Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Whirlwind Update

Our kitchen, one year ago.

The past week has been quite a whirlwind! We are finally finishing up the last repairs after last year's infamous "kitchen flood."

And today!

This time last week, a crew of workers were sanding and refinishing our floors. I stayed away as much as possible, but the fine dust still made me wheezy. By Thursday, we were finally allowed to move our furniture back in place, but the house still smelled like varnish so we found every excuse to get out.

Luckily, we had a lot going on, so there have been plenty of opportunities to be away. For one thing, Dude had to race the world's coolest Pinewood Derby car, the Emerald Arrow!

Isn't she a beauty?

Dude worked really hard on this car! Sure, he would have enjoyed having one of those big ol' trophies, but he was pleased with the car's performance: his car was in the top twenty, 19th out of our very large pack. And Dude is already thinking of ideas for next year!

This is the pop-up card Dude made for his uncle, who provided the power tools, awesome workshop, and Eagle Scout expertise this year.

Thanks, Uncle J!

Meanwhile, Super was busy earning her yellow belt in karate. She just started lessons in the fall and is having a great time with it. Congratulations, Super!

Super took this photo of "our" Flicker.

We found some time to get back to our German language studies; we hadn't done any since before Christmas. One night recently (as a stalling tactic before bed) the kids started speaking German and I was really amazed at how much they remember! (But I made them go to bed anyway.)

die Bucher

Since they were in a "German" frame of mind, I printed some Enchanted Learning pages and let the kids fill in any words they chose from our German books. As a result, they were practicing lots of animal names, like Meerschweinchen (Guinea pig.)

Such a big word for such a cute little guy!

We also found time for a bit of math practice:

Division Facts Tips and Tricks from Carson Dellosa

And spelling practice:

Check out Jimmie's Collage for more fantastic spelling ideas!

And we are absolutely loving Pianimals so far! Thanks to Anna-Marie for the recommendation!

We have a lot of work ahead of us putting our dishes, etc. back in our kitchen, but we're very happy that the repairs are all done, and it's nice to be home. Especially now that it doesn't smell like varnish.

Hope you had a great week, too!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Versatile Blogger Award!

A GIANT thank-you to Anna-Marie at Life's Adventures for the Versatile Blogger Award! I really enjoy reading her posts about life in the U.K. (and I envy her for all the great places she gets to visit with her family!) So, I'm supposed to answer some questions and then tag some blogs that I've recently found. Here are the questions (I found some of them a bit odd!)

Why did you create this blog?

This blog started two years ago as a way for me to sort out my feelings about homeschooling our son, Dude. I was already lurking around on other homeschooling blogs, trying to get ideas and build up the confidence to take the plunge. So I decided to start my own. I never thought anyone other than my mother would want to read it!

A few months later, Super jumped on the homeschooling bandwagon, and we really started living the homeschooling lifestyle. I began using this blog as an online journal of our activities, at least the ones worth writing about. I'm SO grateful to homeschooling parents who take time out of their busy lives to share ideas and information! Those early days were overwhelming, but reading others' blogs gave me the courage I needed!

What kinds of blogs do you follow?

Homeschooling is my obsession, but I also like to read about cooking, gardening, travel, and politics. One of my favorite places to "goof off" is Awful Library Books. If you haven't been there, you need to check it out. Hilarious!

Favorite makeup brand?

Makeup has brands? Seriously, I've been buying the same maroon tube of mascara for years and I don't even remember what it's called! I have bought fancy department-store makeup maybe twice in my life. If I can't grab a new lipstick at the same place I get my groceries, it's not worth a special trip!

Favorite clothing brand?

I am SO not hip when it comes to clothing. To paraphrase the wonderful Gilda Radner, I make my clothing choices based on what doesn't itch. I usually wear jeans and crummy t-shirts when we're schooling and jeans and a less-crummy t-shirt when we're in public. If it's cold out, I wear a fleece over the t-shirt. I don't need a What Not To Wear intervention--I do own some Very Cute Outfits. It's just that when paper-mâché frescoes, cooking with kids, riding lessons, and pooper-scooping the yard are on your agenda, you tend to dress down.

OK, OK, I'll admit to loving shoes, Mom! (I swear, I can hear her ahem from three states away!) Let's just say that most of my Christmas presents (to myself) came from Zappo's last year.

Indispensible makeup product?

What is this, market research? ;)

Favorite color?

Yellow. I have a yellow kitchen (I actually matched the color to my favorite yellow serving bowl) and my dishes are yellow and blue Fiesta ware. My wedding bouquet was yellow roses and my bridesmaids wore adorable pastel yellow sundresses. To me, yellow is happy, kind, and sincere.

Favorite perfume?

Hanae Mori Butterfly.

Favorite film?

All time favorite: Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Runners up: Raising Arizona, Muriel's Wedding, and Milo and Otis.

What country would you like to visit and why?

