Wednesday, May 30, 2012

FREE Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip

I just signed up for a FREE Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip (CW EFT). We used these programs a few years ago and they are a wonderful learning resource! You can buy the year-long program through Homeschool Buyers Co-op at various times throughout the year. The FREE episode is in September and is called The Will of the People. Below is what the email said about it...

The Electronic Field Trip "The Will of the People" examines the presidential election of 1800, one of the most bitter in U.S. history, and provides a surprising lesson for a 21st-century student. Thomas Jefferson explains how negative campaigning, partisan politics, and contested elections have been a part of our political system since the earliest days of the republic.

Complimentary access to the field trip includes:
  • Online video streaming available 24/7 from September 1 to September 30, 2012
  • Email Thomas Jefferson
  • Interactive online games
  • Downloadable resources, such as the teacher guide and program script (PDF)
  • Comprehensive lesson plans for grades 4-8
P.S. My friend, Laurie, over at Teacups in the Garden, has been using these programs with her children for years. Here's her review of "The Will of the People."

Ponce Inlet, Florida (Summer 2011)

Now that summer's here (yeah!), I'm spending some time catching up on my blog. I'd love to catch up on all of our vacation photos before we start on our next big adventure...16 days in EUROPE!! So, here's part I of our trip to Florida last summer. Alex & I went with my husband's family: his mom, dad, sister & her son who was three.

We rented a house in Ponce Inlet and that was our base for the week. We used Ponce Inlet Watersports three different times during the week and really enjoyed them. Alex and her cousin enjoyed these 'swings' while we waited for our various tours.

We rented kayaks which was a LOT of fun, but I didn't take my camera because I was afraid it'd get wet. This photo was from the EcoTour and the photo was of my favorite part...I got to hold a jellyfish! It's a cannonball jellyfish and isn't painful unless you get the chemicals in your eyes or mouth. I washed my hands afterwards. Thrilling!

I went running on the beach at sunrise three different times. It was WONDERFUL, though I tried it barefoot the first time. Ouch! I ended up with some bloody toes. Yuck! Anyway, another thrill was seeing sea turtle tracks! It was nesting season and I could see where the turtles had crawled up onto shore, dug a nest and deposited their eggs, and then returned to the ocean. Amazing!!!

I visited the Reptile Discovery Center in LeLand one day by myself. I didn't know the schedule and only got to see the last two snakes being milked. It was an amazing thing to watch, though! And, it was very safe as the man, and snakes, were in another room behind a glass wall.

Alex and I visited the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet while the others went shopping. We enjoyed the touch tank and the aquariums and other displays. Outside we got to see some turtles who were being rehabilitated. There were displays showing what was harming them... like trash. We saw x-rays of harmful things they had swallowed... like a fishhook. And, we visited the nearby SeaBird Rehabilitiation Center.

Our house was about 1/2 a mile from the beach and we spent a lot of time there. Here's my nephew making a sand angel!

And Alex having fun on a boogie board. We had a blast with these!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

DC at Night

My final post about our DC fall 2010 trip with the Carolina Homeschoolers is of a nighttime tour we took with two other mom/daughter groups. We had a wonderful time this night!

Besides the information we received as the bus drove us around, the bus also stopped several times for us to get off and explore various monuments. This is the Jefferson Memorial which was modeled after the Pantheon of Rome. It is a gorgeous building with a large statue of Jefferson inside.

This was my favorite photo of the night - the Lincoln Memorial and the moon enveloped in clouds.

Another place we stopped was the FDR Memorial which opened in 1997. It was a really neat memorial which includes four outdoor areas which each showcase one of FDR's terms as president. The girls LOVED this memorial! Here they are posing in a Great Depression bread line sculpted by George Segal.

The back of the Lincoln Memorial....

and the front of the Lincoln Memorial. We loved seeing DC at night!

National Mall

This post is continuing our DC trip with the Carolina Homeschoolers in the fall of 2010. The group is going to DC again in October, and we are considering going! We'll make a decision within the next week or so. It was an incredible experience and a great group to travel with and I highly recommend them!

