Friday, January 27, 2012

Tummy bug

Last week was a busy one, and this week we're passing around a tummy bug. It's not your basic 24-hour misery, either, but seems to stretch on for several days. I've been practically useless since Monday. I thought I was just about over it last night, but woke up this morning and just couldn't get warm.

I think it's time to whip out anti-bacterial wipes and wipe down the doorknobs, computer keyboards, and other common areas.

We can't use the standard wipes; they're too toxic for us and actually make us sick. I have a supply of the thyme oil based wipes, but they smell like mouse musk to me so I've been looking for an alternative. I just found an online resource for making your own, so I'm going to give it a try when I'm feeling better. For today, I'm going to have to use the thyme oil wipes we have on hand and try not to think I'm smelling mice.

Oh dear. Youngest just announced she's going to throw up. Looks like we're in for another day of battle with the bug.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Simple Prayer

Our girls have been pet-sitting for a friend on occasion for several years now. Often when I've taken them over there, this poster catches my eye...

That about sums it up.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

TOS Crew: Maestro Classics

I was so excited when we were given the opportunity to review The Story of Swan Lake from Maestro Classics. Other bloggers from the Crew had reviewed Maestro Classics CDs in a previous year, and the word of mouth had been enthusiastic.
Maestro Classics bills itself as "classical music for kids" but it's not simple or dumbed-down. For example, in their Story of Swan Lake CD, you get Tchaikovsky's incredible music as the background to a re-telling of the story of Swan Lake. Our girls had different reactions to the story; they already knew the basic plot. One listened all the way through, one ran from the room with her hands over her ears when the evil Odile appears in the guise of the enchanted swan-princess Odette -- she knew what was going to happen, and didn't want to hear any more. The third wandered in and out, stopping to enjoy her favorite musical moments, beautifully performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The CD also includes a brief biography of Tchaikovsky's life, but this isn't dry and dusty stuff. The biographical sketch highlights details of interest to children -- and adults! I had set the CD going and was only half-listening, but was soon drawn in by the interesting narrative.

There's a track on the CD that we suffered through (actually I was the only one to listen all the way through; the girls deserted me early on in the track) where the main theme from Swan Lake is played as a heavy metal tune, complete with electronic distortion (I think I heard it once called "snarling guitars"). That's not really our cup of tea, but it wasn't enough to spoil the CD for us. We can always skip that track in future listening.

Another section of the CD takes the main theme from Swan Lake and sets it to easy-to-learn lyrics. It's a teaching device, associating the melody with the composer's name and the main idea of the ballet's plot, and very effective, too. In a choir class last year, Youngest learned a number of composers this way -- singing a famous snippet of song with lyrics that include the composer's name.

The CD package includes a 23-page booklet with activities that complement the CD. There's a connect the dots, maze, crossword puzzle, a page that tells the story in a mix of pictures and words (I am wracking my brain for the technical term but just can't think of it), and a little bit of musical instruction.

Maestro Classics has done a great job of making classical music accessible to children! The music is engaging, breathtaking, beautifully performed. The narrator catches and keeps your attention. I even found the heavy metal track amusing, though the girls didn't; it shows how Tchaikovsky's theme can transcend genres and still have an impact.

Check out the Maestro Classics website to see more titles. There's also a Kids Club with a challenge (win a free CD!), puzzles and games, and answers to the puzzles in the activity books included with the CDs. There are even a few lesson plans (currently for Mike Mulligan and his Steam-Shovel, but more are said to be coming soon) and activities you can do at home.

Pricing and availability

The Story of Swan Lake is available as a CD for $16.98, or MP3 download for $9.98, at the Maestro Classics website.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Maestro Classics at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received the CD version of The Story of Swan Lake for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TOS Crew: Zeezok Publishing Z-Guide to the Movies

I was so glad to get another opportunity to review Zeezok's Z-Guide to the Movies. 
When the Crew reviewed Z-Guides last year, I chose a movie that I thought the girls would like (and that happened to fit some of the topics we were already studying), and that I thought I'd be able to find in our local library system (1,000s of videos). I was wrong on both counts.