Taking my kids to the Louvre is on my "aahh...someday" list. But if we're just talking about me, I'd have to say Japan because I've never been there, I love kawaii stuff, I've always wanted to see Tokyo, and I want to try real Japanese food.

Would you rather forget to put mascara on one eye or forget to put blush on one side of your face?

This would never happen. I may be a mountain mama now, but I'm still a Texas girl at heart, and we do not forget to put on our makeup.

Thanks, again, Anna-Marie! Now I'm supposed to tag some recently-found blogs. The problem is, I haven't done much exploring out there in the blogosphere lately. So, I'm listing some new (to me) and some old favorites:

Feet Off the Table

Adventures In Bento Making

Ramblings of a Dysfunctional Homeschooler


My Side of the Mountain

Enlightened Life


I Capture the Rowhouse

These are all fantastic in their own way, so check them out!

Aphrodite's New Ride

The "hard sell" from Dude:

Looking for a new car? Try the Dove 4! It has jewel-encrusted shock suspension tires, it comes in stylish gold (or silver), with four-dove power. And it comes with clam cupholders!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Science Day!

Today was one of those days when we totally scrapped our plans and just had fun. The kids have been begging for a "science day," so we pulled out the neglected NOEO kits and learned about density, volume, acids, bases, and other cool stuff!

The kids started by building a spring scale. Isn't it cool? We provided the cereal box and NOEO provided paper clips, elastic string, and a little cup.

Then we had to calibrate the scale, by adding one gram discs and marking the top of the bowl as each disc caused the elastic to stretch. (We found this very challenging, and ended up declaring our scale "close enough" so we could get on with the rest of the experiment!)

What do you predict would weigh more? The cork or the little metal Viking? Really? Even though the cork is way bigger than the Viking?

So large objects can weigh less than small ones? Yup! The cork may have more volume, but the Viking has more density!

The NOEO instructions suggested lining up a variety of small objects by size and predicting which would be the heaviest. We weighed a fortune cookie, a packet of soy sauce (Chinese take-out last night!), a chip clip, a cork, a piece of bubble gum, a small plastic horse, a sugar cube, and the little Viking.

This chunk of fool's gold was the maximum weight our scale could take.

We talked about how volume is volume, even if the container is shaped differently. A cup of water in a skinny cup is the same as a cup of water in a wide cup. (A while back, we did another experiment to illustrate volume v. density. We took two identical jars and put cotton balls in them. In one jar, we just lightly dropped the cotton balls in. In the second jar, we pushed as many cotton balls as we could in. The jars were the same volume, but in the second jar, the cotton balls were much more dense.)

I had the kids look for the volume on some labels. They noticed that most of our products have the volume listed in English and metric. I noticed that we are nearly out of syrup!

Which is more dense, the water or the Ivory soap? How can we tell?

Just for kicks, we put chunks of Ivory in the microwave, a crazy trick I saw on The Scientific Homeschool. It puffed up like marshmallow fluff, then turned to crunchy soap flakes.

(FYI: If you try this experiment, don't put the bowl in your dishwasher! Even though I rinsed it out, the bowl I used left a white film on all the other dishes and I had to run them again. Use something disposable that you can just toss in the recycling bin afterwards.)

This is colored water and corn oil. Which is more dense?

This test tube contains corn syrup on the bottom, colored water in the middle, and oil on the top. It's hard to see, but there is a peppercorn resting on the surface of the water. It's more dense than the oil, but less dense than the water, so it floats on the water. There are also little bits of red plastic floating on the oil; they didn't sink at all so they must be less dense than oil.

Our second NOEO lesson was on acids and bases. We went to a class on this topic last year, so it was kind of a review for us. But it was interesting! We tested three kinds of vinegar, plain water, sugar water, baking soda water, Cran-Grape, and lemon juice.

NOEO includes some information about acid rain. We decided to grab some snow off our back porch and see if it was acidic. Thankfully, it was totally neutral!

To finish up our science day, we did a fun experiment from Science Is... by Susan V. Bosak. We dropped marbles into water, shampoo, and corn syrup to see which would reach the bottom last. Which marble would you pick?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hamster Smarty Party

What do hamsters do when they need to review division?

Duke it out?

Of course not, kids! These are civilized hamsters. They divide their candy evenly and fairly. So...if 2 hamsters divided 10 Smarties evenly, how many candies did they each get?

Too easy, right? But now there are three hamsters. Can they divide their candy evenly?

Oh, oh. Here comes their friend. He wants candy, too! I think we are going to need more Smarties for this group. Let's just toss an unknown number of Smarties into the pile. Without counting them, how can we figure out how many candies we have?

An array is a great way to see how many we have, Super! And good thinking, Dude: rows of 5 are the easiest to count!

Let's put these situations into number sentences. Remember: we can write division problems two ways. Write your number sentences your favorite way. Then make up some problems of your own.

Now let's do some mixed practice.

Do you notice a pattern here? And how does knowing your multiplication facts help you with division?

