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Friday, September 30, 2011

September in Georgia

This is what you do in Georgia on some of the last days of September.....

September 29th, Georgia....I suspect this is very different than what my friends and family in Minnesota were doing on September 29th.....



Aletheia......what is that?  No, this is not some weird homeschool ancient language lesson.  Aletheia is a writing magazine for teenagers....specifically designed for Christian teenagers.  I have been given the opportunity to review two issues of this fairly new publication as part of the TOS crew.

This is a magazine geared towards Christian teens ages 13 to 19....actually, it is not only geared toward them, most of the articles and art work are also done by the teens themselves.  Which means that, if you are a teenager interested in writing, whether it be short stories, poetry, fantasy fiction, book reviews, or whatever, you have a chance to have your work published in a real magazine.  The same goes for the teen artist or photographer you have living in your home, as the illustrations and photos in the magazine are also done by teenagers. 

Each issue has the obvious..... stories and poems written by teens, but, there is also a Writer's Challenge for the upcoming issue.  For example, in one of the issues that I reviewed, the challenge was to write a story that goes with this proverb:  "The righteous is delivered from trouble and it comes to the wicked instead. " (Proverbs 11:8);  OR,  Write a poem based on this photo....then there was a photo of a daddy holding hands with a little one. 

The winner gets their work published, along with their photo, and 3 copies of the magazine.  I think being published in a national magazine would look pretty good on a college application, wouldn't it?  Or maybe it is just that little boost of self esteem your shy teen needs.

One of the things I enjoyed in this magazine, as a grown up, is that each issue features an interview with someone who makes their living in the writing/artistic field.  For example, in the Fall 2011 issue, there was an interview with Joe Goode, who is a graphic artist and narrative illustrator.  The Summer 2011 issue featured an interview with Hollywood screenwriter, Barbara Nicolosi. 

I love that this shows kids who may be gifted in these areas how people have "made it", and, can give them real life ideas on how they can pursue a career that uses that gift.  It may even show parents that the teen may not need a Plan B to fall back on for a "real" job....if you know what I mean!

The next issue is set to interview Bryan Davis, author of Masters and Slayers.

The goal and philosophy of this magazine, as stated on their website is this:

We are excited to offer Christian teens a healthy platform in which to express themselves, especially in a culture that so definitively shapes and saturates their worldview with unhealthy imagery and values.

Moreover, we're interested in publishing teen work in a quality manner while preserving its honesty and integrity- we're not interested in dumbing down or overly sanitizing the writing we receive.

But whether teens use their writing to explore the darker realities of life or celebrate the brighter ones, their writing, in the end, must contain hope.

I really like that they aren't interested in dumbing things down, or even overly sanitizing things....but that they are looking for work that portrays "hope".  I have to think that teenagers would be happy with that too....not dumbing things down, I mean.  This really seems like it gives teens a great opportunity and outlet for their work.   

Something else that I liked was the Ancient Ink section, which has quotes (I am kind of a sucker for a good quote) from ancient notable people, like:

"Before you embark, on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."  Confucius.

"Unless you believe, you will not understand."  Augustine

"Envy is the Ulcer of the Soul.", Socrates.

Or this thought provoker....

"You don't develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday.  You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity."  Epicurus

Honestly, the Ancient Ink section was one of my favorites of the whole magazine....that, and the beautiful nature pictures in the Glory to God for the Beauty of Nature section.

If your teen wants to submit any of their work, you can click here to find out more information.   Your teen can submit their work in Fiction; Non-Fiction; Artwork; Photography: and Book Reviews.   So, for example, you have a budding artist in your midst, you submit a sample of your work.....then, if they get a story submitted that they feel may match your style, they will ask you to come up with the illustrations for the writing.  They are also on the look out for art for their magazine cover. 

Aletheia is a full color, 40 page publication that comes out quarterly (4 times a year), and is available for subscription, at a cost of $26 (that includes shipping and handling)....$29 if you live north of the border in Canada.

