Sunday, 28 November 2010

BOOK REVIEW - Katie's Sunday Afternoon - By: James Mayhew

Another "Katie" book arrived at the library earmarked for our reading pleasure.  This one is called, "Katie's Sunday Afternoon."

The paintings featured in this volume are all done by "The Pointillists" - Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and Camille Pissarro.  As the notes at the back of the book indicate, the Pointillists "liked to keep their colours pure, so they didn't mix them together before they applied them to the canvas.  They painted their pictures entirely in dots, deliberately placing contrasting or complementary colours next to one another to create different effects.  This painting style not only kept colours vivid but seemed to capture both the scene and its atmosphere.  At the time, many people did't like Pointillist paintings -- perhaps they found them fuzzy or messy -- but painting in the Pointillist style took a long time and required a great deal of patience!  Today, Pointillism is loved by many."

The storyline in this book is a little harder to believe than the other titles we have enjoyed thus far.  But it is still a good read -- especially for children who can suspend the improbablities of the events actually transpiring.

This time, Katie and her Grandmother are very hot and decide to go swimming, but when the pair arrive at the pool it is full.  So, they go to the air-conditioned art gallery instead.  Poor Grandma must have a bad case of sleeping sickness because she always nods off while Katie has her strange adventures among the paintings. 

And so, while Grandma sleeps, Katie first examines Bathers at Asnieres by Georges Seurat.  The scene is so inviting, Katie climbs through the frame and into the cool water.  She splashes and plays with a boy in a red swimsuit and hat, who is named "Jacques."  Then Katie, and her new friend, attempt to leave the painting and return to the gallery, but they tip the painting and water gushes out of the frame and on to the floor.

Bathers at Asnieres

Standing ankle deep in water, Katie and Jacques see Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.  Katie leaves the boy behind, enters the frame and makes friends with the little girl in the white dress.  The girl, whose name is Josette, is given permission to go with Katie to wade in the gallery.  The rest of the elegant people decide wading is a great idea and the men roll up their trousers and the ladies hitch up their skirts.  Everyone has a wonderful time.  Then they realize the water is getting too deep and they will not be able to wade back to the safety of their painting without getting their good clothes wet.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
Katie and Jacques swim over to a third Seurat painting, known as the Port of Honfleur.  They clamber inside the painting and take a little rowboat out of the picture and bring it back into the gallery.  Everyone manages to return to safety except Josette and her governess, who is called Prudence.  Unfortunately, Prudence falls into the water and is soaking wet.

Port of Honfleur
Another painting, Woman Hanging Up Washing by Camille Pissarro, comes to the rescue.  The kindly washerwoman hangs up Prudence's wet garments and gives her other clothes to wear.  Once her things are dry, the trio get back in the boat just as Jacques warns them that a guard is coming and there is an urgent need to return to their own painting immediately! 

Woman Hanging up the Washing
Katie is suddenly worried about how they will be able to get rid of all the water.  As they row past the painting Portrait of Felix Feneon, by Paul Signac she is inspired to ask for help.  After several tries, Felix waves his stick and the room is instantly clean and dry and the the boat and the rest of the people are back where they belong.

Portrait of Felix Feneon
Once the guard leaves, Grandma awakes and asks Katie if she would like to go back to the swimming pool.  Of course, after her water-filled adventure, she isn't too keen on heading to the pool.  So Grandma and Katie leave to find an ice cream treat instead!

I wonder what Katie's next adventure will be and what paintings the next book will introduce us to?

Friday, 26 November 2010

VIDEO - The World's Perfect Cup of Tea

Alisdair likes drinking a pot of Tim Horton's brand green tea (with a bit of milk - no sugar) everyday.  Sunday, November 28th is "International - A Nice Cup of Tea Day" -- and so he wishes to participate.  People are asked to take a photo of themselves drinking a cup of tea (or of their teacup/teapot) etc. and then to upload them to a website.  This amusing video, that contains a wealth of facts about the British custom of tea drinking, is part of the "run-up" to the celebrations on Sunday!  My favourite part, of this video, is when the teapot tries to squeeze into the black taxi, without success.  Alisdair's favourite shot was when the teapot vandalizes the wall -- as it spray paints the result of a poll to determine the best type of British tea!  What's your favourite part? ... And do you suppose the Queen was looking out the window of Buckingham Palace and saw the teapot walking along outside the gate?  Perhaps the sight was too much for her and she had to call a servant to bring her a spot of tea!  But alas, we will never know for sure!

NOTE:  For a better photographic quality, change the setting at the bottom from 240p to 360p, by clicking and selecting the higher number.  It goes from grainy to very clear.  Thanks!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

LAPBOOK - A "Sneak Peek" at our Renaissance/Leonardo da Vinci Study

COVER - Leonardo da Vinci Lapbook

The Lloydminster Homeschool Assocation is holding a Christmas Concert/Open House on Sunday, December 5.  Each child is supposed to perform an item on the program and display something they have been working on.  Alisdair has chosen to make some lapbooks for viewing.  He has one on "Thanksgiving" that he needs to complete with a couple of finishing touches.  He has also been working on a large (three folder) lapbook about the "Renaissance and Leonardo da Vinci."  Another one, in progress, is about the tragedy of the  "R. M. S. Titanic."

Here is a sneak peek at the Leonardo da Vinci project and some of the little minibooks we have included, thus far:

Overview - First of Three Folders

Close-Up - Renaissance Information

Close-Up "Renaissance Art Characteristics Minibook"

Inside - Art Terminology

Third Flap - How Renaissance art differed from the works painted prior to the period.  For example, "People now had expressions and personalities."

