Monthly Archives: February 2011

Bird feeder news

Woke up to snow!

Filled the black oil sunflower seed feeder, the hummingbird feeder, and one of the suet feeders (the other still has half a block of suet).

I think we saw a Red-Shafted Northern Flicker on the empty suet feeder. I hope he came back after I put more suet in!

This picture looks a lot like the bird we saw. He looks different from the other Flickers we’ve seen before today.

Click on the picture to read more about this bird, and to see more pictures.


We’ve also had visits from a pair of Downy Woodpeckers over the past week, and hummingbirds have been visiting the suet and nectar feeders all winter long! (I thought they migrated further south in the winter.)

Click on the picture for more information about this bird, and for more pictures.

It’s a great website for bird identification!

I know that earlier I posted a picture of an Eastern Bluebird while saying the girls had seen a Western Bluebird. You see, they insist the bird’s underparts were white, not gray, but when I looked at the range for bluebirds, it looked like it had to be a Western Bluebird. …unless, of course, some Eastern Bluebirds really, really got confused, or maybe their GPS was a little off, or something?

Counting my blessings, day 2

Maybe it’s going to snow. Maybe it’s not going to snow. In our experience living here, too many Major Snow Events have fizzled for us to get really excited or anxious or whatever.

On the other hand, there have been one or two Major Snow Events that weren’t predicted, and then happened anyhow. One of them lasted a week — that is, we parked our car when the snow started to accumulate, and left it parked for a week until the streets were drivable again. It was a pretty low-slung car (a Ford Taurus station wagon) and would have (what do you call it?) high-centered (I think that’s the term) on the snow between the ruts on the unplowed street. They only plow major thoroughfares here, not the side streets. Thankfully there’s a store or two within walking distance.

Our pantry is full (a few staples are missing, like potatoes, but we could get along with what we have for a week or more even without potatoes), and we have some wood for the wood stove if the power happens to go out (not a lot, but some). Filled the car’s gas tank yesterday.

Don’t have batteries for the portable radio, but if we really needed to hear the news we could go out to the car and run the engine briefly, if we had to, and listen to the news on the radio without draining the battery. (Don’t know how much juice it takes to listen to the radio, but I remember from Midwest winters that freezing weather is hard on a car battery, regardless.)

Cell phone is charged; we’ve got sweaters and extra blankets, and because we redid the plumbing last year the pipes aren’t as vulnerable to freezing. We even have oil in the oil lamps and batteries in the flashlights.

Guess we’re ready.

Now the Major Snow Event can fizzle, if it wants to do so. Or it can snow.

It’s time to take my coffee and tuck up with the girls and the Giant Schnoz on the couch for Bible reading time. That’s another blessing in itself.

What are you thankful for today?

World Math Day!

World Math Day will be the first day of March.

Click here to go to the World Math Day page. From there you can click on a link to register. World Math Day is free! If you already have a Mathletics subscription, you don’t have to register to gain access to the World Math Day games.

Hope to see you there!

Counting my blessings

I need to cultivate a more thankful spirit. Who’s with me?

Today, I am thankful for warm sunshine. Last week was cool and sometimes rainy, this week is supposed to be cold (maybe even setting a record low “high” temperature later in the week) and perhaps snowy.

But today when I was running errands, at one point I took off my jacket to bask in the warm sun. Then I got back in the car to go on to the next stop.

By the time I got to the gas station to fill up the tank, the sky was cloudy again, and it was chilly enough that I hurried to put on my jacket.

But the memory of that warm sunshine stays with me.

What are you thankful for today?

Bird feeder news

Two of the girls saw a Western Bluebird at the suet feeder! That’s a first.


The Beauty Queen is back from the vet, minus a toe.

The cancer had spread further than they thought. Up the leg — they couldn’t get it all.

Awaiting test results to see if taking off the whole leg will buy her more time. How much more time? Perhaps a year.


Dogs. They live such short lives. And it appears hers will be much shorter than it might have been.

Yet they give so much, in that short span that they are allowed. Who else do I know who will seek me out, just to snuggle her head against me and make me feel like the most important person in the world? Who else insists on following me into the bathroom whenever I go in there, for any reason (“To protect you from the drain monster, of course” as Middlest says)? Well, when I had a two-year-old, I had someone who followed me everywhere.

But it’s been a long time since I’ve had a two-legged two-year-old.

Guess you could call the Beauty Queen a perpetual toddler. Without the tantrums. Vessel of unconditional love, always overjoyed to greet you, to snuggle, never too busy to spend some quality time together.

We humans could learn a thing or two from our dogs.

Sono’s poem

It’s not that she wrote the poem. It’s that she quoted it, early on in our acquaintance.

