Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Consistency is Key (Word for 2014)

Word for 2014
 I have to say I gave up the idea of New Year's resolutions a long time ago.  Just take everyone's favorite -- losing weight:  I guarantee the gyms and health clubs will be packed on January 1st but it won't take long till there's no line for the elliptical machine anymore.  The best time to buy used exercise equipment is in February -- just a month after everyone swore "I'm really going to stick to it this time."  I can however buy into the idea of a Word for the Year --  a lens through which to view my thoughts and goals,  a guide in deciding my course of action, a focus.  The word for this year is....

The idea came to me as I read the Discover Orienteering book I got for Christmas.  In the training section the author shares a snippet about his experience with Hill Reps (just what it sounds like--repeatedly running up and down a hill to build stamina). 
" Once while working out with the ... cross country team,my running mate and I were left far behind on the first hill rep because the many inexperienced runners ran much too fast the first time.  On the second repetition we moved up to second place...and stayed there behind the best runner for the remaining nine hill reps. Few of the new runners completed even four reps....The lesson is to run at only 80 percent of your best pace to start, and if you cannot keep that up for three times in a row, run slower.  Hill reps build stamina..."
I do a lot of things in life like those inexperienced runners-- and find I can't keep up the pace:  I'll read the books of Genesis and Exodus in under a week but burn out slogging through Leviticus,   I'll walk 4 miles a day, but when the scales haven't moved by Saturday I'll quit in frustration.  I'll whip myself into a frenzy trying to straighten, organize and clean every room in the house at once. You know how you start to put one thing away in a different room and while you're there you find new closets to organize and you don't get back to your original task.  Suddenly you've run out of energy and every thing has been pulled out and piled up, waiting for its turn to be put in its proper place. 
 I need to learn to set lower daily goals and stick with them (the 80 percent rule) and then worry about stepping it up, if that's even necessary.   Better to meditate on a few verses daily  and find a way to apply them in my life than attempt to read the Bible in a year (not that that isn't a worthy goal for others).  Before I tackle rearranging all the cupboards in the kitchen, let me develop the habit of not leaving dirty dishes in the sink overnight --I believe that's the first item on Fly Lady's housekeeping tasks.
There's a second quality to consistency and that's in my relationship with my son.  Last spring I sat in on a workshop by Kirk Martin of Celebrate Calm at our local homeschool expo and ended up throwing my plans out the window so I could listen to him all day.  The key to his program in dealing with kids who are wired differently from the norm (if there really is such a thing) is to meet needs rather than punish behavior.  My son has a real need for consistency.  I wrote about this in my post If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Pizza Night.
Okay, for my son's sake we try our best to follow the same routine every day but there's still something he's exposed to all the time and he never knows what it will be like from day to day ......ME!  Will I be in a good mood or grouchy (fortunately since my hysterectomy I don't have those monthly mood swings)?  Did I get a good night's rest or will I be needing a mid-afternoon power snooze.  Will I be worried, bitter, carefree, excited?  My son doesn't have a thing in the world to do with my frustration when the scale hasn't moved dispite my best efforts but he has to live with my sulking about it right along with me.  
The Celebrate Calm lectures helped me understand the draw of video games to kids like my Schnickelfritz--the game reacts the same way day in and day out.  It won't let you advance for no reason when its having a good day and it won't kill your avatar and make you start over just because it couldn't balance the checkbook last night.   So for my son's sake, I need to work on keeping an even keel.  I don't normally agree with democratic politicians but I found a great quote from the governor of Rhode Island.

So that's my word for 2014.  But there are many other inspiring words in the dictionary.  You can check out what other Review Crew members chose for their focus word at 2014 Word for the Year Round Up.  (link will go live 1/1/14)
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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Observations of a Red Kettle Ringer

(Please note the opinions are my own and not associated with any charity mentioned below)

For the fourth time, my son and I have taken a turn ringing the bell by the red kettle outside our local Walmart.  He wore his Christmas tree hat that dances and plays "Jingle Bell Rock" when you push its button.   He wanted to push the button for every donation, but I wasn't sure I could take that much holiday cheer so I suggested we save the show for young donors and gifts of $5 or more.  After the first 15 minutes I said he could play it for any donation -- traffic was that slow.  Maybe it had to do with our location,  instead of being at the entrance, we'd been placed two yards past the exit.  People had to intentionally come to our post.  Most chose to cross to and from the parking lot without looking our direction.  Four groups who did have to park in the hinterlands walked passed and mentioned that they'd hit us on the way out, when they had change.  Only one lady actually remembered her promise.