Alisdair has been writing information in many of the little books.  This is one on Renaissance Architecture.
An imaginative Renaissance Building Alisdair designed 
Watch for other posts to follow, detailing what will be included in the other two folders devoted to this topic!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Another Unintentional Homeschool Lesson!

Alisdair wanted to help warm up the leftovers for supper.  John had some country music playing but he went to watch television so Alisdair decided we should listen to his own CD from "The British Bird Songs Collection."  The CD, which is produced by HMV Easy features a "dawn chorus, herons, turtle doves and a nightingale, as well as other birds.  It even has a Canada Goose in Track One!

As we were listening, I was tending to the stove.  Suddenly, both children at once yelled, "Get down from there!"  I looked up and saw the cat poised on the corner of the cabinet where the stereo was sitting.  He was jumping on the speaker.

I laughed and said, "He thinks there are real birds in the kitchen!"  After that, we watched him very carefully to make sure he wouldn't try to stalk the recorded bird sounds again!

It was "cheap fun" for us, but it was no doubt frustrating for the big grey cat who had to settle for a dish of hard chow instead of a feathered lunch!  We all thought a cat would be smarter than that! 

Monday, 22 November 2010

MICHELANGELO - Online Jigsaw Puzzle and other Teaching Helps

Alisdair is working on a series of lapbooks to display at the Lloydminster Homeschool Association's Christmas concert/open house, which will be held on Sunday, December 5th.  One of the topics he is working on is the Renaissance artist, Michelangelo.  As we were researching the various lapbook templates that are available, we came across a website that has many word searches, crossword puzzles, and worksheets for students to put words in alphabetical order.  There are teaching helps for many of the Master artists but also for many other famous people.  Perhaps this resource will benefit other homeschoolers who follow this blog.

Alisdair especially enjoyed this link where he was able to put an online Michelangelo jigsaw together.  It is of the famous sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus, after the cricifixion, that is known as the "Pieta."  The sculpture is now on display at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

The Pieta

Another Michelangelo-themed online puzzle, of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, is available.  This one is a bit more challenging as there is a two minute time limit on completion.  It took several tries before I could finish the puzzle before the timer ran out!

We will post photographs of our various lapbooks once they are completed.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Math-U-See Fun

Alisdair was beginning to feel like he would never get through his Alpha level "Math-U-See" workbook.  He'd already worked on it for a while earlier this afternoon, but he is anxious to complete it so he can go on to the Beta level work.  So, as an incentive this evening we got out our kitchen timer.  We set the clock for 15 minutes to see how much could be accomplished.  I took the workbook and a pencil and he pushed "Start" on the timer.

Fifteen minutes later we had stickers at the top of SIX pages.  Then, in an attempt to "beat" his previous record, we re-set the timer for another fifteen minute interval.  The questions seemed harder but we still managed to complete THREE more pages correctly.  So, thanks to the kitchen timer, and a bit of co-operation, Alisdair finished NINE workbook pages.  A few more fifteen minute sessions and we will be completing the  378 page book and photographing the certificate that says "Congratulations .... You have just finished Alpha.  You are becoming a math whiz!  Have fun doing the next book, which is Beta ... Psssst.  Don't forget to thank your Teacher!" (I sure like that last sentence!)  Stay tuned to hear the news of our celebration when that great day arrives!

POEM - "When Santa Claus Was Ill"

Father Christmas

The Lloydminster Homeschool Association is hosting a Christmas Showcase during the afternoon of Sunday, December 5th, at the Lloydminster Gospel Fellowship (LGF) church.  Each student has been given the opportunity to make a 4-minute presentation as part of the program.  Our homeschoolers can also either display some of the items they have been working on, or enter a science fair type project.  Alisdair hasn't been sure what he wanted to present - A speech?  A song? Or maybe a poem?

I was searching online for ideas, and came across this poem in a book called "Christmas Selections for Readings and Recitations," complied by Rosamond Livingstone McNaught.  The book was online (in its entirety) and is part of the collection of the University of California at Los Angeles.  Its contents are copyright 1906 but the frontspiece gives the date 1911.  The printer was "The Penn Publishing Co."

Although it is too long to memorize, I thought it might be appropriate - we would just have to change "Fourth of July" to "First of July" to Canadianize the poem.  And, as I said to Alisdair, with a selection that old, we are guaranteed that no one else will be doing the same piece!

When Santa Claus Was Ill 

Old Father Time, on Christmas Eve,
Said anxiously, "I do believe
That Father Christmas will be late,
He ought to start, it's half-past eight
At midnight he is due on earth,
He'll have to rush for all he's worth,
It is a shame, upon my word!" --
Just then the telephone was heard.
"Hello," said Time.  "Hello, who's this?"
"A messenger from Father Kris,
He has a bad attack of gout
And won't be able to go out,
And so he hopes you can supply
A substitute for him.  Good-bye."

"I feared that this would come to pass,
For Father Christmas has grown old
And cannot stand the frost and cold.
But to the waiting human race
I must send some one in his place,
I'd go myself if 'twas not now
My busiest day, I don't see how
I can be spared, 'tis almost nine."
Ting-ting!  "Hello, St. Valentine!"
"Who's this?"  "I'm Time."  "Hello, hello,
Christmas is ill, so can't you go
And take his place on earth to-night?
You're just about his size and height,
The difference none would ever know,
Come, hurry up, old chap, and go."

