Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Action Figures and Little Boys


Action figures and little boys go together like peanut butter and jelly, lettuce and tomatoes, Big Bear and tractors, little girls and pretty pink dresses - you get the picture, right?


I have 2 little boys that would be totally and completely lost if not for their action figures, and I must tell you that it contributes to their learning experience here at home.  We have a rule in our family - no computers during the week because if you give my boys an inch of computer, they'll take the whole mile and beg for more.  They're just wired that way I suppose.



Instead, we encourage them to read, write stories, draw pictures, play board games, play basketball, ride their bikes, or play with their action figures among so many other things they can do to have fun and use their imagination.  



And that is exactly what they do when they play with regular toys and games and don't have computers, television, Wii, Nintendo DS, and GameBoys to interrupt healthy play that requires that they be physically active and use their brains for something other than pushing buttons.  Little fingers get far too much exercise on the computer.  The rest of their body needs exercise too!



I'm proud of my children.  They are happy kids and play well together - most of the time.  Sure, as siblings, they get into disagreements now and then, but overall, they play well together.  Our home is filled with lots of love and laughter.  


Take these Action figures for instance.  Together, Matthew and Glen built a fort and had an entire army of men fighting each other.  They have the vehicles and the airplanes too that shoot rockets and drop bombs. My boys make all those funny sounds with their mouth that none of my girls ever did.  It must be a testosterone thing.



They play army outside and pretend to shoot each other.  They run behind trees and play hide and seek. They carry their toy airplanes around and make these weird sounds like "vssssssh-wooooooph-rrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmm-ph ph ph ph-umph-rooooooom-chchchchchch-vsssssh"  Do all boys do this or just mine?



Anyway, I don't care if it is just my boys, they are having good, clean, fun and that makes me very happy. I believe that if parents can give their children one thing in addition to all the other things we give them, we should give them the time to be imaginative.  No child should have to say "I'm bored."  Teach them to be creative, imaginative, and fill them with the enthusiasm to play.



Now I think I'll go over and play action figures with my boys.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Man of La Mancha


Last Thursday, Sarah and I went to her high school to see the production of "Man of La Mancha."  I was looking forward to the play because it was my father's favorite play, favorite story, and the main song "The Impossible Dream" was his favorite.  My dad would walk around the house singing that song a lot - and I mean a lot.  To this day I still know all the words and can hear his voice in my heart and the joy he got from being so dramatic and vocal.  He'd open his arms wide and belt out the "Impossible Dream" like he meant every word.  He even asked me to learn it on the piano so I could be his musical backup.  I learned it alright, and since last Thursday I've been digging through my old music trying to find it so I can play it once again.


Man of La Mancha is a remarkable story and one of the greatest theatre successes of our time.  I think it was courageous of the theatre teacher at Sarah's high school to take on such a powerful play, but her students did not let her or the audience down.  The play was first rate, the student actors were outstanding and believable, the singing was surprisingly great, and the musicians below the side of the stage were really good.  


For as many high school productions as I've seen in my lifetime, this was by far the best.  The student actors were poised and very much into character.  The costumes and stage setting was excellent as well. All I can say is that the teacher is not the only one who is proud of this production - the parents and visitors are proud as well.


The young man who played the part of Cervantes' "Don Quixote" was outstanding as a young actor.  You could tell he took his part seriously and depicted Knight Don Quixote with passion and believability.  


Do you know the story of Man of La Mancha?  It is a play within a play, based on Miguel de Cervantes' Knight "Don Quixote."  It is a poignant story of a dying old man whose impossible dream takes over his mind.  The songs "It's All the Same," "Dulcinea," "I'm Only Thinking of Him," and "The Impossible Dream," remain in your thoughts and in your heart long after you have seen this production.


Don Quixote's dream is every man's dream.  He tilts at windmills and calls them castles, he sees all of God's creations with starry eyes and a sense of beauty, and he takes great joy in every step of life as a great adventure.  Somehow, although the footlights soon disappear, time becomes telescoped, and the "Man of La Mancha" speaks for all humankind.


Who is this man Miguel de Cervantes?  He is an aging old man who has been an utter failure in his careers as a playwright, a poet, and a tax collector.  He finds himself thrown into a dungeonous prison in Seville in the 1600s awaiting trial by the inquisition for an offense against a church.  While in prison, he is hailed before a nutty court of his fellow prisoners: murderers, thieves, cutthroats, and trollops who propose to confiscate his meagre possessions.  One possession of value is the manuscript of a novel called "Don Quixote."  Cervantes, seeking to save it, proposes to offer his fellow prisoners a novel defense in the form of entertainment.  A play that will include his fellow prisoners.  


The kangaroo court of fellow prisoners accedes and before their eyes, donning full make up and costume, Cervantes and his faithful manservant transform themselves before everyone's eyes into Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.  They proceed to play out the story with the participation of the fellow prisoners as other characters in the play.


Don Quixote and Sancho take to the road on their horses in a lively flamenco dance, singing "Man of La Mancha" in a campaign to restore the age of chivalry, to battle evil, and to right all wrongs. Quixote has an encounter with Windmills, believing them to be castles, but he ultimately ascribes his defeat to the machinations of his enemy - the dark Enchanter - whom one day he pledges to meet for a mortal combat.


Quixote and Sancho arrive at a roadside Inn, the same one that Quixote had insisted was a castle.  The inn's serving girl, Aldonza, is constantly being propositioned by a gang of rough muleteers.  Quixote, on the other hand, sees Aldonza as the dream-ideal "Dulcinea" whom he wishes to serve evermore, and so he sings the song "Dulcinea" to her confusion.  


Aldonza becomes angered by Quixote's refusal to see her as she really is.


When the Padre and Dr. Carrasco arrive at the inn, they begin to question Quixote and are frustrated by his lunatic and comic logic.  They are soon interrupted by the arrival of an itinerant singing barber.  Quixote insists that the barber give him his shaving basin, convinced it is really the "Golden Helmet of Manbrino." The barber lets Quixote confiscate the shaving basin and he is ceremoniously crowned with the aid of the Muleteers and the incredulous barber. 


Aldonza later encounters Quixote in a courtyard where he is holding a vigil in preparation for being dubbed a knight by the innkeeper.  She questions him about his seemingly irrational ways and is answered in a statement of his credo - The Impossible Dream.


Aldonza, enlightened by Don Quixote's idealism, attempts to put it into practice in her own life, but she is cruelly beaten, ravaged, and abducted by the Muleteers.



Quixote and Sancho return to the inn and encounter the disillusioned Aldonza who sings her denunciation of the Impossible Dream. The Enchanter enters the inn, disguised as the Knight of the Mirrors and challenges Quixote to combat.  Quixote is defeated and is then forced to see himself as a pathetic clown.


When at home once again, the old man Cervantes, who once called himself the Knight, Don Quixote, lay dying.  Aldonza, having followed him home, forces her way into his room, pleading poignantly with him to restore his vision of glory, a glory that she held so briefly in the song Dulcinea. Quixote, remembering his dream, rises from his bed to reaffirm the stirring "Man of La Mancha," but collapses once again, dying.  Aldonza, having had a glimpse of his vision once more, refuses to acknowledge his death, saying to him "My name is Dulcinea."  



Back in the dungeonous prison, Cervantes' story deeply affected his fellow prisoners and they return to him his precious manuscript.  He is then summoned to his real trial by the inquisition, and the prisoners unite to sing him on his way with "The Impossible Dream."


Don Quixote is one of the finest creations in literature.  The story's eternal themes are as relevant today as they must have been those hundreds of years ago.  There is something seemingly reassuring (or dismaying)  about the knowledge that our predecessors must have experienced the same emotions, and pondered the same questions, as ceaseless and torturously as we do now.

If you have never seen Man of La Mancha, you must see it.  Either the movie or the play, but see it.  It is a remarkable story and will leave a lasting impression on you forevermore.  I only wish my father were here to have enjoyed this with us.  I can hear him singing ...

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true 
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star


I leave you now with this powerful scene from the 1972 movie Man of La Mancha with Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren:



Friday, March 19, 2010

My Pride Runneth Over and Over Again


There are times in this life when a parent oozes with pride.  Like when your baby is born, or when they speak their first word, walk for the first time, color their first picture for you, learn to play an instrument, get a good grade in a tough subject, graduate from high school, graduate from college, get married, or have a baby of their own.  My goodness, that was quite the list, and I've had the distinct maternal pleasure of knowing the feeling of pride for all of the above, but something else tickled our pride yesterday.


NSHSSCertificate copy

Sarah got home from school and brought in the mail as usual, and began to share with us her day, it was a typical day. She went upstairs to do her homework and Big Bear and I went through the mail.  In it was a letter for Sarah from the National Society of High School Scholars.  Sarah had been nominated for membership by her high school for outstanding academic achievement.  You see, Sarah takes Honors and AP courses in her high school and although she didn't get straight A's on her last report card, she did get 3 high A's and 1 high B. (She takes 4 advanced courses each semester)  Even Sarah knew that the B could have been an A.  But hey, we're all human.  We were very proud of her grades and her achievements.  She is an outstanding student and it shows in her grades.



