Friday, November 30, 2007

Looking to Buy a Microscope?

We certainly are. Maybe not this year but sometime soon and I've read page after page of recommendations to try and educate myself. Then comes PZ over at Pharyngula with the most wonderfully informative, straightforward and practical guide to buying a microscope for kids that I've ever come across - Holiday microscope shopping.

He clearly gets what kids need. Cheap microscopes are dismissed. Compound microscopes get the thumbs down too for their fussy slides preparations. In the end it's the stereoscope or dissecting scope that gets the nod and I think his best reason for it is that there's, "enough space for someone to put their hand under there and look at nifty dermal papillae or scabs or their pet gerbil, without squishing or cutting them into thin sections." No fiddling around and lots of opportunity for touching what's being examined.

PZ also supplies links to sites where you can purchase the stereoscopes. I'll add Boreal Northwest for those who want a Canadian supplier.

Thank you PZ!

Day by Day Advent Calender!

Starting tommorrow I'll be writing a post a day with an advent theme, in effect creating an advent calender to countdown to Christmas! I'll have online games, a couple of downloads, crafts, classic moments from online christmases past and a few contributions from Youtube.

This will be a secular advent calender. The Christmas season of Advent starts on Sunday and if anyone wants a most excellent online calender for that full of activities, crafts, stories and bible readings check out the Advent Calender at

I'm inviting everyone to join me and I promise that I'll provide you with at least a couple of moments rest from holiday planning and panic and a bit of time for the family to have some fun while gathered around the computer. Tommorrow I'll start with something that had me hooked instantly and my five year old giggling for hours.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blog Plug - ParentalTech

COD has started a new blog, ParentalTech:

ParentalTech is blog about technology and kids, written for parents. Technology and internet culture are deeply ingrained into the lives of our children. This blog will help you keep up with them.

It's full of great stuff and interesting reads. It appeals to my geeky side but there's important stuff for the ungeeky parent as well. Take a look at the post on Facebook for instance. That's stuff we all need to know.

One of Those Days

Thursday is preschool day here. Harry attends, Catherine goes to help out (and gets paid for her help) and I take a couple of hours off. Usually we have a complicated system of car-trading and ride-giving to get the kids there as we only have one vehicle and it goes to work with my husband but today my sister was going to work a little later and just picked us all up. We got to the daycare, my sister and Harry got out (Catherine is sick today and choose to stay with me), I got in the driver's seat and took off. A few kilometres down the road I stopped to get gas and as I turned the car off I realized, "I have no keys."

See, my sister's car will run without the keys. You can start it and then slip out the keys. And guided by force of habit my sister slipped the keys out. I drove off.

Of course though, once you turn it off it won't start without those damn keys.


I went into the gas station and used their phone to call my sister. I got the answering machine. I left a message explaining what had happened. I had decided to walk back but the cashier took up my cause and started asking around and calling for someone to give me a ride back to the daycare. Just then the patriarch of the gas station (it's a family business) pulled up and he gave us the ride. He also gave us, in the few minutes we rode with him, a compact summary of the talents of the man that built the old school the daycare was now housed in. We pulled up just as one of the daycare workers was pulling out. I thought, "Oh no." My suspicion was confirmed when I knocked on the door and my sister answered saying, "Jody just left to take you the keys!"

The gentleman gave us a ride back and just we were about to pull in to the gas station has cell phone rang.

"That's them, calling to tell me they have the keys."

It was.

I went in and got the keys and thanked everyone. I went out to fill up the car and realized...I'd pulled up on the wrong side of the car.

All is well now. I turned the car around, filled up and came home. Through all this Catherine was quiet but when we got home we had a discussion about how helpful, kind and generous people can be.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Our New Christmas Ornament

We put up a Christmas tree Sunday. It's a cheap little prelit white one we picked up a couple of years ago and somehow used through two Christmases. Not this year. This year it's the kids tree and in a couple of week we'll pick up a nice pine or spruce at one of the local stands. Anyway...

Since the white one is the kids tree they've been making decorations. My son directed my construction of a paper chain (he has a hard time with the tape dispenser). The colours he choose were yellow, orange and black. Very Halloweeny, eh? So that's on the tree.

Yesterday my daughter was coloring monsters from the Dover Mythological and Fantastic Creatures CD-ROM and Book.

It's clip art but clip art can make great coloring pages, especially with the weird, wonderful and occasionally horrific creatures in this collection. One of the creatures was this guy...

You'll notice he's brightly coloured. He's also been carefully cut out and if I had a working digital camera I'd show you where he's currently hanging...On the kids' Christmas tree!

I guess they're going for a horror theme...?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

This Lolcat was Obviously Homeschooled!

From I Can Has Cheezburger obviously.

UPDATE: I post a Lolcat and then notice Doc has done so as well...And hers are SOOOO much funnier!

The Perils of Face Painting

My kids went to a hockey game Sunday with my husband, his father, their cousins and the in-law parents of their cousins and...Actually that was it. I was lucky enough that there wasn't one more ticket so I got to stay home.

At some point, either intermission or after the game all four of the kids got their faces painted. The next day three out of the four had red, itchy eyes. Catherine, on top of the itchy eye, had a splotchy red face. My sister-in-law had the best best guess for the culprit, the face painting of course.