"I can't," St. Valentine replied,
"I've caught a cold, and then beside
I'm very busy writing lines
And making up my Valentines.
I'm sorry, Father Time, but I
Can't go, get some one else.  Good-bye."
Then Father Time was very vexed,
First of July he called up next,
But that young urchin laughed in glee,
And said, "No Christmases for me:
Too well my face each youngster knows,
Besides, I have no winter clothes."

"I'll go," the little New Year said,
Time patted the small curly head,
And kindly said, "No boy, not so,
But next week, Sunday, you may go."
And just then April Fool came by
With mischief in his twinkling eye,
He heard the trouble, and said he,
"Why Father Time, I'll go, send me,
I know the customs of old Yule,
I'll wear a long white beard and wig,
And make myself look old and big,
And do the best I can for you."

As there was nothing else to do
Old Time was forced to give consent,
And to the April Fool he lent
Old Father Christmas' robe and cap.
Arrayed in these the merry chap
Was sure he'd fool the wisest folk.
And went off chuckling at the joke.
He reached the earth just at the time
The bells rang out their midnight chime,
And through the whole of Christmas Day
That tricky April Fool held sway.
He thought up all that he could plan
To tease the heart of mortal man.

Instead of snow and frost and storm
The weather was quite mild and warm,
The fields were gay with budding flowers,
The clouds gave hints of April showers,
Instead of Christmas songs all day
They heard the street hand-organs play,
The children who had hoped to see
A Spruce or Hemlock Christmas Tree
Discovered in the best front room
A Peach or Cherry Tree in bloom.
Even the candies were no good,
Just cotton, wool or bits of wood,
And somehow no one thought it droll
To find salt in the sugar bowl.
He mixed up all the children's toys,
Gave drums to girls and dolls to boys,
He gave the ladies pipes and canes,
And to the men, fans and gold chains,
Gave specks to babies in long frocks,
And to their grandpas, building blocks,
Until each woman, man and child
With indignation went quite wild,
But never did they know or guess
Why Christmas wasn't a success.
And mischief-loving April Fool
Laughed at the topsy-turvy Yule.
Unfortunately, the author of this imaginative poem is not given.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Snowy Weather Conditions Interrupt Field Trip Plans...

We should be on the road right now -- driving to Calgary in preparation for our little adventure tomorrow. However, we were forced to cancel our travel plans due to poor road conditions, caused by a Winter storm. While it is a only a bit snowy here at home, the Calgary region has been hit hard. My cousin sent me a message that it took them an hour and a half to drive, within the city, to take their daughter to hospital to have a cast removed. Last night my brother told me the "powers that be" had cancelled their home Bible study group, due to weather. And then he phoned again (from work this morning) with the latest weather reports, which look better for tomorrow, but unfortunately that's too late for us.  And so, we will not be able to take part in the Heritage Park Historical Village "Homeschoolers Day."

Both children are disappointed, and so am I.  Isobel is especially sad as the first thing she said to me this morning was, "Today's the day we're going to the 'Teddy Bears' Picnic!"  I guess there will be more food for the ants as we won't be there to enjoy the picnic fare!  As a small consolation, Isobel can go to Kindergarten tomorrow, so she will still have many opportunities for learning.

This is what the Alberta Motor Association (AMA) website shows for today's road conditions - mostly POOR and FAIR.  Definitely too much red to venture forth.... 

Road Conditions Legend
Road ClosedConstructionUnknown

(PLEASE NOTE:  This map is constantly "updating" weather conditions, so this is not how it looked prior to our cancelling our trip)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

BOOK REVIEW - "Katie and the Sunflowers" - By: James Mayhew

Katie - disturbing the sunflowers!
Today was Tuesday -- and that's the day inter-library loan books arrive in Neilburg.  It's always an adventure to see what has arrived for pick-up and our reading enjoyment.

Alisdair walked down to the library this afternoon to pick up our books and he came home heavy laden with two grocery bags of stories.  Some were for Isobel and some were for his school program.

One of the titles in the bags was one I'd mentioned in a previous post "Katie and the Sunflowers" by James Mayhew.  Again, Katie, the young girl in the tale, goes to the Museum/Art Gallery with her Grandmother.   The story opens with Katie looking at Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" -- only she does more than look.  She reached right into the painting and touched the flowers.  But then disaster strikes!  The vase wobbled and fell right out of the picture, making a big mess all over the floor.

Van Gogh's Sunflowers
As the story continues to unfold, Katie meets the little girls in Paul Gauguin's "Breton Girls Dancing," which was painted in 1888 and now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C.

Breton Girls Dancing
And then Katie and Mimi, (one of the Breton girls), end up inside van Gogh's "Cafe Terrace at Night" and meet up with a waiter, who becomes angry at them for bumping into him, making him drop his pastries!

Cafe Terrace at Night
The last page of the book gives considerable information about the Post-impressionist painters who painted in thicker strokes to make their colours even stronger.  It also notes that van Gogh painted "Cafe Terrace at Night" in Arles, France, where he lived for a time.  In another plot twist, Paul Cezanne's "Still Life with Apples and Oranges" is brought into the story.

Still Life with Apples and Oranges
The final painting brought to Katie's attention is Paul Gauguin's "Tahitian Pastorals."  The information page tells us Gauguin "had some sunflower seeds sent to Tahiti because sunflowers didn't grow there."  It also says the author wonders if "he wanted them to remind him of France and his old friend van Gogh!"