Still not sure?  You can take a look at the Spring 2011 for free by clicking here

I received the Fall 2011 print magazine and access to the Summer 2011 digital edition of Aletheia for free in exchange for an honest review of their magazine.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Country Kitchen

In Minnesota, there used to be a chain of restaurant's that as a kid, we would get to eat at, once in a great while, called Country Kitchen.  Apparently, they still exist...but I haven't seen one in a long time....good breakfasts...good decor.  It doesn't really matter, since that is not what this post is even about, but just thought that you might be interested to know that, whenever I hear the words "Country Kitchen",  I think of that restaurant.

This is actually a review for a really cute, kid's, country kitchen set, called the Hideaway Country Kitchen.  The kitchen set came in a box like this for us to assemble ourselves...

(Don't my girls keep a neat and tidy room?)

I wanted to put it together when S-girl and V-girl weren't around....which didn't happen fast enough for A-girl and, they kept bugging me and bugging me.....I finally, told them that if they read the instructions (and followed them), they could try to assemble it themselves.


A few hours later I had two exhausted girls and a new pretend kitchen!  They had a few false starts and had to undo and redo a few things....but, in the end, it was a success!

This kitchen set is really adorable.  It has white beadboard and a psuedo butcher block counter top.  There are a lot of little details that really make it fun for the kids.  It has a little sink and faucet.  There is a reason why the faucet is mounted so high....which I will tell you later. 

It has a clock with moveable hands. 

It has two little pegs to hold pot holders.  It has a cook top and an oven with a see through door. 

It has another cupboard under the sink.  It even has a little shelf near the top for displaying your chatzskis (how exactly do you spell that?)

Oh, the hours of fun this kitchen has meant for my kids....especially V-girl and S-girl....but we have all been involved in their fun.  I have consumed many meals prepared in this kitchen!  

Tasting her soup.

(Do we ever wear clothes in this house?)

It has become the spot to find the missing sippy cups that have been carefully "put away" in the cupboard.  (Sadly, we usually finally locate them when they have gotten chunky.  Although, we are getting smarter and checking in the kitchen earlier!)

Instead of buying them their own pots and pans, I just let them use my little ones and some potholders that A-girl had made for me a few years ago....and the rest was up to them.

Now, parents, here is the coolest, awesomest, most spectacular feature that this Country Kitchen has....

Are you ready?


The "Hideaway" part!

It folds up to 6 inches thick.  Yup....really quick....really easy....S-girl can do it herself (and actually likes to because she likes to use the allen wrench).   It folds small enough that you could slide it under a bed or do what we do and slide it behind our couch when we get tired of it being in the middle of the living room.  This is the reason the faucet is mounted so it can tuck into the sink when it is folded up.

What I like:  It is super cute and it has gotten A LOT of use around here.  A-man has even been convinced to play a game of house every now and then....and has even cooked a few meals and wasn't just the "husband" on the receiving end of the goodies from the kitchen.  I liked that it was semi-realistic looking with the burners and the knobs....the see through oven door....the clock.  I liked that it wasn't in cartoon-y sort of primary colors, so I really didn't mind leaving it out in the middle of the living room.

What I didn't like:  Okay, now I said that one of the things I liked was that this was semi-realistic looking, but, that is also something I didn't like.  The biggest thing that I didn't like about the realism of this product was the knobs to "turn on" the stovetop. 

They make this annoying clicking noise.  I mean really annoying.  It wasn't a noise that I could get used to and tune out like I can with other noises or toys.....because they didn't just turn the knob and make a few clicks to get their stove turned on......they turned it back and forth....and the clicking noise worked when you turned the knob both ways.  I am not ashamed to admit that there was quite a bit of yelling by the adults in the house that went something like this.....

"Stop turning those knobs!" 

The knobs and their clicking noise also made me nervous because I have a gas stove/oven.  In case you don't have a gas stovetop, what you do to get a flame on your burner, is turn the knob to the "light" mode, as the gas is released, you hear a clicking sound, then it lights the flame.  It just makes me nervous that they are being trained that the clicking noise when you turn a knob on a stove is normal and no big deal.....because it could be....and it could be dangerous.

Here is the other thing I didn't like.....

Although this one little problem might just be unique to just MY household!

Guidecraft has a lot of other play kitchens available....go take a look here

If you are interested in this Hideway Country Kitchen, specifically, it costs $200 and can be ordered directly from the Guidecraft website

If you don't have a 9 year old and an 11 year old to assemble your kitchen for you, there are both assembly instructions and an assembly video available on the website too!