We don't live in a very affluent town.  In the past I've always assumed that people were just trying to stretch money to cover their own needs and was grateful for the change they did put in the kettle.  This year I'm beginning to get cynical  that folks have bought into the shopping hype  (we were ringing on Black Friday) and couldn't be bothered with thinking of the less fortunate.   I can only hope that the man with an Xbox One under each arm had mailed a check to the charity of his choice.  And the lady whose cart was over-stuffed like the Grinch's sleigh....well maybe some of those gifts were for Toys for Tots or the local Crisis Pregnancy Center's Giving Tree.  I seriously doubt it though.

There were some highlights.  Two older gentleman (both wearing veteran's caps) both made eye contact and they strode our direction from the parking lot before they ever went in the store.  Both thanked my son and I for our service (how ironic), and both put in large bills.  And the best donor of the evening was a girl of six.  She had picked her festive ensemble of a camo shirt and hot pink sequined skirt.  Her hair was decorated with colored  toothpicks instead of Chinese hair pins.    She skipped up and reached into her little purse THREE TIMES, pulling out handfuls of coins that she threw in the kettle.  Her mom shared that she'd saved the money up herself and wanted to share with kids that weren't as lucky as she was.  As she skipped away she shouted a hearty "Merry Christmas" over her shoulder.   She knew, as the Grinch learned, that Christmas doesn't come from a store!

So as we approach the final weekend of shopapalooza, I'd like to remind you how we can use this season to make a real difference in the world.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Trip Through the Digestive System (Apologia A & P)

It was my turn to organize the project/lab for our co-op of Apologia’s Human Anatomy and Physiology.  We just finished Chapter 4 on the digestive system where the suggested project was to make a digestive themed amusement park.   That seemed a little more “arts & crafts” than science to me  so I went in search of something better—AND FOUND IT!   I found my inspiration from two websites: O2 learn has a great video of the process, but no materials list (you’ll want to watch it for her great British accent anyway);  Squidoo has a similar lab (with a materials list), but it leaves out some steps and relies on a blender-- which we don’t have in our bodies.   So this is my mish-mash of the two.  WARNING: You may not want to read this post soon after eating, there are pictures of the process. 
Andrew Pudewa of IEW once said that a great way to engage kids who’d rather build forts all day was to make sure the subject was either funny, dangerous or gross.  This activity falls into the last category…it was so engaging that my Schnickelfritz forgot to start taking pictures until half way through.  Just what I want as a teacher, but bad for blogging so I recreated some of the first steps for this post. 
This is a fairly inexpensive project since you’ll probably find most of what you need in your house already.  The foil pans you’ll see below came from a catered dinner – I just picked out the pans in the best shape and washed them up.  I’ve used them for several years of science co-op.  They’re big enough for two kids to work at each and allow me to work with liquids away from the sink.  The person transferring the mixes from stage to stage may want a pair of gloves – rubber gloves for dish washing or plastic gloves from a hair dye kit.  My husband the Toolman had just had surgery and the nurse let me have a few pairs from their supply drawer.




soft foods A bowl or tray
drink kitchen shears
water mixed w/ laundry detergent potato masher
We begin with our lunch—a PB&J sandwich (great way to use up the heels which no one our house likes), a banana, and some grape-aid.   Use whatever you have handy but try to keep it soft – it needs to be smashable so no carrots. You could probably add tortilla or potato chips which would dissolve with liquid. My inspiration sites used a can of spaghetti and oatmeal.   I did go buy the drink packet, but didn’t waste any sugar since no one would actually be consuming it.

The kitchen shears represent the incisors – cutting the food into bites.  Pour some of the beverage in as well.  This is still too big to swallow so we’ll begin to smash everything with the potato masher, playing the role of the molars.   The water/detergent mixture represents saliva so pour some of that in now.  Our detergent happens to be clear but if yours is colored don’t worry – we’re hoping to achieve a brown outcome so the more colors the merrier.  Just remember all the liquid you add now will need to be removed in the small & large intestines so don’t add too much (we still have more to add later).  Everything is now poured into a Ziploc bag.