Tahitian Pastorals
Of course, in the end, everything works out and the sunflowers are restored to their rightful place in their frame.  Mimi is back with  her friends, the waiter is, once again, serving pastries, the apples and oranges are safely in their dishes, and the Tahitian ladies are still relaxing in warmth and comfort -- while Grandma, who fell asleep on a bench in the gallery, (and missed all Katie's exploits), is none the wiser.

"Katie and the Sunflowers" did not disappoint and lived up to all our expectations, after reading "Katie and the Mona Lisa."  Maybe next Tuesday, another Katie tale will arrive to give us yet another art history lesson!

Monday, 15 November 2010

FIELD TRIP - Heritage Park Historical Village, Calgary

The weather forecast is for winter to show up in the next few days.  John says tonight it will be -7 degrees Celcius, with a chance of snow.  (I guess truckers are fanatical about the weather so they know what the roads might be like).  I am crossing my fingers and hoping that old Jack Frost will hold off until at least next week as we have an adventure planned!

Heritage Park's "Gasoline Alley Museum" is holding a special "Homeschooler’s Day" from 9:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. on Friday, November 19th.  Unfortunately, in order to participate in this interesting event, we have to make the long drive to Calgary and back.  Hopefully it is worth the trip!

Heritage Park's website, at states, "Our interactive, full day Homeschool Programs provide students with the unique opportunity to explore and experience the lives of Western Canada's pioneers and settlers in our hands-on historic environment. Here are two great opportunities to immerse your homeshoolers in “How the West was Once!”  (Unfortunately the second Homeschool Program is scheduled for March 18, 2011 and is only appropriate for students in Grades 1 through 5, so neither Alisdair or Isobel would be eligible to attend.)

The site also gives a tentative schedule for Friday's activities.  Alisdair's timetable is outlined as follows: Grade 4-6

Assembly Line (45 minutes)
This hands-on presentation demonstrates how different daily life was before the introduction of the assembly line to the auto industry.

Gas Pump Tour (45 minutes)
The evolution of the gas pump is brought to life!

3D Truck Craft / Time Line Game
Build your own three dimensional old fashioned truck, and test your knowledge of history with a fun card game.

Lunch Break (1/2 hour)

Auto Motion (2 hr)
Students have fun building and racing their own rubber band powered cars! (Grade four science tie in)

Lower Showroom Tour (30 minutes)
Students can get up close and personal with the beautiful collection of vintage cars, trucks and gas pumps in our lower showroom.

Although Isobel is attending regular classes at Neilburg Composite School, and it is a Kindergarten Day on Friday, it seemed easier to let her pretend to be "homeschooled" for the day!  (Overnight childcare would, no doubt, be difficult to arrange).  So I enrolled her in the program for students in Kindergarten To Grade 3, which is described as follows:

Teddy Bear’s Picnic (modified 1 1/2 hr)
In this fun filled activity based program, students will learn the history of the Teddy Bear, play picnic games and learn about nutrition.

Rules of the Road (classroom version 1hr)
Students will learn the rules of the road through road signs and “driving” around our classroom circuit.

Lunch Break (1/2 hour)
Story telling – transportation/dress up
This interactive story time will bring out the creativity and imagination in your little learners!

Movie – Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin helps students discover Henry Ford’s revolutionary idea–the assembly line.

We'll hit the open road sometime Thursday and get home again on Saturday - just in time for ballet choreography practice and to deliver two days worth of newspapers!  (Since we can't find a substitute we were advised that we can tell our subscribers they can either pick their paper up from our front doorstep or can wait for us to deliver two days worth on Saturday afternoon!   I trust everyone will be understanding).  I am also grateful for a brother and sister-in-law that are happy to host us for a couple of nights.  We'll post some photos of our adventure at Heritage Park upon our return.  Wish us travelling mercies....

Ballet and Acting Go "Hand in Hand!"

Imagine my surprise when I am standing in the foyer of the Elk's Theatre in Cut Knife, waiting for Isobel's ballet lesson to end, and I see someone who looks a lot like the actor, Gordon Tootoosis, pacing back and forth. 


After a little while, the man came over to peer through the small porthole windows, in the swinging doors, to see what the beginner ballerinas were doing on stage.  (Parents are not allowed in the theatre as the children may be distracted by their presence).  The tall, grey-haired man stood quietly next to me.

I hesitated to say anything.  Finally, I asked timidly, "Are you Gordon Tootoosis?"  He said he was.

Then he asked me a question -- and it wasn't if I was the famous Neilburg newspaper reporter or the blogger for Porter's Primary School!  He asked me, "What part of the outfit is the tutu?" 

Apparently, Mr. Tootoosis was left in charge of his Kindergarten-aged granddaughter and he didn't know what he was looking for when he was told what she needed for ballet class!  I explained it was the skirt and we had a laugh together.  He said he'd called his wife, at work, and all the fellow employees in her office, were amused that he was searching high and low for a tutu!  Soon the class finished, we collected our respective girls, and went our separate ways.

When I got home I excitedly phoned my parents to tell them who I'd bumped in to.  They didn't seem at all impressed.  In fact, my Father didn't even know who Gordon Tootoosis was.  So I called my husband, John, on the mike phone as he was working, hauling oil across Alberta.  He wasn't sharing my enthusiasm either...  Surely I am not the only one who remembers "Albert Golo" from "North of 60" fame??!