I hadn't really thought of it but face painting at public events is probably not the most hygienic practice. There's the risk of countless kids who may or may not have colds, flu's pink eye or face rubbed by hands that never got washed after a bathroom trip. All of the same possibilities are there with the person that paints the faces. And never mind the makeup. Most of us know that our private stash of eye shadow and blush has a limited shelf life due to the chance of bacteria taking up residence but what about that face paint that's been exposed to countless people and possibly been used on previous occasions?


I'm not a really careful parent and I allow for a lot of risk in my kids life but balancing the tiny benefit of blobby, misshapen dinosaur ham-handedly painted on the side of their cheek with the possibility of illness, eye infection of worse...Not worth it. I can paint their faces at home and, if I do say so myself, do a much better job of it.

Uninspired But Working Well

I haven't been posting much about our actual homeschooling aroun here because for the last week it's sort of devolved into the basics. Catherine does a spelling test, a bit of grammar, reading to her brother and some work on her times tables. That's it. I haven't done anything formal with Harry. I'm sure we've done some interesting stuff on other subjects but I've been preoccupied with christmas and other concerns and haven't taken the time to write it done or really take notice.

I'm betting we'll have another week or two of the basics and then something will come along that will get us fired up again. I'm not going to force it right now because it's been three months of school work and we're coming up on Christmas anyway.

There is one bit of our work that's gotten much better. I bought Catherine a little school planner (a one dollar end-of-line type deal)a few weeks ago and she sat down and planned out her daily homeschool schedule. Even though history and science have sort of fallen off the map the last week she's been very good about doing her language arts and math ever since she wrote up her schedule. The girl that used to doddle and take an hour to finish one worksheet now plugs away with an eye to the time so that she can get on to math or reading ot lunch at the time she planned for.

It's been an amazing change that will serve us well when we get inspired again.


Courtesy of Pharyngula here's a link to a neat little game that might keep the kids (and parents) engrossed for a good afternoon -!

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Mom is Teaching!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Important if You're Considering

I've been seeing lots of plugs for on various homeschooling blogs and I want to make sure people do their research.

There's a thread at that has information on the issues some parents have been having with this company.

Follow the links in the thread to Hawaii Virtual School and you'll find a page full of information on the matter including court documents.

Make sure you've made an informed choice.

Evolved Homeschooler Tie!

Lynn put the Evolved Homeschooler design on a tie! It looks awesome and is just the most perfect Christmas gift for any and every evolved homeschooling Dad out there. She's donating proceeds to the National Center for Science Education.

I still have the Cafepress store up and it's rung up a little bit of profit. Plans to donate to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital never really got off the ground since they haven't reponded to my emails (yes, that's plural) for the information I need to send the profit directly to them. Granted, I could have it sent to me and mail it to them but I would really, really prefer the money go directly to where it's supposed to go. So the $10 or so has sat at Cafepress awaiting inspiration. Maybe Lynn's idea of donating profits from her tie to the NCSE would be a good place for the Cafepress profits to? It seems really fitting considering the message of the logo.

More on Magic Crystals

A person read my post, Magic Trees and Burdocks and kindly emailed me a link to a site that's absolutely full to bursting with crystal growth formulas. Not only does the site have formulas and techniques but it also lists online source and has areviews of commercial kits. For the christmas season you could even use the sites plans to grow a snowflake!

When you're done perusing the crystal site go to the homepage of Wayne's This and That. This Wayne Schmidt fellow is one one gloriously curious man. Want jokes? Tips on eating chocolate? Soil testing kit reviews? Instructions on making a kaleidoscope? Recipe for the best vanilla pudding? An Etch-A-Sketch autopsy report?

It's all there!

When you've got a free hour or two grab a coffee and go through his site. It's a treasure trove and you'll be absolutely delighted with all the stuff he's got there.

And thank you Victor for letting me know about the site!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wait a Minute...

So I'm looking at christmasy sites and activities and I stumble across a site where some soul has put together a little arrange-the-manger activity. I thought the art was a little naive but was having fun stacking animals and wise men in a tower when I noticed something amiss.

Here's the site, Arrange the Nativity Scene.

Who can tell me what's missing?

And I bet most people will suspect what it is before they even click on the link!

Have the Kids Giggling Like Mad

By way of of Momof6malloyboys comes Elf Yourself! Upload some pictures of your kids and the website will insert them into elf bodies. Here are my two darling elves.

You can also Scrooge them.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cooking Mama

My daughter asked me yesterday if I could find some cooking games for her to play on the computer.


Cooking games. *sigh* What kind of geek am I raising?

I googled and came up with this site which has a TON of cooking games. Who knew? One winner was Sushi Go Round and I have to admit, it wasn't just winner with Catherine. I was in their, wrapping up sushi and pushing saki on customers too. Very fun.

This evening I was browsing the Scholastic catalogues my sister's daycare gets and there was Cooking Mama, a cooking game for the Nintendo DS! Holy rabid cow Batman!

So guess what Catherine's getting for Christmas.

Not from Scholastic though. They want $29. Amazon shall likely have my money.