Acidic liquid 1 Gal. Ziploc bag
green food coloring  

When you close the Ziploc bag, make sure to remove most of the air.  Otherwise when you start kneading the bag it may pop and we don’t need any reverse peristalsis here.  We’ll also be adding something to represent stomach acid.  One site used apple cider vinegar, but we happened to have just polished off a jar of dill pickles so I used that juice instead.  Given a little time and an enthusiastic lab assistant you can create a fairly smooth chyme.  I also added green food coloring to represent bile.  This doesn’t happen in the stomach (and I explained that to the kids)  but it is easier to mix the color in at this stage.





no new supplies
 leg from pantyhose
a deep tray to catch liquid
rubber or surgical gloves
canning funnel

Next time you get a run in your hose you might want to save it to stand in for the small intestine.  I didn’t have one so we used an old knee-high stocking.   The funnel is really there for ease of transfer but you could mention it is playing the role of the sphincter, although it isn’t able to open and close like a real one could.

Pour the chyme into the stocking over a tray because the liquid will start coming out immediately.  Poor Mr. B in the photo above  was thoroughly grossed out at this point, but he couldn’t resist watching his younger brother squeeze the mix through the intestine (he even managed to smile).

The more liquid you manage to get out at this point, the less you’ll have to deal with in the next stage so you might want to expound on the process at this point and let the mix drain.  You can either cut a hole the the toe of the stocking and push the mix through (more accurate), or roll the stocking up like you were going to put it on and then invert the mix out at the top.




no added supplies
a plush towel
a deep tray to catch liquid

Empty the contents of the stocking onto a folded towel.  We’re going to wring the towel to remove more of the liquid just like what occurs in the large intestine.  I used a very old towel for this part but after the lab it came out of the laundry perfectly clean.  As long as you haven’t gone overboard with the food coloring and Kool-aid you should be fine.  Open the towel and put the contents into a plastic bag for the final stage.

The Rectum



no added supplies
a plastic  bag
a  tray or plate

 What started out as lunch looks essentially done at this point and you could stop, but I used a gray shopping bag to represent the rectum.  In hindsight that wasn’t the best choice as the bag just stretched and the mix came out in the same lumps we had from the large intestine.  Perhaps we’d squeezed out too much water or perhaps we needed  less flexible material.  We could have used a cloth pastry bag –there weren’t any toxic materials used.
In the end, nobody was too grossed out – in fact some of the boys are holding the end results in the photo and Schnickelfritz is just hamming it up for the camera.  It will be some time before they forget our trip through the digestive system.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Five Gift Ideas for a Frugal Kitchen

For years I always knew Christmas must be getting close when I saw my first SaladShooter commercial on television.  Oh sure, there are other products that show up on the little screen only at Christmastime—Chia Pets and The Clapper come to mind, but I’m a kitchen gadget junkie so that’s what catches my attention.   I’ve never actually owned a SaladShooter though.   That’s just one of those presents that I figured would end up in the graveyard of  space-consuming, too-much-of-a-hassle-to-get-out-and-clean- afterwards appliances that has grown in my basement (believe it or not, there’s a hot dog toaster interred there now).  That’s not to say there aren’t some really useful kitchen gadgets out there for gift giving be it Christmas or any other time of year.   Here are five of my favorites—at all different price points, and I can personally vouch for their usefulness. 

1.  The Produce Saver Bag by Healthy Steps

Like I said, I’m a kitchen gadget junkie and I came across a set of these bags one day at Tuesday Morning.  As the grocery shopper and cook of a household of three, I’d always struggled with choosing the lesser of two evils:  buying large bags of onions or potatoes for the lowest per pound cost but throwing away some because they spoiled before we used them all, or buying individual items at the highest unit price and perhaps needing to make special trips because I’ve run out. Now I just store onions and potatoes in my Saver bags.  I’ve never had an onion go soft or sprout – even when I misplaced the bag for several weeks.  There’s still a limited shelf life on the potatoes and sprouting but it’s much longer than before and the dark bags keep them from developing that green tinge.