Alex in front of Lincoln's statue at the Lincoln Memorial

We are standing near the Lincoln Memorial and you can see the reflecting pool behind us. Also, in the distance, you can see the Washington Monument and Capitol Building (behind my head).

Here's a reflection of Alex pointing to a name, Gary R Holland, on the Vietnam Memorial wall. We looked for several friends/classmates of my mom and mother-in-law while we were there, and also my mom's cousin. There is a book where you can look up the names and find out where you would find the name on the wall.

This man was selling water bottles and had trained a squirrel to climb up his bike and eat peanuts from his hand! Alex got to feed him a couple of peanuts. Of course, she loved it! (And, yes, we bought a water bottle from him.)

And, here is Alex in front of the WWII Memorial which opened in 2004. Alex is actually watching some Hawaiian dancers on the lawn and the memroail is in the background.

Capitol Building

Looking back at our fall of 2010 trip to DC with the Carolina Homeschoolers group...

Our group got to tour the capitol building!
Each state of the Union has contributed two statues to the Capitol building. I believe there are 50 of these in the National Statuary Hall - one for each state. The other 50 statues are spread around the building. The statues are chosen by the states to "honor persons notable in their (state) history." Above is Helen Keller, who I find personally very motivating, which was donated by Alabama.

Texas, where we live, has Stephen Austin and Sam Houston on display.

Before becoming the Supreme Court Chamber (1810-18600, this room was the Senate Chamber (1801-1808). Thomas Jefferson took his oath of office in this room in 1801. The infamous Dred Scott decision was delivered here on March 6, 1857. (We've also visited the court house in St Louis where this case started.)

This is the fresco that is painted in 1865 by Constantino Brumidi 180 feet above the rotunda floor. It is entitled "The Apotheosis of Washington." "Apotheosis" means to raise someone to the rank of a god.

Here's a close-up of Washington (center - I flipped the photo) who is indeed god-like. He is flanked by female figures representing Liberty and Victory/Fame. Completing the circle are 13 females representing the original 13 colonies. There is a lot of symbolism in the fresco and you can read more at the Architect of the Capitol website.

This is a portion of a frieze that is underneath the painting "The Apotheosis of Washington" shown above. It is called The Frieze of American History and was originally intended to be done in low relief. It is done, instead, in frecso by three different artists. The paintings resemble sculpture in a monochromatic pallate of whites and browns which is called grisaille. The 19 scenes measure 8 feet 4 inches tall and have various snippets of American history. The four I happened to photograph are the 3rd through 6th scenes: Cortez and Montezuma at Mexican Temple, Pizarro Going to Peru, Burial of DeSoto, and Captain Smith and Pocohontas. You can see all of the images and read more about this frieze at the Architect of the Capitol website.

(image from Wikipedia)

There are many other elements of art within the Capitol Building and even in the rotunda, but I'll leave you with John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence. It is one of 8 large paintings in the Rotunda, and 4 of them were painted by Trumbull.

After our Capitol tour...

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Alice with the March Hare, Hatter and Dormouse at the Mad Tea Party
For the last couple of weeks I've been reading aloud Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (by Lewis Carroll) to Alex at bedtime. Since Alex has been in a private school this year (which she finishes TOMORROW!), she's just been so busy we haven't had time to read together. We've really missed that!!! So, it was wonderful to read this delightful story together.

Alice and dormouse in pool
I've never read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland before, nor the sequel Through the Looking Glass (which we've now started). I discovered that the stories I'm familiar with are actually a combination of the two books. And, there are some characters and scenes I've never seen/heard! For example, the Dormouse in these first two photos has quite a large part in the book.

Cards painting roses red
Here's a scene that is more familiar which takes place right before Alice plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts. The cards have accidentally planted a white rose bush so they're busily painting the roses red so the queen won't shout "Off with their heads!"

