Monday, December 19, 2011

The Old Schoolhouse: Free digital issue

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine is offering the Fall 2011 digital issue for free, online, for a limited time.

See this link for more details.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

TOS Crew: Pitsco Education

Everything came together so beautifully. That's one of the things I love about being on the Crew: serendipity. (You might call it Providence.)

We're studying Christendom this year in history, starting roughly in AD 33, through the spread of the Gospel, the Middle Ages, and Renaissance. Enter Pitsco Education, and the opportunity to review their Medieval Machines Pack.

...have I ever mentioned how much of a hands-on learner Youngest is? This is a kid who has a really hard time sitting still, who doesn't seem to need half as much sleep as her mom does, who is bored by books but fascinated by things she can take apart (and put together). This is the one who took apart my sewing machine at age three. (Never did get that back together.) This is the one who is learning to take old computers apart and assemble various parts into a new whole, and enjoying it no end.

Real Hands-on Learning

A kit, that would enable her to put together cool miniature war machines that would throw things? Sounds like a winner.

This has been a tough review to write, because the way I like to go about things is to open the box, go through the contents, read the directions and associated paperwork, and then start fitting Tab A into Slot B.

The way this one turned out, I almost didn't get to see the kit, or at least, I got into the game pretty late. The kit arrived at our house while I was out, and when I got home I was greeted with a fully-constructed Trebuchet. Frantic, I grabbed the instructions and began to read them. (Sort of like closing the barn door after the horses have made their exit...)

As you can see, you get pretty much everything you need, including the book Siege Machines which gives a brief, chatty history of the trebuchet and catapult, along with a number of educational activities starring your newly put together siege machines. The book is written to engage the interest, and the activities are fun, along with educational. (Things like varying the weights on the trebuchet, or the load of clay, to see how it affects performance, measuring results in inches, converting to metric, etc.)

I'd been told that we'd need a certain kind of glue to put the kit together, but our resourceful Youngest used craft glue and it has worked well. (I don't know how well it'll stand up against a lot of wear and tear. We'll see.) Another drawback to the lack of parental involvement was that the machine would not fire the way Youngest was expecting it to. She tried different weights, different string configurations, but couldn't get the ball made from (included in the kit) clay to go more than a few inches, perhaps as much as a foot.

Customer Service

It might have had something to do with the many knots in the string that came with the kit. I got a garbled explanation from Youngest on that one: I'm still not sure if it broke, or if she kept cutting it to try different configurations to get the thing to work the way she thought it should. I do know that when I compared the Trebuchet to the directions for building it, the string wasn't right.

We unwound the string, but there were an awful lot of knots and I wasn't sure it would work correctly. We tried to re-thread it with some quilting thread, but it still wasn't working right. In desperation I emailed the good people at Pitsco to inquire if the Trebuchet needed a special kind of thread, and where we could buy such, or if we could buy some replacement from Pitsco. I received an email back that said they were looking into my query -- and a day or two later, a packet of Trebuchet thread arrived in the mail. Talk about customer service!

Parental Involvement

While Youngest was able to put together the Trebuchet without any help (or hindrance) from me, she needed help to read the directions for setting up the machine to throw (she wound the string in a way that seemed logical to her, without much reference to the directions). She also would not have done the educational activities in any methodical manner -- though her natural inclination would be to vary the weights on the Pitsco Trebuchet, for example, or the size of the clay projectile, or the type or number of rubber bands on the Catapult. She probably wouldn't have worn safety glasses, or cleared the field of fire, without a mom present, either. Just a word to the wise... (Ah, another opportunity for me to trot out the old cliche, "It's a tool, not a toy.")

Pricing and Availability

The Medieval Machines Pack is available from Pitsco for $21.95 and includes almost everything you need (just add a hobby knife, needle-nose pliers, white hobby glue, ruler, sandpaper, and scissors -- all of which, surprisingly enough, we had lying around the house when the package arrived for review).

In Short

This kit makes a great project if you're studying Medieval warfare, or simple machines, and lends itself well to cross-curricular studies.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Pitsco Education's Medieval Machines Pack at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received a Medieval Machines Pack for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Love what you do

"Love what you do." The phrase jumped out at me during this week's discussion at the high school history co-op. (Well, it's "moral philosophy" and not just history, but that's a topic for another day.)

The phrase had made me stop short while listening to Dr. George Grant's lecture on guilds in the Middle Ages, but I'd been busy with something-or-other and didn't really process the thought. I'm often folding laundry or picking up while we're listening to lectures, and the girls are scribbling (or typing) notes, and we don't always pause the lecture to discuss a point.

