All green, nature, and sustainability posts have been moved to Loving Nature's Garden

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Hogmanay Tribute to Scottish Comedy

Hogmanay, the Scots version of New Year's Eve, just can't be complete for me without a touch of Scottish comedy. Harking back to my teens, which I don't do with great frequency, there was always a Scottish comedy show on TV leading up to midnight and "the bells". I'd sit down in front of it with Mum, Dad, Big Sister, and Wee Brother ready for a rare, good laugh.

Comedians who at other times of year could only be seen live on stage would be showcased just for this special night. The hours to midnight would fly by and before I knew it I'd be supping a wee dram, non-alcoholic in my case, and munching on some shortbread while everyone clinked glasses, shouted "cheers", and wiped away the tears that come of remembering all the people whom we'd shared with in the past but had not made it through to the current celebration. We're a sentimental lot, the Scots!

Well, "A guid new year to ye when it comes" and enjoy these wee learnin' links when ye have the time.
  • Hogmanay, it's a strange name. Check out the origins of Hogmanay.
  • FAQs about Hogmanay and see where the Hogmanay action is at, Scotland side.
  • I didn't know there was a Scottish Comedian of the Year award. Quite right too! Take a look and maybe try a wee link to a youtube performance.
  • Rikki Fulton was the guy we all watched on Hogmanay. Apparently Scotch and Wry, the program in which he appeared as the Reverend I. M. Jolly, ran in the Hogmanay slot for 15 years. That explains why I actually remember it so well! And, no, he wasn't a bit jolly, which is the whole point!
  • There are lots of other Scots comedians I could mention, but rather than have you here until midnight, I'll just say a quick word about Molly Weir. She's just a rare we favourite of mine. A bouncy we wuman, who wrote a trilogy which has me riveted every time I read it. Thank you Molly for the laughs and tears. Your words live on.
So, break out the shortbread and maybe a wee glass of ginger beer and toast yourself into 2009 at midnight tonight. "Here's to us, there's no-one like us!" Who knows what is ahead. Whatever it is, comedy and a good wee laugh will surely keep us going :-)

I'm taking a blogging break and I'll be back Monday, January 5th, 2009.

Dress like a Scots comedian with a costume from Amazon.com.

More About Top Mommy Bloggers

Thanks to Scribbit, I've discovered a whole other world of top mommy bloggers at MamaBlogga. There are 40 blogs on the list. You can even submit your own blog. But, wait a minute, you gotta have over 100 Bloglines subscribers just for starters. Well, I guess I just learned something; I'm not even sure I heard of Bloglines before! Most likely knowing what constitutes a top blogger is the first step to becoming one. Not that I'm saying I have a goal here or anything, the question is, do YOU have that goal? If you do, how are you going to get there?

MamaBlogga just happens to offer personal consulting for bloggers. For a very reasonable cost she'll help you figure out your next step. If you're interested, take a look at her testimonials. I just happen to be offering my readers something similar, without the same technical expertise (for the moment at least). I offer my "take a look and provide feedback" service for free. Maybe you only get what you pay for though. It all depends what you are looking for and whether you can spare a little cash. If I hadn't just slashed my budget I'd be in the market for MamaBlogga's services.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Learning From the Top Mommy Bloggers

After reading Scribbit's article about mom bloggers this morning I got curious and just had to learn more. I mean, who exactly are the top mommy bloggers and what can we learn from what they do? The trail took me to an article in the Wall Street Journal, an article about a blogger known as Dooce. I'd never heard of Heather Armstrong or her blog at Dooce.com. To me that's one of the idiosyncracies of the blogging medium, it's actually pretty hard to figure out who is getting the attention/readership unless you follow the blogging trail. Back when I first started blogging I wanted to figure out who the top bloggers are because I thought I could learn something from them. I tried Googling for things like top blog, but the results which came up really weren't all that helpful.

Well, according to what The Wall Street Journal had to say back in April of 2008, here are the top ten motherhood blogs:
Now for the thoughtful analysis part. At Wiep.net you can learn about linkbaiting. Basically one tried and true way to go up in the blogging world is to get others to link to you. Every link is like a spoke on a bicycle wheel. The person who's blog is at the center will be the one getting noticed. It seems to me that to become that center hub you need both good writing and wide appeal. Otherwise, you can get a lot of links by offering a community or service to other bloggers (blog challenges, carnivals, awards and resource sites spring to mind). Not only that, you need to have a "hook". The article at Wiep.net goes into hooks in great detail. So let's look at the hooks these top mommy bloggers are using.

News
The main news mommy bloggers use is mommy news. You're more likely to find them reporting on is what is happening within their family and with the families of other bloggers than to get a report of the latest sensational world news or scientific discovery. Now I'll admit that I've not done an exhaustive reading of the ten top mommy blogs, and Scribbit is the only one I'm currently following. Occasionally the outside world of news creeps into mom blogs, but it sure doesn't seem to be the main hook. How refreshing, news of real people taking care of the everyday issues that we, as moms, are most likely to face :-)

Education, Information and Resources
Moms are good at sharing their tips and top mommy bloggers do quite a lot of this. You'll see everything from crafts and recipes to tips and motivation. 5 Minutes for Mom is a great place to find all kinds of information, Parent Hacks is all about parenting tips and both Design Mom and Scribbit post their share of inspiring craft projects.