The chair of the NSHSS is Claes Nobel, a senior member of the family that established the Nobel prizes. We had not heard of this organization until yesterday and I did a bit of research.  The NSHSS only offers membership to outstanding students who qualify according to objective academic criteria and the student must be nominated by a participating educator.  The student will receive a letter from Mr. Nobel (which Sarah did).  The students GPA must be above 3.5 and they must be a second-semester sophomore, junior, or senior at an accredited public or private high school. 

Apparently one of Sarah's teachers or the principal nominated Sarah for the NSHSS, and whoever that educator is - thank you.  We are thrilled, we are proud of Sarah, but deep down we are not surprised. Sarah does her best to make responsible decisions and give her all to (most) everything she does, we are just so happy that someone other than us recognizes her capabilities and achievements.



We called Sarah downstairs and pretended to be concerned with her.  She was befuddled.  Then we handed over the letter and said "You have some explaining to do young lady."  She was beginning to look nervous.  Her words were "what did I do?"  She began to read the letter and suddenly this smile spread across her face and Big Bear and I began to laugh and smile.  Then we reached over and gave our little girl a great big hug, filled with pride.

I can't think of anything, at this point, that is more validating as a mother than seeing my daughter take pride in her academics and her future, especially since I homeschooled her until she began high school.  I also continue to homeschool our boys and will do so until they begin their high school years as well.  Still, we are so proud of our girl.  She works hard, studies smart, reads constantly, composes music, plays the piano, has a mean sense of humor and a sharp wit, plays a great game of soccer, is 1 belt away from a black belt in jujitsu, and wants to go to Harvard and study to be a doctor, and we have every confidence that Sarah will reach for the stars and lasso the moon as well.

I'd say we have a lot to be proud of, not just with Sarah, but with Matthew and Glen and Kathleen and Kimberly as well.  Blessings abound, even during difficult times.  This is just one moment in time that sharing the blessings with you seemed right.



Sunday, November 08, 2009

Desk Jockey


Often glurge is long on inspiration and short on truth, so it is refreshing to encounter a story that reports the facts with little (if any) embellishment.

The story that now circulates in email was drawn from former Gov. of Arkansas Mike Huckabee’s March 2nd, 2007 address to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Wash. DC.  It recounts events from the first day of classes in Fall 2005 for students enrolled in Martha Cothren’s military history class at Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock.

Here is the story: 

A lesson that should be taught in all schools . . and colleges.
Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock , did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal, and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks out of her classroom.

When the first period kids entered her classroom they discovered that there were no desks.

'Ms. Cothren, where're our desks?'

She replied, 'You can't have a desk until you tell me how you have earned the right to sit at a desk.'

They thought, 'Well, maybe it's our grades.'

'No,' she said.

'Maybe it's our behavior.'

She told them, 'No, it's not even your behavior.'

And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom.

By early afternoon television news crews had started gathering in Ms. Cothren's classroom to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.

The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the deskless classroom, Martha Cothren said, 'Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.'

At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it.

Hardearnedmedals Twenty-seven (27) U.S. Veterans, all in uniforms, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned..

Martha said, 'You didn't earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. Now, it's up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don't ever forget it.'

By the way, this is a true story.

Please consider passing this story along so others won't forget that the freedoms we have in this great country were earned by our proud and courageous U. S. Veterans.


With the missing furniture borne in at the end of the day by a group of veterans, each vet carried a desk and set it down, as the teacher gave her lesson on the cost of things taken for granted and the debt owed to those in the armed forces. 

I wrote to Martha Cothren about that day and also about her military history class.  This daughter of a WWII POW regularly has veterans visit her classroom – it’s one of the ways she teaches her course on the history of WWII and the Vietnam War.  Her class doesn’t yet have a textbook (she is busy writing one), so she uses less typical methods of imparting knowledge about wars past and present to her students.  Part and parcel of what she teaches is an appreciation for the members of the armed forces.

In May 2005, she and her class organized a Vietnam Veterans Recognition Week, including an official “Thank you Ceremony” held in the Joe T. Robinson High School auditorium.  Veterans from WWII and the Korean War also attended, as did people from all walks of life, to honor those who have served our country.  During that week, students videotaped veterans as they recounted their war memories, thus preserving their stories for later generations.

Cothren and her students have sent numerous care packages to U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They also write letters to soldiers in those theaters, sending off 1,200 missives in 2005-2006.

In 2006, the Veterans of Foreign Wars named Martha Cothren their “Teacher of the Year.”  I can understand why.  We need more teachers like Martha Cothren.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Teacher Vision and Busy Autumn Fingers


I love Teacher Vision.  I can count on them to send me great newsletters filled with information and projects for my children.  I can count on them to provide me with a slew of assignments, subjects, and reading for me and my children.  It is a great website and I recommend it not only for homeschooling parents, but for certified teachers too!  


I received their newsletter in my email today and it included a free packet of Autumn Activities & Lesson Plans for children in grades K - 6.  I thought "What fun!" and opened it up and discovered a lot of great things to keep my boys busy and I started right away.


Today, after my boys completed their History assignments, I sent them outside to collect some healthy, green leaves from a few of the trees we have in our yard.  Then in a few weeks, I will have them gather a few more leaves from the same trees.  Then a few weeks later the same ... and so on.  I thought it would be interesting for them to see the changes that the leaves go through as they progress into the fall months and then into winter.  


In the Autumn packet, they have included a "Tree Observation Chart" for the children to fill out.  I thought this would be a good opportunity for them to fill out this chart each time they go out and collect leaves from their tree.  I also thought that they could discuss any other changes they might have noticed including why they think these trees go through this stage when the weather gets cooler.

This is a fun project for children who live in areas of the country that experience the change of seasons like we do here in North Carolina, and to inspire you to send your little ones outside to experience this fun project, I have included it here for you to download and share with your little ones!


Download AutumnLessons

Friday, July 03, 2009

Summertime Craft & Cooking Fun with Kids!


WE HAVE A WINNER!  I know, I fell off the wagon and ran late on this contest.  Sorry 'bout that.  Guess I've had a lot on my mind lately.  But, we have a winner and I am proud to say that Alice is the lucky recipient of Rae Grant's books Cooking Fun and Crafting Fun.  Oh boy, is she ever going to love 'em!  


Thank you all for entering.  Hey, if there is one thing I know for sure, the odds are pretty good that if you keep entering my contests, you are bound to win something because not many people know about my blog, so that definitely improves your odds of winning.  Unlike Ree who has a contest and 13,000+ comments.  I don't know how she does it.  She must have a blog magnet somewhere that I haven't found yet.

Hope everyone is having a great weekend!  Alice, email me at susan@raisin-toast.com to claim your prize.  I'll need your address to ship them out to you.  Hope you love these books as much as I do.

Now that the kids are home and out of school for the summer, around here we are always looking for something fun to do with our kids.  I, personally, do not like them sitting in front of the computer, playing the Wii, or X-Box, all day long.  It is bad for their eyes and bad for their brain.  So, we limit their use of electronics and encourage our children to read and do other things that are better for them - like crafts, cooking, painting, playing outside, riding their bicycles and scooters, playing board games, and reading.  There is so much that they can do that does not require an electronic device or a computer, and I recently found 2 books that have encouraged my children to try something new and fun. 

I found 2 books by Rae Grant that I thought would be fun for the kids, and I was right.  The books are Crafting Fun and Cooking Fun, and what I found so interesting about these books is that they include crafts and recipes from days gone by.  I ran across some classic projects in the Crafting Fun book that reminded me of my own childhood and crafts that I would create from simple household materials.    There were a few that I had completely forgotten about until I opened up Rae's book.  Talk about a woman after my own heart, she has put together 2 books that you will love and will bring back a flood of memories from your own childhood.  Darn, I wish I had thought of this!  


Both books have fun illustrations and useful information.  In the Cooking Fun book, there is a listing of Weights and Measures that are easy for little ones to read and refer to when their cooking up something special.


Now where did she get this Hot Cocoa recipe?  Come on!  This was my family secret!  Or how about this Hot Milk and Honey for those nights you can't sleep.  Maybe Michael Jackson should have taken a clue from this instead of medications - ya think?  He was apparently suffering from insomnia.  I'm sure some Hot Cocoa or Hot Milk and Honey would have surely done the trick.


Or how about some of Grandma's Cinnamon Toast?  I love Raisin Toast, but man do I ever love Cinnamon Toast too!  Yum.  Especially with Hot Cocoa!!!


Turkey BLT anyone?  Tuna Salad?  Lunch time!


Easy Cheesy Broccoli Soup?  Hey, I like the Emergency Soup.  We have quite a few emergencies around here.


This one made me smile.  Potato Pancakes.  My mother makes these all the time.  Whenever we have leftover mashed potatoes (the real ones by the way), the next morning she'd say "You want some Potato Pancakes?"  You better believe it!  I love 'em!  Funny thing is, this is the first cookbook I've ever seen that has the recipe.  Or how about the Glazed Carrots?!!  My grandmother "Mama Lil" used to make these every holiday!  They were the only way I'd eat my carrots. 


Oh My Goodness!  Snickerdoodles!!!  My Favorite Cookies!  Lordy, this is great!


