Friday, June 29, 2012


I told some friends that I was going to write a blog post about sloths, and my friend, Susan, said, "But you are no sloth! You are the opposite! Go! Go! Go!"  Well, I'm not writing about that kind of sloth. I'm posting about the animal!

These guys are so cute, but sloooooowwwwww...  They make turtles look fast!

This video is part of the BBC Earth series.  I love how David Attenborough pronounces "sloth" - so different from the way Americans say the word. Check it out:

From National Geographic, a sloth coloring page HERE.

Another sloth coloring page HERE.

National Geographic Kids has a fantastic page with facts, pictures, video, sound and more about sloths HERE.

More fun facts and information about sloths at Boing Boing, HERE.

Oh my goodness!  Did you know there is a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica? You can learn more about the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica HERE.  And, watch this video about the sanctuary, from The Cute Show:

Find an incredibly extensive fact sheet about the two-toed sloth from the San Diego Zoo HERE.

Learn about the extinct ground sloth HERE - also from the San Diego Zoo.

A printable (PDF) fact sheet for the kids to fill out HERE.  It has a picture to color, and a box for your child to write down facts about the sloth.

The actress Kristen Bell is a freak for sloths! This one isn't educational, but it is funny!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Whatcha got pasta....

I'm calling this "Whatcha got pasta" because it is made of just whatever ya got in the fridge and cupboards!
This is vegan, but it would be super easy to add some crumbled bacon, browned sausage, or whatever you prefer.  I like vegan, but am not a vegan...I eat vegan about 50% of the time, vegetarian 25% and omni the other 25%.  I've just never really liked meat all that much - the taste, the texture, the cholesterol...a few meat based dishes can get a "Oh my gaaaaawwwww...soooo good!" from me, but not many.

Anyhow...back to this "Whatcha got pasta."  Start by taking a peek in the fridge and cupboards.  We had a bit o' pasta, tomatoes, baby spinach, scallions (the long skinny green onions), shredded carrot leftover from making vegan carrot muffins yesterday, um...what else?  Oh, pimento stuffed green olives, capers, tricolor bell peppers, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, olive oil, and mushrooms.

I'm not going to take you step by step through making this (although if someone asks in the comments, I will...), because it seems pretty simple to me.  I cooked the pasta, browned the mushrooms in olive oil and margarine (oh, wait! The marg isn't vegan...oops!), then softened the bell peppers (diced) in olive oil over medium heat as well.  It's a "throw it together" meal, ya know?

I strained the pasta, put it back in the pot, dumped in all of my other ingredients (except tomatoes), stirred, dished it out into two bowls, and topped mine with the tomatoes (none for the boy...he won't eat tomatoes), dashed with garlic powder, pepper, and nutritional yeast, and then we ate!

I thought it was fantastic, but the boy said there were too many flavors.  It was a lot of variety, so I see his point, but I love veggies, and I love pasta, so I thought it was great!

What was the last "throw it together" meal that you made?  Is it one you'll make again?  I'll definitely make a version of this pasta dish again! Yummmmm!!!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

FREE German language resources

I have several penpals in Germany, and my son and I both are slowly but surely learning to speak, read, and write German.  While we've got dictionaries, verb conjugation books, and use Google Translate frequently, there is no substitute like actual interaction in the language you are trying to learn. Without a German speaker in our home or local enough to meet with regularly, we've taken to the internet.  Here are some of the resources we are enjoying:

Kika - Kika is basically the German version of PBS.  It is commercial free content for children.  Their website has several television shows, games, and more...all in German.  They even have content for older kids and teens, such as the show "Krimi" which is a teen drama.

ZDFtivi is similar to Kika. 

Or, try Sesamstra├če videos on YouTube! That's Sesame Street in German!

Deutsch Welle is a German news service that offers significant German language learning resources.  These are for older students, probably best for teens and adults.  The main modules are very much like a traditional language course, focusing on grammar, conjugation, and so on.  However, they have many different types of offerings, including Mission Europe, which is a series of podcasts and exercises following a crime-thriller storyline.  Mission Europe is available in German, Polish, and French, and has both English and foreign language components. 

