Friday, December 31, 2010

Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge 2010 Wrap Up, and Reviews

I'm slipping in just under the wire, to post my last two reviews, and wrap up for the 2010 Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge, at Book Chick City.

I read these two a while back, but just hadn't gotten around to posting about them. But, since this is the last day of the challenge, and I hate to leave a challenge unfinished, I thought I better get to it.

Just to review, the challenge was to read 12 thriller or suspense type novels, in 12 months. Below is a list of my first 10 titles. I stuck to the cozy mysteries, which were included in the list of acceptable genres, but I noticed most of the other participants tended toward horror based thrillers, with an occasional Agatha Christie thrown in.

1. Eggs Benedict Arnold by Laura Childs
2. The English Breakfast Murder by Laura Childs
3.Fudge Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke
4. Through the Grinder by Cleo Coyle
5.Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton
6.The Teaberry Strangler by Laura Childs
7. Needled to Death by Maggie Sefton
8. A Deadly Yarn by Maggie Sefton
9. Hooked on Murder by Betty Hechtman
10. Dead Men Don't Crochet by Betty Hechtman

And as for number 11, and 12:

11. Recipe For Murder

Series: Cozy Crumb Mystery
Author: Lisa Harris
Pages: 265 in the large print edition. I have good eyesight, but this was the copy my library had in.
Setting: A hunting lodge outside of Rendezvous, CO.
Recipes included: Lemon Crumb Cake, with a Lemon Curd Frosting
Summary and Review:

After objecting to some of the moral content, or lack of moral content, of some of my other entries in the challenge, I thought I'd try something different, and check out a "Christian cozy mystery". Generally, I avoid "Christian" fiction, because it tends to be sappy, and preachy, and even awkward, or forced. But, since this is a mystery, I figured how bad could it be?

Widow Pricilla Crumb comes semi out of retirement to help her son out, by filling in as cook, at his Colorado hunting lodge. She has hopes that it might become a full time position for her, giving her something to do in her old age, and allowing her more time with her son. And, on this particular weekend, she has some match making plans for son, as well, with the arrival of a dear family friend, and his grown, and single, daughter.

Everything is planned to perfection, and going according to plan, until one of the guests drops dead...

The plot is a little thin, and even the characters don't seem to think it's realistic. I lost count of the number of times they mention Jessica Fletcher, or Sherlock Homes, and how silly it is to be acting like them. And the ending - the ending is cliche to the point of being embarrassing.

But, the characters are likeable, the setting is pleasant, and the writing, while not challenging, is for the most part, light, enjoyable, and clean.

So, while I'm not completely sold on series, I'm not set against it either. If I was the star giving type, I think this one would rate somewhere around three out of five.

12. Candy Apple Dead
Series: Candy Shop Mystery
Author: Sammi Carter
Pages: 232
Setting: Paradise, CO.
Recipes included: Almond Toffee, Cream Cheese Mints, Caramel Dipped Apples, and Hard Rocky Mountain Candy.
Summary and Review:

Abby Shaw has returned to her small hometown to take over her late aunt's candy store, after a messy divorce from a cheating husband. Flirtation, begins to turn to romance with a fellow merchant down the street, when he is found murdered, and her brother becomes suspect number one.

While this mystery is definitely not a "Christian" mystery, killing off the love interest in the first few pages, kept it pretty clean. It also provided for a fun deviation from the normal cozy mystery formula. With her brother's reputation, and freedom at risk, Abby becomes a credible, if not qualified, investigator. And, along the way she rubs shoulders with enough background characters, and stumbles across a large enough web of mysteries, to keep the series going for a while.

I'm not sure where Carter takes the story later in the series, but this book was okay. Not too spicy, but not sickeningly sweet either. I'd probably give it 4 out of 5 stars, keeping in mind that cozy mysteries are not meant to be deep, or educational reading.

So, there you have it, 12 months, 12 mysteries, and the challenge is complete.
It's great to be a homeschooler.

Winter Science for Children - Frozen Bird Seed

I came across a simple science experiment for the girls, that went perfectly with our reading of Henrietta Bancrof and Richard G. Van Gelder's Stage One, Read-and-Find-Out Science book, Animals in Winter.