Catherine has a reading time every morning where, after spelling, grammar and math, she and Harry head into their bedroom and pick out a few books that she reads to him. This was my idea and it's brilliant. Catherine practices her reading, they have some bonding time together and I get 30-45 minutes to veg on the couch with chocolate and The People's Court (yes I watch it. Be quiet.).

Yesterday my neice was up so Catherine had an audience of two to read to. She picked out several books but that one I heard her read was 'Go Dogs, Go!'

She did an absolutely fantastic job. She read with feeling and an ear to making the story thrilling for the kids. When she got to a part that needed extra emphasis she had Harry and Madi yell out the lines with her. When she was at a page with lots of action, say dogs climbing a tree, she'd embellish and then have the kids urge the dogs to climb faster and higher.

See, I'll be thrilled when both my kids are skilled and smooth readers but what I really want is for them both to be able to read out loud and capture the interest of others. I'm not sure why that's important, just that it's a skill I admire in others and enjoy using myself. It was wonderful to hear her.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Carnival Time!

The Carnival of Education is at NYC Educator.

This Is My Brain On Math

My Dad forwarded an email to me last week. The people who'd emailed it to him were convinced it was magic. Dad knew there was some trick but didn't bother looking for it at the time. Here is the email...

There was a bit more that involved some stuff about having to pass it on but that's the core of the trick.

I got it right away.

I couldn't believe it. I miss the obvious all the time. I'm famous for it. But I picked my card and realized it didn't appear in the bottom. I then realized that must be true of all the top cards if the trick were to work so the question then was, "Do any of the top cards appear in the bottom?" Bingo!

I attribute this to working with Catherine on basic word problems. First step in a word problem is to figure out what the question is then work from there. Once I asked the right question of this trick it fell apart. I am now really beginning to understand the benefits of math beyond just numbers - that it really can train you to see things differently and to apply logic where before you might have simply stopped at bewilderment. Neat stuff.

I called Dad to let him in on it. I don't know if he's let his friends know that it wasn't magic after all.

Thanks to We Saw That for the images I used in the post.

Our universe

It's funny how sometimes you can bumble through an uninspiring, ordinary day and yet at the very last moment have a wonderful moment with the kids.

Last night, after I'd tucked Harry into bed Catherine came to me with Our Universe, a fantastic National Geographic publication.

Catherine was excited because the first illustration was of an ancient Egyptian scene with a farmer looking up at the sun. The sun was Ra. We started reading and for a kid who loves myths, this book had the perfect introduction. It also had beautiful illustrations of Ancient Hindu and Norse images of the Earth. We read on learning about lunar and solar calenders, about Ptolemy and Eudoxus and about precession which for some reason, really captured Catherine's interest. I know we've got a little toy top around here somewhere. I'll have to find it so we can play with it a bit today to demonstrate precession.

Harry came out soon after we started reading (holding all three of his most favourite stuffed animals) and he seemed just as engrossed as Catherine. With this book though, it's not hard to understand why. The illustrations are par for the course for National Geographic and so not only illustrate concepts well but are gorgeous to look at. I've actually decided that any National Geographic book I see for sale will be an automatic buy. They capture my kids like nothing else, certainly as no curriculum or unit study or lesson plan approach has.

We didn't read for too long, about half and hour or forty-five minutes but it was enough to redeem the day and I tucked two inspired and bright-eyed kids into bed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sometimes It's Better to be the Enemy

Barry at Kitchen Table Math has a post on some very unhelpful tips from the NEA for parents who want to help support their kids. The kicker is the guide on helping a child who wants to become an engineer. Go read Barry's post for priceless excerpts and the comments following.

What a friend school parents have in the NEA. You american homeschoolers should be glad they're your enemy!

Finishing Curriculum

Today we finished book 1 of Key to Fractions and it felt so good. This book has been on the go since last spring and has been approached when Catherine was interested in it. Since putting it back in into rotation a little while ago Catherine's ploughed through it with ease and it's actually fit in well with our overall approach to math.

Maybe the curriculum doesn't rule our approach anymore but it's still nice to shelve a finished piece of it.

Aside from that Catherine did some spelling, copywork and listened to more Story of the World as she worked on her paint by numbers picture.

Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm Back

I was away for the weekend. I went up to the parents to help with some christmas light putting-upping. Turned out that I really didn't do a whole lot but the visit was still nice.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Make Your Own Mattress!

I've been looking into DIY concrete countertops and sinks for one reason or another and somehow that got me to a site where a person describes making their own mattress. A mattress is just one of those things I thought you needed a factory for. I'm starting to think there are a lot of things I could make myself and actually don't need a factory for.

Anyway, here's the link! It sounds like a very comfortable mattress.

Here's a diagram of a foam mattress should anybody want to do some research!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Teaching Latin

Occasionally I get a little panicky because I realize that *gasp* my kids aren't learning Latin. Yes, I know that's silly. However, a lot of the homeschoolers I know on line make Latin a real part of their curriculum and since I'm generally measuring myself against them, of course I come up short in that respect.

I was relieved today to read Let’s Not And Say We Did at Right Wing Nation (no, I'm not a regular reader of that. I came to it through a post at Kitchen Table Math).

It's good stuff. Three commonly cited reasons for teaching Latin are laid out and then addressed. The reasons are:
Studying Latin teaches students grammar.
Studying Latin teaches students Latin roots.
Latin histories are part of our culture and history.