Disappearing Cheshire Cat
And, I'll leave you with the disappearing Cheshire Cat. If you haven't read this classic book, I'd highly recommend it!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What if you only had a few months left to live?

That was the scenario facing Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. After his terminal diagnosis, Mr. Pausch lived about 11 months. And, during that time, he set about writing his "Last Lecture." These "Last Lectures" were often given by professors who would summarize what they would say if it was indeed their last lecture. But, with death facing him, Mr. Pausch set out to give The Last Lecture to remember - especially to be remembered by his 3 small children.

Mr. Pausch's lecture was titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." I haven't watched the video yet, but I did just finish the book that he wrote afterwards. And, it was incredibly moving! Mr. Pausch had a very positive outlook and I came across many wonderful quotes. I cried many times during the book, and wrote down some of my favorite quotes.
(I haven't watched the lecture yet, but I plan to!)

Here are my favorite quotes:
  • "You've got to get the fundamentals down, because otherwise the fancy stuff is not going to work."
  • "When you're (messing) up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you."
  • "There's a lot of talk these days about giving children self-esteem. It's not something you can give; it's something they have to build."
  • "Shatner was the ultimate example of a man who knew what he didn't know, was willing to admit it, and didn't want to leave until he understood."
  • The brick walls are there for a reason. They're not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to showhow badly we want something."
  • "Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won't make us happier."
  • "I found the best short cut is the long way, which is basically two words: work hard."
  • "Self-esteem? He knew there was really only one way to teach kids how to develop it: you give them something they can't do, they work hard until they find they can do it, and you just keep repeating the process."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: The Grimm Legacy

,The Grimm Legacy by by Polly Shulman is a young adult book of magic, mystery, adventure and fairy tales! And, though I didn't enjoy it as much as some of the other books I've read recently, I did keep turning the pages to find out what would happen next!

After writing a report on The Brothers Grimm, Elizabeth's teacher recommends her for a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository. The repository is a lot like a library, except they loan objects, not just books! But, from the start, things don't seem quite normal to Elizabeth. Even during her interview with Dr Rust, it seemed his freckles kept moving about his face. And, what kind of interview has you sorting buttons? And what about the special Grimm Collection in the basement? Are they really magical items from the Grimm Brothers fairy tales?

Elizabeth has to solve a mystery alongside some of the other student workers: Marc, the handsome athelte; Anjali, the perfect girl that all the guys love; and Aaron, who is serious about his work. Will they be able to solve the mystery and stay alive? Or, will they disappear like a former employee?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Got Brain Games? (including some of our favorite apps!)

I love watching some of the TED talks - "Ideas worth spreading!" Today I saw one titled "Why math instruction is unnecessary." Kind of shockingly, this talk is by a math teacher who thinks that we should stop making math mandatory beyond elementary school. Instead, we should offer "brain games."

I really enjoyed the lecture and Mr Bennett made some good points. I will continue to teach my daughter math! (For one thing, she plans on being a veternarian and will need some higher math. And, for another, she plans on going to college and you'll need this for your SAT, ACT, etc!) However, I think we should add some 'brain games' - both because they are fun and because they teach such valuable skills!
Although he was talking about hands-on games, we have some favorite 'brain games' on our iPad and I thought I'd share those:

Cut the Rope by Chillingo Ltd has been our FAVORITE! In this game, you have to figure out how to feed candy to Om Nom. As you go through the various levels, new obstacles arise that you have to figure out how to work through. Even my 3-year-old nephew LOVES this game! Every time I visit him, he says "Aunt Dana, Can I play with you iPad? I want to feed Nom-Nom." Precious! And, this game is challenging. It's 99 cents, and I see that there is an online version, too!
Chicken & Egg by Donut Games is another wonderful game that even my nephew enjoys. As in Cut the Rope, the levels get progressively harder as you try to match eggs of the same color to help them hatch. You can play it online, too!