Looking through the Crafting Fun book, I ran across just as many memorable childhood projects as I did recipes in the Cooking Fun book, and this book is divided into seasonal sections.  What a great idea!


Do you remember taking a brown paper grocery bag and making book covers for your school books? I sure do! I would doodle all over them - to the dismay of my teachers.


How about a 2-stick diamond kite?  You don't have to fly kites only in the Spring.  If it's windy out, it's a great day for flying a kite!


Wanna make your own soap?  I used to make soap as a craft project and shape it into flowers and stars.  I sometimes used cookie cutters to shape my soap.  This is so much fun!


I remember pressing flowers, do you? They make great memories and also bookmarks!  I used to press flowers and then make them into bookmarks with that stuff you paint on top that makes it into a hard plastic coating.  What was that stuff?  I can't remember. 


Oh fun!  Pinwheels and Dangle Bead Bookmarks!  When I was little, I used to love to go to the grocery store with my mother, and there were always pinwheels at the register or in the children's isle.  I wanted one.  "Mommy, please buy me a pinwheel!  Please!"  Well, I eventually learned how to make my own and then instead of buying me pinwheels, my mother bought me packages of colored and origami paper, chopsticks, and crayons.  Of course, everything I did that was crafty involved a box of 64 Crayola Crayons.


How about a confetti blower for the 4th of July?  Or paper hats?  I used to make paper hats at my birthday parties. 

Well, with all this fun, wouldn't you like to have a set of these books for yourself?  I thought so!  Just answer this question in the comments for your chance to win the Cooking Fun and the Crafting Fun books.

What project or recipe do you remember from your own childhood?

Contest will end Monday night at 6pm.  Winner will be announced before noon on Tuesday. 

Good luck everyone and have a great 4th of July!

From Rae Grant, the Author:

What a wonderful post!!

Makes me happy! Can’t wait to read the comments.

May I suggest this?

In case you didn’t see it  I have a new blog :


and this author website.


If you can mention those or link up to them that would be great.

I wish I could send you a batch of brownies but you have the recipe. Try it!!

I have a post on  ideas http://www.craftingfunforkids.com/

Happy 4th....

Most grateful too.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Highschool Yearbook Memories


Do you remember how exciting it was to get your yearbook towards the end of the school year?  I sure do.  It was always fun passing the yearbook around to my friends and having them sign my yearbook.  Now, my little girl is experiencing the same thing.  The fun.  The memories.  The friends.  The sports.  The football games. 


I homeschooled Sarah from preschool through 8th grade.  So, when 9th grade rolled around, we had to make a decision for her high school years.  It was a tough decision, but after Bob and I discussed it at length, we decided she should have the same high school experience and memories that we shared with our friends. 


My goodness, that braces smile.  How sweet is that!!!  I had the same problem in my 9th grade picture - braces.  I wasn't as brave as Sarah, though, with that big grin.  I clamped my lips shut and I looked absolutely ridiculous.  Sarah just looks beautiful if you ask me. 


This was Sarah's first year at public school and she has loved it - well, most of it anyway.  She is the social butterfly of her school.  I don't know if that is a good thing, but she is doing well.  She comes home all excited about her friends and classmates signing her first yearbook.  These are memories that she will look back on fondly.


She did have one bad experience with a boy in her school, but after we got that situation under control, everything has been fairly smooth going.  Put it this way, as smooth going as you can expect with a 15 year old.  There have been a few tests with less than stellar grades, and then there have been tests with 100%.  Some in the same class!  What's with that anyway?


Her grades have been good - A's and B's.  This semester, though, she may be getting a C in Geometry.  She has had a tough time in that class, but she is otherwise doing well.  We are very proud of her.  She makes every effort to stay after school for Geometry tutoring and it has been very helpful.  A lot of kids stay after for the tutoring sessions - so many in fact, that they have special buses that bring the children home so that we don't have to pick her up. 


We thought she might have a difficult time making new friends, but nope - Sarah seems to be friends with everyone.  Even Louie, the County Deputy who patrols the school is friends with Sarah and tells us that she is always surrounded by friends - in the halls, in the cafeteria, outside - everywhere.  He can hear her laughing in the next hallway. 


Sarah has made some wonderful memories this year.  From Powderpuff football to the Talent Show where she played her composition "Waterfall," she has been active in her school, and she hasn't been shy about it either.  I was shy in high school.  I was a worrier.  I had lots of friends, but I was very self-conscious, until I reached 16 and that's when I blossomed and had boys hangin' all over me. 


Of course, that's not what I want for Sarah.  I don't want the boys hangin' all over her.  I want her to get a great education, make friends, make memories, have fun, and enjoy the experience.


And, isn't that what high school is all about?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Word Collector


Yep, that's me, I'm a word collector.  I love words.  If I'm reading or writing, you can be sure I have a dictionary and a thesaurus close at hand.  It's what I do.  It's my thing.  Frustrating is having a lousy dictionary and thesaurus on my computer which is where I need it most, so I find myself seeking out my big, heavy books - you know, the real books, not the digital ones, to find my answers.  Not that that is a bad thing, I just like convenience, and if it isn't at my fingertips, it's not convenient.

In his book, “A Man of My Words” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003), professional linguist Richard Lederer, writes, “An old dictionary is like a whalebone corset, a button-hook, spats, or a wad of Confederate money --nice to have around but of little practical use. Unless you’re a collector, replace old dictionaries with ones published within the past 10 years at least.” Alarmed, I ran around the house looking for a current dictionary.  What I found, upon close examination, was my American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition, 2001): heavily creased spine, torn cover, stained pages, soiled plastic covering, and no missing pages - or at least I don't think any are missing.

So, last week I went trudging around the web looking for a superior alternative to the crap that was on my computer, and in my lap, and what I found was eReference.  I have always believed that I would never be the writer that I want to be, or the communicator that I strive to be without a better grasp of the English language.  It's the perfectionist in me.  It's the Mensa in me.  I always have been a word geek.

geek  (g*k)
n. Slang
a.  A person regarded as foolish, inept, or clumsy.
b.  A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.
2.  A carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken.
[Perhaps alteration of dialectal geck, fool, from Low German gek, from Middle Low German.]


Now to confess my very strange ways to the masses - I keep a word journal.  I collect words.  Whenever I read a really great word or hear it used verbally, I jot it down in my little leather-bound journal.  Then, I try to integrate it into my everyday speak and in my writing.  Many times I'll come across a word that I recognize and wonder why I don't use it more often.  So, even if I know what it means I'll jot it down to burn it into my brain.  (only to be forgotten by the next day because I'm getting older and those things happen).  Actually, now that I think about it, I wonder if I'm doing this because I'm afraid of losing my mind?  Maybe I've already lost my mind and just don't know it yet.  Well, I don't care, I'm going to collect my words regardless of how crazy it seems.


When I came across this eReference program I was happy to discover that it was the American Heritage Dictionary and the Roget's Thesaurus all wrapped up into one.  Oh, and it doesn't end there.  It has more goodies - for instance, if you are on the internet and you come across a preeminent word that you want to know its meaning, then all you have to do is highlight the word and click on the little A-Z icon on your desktop and right before your eyes is the definition and all sorts of other good information.  Pretty cool, eh? 

So, I would like to share this wonderful and glorious program with all of you.  All I need is for you to define the word "weisenheimer" in the comments below.  And, if you are really ambitious, how about also defining the word "dulcinea." 

This contest will end at 4pm Friday afternoon EST.  And, I will choose a winner at about 6pm EST.  There is no sponsor here, it's my gift to you because I love you all.  I love your comments.  I live for your validation.  I travail for your approval.  I indite for your pleasure.

The winner will receive an unexpurgated digital volume of the American Heritage Dictionary - Fourth Edition, and Roget's II, the New Thesaurus.  It is compatible with Windows and Mac.  That's because it's a smart program.

Now, get crackin'!  (Such a good choice of words, don't you think?)

Time's Up Everyone!  I hope you enjoyed this little contest for a computer goodie.  I like anything that makes me smarter - because to tell you to the truth, I seem to be needing more resources every day.

Okay, I have a winner.  I decided not to wait until 6pm because, well, I'm sick as a dog and so congested I could peel wallpaper with this stuff.  I know - gross. But I'm keepin' it lively here - and honest.  I've gone through about 4 boxes of tissues.  I do believe I need to empty the trash can sitting next to my pillow.  

And the winner is ..... drum roll please (but not to loud because I already have a headache)


And, when I count down the OMG thousands! of entries I had in this contest!  Woo!  I swear we almost crashed the servers over at TypePad! 

The winner is ....  (thank you for keeping that drum roll soft by the way)

KATHLEEN!  (and no, this is not "my" daughter Kathleen, as I already put this on her computer, so she's set) - this is another Kathleen, a wonderful Kathleen, how do I know these things?  Because she reads my blog you stinkers!  If you read my blog, you are branded as "wonderful" from the get go - especially if you comment.  hee hee.