The author mostly seems to address the first question but he does so well, arguing that if helping kids to understand english grammar was a concern then we'd do better teaching them German. I'll let you read the original post and decide whether you agree or not.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Carnival of Education

The Carnival of Education is up at Edspresso!

Talking to a Teacher

Tonight was Catherine's Girl Guides enrollment night where all the new girls pledge their eternal souls to the dark sisterhood of Guiding and they all get shiny pins. I shouldn't be like that. It's a really nice troupe with great leaders. One of the leaders has told me that they'd considered homeschooling in the past but choose to continue with schooling for some very good reasons I won't go into.

Tonight I met the mother of that leader and it turns out she had been hoping they would homeschool, was disappointed when they decided not to and was interested as all get out about it. And she's a former teacher.

I know about a half dozen or so teachers and former teachers and talked to many more over the last few years. One of those, just one, wasn't keenly interested and supportive of our homeschooling. By coincidence, or maybe not, she seemed to be the only one I've known who didn't seem to have any passion for her chosen career. All the others seem ready to offer advice, time and resources and want to learn about just what it is I do at home with my kids in terms of education.

I've heard a lot of stories about homeschoolers who've had ugly reactions from teachers and I've expected it to happen for some time. I've been expecting that for 5 years now. I think perhaps I better stop because inevitably when I meet a teacher and he/she finds out I homeschool and we start to ramble on about math and kids and, "isn't it great when you get to watch them learn?"

Occasionally there's a bit of a gulf. I can't use advice on record keeping that's meant for classes with 30 kids and I'm betting my prime tactic for dealing with a disinterested kid, take time off to go watch cartoons and snuggle, isn't going to be something a Grade 6 teacher will find valuable. We're both in education but we're both different kinds of specialists within that field and very often the skills and tools needed for one situation are exactly was isn't needed for the other.

Regardless, we still love kids and watching them learn. And we all relish our place in that learning.

I've invited the grandmother up for tea some day so she could get a bit of a feel for how we go about our homeschooling. I hope she takes me up on it.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Nerd Family is hosting the Carnival of Homeschooling this week!

Island of the Blue Dolphins

I think it was Grade 8 when I had to read 'Island of the Blue Dolphins' by Scott O'Dell for school and I remember that I loved it. However, up until Catherine and I read it again over the last week I didn't remember much of the story or why I loved it so it really was a wonderful rediscovery for me.

Where our last book, Seaward, felt too fussy at times and like a short story fluffed into a novel, Island of the Blue Dolphins felt exactly right. No fluff whatsoever and every word needed. The chapters were short and inevitably sucked me right into the next so that it was a treat to read out loud. I'd sit down intending to read for half an hour but go on until my voice was disappearing and I was pushing the two hour mark.

Catherine loved it as well. How could she not? A girl trapped on an island who challenges cultural norms, proves herself strong and capable AND befriends animals left and right? This book almost seems tailor-made for Catherine. I'm fairly confident the Karana and Rontu will have a place in her imagination for quite awhile.

Here's a link to the sequel (which I didn't know existed and will have to pick up):

The book is, of course, based on a true story. We might explore that a bit if Catherine wants to and some of the links I've found are as follows:

Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

PDF from the Museum of Man

PDF with a map of San Nicholas and a few activities on Island of the Blue Dolphin

EThemes list of resoures on Island of the Blue Dolphins

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Meandering Through Math

This switch to using the curriculum instead of letting it use me has been working really well. On Friday we did the art project thing with the 2 times table and ever since then Catherine has had that table memorized! Granted, I've also been quizing her at unexpected times but I think the art approach really cemented some of it in her head. I'll be taking a similar approach with the other tables and other ways (other than memorization) of learning them.

Today I started by passing Catherine the math binder and asking what she'd like to work on. The answer was an enthusiastic, "Math Mammoth!" but I forgot I'd stuck the JUMP Math Fractions Unit in her binder as well and she stopped when she came to that. She'd done quite a few pages several weeks ago but we'd stopped when it got to addressing adding fractions with different denominators so she could shore up her multiplication skills. So that's where she started today.

JUMP Math, in this unit so far at least, is very much focused on building skills and not on explanations. Catherine was doing the worksheets that would prepare her to come up with common denomiators to add but not understanding why she had to do that. Okay. Leave JUMP Math.

On to Brain Pop where the math section has a little video explaining the addition of fractions. She watched and took the quiz and was a little closer to understanding.

On to Key to Fractions and where she left off months ago. This had more fundamental worksheets that she worked on happily and seemed to help her just a little more.

And all this she did either on the couch or at a little desk in the living room rather than her desk in the kitchen. Much better.

Today also helped me see the usefulness of having a library of quality curriculum around. We jumped from one to the other finding what worked at that moment and what would help us move forward. And the 'we' was sincerely meant. Catherine made the choices in what to do today and it made the whole process infinately more pleasant. Something resembling what we had in the earlier days of our homeschooling when unschooling was the approach.

Blog Reading Level

I originally saw this at Notes From a Homeschool Mom but notice that now Alasandra has a post on it as well.

