Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: Jim Hodge’s Henty Audios

We’ve been studying the Civil War this semester and while I had several books selected on the subject for my son to read to himself we were given the opportunity to listen to someone else read aloud the G.A. Henty novel With Lee in Virginia.  The narrator was Jim Hodges of Jim Hodges Productions who specializes in unabridged recordings of Henty titles.  The physical CD we received had an MP3 format which works in computers and some stereos (like the one in our car).  We were also given a PDF Study Guide for the same title. We listened to the first portion of the story while traveling to and from a Civil War reenactment of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pilot Knob.  The whole story takes 11+ hours so a good portion had to be listened to at home.

Each track corresponded to a chapter of the novel – the chapter  title even appeared on the CD player.  There were no subdivisions within the chapter so if you couldn’t listen to the 30+ minutes it took to listen to  it entirely, you’d have to note the time where you stopped and fast forward to that spot on a subsequent  listening.  Mr. Hodges was an excellent narrator –reading neither too fast or too slow and enunciating quite well. I never had trouble understanding him (middle aged hearing).  The only weak point was his reading of dialogue.  At one point my son said Mr. Hodges reminded him of Data from Star Trek and looking back I can see his point.  Mr. Henty wrote with very few contractions so everyone’s words seemed more formal. There were also times (like when the protagonist was confronting an evil overseer whipping a slave) that Mr. Hodges didn’t seem to emote as much as we might have liked.  Part of that could be the written words themselves—we’re not likely to use the word “shan’t” especially when we’re upset, but as a narrator he didn’t have a choice in what to say.

On the whole, the story grew on us and as we became more concerned about the characters and their fate we focused less and less on whether Mr. Hodges had enough feeling in his narration.  And let’s be clear this is an audiobook—no background music, no sound effects.  We follow the main character through several famous Civil War battles: Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville as well as his capture and escape.  There are a fair number of chapters that deal with exploits away from the war too (helping a fugitive slave and retrieving that slave’s kidnapped wife). 

Along with listening to the story, we had study guide vocabulary to define and questions for each chapter.   The vocabulary was most helpful.  It’s more noticeable when your reading a page and stumble across an unknown word than when you’re listening to narration.  We worked on the words before listening and then tried to see if we could catch them being read.

The questions could cover anything from listening retention (e.g. How does Vincent bring Wildfire under submission?) to vocabulary (e.g. What does secede mean?) to history (e.g. What is the Merrimac, and what about it is very new to naval warfare?).  While we did try to answer the questions (some requiring outside research), we did not do the activities which could be a creative writing assignment or watching an online video.  I don’t know when the PDF file was created, but I found several linked web pages were no longer available.

In this review I’m trying to focus on the product, that is the audiobook, but I feel a word or two about Mr. Henty’s work itself is in order as some people might take offense.  The “N” word is mentioned several times and a character in the first chapter states:

“I consider that the slave with a fairly kind master is to the full as happy as the ordinary English laborer. He certainly does not work so hard, if he is ill he is carefully attended to, he is well fed, he has no cares or anxieties whatever, and when old and past work he has no fear of the workhouse staring him in the face…Were I to liberate all the slaves on this estate to-morrow and to send them North, I do not think that they would be in any way benefited by the change. They would still have to work for their living as they do now, and being naturally indolent and shiftless would probably fare much worse.’’ [emphasis added]

I don’t know if these sentiments are coming from the character (who was a southern slaveholder, but originally from England) or Henty himself, but it certainly warranted a pause in listening to discuss whether the slaves themselves would have agreed with these statements.  And maybe that’s the goal anyway – to be able to have meaningful discussions and learn from great literature of the past.

 The MP3 CD retails for $25 and the Study Guide is available for $12.  You can listen to a sample chapter on Mr. Hodges’ website before purchasing.  The audiobooks are not recommended for children under 8.  The study guide was created by a teacher who has worked with K-6 grade kids, and I would lean towards the upper end of that range before using it.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: The Forbidden Book

I mentioned last week that God was putting a lot of opportunities to the more about the Bible itself in our path lately.  We’re still studying who wrote it and how certain books were chosen for inclusion in both Sunday services and Schnickelfritz’s Bible merit.  Now we’ve got a another review product by New Liberty Videos with the Bible as its subject.  The title of the DVD, The Forbidden Book, might lead you to believe it has something to do with the Bible being taken out of public schools, but it in fact has to do with preserving the Bible throughout that era known as the Dark Ages.  According to the video, by 400 AD the Bible had been translated into 500 languages.  A century later it was only available in one – Latin, unreadable by the common man.