BBC has a fairly extensive selection of German options. including material for children, teens, and adults.  There are videos, games, and audio.  If you are not familiar with BBC, it is the British Broadcasting Corporation, and thus much of the English content is with a British accent.  This shouldn't be too much of an issue for German language learners, however.

Deutsch-Lernen has several free, online grammar exercises. No audio that I could find.

TONS more resources HERE.  However, I have not evaluated the links on this particular site...

Oodles more resources HERE.  This is from the University of Michigan, but again, I have not evaluated these links.

For print resources, also consider the magazines Das Rad and Schuss. Das Rad is considered a beginners level magazine, while Schuss is more advanced.  Both appear to come with two audio cd's as well, and access to related websites.

I also just discovered Duolingo.  I've only played with it a little bit, but it seems fairly easy to use, and is interactive with immediate feedback.  It is available in Spanish and German, with French in Beta. UPDATE: Duolingo has added several more languages with additional languages planned!

Check out these additional foreign language posts:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Monarch butterflies

As a graduation present, my lovely friend, Angie, gave out live Monarch butterflies that she had hatched herself.  She presented a little box, saying, "Close your eyes and make a wish!  When you open your eyes your wish will be carried away to be made true!"  My son and I closed our eyes, made our wish, and opened my little box.  It was amazing!  The butterfly was beautiful, and walked on my hand and along my arm before flying away. is a fantastic site with loads of different projects about nature, cycles of the moon, the seasons and more. I've linked their Monarch Butterfly Migration project and information here.  The project has several components to take part in, including a paper butterfly migration option.  Although the paper butterfly migration is meant for school groups, I would imagine that a homeschool group or co-op might be able to take part.

National Geographic Kids is a wonderful site with factual information, pictures, videos,and more.  We used it when my son was in 4th and 5th grades, and we learned about animals from around the world.

Monarch butterfly video from National Geographic - discusses natural and human damage to Monarch habitats and the effects on the butterflies in both the United States and Mexico.

This video starts with flamingos, but also covers butterflies in swarms.  The video discusses the advantages of swarming behavior.  Please note, there is a joke about a singles bar.  Thought I should let you know just in case you watch and the kiddies ask what that is....  If you scroll to about 1:35, you can watch just the Monarch portion.

National Geographic Monarch butterfly coloring page HERE.

Monarch butterfly life cycle coloring page HERE.

Multiple coloring pages HERE.

Lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly from the Chicago Nature Museum.  This is a time lapse video with music and subtitles but no actual audio narration.

Monarch Watch has more great info about Monarch butterflies, as well as information about determining gender, about parasite effects on Monarch populations, tracking, and tagging.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thank you!

I want to take just a moment to say THANK YOU to all of you for checking out my blog, and especially those of you that take a moment to comment.  And, for those of you on Twitter, I'll be thanking you next weekend! we go! THANK YOU to my most recent commenters:

My dear friend, Angie, who's blog I cannot find....Angie, where'd it go???

Allison Strine

If you are on this list, and would rather I link your name to a different URL, or if you don't want your link listed, please leave a comment and let me know.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New family member...

Guess what?  We have a new family member!  She is a rescue...will post that story another day.

Monday, June 11, 2012

4 Hour Workweek?

As I mentioned recently, I am reading Timothy Ferriss's "The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich ."  I've implemented a few of the simpler strategies from his book, and must say that I am amazed at how much time I have freed up!

Huh...I didn't realize how much time I was wasting when it felt like I was being productive!  Although there are loads and loads of tips and ideas to become rich, take "mini-retirements", work less and enjoy more, it was a few simple tweaks that I found most compelling.  But, guess what?  They aren't as easy as I thought they would be.

The smaller tweaks I've made this past week:
  • Limiting Facebook, Twitter, social media to twice per day, and for no more than 30 minutes each.
  • Limiting e-mail to 3 times per day.
  • Limiting checking my bank account to once per day.
Those don't seem that big, nor do they seem that hard, but WOW!  I didn't realize how many HOURS I was spending just on those three things!  HOURS!  The hard part isn't simply spending all that time on social media, email, or checking my bank account.  Avoiding them, or limiting my time with them was actually quite easy.