For others who may be unsure of who Mr. Tootoosis is, here is a biographical write-up from Wikipedia:

"Gordon Tootoosis (born 25 October 1941) is a Canadian actor of Cree and Stoney descent. He is a descendant of Yellow Mud Blanket, brother of the famous Cree leader Pitikwahanapiwiyin.
Tootoosis's first acting role was in the film Alien Thunder (1973), with Chief Dan George and Donald Sutherland. He is best known to British audiences for playing the Native American Joe Saugus, who negotiates the purchase of the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet series 3 (2002). Gordon appeared in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation mini-series By Way of the Stars with Eric Schweig as Black Thunder and Tantoo Cardinal as Franoise. It was filmed in Uxbridge, Ontario. Tootoosis starred with Russell Means in Disney's Pocahontas (1995) and Song of Hiawatha (1997).
He is the son of John Tootoosis, one of the founders of the National Indian Brotherhood and former head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN). Gordon himself served as the chief of his band and as a vice-president of FSIN. Tootoosis has been married to Irene Seseequasis since 1965. They have three daughters and two adopted sons. After their daughter Glynnis died of cancer in 1997, they took the responsibility of raising her four children. Their residence is in Saskatoon."

LETTERS -- Sharpie Pens -- What Colour is YOUR Ink??

I was in Lloydminster on Friday afternoon.  Just before leaving town to hurry home, I ran into the store to grab a couple of my favourite "Sharpie" pens.  I can never find one that works (Isobel likes them too and often 'borrows' one and then forgets to replace the cap and so they dry out).  I have always used black Sharpie and was unaware the brand came in other colours.  When I got home and took the pen out of the packaging, I discovered I had actually purchased two blue pens.  When Alisdair learned about this, he looked at the pen and the packaging, and then immediately suggested he should write a letter to the manufacturer.  And so he spent time on a quiet Sunday afternoon, writing yet another complaint letter!  It reads as follows:

"I am writing about your Stylo Sharpie Pen Blue UPC 0 71641 00046 9. I am an 11-year old boy and I wanted to let you know something that happened to my Mother. She was in a rush and picked up a package of your pens at Staples Business Depot.  The pens had a black lid, so she thought they would write with black ink. When she got home and wrote with it, the ink turned out to be blue (It's about an hour’s drive to the store). Why would the lid be black, if the pen writes blue?

Then, when you look very closely at the package, it says “Blue” but you can barely notice it, because it's so small. Also if you look closely at the pen, the only difference is a thin blue line around the label. Once again, it’s not very big so you can hardly see it.

For example: You probably wouldn’t like it if it said on a form, “Write in black ink,” so you go buy a pen and only look at the lid. Then, the pen you thought was black, turns out to be blue, and it is an hour to go back to the store!

I think you should stop making the black lid for blue pens and only put it on the black ones. That way, you could better identify a blue pen from a black one. Please put blue lids on blue pens. Either that, or make the whole label on the blue pens the same colour as the ink. It’s common sense!

Thank you for considering this request."

... I'm wondering if we'll get a response?  Maybe I'll get lucky and they'll send us a couple BLACK Sharpie pens to make up for our mistaken purchase!  Stay tuned for an update!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

LETTERS - Difficult Questions for 'Father Christmas'

Alisdair is hoping for a reply...
Although it was only the end of October, Alisdair was begging to write his annual letter to Santa Claus.  I told him it was a bit premature to do so, but he was still "itching" to put pen to paper.  Finally, he talked to his Granny and she explained that she doesn't put her Christmas cards on her book racks until after November 11th.  That appeased him for a few more days.  However, now Remembrance Day has passed, Alisdair could wait no longer.
Since he wanted to ensure Santa's undivided attention, Alisdair decided instead of sending just one letter, (like most children), to cover all the bases by mailing out three separate requests.
The addresses are:
  1. Santa Claus, North Pole, CANADA H0H 0H0
  2. Santa Claus Main Post Office, FI-96930 Arctic Circle, Lapland, FINLAND, and
  3. Santa, Reindeerland, SAN TA1 (via the British Royal Mail).  We'll get our Scottish Granny to post the last one.
The lad is costing a fortune in stamps!

His 2010 letter illustrates some of the difficulties a modern St. Nicholas encounters -- as if he set off the burglar alarm, Santa's cover would surely be blown.  Alisdair also asked some very difficult questions of Father Christmas.  It will be interesting to see if Santa has time to shed some light on his personal life!  Here is Alisdair's letter (in its entirety):

Dear Father Christmas:

Do you have a home security system? We have one, so be careful not to set it off when you visit. One day I made a grilled cheese sandwich and it smoked a little bit and set off the smoke detector and it’s connected to the system so they asked for a password and we had forgotten it, so they called everyone from Granny & Grandpa to the fire brigade. Luckily, we didn’t have to pay a fine.

This year I would like:

* Time for Tea From Tim Hortons
* Sears®/MD Crispin(TM/MC)
* FlyLady's Doll
* Christmas with Wallace and Grommit stamp set

How old are you? Do you smoke? Do you drink alcohol? How do you go to the washroom if you’re stuck in your sleigh for so long on Christmas Eve?   I’ve been a good boy this year.  Thank you in advance.

Alisdair Ramsay-Mackenzie"

The letters have now been posted and are awaiting pick-up by the mail truck on Monday afternoon.  It could be worse...  Last year, Alisdair asked if Santa and his elves had been vaccinated for the H1N1 flu and if they were environmentally friendly at the North Pole.  He also wondered if the elves used lead-free paint in the workshop.  Talk about an inquiring mind! What will the lad think of next?!?  I shudder to think!!

Friday, 12 November 2010

ARTWORK - Isobel's Remembrance Day Legion Poster Contest Entry

After the Remembrance Day service at the Neilburg Community Hall, Isobel grabbed my hand and told me  she had a picture on display on the tables that lined the edge of the room.  I admit, I was a bit skeptical as I knew the prize categories only began with Grades 1 to 3.  Could she REALLY have a picture there?  Or was this wishful thinking?