The majority of the video deals with the men that sacrificed (sometimes literally) their lives to see that God’s word was once again able to be read in the common tongue—mainly Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Luther although others are mentioned.    This obviously leads up to The Reformation and the separation of the church into the Catholic and Protestant denominations.  The video very seldom used the word “Catholic.”  Instead it substitutes “established church” but it does mention several Popes and the idea that communion becomes the actual partaking of the body and blood of Christ so its very clear who the narrator is talking about.

 I’ll be frank and say I come from a Protestant upbringing, but even I felt the narration comes down extremely hard on the Catholic church.  The video claims that the Latin texts were purposefully corrupted for the church’s benefit,  that the Pope’s ordered the Crusades just to conquer and claim Jewish wealth for the building of cathedrals, and the Pope himself called Christ a “profitable fable.”  With claims like these, I think it only fair to include source documents for proof, either as an insert in the DVD case or files that could be accessed on the computer but there is nothing.

I watched the video with my  son and it could not keep his attention, for which I am thankful.  In a documentary about translating the Bible into the common tongue there is no need to bring up the fees for indulgences of “ravishing a virgin” or “a priest keeping a mistress” nor a need to state that at one point the church employed 100,000 prostitutes.  And while martyrdom does apply to the topic, the discussion and images (mostly hand drawings, but some painted works of art) of how these saints were killed might be scary to younger viewers.  New Liberty claims their videos are for all ages, but you might want to screen them first if your kids aren’t ready for such content. 

The DVD retails for $19.95 and is almost an hour long.  I do give kudos to New Liberty for including closed captioning for the hearing impaired (many educational DVD don’t do so).  The documentary is actually produced twice on the DVD—once without captions followed by one with them.  Sometimes the captions take up the majority of the screen, making it difficult to see the picture behind them though.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Review: Clued in Kids

Recently we were given the opportunity to review two treasure hunts from Clued in Kids.  The first, Homework Reward Treasure Hunt was completed by my son alone.  The second, Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt was used at his birthday party.  Both were PDF downloads that I printed at home and retail for $5.99.  The hunts can be used by kids of all ages although younger ones may need some assistance.  All you need to do is cut the pages in half and hide the individual clues (they even say at the bottom where it should be hidden).

The treasure hunt for a day stuck in the house

Sniffles, congestion, and a low grade fever.  My Schnickelfritz was under the weather—and it was homeschool gym day.  He wasn’t so sick that he didn’t want to play, but I also didn’t want him to pass on germs so we had to stay home.  His consolation prize was his own private treasure hunt.  I hid the clues while he was doing schoolwork in our basement classroom. The set up was easy-peasy, even when my son in the house.  How often do kids pay attention to mom puttering about.  I did have to wait until he left his room to take a shower to plant clues in specific drawers and put the prize under the bed.

This homework themed hunt was written from a traditional school point of view with references to the yellow bus,  school bell, and the need for a backpack but it was all still do-able for us homeschoolers (even we have a back pack, although it has a cooler and we use it for picnics).   If you’re using this with younger kids, they need to be able to multiply 10X10, read a clock face, and recognize playing cards.  One of the challenges involved folding and flying a paper airplane, something my son really hasn’t done, so I had to find printable instructions online to place with that particular clue.

It took my son 34 minutes to work through all the clues and find the new DVD at the end.  Most of the time was spent finding the clues – although the locations are set by the clues, I can be devious in where they’re hidden at each location.  For instance the “bath” clue was wrapped around the shower pipe in our basement bathroom.  The hardest clue for him had to do with pajamas—the letters P, J, and S were spaced far enough apart that he didn’t recognize it as PJ’s and he was trying to come up with words to fit the initials, like Peanut butter & Jelly Sandwich.

Treasure Hunt for the party

My son’s birthday is in the fall and we always celebrate with bonfires, hay rides, and a romp in the leaf pile.  This year Schnickelfritz asked for an “orienteering” themed party.  Rather than have the kids race through my house, typed up a sheet with all the answers written randomly with each assigned a specific number.  The number pointed them to a map (I used a Google satellite image) with recognizable points on our property (back of the barn, wagon wheel, etc.) where they would find there next clue.  By the way, make sure all the parents are there to watch the kids run around the house three times gobbling like a turkey.  The party treats were hidden at the final location. The Thanksgiving theme worked with our fall event (we don’t celebrate Halloween, but there is a themed hunt for that available) and 12 years old-12 clues was a perfect match..  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since we’re talking about groups of kids at this point, let me say that each clue has a spot to write in the name of a child at the top.  This way you can make sure everyone has a chance at solving the clues.  I know from experience that letting the one who gets there first be the clue-reader/solver can lead to pushing and shoving and eventually hurt feelings. 

