Monday, October 20, 2014

Simple Fall Science - Comparing Pumpkins

Pumpkins come in all sorts of sizes, and varieties.  We bought a couple of pie pumpkins, and one larger "carving" pumpkin.

The girls cut them open...

...and discovered the pumpkins were different inside and out.  Not only were the seeds of the large pumpkin larger (not surprisingly)...

...but they were more densely packed in the smaller pumpkin.  The large pumpkin had a good deal of empty space in the middle - the smaller pumpkin did not.

The larger pumpkin contained a large amount of stringy, fibrous strands surrounding the seeds.  The fibrous strands (or guts, as we like to call them) of the smaller pumpkin were more gooey than stringy.

The pie pumpkin contained a thin layer of smooth flesh.  The larger pumpkin had a thicker layer of stringy flesh (it was almost like a spaghetti squash).

We roasted the both pumpkins, and pureed them.  Or at least, that was my plan, so we could compare the taste of each... well as the water content, weighing a cup of each puree.  Unfortunately, we didn't have a particularly good pie pumpkin, and once roasted, it only produced a small amount of very bad tasting puree.  The carving pumpkin roasted up nicely, and the puree was delicious, if a little more watery than the canned variety.  For all the hype of the superiority of canned pumpkin, and importance of using sugar, or pie pumpkins over the carving variety, our puree baked up quite nicely... a batch of our favorite pumpkin chocolate chip muffins (click here for the recipe).  I didn't take any pictures of the muffins, but that's just as well, as I would never be able to them justice.  You will simply have to take my word for it - it's a fantastic recipe - really, one of our fall favorites.  As for the seeds...

...we fulfilled another item from our fall leaf list, and roasted them (with cinnamon, of course) and then combined them, large and small together, with cranberries and butterscotch chips for a delicious fall snack.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Canadian Thanksgiving Traditions, and Columbus Day Fun.

What's this? A piece of toast? A pretzel stick? Popcorn? What blockhead cooked all this? - Pepperment Patty

I've been writing a lot about fading traditions this fall, as the children are getting older, and outgrowing some of our traditions.  In the midst of SAT prep, drivers ed, electric guitars blaring, and part-time jobs, I have to admit I nearly forgot that today was Thanksgiving in Canada, and Columbus Day here in the States.  The Man of the House checking an empty mailbox brought me back to reality, and we managed to throw together our usual Canadian Thanksgiving celebration.  Thankfully it's a simple, Peanuts inspired affair.

And, not to forget our American heritage, while I was popping popcorn, and buttering toast a la Charlie Brown, I queued up a quick vintage Columbus Day cartoon for the younger children.  I picked one that made a point of the fact, that Columbus was setting out to prove the world was round, so I could explain to the children, that when I was a little girl, that's what they taught us in school.

We talked about how Washington Irving (who the children know from Rip Van Winkle) wrote a fictional biography of Christopher Columbus, that was taken as fact, and led, in part, to the myth that the people of Columbus' day believed the world was flat.  Of course, today children are taught about the ancient Greeks, and know that all of the educated people of Europe would have known the world was round well before Columbus' journey.

The ancient Greeks, or Columbus, I'm not sure it matters - we know the world is round now.  But, wouldn't it be fun if it had been flat, and you could have just sailed right off the edge?

Thinking about that, we modified a game from Steve and Ruth Bennett's 365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child, by taping a large world map down to the center of the table, and taking turns sliding milk cap NiƱa, Pinta, and Santa Marias off from Spain... see who could send their ship as close as possible to the edge of the world....

...without falling off the map.

 Isn't it peculiar, Charlie Brown, how some traditions just slowly fade away? - Lucy VanPelt.

That's as is should be.  Just not today, Lucy - soon, but not today.

Happy Thanksgiving/Columbus Day!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fall Traditions - Pumpkin Pie for Breakfast

Having pumpkin pie for breakfast has been one of our fall traditions for a few years now, ever since we discovered the Brian Hall song by that name.

It's just not fall without it.

"How 'bout some pumpkin pie for breakfast, and some Digimon juice,

Pokemon cereal, with marshmallow Pikachus?

How 'bout some pumpkin pie for breakfast, and some Power Ranger punch,

Obi-Wan Kenobi Fritos in your Darth Maul lunch?

How 'bout some pumpkin pie for breakfast?"

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Phineas and Ferb Geography - Finding Danville.

Inspired by the great independent work projects going on over at angelicscalliwags, and a Google search item I happened to see on one of the children's internet histories - we came up with an independent work project of our own.

I asked each of the teens to research, and decide for themselves whether the town of Danville, in which Phineas and Ferb (from the Disney show by that name) live, could be based on an actual city in the United States.  According to a purported email from the creators of the show, to the administrator of the Phineas and Ferb Wiki-site, the city of Danville, named for Dan Povenmire, in Jefferson county, named for co-creator Jeff Marsh, is a fictional city, that can be located anywhere in the country, depending on what works for a given episode.