Why It’s on the List:  There’s are few things more frustrating to this frugal mama than having to throw “cash in the trash” because the produce I’ve bought has gone bad or started to sprout.

2. A Potato Bag

Since we’re on the subject of potatoes anyway, let me tell you about a super kitchen gadget I found at a craft show of all places!  Alongside handmade shopping bag holders and tea cozies, this crafter was selling potato bags with instructions on using them in the microwave to cook potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn on the cob.  I’d been using a plastic steamer for my microwaved potatoes, but they never had the right texture.  Now they come out with the mouth feel of a real baked potato.  I’ve also found these bags to be great for reheating rolls and homemade pretzels without them hardening post- microwave.

Why It’s on the List:  This is a gift you could make yourself in bulk (think teachers, neighbors, co-workers)  and the materials aren’t very expensive –100% cotton thread, fabric, and batting.  Just try Googling Potato Bag pattern.  There’s also energy savings by using the microwave vs. the oven and saving on utilities by not heating up the kitchen in the summer.

3. A Popcorn Popper

When my Schnickelfritz was only three, I brought home a Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper I’d found on clearance.  I figured, and I was right, that he’d love watching the kernels ricochet around the clear dome/bowl.  It’s now the snack of choice in our home on movie nights and several times during the week.  You’re not limited to butter and salt for seasoning either.  You can find great recipes for sweet and savory alternatives online.

Why It’s on the List:  When purchased in bulk (like Sam’s Club), popcorn can be one of the cheapest snacks that will still satisfy the salty/crunchy desires of my heart.  My Stir Crazy makes about 6 quarts of popped corn at a time—about as much as a bag of chips, but for FAR less money.  Take a look at my calculations from my last bulk purchase.


4. A Yonanas Machine

I’ll confess, this purchase was my gadget addiction run amok but now that it’s been in my house all summer I’ve not been sorry one instant for my Yonanas machine.  When temps soared over 100 and my son and I needed a cool treat, we would grab some frozen bananas and other fruit and have a soft serve ice cream-like snack in minutes!  Strawberries and bananas is my son’s favorite.  I liked mango with mine, or even blueberries and cinnamon.  And there wasn’t any guilt in eating it as often as we wanted because IT WAS JUST FRUIT! (There are more decadent recipes out there with crumbled up cookies and candy bars if that’s your thing).

Why It’s on the List:   I can still make a case that this is a frugal kitchen tool because we weren’t running to Dairy Queen all summer.  We’d buy berries in season (cheapest price) and freeze them for later.  You also don’t have to throw away overripe bananas because that’s the stage that makes the best treats.  You may even be able to buy spotted bananas at a deep discount at the grocery.  And I’m going to give Yonanas bonus points because it helps me get more fruit into my kid’s diet.

5. A Pressure Cooker

This is going to be the most expense upfront purchase of the list, but you’ll be saving money in the end.  I’ve owned and upgraded through three pressure cookers in the dozen years I’ve been married.  I’m getting my biggest one yet this Christmas and passing my current one on to my mother this year, along with lessons on how to use it.  Mom’s from the era that remembers someone exploding split pea soup on the kitchen ceiling, but the modern electric pressure cooker has multiple safety features.   If a pressure cooker is beyond your budget right now than consider its slower cousin – the crockpot.  You’ll just need to be more organized to start cooking earlier in the day because you’ll need hours not minutes.

Why It’s on the List:    Obviously eating at home is cheaper than eating out.  If you can’t or forget to start dinner until the last minute there’s no need to resort to a trip to the drive thru. There’s  lots of meals can be cooked in under 15 minutes—faster than any pizza can be delivered.  You’ll also have energy savings in not using the oven for hours or heating up the kitchen.   Pressure cookers (and slow cookers) also tenderize the tougher (and therefore cheaper) cuts of meat so you’ll save on groceries.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

4H Drama

Tonight was the culmination of my son's 4-H Drama project.  The kids were performing "The Lamp Went Out" for a local nursing home.  The play is a melodrama in the truest sense, a real "you must pay the rent..." type complete with cue cards for the audience to cheer and boo appropriate characters.
A lot of the comedy came from literally acting out trite sayings so when one character says "the tables have turned..." she really turns over the table.  When "the lamp goes out" a stage hand literally carries the floor lamp off stage.