The only downside to these treasure hunts is they can only be used once with the same kid or group of kids.  Still it was nice to have around for taking a sick child’s mind off what he was missing and entertainment for a party.

The treasure hunts are designed for kids ages 4 and up, and they say 1-10 kids (you decide if you really want 10 kids running through your house). Want to try a Clued in Kids treasure hunt for yourself.  You can receive the same Homework Reward hunt we did by signing up for the Clued in Kids newsletter.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Friday, October 24, 2014

Z is for the Zoo in St. Louis

I can’t believe we’re at the end and I can’t believe I managed to post every week, but here we are at letter Z.  There was no doubt in my mind that I’d be sharing about the wonderful St. Louis Zoo.  It’s ranked one of the top zoos in the nation and it’s FREE!  That’s not to say there aren’t attractions within the zoo that you must pay for, like the train or the opportunity to pet stingrays (the stingrays and the Children’s zoo are free during the first hour of the day).  There is a fee to park in the zoo’s lots, but you can park in Forest Park for free and walk in.  (While you’re in the park, you can check out the Art Museum, the Science Center, and the Muny).

The zoo really has it’s roots in the 1904 World’s Fair (ever see Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland?).  The Smithsonian Institution commissioned a large flight cage for visitors to walk through and see rare birds.  The city purchased the cage when the fair closed and within a decade more than 70 acres around the cage were designated for zoo land.  

My memories of the zoo began in the 70’s when  big changes were occurring at the zoo—up to this point the animals had been housed in cages and the elephants and chimpanzees performed in shows.  Now cages were being replaced with large pens with moats and most of the animals weren’t expected to perform (they recently added back the sea lion show).   Here’s a great example with a glass window allowing us to see the hippos above and below the water surface.  Yes, there are fish in the water—a sign nearby explains the symbiotic relationship.  Let’s just say the water would be a lot murkier if the fish weren’t doing their jobs and leave it at that.

As a young Earth, creation-believing family zoos can be tricky places—there’s always a concern that the signage will reference evolution and millions of years.  I noticed most of the animals simply had their common name on the enclosures (see below).

That’s not to say they aren’t learning opportunities.  In good weather there are several stations to touch fur or study a skull, etc.  There are also several permanent displays like the jungle classroom with its chalkboard of a cheetah….

The zoo realizes that while moms would like to focus on the educational aspect of the zoo, kids just want to have fun (and get some wiggle out of their systems).  You can find several sculptures around to climb on or crawl through.

 

Last year’s new exhibit was a tunnel through the sea lion pool.  Here’s Schnickelfritz seeing if he can hold is breath as long as these pinnipeds.  He’s turning red, don’t ya think?

This last shot was taken inside that flight cage that started the zoo so many years ago.  It’s still standing strong.

 

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Y is for Young Clydesdales

I’ll begin this post with a confession.  I was planning to write about the Youzeum—a health/anatomy- themed, interactive museum in Columbia, Mo.  But when I went to find hours and prices I found out that it had closed just two years after our chance to visit.  I could write about the sign of the times--no wonder childhood obesity and diabetes are rampant…. someone finally comes up with an engaging and fun way to  learn about their prevention  and the place closes for lack of attendance.  Instead, I’m thinking off the cuff and the only thing Y post I could come up with is Young Clydesdales.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the Budweiser Clydesdales, even if you never drank the product…they star in parades and Super Bowl commercials around the country and probably the world.  The Anheuser-Busch brewery began in St. Louis and  Missouri happens to be home to their breeding farm.  The Clydesdales and I go way back.  Remember the map from the Ulysses S Grant home?  The Grant’s Farm (owned by A-B)highlighted in yellow is home to more than 50 of the gentle giants.  They keep  young ones just weaned from their moms as a way to get them accustomed to crowds, as well as retired hitch horses (15 years and older).   As a little girl I used to feed them handfuls of grass over the fence (if that’s a no-no, I’m sure the statute of limitations has run out by now).   You can take a 90 minute tour of the stables and get your picture taken with one of the retired hitch horses for $25, but you can walk through the stables on your own for free.  By the way, Grant’s Farm is a free attraction, but parking costs  $12.