Entertainment and Controversy
Who'd want to visit a blog that is not even vaguely entertaining? Top mommy bloggers are tops at entertainment. The news they give about their daily life really does catch your attention. It's no accident that the top mom bloggers are practiced writers with a good sense of humor. Women used to rely on gossip over the garden fence to keep them smiling, but now they can visit Dooce, Fussy, Notes From the Trenches, and Suburban Bliss. Scribbit is pretty entertaining at times too. Call it entertainment, or call it controversy, but ranting and being irreverent surely stir up some interest and Dooce has got to be a master.

I'm pretty sure that being a top mommy blogger is not all a garden of roses and it's surely not on the cards for every blogging mom. Make no mistake, it's hard work, day in and day out, and not for the faint of heart. However, if you enjoy writing and want to stick with it and go up in the ranks, think about your goals, figure out your hook, and make sure you convey it instantly to new visitors.

What's your hook?

Blogging items in association with Amazon.com.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Learning Stuff From My Firefox Tabs

There is so much stuff to learn out there in the Webiverse; it's hard to see how a person could get any sleep! Somehow as I wander around researching this and that I end up with a strange mixture of open Firefox tabs. Here are a few bits and bobs from my current collection of open links. I hope you, my fellow learner, learn something from them.
Enjoy the links, there's lots more where they came from...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

We Wish You a Merry Christmas...

May the spirit of love be with you today whether you are with family, friends, home, away, or by yourself. I hope for you today the warmth of good food and a kind word, in this sometimes harsh world. May you take a step toward understanding yourself and your place in the galaxy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Three Free Ways to Promote Your Blog

Since entering the world of blogging I have managed to learn a few things about the blogging business. I'm someone who likes to share and since you're a reader of my blog, I'm going to share with you three free ways to promote your blog.
  1. Blogcatalog.com - list your blog here so that people searching for blogs on your topic will have a chance of finding you.
  2. The Blogged.com site will also list your blog for free. An editor from the site evaluates your listing and gives it a rating. For this reason I'd make sure you have your blog up and running and you've worked out some of the kinks before you submit so that you can achieve as high a rating as possible.
  3. Right here on my blog. If your blog is related to families or learning I'd like to hear about it. I have a pretty broad interpretation of what that includes! I love to check out what is happening with my regular readers and to link whenever I see something related to what I'm writing about. Leave me a comment so that I can find your blog. For established bloggers, I will happily check out your blog and if I think your blog might be of interest to my readers I'll offer to write an article here about what you do. For new bloggers, I know it can be a steep learning curve. If I can help you by letting you know my impression of your blog and by offering suggestions I'd be happy to do that. I try to be both kind and helpful.
Together we can meet our blogging goals.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Christmas Season

Whether you celebrate Christmas as a secular or religious festival, or focus on some other holiday at this time of year, there is much to be said for the joy of sharing a winter festival with family and friends. Today is the Winter Solstice, which was always a very welcome day to me when I lived in Scotland.

If you've never been to Scotland, or looked at it on the globe, it's actually pretty far north. The winter dark can be depressing. Just the intellectual understanding that days lengthen after the solstice can be a boost to getting through the cold, dreary days of winter. For a Scottish solstice sunrise take a look at LindaB's Occasional Scotland.

Yesterday I was awarded a Christmas Spirit Award by Kailana at The Written World. I'd like to thank Kailana and participate by listing 5 things I love about the Christmas season.
  1. Christmas carols - the tradition associated with them brings me joy. Music moves me.
  2. Decorations - the brightness of them has always brought cheer to the cold, darker days of winter for me.
  3. Family and the pleasure of sharing. My favorite part of that is the joy on children's faces as they experience the season.
  4. Food - I am thankful for the plenty I have in my life. There is nothing more loving to me than preparing a meal to share with others.
  5. Receiving cards and letters from those I can't visit with because of geographical distance. It is lovely to catch up with what has been happening in their lives.
My hope for you this Christmas season is that you have loving people to share the joy with. Of course I can't leave the topic without passing you a few learning links.
Holiday mp3 in association with Amazon.com, home of the Kindle.
Sign up for Kindle alerts at the WiiAlerts site. This site has been used by people I know and I recommend it because it works!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Learning is an Adventure

"Education is not so much a process as an adventure; learning something children (and adults) ought to do for the joy of it."
Alison Kerr

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Game Boy on Artemis Fowl

My son, nicknamed here Game Boy, enjoys reading the Artemis Fowl series. Here is what he had to say in a recent interview.

Q. When and where did you first discover Artemis Fowl?
A. I don't remember.

Q. How many of the Artemis Fowl books have you read?
A. All of them except the most recent (which will hopefully change soon).

Q. Who is the main character in the books and what's he like?
A. The main character is Artemis Fowl. He's about my age but that doesn't stop him from being a super genius and having a large vocabulary.

Q. What is the setting for Artemis Fowl and what is good about it?
A. It's in Ireland, but it's not realistic. It has fairies in it - generally they are good fairies just trying to stay away from the human race. It's got a nice storyline as well as having some humor.

Q. What is the book basically about?
A. In the first book he kidnaps a fairy in hopes of getting large quantities of gold. It doesn't quite turn out the way he expected.

Q. How many times have you read this book?
A. I've read the first one two, three, or more times.

Thanks Game Boy. By the way, there are six books in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. The most recent book is The Time Paradox. Here are a few related learning links:
Find Artemis Fowl at Amazon.com.
Shop for myth and puzzle books at Usborne.
For more reading suggestions visit Kids Picks - December at 5MinutesForBooks.