This year, as I combed through the list of movie titles, I found a movie that is already a favorite around here, as well as fits our current history studies: The Adventures of Robin Hood. This is the 1938 version with the swash-buckling Errol Flynn.

Z-Guides offer ways to incorporate movies into your learning activities, and are available for elementary, middle, and high school-level students in a variety of subjects and historical periods. Robin Hood is a 32-page activity guide for high school students, covering the following topics:

- Medieval English history
- Ethnic Conflict
- Chivalry
- Civil Disobedience

You'll find helpful planning material in the Z-Guide, including an introductory "How to Use this Guide" with a suggested 5-day plan, a "Topic Overview" that briefly discusses the historical period during which the movie is set, and a movie synopsis.

The unit includes movie review questions, designed to be answered while watching the movie, research questions for delving deeper. and family discussion questions. Other activities touch on language arts (writing, word search puzzle), developing and practicing a physical skill, and repairing relationships. Students will also explore the worldview put forth in the movie. An answer key is included with suggested answers.

Our girls have watched The Adventures of Robin Hood many times, and enjoyed the special features on the DVD that give a peek behind the scenes and discuss the historical setting. Zeezok's Z-Guide has given them a chance to delve a little deeper, and analyze instead of passively watching (maybe "passively" isn't quite the right word, considering the bouncing and shrieking that can be heard at various points in the viewing). The Z-Guide's activities make more of the movie, without adding oppressively to an already heavy high school workload, actually adding a bit of fun to the study. It is not an entire history curriculum, nor is it meant to be, but makes for a diverting supplement.

Get a more in-depth discussion of Z-Guides here, and download a sample 37-page PDF unit at this link.

Pricing and availability

The Adventures of Robin Hood Z-Guide to the Movies is available at the Zeezok website as a PDF download or on a CD-Rom. A single license is $12.99, or a license for co-op/classroom use is $49.99. You can also buy the DVD of the movie through Zeezok for $12.98.

Check out the other Z-Guides to the Movies and other Zeezok products at the Zeezok company webpage. (Ooo! I just looked, and I'm excited to see that they offer an audio book of one of our favorites, The Shining Sword!) Zeezok also has a FaceBook page where you can read more about new products and get news of special offers.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Zeezok's Z-Guides to the Movies at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received The Adventures of Robin Hood Z-Guide to the Movies by PDF download for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

TOS Crew: REAL Homeschool Spanish

Members of this year's Crew were given the opportunity to review REAL Homeschool Spanish. REAL is an acronym for Relax, Enjoy, Aspire, and Learn, and the curriculum certainly fits the model.
We received a download of a zip file -- a zip file never looks like much, does it? ...but when you unzip it...

Such was the case with this product. All sorts of goodies came spilling out of the zip file. There was a book in color, and another copy of the same book in black and white (I really appreciate that, as when we have a lot of pages to print, we rely on our high speed black and white laser printer, and really only use the color inkjet for small, select print jobs where color is important somehow to interpretation of what's on the page). There was an activity book (more on that in a bit), an answer key, and a lesson planning guide. There was also a folder full of audio files to support the lessons.

Now, I've had three years of high school Spanish, so I'm pretty confident about my pronunciation. (Maybe it's a misplaced confidence... but I'm confident anyhow.) I probably don't need the audio files when I'm directly teaching the materials to one of the girls (who needs a lot more teacher-student interaction than the others), but they come in handy for a more independent student. If I had never learned Spanish, I'd be completely thrilled to have them! The audio files included with REAL Homeschool Spanish are nicely punctuated with music and obviously produced with a cheerful native speaker.

The Book: Ten units are included, covering a range of topics including greetings, colors, numbers, time, food, family, body parts, clothes, animals, sports, transportation, and much, much more! Many basics are covered, providing a groundwork for conversational Spanish.

The Activity Book: This 179-page book contains all sorts of fun exercises that don't feel like academic exercises. There are word unscrambles, crosswords, word searches, cryptograms, and other puzzles. There are also fill-in-the-blanks and dialogues, for slightly more academic-feeling work that cements the material in the lessons.