Now for a bit of decimal review in our math journals...

A little handwriting practice, another chapter of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a discussion about how the Ancient Greek civilization is still with us today, a quick spelling test, and a playdate with homeschooling buddies.

We had a great day! Hope you did, too!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Like, so cool, you know?

Taking it easy

We have several January birthdays in our extended family, so we decided to spend a long weekend in the mountains for a collective celebration. We had a great day skiing yesterday, but the weather has turned nasty today: high winds and horizontal snow! Die-hard slope jockeys may love these days because the slopes are deserted, but we are total weather wimps: the kids are still in their pajamas and I'm just sipping my third cup of coffee, messing around on the computer, and trying to stay warm.

I forgot to pack my little gadget that downloads photos, so I decided to combine some reviews that I never posted and list a few of our recent favorite resources, sans photos...

The Secret Life of Math by Ann McCallum is a fun and interesting look at the history of math. It's written in a casual, kid-friendly style and offers lots of hands-on activities for kids to do. I'm currently on a mission to convince my son that Math Is Not Boring; even he has to admit that these projects are fun! You can make an Ishango hatch-mark bone, count on your fingers Zulu-style, practice counting in Cuneiform, and even make Maya number cookies. It's not necessary to do all of the projects, but they do illustrate the many ways that math has evolved since early humans tracked herds of animals, and how math is relevant to our lives today.

We are also enjoying Mathematicians are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians by Luetta and Wilbert Reimer. Putting math concepts in story form can make something dry much more palatable. For example, it's hard to get excited over patterns in multiples, but after reading about Thales of Miletus, we learned how recognizing patterns can help you solve a mystery, train your donkey, and even make you rich! Many of the stories tie in perfectly with our ancient Egyptian and Greek unit studies.

Remember that old Capital One commercial where a man is about to pay for something with his credit card, a woman says "Don't let the interest get you," and suddenly a band of marauding Vikings comes roaring into the shop? When Super was about four, she saw that commercial and was convinced that "the interest" was a group of mean, scary guys; she actually had a nightmare that "the interest" was chasing her! It was hard to explain to a four-year-old that those guys were just actors and that "interest" is not a group of hairy Vikings. Now that my kids are old enough to understand the concept better, we're reading Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids by Gail Karlitz and Debbie Honig. It's a clear, accessible introduction to basic financial concepts. Both of my kids have asked me how banks make money, why there is inflation, and what the stock market actually buys and sells. This book is answering their questions in a way they can understand, but it's informative enough that I'm learning, too!

We're into silly story problems around here. We frequently start our math session with a goofy challenge like:

  1. Doofy McDoofington went up on the roof at noon to catch some rays. Whoops--he fell asleep. He came down at 2:15. How much time was he on the roof, and how sunburned was he?
  2. Then he went to Wal-Mart to buy some Solarcaine. He left his house at 2:30. He got lost and didn’t get to Wal-Mart until 3:14. How long did it take him to get to Wal-Mart? And why is he so stupid?
  3. He found the Solarcaine on the shelf at Wal-Mart at 4:05. He waited in line to pay until 5:00. How long did he wait to pay? And why does it always take so long to pay for things at Wal-Mart?
  4. The Solarcaine bottle says “Relief in 15 Minutes!” But Doofy didn’t rub it on his skin. He thought he was supposed to drink it. He drank it at 5:30. He threw up at 6:05. How much time did it take for him to get sick?
  5. After Doofy threw up, he was really hungry for dinner. He ordered a pizza at 6:10. But he ordered banana leaves and marinated durian chunks on his pizza, a special order. The pizza took 45 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to bake. How long did it take total to make Doofy’s pizza? And what kind of weirdo likes banana leaf pizza?
  6. The delivery boy left Prince of Pizza at 8:40. He arrived at Doofy’s house at 8:48. How long did it take him to get to Doofy’s house, and how many speeding tickets did he get on the way?

You get the idea. Some days I'm just not up to inventing such, um, creative problems, so we also warm up our math brains with problems from Primary Grade Challenge Math by Edward Zaccaro. And my new favorite resource is the Guiness World Records Math from Carson-Dellosa Publishing. My kids already like reading about world records, and they find the math pages fun and interesting, especially the "icky" ones like the longest fingernails or the heaviest spider. I like them because they involve both reading and math, and they relate math to "real-life" scenarios (if you can call the longest loaf of bread in the world "real-life.")

One more recommendation: I was browsing in a bookstore the other day and found a cool book called How Writers Work: Finding a Process that Works for You by Ralph Fletcher. It's not like any writing curriculum we've used in the past; in fact, it's not a curriculum at all. It's written directly to young people and it describes the writing process from a real published writer's point of view. We tend to focus on the mechanics of good writing, but it's important to realize that writing is a very personal, creative process that doesn't necessarily conform to any one method. So far, I love this book, and I hope my kids will, too.

Hope you are keeping warm and enjoying good books wherever you are!