Budweiser Clydesdales, Warm Springs Ranch, Boonville

But I promised this was going to be a post about “young” Clydesdales, didn’t I?  Nearly dead center between St. Louis and Kansas City on Highway 70 is the Warm Springs Ranch, the official breeding farm for the Budweiser Clydesdales since 2008.  Their herd (100 strong) has breeding mares, foals and stallions.  $10 tours of the ranch are offered April – October daily (at 10 am and 2 pm) except Wednesdays and you’ll want to visit in the spring when the babies are being born. Tickets sell out fast so you may want to purchase yours online rather than arrive and find they’ve sold out.  You’ll have the opportunity to pose for pictures with one of the adults and you can take pictures of the babies with their mamas in the foaling barn.  After touring the barns, seeing the semi trailers in which the hitch team travels, and getting to see the wagon & harnesses up close be warned that guests over 21 will be offered a sampling of the beverage these horses represent.  You may want to leave the tour at this point and check out the gift shop.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Apologia’s iWitness Series

Do you ever feel like God is hitting you over the head, trying to get your attention on a certain issue?  I’ve been feeling that lately about studying the Bible.  Not reading it, but studying the book itself—how it was written, how we can trust its authenticity, shy certain books were included and others not.  Right now our church is doing a 6 week study on these issues, I’m going over the same material with my son for his Royal Rangers merit, and I’ve got to reviews for products dealing with the Bible.  The first of those comes from Apologia Educational Ministries.  While Apologia is best known for their science curriculum, they’ve been branching out into apologetics and religious studies (we loved their Who Is God series).  For your consideration today are three books by Doug Powell:

Each book is roughly 65 pages, 6” x 9”,  and comes in a softback format. All the glossy pages are covered with old photographs, images of artifacts, and “hand-written” notes to resemble an archeologist’s journal.  As such, there is no table of contents or index to easily look up specific subjects. Each page or two-page spread does its topic in a large label in the corner so you can flip through the pages fairly quickly.  I will say here that I get the whole “journaling” concept, but sometimes the handwriting fonts were a little hard on the these middle-aged eyes—especially at the end of the day.

Most of my comments on our use of the project will be dealing with my son’s merit badge.  The recommend age level for these books is 11 and older and since he is just getting ready to turn 12, I have been reading the books with him and sometimes aloud to him.

New Testament iWitness

Last week in church the pastor asks if anyone knew what the term “canon” meant.   Although he never actually called on someone in the congregation to answer, I could thanks to this book.  It not only explained that “canon” comes from the Greek word for measuring stick, but what characteristics each book needed to measure up to in order to be considered part of the canon.  The first section of the book gives example after example of early church fathers’ lists of accepted books—all which were written before the Councils of Hippo and Carthage (the generally accepted sources of the New Testament list of books).

My son spent a great deal of time using the spread on the Apostolic Age for his timeline of the Bible (we have to include all the books of both Testaments).  He was also interested in how the Bible was copied in the days before the printing press and accurate those copies actually were.  The final section of the book deals with Text Types and Textual Criticism.

Old Testament iWitness

This book also deals Canon, manuscripts, and copying but not to the extent of the New Testament book.  Did you know that originally there were only 22 books, not 39?  It’s not that more books were added, but the original books were divided.  For example,  what was originally known as “The Five Scrolls” became Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations when the Septuagint translated the original Hebrew into Greek.

My Schnickelfritz found the dating he needed for the prophets who wrote most of the Old Testament as well as the Kings of both the Israel and the divided kingdoms for his timeline project.  There are also several pages devoted to the Apocrypha for those who use the Catholic Bible.

iWitness Biblical Archaeology

 

There is no mention of the Lost Ark or the Holy Grail.  Although there are a few pages devoted to the Flood and searching for Noah’s Ark, most of the book deals with much more mundane artifacts (inscriptions on tablets and cylinders) that mention names that can be found in the Bible like “The House of David” and Pontius Pilate. I was able to read about some significant archeological finds since my trip to Israel in 1998: they’ve now found Herod’s tomb and they’ve completely uncovered the Pool of Siloam (where Jesus healed the blind man).  There are several pages devoted to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the significance of their discovery.  The book ends with several densely written pages about the Shroud of Turin.