Even so, I challenged the children to decide for themselves.  Could Danville be based on a real town, named Danville, or not.  I gave them a week to research cities looking at population, geographical location, amenities, topography, and so on.  Their assignment was to be ready at the end of the week to present, and defend their findings in an oral report, preferably with visual aids. 

A (age 13) went old school, and used the overhead projector we bought last summer at a country school close-out sale, to display a map of all of the Danvilles in the United States...

...eliminating them all, and then settling instead on Fontana, CA, because of it's population...

...amenities, and proximity to the ocean.

G (age 15) chose to prove that Danville could not possibly exist as a real city.  She cited nearby places of interest mentioned in various episodes - the mountains, the beach, Mt. Rushmore, Washington state, and the Eastern seaboard.  The fact that it is a city with palm trees, and snow in the winter. And, the centerpiece of her presentation...

...was a song from season 4, that does seem to shed some doubt on the existence of the entire tri-state area.

T, was unshaken though, and forged ahead with his presentation...

...complete with computerized slideshow of pictures gathered from all over the internet, then modified for the purpose.  His presentation followed along the lines of...

  1. The city of Danville could be be based off of an actual city.
  2. This could probably be proved definitively, if it were not for the cycle of procrastination.
  3. There are a number of cities in the US named Danville.
  4. A few are within a one day drive of Mt. Rushmore, but...
  5. ...they are all very small towns - unlike the city of Danville in Phineas and Ferb.
  6. However looking within a 10 hour drive of Mt. Rushmore...
  7. ...for a city with at least some of the amenities of Danville - namely a racetrack, museum, and skyscrapers...
  8. Denver, CO...
  9. ...which does have a racetrack, museum, and skyscraper...
  10. ...though not the unusually shaped purple skyscraper seen in the cartoon.
  11. Still, a compelling case could be made for Denver as the inspiration, if not location, of Danville.
Finally, I pulled out the map (pictured of the top of this post) from a season 1 episode, with a United States map pushed and pulled into place over it in Paint.   Allowing for Dr. Doofenshmritz' poor map drawing skills, he could be magnifying California, Colorado or Salt Lake City, Utah (my choice, if anyone had thought to ask me) as the location for the tri-state area, and Danville.

But then, the purpose of the project wasn't really to find Danville at all, but rather to provide an excuse to put together presentations, work independently, make speeches, deal with a deadline, sharpen our critical thinking skills, and have a good time together watching as many episodes of Phineas and Ferb as we could fit into one long marathon session.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Clean Teen Fiction - Guitar Notes by Mary Amato


I picked up a copy of Mary Amato's Guitar Notes for my guitar loving oldest daughter (age 15), after spotting the cover art at our local bookstore, and then seeing a commenter on Good Reads list the book as "Clean YA Fiction" - those can be hard to come by.

After losing his father to a brain aneurism, and his best friend to a move, Tripp retreats into his room with his guitar.  That is until increasing isolation, sinking grades, and a summer of not working on make-up math assignments leads his mother to take drastic action by taking away his guitar.

Lyla has also lost her mother, a professional cellist, who died in a plane crash when she was young.  Lyla took the fact that her mother's cello, flying on a separate flight, due to an overload of baggage, survived as a sign, and took up the cello, herself.  Now in high school, the talented and driven musician has reached the age of life changing auditions, looming music school enrollment, along with her equally driven best friend (a violinist), and all her dreams are coming true - except she's not sure they're really her dreams at all.

Tripp signs up, and is assigned odd days, in music practice room B.  One hour every other day, over the lunch hour, of escape and relief, with a borrowed guitar from the school's music closet.

Lyla is also assigned to practice room B, on even days.  Armed with a recording of cello music, so no-one will know she's not practicing for her upcoming rehearsal, audition, talent show - life...she eats lunch in peace, writes an acerbic note to Tripp (Mr. Odd) for leaving garbage on the music stand, and tries to convince herself she loves her life, and is not about to have a heart attack.

One note leads to another, then to text messages, cell phone calls, emails, a friendship, a musical collaboration, improving grades for Tripp, a shared website, a gig playing at a wedding - and a pack of lies to teachers, to friends, and to their parents, that threaten to undo every good thing their friendship has brought to both of them.

The Positives -
  1. The book is clean - with no foul language to speak of, or sexual content.  
  2. Interlaced with the story is a lot of real world advice on how to brainstorm an idea, write a song, and learn to play the guitar.
  3. The author's website has a fantastic reading guide, teaching unit (including vocabulary, creative writing, music, art, and science tie-ins), karaoke versions of the songs from the book, as well as the guitar chords for musicians who want to play along - and more.
  4. Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart is mentioned often enough in the story to make it almost impossible for a teen reader not to take a look at the classic.
The Negatives -
  1. The ending is predictable, and too neatly tied-up.
  2. The secondary characters are one-dimensional, and underdeveloped.
  3. The main characters lack any sort of moral compass.  They lie, steal, break rules, and dishonor their parents. Their intentions are not bad, but they are so self-focused, that they can justify just about any action in pursuit of their own happiness.  As such, they better their situation in life, without bettering their characters, or themselves.
Overall, I'd say it is a good book for junior high to early high school students, probably aimed more at girls than boys.  It's light reading, with a lot of potential for additional activities and discussion.