The Daily Curriculum Guide: This e-book contains a series of charts that take you through the ten units in 48 weeks, giving you an entire year of Spanish instruction. It includes a logical progression through the Activity Book, supplemented by additional activities that complement the lessons. You might research something on the web, cook a recipe, do a craft, or play a game, for example, in addition to working through the lessons in the units.

Pricing and availability

REAL Homeschool Spanish is available for a $49.95 download ($89.95 hard copy price) at the REAL Homeschool Spanish website. Pricing information.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of REAL Homeschool Spanish at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received REAL Homeschool Spanish as a downloaded product for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

(not) getting lost

As I mentioned earlier, my new phone really endeared itself to me (and Eldest, who was with me) pretty quickly after we finally got it activated. Actually, it was fitting that Eldest was with me, seeing as she was also there for the whole activation ordeal the day before.

We headed out to a New Year's Day open house celebration, (in)secure in the knowledge that we'd gotten thoroughly lost the previous year -- wandering about for an hour looking for a specific turn. Google Map directions are pretty good, a tool we've often relied on, in the past. Look up an address, print out driving directions, and go. But on the way to the party last year... Let's just say it's hard to make a turn when the street sign can only be seen coming from one direction, and we were coming from the other.

But this time was different. This time, we had...The Phone.

I had played around with the "Maps" application already, marveling at the way the phone knew where it was without being told. I had the bright idea of putting in our destination and asking for directions. A little map appeared on the screen. I was fine with that. Gave the phone to Eldest so she could look at the map and advise me, started the car and pulled out of our parking spot.

...and the phone began to speak...

"In 1,000 yards, turn right on -- Street..."

Now, I hadn't planned on following the cute little map on the phone until we were about halfway to our destination. The phone chose, for some reason or other, to route us along surface streets with their associated stoplights and low speeds, and I figured he freeway would be faster.

I thought the phone might get a little heated, what with our ignoring its series of instructions, but as soon as the tiny thing figured out that the freeway was in its immediate future, it began on a new series of instructions, and quite efficiently took us directly to our destination.

It also brought us safely home again, unfazed by our stops at a grocery store and gas station, merely remarking that it was "recalculating" in response to our slight detours.

If I were driving in wilderness, I might not stake my safety on this little device (too many have, and have run into trouble). However, for city driving to unfamiliar places, it's just the the thing.

Monday, January 2, 2012

...but how do I...?

I mentioned the new phone in yesterday's post. It's already proved itself nearly invaluable (more about that tomorrow, I hope).

There is one thing, though, that frustrated me today. Okay, two things.

The first is, I simply cannot figure out how to put mp3 files on it from my computer. When I connect it to my computer with the included usb cable, I get this message that it's installing drivers. Over and over. ...just how many drivers does a simple little phone need, anyhow? And my computer doesn't seem to see the phone when it's plugged in. I meaan it does not appear in the list of connected devices.

The second thing is that I haven't quite figurd out swyping.

But it's late, so more exploration will have to wait.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year; old dog, new tricks

Happy New Year!

I've got a new gadget -- tool -- thing that I'm using to post this. It's a "smart phone" and yes, I'd say it's pretty smart, all right.

I've looked at such phones for awhile but couldn't stomach a 2-year agreement at $80 a month (that's how you get a "free" phone) when I've been paying a lot less with a prepaid service.

Then another homeschool mom mentioned a new deal she'd found -- $30 a month for 100 minutes of talk and unlimited text and data. You had to buy the phone at Wal-Mart, and the plan is a Wal-Mart/T-Mobile collaboration.

I researched smart phones to find the best deal I could manage, and finally settled on one.

Actually getting the phone was something else again. There was a special price online, so I bought it with the free ship-to-store option. Picked up the phone and tried to activate it.

I got far enough into the process to find out the SIM card was bad. What to do about it... Phone calls with T-Mobile and -- multiple calls, long conversations, no resolution.

Finally after a week of useless phone, I got fed up and drove to Wal-Mart with the phone. Almost an hour later -- plus several more phone calls with T-Mobile -- and Jen figured out a solution. Yay! (Thanks go to Debbie for her efforts, as well.)

I'm not so sure about T-Mobile's customer service, but I'm pretty impressed with our local Wal-Mart folks, who went "above and beyond the call" to get me an activated, working phone.