Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mashed potato pancakes

Mashed potato pancakes make for an easy lunch, especially if you have leftover mashed potatoes, but even if you don't (if you use instant mashed potatoes, that is).

We get instant mashed potatoes from Costco, in a box full of packets. (Mice absolutely adore Costco instant potatoes, by the way. We have to take them out of the box and put them in a heavy-duty plastic container. Now that the mice are gone, we don't want them to discover any new reasons to return.)

One packet makes eight servings, mixed with nearly three cups of water, 1/4 cup of butter, and a cup of milk. I suppose you could make your mashed potatoes dairy-free if need be.

To make our potato pancakes today, I mixed a batch of mashed potatoes with a cup of gluten-free flour mix and two eggs. I heated up some coconut oil in the frying pan and when it was sizzling hot, I put three dollops of the potato mixture in and flattened them slightly. The trick, then, is to leave them alone until they start to brown, and then flip them and brown them on the other side. If you try to flip them too soon, you end up with mush and pieces of pancake stuck to the pan -- in other words, a mess!

Somehow the eggs and flour help to keep the mashed potatoes together in cohesive cakes, rather than turning to mush.

We eat them with applesauce and sour cream. Yum!

Next time I'll try to remember to take pictures -- my phone doesn't have the best camera but at least it's there, unlike the "good" camera that has been misplaced somewhere in the house. (At least I hope it's in the house.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

TOS Crew: Beeyoutiful

We reviewed Beeyoutiful's Berry Well a couple of years ago, and I was so impressed with the product. It tasted good and worked wonders at cutting colds short, and I wasn't allergic to it. (I had to stop using echinacea and goldenseal some years ago, and those were my go-to cold stoppers up to that point. Worked wonderfully, until I started having severe allergic reactions. Apparently the small amount of echinacea in Berry Well isn't enough to set me off.)

This year, I was so excited to get another package from Beeyoutiful. This time we received two items: lip balm and OW Ease, an arnica salve.

The lip balm went into my purse, where it comes in handy for dry, chapped lips. Frankly, I forgot about it for a few weeks, until one day my lips were dry and getting drier. You know how it is, where your lips feel tortured, and you know you shouldn't lick them to give them relief because they'll just end up drier, but you can't help licking them because you're miserable, and so you dig in your purse hoping to find something...

Ahhh. Beeyoutiful B.A.L.M to the rescue. What a nice surprise! Instant relief, and it didn't just wear off, but worked some healing along the way. The orange flavor was subtle but refreshing, and the balm left my lips soft and relieved that distressing dry feeling. I'm so glad I "lost" it in my purse. I've put it in a special pocket since then, so I can always find it.

We put the OW! Ease to use almost as soon as we unpacked it. The Giant Schnoz was being especially affectionate and excited that day, and rammed her giant-sized head into someone's midriff, causing her to trip over a chair and fall into the table. It looked like painful bruises were going to result, so we broke out the OW! Ease and applied it at once. It really did the job, as I expected it to (we've used arnica for years, for bruises and swelling), and was easy to apply, not as messy as the arnica gel we keep on hand.

Pricing and availability

Beeyoutiful All-natural Lip Balm ($3.00) and OW! Ease ($15.00) are available, along with a number of other effective, natural health-care products, at the Beeyoutiful website.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Beeyoutiful products at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received Beeyoutiful Lip Balm and OW! Ease for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

TOS Crew: See-n-Spell

When we reviewed See-n-Read products last year, I wrote a glowing review. It was a concept I'd already been using, affordably packaged and more attractive than my homemade version. The idea: a thin plastic overlay with a reading window.

As you can see from the picture, this See-n-Read tool is laid over the page. There's a clear reading window surrounded by grayed out film. You move the tool down the page as you read, and it helps your eyes track efficiently. It helps you keep your place on the page, something that two of our girls have had trouble with in the past. (They still have trouble when they're tired, actually.)

Another version of the tool (the Memory Mark) has a cut-out window so that you can make notes on the page you're reading. You could use this tool in math as well as reading, for example, to keep track in a column of numbers just which place value you're dealing with.

This year, we were introduced to a new product, the See-n-Spell book that comes with a See-n-Read tool. The author's idea was to make words more available to authors who struggle with spelling. If you know the first few letters of a word, you can look it up in the alphabetical listing of words. (Want to know the word I struggle with? "Accommodate." It gets me almost every time I use it.) Instead of using a simpler, more easily spelled vocabulary in your writing, you can use See-n-Spell Quick Reference Guide to find the word you're thinking of, the word that really fits what you want to say, but it just doesn't look right on the page.

There are three sections in the Quick Reference Guide. The first has an alphabetical list of more than 300 most commonly used vocabulary words, but that's not all. The words are divided into grammatical categories or parts of speech: noun, pronoun, article, conjunction, verb (regular and irregular), adjective, adverb, and preposition, plus homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled differently). I've found this division useful for my natural speller who's been able to spell just about anything since she was in elementary grades, but whose grasp on the concept of parts of speech is a bit weak. (She loves words, and will browse a book like this just for the fun of it.) My struggles-to-spell student has resisted using the book. She'd rather write on the computer where the spell-checker function offers instant aid.