While we've had the other two for over a year, we only got Sprinkle a few weeks ago after seeing it at the Verizon store. My nephew loves pretending to be a firefighter so I think he'd love this game, too, but he wants to 'feed some candy to Num-Num!' Anyway, here's a description of this game from their site: Using a water cannon mounted on a crane, players must adjust the height and angle of the cannon to fight fires, move obstacles, spin wheels and activate traps in this challenging water-physics based puzzler! But squirt carefully as you will run out of water and the less water you use, the more drops you earn!
All of these games get more & more challenging as you go along. I love that they are hard enough to challenge older children and adults, but some levels are simple enough that even a 3-year-old can enjoy them!
So, I'm off to find some more 'brain game' apps. Do you have any you'd recommend? If so, thanks for sharing!

Fond Memories... of Dictionaries!

Last night I started reading a great book called The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. The book was written by a Carnegie Mellon University professor as he was dying from pancreatic cancer. I'm sure I'll have more to share about this book as I've been writing down lots of quotes! But, for now, I'd like to share one of them.
"...growing up, I thought there were two types of families:
1) Those who needed a dictionary to get through dinner.
2) Those who didn't.

Wow! First of all, my husband is usually gone during dinner time, so we are usually talking or doing our own thing - not having deep conversations that need dictionaries! We do sometimes watch CNN Student News and discuss that, though. But, when we're at my mom's house, the dictionary comes out fairly often - just like when we were kids! Often, it is to see how to pronounce a word (as my mom often pronounces words differently than we do, but her way is always there, too!). Now, more often, we grab a computer or iPad to check something out.

Growing up, I have fond memories of two dictionaries...

The first was the one we used at home. It was big and reddish brown and well used. The word "dictionary" was indented on the cover and, for some reason, my dad had taken white-out and filled in some of the letters. Anyway, my siblings and I would often have friends over and we loved to play games. One of our favorite was Fictionary. Basically, whoever is 'it' finds a word in the dictionary that no one knows. Then, they write down the correct definition on a slip of paper while the other people write down a bogus definition. "It" then reads all of the definitions and everyone votes for what definition they think is correct. Points are given for creating a definition someone else votes for, voting for the correct definition, and for choosing a word that no one is able to pick the correct definition for. Wikipedia has a pretty good definition of the game and point system that we used.

The second dictionary that I have fond memories of was called Big Bertha. Big Bertha was HUGE and sat on a podium in my 6th grade classroom. In fact, I don't think any of us sixth graders could have picked 'her' up! At least, that's what my 11-year-old brain remembers. Whenever we asked about a word in class, Mr Irvin would tell us to "go check Big Bertha!"

As an aside, I learned that Mr Irvin died several years ago. He couldn't have been very old... maybe in his 60's? Anyway, I really enjoyed him as a teacher. We had just moved from Kansas to Oklahoma and it was my first experience adjusting to my new life. Mr Irvin made the (strange) decision to read the book Congo to us that year. As I looked for the book to post a photo, I realized it was written by Michael Crichton and that it was a new book at the time. Anyway, the book is SCARY!!! It's about gorillas who have gone kind of crazy and are bashing people's heads in. But, we LOVED IT!!! He'd read a little each day and we couldn't wait for more. And, in fact, I think I'll read it to Alex at the start of next year! She loves scary books and movies.

One last thought... I've been reading a lot of books lately in just one or two days. It's fun! And, I'm glad I have the time. But, there is also something special about being immersed in a book for days... just getting little pieces at a time and having to wait for more. I think they become more a part of your life that way. What do you think?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story

Two weekends ago while we were on our ranch in Oklahoma, I read Ree Drummond's wonderful book, The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story. I don't usually read love stories, but this was a (clean!) autobiography and I really enjoy the way Ree writes. (I've read her blog, The Pioneer Woman, off & on.)

The book is the story of how Ree, a city girl, met and fell in love with an Oklahoma rancher. The book is witty and engaging. And, it taught me about my future as a rancher's wife!