 

Several years ago there was a movie (and a popular book on which it was based) that asked readers to question the Bible—specifically who wrote it and who decided which books should be included and which should not.  I think any Christian reading these iWitness books would be better prepared to answer those questions than the average church-goer.  And since what goes around comes around, you might want to get your own copies of these books so you’ll be ready next time.  All the books are available for $14 per title.

 

Click to read Crew Reviews
 

Friday, October 10, 2014

X means “Watch out for trains!”

 

 

I promise—this will be my biggest creative stretch of the ABC series, but really who can come up with a town or attraction that starts with “X?”  What immediately jumped to my mind was the X in the middle of a railroad crossing sign.  I have this theory that all little boys must go through either a dinosaur phase or a trains phase (perhaps both).  For my son it was trains, and to be honest the phase is over 9 years old and still going strong.  He’d wow the crowd of older men at the model train shows by pointing out cantenary systems or recognizing a shay locomotive (thank you I Love Toy Trains videos).   He started with a wooden Thomas set and has graduated to his own Lionel.  We’re always looking for opportunities to add trains to a vacations or weekend excursions.  Here are a few we’ve found in Missouri.

 

 

The Museum of Transportation

The museum is actually a part of the St. Louis Parks & Recreation department.  Founded over 70 years ago with just a mule-drawn streetcar is now displays planes, cars, a tugboat, and more than 70 locomotives!  (There are plenty of passenger cars and cabooses too).  If you want to learn about trains this is the place to go.  The static displays have plenty of signs and labels to learn about the trains themselves or the operating parts (see the picture below).  My son’s favorites are the Big Boy and the Aerotrain.  Admission is $8 for adults and $5 kids ages 3-12. 

Engineer of the Big Boy

The Missouri River Runner

Amtrak offers daily service between St. Louis and Kansas City.  A fair portion of the track does indeed run along the Missouri River, offering majestic views of the bluffs.  Along the way you can stop in Hermann (known for its German heritage and wineries) and the state capital.  It is unfortunate that the St. Louis end of the trip does not stop at the majestic Union Station any more (as it did when I was a child) but you can still see and experience a golden age of trains’ station on the Kansas City end.

Branson Scenic Railway

While the city is mostly known for it’s live music shows along Hwy 76, you can travel east to the old town of Branson and there catch a 40 mile ride through the hills of the Ozarks.  The train uses working freight lines and has to work around other trains so you won’t actually know if you’ll be heading north or south until departure time.  If you’re in town to see the Christmas lights you can take a special Polar Express train (some folks even come in their jammies).  They serve cookies and hot chocolate, read the book, and you’ll be visited by the hobo from the story and the man in red.  You can check their website for pricing and schedules.

Scale Railroads (Little Steamers)

Maybe your family isn’t ready for a big train ride yet.  Well, there are other options. Have you ever seen a picture of Walt Disney on his miniature train, the Carolwood-Pacific Railroad?  You don’t need Disney’s wealth or Imagineers to own a train like this and you don’t even need to own one to ride.  There are several clubs and parks across Missouri that offer weekend rides.  If you’re really interested in trains these clubs are always looking for volunteers to maintain or even lay down new track and trust me when I say these enthusiasts love to talk about their engines.

The Kansas City Northern Railroad offers rides on weekends and holidays May-September for a mere 50 cents on its half mile track.

The Magic City Line is a mini-train run near Moberly, MO.  It runs on Sundays April – October with a $2.50 fare.  The MCL has over a mile of track. 

The St. Louis Live Steamers offers free rides one Saturday each month April-October (follow them on Facebook for dates)  They’ve been busy expanding their track so I’m really not sure how long the ride is right now.

The Wabash, Frisco & Pacific Railroad has a 2 mile trip along the Meramec River.  They run every Sunday afternoon from May-October and ask for a $4.00 donation per rider (under 3 is free).

There are other small gauge tracks in the state but most seem to be private clubs.  If you’d like to learn about them (or the ones in your state), the Discover Live Steam has a thorough listing with contact information.

Pacific, MO

Originally called Franklin, the  name was changed the following year when the Atlantic-Pacific Railroad laid tracks through town. Regular rail service from Pacific to St. Louis began in 1861.  General Price (we learned about him at the Battle of Pilot Knob) also attempted to capture these lines to reach St. Louis in 1864.   The town holds a Railroad Day Festival every year in the summer.  Other times you may just want to stop at the picnic pavilion near the tracks where they’ve installed a monitor to see the train traffic along the lines and listen to the engineers and dispatchers talking.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

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