CONGRATULATIONS KATHLEEN!  Email me at susan@raisin-toast.com and tell me what kind of computer you have (Windows or Mac) and I will send you instructions on downloading the program and activating it onto your computer.  Let me know if you have any trouble and I'll contact Houghton Mifflin and ask them "what's the deal?"  You shouldn't have any problems, though.  Oh Lord, I'm such a mess this week.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Grammar and Writing - Tools for our Children


Every time I hop on over to the Growing Scholars homeschooling store I spend hours looking through every section and glancing over book after book trying to find the educational material that is "just right" for my child's learning style.  Not every child learns the same.  Some are more visual.  Others are more critical thinkers - and I've got a child for every learning style, including one that is a real challenge to stay focused because of ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome.  That is the best part of homeschooling my children - is being able to tailor their education to their needs, their speed at learning a subject, and their struggles and strengths.  I love it.

When I come across educational material that I really like, I pass it on - to you.  If I write about any material here, you can bet I've read it, used it, and have an opinion about it.  Today, I'd like to share with you 2 books that have been passed down from Sarah to Matthew and now to Glen.  I've bought these same books for each child at some point during their homeschooling experience and the children love them. 


Garden Gates by Silver, Burdett & Ginn


This book is a real joy.   It has short stories like Frog and Toad, The Ugly Duckling, Max, and The Caterpillar and the Polliwog.  All in all it has 28 stories and 4 Units.


When your child finishes a story, there is a follow-up of questions that your child can answer about the story, and a short writing lesson too to see if your child comprehended the story, but understood the message.  Throughout each section, there are "Reading Fiction" chapters that help your child with Vocabulary, Comprehension, Making Inferences, and more.  Each Unit ends with a writing exercise about what they have learned from the stories in that unit that also teaches them about revising, proofreading, and publishing. 


You will also find resources for more books that might be of interest. 


Garden Gates comes with a workbook too. 


It has plenty to keep your child busy.  My kids love it.


Next is GUM for Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics by Zaner-Bloser.


GUM has 5 Units, 50 Lessons, an Extra Practice section for every lesson, and Unit Tests.  It is engaging and has easy-to-understand instructions at the beginning of each lesson so that there is no question what your child has to do.  All I have to do is tell my child what Lessons I want him to do in the book and that's it.  Matthew works independently, understands the lesson, and does the work.


It is well organized and teaches the fundamentals necessary for learning proper Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics.  It will give your child the tools they need for being better readers and writers.  What more could you ask for?

To make it easy for you, I have attached the links here for you to purchase these books for your own child. Just click on the image below and it will take you to Amazon.com.  The GUM Level C book is for Grade 5-6.  The Garden Gates book and Workbook is for grades 3-4.




Happy Reading and Writing!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Homeschooling Comfort


Matthew and Glen got busy on their math lessons today and immediately sat in their favorite place to do their lessons.  Matthew gets comfortable in one recliner while Glen curls up in the other.  I think it helps their ability to focus and it works for us.


I have found that the boys are more focused when they are comfortable, fed, and relaxed.  And when they're focused, they sure are cute.


I'll be sitting on the sofa doing my work and I'll glance over at Matthew and Glen working on their lessons and it warms my heart.  Isn't Glen a cutie?  He's my math whiz.  Unfortunately, he isn't very focused.  But boy can he whiz through his math lessons.


Now Matthew is focused, but he struggles more with math.  Poor little guy.  Matthew is so smart, though.  We can ask him anything about space and the planets and he knows a lot of stuff.  He is a walking encyclopedia of information about space. 

Well, that's it for today.  I thought my 2 little boys were so adorable while studying I had to take their picture. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Teaching our Daughters About Happiness






CONGRATULATIONS IVA!  You've won the book Princess Bubble!  This is what Iva wrote:


I'm so happy that you wanted this book and that you have a daughter who you can share it with!  Congratulations Iva!  Shoot me an email at susan@raisin-toast.com to claim your prize.  I need your mailing address to give to the Author Susan Johnston who sponsored this wonderful contest!  Thanks Susan!




CONGRATULATIONS DOT!  You've won the book Princess Bubble!  This is what Dot wrote:


Wow!  I'm happy that you, too, have a daughter who you can share it with!  Congratulations Dot!  Shoot me an email at susan@raisin-toast.com to claim your prize.  I need your mailing address to give to the Author Susan Johnston who sponsored this wonderful contest! 

I am so proud of myself.  I was able to give a prize to 1/3 of the entrants to this contest.  Those were great odds!  haha.  Now, I know this wasn't a blender or a laptop, a camera or a $500 gift card, but hey!  I think a win is a win is a win and I hope our winners enjoy the book as much as I did with my daughter.

Just the other day I received a book in the mail, Princess Bubble, from the authors, Susan Johnston & Kimberly Webb.  I love children's books, but this one was different and had a different message for my daughter. Apparently I am not the only one who thinks so, as Susan was interviewed recently on CNN about her book.


As a child, I grew up believing that happiness was all about finding my Prince, having a family of my own, and living happily ever after.  Well, it's true, I found my happiness doing just that, but, what about my daughter?  What about your daughter?  Maybe their happiness isn't finding a Prince and having children after all.  Maybe their happiness and passion is having a successful career doing something that they love and buying their own castle. 


I read this book and enjoyed the message.  This one in particular stood out:

"Living happily ever after is not about finding a prince.  True happiness is found by loving God, being kind to others, and being comfortable with who you are already!  Happy princesses are people who enjoy others and like themselves.  Happy people give of their time to help others." 

What a wonderful quote!  The message was clear and true and I might add that it is a message that we, as mothers and parents, should give our daughters from the time they are small. 


Of course, there is nothing wrong with our daughters growing up to want a husband and children and a family of their own.  But, and this is important - they should not pin their happiness on someone else.  They should have found their own personal happiness prior to finding a life companion.  At least that is what I believe.


My daughter, Sarah, just turned 15, and I believe that we have instilled in her the desire to seek out her own true happiness doing those things that she loves.  She hopes to go to Juilliard and is working hard on her compositions and piano.  When I was 15, I was boy crazy, and was so excited to go on my first date.  I didn't have the goals that Sarah has as a 15 year old girl.  Maybe my life would be different, maybe not so much.  Still, it is amazing to me to see just how different my daughter is at this age and how her priorities are different too - In a good way.

Sarah does have a crush on a boy in her school, but she isn't obsessed, thank goodness (or at least not yet) and she is focused on her studies and her goals.  Keeping her focused is important for her future success. But, having this crush?  Ahh, that's normal. 

I believe that Susan Johnston and Kimberly Webb brought that message to young readers in their book "The Princess Bubble" and I think you will agree.

I've put this book in my Featured Book section of the School Days Store - however...

I am giving away 2 copies of this book to the reader who answers this question in the comments below:

"What do you tell your daughter about happiness?"

Contest will end at 3pm EST on Wednesday.  2 Winners will be chosen on Wednesday evening around 8pm EST.  Good Luck!

You can visit Susan and Kim on the web too HERE.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Nothing Gives Me Greater Joy


I've been homeschooling my children for 14 years.  Homeschooling does not start at Kindergarten - Homeschooling starts from the day you bring your child home for the first time.  They learn by the examples we set as parents and as teachers. 


When my daughter, Sarah, became school age, it was a tough but mutual decision between Big Bear and me to homeschool her.  But first, we let her start kindergarten in the public school near our home.  Sarah was a bright child, and had known her alphabet backwards and forwards by age 2.  She was reading small children's books by age 3 and we knew she was smart.  For some reason, though, when we put her in school, we were called to the school for a teacher's conference on 2 occasions because of concern that Sarah did not know her alphabet.  We were shocked!  There was obviously something wrong here and we were determined to get to the bottom of it.  So, we brought Sarah into the classroom with us for the next meeting and she showed the teacher that she did, indeed, know the alphabet, and could read too. 


The teacher was dumb-founded.  "Then why aren't you doing the work in class, Sarah?" she asked.  Sarah piped up "Because I didn't want my friends to think I was smarter than them." Sarah replied.  That was a profound statement coming from a 5 year old.  We also had Matthew, who was then 2 years old, in my lap, and he, too, could recite the alphabet with confidence.  It was then that Bob and I had a long discussion about Homeschooling and we decided to give it a try.  We never looked back. 


First of all, when you homeschool, you know what your child needs to know (I think).  You know what they are learning (or you should) and can control the information and education they receive (for the most part).  Which brings me to this - that Nothing Gives Me Greater Joy - than to see the thrill on my child's face when they "get it."  When they have struggled with a concept or a lesson and I take the time to explain it 20 different ways until finally the light bulb moment when they really "get it."  And then, without hesitation, we move on to the next lesson.  It is as if I am watching my child's brain grow right before my eyes.  There really is no greater joy.  Especially when you know that you are responsible for that moment.  That lesson.  That thrill on their face.


For that reason, I love homeschooling my children.  Believe me when I say it has not been all happy times.  Homeschooling is challenging, for the child and the parent teacher.  There are going to be good days; there are going to be bad days.  There are going to be days when you take a day off and rest and clean the house or do the laundry - together.  As long as you have balance, you will be fine.  As long as you remember that the reason you homeschool is to give your child the best possible education - and take advantage of resources available to you, you really will be fine.