CyberEd Science - Life Science, Physical Science, Earth Science

I reported a couple of weeks back about CyberEd closing their doors and the last chance to purchase through Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Luckily, for folks like me who have a tendency to mess up details, when the CyberEd deal closed Homeschool Buyers Co-op bought an extra 150 copies - so that they could be available to us for just a bit longer. They are offering 50 copies of each of Life Science, Physical Science and Earth Science.

Game Boy has been doing their Physical Science course for a couple of months now and he is just about to finish it. I think it's at a perfect level for 6-8th grade learners. I rushed over there to Homeschool Buyers Co-op today and purchased Life Science and Earth Science. We have until December of 2009 to complete these two courses, which I think is very, very doable. Game Boy only spends 15-20 minutes on this per school day and he got through Physical Science in less than 3 months. Now Game Boy has done a fair amount of science prior to this so I'm not guaranteeing that every kid will get through at this pace, but if you're looking for a science course certainly take a look.

CyberEd Science at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Related items:
Blogging in association with Amazon.com - home of the Kindle.
Science books at my Usborne Store.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cool Homeschool Showcase

There's a cool Homeschool Showcase up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers, which you can check out here.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Inspiration From A Snowman

Today I was reminded of how inspiration for learning can come from many places, even places that you just might not expect.

Many years ago I was introduced to The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. If you've not heard of him, Raymond Briggs is a British illustrator, born in 1934. When Artist Girl was really little I must have snuggled up with her one day to watch the video version of The Snowman on British broadcast TV. For me it was love at first sight. The combination of story, music, and fantasy in The Snowman had me hooked. I wanted to know how to draw like that (the illustrations appear to be done with colored pencils). Thus began an adventure in art for me. Below you can see a frog illustration I did as a result of following this inspiration.

Of course I'd had pencils as a child, but not the beautiful colored pencils that artists and illustrators use. Colored pencils purchased for children generally feel scratchy to use and create dull-colored drawings. I've no idea why we buy these poor quality colored pencils for children. The high quality ones really aren't that expensive. You can pick up a basic set for around $10. If you have a child who is interested in working with pencils please do make the investment of supplying them with quality tools; they are pretty readily available (more information below).

Anyway, if you've never seen The Snowman it is a story without words... totally delightful. Words really can't convey it. I'm going to provide you with some learning links, though personally I'd rather watch the video/DVD version and see the original book than explore this topic online. Somehow watching an online animation seems sacrilege to me :-)

At Amazon.com you can see inside the original book version of The Snowman and find
The Snowman on VHS, DVD and in book format. The storybook version with words has a poor review so check your library for the original word-free version, or for the DVD.


I've found artist quality colored pencils locally at places like Michael's and Office Depot. I've also used Cheap Joe's for ordering from online. Here's a set of artist quality Derwent colored pencils for less than $11 from Cheap Joe's, and a set of 12 artist quality Prismacolor pencils at Amazon.com. These are both good quality and would be great for starting out with.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Three Favorite Homeschool Bloggers

Here's what my 3 favorite homeschool bloggers have to say:
  1. Julie at Homeschooling-Ideas.com has written a comprehensive article about Homeschool Burnout. With all of the extra things to take care of at this time of year, burnout is a risk. Julie is offering advice and a free newsletter to help us.
  2. Jugglingpaynes has been experiencing the joy and challenge of tree decorating with a little one and a cat helping out!
  3. Lori over at Camp Creek Blog has an open thread this Saturday and Sunday. I find that Lori has a lot of wisdom to share. This is a good time to visit her blog, see the very cute red cardinal photo, and post your questions in her comments section.
I hope you have some calm time this weekend and time to recharge your energy for the week and holidays ahead.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Free Math Learning Links and Stuff

There are many wonderful websites with free math activities for you to use with your kids. Some of the links are also great if you need, or want, to brush up on, or advance, yourself in math, or maths (as it is called in the UK). All of the links below were sitting in my bookmarks folder - the result of many years of gathering resources for homeschooling. Masses of free math stuff, in no particular order:
I hope you find something of interest among these free math resources. Of course I do know of a few more links, which I will have to save for later.

Got a favorite free math resource link? Please let me know.

Find math stuff and homeschool math stuff at Amazon.com.
See the award winning Usborne Illustrated Dictionary of Math, multiplication wrap ups, learning palette 1st grade math manipulative center. Please ask if you need help or advice on something I've mentioned here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Science Learning Links and Stuff

Are your kids in the doldrums with science? Maybe you need a new resource to add to their studies, or something scientific to get your own adult brain around. Bookmarks, like Firefox windows and tabs, have a habit of accumulating on me. Here are a few great picks from my science bookmarks. I've tried to mark the level of interest to make your life easier.
  • Simple Machines in an easy to understand format - great for upper elementary and middle school.
  • Mad Scientist Network - self explanatory!
  • Robotics Academy at Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Connecting Music to reading, math and science.
  • Instructables Science Guide has lots of information and projects suitable for budding engineers and scientists at high school level.
  • The nature of waves from the Physics Classroom.
  • Science Daily brings you the latest in science research news, or try Scientific Blogging for a daily dose of science.
  • Eepybird's Diet Coke and Mentos spectaculars would get any little, or big, rocket scientist excited!
  • At Building Big you can find a teacher's guide to simple hands-on activities for 5th-8th graders about the science of large structures.
  • How Stuff Works is a place for older kids and adults to explore everything from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to what's inside electronics. Cool!
  • Hippocampus is a source for free college level material. Their science courses include Biology, Physics and Environmental Science.
  • Searching for something different in textbooks? Galore Park is a British publisher who provides books for ages 10-16 yrs. Access their home educators page at the above link and you can take a look at what they have to offer then visit book information and download free samples.
  • Some school districts provide a great set of links, if you can just weed them out from among the masses of pages on their website. Here is a collection of science links for PK-6 courtesy of Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas.
  • Got a kid who likes to invent? Maybe they'd be interested in the Wham-O Inventor Contest.
  • At IKnowThat.com kids can see science videos and do interactive activities. It's colorful and bright and should appeal to elementary aged kids.
I hope you find something useful and enjoyable. Do let me know if you have written about science or know of a great link I should add.