Our young bull who somehow found his way into the main pasture!
(All photos are from 2 weekends ago while I was reading this book)
I, too, grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. And, I also became a city girl - though my city is Houston, not Las Angeles. But, I was already married when I moved here. And, I am in the process of learning how to be a rancher's wife!
After eating, some of our cows cooled off in a pond.
Early last year, we bought 378 acres of ranchland in northeastern Oklahoma near my husband's family. Then, we started buying cattle. We now have 105 momma cows - and a lot of babies. My husband's interest in ranching stems from his childhood when he helped his grandfather raise cattle. I have never been around cows before, and I have a lot to learn!

our 5 registered Angus bulls
I love being out on our ranch! And, on Sunday I went with my husband to feed the cows. We have our land divided into 6 pastures (and will be adding a 7th). Our cattle our currently divided onto 4 of those pastures. Our main herd is divided into two groups; our small group of registered females (& their calves) are on a 3rd pasture; and our 5 bulls (now 6!) are on a fourth.

Our 8 registered Mama Cows & their calves
As we drive around, we check on the cows to make sure they all look OK. We also watch for moms that are getting ready to give birth. This day, we found one way off by herself. We drove around her and made sure she didn't look like she was having any trouble. Usually it's the first time moms that have trouble, and all of our moms have given birth before.

I recommend Ree's book even if you don't have plans to be a rancher's wife! It's a very entertaining love story. And, I'll finish up by sharing from the jacket of the book...

I’ll never forget that night. It was like a romance novel, an old Broadway musical, and a John Wayne western rolled into one. Out for a quick drink with friends, I wasn’t looking to meet anyone, let alone a tall, rugged cowboy who lived on a cattle ranch miles away from my cultured, corporate hometown. But before I knew it, I’d been struck with a lightning bolt…and I was completely powerless to stop it.

Read along as I recount the rip-roaring details of my unlikely romance with a chaps-wearing cowboy, from the early days of our courtship (complete with cows, horses, prairie fire, and passion) all the way through the first year of our marriage, which would be filled with more challenge and strife – and manure – than I ever could have expected.

This isn’t just my love story; it’s a universal tale of passion, romance, and all-encompassing love that sweeps us off our feet.

It’s the story of a cowboy.

And Wranglers.

And chaps.

And the girl who fell in love with them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Review: Crossed by Ally Condie

After reading Matched by Ally Condie last week, I went out and got the second book in the trilogy: Crossed. Just like the first book, I could NOT put it down and finished it within 24 hours!

Crossed continues the story of Cassia, a 17-year-old girl living in a Dystopian society. She wants to find Ky, her "match" that the Society told her was a mistake. Ky has been sent to the Outer Provinces, so Cassia takes off on a dangerous journey to find him.
The first book, Matched, told the story from Cassia's point of view while this book goes back and forth between Cassia and Ky. This second book has more action and danger. Now, I just have to wait until November for the third book in the series!

I was thrilled to find out that Matched is being made into a movie! I really have enjoyed these two books, though I felt the writing wasn't really smooth at times. But, I think these will make wonderful movies! (Above is an interview with the author!)

Again, if you like The Hunger Games trilogy, I think you'll enjoy these new trilogy by Ally Condie!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Yesterday, I got a lot done in the morning and then I read. An entire book. almost 400 pages. In one day. It was GOOD!

The book is a young adult book very similar to The Hunger Game triology (and, yes, it is the first of a trilogy, too!). The story is about a 17 year old girl, Cassia, who lives in a "Utopian" (or dystopian) society. The Society has everything figured out - the decide who you marry, how many kids you have, how much food you need to eat, and even when you die - at the perfect age of 80 (when you have lived a good, long life but before you start feeling 'useless').

When Cassia turns 17, she finds out who her "Match" is: the boy she will marry. And, she is shocked to find out it is her best childhood friend! But, later, when she sits alone to review his file (on a type of computer), she is shocked to see an image of a different boy... another boy she knows. Now, her heart starts to tear apart as she is torn between the two boys.