Friday, October 3, 2014

First Snow

We had our first snow, yesterday.  It didn't last long, or stick to the ground.

 But, the flakes fell all morning.  Long enough for the girls to enjoy, with mugs of hot chocolate to keep them warm...

...while they waited for the gingerbread scones to come out of the oven (they were tastier than they looked).

When the children were younger, we always had a Gingerbread Man unit study on the first real snow of the year.   They've grown past the study for the most part now, but still enjoy looking back through the picture books, and decorating gingerbread men - which we will probably do once we get a real, sticking snow.  For now, it was scones, and whipped cream with hot chocolate, and a nice afternoon together in a warm kitchen, watching the last of the first snow melt away.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Teen Books to Movies - Edge of Tomorrow

I spent all day yesterday, reading through Hiroshi Sakurazaka's light science fiction novel, All You Need is Kill.  When I say all day, that's all day - intermittently, between loads of laundry, making meals, helping children with schoolwork, chauffeuring teens to driver's ed, and new job orientations, and other general mom-type activities.

It was an odd choice of books for me, and one I would probably never have picked up, if it hadn't been the basis for Warner Bros.' Edge of Tomorrow, which released to Instant View on Amazon this week, and which T (age 17) has been wanting to see since it was in theaters last summer.

I agreed to watch the movie with him, if he would read the book.  He agreed to read the book, but wanted to watch the movie first, hoping to avoid a major disappointment like we had with The Giver.

Watching the movie first turned out to be a good idea, as we enjoyed it in ways I'm not sure we would have if we'd read the book first.  It's a pretty standard, action adventure, mankind against aliens, special effects laden, battle to save the world type movie, but with enough humor thrown in to keep it light.  Sort of like a cross between Groundhog's Day and Source Code with a touch of War of the Worlds thrown in.

The premise of the movie, as well as the book, is something akin to what it would be like if a soldier could live out the life of a video game hero.  He fights, he dies, the game resets, continuing over, and over again, until at last the enemy is defeated, and the game is won.

In both the book, and the movie, the protagonist, a young soldier (an American in the movie, and Japanese in the book), after killing one of the aliens, finds himself in just such a repeating sort of loop.  He repeats the same day, and same battle a number of times before he begins to realize what is happening, and several more times before he meets up with another soldier, Rita Vitraski (an American in the book, and Brit in movie - or at least played with a British accent) who actually has been through such a loop before, and knows how to break the cycle, and possibly win the war.

The book fills in a number of details that the movie leaves hanging.  The movie provides a happy ending, that doesn't make total sense with the rest of the story, and is not in the book.  The movie also leaves out a lot, and I mean a LOT of the swearing and sex-themed soldier talk that permeates many of the pages of the book.  Seriously, you could cut the length of the book by about a quarter by simply eliminating the F-word.

With that said though, I really enjoyed the book a good more than I had expected to.  First off, I was thinking we were buying a Manga, and instead ended up with an actual novella.  There is a Manga based on the book...

...which has gotten pretty good reviews.  I just happen to prefer novels to Manga, or graphic novels, and so was pleased to have something other than a glorified comic book to read.

Secondly, as a homeschool mom, I was thrilled with all the jump off points there are in the book into other studies.  It's similar enough in feel to the WW1 classic, All Quiet on the Western Front, that I've already loaded a copy of that into T's Kindle as a follow-up... well as Rilla of Ingleside from the Anne of Green Gables Collection for the girls, to keep them up with the WW1 theme, and tie them into to T's reading.  The protagonist's first impression of the story's heroine in All You Need is Kill is that,

"...she was a tiny little thing standing off by herself...beside the rest of her super-sized squad, something seemed out of whack.  Anne of Green Gables Goes to War...the book would be a spin-off set around World War 1.  Mongolia makes a land grab, and there's Anne, machine gun tucked daintily under one arm..."  

If being a science fiction book, set in Japan, that mentions Anne of Green Gables (and the old Back to the Future movies to boot) isn't reason enough to like the story, there's also all the great geographical locations to look up, and study, references to interesting tidbits of Japanese culture, and strange aspects of wartime civilian culture to discuss.  Oh, and there's the problem of how foreign allies might deal with the language barrier. In the book they create a completely new, grammatically simple language for the soldiers to use.  In the movie orders are repeated in multiple languages over a loud-speaker.

And, if all that still weren't enough there's an umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) eating contest in the middle of the story, that's just too much for any homeschool mom with a cupboard full of Poppin Cookins to resist.