Happy exploring :-)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Good King Wenceslas

Wenceslas picture book at Amazon.com

I have to admit I'm getting a little Christmas sick. You know how you feel when you've had too much cake and get sugar sick? After reading around the blogosphere today I came away not sugar sick, but Christmas sick :-( I mean, I love Christmas, but I guess you can have too much of a good thing. Reading about everyone's traditions and seeing endless recipes, gift ideas, discussions of movies, give aways, etc etc has left me wanting to run away and curl up with a good book.

While I was reading blogs I did find a bunch of neat stuff I wanted to share, but then I changed my mind and decided I'd rather appreciate winter, snow, the cold, Winter Solstice, Yuletide, or anything other than Christmas. That's when I remembered King Wenceslas and the Feast of Stephen and I got curious. By the way I've never read the Wenceslas book pictured up there on the left, but I LOVE the illustration on the cover. Since I'm not writing a gift guide today, don't put it on your list! Maybe you could check your local library for a copy though and read it to your kids.

Herewith some learning links, information and activities related to King Wenceslas/Wenceslaus and St Stephen:
I thought maybe I could find you some saintly stained glass coloring pages to download or something, but alas, no. Let me know if you've seen these around. I'm not sure why I love Good King Wenceslas, maybe it's the words "deep and crisp and even" or just because he was nice!

Brought to you by EberJeeber.com - with adorable duck items for little ones.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Learning from Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends

Thomas the Tank Engine stories at Amazon.com

Boys and their trains, that's usually how it goes. Who'd have thought though that cute little Thomas the Tank Engine from the small Island of Sodor, written by Rev A. W. Awdry and illustrated by C. Reginald Dalby, would have captured so many imaginations. Thomas is nothing short of a phenomenon; a character, created by a British author, who's name has surely been spoken in the majority of American homes. Personally I can't say I'm a particular fan of the modernized Thomas - take me out and shoot me if you have to now - but he certainly appeals to small children! I'll admit I'm a fan of steam trains and I enjoy the Thomas stories in their original format. I thought it would be fun to share some information, activities, and educational links related to Thomas the Tank Engine. I hope your kids, and you, enjoy them.
Of course Thomas maybe has a few girl fans too, like Lori Ann of Simple Makes. Know a Thomas fan or have more links for me to add? Let me know.
Shop for Thomas the Tank Engine items at Amazon.com.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Learning Links

I'm not sure what you'll learn, but it's gotta be something! For your enjoyment and perusal today:
  • Cool for cats, Cat Trail Tunnels. I'm sure Big Cat and Princess Kitty would love these instead of the emu feather toy I've bought them for Christmas. Whatever will they think of next? Ummm, apparently a pink, kitty purse! Princess Kitty might be a princess but she'd rather have 10 minutes of attention!
  • Are you a Christmas movie buff. Apparently I'm not. Try the Can You Name That Christmas Movie challenge at Hooked on Houses. Boy, that little stone-built house is so appealing to me. That's what comes of growing up in a country littered with old, crumbling, stone houses.
  • Got kids? They might want to write a letter to our new President and have it delivered on National Handwriting Day. Details at Handwriting Without Tears (thank you to Sara of RainSolace for bringing this to my attention).
  • Need some reading about living wisely? Check out Mother Earth News. One of their articles is on planting edible ground cover. Need some irreverent commentary and inspiration on being kind to the Earth? Try Crunchy Chicken. Is bamboo really Earth friendly -the New York Times on bamboo.
  • Bloggers are giving back instead of giving away at Bloggers Give Back.
  • What do new moms do all day? The RookieMoms blog brings stuff for new moms to do each day. Cool, it's like homeschooling from Day 1!
  • Looking for a new blog design? Smitten Blog Designs has a variety of nice looking, free blog templates and some nifty limited edition designs for a surprisingly great price. Are you putting a new blog design on your holiday wishlist?
  • What Christmas ornament are you? Go on, nip over there and find out!
There are lots more learning links where these came from, but they'll have to wait for now :-)

Brought to you by GreatFunbooks.com - with Christmas titles from Usborne and Christmas sets from Usborne

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thinking Out Loud on Blogging

My four month anniversary of joining the blogosphere is fast approaching and I've been giving a fair bit of thought to where I've been and where I'm heading. Let's say that the directions this has taken me in could not in any way have been foreseen when I first started. Of course there has been even more to learn than I imagined and I have a pretty big imagination as it is!