Take a look at what the other TOS Crew members thought of their Hideaway Country Kitchen here

I received a free Hideaway Country Kitchen from Guidecraft in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tri-Cross - Game for Competitors

We are a game family.  The kids often accuse us of raising them like it is still 1950....because we don't have video games and some of the other technology that is available.....although I definitely do NOT walk around wearing my high heels and pearls.....ever.   We play a lot of games.  We don't have an official, designated, game night like many families do....but actually, most nights end up as game night around here.... and here is a new one that has made our rotation.

I got the chance to review a game called Tri-Cross

It is a simple.....yet, sort of.....complicated game.  I am not going to try to explain it to you when there is a wonderful video that both explains and shows you how this game works!

See?  Simple....yet, complicated.
I will admit that Rainman played this one with the kids more than I did....because he likes strategy games and Tri-Cross is a strategy game.  I am more of a trivia game kind-a I didn't like this one too much.  I find strategy games sort of stressful.  Rainman and the kids though?  They loved it.

No wussy video tutorial needed here when you have  Rainman perusing the rules!

One of the cool things about this game (mostly from a parent's perspective) is that the game goes really fast....but, in A-girl's words, "The game goes so fast, you don't really have time to lose interest in it".  So, If you only have a few minutes for a game....that is don't need to have a big chunk of time to play.

We are still playing at the beginner level, but this is a game where you can advance and have the games get tougher and more challenging as you go....again, not my cup of tea....but it is Rainman's cup of tea - I mean, like, if he actually drank tea!
Here is a little tidbit about the more advanced options:

Like I said, we are definitely not to this point yet....but Rainman is hopeful he will soon have a noble adversary.
There is an eco-friendly/travel type version of the game too.  It has the same pieces as the regular game, but, the board is a sturdy canvas-y type fabric, and instead of coming in a big cardboard box, the game comes in a drawstring bag. 

If this kind of eco-friendly product interests you, there is more specific information here.  Games for Competitors is so dedicated to this product that they are donating 10% of their sales of the eco-friendly version to the Captain Planet Foundation.  It even won a Dr. Toy Award for Best Green Product in 2010.

The game says it is for players ages 10 to Adult....but S-girl wanted to play sooooooo badly, that D-man played with her.  After a few games, she was actually getting the swing of things use your own judgment about what you think your kids may be able to do.  Although 4 is probably too young.

What I liked:  Again, having not personally played this game a ton, I am going to pass along what Rainman said he liked about Tri-Cross.  He said that he liked it because its a fast game and that it teaches the kids strategy and to think ahead to their possible next move.

What I didn't like:  Again, this is Rainman here.....but, he said that the only thing he didn't really like were the two player games because he felt they were too predictable.  He said that he felt like the game was way more fun with more players. 

The price of the standard Tri-Cross game is $24.95, the eco-friendly version is $19.95 and I just realized there is also a wood board version for $35.95.  You can order them from the Games for Competitors site directly or click here for a list of retailers. 

See what other TOS Reviewers have to say about Tri-Cross here.

I received a free Tri-Cross game in exchange for an honest review of this product.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Little Bit of Trouble

I have been doing a lot of product review posts wanted to make sure I also give you a bit of "life" too.

So, here is A Little Bit of Trouble....

This is V-girl with her head stuck in the stair case.....see just behind her head?  That is a gate meant to keep her downstairs with us.  Well, S-girl, her little buddy, had climbed over the gate and gone she decided to follow.  I was sitting nearby at the computer when this happened....and didn't see a thing.....she was quick....apparently.  It took A-girl, L-girl and I to get her out.  See, her head is too big to get between the spindles....


We kept moving her head up and down and shifting its angle to try to get it through.  No luck.  We could not figure out how to get her set free.  A-girl, my little genius, finally figured it out for us.  We had been thinking she had someone climbed over the gate and was trying to come back to the other reality, she had actually stood on the first stair riser and squeezed her body through the space....but then her head was too big and got stuck.

I mean, would you have figured that one out?  I didn't....and I have 6 kids.....and about half of them have been in a very similar predicament at one time or other.