"Show me your picture," I said.  I didn't have to ask twice!  "Okay," Isobel replied excitedly, steering me to the far corner.  "It's that one," she said, pointing to one with lots of colour on it.  Nearby were other pictures that looked more like pencil scribbles than actual drawings.  I picked up the drawing with the green grass and checked the backside.  Sure enough... Isobel's full name and class details were recorded on it!

Lest We Forget
Later, when we got home, I asked Isobel to explain what her picture was all about.  This is what she told me:  "This picture is all about the world and community. Every day is a great day in this picture.  The grass is green and the crosses are out to show we love the soldiers, and to mark where some other soldiers are, and where they died.  There is a tree and a big sun. There are clouds and a bird in the sky."

It pleases me to think my 5-year old is beginning to understand what Remembrance Day is all about.  Lest we forget....


Thursday, 11 November 2010

FIELD TRIP - ASTRONOMY WORKSHOP - "Starlight, Starbright ... I See The Stars..."

"It was a braw bricht moonlicht nicht" and Alisdair and Isobel and I were out in the fresh air gazing upward at the moon and stars.  (For non-Scottish readers the translation is a 'pleasant/good bright moonlight night.)

Although it was a chilly November evening, the Lloydminster Homeschool Association arranged a presentation on astronomy, which was held at the Reinhart's acreage, just outside of Lloydminster on Wednesday, the tenth.  Fourteen families participated in the event.  We were asked to bring snacks, lawn chairs, our questions, a desire to learn, and $30.00 to help cover the costs of the workshop.  We were also warned to wear warm clothing as we would be outside in an open field for a while!

As Therese later explained, summer is the best time to hold an astronomy workshop (as far as the weather is concerned) but most folk do not want to stay up very, very late to view the skies.  In the winter, although participants have to put up with the cold, they can begin viewing in the early evening and watch as the various elements progress across the backdrop of the sky.

The fun began at 6:30 p.m. with a presentation given by Glen and Therese McDonald of Derwent, Alberta.  Glen is an avid star watcher and has been taking his astronomy hobby very seriously for about ten years.  The McDonalds have offered Astronomy Workshops for some time and Glen enjoys imparting his knowledge to others and sharing the view from his 14-inch telescope (named FRED!).  FRED weighs approximately 200 pounds and was purchased for about $5,000.00. 

Glen McDonald, searching for a prop.
Since FRED, and the other equipment necessary for the presentation, is bulky to move, Glen uses a trailer behind his vehicle to take it from place to place.  The white trailer also doubles as a screen upon which to project his computerized slide show of the planets and other heavenly bodies.  He spoke of craters on the moon, showed comets, nebula and many other formations that occur in the skies.

Alisdair and Isobel (foreground) and some of the crowd.
The Lloydminster Homeschooling Association provided the fixings to make hot chocolate and some folk brought homemade cookies.  We took a dozen doughnuts from Tim Hortons as our contribution, and they were quickly devoured. 

Glen focused his telescope at the waxing moon (crescent).  Approximately 25% of the moon was illuminated and it looked something like this photograph:

Waxing Crescent Moon
According to "the sun always illuminates the half of the moon facing the sun (except during lunar eclipses, when the moon passes through the earth's shadow). When the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth, the moon appears "full" to us, a bright, round disk. When the moon is between the earth and the sun, it appears dark, a "new" moon. In between, the moon's illuminated surface appears to grow (wax) to full, then decreases (wanes) to the next new moon. The edge of the shadow (the terminator) is always curved, being an oblique view of a circle, giving the moon its familiar crescent shape.

At this point in the evening, many folk lined up to take a look at the moon.  It was advancing across the horizon and soon disappeared from view.  Unfortunately I was otherwise occupied getting hot chocolate and supervising a bathroom break, so we missed the opportunity to look up at the moon!  And, for Isobel, the trampoline was almost as exciting as looking through the telescope.  Lots of kids to jump with, equals lots of fun!

Trampoline Fun!

When observing the moon was no longer an option, Glen turned his telescope towards the planet JUPITER. I got a good view of Jupiter and four of its many moons.  Through the telescope, the "moons" around Jupiter looked like a star does in the night sky with the naked eye.  The bands across the planet were a distinctive deep rusty red colour.  Again, since the planets are constantly moving, Glen had to re-orientate the telescope every few minutes to adjust for this shift.  Later, he brought the telescopic image even closer to give a more detailed view of Jupiter by itself.

Jupiter and some of its moons.
Later, at home, I looked up some facts about Jupiter.  According to the site Jupiter takes about 12 years to orbit the sun and rotates in about 10 hours. This short Jupiter "day" is amazing since the planet is roughly 11 Earth diameters wide.

The list of "facts" also tells us that "unlike the rocky planets, Jupiter is a ball of dense hydrogen, helium, water, nitrogen and other gases over a tiny rocky core. Powerful winds dominate the atmosphere with criss-crossing jet streams, lightning and huge hurricane-like storms like the Great Red Spot. This storm has been raging for over 300 years and is about 2 Earth diameters wide. The Great Red Spot can be seen on Jupiter along with four moons:  Io (smallest), Europa, Callisto and Ganymede in this NASA image. (Posted Directly Above)  If you have binoculars or a telescope you can see the moons as tiny points of light. If you look the next night you can see for youself that they move."