Perhaps my blogging adventures really began with the start of my Usborne book business, which I've had since October of 2006. My visions of moms, dads and grandmas surfing the web, searching for fun books for their kids, finding my simple little css/html GreatFunBooks.com website, and purchasing great books for their kids, thus bringing me a nice little bit of extra income, have long since melted away like a poor old winter snowman. Whether the vagaries of Google, or the entrenched habits of shoppers are to blame is largely immaterial. Getting noticed on the web is one of those will-o-the-wisp type things, reach out to grab it and your hand will pass right through. Then one day I just happened to come across blogging.

I've no idea where I was all these years while others were busy exploring the new media of blogging. Let's just say that I tend to be at the end of trends rather than the beginning. "Maybe this blogging thing could get GreatFunBooks.com ranked higher," I thought to myself. I do like writing after all. "All I need to do is start writing and put a menu link to my website," I foolishly thought, "just that one link would be enough to make a difference!" I mean, I only had about three websites linking to me already so an addition of one would be significant. I thought I might do a few book give aways, at least as soon as I had a few readers coming to visit. Surprise, surprise, turns out it's really not that simple!

Well, fast forward four months and I've learned about things such as Google pagerank, niches, hooks/tag lines, a lot more about google ranking, carnivals, give aways, slow blogging, how to discover Google keyword search frequency, RSS feeds, StumbleUpon, Blogged, Google Analytics, importing Blogger to Wordpress, who some of the popular bloggers are... and most likely quite a few things I'm forgetting right now. I've also discovered some wonderful writers who's world I get to share in every day. I started out with one blog which quickly grew to four. Now I've thrown away my initial plan to keep my blog seperate from my business while expecting people to discover my menu link. Books are part of my life and I just can't help writing about them and sharing. I got in a few fankles (interesting knots) with my blog title and description too.

It was never my intent to have an audience solely of homeschoolers. Somehow I feel that's been surprisingly hard to convey. Early on I asked readers what they wanted - the biggest request was for homeschool stuff. Given that I'd been reading and commenting on the blogs of other homeschoolers perhaps that's not exactly surprising. In fact it turns out that I have many regular readers who are not homeschoolers. I guess people really did figure it out! Anyway, this blogging lark seems to have turned into "I blog therefore I am." It's now more fun than the e-mail lists I wrote on for many, many years. It's certainly more productive that posting on the Usborne consultants' forum. I'm even beginning to wonder if Americans are moving from the therapist's couch to the blogosphere. Hey, it's therapeutic and free, but just be careful what you share; it's more public than shouting from the rooftops.

I look forward every day to what I will learn in this wonderful world of blogging. Do you believe in learning? Let's travel together, at least for a while :-)

P.S. I will continue to provide links which I find to be of interest for homeschooling, but I refuse to be boxed into homeschooling. Isn't homeschooling about getting out of the box in the first place? Now if I just knew how to convey this to Google I'd be in business!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Santa = Books

When I was a itty, bitty Scottish lass one thing I looked forward to all year was meeting Santa Claus and Santa = Books or, more correctly, Santa = Book. I'm not talking here about meeting Santa at a department store, though I did do that at least one time which I can remember.

Funnily enough I remember nothing about meeting Santa that department store time; what I do clearly remember was the bizarre elements of this experience. The Santa display was located on the 5th floor of the department store, at least that is my version and I'm sticking to it. The only way to reach it was to climb the concrete back stairs and to wait in a big long line which snaked it's way up said stairs. I'd been in that store many times before with my mom, but we'd never climbed up that dismal stairway. It made no sense to me that we couldn't just climb the perfectly nice, carpeted stair like usual. I'm also sure I remember money changing hands party-way through the waiting process. "Why do we have to pay to see Santa Claus?", I'm sure I asked. After all, doesn't Santa give away toys for free? Anyway, I digress, because that is not the Santa who gave me books, that is not the real Santa Claus.

In case you wondered, Stories of Santa is an Usborne book, which does NOT contain my story dictated here... back to the story.

The real Santa Claus arrived on his sleigh, complete with jingling reindeer, only at the West Parish Church Primary Sunday School Christmas Party and only if we sang Jingle Bells lustily enough. Well, hopefully the real Santa Claus also brought my presents on Christmas night, but that time I did not get to see or hear him. Again I digress. The excitement of hearing Santa's sleigh arrive was almost too much. Understandably there were always a host of volunteers stationed at the hall doors to make sure no determined children escaped to the outside to see Santa's sleigh, otherwise the magic would surely disappear.

A few minutes after the adrenaline hyped children heard Santa's reindeer bells, he would appear with his very large sack over his shoulder, a sack which contained one present for each child in sunday school. It was really, really hard to sit still until your name was called. Somehow I could believe in Santa, but I could not believe that my name wouldn't be the one name which Santa failed to read aloud. It was a long, tiring process, made magical by the knowledge that Santa really had come and really had brought a gift for everyone. I only remember one gift that Santa ever gave me, or anyone, at the Sunday school Christmas party. It was a book. It was Leander the Gander. It was a book I hated and loved at the same time. It's the book of which the inside cover is shown here over on the left. It's a book about a gander who swaps necks with a cat and then with a pig. It makes absolutely no sense to me now, and it made no sense to me then. While I hated the story, it was one of a very small number of books I had as a child and maybe even the first one that was mine alone. That's why Santa = Books and why I brought this book across the Atlantic with me and still have it on my shelf. Or is that because I'm a bibliophile?

Actually I remember being pretty disappointed that Santa had brought me a book and not a toy. Now if only he'd brought me a big stack of great children's books, like the complete collection of Dr Seuss or something, I'd have been a happy little bibliophile. Was that too much to ask? You decide.