The hard part was finding something else to do with my time!  Even after cleaning, sorting those "I'll get to it someday" piles of paper, studying, extra walks with the dog, more time actually interacting purposefully with my son, and so on, I still had TONS of free time left!  It was a strange sensation.  I frequently found myself sitting, and twiddling my thumbs wondering what to do next.  With all of our digital connections, we seem to be less active, and less connected than we have ever been before.

So, here is my challenge to you: Find three things that you do over and over and over throughout the day that aren't absolute necessities for your job or part of taking care of your family, or similar.  Three things that you could do without, even if you think you might miss them.  For the next three days, limit those things to two or three times per day for no more than half an hour each.  Or, go cold turkey for three days.  Report back on how you felt during that time, and what you did instead.  I'm curious!  If you liked the results from only three days, stretch the experiment to a full week, then a month!

I plan to keep limiting my social media, e-mail checks, and banking check-ins for the long term.  Instead, I plan to fill my time with actively being involved with my son and our dog, studying (I'm working on learning three languages - Spanish, German, and Turkish), reading, and being PART OF THE REAL WORLD.

Updated:  I have been continuing to make small tweaks and changes to our daily lives here and there, and am amazed by how much time I am freeing up for FUN and ADVENTURE with my son! Although I haven't seen a big financial impact yet, our small tweaks are diverting more cash from the outgoing pile to the piggy bank.  Have you read the book?  What are your thoughts? Have you implemented any of Ferriss's ideas to your own life?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Free Spanish language learning resources

Lately, on the Hip Homeschool Mom's Facebook page there have been numerous requests for information about learning Spanish.  Here are a few of the resources I have found, and used.  All are free, or have enough free content to be worth checking out.

First up, try "Salsa" for the kids!  This a television series with numerous episodes available online.  Every episode is a mix of puppets (think Sesame Street style) and humans.  The entire episode is in Spanish, but is presented in such a way that it is easy to understand.  Each episode also focuses on specific vocabulary or ideas.

Have you ever considered watching Cartoon Network in a foreign language?  Try Cartoon Network's Mexico version!

For fun Spanish games, check out Online Free  There are a variety of games with a variety of skill levels for each.

To learn basic phrases and vocabulary, consider downloading Byki.  There are two versions - the free one, and a premium (pay for it) version.  The free version has enough phrases and vocabulary to at least get you started.  It is set up flashcard style, and most of the flashcards have a picture to go with the words making it easier for those of us that are quite visual.  Byki is probably better for older kids and adults as it isn't fun and flashy like the above two resources. 

Study Spanish Free is heavily focused on grammar with several online lessons and exercises.  It allows you to create an account so that you may track your progress.  Lots of free content, but also some "premium" content.  Definitely for older students and adults...

Web Spanish Lounge is a mix of videos, audio, news stories and articles, and actual lessons.  It is set up a bit like a blog.

Updated to add Duolingo!  I just found Duolingo, and have played around with it a bit.  Duolingo is interactive, with immediate feedback.  It uses pictures, highlighted text, audio, and more to help you learn.  Currently Duolingo is available in Spanish and German, with French in Beta.  Give it a try, and let me know what you think! UPDATED: Duolingo has added several more languages with even more planned!

Check out these additional foreign language posts:

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Reading suggestions...

I have been promising this blog post to Gabriela at Luminous Fire for some time now, and I'm finally putting it up!  In part, this post is fulfilling that promise with some reading suggestions for kids that have outgrown Beverly Cleary, but aren't ready for William Golding.  This is just a small sampling of our favorite books for this point in a child's reading life.  This, of course, is by no means a complete list, and it would have been a lot longer except that my son is asleep still and I don't want to wake him by going into his room to photograph books! :) So, expect more posts on this topic in the future...  Additionally, I've added a few books that we are using in our homeschool right now, and a few from my own reading list.