"Jupiter had 39 known moons at the time of this image and a slight ring of smoke-sized particles and dust. The planet contains 71% of the planetary matter in the solar system and so its huge gravity pulls every object toward it. In fact, most of its moons were captured rather than forming with Jupiter. Scientists watched in awe as comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke up and smashed into Jupiter making explosions the size of the Earth.  Scientists keep finding more moons orbiting Jupiter. In May of 2002 Scott S. Sheppard and David C. Jewitt of the University of Hawaii announced the discovery of 11 new moons around the planet. As of March, 2003, Jupiter had 52 confirmed satellites. These newest moons are all no more than 2 to 4 kilometers across (if their surfaces are very dark), they all have retrograde (backward) orbits, and take somewhere between 557 and 773 days to orbit. These latest moonlets were announced by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) on Circular number 8089. In April, 2003, 8 more moons were confirmed for a total of 60 moons with the possibility of more as the search continues."
Therese offered an easy way to learn the names of the planets in order.  Just remember the sentence, "My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas."  (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto).   However, if you discount Pluto as an actual planet, they you can say, "My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Noodles!"  (I was surprised to find the second statement in Alisdair`s Can-Do Print workbook -- on a page titled   "Starry Skies" -- in the last section of the book.)  The same source tells us the root word ASTRO means star and the word NAUT means sailor.  It then suggests that Astronauts are STAR SAILORS!  The workbook also says students can think of the letters S. U. N. to remember the three planets that are the farthest from the sun (Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.)

Alisdair at the telescope.

After some of the crowd had dispersed, Isobel went to Mr. McDonald and asked if she could look at the stars.  So he trained the scope on Capella.  It is the brightest star in the constellation Auriga, the sixth brightest star in the night sky and the third brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus and Vega.  Isobel also asked if she could see Mars, but was disappointed to learn that it would not be in the proper position for viewing until the wee hours of the morning.  Isobel was also very excited about the glow in the dark plastic "moon rocks" that Therese handed out at the conclusion of the evening!

Gazing at Capella
The astronomy workshop provided an interesting learning opportunity.  It also brought to mind the words of the beloved hymn How Great Thou Art:

Oh Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works
Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Saviour, God, to Thee
How great thou art
How great thou art
Then sings my soul
My Saviour, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art
                         - Stuart K. Hine

Indeed.... how great Thou art!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

LETTERS - Alisdair says "Swiffer Ain't Sexy!"

Response from P & G
Alisdair received a letter on Monday from P & G (also known as Proctor & Gamble Inc.) For a moment or two we were trying to figure out what it was all about. Then we remembered!

Back in July, while staying with Granny and Grandpa and attending Sci-Fi Camp, Alisdair was watching television. A commercial for swiffer mops was aired. In the advertisement, a woman is using a new green Swiffer mop. She likes it so much she takes her old broom outside and props it up near the fence by the garage. Then music plays asking "Who's that sexy lady?" and the rejected broom moves suggestively with a flamingo on the lawn next door. For readers that can't recall seeing this commercial, a video is posted below:

Alisdair felt uncomfortable when they used the word "sexy" and wrote a complaint letter to the company... and Grandma mailed it.

I never saw the letter he sent to P & G but their response (dated October 18. 2010) was as follows:

"Dear Alisdair Ramsay-Mackenzie:

We rely heavily on consumer comments regarding our advertisements, and feedback like yours will help us decide how to approach future advertising efforts.

Please be assured I'm letting our marketing team know how you feel.  Thanks again for writing.


Swiffer Team"

The strangest thing about this whole episode was that the letterhead gives a Post Office Box number in Toronto, Ontario as the return address.  Then, on the corner of the envelope, it says "The P & G Distributing Company, Consumer Relations" and gives a postal box number in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Finally, instead of a stamp, the letter had a Second Class Royal Mail postage sticker with the words "Match Returns X, P O Box 264, EGHAM TW20 2AF and Postage Paid GB."

And so -- if we were going to reply to this letter (which we don't plan to do) -- which address would we use?  Alisdair says he originally used an address in Brampton, Ontario that he found online at which was advertised in regard to the Swiffer Money-Back Guarantee!

Mysterious envelope from the USA and Great Britain
If that wasn't puzzling enough - the reply Alisdair received was incorrectly addressed to Box 21 instead of the proper Box 2.  We thought the temporary worker, at our local Canada Post outlet, was really on top of things and correctly placed it in our box, despite the wrong address.  However, yesterday, while at the library picking up inter-library loan items we had ordered, another patron was standing at the counter checking books out.  He asked me, "Did you get a letter addressed to Box 21?"  I replied that yes, as a matter of fact, we had.  Mr. Thurlow then told me that was actually HIS box number and he had taken the improperly delivered mysterious letter back into the post office and given it to the worker and asked her to put it in the right slot.

Am I confused yet??.... just a little!  Better go clean my floor while I try to figure this conundrum out!

VIDEO - Sir Ken Robinson offers an Explanation of Changing Education Paradigms

A friend from Chicago, Illinois sent me this video clip which is well worth sharing and watching.  Sir Ken Robinson makes many good points in this animation and offers much "food for thought."

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

PORTER'S PRIMARY - School Photos

The Thinker??
Neilburg Composite School were kind enough to allow Alisdair to come down on the day the "Lifetouch Canada Inc." photographers were in the village taking the traditional pictures of all the students and staff.

The proofs came a little while ago and I was very pleased with the results!  If this is any indication, the boy is enjoying his homeschool experience!  Isobel needed a retake because she looked goofy.  Her proof came back today (from the second time round) -- and she still has a goofy smile!  Ah, maybe that is how 5-year olds are supposed to look!