The second section in the Quick Reference Guide contains a quick-reference list of frequently misspelled words, alphabetically arranged. (Yup, "accommodate" is there, along with a plethora of others.) We all refer to this list on occasion, Natural Speller because she loves words, period; myself because there are a few words other than "accommodate" that for some reason won't stick in my brain; Struggling Speller because she can't always write on the computer and lean on the spell checker...

A third section contains a blank glossary where you can record special interest words. We haven't used this yet, but one use I can think of is scientific terminology, or other specialized terminology related to academic subjects such as geology, geography, or math.

This 40-page guide is recommended for grades 4 and up. You have to be able to spell, at least a little, to use this tool. There's an anecdote that will live in infamy in my family: One of my brothers was doing his homework, and called out, "Dad, how do you spell 'upon'? a-p or o-p?" Our dad, a poor speller, thought about it for a moment and then called back, "I don't know. Look it up in the dictionary!" Meanwhile, the natural spellers in the family were laughing hard... Do you see the problem? How do you look up a word if you don't know the first letter? (Our computer spell checker actually can help in this instance.) However, if you do know how a word starts, See-n-Spell can get you the rest of the way.

Pricing and availability

The See-n-Spell Spelling and Vocabulary Quick Reference Guide is available at the See-n-Read website for $9.99 and includes a free See-n-Read reading tool.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of See-n-Spell at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received a copy of the See-n-Spell Quick Reference Guide for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

TOS Crew: Kinderbach

KinderBach is an early-education music program aimed to teach young children (about age 3-7) music and keyboard fundamentals in a fun, relaxed way. The lessons are available through a web-based subscription or on DVD. All you need is a computer, keyboard, and printer, along with a high speed Internet connection or a DVD player. Lessons are currently being re-formatted to work on iPad, iTouch and iPhone devices. (I actually watched several lessons on an Android smart phone when I was going through the material.) You'll also use craft materials in some of the lessons, for coloring and cutting out, and maybe laminating for durability.

This is the third time we've reviewed KinderBach. Sad to say, Youngest has outgrown the program. I could not get her to sit down and watch the videos with me this time. At the ripe old age of 13, she moaned and complained that the videos (that she'd pronounced "cute" our last time around) were painful to watch. I think it's a teen thing. She liked the videos when she was younger. You can find our previous reviews here and here. (I'm not too happy with WordPress, my former blog host, at the moment. At one of the links there was an advertisement featuring scantily clad women. I didn't put it there. I apologize if there's objectionable advertising at any of the links provided in this post.)

Lessons are very short. Many that I watched were less than ten minutes, and involve all sorts of different modalities: listening, singing, coloring, clapping, standing up straight when you hear high notes, crouching down low when you hear low notes, banging out rhythms, and eventually playing on a keyboard. A parent doesn't need musical training to use KinderBach with a child. Some parental preparation (like printing out worksheets or making manipulatives for lessons, as well as watching the lessons and playing at music with the child (yes, I said "playing at" and not just "playing" -- this curriculum feels more like a game than a lesson.)

The teacher, Miss Karri, is bright and cheerful. Her helpers are cartoon characters who help illustrate concepts. For example, a donkey named "Dodi" has his house nestled on the "D" key. It's a simple way to be able to find the "D" key anywhere along the length of a keyboard.

Lessons are slow-paced; think about early education television shows you might have seen. Perhaps boring for a ten-year-old, but just perfect for a preschooler. Miss Karri talks directly to the viewer and even waits for responses or offers a word of encouragement or praise. Your young musician might want to watch a video segment over and over, and that's fine. The program is designed to progress at your child's pace.

Workbook pages are included with the lessons, available in PDF format for printing. Here's an example of a workbook page:
This is one of the more advanced lessons. Earlier lessons will have your child coloring Dodi, or coloring beats in a measure, or illustrating other simple concepts.

Currently, 240 online lessons (60 weeks, with four lessons per week) are available, in six levels. A seventh level is under development.

Additional materials are available at the KinderBach website, including coloring books, music books, free resources, and teacher helps.

Pricing and availability

A KinderBach online subscription starts as low as $7.99 a month for a one-year subscription (with a $95.88 payment), or $19.99 a month if you pay on a monthly basis. You can also get a day pass for $5.95, which gives you access to all the levels for a day. Subscriptions come with a 30-day money back guarantee.

A coupon code is currently available that will get you a 30% discount off any order, and it's good for a year. Just use coupon code TOScrew2012 when you order.

But don't just take my word for it! You can try the first few KinderBach lessons for free at this link.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of KinderBach here.

Disclaimer: Our family received a free three-month subscription to KinderBach for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.