Here's my blogs reading level:

cash advance

I have no idea how they arrive at that. Taking my last post and the posts it linked to into consideration, I haven't got a lot of confidence in their rating.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

No. 1 in Cat Butts!

I suppose it was inevitable. With my recent posts on cat butts here and here I have apparently established myself as an authority and am number 1 on a google search for 'cats BUT,S'(yes, someone did that search and got to my site). Okay, so it has to be badly capitalized and horribly puncuated for me to be number 1 but still...I'll take it.

The same search turned up a valuable homeschool tool, Cat's Arse pencil sharperners.

NOTE: Apparently I'm not the only one into cat butts. Check out Alasandra's dirty pictures - Alasandra: Charybdis is mooning us

Great Math Resource - Math Mojo!

Brian (a.k.a. Professor Homunculus) left me a comment on my post, Tip for the Times Tables Impaired. In it he made some great points that got me thinking a little differently about my bass-ackwards way doing multiplication. He got me thinking it wasn't bass-ackwards and maybe was actually clever and creative. Here's his comment (I don't think there will be many homeschoolers who will fault his conclusion):

Unfortunately, the way schools teach, and the way we have accepted, is the "standard" (read: good enough for government work). Real math is based on the personal discovery you have made. All basic operations have methods that are better the the awful, rote Junk-Ed we learned in school. Those methods are only considered "tricks" by people who know no valuable mathematics. You discovered a pattern, and a logical way to use it. It's not a trick. You did a great thing.

"Showing the work" is what you did when you explained it. Unfortunately, (again) schools don't want to see good work, they want to see the work they are programmed to see, regardless of its value.

Take your Idea further. To multiply any whole number, no matter how large, tack a zero onto the end of the number, start from the left and divide by two (no, for crapsake don't show work!) Now see if you can use that method to figure out how to multiply 24*84,358 in your head. It's easier than learning the "five-times-table."

Why don't they teach this in school? Are you kidding? What if they taught kids to think, and then graduated them? They'd create a population that wouldn't support the BS that they are fed. What kind of little consumers would we have then?

Keep up the good work!

He also left me a link to his site, Math Mojo. It's a great site with lessons, book recommendations, resources, a blog (look for the post on the Richard Feynman article!), e-books to purchase and a nifty newsletter you can sign up for. Once you sign up for the newsletter you get access to the archives and there's some great stuff in those archives there that any homeschooling parent or math curious person could use.

Seriously, get a cup of coffee and spend a bit of time exploring Brian's site. Make sure you sign up for the newsletter. Math Mojo should find itself on your Favourites list pretty quickly.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Doing Anything But

I have another blog. No, I don't mean the comic book commentary one. The drawing one. I went over to it today to respond to a comment and realized it had been 3 months since I had posted anything. 3 months!

And you know why I haven't posted anything? Because I haven't drawn anything.

Of the all the things that should be taking precedence in my life my drawing is definately one of them. Tomorrow afternoon my husband is taking the kids out to a model train exhibit so I think I'll stay home, take out the sketchbook and do some work.

Shame on me for not making the time before this. And thanks to the commenter on my site and Red Molly for getting me thinking about this.

Math in the Morning?

Well, it's sort of math. I handed Catherine a bunch of art supplies and a piece of bristol board and told her to write down a times table that's been causing her trouble in as many different ways as she could, over and over and over again. I'm hoping she comes out of it with the table drilled into her skull. Who knows - it might work.

We did do a spelling test but I decided to go with the crafts approach in math because her cousin is coming up to spend the night and that means her brain cells have turned to little quivering balls of anticipatory excitement. We might try some worksheets a little later but I'm not optimistic.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Tip for the Times Tables Impaired

Just thought of this tonight. It took me 34 years to come up with sure, but I did it.

I have the 5 times tables memorized up to about five. Once I'm past 5 I tend to resort to adding and tricks meaning 5 x 7 isn't 35 but actually it's 5 x 6 and then 30 + 5 and then finally it's 35. Slow but it gets done.

It struck me tonight however that there's a much easier way. Make the 5 a .5 and then it's .5 x 7, right? That's 3.5. Then move the decimal point one space to the right. It's 35! But it's even simpler than that. When you multiply by .5 you're simply splitting the the number you're multiplying in half. So anytime you need to multiply by 5 just split the number in half and move your decimal point over one.

5 x 6493? Easy. Half of 6493 I can do in my head, it's 3246.5. Move the decimal and the answer to the original question is 32,465. Whoo hoo! Thrilling stuff! And never mind the implications for multiplying by 50, 500, 5000...

I know those people who've got the tables memorized will be slapping their foreheads over the awkwardness of this (trust me, compared to some of the gymnastics I go through to multiply things this is elegantly simple) but those who, like me, have never really memorized the times tables will thank me.

If they hadn't already figured this trick out that is. But it did take me 34 years and I am unusually bright and clever so I'm betting they didn't.

Homeschool Gold - They Don't Want Me Either. :(

I noticed a little image on a blog I read today:

Apparently it's a site that you can join, have your blog listed and get neato rankings based on your visitors. I thought, heck, why not? I clicked the join button, filled out my info and left.

I came back tonight to this email message:

We're sorry, but after reviewing your blog we found it unfit for inclusion in Homeschool Gold. The following reasons were among the problems we found with your blog...