What did Santa give you? Did he give you a book? Do you still have it? This post is part of the 2008 Blog Advent Tour. Today's other participant is Lisa at Books, Lists, Life.

Surprisingly you can see Leander the Gander in all his clean-jacket fineness for sale over at Crickhollow Books. Imagine that - maybe Santa shopped there!
The Amazon.com 4-for-3 book sale is still going on - children's books in the Amazon.com 4-for-3 sale.

Blog Advent Tour


I am participating in the Blog Advent Tour today, Wednesday, December 3rd. I'm busy working on my post which will be Santa = Books. It should be up by early afternoon, homeschooling permitting.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fuzzy Books

Shop for That's Not My Snowman
I find that each of us has a sensory preference; luckily there are a large variety of books in the marketplace and something suitable for each child to enjoy. Fuzzy books, a sub-category of touchy feely books, are something that Usborne absolutely excels at.

In case you are lost... books on fuzzy logic at Amazon.com.

Take a look at this little snowman pictured on the left. His hat is made of soft, gray, fuzzy, fleece which begs to be touched. Each page of the book has a textured patch to enjoy, for instance one page has a red, fluffy scarf and another ribbed black buttons. The designers at Usborne don't stop at providing for the kid who loves touch though: there is a mouse to find on each page for visual interest and the wonderful repetitive text brings a rhythmic element which satisfies both the auditory learner and the child who loves music.

I'm told over and over by parents how much their child loves the That's Not My series. One family told me they constantly have them checked out of the library for their three children to enjoy. Even the 7 year old loves them! It doesn't even stop there because teachers tell me that the adjectives in That's Not My Books are incredible for developing vocabulary. Some teachers even claim to be able to pick out children who have read That's Not My books from other children in their classroom. It seems these books are a wonderful resource for learning that lasts from 6 months old to the early stages of reading.

Seasonal Books in the Usborne That's Not My... series: That's Not My Santa, That's Not My Reindeer, That's Not My Snowman.
Bestselling That's Not My... books: That's Not My Puppy, That's Not My Monkey, That's Not My Tractor, That's Not My Dolly, That's Not My Penguin, That's Not My Princess.

It's pretty hard to surpass the appeal of the Usborne That's Not My series. However if you just happen to have a little one who loves their blankie, take a look at Cuddly Baby from Usborne. The delightful, soft, cuddly blanket and other feely patches, which go along with the pastel illustrations of objects familiar to young children, make for a restful book to share at bedtime, or any time you are snuggled up together.

See inside Cuddly Baby. Also available are Busy Baby, Hide and Seek Baby, I Love You Baby and Sleepy Baby. See inside I Love You Baby.


At risk of confusing you with too much choice, the Usborne luxury touchy feely series provides books that have a little more story content and, while recommended for 9 months and up, are perfectly designed for active toddlers with developing language skills. Animal Hide and Seek has both fuzzy patches, flaps to lift, and items to find. This book demonstrates the wonderful thought that goes into making each and every Usborne book interactive, to engage a child in reading and learning. See inside Animal Hide and Seek, an Usborne Farmyard Tales book illustrated by Stephen Cartwright.

More touchy feely, fuzzy books by Usborne.
Seasonal touchy feely, fuzzy Usborne books: Hide and Seek Christmas, Christmas Mice, Nativity Touchy Feely, Sparkly Christmas Angel. An Amazon.com list of soft, squishy, cloth books.

Homeschooled Kids

I was just off reading the Homeschooled Kid Blog Carnival. I wanted to encourage all of the writers by leaving comments, but now I'm worried they'll come over here to visit and the first thing they will see is yesterday's post. I'm all for education, but I do think that parents prefer to control the flow of information on subjects like health. So, there will now follow a cute, furry, easy to read post that will be sweet and fluffy, or maybe not - I've not yet decided what it will be - at least it will be something that is G rated.

Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day

Facing AIDS - World AIDS day 2008
December 1st is World AIDS day and I would like to say a few words about HIV/AIDS. For women in poverty exposure to HIV infection is a particular problem. Rather than repeat what I have read elsewhere you can read about this at The AIDS Pandemic Blog. During 2007 many events were organized for World AIDS Day, it's too late to organize something now, but if you are interested you can read about 2007 World AIDS Day events - maybe you'll be inspired to plan something for Womens HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10th 2009.

To show your solidarity regarding AIDS education you might want to get involved in some social networking events today - read about social networking to spread AIDS awareness. Most importantly, be prepared to acknowledge that HIV/AIDS is a significant health issue that women need to recognize, acknowledge with their friends and family members, and be prepared to talk about with their sons and daughters. There is lots of information at the WomensHealth.gov and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get informed and be aware. Join in and blog if you can.

Related post - World AIDS Day 2008 by Denise at BlogHer.com. Listen to David's podcast on The Power of One. Take a look at shopping with Product Red, which benefits AIDS programs in Africa, and if you visit Starbucks shop Starbucks Red and aid Africa.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Homeschooling Science Online with CyberEd

This year for science my family chose CyberEd science online, available through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Now the news has been released that CyberEd are closing their business doors. This product is available only until December 3rd at 1pm Eastern, and only, I believe, through Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Subscriptions run for one calendar year and will be honored; sign up now and you can cover science needs until December 2009. Given that I've found a science curriculum supplier we are extremely pleased with, I am left wondering what to do.