So, we just got her to stand up and then squeezed her body back over to the other side of the gate. 

Lesson learned, I think....she has not tried this one again.

Here are some more shots of our Little Bit of Trouble.

Could you get any closer?

"Riding" big sister's bike.

Nice tonsils!

Wearing A-girl heals.

Monkey face.

Learning how to pose for pictures whilst snacking on some Jello!

Cute....but, A Little Bit of Trouble!

Primarily Magnets

I got the chance to review another cool product from a company called AIMS - which stands for Activities Integrating Math and Science.  The product I reviewed was a book called Primarily Magnets - which is basically a science book for K-2. 

I remember loving magnets when I was a kid, so I was excited about this one.  Remember those fuzzy faced men games you could get at Woolworth's...or Ben Franklin?  Am I sounding old?  You know the ones where there were the little pieces of metal shavings that you could move around with the magnet/magic wand to give him a unibrow or mustache or beard?

I just looked it it is..... Wooly Willy.....with his "magnetic personality"!


That is what I was envisioning for this magnet study....hours o'fun.   And, it was! 

Primarily Magnets even had a lesson  called Magnet O Man - a modern version of Wooly Willy, but they took it a step further and offered  4 different faces to use for your faces ...including a woman!!!


We didn't do this one though, because I really did NOT want iron shavings around my house (they did recommend putting the shavings into a clear plastic bag and taping that to the face...and then moving them around, but, I just knew that, at my house, those bags would get punctured....thus, I would have iron shavings laying around my house!)

The first part of the book gives general information on magnets, magnetic poles, magnetic alignment, magnetic fields....that kind of stuff.  I didn't read any of this to A-man who was in the targeted age range for this product.  It mostly served as a refresher for me....and, I have to admit, I did learn a thing or two I don't remember learning about in school.  

Like, there can never be a magnet with only one pole (I guess it seems sort of obvious....but for some reason, I just got it this time my 40's....I did remember that like sides repel and opposites attract, though!)....oh, something else I learned....if you ever break a magnet, each piece then becomes another complete magnet with the correct, complementary pole forming at each of the broken ends.

The book is broken into sections for: 

Magnets Interacting With Other Materials
Magnets Interacting With Other Magnets
Magnetic Fields
Everyday Uses of Magnets
Culminating Experiences

I used this book and what I called "experiments" with A-man and S-girl (even though she is only 4...she was interested, so I went with it).

They had a lot of fun gathering up stuff from around the house to see if it would stick to a magnet....for the lesson called A Sticky Business.  They learned a good lesson that not all metal or shiny stuff is magnetic!   Including the one I only learned a few years ago....that you can't hang your kid's art projects on your fridge (you can finally afford)...if it is stainless steel!

A-man really liked the one called Find the Force....probably because we sort of love Star Wars around here: 

And, of course, being the nerd that I am, I used various Star Wars voices whenever I said it..... "May the Force be with you."  "A-man, I am your mother."  You get the idea.  We didn't do this one exactly as it was described, as it called for cardboard milk cartons, but, we got the point ....of sort of hiding the magnets and using another magnet to "Find the Force".

What I liked:  This was just fun.  I also liked the repeated reminders of what magnets should not be used for....or near....things like:  TVs; VCR/DVD players; computers; microwave ovens; credit cards; wind-up watches (does anyone have those anymore?); tape recorders; answering machines (same question applies as for the wind-up watches!).

The book came with a CD that had all the things you would need to print in order to play the games or try the experiments in PDF, if you didn't want to make photocopies from the book, you could just print the number of pages you wanted and not stand at the printer holding the book.

What I didn't like:  I thought magnets would be easier to find than they were.  I had my friend, Debby, help me look for them (because she actually gets out shopping more than me).  She went to Michaels, Hobby Lobby, and Walmart.....she did find some ring magnets....but, in large quantities.  U-shaped or Cow magnets, luck.  I may have been able to find them at a teacher store, but, I never got the chance to check. 