The book details, briefly, what happens to various animals in the winter, and what they do to survive, and find food. It ends with several suggestions for making bird feeders, or peanut, and berry garlands for the birds, and other small animals. One of the suggestions it gives, is mounting a flat board, with drainage holes, on a fence, or post, to place bird seed on.

I asked the girls if they knew why the board would need drainage holes. They weren't sure. So, I asked them what happens when the snow starts to melt in the sun, and then freezes, as the temperature drops. Our temperatures shot up last week, melting some of the snow, and then plummeted yesterday, encasing the world in ice, so they knew the answer to that one.

I showed them what happens to birdseed, when it sits in a puddle of water, and then freezes, and why that isn't good for the birds.

First I gave them each a tweezer, for bird beaks.

Then, I gave them a pan with bird seed just sitting in it. They used the tweezers to pick up the seeds, and move them to another pan.

Finally, I gave them a pan with birdseed frozen in a shallow layer of water, and asked them to use the tweezers to pick the seeds out of the ice.

They discovered it was much harder to get the seeds. They had to "peck" them free, before they could lift them out.

Later today, when we're ready to face the cold, I'll have the girls add some birdseed to the bird feeder on our back fence.

I found the idea for this activity on the Hummingbird Educational Resources' penguin page, where there are numerous penguin, arctic, and winter crafts, and projects for children.

It's great to be a homeshooler.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another Day, Another Penguin (Craft)

I had planned on using another story for our stART (story + ART) project this week, but after reading 365 Penguins, the younger girls (ages 4 and 5) wanted to do a penguin craft, and quite frankly, so did I.

Kaboose has a great, penguin, mosiac craft.

I've never known a toddler who didn't like to rip up paper strips, or a preschooler, who didn't love to snip them into tiny pieces. And, you can never have too much scissor practice (as long as it doesn't involve the curtains).

This craft also calls for tracing, which is wonderful for honing pre-writing, and hand/eye coordination skills.

You can find complete instructions, and a printable penguin template, by clicking the Kaboose link above. It's a pretty straight forward, snip, and glue kind of craft.

Since, Fromental's story involves 182 pairs of penguins, plus one blue footed fellow, named Chilly. I had the girls make one of their penguins a girl - E's, with the happy eyes, and bow on her head, and one a boy - C's and mine (can you tell which side I worked on?), crying, with the bow tie. C was not overly happy to make hers a boy.

As for blue footed Chilly, I found a darling, amigurumi, crochet pattern, from Lion Brand Yarn. I didn't have any light blue yarn, so I settled for blue eyes, instead of feet.

The children weren't too concerned about the substitution. In fact, I already have orders for 4 more, and one request for a purple version.

Fortunately, not only is it free, but it's a very simple, beginner pattern, typical of amigurumi. You do have to give an email address, to gain access to it. But, I haven't noticed my Lion Brand Yarn account generating much junk mail, so I wouldn't be too concerned.

Or, if you'd rather stick to literature inspired, children's crafts, there are plenty to be found at this week's stART link-up, over at A Mommy's Adventures.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cardboard Box Nerf Target

The children received quite a few Nerf guns for Christmas. Needless to say, the Nerf darts have been flying fast and free, since then. Tired of ducking, and weaving through the halls, I decided it was a good day to work on a project with T.

I got a pretty big kick out of it, when one of T's friends called, and he told him, "I'm right in the middle of a craft with my mom, and I really want to see how it works out. Can I call you back?" Big Mom grin :)

Project supplies:

  • a large cardboard box (we had a number of great boxes arrive at the house the week before Christmas)
  • a wood dowel, 1 foot long
  • a drinking straw (a little wider in diameter than the dowel)
  • scissors
  • tape
  • and markers.

We started by cutting a rectangle about 10 inches wide (so, the opening was narrower than our dowel), in one side of the box.

We used a bowl, to trace out a barbell like target, on the cutout piece.

Which, we colored, quickly, with markers.

Then, we cut a small piece of straw, and slipped it over the dowel. Before we hung the dowel across the opening in the box, we added two pieces of tape on either side of the straw, to keep it centered.