Resources - they are a great thing.  And, they can be found by the thousands online.  Resources to help homeschooling parents be successful in their quest to provide their child with the best possible education.  I've taken advantage of so many resources that I lost count.  They've all been helpful.  And so, this weekend - the entire weekend mind you - I built a homeschooling market just for you - my readers.   Those of you out there who homeschool or want to homeschool, or are just thinking about it.  I took advantage of those resources and made them available to you through my little School Days Market as I call it.   Hey, I like convenience, and hopefully you will too.


I've handpicked every item in this store.  Some of them I have read, some of them I want to read.  Some look really interesting.  The items (books, scopes, manipulatives, etc.) that didn't float my boat I passed over and didn't add them to my store.  So, you have my word that each item I picked was handpicked with what I believe to be good judgment and care.  In other words, if I didn't find it interesting, it didn't go in my little homeschooling market. 


Take a look around.  If you know of a book or a product that you would like to see in the store and can't find, or if you have used a textbook, workbook, or read a book that is not in the storefront that you think would be helpful to other homeschooling mothers, please tell me about it and provide me with the ISBN number.  I will add it to the store.  Together, we can put together quite a nice place to find just the right products for homeschooling parents.  Resources and more.

Now you know what I was doing all weekend.  Maybe I should take the day off and get my laundry done.  Ya think?  Naaah.  I think my boys had better pull out their math books.


(Several of the wonderful pictures above courtesy of SouleMama.com)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Want to Learn to Draw and Paint?


I have had a number of readers and friends ask me for my recommendations for instructional material to learn to draw and paint.  I hear often "I wish I could paint like you" or "I wish I knew how to draw."  "It really is not all that difficult," is what I tell them and that usually gets me a reply - "That's easy for you to say!" 

Well, let me tell you, it wasn't always easy, and because I really wanted to learn to draw and paint, I took the initiative by purchasing some books to get me started, some #2 pencils, an artists eraser (they are the best because they don't leave particles all over your paper), and a sketchbook to start.  I taught myself to draw, and then when I felt confident that I understood values, relationships, and perspective I took the leap to learning to paint.  I knew early on (from childhood) that I wanted to be an artist in oils.  I wanted to paint like the impressionists and I had a few that absolutely made me stare and study their paintings in amazement.  Take me to a museum any day at all and I will be completely engrossed in my surroundings.  Just being in the same room with the creative products of the masters gives me chills. And so I have honed my skills for years and years and that is what has brought me to this place now in my life as a professional artist.


It takes work and it is not all a gift.  I believe more than anything that it is more a desire than a gift.  A passion from within that stirs the soul.  For me, painting and drawing, and even writing, are 3 things that I am so passionate about that it lives within me.  They are as much a part of me as breathing.  But just as writing is a skill that must be learned, so is painting and drawing.

I also love to teach.  I teach painting and drawing to art groups in North Carolina, I teach children in my community, I teach my own children, and now I want to teach you too!


Would you like to learn to draw and paint in 2009?  Then take a look at a collection of books that I have put together for you HERE and find the best price at Amazon.com. 


Many of you may already know that in addition to being an artist, I am also the owner and creative director of Red Easel, LLC.  Red Easel is my brain child for giving back to the visual arts community by putting together resources, information, instruction, material, and a gallery of some of the most magnificent artists in the world today.  I have listings for galleries, artists, grants, competitions, and more.  I give the artist members creative license to write articles about their journeys and offer instruction to those readers who are interested in learning from the best.  I am very proud of the creative direction that Red Easel has taken thus far and look forward to its future growth as well. 

One goal I have before 2010 is to open a brick & mortar gallery - Red Easel Gallery - to showcase the work of the artist members of Red Easel.  This gallery would include an instructional area, an open gallery, and a cafe and shop as well.  Big Bear and I are putting together the logistics for such a venture and we are both excited about it.  But, we have to wait until the economy takes a positive turn and our finances look a little less gloomy. 

In the meantime, I continue to nurture Red Easel and Raisin Toast and appreciate you taking this journey with me.


I've noticed that in some ways they are starting to merge together as my Raisin Toast readers email me with questions on how to begin to learn to draw and paint.  So, I have put together this offering of instructional books that I know will get you off on the right foot - or should I say the "right canvas?" 

When I draw, paint, or write, I find myself in a "zone" of complete focus.  I don't hear anything going on around me.  Everything around me is tuned out.  I love being in that place and I know you will too.

So if you are interested in learning to draw or paint, feel free to start HERE with my selections.  Please let me know how you like these selections by leaving a comment at the bottom of the "Learn to Draw & Paint" page.  You might also notice that I have put a link to the Learn to Draw & Paint page in the left sidebar with all my other links.

Thank you for dropping by!  I hope you are enjoying your holiday with family and friends.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Great Homeschooling & Teaching Resources for You!

Family Education Site.jpg by you.    HomeScienceTools Site.jpg by you.

TeacherVision Site.jpg by you.      InfoPlease Site.jpg by you.

Being a homeschooling parent, I look to find as many valuable resources as I can to help me be the best teacher I can be for my children.  And, some of these resources I turn to on a regular basis for information, print-outs, tests, and more.  Since I received numerous emails from these resources today, I wanted to share them with you.  They aren't just for homeschooling parents and children, either.  Students from K-12 have a slew of information at their disposal on these sites that can help them with their studies regardless of where they attend school. 

Let's start with Family Education:

Family Education Site.jpg by you.

I love this site for its great selection of information that is well organized for parents and teachers alike.  If you have a child 12-18 years old, for instance, they have a "school" section that helps teens get homework tips, study for the SATs and search for a College.  They also have a "Life" section that discusses Teens & Smoking, finding a job, and help for kids going thru puberty (like my Sarah). 

This site has a section for every age group and every grade level and offers teachers and parents printables, activities, quizzes, blogs, advice, recall information, and more.  They even have a Reading Readiness Screening tool.  I love this place!  And personally, I think it is one of the most important resources that I turn to on the net.  Their articles and information have been well researched, so you can trust that they know what they are talking about. 

Click on the image above to go to their site.

Next is Home Science Tools:

HomeScienceTools Site.jpg by you.

Here's another great site for those parents who need some hands-on goodies for science projects and lessons.  Home Science Tools has everything your child could possibly ever need to take them into the 21st century learning science.  I was never big on science growing up, but my son, Matthew, is a science whiz-kid.  He loves everything science and space and can discuss these subjects in great detail.  Part of the reason, I believe, is that I have used Home Science Tools to take him to that place in science that sparks his curiosity and will to learn.  No more boring! 

Home Science Tools is not just a place to get microscopes and chemistry kits either!  You'll find science curriculum by grade, science books, science information, and sections on Chemistry, Life Science, Biology, Earth Science, Space Science, Physical Science, Physics, and Technology as well.  Again, like Family Education, this site is a real doozy.  Propel your child into wanting to learn more about science - you won't be sorry.  I believe that the next generation will be taking science and exploration to incredible levels.  Just like the computer age brought us a world of information and made all that you are enjoying this second - reading this post for instance - possible.  I believe that "Science" is the future.  It has always been here, of course, and it has always been on a steady rising growth and learning curve, but I think our children's future and our next "great thing" is going to be in nuclear energy and stem cell research.  Miraculous things are happening all around us, let's prepare our children together for a possible career or understanding of what was once an impossibility. 

Click on the image above to visit their site.

A wonderful resource for Teachers - TeacherVision:

TeacherVision Site.jpg by you.

Am I piling on the resources?  Good.  Better too many than not enough.  Have you been to Teacher Vision?  Wooo, supersite for teachers.  And, be open-minded here, if you are a parent, then you are a teacher!  We all must do our part to teach our children and help them to succeed, and this site is sure to make that job a little easier.  You'll find a world of information covering your child's grade level, subjects, more printables, lesson plans, class management, professional development, and more.  They also have seasonal activities that kids will love. 

This site is very much like Family Education, only more directed towards teachers and lessons, and they charge a 39.95 annual fee to have access to all their information.  I do pay the 39.95, and have found their resource of information to be well worth it. 

Click on the image above to check out their site!

Need more information?  Check out InfoPlease:

InfoPlease Site.jpg by you.

Need some info please?  Just go to Infoplease and you may just find something you didn't expect.  Wow, does this site ever cover some great information - World News, United States History and Government, Biographys, Sports, Arts & Entertainment, Health & Science, and get this - they even have a homework center and a Fact Monster!  They also have a dictionary, encyclopedia, thesaurus, and atlas.  They cover just about everything except Math.  And that's a subject for another day.

They've even got slideshows and videos of historic events.  Check it out!  You and your child will be amazed.

Click on the image above to take a stroll back in history.

So there you go.  That ought to keep you busy for a while.  Bookmark these sites and put them in a special folder in your bookmarks under "Education."  That's what I do and it makes it a lot easier to locate them when I need them. 

Enjoy the time you spend with your children getting smarter.  They'll love you for it.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

PowderPuff Football at its Best

DSC_1467 by you.

Yes, there is such a thing as a girl's football team - The PowderPuffs - and they exist right here in North Carolina.  I can't recall there being a girl's football team when I was in high school can you?  But here we are in the 21st Century and it is an equal-opportunity sport ...