The magnets are available through AIMS....but since the ring magnets came in packages of 25....I figured that I didn't need to have THAT many around my house, so I didn't want to go that route.  This book needed ring magnets and a "cow" magnet - which is basically what I call a bar magnet.  (To find out the interesting back story on why it is called a "cow" magnet....and what is used for click here.....there is a little yuck factor....but it is interesting, nonetheless.)  Here is what I used instead:

They are left over from a magnetic building set that D-man had when he was little.  I also used a few refrigerator magnets.  They worked....but not as well as the ring magnets and cow magnets would have.

So, in retrospect, I should have just had the 25 ring magnets floating around my house for $5.95 and the cow magnet for $4.95 each from the AIMS store. 

A lot of the things in this book seem more geared towards a classroom type setting, (note the package of 25 ring magnets...and the use of small cardboard milk cartons) but, I was easily able to adapt them for my use and, I think, most of the others could also be adapted with your homeschool "classroom". 

There is prep time involved with most of the activities, so make sure you factor that into your plans and don't just sit down to try one of the experiments (like I did the first time.....oops).

If nothing else, it gave me a lot of fun ideas for stuff to try with magnets.  There were two specific ones that I didn't get to try that I wanted to.  One was Painting with Magnets (using a magnet to move a paperclip paintbrush through paint) and the other was Make It Fly (using sticky notes, a paper clip, and a piece of yarn) to create a kite that then you make fly with magnets.

The book says that it is for K-2...but, like I said S-Girl who is 4,  had a lot of fun with this....and I sort of had to chase away the big kids too when we were doing these.  I suspect I will be ordering my 25 ring magnets and doing the kite flying and painting tricks with all 6 kids....and probably Rainman too!

I used this product as a supplement for us, but it could be used to meet actual curriculum standards too.  There is a section in the book where it talks about what standards it meets, like Project 2061 Benchmarks, National Science Education Standards; and NCTM Standards 2000.  In their catalogue, the even have some State-Specific science options for you in grades K-6.  Click here to get an alignment with your state standards and a free sample activity. 

You can check out all of the other cool stuff AIMS has here.

If you are interested in Primarily Magnets, you can get it here for $18.95.

This really was a fun activity to review and it brought back lots of memories on my childhood playing with Wooly Willy and the big U shaped magnet that my Grandma had.

I received a free copy of the book Primarily Magnets in exchange for writing an honest review of this product.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Before Five In A Row

I received a product to review for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine (TOS).   This product was recommended for preschoolers ages 2 to 4, called Before Five In a Row (from this point on, I will be using the acronym BFIAR - hope I won't confuse you!).  The subtitle of the book is..."A treasury of creative ideas to inspire learning readiness"...and boy, that turned out to be true. 

If you are a homeschooler, you have probably heard about Five In A Row....sometimes referred to with the acronym FIAR.

I gotta tell you that I have found the acronym confusing....I always think that it is the word "FAIR" spelled wrong.

Even though I had heard about the Five In A Row product for years, I really didn't understand what it was.  I thought it would be a curriculum, but it isn't.  The book has two parts:  Stories and Activities and Parent's Treasury of Creative Ideas for Learning Readiness. 

I was also a little nervous about a program for preschoolers because I am sort of anti-curriculum or formal schooling for preschoolers.  I pretty much believe in the philosphy of  teaching them when they are ready/, there is nothing like the enthusiasm of a preschooler who wants to do school! 

I was pleasantly surprised by really is a treasury of creative ideas.  I stuck mostly to the first section of the book where it lists classic children's books that you either already own or that can be easily found at your library. 

Now, as you may have seen, I have had a couple of kids.  I sort of have this parenting/teaching thing down.  So, even after I figured out that it wasn't a true curriculum, I still thought....yeah, whatever....preschool stuff that I am going to need to try to shove down their throats....because I agreed to do a review.  Well, as much as I hate to admit it...I was wrong....I did not, in fact, have to shove anything down the kids was all pretty....painless.

They taught this old dog some new tricks.

Here are a few of the books that S-Girl and V-Girl and I read....and learned from:

Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?, by Nancy White Carlstrom

S-Girl and V-Girl loved this book and had me read it many times....and, by the time, it was due back at the library...S-Girl could pretty much "read" it to me too.