We taped our target to the dowel. We started taping it in the center of the target, but realized after we taped the dowel across the opening in the box...

...that we had to adjust it, so it would hang down lower on the bottom, to make it bottom heavy, so it would hang vertically, instead of balancing horizontally. It proved to be a good science, and math lesson, as we not only had to adjust the balance of the target, but also cut the hole bigger, to allow the target to spin freely, without hitting the box.

I'm sure the Man of the House will have some modifications to make, when he gets home, but for now, at least I can walk through the house without donning a hard hat, and safety goggles.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

365 Penguin Cookies

No, I didn't really make 365 Penguin cookies. I made 8.

And yes, I know their are 7 in the picture, but I made 8 to go along with our story time last night.

365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joelle Jolivet, the story of a family who, beginning on January 1st, receive one penguin a day, for an entire year, from their environmentalist, nut of an uncle (every family should have one of those), is one of our favorite New Year's stories.

We'll have to wait until later today to enjoy it though, as our story snack time had to be postponed, after one of the children managed to make dinner last until bedtime. So, I'll share the cookies with you first.

Using sugar cookie dough, some dyed orange, and some with cocoa added...

...cut circles from the chocolate dough.

Then, remove a heart shape from the middle of the chocolate circles.

Fill it with plain dough.

Squish the circles into tall ovals (if you don't, they end up looking more like owls).

Use the orange dough, to form beaks, and feet by hand, play dough style.

Add chocolate chip eyes. I just had an epiphany, too. The eyes should go higher, on the chocolate (you could put a little white dough under them), then the down sweep of the heart, would be the beak, and they would look even more like penguins!

And, bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, for 12 minutes. One small batch of sugar cookie dough will make a dozen penguins. Now that Christmas is over, I'm back to only baking as many cookies as we need for the moment, and freezing the rest of the dough, for later in the week. So, as I said, I made 8.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Follow-Up Fun

Here's a quick update on a few of the projects we shared over the last month, or so.

Remember the windowsill, scent garden we planted at the end of November?

It's growing well, and has provided a lot of observational fun. The snow peas have grown quickly, and while the Man of the House vetoed pinning a ribbon across the windowsill to secure the garden (he didn't want to damage the walls), he did attach strings to the curtain rod for us, for the vines to climb, and so far, the pot has sat securely in the sill.

The basil, and snowflake candy tuft have sprouted too, though we should have planted them earlier, to be able to enjoy them for Christmas. But, we haven't had any luck with the mint, or the money plant (really, just the story of my life!).

...the commenters on that post were correct. Freezing the bananas, before dipping them in chocolate, does keep the chocolate from dripping off, and pooling around the edges. is still standing, and intact, after 10 days of pretty constant play. My children have not been known to be gentle on their toys (really they should be durability testers for Fisher Price), so I think it's safe to say, using school glue is a viable option for popsicle construction.

More Polly Pockets arrived on Christmas morning, making the house a bit crowded, but not to worry, construction of additional housing is already underway.

Oh, and as for the Nativity Silhouettes...

...they really were beautiful with the sun shining through them, but next time we'll use an actual paint (and I'll be making a note, on that post), because corn syrup, while it will "dry", softens, and melts in the heat of the sun, making for some sticky, if colorful, drips down the window.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Calendar Skills for Children

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have thirty-one
Save February, with twenty-eight fine
'til Leap Year makes it twenty-nine!

But really, who can remember that? It's so much easier to just count it out on your knuckles. You might have already seen this. My mother taught it to me, and now this week, as we prepare to make new calendars for 2011, I thought it would be a good time to review it with my children.

Make a fist with your left hand, and point to knuckle of the first finger. Then move from knuckle to space, saying the months in order. The knuckles represent months with 31 days, and the spaces are months with 30 days (except for February, which is 28 or 29).

So, January has 31 days...

February has 28, or 29 days...

March has 31 days...

April has 30 days...

May has 31 days...

June has 30 days...

July has 31 days...

And, starting on the first finger knuckle of the right hand, August has 31 days...

September has 30 days...

October has 31 days...

November has 30 days...

And, December has 31 days...

Still not clear? Click the picture, to enlarge the chart below.

It's great to be a homeschooler.