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Equal opportunity to look ridiculous in front of your classmates, teachers, and parents

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Equal opportunity to hike the ball 4 feet over the receiver's head

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Equal opportunity to look at everything and pay attention to no one

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Equal opportunity to look like you are going to tackle that girl in pink who teases you during lunch

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But first you gotta find that weasel before she gets away

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And when you do, you are going to trip her, tackle her, then let her know who's boss!

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Equal opportunity to wear short-shorts ...

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Equal opportunity to grab the football from the girl running with it - but oh!  Wait! Isn't she on our team? (this was the worst example of managed chaos we've seen in a long time, folks)

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Equal opportunity to know that now the girl in pink is going to tear you apart

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Equal opportunity to have your hair pulled

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Equal opportunity to run your hiney off the field as fast as you can 

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Equal opportunity to stand on the sidelines and plan your next strategy ...

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Equal opportunity to giggle with all your new friends and then giggle some more - it's a girl thing

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Equal opportunity to bend over and make your parents gag in the bleachers because the teenage boy with the whistle is looking at your daughter's hiney. 

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Equal opportunity to check out the hot guys with the muscles talking about maneuvers

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Allllll - right already - Equal opportunity to make your parents proud that they have a daughter who was brave enough to try out for this sport in the first place!

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Equal opportunity to participate in all the hoopla after the game - and cheer when your Algebra teacher gets a pie in her face

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But wait a minute - there's more than one pie! 

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Equal opportunity to have boys take pictures of all the girls courtesy of camera-ready cell phones.

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This is one sport I can honestly say I hope my girl, Sarah, (that cutie pie in the black shorts, green t-shirt, and white socks) doesn't repeat anytime soon. 

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Although I must admit that the pie-in-the-face ceremonies were the best fun of all.

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Go PowderPuffs!

Don't pass up an opportunity to vote in the poll below - Should High School Girls Play Football? Voice Your Opinion!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lessons in Politics & More


This year has been the perfect opportunity to introduce American Government, US History, and the study of the branches of government to my children.  As a homeschooling parent, I try to take advantage of events in the news to capitalize on the subject and teach them what they need to know.  It makes for great interactive lessons and opportunity for family discussions.  I also encourage my children to think independently - of me and their father - because they should "think" for themselves and use knowledge and resources at their disposal for research to explain why they have formed a certain opinion.


For instance, this entire year I have had my children write papers and debate why they like or dislike a particular candidate.  Believe me when I say that this lesson alone has led to some very interesting conversation.  You should try it with your own kids.  It will enlighten you if for no other reason than to see if they are just following your lead or are really trying to understand the issues and grasp the importance of this election.


If you happened to read my story on Politics - Growing Up in an Era of an Unpopular War, then you know that I, too, grew up with a family that was involved in politics, and we had hundreds of round-table discussions as a family.  My father used to ask me my take on the state of the economy when I was 4 years old, or my view of the Vietnam War when I was 7.  My dad always made me feel like my opinion and views of the world and the news were important to him.  Whether he was pretending or not, it was how he made me feel about my opinion and thoughts - valued - that shaped the parent I am today with my own children.

Hillary Palin

This year has been historical on many fronts, and I thought that it was a prime opportunity to excite my children over the history that was being made during their lifetime.  From Hillary Clinton's race for the Presidential nomination for the Democratic party to Sarah Palin's nomination as Vice Presidential running mate to the Republican party, this is a history making year for women in politics!  Just take a look at the number of women running for various offices across this great country and it is a record-breaking year for women in government. 


We should encourage our daughters to go forth and make a difference, I know I do.  I want my daughters to care about their country, the environment, and poorer nations.  I want them to care about humanity and the life of generations going forward.  Are "we" going to leave this earth having made a positive difference, or are we just taking up space?


From lemonade stands in the summer to running for Class President or another office in Student Government at their school, we play an important role in guiding our children's way of thinking about this world.  I used the lemonade stand experience to teach my children about finance and savings and a little about economics - like the cost of the lemonade, sugar, cups, etc., vs the cost they charge for a cold drink?  How much profit are they making?  How are they going to calculate their cost of doing business?  What were their earnings and how do they figure it out?  Believe me when I tell you that if you encourage your children to think like this, they will continue to think like this.  It is an important life lesson that lemonade stand.


How about recycling?  Do your children understand why we recycle?  You should ask them sometime why they think we do this and what their thoughts are about it. You might be surprised. (Click on the book above for a great resource for your children)  Many children think it is just another job, like taking out the trash, that imposes on their play time with friends.  Discussions with your children will open your eyes, probably more than it opens theirs.  As for recycling, have your children do a paper on, well, "paper," and plastic, and glass products.  Have them research how these products are recycled and reused and why.  See if they figure out on their own the impact that these products and chemicals are having on our earth and environment. 


My son, Matthew, is a big "Space" fanatic.  He knows more about the planets and the universe than I could ever hope to know, and I am so proud of him for his enthusiasm.  Thanks to DVR technology, we search keywords like "Space," "Universe," "Planets," "Astronauts," and "NASA," to see if there are any upcoming programs on these subjects and then we record them.  He gets so excited he lights up like a Christmas tree. 


Matthew has also learned to love the History Channel, HBO, and A&E.  He has watched the HBO mini-series on John Adams at least 4 times this year.  If you haven't seen it, it is really awesome - check it out by clicking on the link above.


Glen, on the other hand, is very interested in this Presidential election, as is Sarah, and they watch CNN and the NBC Nightly News every day.  I've even seen Sarah (14) and Glen (8) get into a heated conversation over comments made on the news, or political commercials.  I have to tell them to "put a sock in it!" at times, or pause the television because now I can't hear it for the commotion - "Are you guys done arguing yet?"  But in the end I am glad that they are thinking independently and forming their own views of the world and of government.


I have a few resources, too, I would like to share with you, that you can use to design lesson plans or encourage discussion and activities with your own children:

The Educator's Reference Desk


Family Education

Kids in the House

The Homeschool Library Forum

Homeschool Book Source

US Government - Ben's Guide for Kids

The Library of Congress Legislative Resource for Teachers

The Congressional Youth Leadership Council

Live Science


Teacher Tube

This ought to keep you busy for awhile!  It sure keeps us busy!  between building log racks and watching grass grow in our front yard.


Have at it folks!  Get your children involved in listening to the candidates, the issues, and more importantly, what they believe the issues are that are important to you and your own family and why.  Conversation like this builds character and respect for this earth, this country, our freedoms, our values, and what part they can play in making this world a better place in their lifetime.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Teach Your Children - By Example

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Before my children were in kindergarten, my Big Bear and I discussed the option of homeschooling them.   I had taught them their ABC's from the time they were little babies using flash cards, and by the time they were 2 years old, I had them recognizing simple words on flash cards and signs going down the road.   That is what inspired and motivated me to want to homeschool my children - was seeing them learn so quickly and enthusiastically.

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There were other things, too, that inspired me.  For instance, I enjoy having control.  I'm a bit of a control freak and I'll be the first to admit it.  Sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes that's a bad thing, but in this case, it was a good thing.  I think of myself as being pretty dang smart.  So did Georgetown University.  So does Mensa.  They think I'm smart too, but for the most part, that's all relative.  As in, relative to Einstein?  Naaah.  I'm not that smart.  Relative to Rocket Scientists?  Nope.  I don't measure up.  Not even close.  But, if there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is that if I put my mind to it, I can learn anything - so can you, and so can your children.

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Teaching them at an early age to love learning is critical to being successful as a homeschooler.  If your children see you taking the time to learn new things, they will be encouraged to do the same.  Children emulate their parents.  The old adage "Do as I say, not as I do"  may sound good, but it doesn't measure up to examples that we set for our children on a daily basis.  Which might explain why I can honestly say that I am turning into my mother.  Yikes, that's a tough one to swallow.

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Still, as for learning, I believe that as parents, we are the consummate teacher for our children.   I felt confident enough in myself to teach my children - at the very least through to high school - and then Bob and I would make the decision as to continue when we crossed that bridge.  We crossed that bridge with Sarah this year, and we decided, after much deliberation, to let her attend the local high school.  Their programs are excellent, their course selections are too.  The teachers are great and they only take 4 courses at any one time that are designed to keep the student interested and not overwhelmed.  I wish they had had such forethought when I was attending high school.  I recall taking 8 courses a day and being totally overwhelmed.  I had good grades, but not as good as they would have been had I not had so many courses to cram into my hormonal brain.

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Think about it.  When children are in high school, they aren't particularly thinking about History, Algebra, and Biology, as much as they are thinking about friends, who is wearing what, and boys (oh, if you have a girl, they are thinking about the boys, and vice versa - usually).  You can see the hormones all over their faces - those little red spots that pop up and make them cry and scream and stomp their feet.  The girls are growing and the boys are getting taller and discovering hair in odd places.  It's a tough time for them all.  It's amazing that any of them make it through high school having learned anything!  BUT, if we, as their parents, can instill in our children at an early age an appreciation for learning and the value of education they will take that with them the rest of their life.  In other words, teach them to be perpetual students.  You won't regret it.