1. Use of profanity

We strive to keep the blogs linked from Homeschool Gold limited to the best homeschool blogs. We do not include blogs that use profanity.

Thank you,

Danny Carlton

Snotty, eh? Somehow 'best' equals 'no profanity'. Tiger sharks are to electric toothbrushes as best is to profanity.

Ah well.

My advice to Homeschool Gold:
- Target your audience more specifically by picking a name that reflects the specific audience you're catering too. Such a general name gives people strange ideas, say that Homeschool Gold caters to a diverse and general audience.

- Include an 'about us' page that explains your idea of what the 'best' blogs are.

- Give prospective members an agreement to acknowledge, FAQs or even just contact info so that they have a clear idea of what you expect before they waste time submitting their information.

These are pretty basic things to know if you're offering a service like Homeschool Gold's and want to present an honest image of that service. It's not rocket science.

And you know the irony? I bet it's the damn Disqualify Yourself From the Homeschool Blog Awards! post that sunk me! Apparently though, it didn't sink me with What's My Blog Rated? as they only give me this:
online dating

I got sited for the use of 'Whore' once. It didn't pick up my use of the F-Bomb in the disqualifying post I mentioned.

Just one more note, kudos to who really do welcome bloggers of different stripes, even if we use profanity or hold very different ideas and beliefs. I really appreciate that, now especially.

Is 'Family Friendly' Fair Justification?

In response to the kerfuffle (yeah, I'm going to keep using that word!) Sprittibee had this to say about the rule change to the Homeschool Blog Awards:

I think most reasonable people would understand the need for making these awards family-friendly.

Actually, I don't.

Reading the blogs of homeschooling parents is not a family activity in my house. It's restricted to one mature adult. I suspect that's the case for the vast majority of homeschool bloggers. Our blogging is generally a way of sharing news, advice and stories with other homeschooling parents. It's a break from our homeschooling days. It is NOT a part of our homeschooling schedule.

From Sprittibee:

We are teaching children - and you wouldn’t want your kid’s public school teacher to be using the F-word in class, now, would you? Don’t you think that the principal would get some complaints?

The analogy is false. We are not talking classrooms or principals. We are talking teacher's lounges or after-school get togethers at the local coffee shop. Nothing in that context needs to be classroom friendly.

But of course that brings up the question of what is 'family friendly'. Over the past year I've read homeschool blog posts on evil demons, teachers raping children, school shootings, corporal punishment...None of this is mentioned in the rules. Why not? Is this all family friendly? Do other bloggers really sit their children down to read about the latest school massacre? How is the expectation of 'family friendly' reasonable in those circumstances?

I don't think any of the issues or implications surrounding the rule change have been well thought out. It seems to have been done as an expedient way to avoid problems from last year and the strategy being used by the HBA people is to become defensive rather than address the issue fully. Granted, there have been some very angry responses but that's really when a person should know they have a problem that needs to be explored rather than brushed off. Those that have put forward 'calmer' arguments (in the comments) like Don have gotten no further, indicating that the HBA may not even want the topic up for discussion at all, no matter how polite or reasonable the opposing opinion is.

Once again, I think the HBA team is perfectly within their rights to change the rules but at some point reason demands they step back and take a serious look at how changing the rules changes their awards - who the awards reflect and who they honour.

Blog Plug - The Angry Astronomer

A while back I read an excellent post, The Big Bang – Common Misconceptions, by Jon Voisey, The Angry Astronomer. The post outlined misconceptions surrounding the Big Bang and gave me a lot of help when it came to explaining the matter to Catherine. It was also a really popular post with tons of comments and about a year old when I read it.

Despite the age of it I still left a comment to thank him and let him know he'd been helpful with our homeschool science. And he wrote back! Not only did he write back but he offered aid if I ever needed further help with astronomy!

I'm a sucker for a good science blog (and his is one) and a good science blog that tackles the politics surrounding science and religion (and his is one) but most especially I'm a sucker for a blog where the author is as receptive and willing to help as Jon Voisey is.

I haven't taken him up on his offer yet but I thought I'd plug his blog as thanks and let other homeschoolers know about a great resource.

The Final Look

I think this is it. I know that it's nothing radical but I really like how clean and simple it is. It's also easy to change as the seasons or my interests pass. Now it's sort of wintery.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Our Work for the Day

Spelling, copy work and multiplication today. Since I unshackled us from what curriculum we were using I've noticed that she's really getting some mastery of what we're covering. Easy Grammar for instance has been put aside so we could concentrate on suffixes. The last sheet of an ABC Teach group of worksheets was finished yesterday and Catherine had really improved. We'll go back to EG when she's mastered suffixes but not before.

Math was a drill sheet from and a good hour and a half of playing Timez Attack. It's the same approach here. I've stalled Singapore Math until she's got a really handle on her times tables.

Science and art are up this afternoon so we'll research Beryllium and make up a card for our poor, neglected periodic table. Art will be a GeeART lesson and though Catherine's looking forward to that she's REALLY waiting to pull out the paint-by-number kit we got last night. That will come tomorrow when my 4 year old niece isn't here because I know that if she saw Catherine doing it today she'd be aching to join in.