Game Boy has been using the CyberEd Physical Science course, which is just the right level for a middle schooler. He hasn't complained at all about this course, which is a big endorsement around our house. In fact he is self-motivated; he works on it every school day without prompting from me. Of course he might rather be playing a video game, but he likes the interaction of this course. I've every reason to believe that while using CyberEd Physical Science he is tying together a lot of knowledge gained from years of TV science programs, and masses of science books he's read over and over. The only thing it is lacking is related hands-on experiments, which I can easily cover from a few of the Usborne science books I have on my bookshelves. Since Game Boy is a good way through the Physical Science course, I'm seriously contemplating signing up for the Life Science and Earth Science courses - I think he could get to the end of all 3 by December 2009.

Artist Girl, who is working at high school level, is using CyberEd Biology. What she likes about this course is that it is to the point and does not cover any excess unnecessary stuff. In fact CyberEd Biology is described as Introductory to AP Biology. I'd say that is pretty accurate. For Artist Girl it's a pretty big assignment to get through this course in one year. She knows a lot of Biology already from previous homeschool studying; it's the terminology/vocabulary that makes it challenging. With a motivated student who has a good background knowledge you can get through the course in one year. You don't have to do the whole course though. One thing you get with the course is an extremely comprehensive guide to how CyberEd Biology fits with your state standards. Let's say that guide is not for the faint hearted. What it conveyed to me however was that once Artist Girl finishes CyberEd Biology she will have covered almost all of the Kansas state requirements for Biology, a good number of the requirements for Chemistry, and even some of the Physics requirements. I had every intention of us using CyberEd Chemistry next year, but I know we can't get through the remainder of Biology and start Chemistry now and get through Chemistry by December of 2009. So much for finding a course format we like; unless Homeschool Buyers Co-op pull off some kind of alternative agreement, we'll be searching for something else.

OK, well if you like the sound of CyberEd science courses, hot-foot it over there to Homeschool Buyers Co-op and get signed up before the December 3rd deadline. I can thoroughly recommend the Physical Science, Earth Science, and Life Science courses for your independent middle schooler who likes computer based learning. The high school courses I think are wonderful, but not for everyone.

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Amazon.com - home of the Kindle.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Homeschooling Thankfulness

I am very thankful for all the wonderful things in my life: my health; my family; friends both near and far; the opportunity to homeschool my children; my adopted country and the country of my birth; this wonderful Earth we live on; good food and clean water; heat and light; books and learning; a comfortable bed to snuggle in at night; safe soil to grow food in; trees to shade me from the summer sun... you get the picture.

Whatever I may feel is lacking in my life, or myself, today I push that aside and realize all the wonderful things I have to be thankful for. Thank you for reading.

Book Sales on Black Friday

Black Friday book sales have now ended. I will bring you details of any December book sales I hear of later.

Related post: Black Friday Books

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Black Friday Books

Black Friday book sales have ended, but some of the great Usborne deals are still available
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading to you :-)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Holiday Survival System

My holiday gift to you is a system that can help you to survive the holidays, and also survive homeschooling, and indeed life, for the rest of the year. It's a simple system which I will call the ABC system, though it is nothing to do with the alphabet. However, it is as simple to understand as the alphabet and perhaps just as useful. I don't take credit for this system as I obtained it some years ago from another homeschooler through an e-mail list. The origins are perhaps lost in time, but I've found it very helpful and I'm grateful to the unknown inventor. Now I get to share it with you.

All you need for this system is a piece of paper and a pencil - an eraser might be handy! Mark 3 columns on your piece of paper with the headings A, B, and C. The hardest part about this is the explanation. The columns are used as follows:
  • A - everything you would do without anyone prompting you, things that are easy and on which you are self-motivated.
  • B - things you need to help to do from a schedule, plan, or person.
  • C - things you are putting aside for now.
So under A you might have things like: pleasure reading, watch TV, chat with friends. If you have good habits and are self-disciplined you might also have things like: clean the house, do the laundry, and take care of pets.

Under B you might have things like: wash the windows, get check-ups at the doctor, and practice piano.

Be honest now about what goes under column C. It can be an eye-opener. Maybe your teen is putting aside personal hygiene for instance, or maybe you are putting aside exercise, or time with your partner.

It gets interesting when you realize the balance between the different columns. For instance if you have a lot of items in column A, or a few items that you are very highly self-motivated to spend hours and hours on, it will be hard to accomplish the items in column B. If you have everyday stuff like washing the dishes under B, you are probably struggling with routines and expending a lot of energy on making sure you do things that really need to be good habits. Things in column B take energy and we can only have a certain number of things there. If your teen needs someone to get them out of bed in the morning, or your 6 year old argues about brushing their teeth every day, there is going to be no energy left over for other stuff in column B.

The most effective way to use this system I have found is to make sure you put the highest priority items that are not currently being done the way they need to in column B. The goal is to establish a habit for some of these items and thus make them easy so that they move to column A. If necessary, deliberately put some tasks aside in column C for now. For instance, if you have a sick family member, or a lot of visitors for the holidays, some items may be moved to column C temporarily. You might put cooking in column C while someone is sick and needs extra care (just eat easy food for a few days), or put laundry and cleaning in C while relatives are visiting. If you are feeding your family a lot of prepared 'junk' food it could be because you've put cooking in column C. Do you want to leave it there or move it to column B? Are there some things in column B that another family member could take care of and free you up to put more things in your B column? Could a family member who is relying on you to prompt and enforce them doing things in column B manage without your input if they had a schedule or plan?