Here are some examples of what BFIAR guide you through in reading this book: 

Language Arts:  The book is written in rhyme.  This section goes on to talk about how these early childhood rhymes set you up for enjoying poetry later in life. 

Loving Relationships:  Ask your child to look for signs of love between Jesse Bear and his parents.  (Then, in case you miss them lists what they are.) 

(I love the Daddy Bear's pin stripe suit!)
Colors, Patterns, and Combination:  Have a box filled with different fabrics, with diferent colors and textures so your child can pretend that they are putting together outfits for themselves or a cardboard bear....that can move into actually picking out their own clothes and having a sense for what "goes together". 

Fine Arts/Drama:  You can have the rest of your family act out or pantomime the Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? story. 

Literature:  This section talked about what other books this author has written. 

Poetry and Art:  You could practice coming up with other rhymes for what Jesse would wear on different occasions a snowy day....or a birthday party....and do it all in the same cadence and rhyme that the book uses. 

Can You Find Search:  This is just what it sounds like...and one that I have used many times ...even before BFIAR.... for those books that the kids want read over and over until I just can't take it anymore.  You can do it like a Where's Waldo type thing....where you find one thing per page....or, you can count "how many" whatevers there are on each page, like flowers, or you can look for differences in if the clock shows a different time....or what is on Jesse's plate.

I think you get the general idea....the other areas that they have activities and ideas related to this book, specifically are:  Bible; Recognizing Patterns; Order: Details; Games to Play; Science; and Shapes.

I know....who knew there could be so much stuff to do with a silly, little children's book?!?
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats

This book had the same type of ideas as Jesse Bear...but, some that I specifically liked:

Art:  This highlighted the type of illustration used and suggested trying you own with water colors and tissue paper.

Healthy: This section talked about how to dress appropriately for the weather.  Not needed quite as much in Georgia as it was in Minnesota - but still valuable stuff to talk to the kidlets about.

I probably wouldn't have picked up this book without the recommendation from BFIAR.  For a really good reason....I don't particularly care for this illustration style....isn't that a good reason?  Ha!  But, I ended up liking the book and I also liked that it showed winter in an urban setting....not just the country setting that I am used to.

(Ignore the diaper clad child above the book!)

Caps For Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina (no, I don't know how to pronounce it either)

This is another one of the books that made me look at illustration in a new way.

This the first page of the book....notice which direction the man is facing....

And here, is the last page of the book....standing in the same spot.  I didn't notice this little detail myself until BFIAR pointed it out to me.  I have found myself looking for more of these little sneaky details in the other kid's books we read.

The Quiet Way Home, by Bonny Becker

We had a lot of fun with the Search and Find with this book.

Can you find the cat that only has its ears and tail showing?

And, good, old, Good Night Moon!, by Margaret Wise Brown

In case you couldn't tell....this is our own personal....very worn....copy.

What I liked:  Just about everything.  I liked that each book had a section about Bible, which talked about things like being a good friend, being kind and had Bible verses that showed examples of these character traits.  I liked that many of these books were award winners.  I liked that lots of them were "old" or "classic" books that could be found....even at my small library, that doesn't have a lot of choices. 

What I didn't like:  Really....I pretty much liked everything.  If I had to pick would be that it felt like there was almost too much to do.  I didn't have much time to explore the second section of the book on creative ideas for learning readiness.  But, they even address this at the beginning of  the the section.  It talks about having time ...or, more accurately, the lack of time, for these things at the beginning of the section.  It mentions how overwhelming all of these ideas can be, but, this quote from the first paragraph of that book just  makes me happy....

"This list is not a must do list."

That is perfect for me.....because really, I have plenty on my "must" do list already.  Frees me from the guilt that may be lurking around the corner!

Believe me, in my time, I have read lots and lots of children's books to my kids and really didn't think I was going to get too much from BFIAR....but, I really was wrong.  They showed me lots of good ideas that were specific to the 24 recommended books.....but I can use those ideas as jumping off points for other books....and really, like I said, for me, it really opened my eyes to some of the many aspects of illustration....probably not an intended consequence....but it is what I learned anyway!

If you want more information or to get your own copy of Before Five In A Row, you can go here and check it out.

I received a free copy of Before Five in A Row in exchange for an honest review of this product.