What I'm really excited about however is the parcel from the Home Educator's Resource Emporium. Yes, I ordered more books from Sandra. They came today but I don't have a way to get to the Post Office so I had to call and beg my sister to pleeeeease go pick them up and bring them to me. She should be here any moment!

My New Award

I won! Lynn gave a Homeschool Blog Award for Last Place to Find Lame Teddy Bear Graphics. Apparently she's noticed that I'm not a fan of teddy bear angels on blogs. Here's the most excellent award:

A Little More on the Homeschool Blog Awards

In my last post I disqualified myself from the Homeschool Blog Awards. In the comments section skdenfeld said:

It's starting to sound like a schoolyard fight. Isn't this attitude in part, one of the reasons why a lot of us pick homeschooling in the first place?

First, thank you for the comment skdenfeld. It's a good opportunity to start a discussion around this.

Regardless of what the issue sounds like though, what's at the core of it? What's prompting the attitude?

It started last year when Doc was excluded from the awards under dubious circumstances. It caused a bit of a kerfuffle. Now this year the rules change quite dramatically to exclude any blogs that:

...has cussing (no potty mouth), photographic nudity (I’m not talking about one image of some sculpture from the 1500’s in an art post), sexual content, or hostility toward other bloggers.

On the surface this is quite reasonable. They run the awards and have a right to define who qualifies. However, they're effectively eliminated a huge chunk of secular blogs with their rule on profanity. Not that secular homeschoolers are blogging swear words non-stop but most use the odd one and that means that we're out. It also gives, with the statement on hostility, the HBA team a licence to exclude any who might be critical of them and certainly many were after Doc's problems with them last year. Alltogether they've eliminated not only myself but most of the blogs I read.

Not a problem if they change their name and/or how they define themselves. They have every right to limit who gets nominated but should examine whether they also have an obligation to reflect those limits honestly. Are they truly the general, inclusive group that the name 'Homeschool Blog Awards' implies? Are they really bringing us, "Homeschooling's finest bloggers," if many excellent blogs aren't even able to qualify?

Do people who notice the Homschool Blog Award Winner Badge on a blog understand what that means?

Do those suppliers who provide prizes get an honest idea of the audience they're reaching from the HBA description?

Me, I'm not sure the HBA's are worth much of a kerfuffle. I did my post and disqualified myself and I'm certainly up for discussion about it but I'm not going to let it bother me too much. It's my opinion the the HBA team is confused about the focus of their awards and that confusion has led to it's irrelevence for for a lot of bloggers.

I wish them luck and clear vision and hope they get themselves straightened out next go around.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Disqualify Yourself From the Homeschool Blog Awards!

Lynn has a post on the requirements for blogs nominated for the Homeschool Blog Awards:

Family friendly (G-rated) blogs only. Do not nominate a blog that has cussing (no potty mouth), photographic nudity (I’m not talking about one image of some sculpture from the 1500’s in an art post), sexual content, or hostility toward other bloggers.

I don't know. It seems to me that if you're running an awards thingee then the point is to have entries that people honestly think are the best, not ones that managed to make it through the screening progress. I certainly think that the people who run the awards thingee have the right to limit the entries, but the limits certainly don't help in the search for the best blogs.

My objection is mild. I don't really pay attention to the HBA's anyway and haven't got a chance in (here's where I disqualify myself! Potty mouth alert!) fucking hell of getting nominated let alone winning.

All is not lost however! Maybe Chris will ressurect the Evolved Homeschooler Blog Awards.

In the meanime, why not disqualify yourselves?

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Principled Discovery.

There were a lot of how-to's and top __ lists. Not really my cup of tea But, one I really liked was Frugal Homeschooler: Music from Nerd Family. It has a few really good resources for music education that are absolutely free.

Monday, November 5, 2007

New Look

Do you like it?

Be honest.

I find the white post backgrounds refreshing though I'm not sure if everyone will agree that Smartie Blue and Sage Green go together.

Oh, for the Americans, Smarties are the Commonwealth countries' alternative to M&M's except much more colourful and soooooo much better tasting.

Give me your opinions if you want to. If not, well, I didn't want to hear what you had to say anyway.


Okaaaay. So I've already ditched the Sage and Smartie Blue and added another column. Let's consider this a work in progress for the next week or so!

Magic Trees and Burdocks

Over the weekend Catherine and I stopped in at a little shop that had a bunch of cheap little toys for a dollar or two each. One of the toys was a Magic Tree, something that's apparently been around for awhile but I've never seen before.

You start with a cardboard tree, set it in water and watch as the water is absorbed (Oh! Good demonstration for a chemistry class, no?). 15 - 30 minutes later crystals start to grow on it. 5 - 6 hours later, it's covered! I googled and found a neat PDF by a David A. Katz that's a great help in understanding what's happening and what the crystals are.

From the PDF:

The blue-green colored powder consists of an alkaline salt, an ammonium salt, and water. A representative solution (but not the exact Magic® Tree formula)can be made from 6 tbsp. sodium chloride (not an alkaline salt), 1 tbsp. ammonia, 6 tbsp. water, and 6 tbsp. liquid laundry bluing (such as Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing ). In operation, the solution moves up the tree by capillary action. The tree is permeated by the solution, however,the branch tips, being tapered to a point, experience the most rapid rate of evaporation resulting in crystal formation. (NOTE: tbsp. = tablespoon)

We grew one at my parent's house and then bought more to bring home and to tuck into the neice and nephews Christmas gifts. Another one is growing as I type.