First, for the kids in the "middle readers" category (generally, kids aged 8 to 12)...some of these are just as easy as the Ramona books, but others are a little more challenging.  I am including the easier ones because, even though JP is 13, they are books he still enjoys rereading when he wants something simple and fun.  Let your kids read both below, at, and above their level...reading below their level on occasion gives them the confidence to tackle harder material.

Grace Lin is both a fantastic writer, and an amazing illustrator.  There are several links on her website for activities, more info on her books, and more.  There are also some interesting videos.  Although she has more than three books out, these are the ones we have read:

Year of the Dog, Year of the Rat, Where the Mountains Meet the Moon

In addition to Grace Lin's books, JP and I both enjoyed Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone books.  Her website also has interesting content related to the two books.
Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Al Capone Does My Shirts

If you aren't familiar with the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar, these are very easy to read, and loads of fun. We've read many of Sachar's other books, and have several in our home library, but these are the ones JP has enjoyed the most.
Sideways Stories From Wayside School, Wayside School is Falling Down

For more hilarity, check out Carl Hiaasen's books for younger readers. Although not pictured here, we have also read his book, Scat.
Flush, Hoot

For a child with an interest in World War II and Holocaust history, Art Spiegelman's Maus and Maus II are fantastic.  They are graphic novels, and mice depict the human characters which I think greatly helps younger readers to synthesize the horrible atrocities of the Holocaust. I couldn't find a website for Spiegelman.  If you know of one, please let me know. Thanks.

In our homeschool, we've been evolving a lot of what we do, and how we do it.  I don't even know what to call our style anymore! :)  One of JP's regular assignments, and one that he seems to enjoy, is to read two newspaper articles every day, and to read several golf articles each week.  The news articles keep us both in touch with what is happening in the world, and have allowed him to have in depth, and interesting, conversations with many people.  The golf articles help him to understand his chosen sport, and improve his skills.
While researching our unit study on Ancient Greece, I discovered several books by writer Roger Lancelyn Green.  His books are fantastic!  They are educational, but informal enough to keep a child's interest.
Tales of Ancient Egypt, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Tales of Greek Heroes

For language arts, I had planned for JP and I to read and write together, but he balked at that idea.  Instead, he wanted to do both on his own, then discuss, and have me edit silently.  :)  For writing, we are focusing both on creative writing in the area of poetry, but also on improving his everyday writing and essay skills.  Of the three books pictured here, the only one we are reading together is the book on the Periodic Table.  It is by far the most complex of these three books.  For On Writing Well, JP reads a couple of chapters, then attempts to employ whatever lessons have been discussed.  For Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?, he reads a poem (or several) by a famous poet, reads the description of lessons taught by the author, and reads the poems of other students.  Then, he attempts a poem of his own using the same style, or following the lessons given.  So far he's written several featuring zombies, one featuring pickles, and another about a butterfly.  I blogged about Kenneth Koch and teaching poetry to children HERE.
 On Writing Well, Rose Where Did You Get That Red, Periodic Tale
Now, on to my June reading list.  You may read about my previous self-imposed reading challenges HERE and HERE.  Well, now that I've finished graduate school (I graduated on May 18th!), I have a lot more time for my favorite activity - reading, reading, and reading, with a dash of rereading.  My current reading list is pretty light.  The four books on my list right now are:
 Jack's Book, Jack Gilbert - Collected Poems, The 4-Hour Workweek, The Undomestic Goddess

Amended to add....I don't have them with me as we still have many boxes at my mom's house in California, but I wanted to add a few more books to my suggestions for middle readers.  These are thicker, and a bit more challenging, but still middle reader appropriate:

Anything by Cornelia Funke, but especially The Thief Lord, and the
Inkheart trilogy (Inkheart, Inkspell, and Inkdeath).

Skinnybones by Barbara Park - This was a favorite of mine when I was in
grade school, and my son enjoyed it too.

Any children's book by Bill Wallace, but especially A Dog Called Kitty.  Many of Wallace's children's books focus on the relationship between children and animals, in particular dogs.

And, although it has been made into a movie, I highly recommend the book How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. 

Happy reading!