Here is a sneak peak at Alisdair's photos ... one of these will, no doubt, soon be adorning Granny's fridge and another winging its way across the sea to a photo frame in Scotland!  If any other loyal readers would like a photo, leave a comment and I'll mail one out to you.

The "Package" Pose used for all my prints

Happy Camper
(The t-shirt was given to Alisdair last July when Alisdair he enjoyed being a SCI-FI Camp participant.)

I LOVE those freckles and the spaces between his teeth.  He's recently lost two molars and more are loose!

Club UYN (Use Your NetSmartz) - Certificate & Badge

Alisdair completed an online course from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's website.  In the "Educator's Guide," the adventure game, which is called Router's Birthday Surprise, is described as "a comprehensive Internet and and personal safety resource for ages 5-10.  In this interactive adventure, Clicky throws a party for his good friend, Router the robo-pup.  Students follow Clicky through his busy day and become part of the story - playing a game show to learn the online safety rules, helping Clicky put the Webville Outlaws back in jail, and deciding who is a trusted adult.  Upon completion, students are certified NetSmartz Kids!"

The game can be found at  (Note: you will need to create a nickname before entering).

"This was a FUN and educational game." said Alisdair.  "My favourite part was when I got to watch the video clips and interact with Clicky and his friends.  The part that was the most fun was -- at the very end -- when I got to choose a gift to give Router for his birthday.  You also get to choose a box, to use as gift wrap, so I put his clam chowder into a take-out container."

Upon completion of the course, Alisdair received a certificate and a safety patrol badge (pictured below):

Official Netsmartz Kid
Alisdair's Safety Patrol Badge

October 23 - Manitou Lake Bible Camp - FUN DAY

Welcome sign just outside the camp property.
Manitou Lake Bible Camp (MLBC) is conveniently located just six miles down the road - between Neilburg and Marsden, and on the shores of Manitou Lake.  MLBC held their annual "Fun Day" for Junior (and Squirt) aged campers on Saturday, October 23rd. The fun began at 2 p.m. with on-site registration.  Deseri Adrian, of Kitscoty, was the guest speaker. Fifty-three campers came out to enjoy the nice weather, participate in various games, and munch on a beef-on-a-bun supper. The day, which was chock full of activities, ended at 8 p.m. when parents picked up their children from the Dining Hall. Alisdair enjoyed attending this event and was relieved that he didn't break his arm again (like he did during his summer session last August!) 

The Parachute Club??

Waving the 'chute

Alisdair was a cat in this game!

Monday, 8 November 2010

VIDEO - How Do You Socialize Your Children?

My cousin (who has homeschooled her children for several years) sent me this video link. Alisdair and I found it amusing.  This video does a good job of explaining the reasons why parents choose to homeschool and how we plan to enable Alisdair to be "socialized" as he learns. Enjoy the video!

BOOK REVIEW - Katie and the Mona Lisa - By James Mayhew

Katie and the Mona Lisa
Since Alisdair is studying some of the great Master Artists using the "Hands-on History Activity-Paks Artists CD-ROM," I was doing some research on Leonardo da Vinci.  While searching for other materials, I came across the colourful picture book, "Katie and the Mona Lisa" by James Mayhew (published by Orchard Books/New York and copyright 1999 - 32 pages). 

It sounded intriguing, so I ordered this book through inter-library loans.  We were not disappointed.  Even Isobel enjoyed hearing about young Katie and her encounters with five paintings from the Italian Renaissance period.

The content is summed up at Google Books as follows:  "At the art museum, while her grandmother dozes, Katie steps into the painting of the Mona Lisa and together they have adventures with the characters from four other well-known Renaissance paintings. Includes information about the artists."

The first featured painting is, of course, the Mona Lisa:

The Mona Lisa - Leonardo Da Vinci
 The next work is St. George and the Dragon by his contemporary, Raphael;

St. George and the Dragon - Raphael
 This is followed by Primavera by Sandro Botticelli:

Primavera - Sandro Botticelli
and The Lion of St. Mark by Vittore Carpaccio:

The Lion of St. Mark - Vittore Carpaccio
 and the final painting is An Angel with a Lute by one of Leonardo Da Vinci's students.

An Angel with a Lute - by an associate of Leonardo Da Vinci

This book is the perfect way to introduce some of the classic paintings of the Renaissance to children, of all ages.  My 5-year old daughter loved it (I am sure she was imagining that she was Katie as I read her the book several times).  She also enjoyed saying "Mona Lisa" every time we got to a place in the text that used the name of the mysterious smiling lady in the painting.

I was pleased to note there are ten titles, in the Katie series, including the first adventure titled "Katie's Picture Show."  The others are:

Katie and the Bathers
Katie and the Dinosaurs
Katie and the Sunflowers
Katie in London
Katie Meets the Impressionists
Katie and the Spanish Princess
Katie and the British Artists
and the most recent publication - Katie and the Waterlily Pond.

Mayhew has also written and illustrated ballet books about Ella Bella, a ballerina, as well as several other titles.

Since Isobel is very keen on ballet, I will be ordering the rest of the volumes from the Katie series and the Ella Bella ones, too.

For more information on James Mayhew and how he began writing the Katie books (the name was chosen for his sister Kate), follow the link, below:

He also has a blog for Ella Bella the Ballerina and a personal blog.  Introduce yourself, and your children, to the writing and illustrations of James Mayhew.  You'll be glad you did!