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Once your children know how to read, they can learn anything.  Really.  It's true!  Sometimes you have to control what they learn.  I recall a father and son who were on Oprah last year.  The boy was only 5 years old, but he knew the stock market backwards and forwards.  He could predict financial markets, and stock choices for his father better than any financial advisor the father had ever known.  Yes, he was 5 years old.  How?  Because from the time the child was old enough to sit up, the father sat him in a time out chair in front of the Finance Channel every time the boy misbehaved.  He was forced to watch the stock market and financial news sometimes for an hour or more every day and sometimes multiple times a day.  His punishment?  He was forced to listen and learn.  Amazing.  There isn't any financial advisor who couldn't have an intelligent conversation with this kid about the market. 

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Now, I'm not encouraging you to sit your kid down in front of Financial Network News on a daily basis, but I am encouraging you to respect the example you set for your children when it comes to learning.  What they experience, what they hear, what they see, is all related to how and what they learn.

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As for homeschooling, I encourage it.  But only if you have the dedication to learn with your children and to teach them daily.  Only if you can be home with them.  If you work a full-time job - or even a part-time job during the week, and can't be home with your children, then homeschooling is not for you.   Homeschooling is a big commitment, but it can be a positive life learning choice.

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The time you spend with your children - from teaching them math or how to read, to cuddling with them on the couch and scratching their back.  (or in the case of the picture above - our neighbor Dan took his son Alex to the football game) - It is all important.  It shows them how much you love them.  Homeschooling opens up communication between you and your child.  They begin to feel good about asking  you questions and learning how to solve problems that they may be having.  It helps them to build confidence.

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So have at it!  It is important to note that if you do decide to homeschool your children, that you first check with your State's Board of Education and research the laws concerning homeschooling in your area.  Look into homeschooling groups in your community and meet other homeschooling parents.  I will continue this conversation in future posts and introduce you to some links and resources that I have found very helpful in all my homeschooling years with my children.



Saturday, August 30, 2008


Well, Sarah's post to her blog "The Pink Life"  was so funny and teenagerish that I just had to share it with all of you.  And by all means, if you feel so inclined to comment, please pop over to her blog and do so as that would definitely make my little girl's day, and nothing makes me happier than to see her smile - braces gleaming and all.


By Sarah Vaughn
(Age 14, and going into 9th grade and a new lease on life among high schoolers)


Yes, it's that time of year again. When kids leave the house at 7:30AM and get on the bus to go to school. To where parents can lay back and say "Thank God, Their gone!." They head to school saying

"Are you sure summer is over? Now? Why?"

"Because it's over...."

"Are you sure they didn't cut summer break a little short this year?"

"Nope...What did you do this summer?"

"I did...etc..."

Thats when the kids are tired and yet have homework. Cry and laugh. Criticize their parents on every little thing they say and do to where their parents are yelling "BE QUIET AND DO YOUR HOMEWORK!" Well, your not the only one who has school.


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I'm 14 and ready for high school! I have been homeschooled, well, lets just put it this way - most of my life, okay.

My parents decided they might want to enroll me in public high school.  I was...well...kinda excited. OKAY! I WAS THRILLED!!!! My dad went to a town meeting and (he has been going to a lot of those lately) I asked if I could go this time because it was at the high school.  He said it would be extremely boring.  I said "who cares I want to go!" (I mostly wanted to go not for the meeting, but because it was at the high school and I could look around.)  My dad knew why I REALLY wanted to go and so he said "Yes" I could go. 

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I went with him and looked around the school.  But first I was awed by the Auditorium where Dad's meeting was being held.  I had an awesome time and Wowza! is that school big or what?!!  HUGE!  It is amazing.  I even convinced my dad to give me some cash for  snacks from the vending machines! WOO HOO!  GO VENDING MACHINES!

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Check out the floor plan of Weddington High School.  BIG OR WHAT?!!!

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Here is a picture of the outside of the high school.

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Big Hallways.

That was about 3 or 4 days ago.  Well, yesterday (Thursday, August 28, 2008) I went with my parents to the HUGE, AWESOME, FULL OF VENDING MACHINES high school and they were thinking of signing me up for public high school.  For about an hour with the guidance counselor, we were talking and asking questions and talking some more about their programs, classes, clubs, and blah blah blah.


I'm starting this Tuesday. YAY....and yet not yay. :(  Sorta a yay. 

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Still today, I was upstairs and my mom called me down. (I'm STILL not a fan of this part) and told me that my new math teacher sent me THIS week's Algebra homework.  ICK! GAG! :P BARF! :P MATH once again ICK! GAG! :P BARF! :P Homework...and MATH HOMEWORK!!!  NIGHTMARE!  Pages and pages and pages and pages.... (okay just typing this is getting annoying)...AND PAGES of homework...math homework. Not just Math homework - Algebra homework!  :P ICK!  And I had to have it all done by,...by...by....(OH COME ON SARAH SPIT IT OUT)...TUESDAY!!!!! I'M DOOMED!

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For the last few hours I have been freaking out, having a melt down, or break down, whichever you prefer to call it.  I was saying "I don't know half of this stuff" on this page and that page.  I guess you could call it doubting my own abilities right?  Well, the answers I put down were RIGHT!  Mom checked them for me.  Darn.  My Brother (curse him, I hate it when he's right!!!) said "Sarah if you say you can't do it, your not going to do it." DA DA DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! (That little theme song after something bad happens...I'm addicted to it and I don't know why!!)  I didn't believe him at first and I thought my mom or dad said that and he was just copying and reinforcing what they said...NOT!  It really was true.  It came from his brain and his mouth.  I gave what he said a chance and I started to get it.  WOW!  Can you believe it?  ME!  Getting high school schoolwork!  WOW! Amazing!  I should be in the World Records book! Right? Wrong.  Too many people would be the world record books then. THOUSANDS!  MILLIONS!  BILLIONS!  Why?  Because you don't get in the World Records Book because you "get" your high school homework.  Duh.

Who doesn't like High School?  I don't know if I'm one who does or doesn't. ;D  I haven't actually been to a class yet. 

So, Back to school....WHO LOVES SHOPPING?!!!  ME!!!!

I love shopping! Shopping, shopping, shopping.  That thought in my head goes round and round, round and round, round and round, that thought in my head (on shopping) goes round and round all day long!  Sounds like a song.  I love shopping for new clothes, new school supplies, new books, new stuffed animals (hey, I can't help it if I'm the Princess of shopping!  I collect this stuff!) and blah blah blah. Anything I see I want (or is just totally CUTE)  I MUST HAVE...or at least sometimes.  You gotta know what that feels like, right????

Ouch, my foot is asleep. I hate that.  I have been sitting here typing for, like, a while now. :P Fingers running out of steam. Maybe. Okay, their not.  Maybe my brain is running out of steam.  Not.  Maybe just my foot ran out of steam.

I can't believe summer is over. This has been the quickest summer EVER!  Fun at the pool and with my friends, dancing to my fave songs.  Having sleepovers...what could make it any better?  Or worse? SCHOOL!  It is back to haunt us and for quite awhile.  Darn.  And I was just beginning to have fun.

Well, when you think of it, not everything in school is bad.  I mean, you get to see your friends all day at school, you get to, well, read a lot (Okay, that isn't always fun but I really like to read) and you get to do sports like cheerleading and soccer.  They even have a weight and workout room at the high school.  That's too darn great. 

Can't wait to start!  I think.

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Go Weddington!  Warriors! 

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

School Books, Homeschooling, and High School Trepidation

This week I got down to the business of homeschooling my children and making a lot of difficult decisions.  Decisions on school books, structure, high school curriculum, panic, and naps (I have to fit in naps if I am going to maintain my sanity). 

This year is different, though, because my baby girl, Sarah, is 14 and going into 9th grade, and that realization alone is when I started to feel the sweat on my brow and heart palpitations kick in.  But before I buckled down to make one of the biggest and most difficult decisions of my daughter's academic life, I felt a need to get the easier decisions out of the way.

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And so, I got down to business.  Or rather, I got down on the floor with the school books.  Too many school books I'll have you know.  WAY too many school books.  I have a small library goin' on here. 

There is a pile for Math and a pile for Language Arts and a pile for Science and a pile for whatever.  My problem is that every time I go to Growing Scholars  I buy out the store with what I think to be better books for teaching my children.   Before I know it, my children are working out of 7 different books for every subject and their brains are bursting, and their hands are hurting, and their eyes are popping for having to work out of so many books.   What's a mother to do?  Cry?  I have opted to throw all the books up in the air and the one that lands on top wins.  Whadaya think?  Sound like a good idea?  This is relaxed homeschooling at its best.

We went through all these books.  Some of them were passed down from Matthew to Glen and some from Sarah to Matthew, and others were completely finished and others were never used and never will be.  Which led me to another reason to squirm - all the money spent on school books that will never be used is nothing short of a small fortune.

Soon after sorting through this tragic pile of academic cataclysm, I felt that we were well on our way to a good program in all the core subjects for our 6th grader and our 3rd grader.

SarahinBMW by you.

After resolving this source of mental conflict, I had to face the music - what about Sarah?  Should I continue to homeschool her through high school or enroll her in the public school?  Why on earth did I wait till the last frickin' minute to make this decision?!!!  There has to be an answer!!!!  Somebody please help me!!!  My head is hurting here!  I hate this about myself.  I'm so stinkin' difficult - and the worst procrastinator on the East Coast.