Since you're going to be buying the Evolution popup book I plugged a few days ago anyway you might as well order the Magic Tree as well.

Here's the handy link you'll want to use for the purchase - Magic Tree by Schylling

I'm pushy aren't I? But heck, I want some Amazon gift certificates. :)

Our neat moment for today was when the cat came in with a burdock nestled in the fur on his back.

We took it off, stuck it to each other and dissected it to get a good look at the seeds. Then we talked about how it stuck to everything and what that adaptation meant in terms of how burdocks spread. Neat stuff.

Real Life Word Problem

So, you have 20 minutes before the store where you left your wallet closes. You reach a sign that says the exit ramp you're gunning for (and that the store is beside) is 27 kilometres away. If you travel the speed limit which is 110 kms/hour, will you make it in time?

I didn't actually do that math. I saw the sign and decided to take a calculated risk and go 120 kms/hour (since there's 60 minutes in an hour it's easy to figure I could do each km in 30 seconds). I figured I would make it in about 13 or 14 minutes and yet hopefully not be fast enough for any RCMP car to bother with.

This was last night. We'd stopped at Wal-Mart on the way home from my parent's house and I left my Day Planner/wallet in the shopping cart when we walked out of store.

I arrived with minutes to spare and got my wallet. Thank goodness for math.


This is a total brag but Kitten just gave me two awards. You can read about how utterly fantastic I am here.

But Kitten, me organized? I think I'm creating the wrong impression here!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I'll Post on Monday

Just a quick update...I'm at my parent's house, celebrating my dad's 70th birthday and sitting out Noel (which was a good blow but not quite the storm we were expecting) so apologies for no posts on the weekend. I'll get my arse in gear tommorrow.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Finally Finished

We're finally done Seaward by Susan Cooper. This one took us ages. Although every chapter ended with a cliffhanger the book as whole didn't feel connected or compelling for me. The ending fixed that to some degree, wrapping things up nicely and I did, in the end, enjoy it but the journey to get there felt a little pointless at times. One other thing that gave me a little bit of trouble were a couple of intimate scenes between the two lead characters. Nothing much and nothing I would have minded Catherine reading on her own but a little awkward for a mom reading the book aloud. That's not a problem with the book though, just the context in which it was read.

Catherine loved it.

Here's the summary from Amazon:

His name is West. Her name is Cally. They speak different languages and come from different countries thousands of miles apart, but they do not know that. What they do know are the tragedies that took their parents, then wrenched the two of them out of reality, into a strange and perilous world through which they must travel together, knowing only that they must reach the sea. Together West and Cally embark upon a strange and sometimes terrifying quest, learning to survive and to love and, at last, the real secret of their journey.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

You're on the Internet Too Much If...

...You can tell me the blog this pic comes from and the reference in the pic:

Here's the source blog if you give up.

I just love it when pop culture collides with itself.

Some Great Books for Your Homeschooling Bookshelves

I finally ordered some books from a little Canadian used book site I've been admiring for some time. It's Home Educator's Resource Emporium and Sandra, the woman that runs it, always has some neat titles that I've never seen before. The books came in last night and some are much better than I expected so this is basically a brag.

Best Book of the Bunch:

Evolution Pop Up Bk (Early Discovery Book)

This one is fantastic! It's crammed with information and it's also a pop up book of the first order. Every pop-up enriches the text and they're more dynamic than any pop-up book I've seen before. From the brilliant illustration on the front cover to the diagram-covered back cover every single page is compelling and informative. The text itself is straightforward and clear and not written in the conversational style and riddled with the exclamation points that a lot of kids books seem to bave. Can you tell I love this book? Honestly, this is one everyone should have and I can't recommend it highly enough. I've got a nice link to it below the picture so you can go straight to Amazon and buy it. There are no excuses.

Best Book for Building Fun:

Bridges is just plain fun and I can't wait to get into it and try some of the building activities in it. It's got arches, suspension bridges, ropes bridges, features on bridge disasters and even, for us Canadians, a feature on the huge Confederation bridge that links Nova Scotia and PEI. Buy this one too!

Great Science Reading:

A really nice book with a good overview of the history of science from the ancient world to today. This is going to make a really nice jumping off point for exploring science.

Neatest Book for Storytime:

A nice retelling of a Japanese legend and the best part is that there are origami pages at the back the you can cut out and fold into the characters from the tale. However, it probably better if you make a colour copy and use that!

I have no handy link on this one so it may take some googling to find.

Two other books were Properties of Matter and a book called Ancient Times with a CD ROM that I couldn't find except on Amazon Japan. It's not spectacular anyway. Catherine is familiar with most of what's in it. Harry might like it though. The Properties of Matter book isn't back but it was obviously written for classroom use.

The first four are well worth buying however and you all NEED the Richard Hawkey book on evolution.

National Novel Writing Month

Get to it! Get out your pencil and notebook, take down your brain from the shelf you've been storing it on and start writing. You have one month to write a novel. No doubt it will be horrible but it will be a novel.

All information at NaNoWriMo.