But here we were in class, and the students were engaged in a lively discussion, along with a couple of the dads who'd come to class to facilitate and guide the discussion time. Love what you do.

All of a sudden, it hit me. The state of our home is a testimony to how much I love (or don't love) what I do.

Don't get me wrong. I say I love what I do. I do love it; I'm privileged to be able to stay at home, to raise my own children rather than turning them over to professional strangers (or strange professionals? ...tongue in cheek; please, hold the rotten tomatoes), to homeschool, with all its many advantages. (And that's a topic for another whole post, or series of posts...)

But I don't do like I love it.

My mom was "stuck" at home. She hated being a homemaker. She was meant for better things. Higher things. She raised her daughters to be professionals. We'd have careers, and we'd make enough money to be able to afford someone else to take care of our homes and our children.

Even though I've chosen home, I'm still following her example, in attitude at least. (Let me just say in her defense that the house I grew up in was well-kept. Not spotless, but the kitchen floor was washed every day, just for one example, and there were never piles of clutter and stuff in the main living areas of the house, and she was always after me to clean my room.)

Love what you do. That's a thought worth pondering, a motto worth adopting. If I were a mantra-chanting type, I think it would make a good one. I have been saying it over to myself periodically through the day, to remind myself where I've chosen my priorities to lie. It's tough to dig out from a lifetime of bad habits. But I think I've found a handle to grab onto.

Friday, December 2, 2011


I was shopping at Target in the girls' clothing. Though we do a lot of thrift store shopping, we still buy a few things new, now and then. It's been my Christmas tradition to buy each of the girls new footie PJs, a present they can open on Christmas Eve. I was so glad to see a goodly supply, and not all of them splattered with peace signs (something that makes the girls cringe -- a peace sign is a reversed cross with broken arms, did you know? Somewhere in the dim recesses of my memory is the knowledge that it's an occult symbol. Maybe from Walter Martin's writings? I used to listen to The Bible Answer Man on the radio every day, though I got out of the habit some years ago and don't know if the program still exists. In any event, regarding peace symbols: We try to avoid them. Peace itself is a good thing, if you're talking fruit of the Spirit.).

Anyhow, one of the girls and I were walking down the aisle, exclaiming over cute things. (imagine girlish squeals. well, not quite, but we were having fun enthusing.) I started to remark on something that looked pink and pretty, at first glance... until I realized that the pretty pink decorations on the pale background were in the shape of... have you already anticipated me? am I behind the times? I never would have imagined "girly" decoration to be ... skulls.

I recoiled in horror.

Skulls. Pink, sparkly skulls. On a little girl's shirt. Maybe a dress or jacket? It doesn't matter. It was repellant.

I'm resigned to skulls at Halloween. But for everyday, or maybe even holiday fashion?

*sigh* Even the girls' department is now a minefield where I must tread carefully, simple pleasure set aside, for I must be wary lest I purchase skulls or other symbols of death and hatred all dressed up in pink and sparkles. I'm not exaggerating. That cute little shirt, there, shocked me partly because I was reaching for it to pick it up, take a closer look, maybe even put it in my basket before I realized that those shapes weren't some sort of stylized horses or puppies or kittens. It shocked me because I wasn't on my guard when it came to "pink and pretty" and fairly modest (as opposed to Madonna-clone or Lady Gaga "style" -- and I use that term loosely) clothing.

I'm on my guard now. And shopping is not as fun. (Not that I've ever been that much of a shopper, but I'm even less now. Perhaps my pocketbook will thank me.)

Talk about living in a culture of death.

Update: Saturday night. Just got back from Target once more, getting another footie PJ to complete the set. I was less than thrilled to see that one of the designs on the girls' rack was a blue or blue/green with white skulls. Evidently popular, too, as there was only one of those left on the rack, and quite a few panda bear or monkey or peace symbol designs.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nasty bug

It's a good thing I had my Gluten-free Tuesday post scheduled to publish itself automatically on Tuesday. You see, on Tuesday I wasn't in any shape even to think about food.

There's a nasty stomach bug going around, and Middlest and I came down with it this week. You're miserable and feverish for a day or two, with tummy-bug symptoms, and then after the fever breaks your stomach remains unavailable to all appearances. (As in, not hungry, knowing you need to eat something but nothing sounds good, nothing tastes good, and nothing feels quite comfortable staying down once you eat it.)

I wonder how long it lasts? It's inconvenient to be less-than-100% during the holiday season. We're not really on holiday yet, either. Midterms are coming up next week and promising to be challenging even for healthy minds in healthy bodies.

At least I don't have to worry about gaining weight from Christmas goodies at present. They don't appeal to me at all.