As soon as the first rehearsal my Schnickelfritz was nearly frothing at the mouth to play Hubert Van Der Slice, the villain who would throw poor Angela "penniless is the streets" if she doesn't marry him.    Surprisingly, he had no competition for the role.  The other boys were content to be stage hands, prop builders, and soundmen.  The project leader had to draft her son for the hero role.  On the other hand we had 5 or 6 girls audition for the role of Angela.   I recall similar ratios when I was involved in drama.

The kids did exceptionally well, even dealing with interuptions from the audience (some of the elderly attendees got confused about when the audience participation should occur).  This isn't just a Mama's bias, but my son was the best emoter on the stage (read that: he hammed it up well).  He took his role seriously, memorized his lines, and had a thoroughly good time.

"You haven't seen the last of me."

"If you don't marry me, I'll foreclose on the mortgage!"

Hubert was chilled by Angela's cold reception (get the pun?)


Curtain Call

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Friday, December 6, 2013

All American History Review Games

I love my Schnickelfritz dearly and I’m the first to admit he has a great memory….for the things he’s interested in: Hank the Cowdog titles by number, the names of the bones in your body, the distances of all the planets from the sun.  For other things we have to drill, drill, drill. History falls into this category.  I can’t blame him as I didn’t like history that much in school either.  I probably knew some/most of this stuff at one point in my education but flushed it out to make room for the dates, names, and places I would need for the next chapter’s test.  So I’m leaning this stuff right along with my son (and old brains need drill, drill, drill too!).  This summer while reading through  the Teachers Guide to prepare for for All American History I found review games for each quarter.  

Here’s my take on the first two (I’ll be preparing the second semester during our Christmas break).



1st Quarter: Explorers

We have 17 explorers to remember: their countries of birth, the country that sponsored their voyages, and key faces about each.  I added a few more explorers because I’ve been combining AAH with the New World Explorers study by Homeschool in the Woods .  Using Photoshop Elements, I began by making baseball card sized flashcards with the facts from the quarter review.  (You can read my post about using the PE Type Tool in my 5 Days of Photoshop Elements for School series).  After saving the fact cards file, I cleared the words and used the blank cards as a template to fit images of the explorers that I found on the internet.  Everything got printed on cardstock and laminated for sturdiness (we did a lot of reviewing).

For storing everything in our notebook, I placed pockets on cardstock.  Each pocket had a flag on it so we could store the explorers by where they were born or sponsoring country.  For the few explorers that worked for more than one country, Fritz could use either country’s pocket and just mention the second nation although you could make two cards for those individuals.  There were separate pocket pages to hold the key fact cards.  Some countries (like Spain) have a lot of explorers so make sure you allow for a deep enough pocket to fit them all.

2nd Quarter: American Colonies

We’ve got thirteen colonies (you probably knew that) to identify on a map along with key figures, reasons for colonization and sponsoring country(ies).   I started by finding a map on the internet showing the original territories rather than the modern state shapes.  I manipulated it with PE to make it as large as possible while still fitting on a page, but that left very little room to add pictures as the teacher's guide suggested.  I worked around that by creating a three-paneled foldable.

Each colony  was numbered on page 1 and the pertinent cards could be placed in corresponding boxes on pages 2 and 3.   Careful observers will notice that there are two #11’s to account for the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies.  In hindsight, I wish I had included the names of the key figures (as I did with the explorers).  After all, I want to remember who each man was not necessarily pick him out of a line up.  Since the portraits were already printed I wrote the names on the back before laminating them.

To include this fold-out in a notebook it’s helpful to trim about half an inch from the width of pages two and three so they’ll fold nicely without interfering with the binding or hole punches.  I added storage envelopes to the back of the center panel.

Incidentally, I found an error in the key figures provided by All American History.  The sketch for John Wheelwright shows a man dressed more for the Civil War era than the founder of a colony in 1622.


The AAH portrait is based on this image of a William Wheelwright  who played a key role in transportation in Chile in 1838, but I found numerous places on the internet where the figure was referred to as the founder of New Hampshire colony – proof that not everything you read on the Internet is true

A real portrait of the 17th century minister.

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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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