Don't let time with your partner stay in column C if that is where it currently is, move this to column B by making a plan. Good habits can reduce stress for everybody. Have fun with the ABC survival system, or if you don't need this right now please let me know your secret!

Brought to you by UsborneKC.com - meeting your Usborne Books needs in Kansas City and beyond (Johnson County, Kansas; Wichita, Kansas; Independence, Lee's Summit, North and South Kansas City, Pleasant Valley and Liberty, Missouri; Virginia and New Jersey).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Antsy Holiday Kids

Spot the Dog by Eric Hill at Amazon.com
As the holidays approach kids are apt to get antsy. All that excitement and busy parents can be a recipe for a melt-down. Whenever I think of putting up a Christmas tree with young kids around, I am reminded of Spot the dog. When Artist Girl was just a wee, little thing we had a VHS video tape story of Spot the dog at Christmas. Eric Hill's stories of Spot are simple, charming, and about things kids can relate to in their own lives. For instance when Spot is helping his mom with baking cookies and putting up the tree, he gets overexcited. What is so charming about the story (I'm not 100% sure I'm picturing the right story here), is that there is no blame put on Spot. The story simply says something about the decorations creating too much excitement and Spot goes outside to burn off his energy and get out from under his mom's feet. Which brings me to talking about antsy kids...

A wise friend of mine, a mom of three, did something wonderful for me when my kids were little. Every year she would send us a package of carefully selected items, which arrived before the holidays and was always the one package we'd open right away. For several years in a row we received Christmas items in our package. One year it was Rudolph mugs, another year a very large Santa puzzle, and a third year A Charlie Brown Christmas book. Now, at first I was a little puzzled with these gifts, and maybe not terribly thankful. Nonetheless, we used each item then packed it carefully away with our holiday decorations at the end of the season. As the years have gone by, my friend's wisdom has become more and more apparent. It's tradition stupid - I was a little slow on the uptake! What fun it is each year to unpack these special items and to take a few minutes out of the holiday craziness to sit down and enjoy them. What more could you want for occupying antsy kids than a book, a puzzle and a Christmas mug full of hot chocolate?

Now my kids are pretty grown up and they are the ones putting up the tree. They aren't so antsy any more and don't need a lot of calming from holiday excitement. I am the one who gets out the puzzle, sits down to read the Christmas books, and indulges in a little nostalgia. What multipurpose gifts our kind friend provided :-)

Brought to you by GreatFunbooks.com - with Christmas titles from Usborne and Christmas sets from Usborne

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alice by John Fullerton from Ballads of Bairnhood

I have a very special book - Ballads of Bairnhood, edited by Robert Ford. First published in 1894 and reprinted in 1913. It was passed to me from my mother's side of the family. Although the binding of my copy is a little worse for wear, almost all of the pages are fresh and clean. I can tell which poems were favorites with my ancestors, for those pages bear the marks of loving hands. Many of the poems relate to the loss of little ones, and many others are written in the Scots dialect and might make no sense to most of my readers. I've therefore chosen to share with you tonight, a poem that, while not one of my favorites, is enjoyable and hopefully understandable to any parent.

ALICE.

Where the sunshine lingers long,
Where the birds sing merry lays,
Where the brook the ferns among
Slowly steals, there Alice strays,
Culling here and there a flower
Blooming in the greenwood bower.

There is sunshine in her face
Brighter far than in the skies;
As I gaze, it's light I trace
Beaming in her deep blue eyes;
There's a song within her heart -
May that glad song ne'er depart.

Happy, free from grief and care;
O'er the meadows fair she roams,
Breathing fresher, purer air
Than to pent up city comes:
Seeing sights that pleasure bring -
Butterflies and birds a-wing.
John Fullerton

Brought to you in association with Amazon.com - lots of poetry and Scottish stuff.

I Did What?

What a doozy! Last night I decided to voluntarily close down my Firefox and restart my computer while in the middle of writing a post!!!!!! Somehow it slipped my mind that I was in the midst of writing. I'd been trying to get rid of open links all day so that I could reboot and save my computer from acting like it was 1985 vintage. I'd started a post of some learning links, mostly related to blogging. Here I was feeling pleased with myself for rebooting when I realized what I'd done. Duh! Whoever did such a thing? So, sorry, you will have to rely on my dubious memory to find those links again and share them with you. I think we're both in trouble. Oh well, I just had to laugh because it really wasn't that big of a deal compared to...

On Thursday night I thought I'd lost that big, long post I wrote about Mini Lesson Plans. Now that was a whole different feeling. I'd been working on that thing off and on all day, stealing a few minutes here and there from our homeschooling schedule, and agonizing over what to include. It was a case of too many ideas. My original concise post on all kinds of models had morphed into a long one mostly about model railroads. I really wanted to get some shut-eye, but not before posting that thing which perpetually seemed to be 'almost done'. Well, I did manage to get myself to the point of hitting Publish Post. As I sat back ready to admire my published work, imagine my horror to discover that it had disappeared. Argh! I was not a happy office-mate for Handyman Hubby to have. However, he sprung into action and between us, and despite the vagaries of Blogger, we found my post out there in the ether still residing among the back-key world and I was able to go to bed somewhat happier than I'd have been otherwise.

Now I just need to worry about Blogger going crazy some day and losing everything I've written. What's my backup plan? Oops, I don't have one yet and it's making me nervous :-(

Brought to you by GreatFunBooks.com - the home of fun books kids love to read.
 
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