So for the last 2 nights I have been up until 4 in the morning searching for answers, clues, solutions, curriculum, and please don't let it cost us 8000 dollars.  I found very expensive solutions, and a few answers, but no "solution."

I discovered what North Carolina requires for graduation from high school and what records they need me to keep in order for Sarah to graduate and go on to college.  I had an overwhelming dread flush over me that maybe I wasn't keeping the best of records all these years.   I felt a sense of personal failure that maybe I had let Sarah down and had not prepared her for her high school years.  Then I found her PASS test and realized that she was in the 98th percentile across the board in all her subjects and studied Biology and Logic and Algebra last year as an 8th grader.  Suddenly I was feeling a little better.  She really has been a great daughter and student - but have I been a good teacher?

And so, this began my struggle for the right answers for her.  Big Bear and I took her to the local high school and met with a guidance counselor to discuss enrolling her in the public high school.  Our school, fortunately, is one of the best in the state of North Carolina.  It is a very good school.  I was worried, though.  As we began to talk to the counselor and learn about their programs, clubs, courses of study, and more, I saw Sarah's face light up and I knew then that this just might be the right choice for her during her high school years.  Maybe she needed to experience high school like I did and like her father did.  And, maybe, just maybe, it would prepare her for college better than I could. 

SarahwithiPod.jpg by you.

Today we made a decision  - albeit temporary - to start Sarah on this journey into high school at the public school and with a light load.  I was very happy to discover that the school can tailor her course load to suit her academic needs.  And, being that this is the first year that she has ever been thrown into the deep end of scholarly pools, the fact that they were willing to lighten her load for the first semester to help her get acclimated to her surroundings, teachers, and new study requirements - was nothing short of an act of benevolence.

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Sarah will be taking Algebra 1, World History, PE, and Art.  You can't get much lighter than that, folks.  That is for the first semester.  She will be starting on Tuesday.  However, the teachers have emailed me the course work that she has missed this first week of school and suddenly Sarah is feeling daunted and inept and the personal floodgate of her bungling mind has been opened.

Tears are flowing.  Eyes are red and puffy.  "I feel stupid" is every other sentence she speaks.  Suddenly I feel the same thing - that maybe I have failed her somehow overtakes every cell in my body. 

We will get through this and we will get through this together.  First we have to re-learn inequalities and quadratic and linear equations, intercepts and parametric forms.  But not before I have a good cry. 

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Visual Thesaurus - More than Just Another Word

When I find something useful, I like to share it.  When I find something useful and educational, I have to share it and talk about it.  In this case, I am talking about Visual Thesaurus

I am always seeking to find ways to improve my children's ability to write, understand, and improve their language skills, and when I found this, I knew it would be a great resource - not just for my kids, but for me too.

Let me introduce you to Visual Thesaurus...

VTAbout by you.

2 Versions - Desktop and Online.  I signed up for the Online Edition and for 4 licenses for me and my 3 little chillins.

VTLookUpWord by you.

More than just looking up a word .....

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But also a visual sampling of the web of connecting words with similar meanings and their webs.

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Challenge yourself and each other with the Spelling Bee.  I especially love this feature for teaching my children.

VTMathWords by you.

Think you understand Math?  Poetry?  Scientific Classifications?  Think again.  This feature is for Teachers and for Teaching and will help you build lessons around the Language of Mathematics.

VTCrossword Puzzle by you.

Enjoy Crossword Puzzles?  Want to challenge your children?  Check this feature out in Visual Thesaurus.

VTWord of the Day by you.

I don't know about the rest of you out there, but I love Language and Language Arts.  I love to write and I love the way language enables us all to be expressive and communicate intelligently.  For that reason, I love this feature - Word of the Day - and I like challenging my children to use the word several times throughout the day and write a sentence with this word.  The more they use it, even in a single day, the more likely they are to remember it and start using it in their everyday language. 

Think about this - you want your children to be able to communicate effectively both in the written word and in their ability to communicate with others face-to-face.  You want them to sound intelligent and project themselves clearly and with confidence.  I want these things for my children and although this Word of the Day won't necessarily do that for them, it will help - even just a little.  I like new words like "eutherian" don't you?

So what is this Visual Thesaurus anyway?  It is a "Think Map" - literally.

In their own words....

The Visual Thesaurus is an interactive dictionary and thesaurus which creates word maps that blossom with meanings and branch to related words. Its innovative display encourages exploration and learning. You'll understand language in a powerful new way.

Say you have a meaning in mind, like "happy." The VT helps you find related words, from "cheerful" to "euphoric." The best part is the VT works like your brain, not a paper-bound book. You'll want to explore just to see what might happen. You'll discover -- and learn -- naturally and intuitively. You'll find the right word, write more descriptively, free associate -- and gain a more precise understanding of the English language.

The Visual Thesaurus is available in both the Desktop Edition and Online Edition. (click here to compare the two)

With both versions of the Visual Thesaurus, you can:

  • Find the right word. The VT has over 145,000 English words and 115,000 meanings. Find the word you need and discover related meanings.
  • Develop a better vocabulary. See how words are used in different parts of speech.
  • Use words precisely. The intuitive interface helps you find words through their semantic relationship with other words and meanings.
  • Master word usage. Roll over a meaning to see its definition and example sentences that express that meaning.
  • Improve your grammar. Meanings are color-coded to indicate parts of speech.
  • Explore 39,000 proper nouns. Historical figures, phrases and trademarks are included. Look up Mozart, Manda or simply, "M."
  • Check your spelling. The VT suggests a word if you spell it wrong.
  • Hear words pronounced correctly. The VT offers both American and British pronunciations (Internet connection necessary)
  • Personalize your experience. Use the Settings Panel to control font size, filter content, display up to 17 semantic relationships and more.
  • Browse language in 2D or 3D. Rotate word maps in three dimensions to reveal complex relationships.
  • Connect to the Internet. Right-click on any word to launch an Internet search for images or information.

With the Online Edition you can also:

  • Access the VT from anywhere. No software to install, access from virtually any computer with an Internet connection.
  • Email word maps to friends. Share your favorite words with friends and family.
  • Explore five additional languages. Search for words in Spanish, German, Italian French and Dutch, as well as English. (International features are still in beta)
  • Unlimited access to our magazine. Read features about language and the creative process and join a community passionate about words, language and creativity.
If you would like to discover all that Visual Thesaurus can do for you and your children visit Visual Thesaurus by clicking the link below.

Happy Homeschooling!


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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

United States History for our Children

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U.S. History.  I never really liked it that much in high school, but now, as I homeschool my children, I enjoy it immensely, and so do my children.  It amazes me to hear my 3 children converse about History, Woman's Suffrage, the Vietnam War, WWII, our Presidents, and political issues.  They listen to CNN and love to watch the History Channel too.  We also go to A&E and purchase some of their DVDs.  Their recent movie on John Adams and his life was incredible. 

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Finding a U.S. History book that is interesting, visually enhanced, and easy to read and understand has been a challenge over the years - until 2 years ago.  Then I found "The" History book.  The one that my children are so interested in that they beg for History on a daily basis.  The one that has given them an enthusiasm for this country's history. 

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That book is United States History Third Edition  by Pacemaker and published by Globe Fearon (Pearson Learning Group). 

You can order it via my Raisin Toast School Days Store.  If you like, you can also go directly to Pearson Learning  to order these books. 

ISBN: 0-130-23304-8

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In addition to the Student Book pictured above, there is a Teacher's Edition. 

ISBN: 0-130-23308-0

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And a Student Workbook.

ISBN: 0-130-23306-4

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There is no way to describe how great this book is.  It is written with great care to the timeline of events, and images to grab the attention of your child.

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It is loaded with History Facts

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And each chapter has a Review written in an orderly fashion as to help your child better understand what was to be learned in each section and a Summary of the Chapter's lesson.

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Want a Group Activity for your children?  This book has ideas to keep them engaged and interested.

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After the Review, your child will take the Quiz at the end of each Chapter and will also be asked questions that inspire Critical Thinking about the lessons learned in that Chapter and the course of events in our History.

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It is loaded with interesting facts and charts that are easy to understand.

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You and your child will never be bored with the wealth of information that is held in this book of 690 pages.

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And the intelligent way in which each lesson is written and arranged will give you confidence that your child can learn about this country's History independently and won't be asking question after question unless to dig deeper into the subject of their lesson.

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Voices from the Past, and.....

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Information in the back on every President up to President Clinton (you may want to check with Pearson to see if they have published a newer version of this book to include President Bush)

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And, of course, a Glossary of terms in the back to help your child better understand terms that they should know relative to History.

Overall, this book, in my opinion as a homeschooling parent, is the best U.S. History book I have found - and I have so many around here that I should open a book store!  This book, however, really grabbed the attention of my children and all 3 are using it and reading it. 

Regardless of their age difference, it is written intelligently and thoroughly.  It is not too advanced for my 8 year old and not too easy for my 14 year old.  I know that sounds silly, but it really is that good of a book.  I enjoy reading it and studying it too.  It is one of those books that is completely organized and written so well that every member of the family who can read will enjoy it. 

Happy History!


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