Today, I went to the library and got the second book in the trilogy, Crossed. I'm getting off the computer to start reading it!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

If you are studying China...

...Alex & I highly recommend Chu Ju's House by Gloria Whelan!

Chu Ju is fourteen years old and her mother has a new baby. Unfortunately, it isn't a son. Because of the Chinese One-Child Policy (which sometimes allows families outside of the city to have two children), Chu Ju's family decides to give the baby girl to an orphanage and try a third time for a son. Chu Ju decides to run away so her family will only have one child and her baby sister won't be given to an orphanage.
Wilkworms (image from Wikipedia)
As Chu Ju makes a life for her self, she has some really interesting jobs: whe works on a fishing boat with a family, works in a silk worm factory with a lot of orphan girls, and works on a small rice patty with a woman and her son. Throughout the story, you learn a lot about these jobs. For example, did you know you could hear the chomping of a room full of silkworms? Wow!

Rice Paddy image from Wikipedia

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Audubon House (Key West Excursion)

After our stop at Hemingway's home, we had a DELICIOUS lunch at an outside diner.

I had a DELICIOUS crab cake... so yummy!... followed by Key Lime pie. Key West is known for their Key Lime pie, and I was not disappointed!

We saw several roosters (& a few hens) and heard even more. Evidentally, the roosters were brought to Key West, an island that is only 2 by 4 miles, many years ago by early pioneers and Cuban Cock fighters. There is an ongoing debate with some residents wanting the roosters removed while others enjoy them.

Then we walked over to the Audubon House. John James Audubon had visited Key West in 1832 and, while visiting, sighted 18 new birds for his "Birds of America" book. This house is where he stayed during his visit.

Surrounding the house are gorgeous tropical plants. We spent some time slowly walking around. I would have loved to have sat and read here! Absolutely charming!

The house was full of beautiful antiques!

Audubon created his bird prints life-sized...

but afterwards produced a "more accessible edition at approximately 1/8 the size of the originals. These were single color lithographs, which were hand colored after printing."
(Quote from a sign under one of the prints.) So, you have an original size on the right and a 1/8th size, or "octavo", on the left.

My photo of nesting cormorants (& snowy egrets) May 2007
I loved reading some of Audubon's quotes!!! In fact, I'd love to read a book by him. Here's one of my favorites from one of the signs: "...On the 26th of April 1832, I and my party visited several small Keys, not many miles distant from the harbour in which are vessel lay. Mr. Thurston had given us his beautiful barge, and accompanied us with his famous pilot, fisherman and hunter, Mr. Egan. The Keys were separated by narrow and toturous channels, from the surface of the clear waters of which were reflected the dark mangroves, on the branches of which large colonies of Cormorants had already built their nests, and were sitting on their eggs. There were many thousands of these birds, and each tree bore a greater or less number of their nests, some five or six, others perhaps as many as ten..."

And, one more quote... On the 7th of May, 1832, while sailing from India Key, one of the numerous islets that skirt the south-eastern coast of the Peninsula of Florida, I for the first time saw a flock of Flamingoes. It was on the afternoon of one of those sultry days which, in that portion of the country, exhibit towards evening the most glorious effulgence that can be conceived. The sun, now far advanced towards the horizon, still shone with full splendour, the ocean around glittered in its quite beauty, and the light fleecy clouds that here and there spotted the heavens, seemed like flakes of snow margined with gold. Our bark was propelled almost if by magic, for scarcely a ripple raised by her bows as we moved in silence. Far away to seaward we spied a flock of Flamingoes advancing in "Indian line," with well spread wings, outstretched necks, and long legs directed backwards. Ah! reader, could you but know the emotions that then agitated my breast! I thought I had now reached the height of all my expectations, for my voyage to the Floridas was undertaken in a great measure for the purpose of studying these lovely birds in their own beautiful islands...."

And, the islands were beautiful, indeed! And, Audubon's language is, too! I'd love to find out more about his education...
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