reading and spelling, but I struggle with how to go about teaching them.  It doesn't help matters that I am a visual learner and my son is definitely kinesthetic.  I had purchased a spelling curriculum--one book designed to be used for Fritz's entire education, but each time I looked through the pages and pages of spelling lists I'd end up setting it aside for "some other time."

It's nothing short of Providence that I received All About Spelling to review as part of the Homeschool Crew.  It has a detailed manual with step by step instructions for this timid spelling teacher.  It has magnetic tiles for Fritz to manipulate in spelling words.  There are suggestions for other ways of reaching the kinesthetic learner--like letting him "write" in sand in a box or liquid soap in a Ziploc bag.  The lessons have built in review and reinforcement and are short enough that an energetic seven year old doesn't get bored.  Instead of being a tooth-pulling exercise (for both student and teacher) we've been able to approach spelling lessons and still keep smiles on our faces.

Here's what I received and the suggested retail price:

Starter Kit ($26.95 when ordered with a Level kit, $31.95 separately)  This contains letter tiles, magnets for the tiles, and a CD-rom of phonogram sounds.

Level 1 Kit ($29.95)  There is a teachers manual and a packet of materials for one student (flashcards, index card dividers to organize the flashcards, a progress chart, bingo chips for various activities, and a completion certificate). 

Level 2 Kit ($39.95)  Another teachers manual and a larger packet of materials for one student. There are currently 5 levels available with 1 more to be published.  All levels above One are $39.95.

When you first set up All About Spelling it seems like there is a lot of prep work--the letter tiles need to be cut apart and the magnets applied to each (the magnets are actually optional; you could do this on a table top, but I found a magnetic whiteboard works better for us).  There are four sets of perforated flashcards that need to be separated.  You may also need to go shopping for a box to hold the flashcards and a magnetic board.  Take heart though, once the set up is completed, you'll find very little day to day teacher prep is necessary and tracking student progress is practically automatic. 

There are four types of flashcards:

  • Phonogram Cards- the student sees the phonogram and the teacher says the sound(s) it makes

  • Sound Cards-the teacher says the sound and the student  writes the letter or letters that make it

  • Key Cards -  teaches spelling rules

  • Word Cards -  the teacher says a word and the student spells it

The cards are stored behind tabbed dividers: concept still needs review, concept is mastered, and concept covered in future lessons.  Here's how our box looks.

Each lesson begins by reviewing the cards not yet mastered before introducing new teaching cards.

The magnetic tiles are where the fun lies for Fritz.  I had a magnetic whiteboard from Sam's Club that we used to use for math lessons.  There are two sets of alphabet tiles: consonants are blue, vowels are red ( the letter "y" comes with both a red and blue tile).  As we progress we add new tiles for vowel teams, consonant teams, the sounds of /er/, the sounds of /sh/, etc.   This is what the board will eventually look like:

   This leaves a large working area in the center for Fritz to draw down tiles and spell words. 

Fritz is still learning to read -- we're currently in level three of the Scaredy Cat Reading System.  So I've adapted the All About Spelling  to a small degree.  When I talk about vowel sounds, I don't use the "long" and "short" terminology most of us grew up with.  We refer to "brave" and "scared" sounds instead.   I've also considered phonogram cards "mastered" if he can list all the sounds we've covered in our reading program rather than all the sounds listed on the card.  All About Spelling as designed has the students learn the "a" sound in "water" in Step 1 Level 1, but then they never review that sound again until Step 22 of Level 2.

So far I've been alternating weeks of spelling and reading lessons, hoping not to confuse Fritz with learning phonetic concepts in different orders.  In the future I may try altering the order of steps in All About Spelling to match and reinforce our reading work.  If I had a student who already knew how to read, I'd follow the steps as directed.

 Be sure to visit the All About Spelling website.  You'll find product samples and articles on spelling, dyslexia,  and tips for teaching kinesthetic learners.  You can see what my fellow crewmates thought about All About Spelling by clicking here.

Note: I received free copies of the All About Spelling material to use in preparing this review.  I have received no other compensation.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Organizing recipes

I have decided not to wait till New Year's to work on my goal to become more organized.   Today, I'm working on on a system to save money on groceries by planning menus based on what meat is for sale.

I have dabbled with the once-a-month, or freezer cooking system.  (If you're unfamiliar with this, check our the 30 Day Gourmet website).  Rather than spend one looonnnggg day cooking, I cook and freeze by protein type.  When ground beef is on sale, I'll buy ten pounds and make 6-7 dishes, serving some and freezing some for later.   I haven't been as diligent at this as I need to be because I get tired of looking through recipe books for dishes that will use the meat that's on sale.

Using Word, I made some charts to list my family's favorite recipes.  Each sheet is devoted to a specific protein type: Beef, Poultry, Pork,  and Ground beef (I gave ground beef it's own category since it had so many recipes).   I began browsing through my cookbook collection for notes I had written about recipes and added the ones that my family enjoyed to the appropriate list.  (Don't be afraid to write notes in your cookbooks,  they're all yours, including the margins).   I found some recipes I hadn't fixed in years but had noted that my husband had liked them. 

Next to each recipe name I listed the amount and cut of meat needed (steak or roast, boneless/skinless breasts, etc.).   THen I listed the appliance used in the recipe--crockpot, pressure cooker, or oven.  When I look at our school calendar I like to pick crockpot recipes for the days we'll be away at co-op, or I'll pull a fast pressure cooker meal before Wednesday night church.

Next, I made a column Y/N Freezable?  If a dish can be frozen, why not make two or three batches and freeze the extras.  By chopping and mixing and dividing big batches, tt doesn't take three times as long to make three pot pies instead of one. 

Finally, I left space to note the recipe's location.  I'm terrible about buying all the ingredients for a dish in my stockplie of "Taste of Home" magazines and then not being able to remember which issue it was in when I went to cook it.  Now I at least know what month and year to look for or if I've clipped it for my recipe box.  When I select a recipe, I will actually look at it and see if there are any other ingredients I need to add to my shopping list.  (Don't assume you remember the recipe--that's why I had to dash to the store at 9pm the night before Thanksgiving).

At some point I may redo this as an excel spreadsheet so I can sort by cuts or appliance.  For today at least, I can quickly find some family approved recipes as I look through the grocery flyers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Where has he heard that before?

Della, our dog, likes her schedules and wants to take her B.M. walks at 8:00am and 5:00pm everyday.  My  Schnickelfritz will sometimes join us on his bicycle in the afternoons but he doesn't really like the distance or the hilly terrain.  He prefers to play at home or watch TV during those 20 minutes,. While   he doesn't like to go, he doesn't like us to be gone either. 

Rather than complete the usual 1.2 mile loop, he'll request I turn around at the horse's mailbox, or his climbing tree, or some other landmark he's identified on our country road.   Today he had a new message to try and get us home sooner--"Come back as soon as she's pooped, I don't want you to catch a chill." 

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