This time of year (February-March timeframe) used to be when Basic Skills put on the homeschool Winter Workshop. It was a conference that had the effect of encouraging home educators caught in the wearying winter doldrums. You know, the holidays are over, you’ve tried (and perhaps failed) to get back into the swing of things, get the kids back on schedule, start feeling productive again, but It’s Just Not Working.

(Digression. Sorry, we’re reading old-fashioned books, and in said books they often capitalized for emphasis. Somehow it seems to come naturally this morning. Perhaps it’ll wear off when the coffee’s done and drunk.)

Anyhow, they had these different tracks for attendees: special needs, for example, or especially for moms, or for dads, or for teens, or nuts and bolts (how to teach specific academic subjects). I found myself in Sono’s workshops, not on purpose, more like the flip of a coin to choose between a then-bewildering array of topics.

You had to cross a cold, wet, windy stretch from the main church to the outbuilding where she was speaking. I remember feeling warm and cozy once Sono started speaking, though. She had a welcoming smile, an energizing way of talking, an earnestness, an urgency. The message was important: encouragement, exhortation, challenge, help, all solidly grounded in Scripture.

Somehow, thinking back on Sono’s attitude in her workshops, I’m reminded of Isaiah 42:3. In the KJV it reads: A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.

The “bruised reed” part is what I remembered. Looking it up, I found it a bit confusing, until I read that “smoking flax” refers to a smoldering wick (as of a candle) or feebly flickering light. (See this link for a number of translations to compare.)

Sono challenged us to be grounded in the Word, doing all to the glory of God, whether it was changing diapers, cleaning, cooking, teaching, or just sitting and listening. We were to be mindful as we were raising our children in the light of Eternity. The challenge might have been overwhelming, if not for the love and care of God that shone through. Yes, the burden is too heavy for frail human shoulders to bear alone. But with God…

She quoted a poem that somehow was a perfect fit for her topic. I couldn’t remember much more than the refrain, “Call back,” though I do remember how the poem stirred me, encouraged me to keep trying, and over the years has prompted me to speak encouragement to others.

I’m afraid I’ve rather hounded poor Gregg, Sono’s husband, to try to find that poem. He even sent me a link to it when we ran into each other at a New Year’s celebration, right there at the party, showing me the poem on the screen of his cell phone. I was so excited! …and then the next day, looking at my email, I couldn’t find the link. Don’t know what my email program did with it. His email was there, just not the poem.

He was kind enough to post the poem and its source, upon my further request (man, I can be such a pest… as my older brothers can attest), and reading it, I was reminded of Sono all over again, and not just because of her reading it in that workshop. Here it is: Sono’s poem.

Hope it blesses you as much as I’ve been blessed.

Lexmark: beer printer with champagne taste

I love my Lexmark all-in-one. I really do. You can’t argue with $5 ink cartridges, and it does a great job of everything — printing, scanning, copying.

I’m just a little annoyed at the moment. You see, to economize I went from 24-lb paper to 20-lb paper, with the last box of paper I bought.

I already knew that the Lexmark turns up its virtual nose at 3-h0le punched paper.

Now I know that it doesn’t care to deal with 20-lb paper.

Come to think of it, the pre-punched paper just might have been 20-lb paper…


VirtualNerd Homeschool Deal

From the good folks at VirtualNerd:

We are pleased to inform you that because Virtual Nerd ( has received such significant interest following your review of our online tutoring service, we are offering a special discount to homeschool parents.  Homeschool parents can receive 50% off the 1 and 3 month subscription plans.  Just enter the discount code:  homeschooldeal when you sign up for service.  That is a huge discount, and hurry – the offer is valid until March 31, 2011!


Disclaimer: I’m an ambassador for the Virtual Nerd site, which means I’ll be periodically telling you about our experience with Virtual Nerd, as well as updates and special deals.

TOS Crew: VocabAhead

Since Middlest is fascinated with words and their meanings, I was happy to review VocabAhead’s computer DVD-Rom with 1,000 SAT vocabulary videos and MP3s. At least, I was happy to look at it. I ended up with mixed feelings about the product, so buckle your seatbelt for what may be a slightly bumpy ride.

It’s a clever idea, linking verbal information with pictures and short anecdotes, which helps you to remember the meanings of new vocabulary words.

Our girls have a fairly extensive vocabulary anyhow, from all the living books we’ve read together and individually over the years.  (For a fine definition of “living book” click here or here.) I have to admit there were only a handful of words on the VocabAhead list that we didn’t know. (Do you know what “zoophagus” means? How about “mulct?” These were new to us!)

Got a good vocabulary?

That said, it might be a good review tool, if Middlest were to be taking the SAT anytime soon (she’s still a bit young for that). There was at least one word where she disagreed with the VocabAhead definition, until I showed her in an online dictionary that VocabAhead had an accepted (even standard) definition.

Need to expand your vocabulary?

As I mentioned, VocabAhead involves several senses in the learning of new vocabulary words, and engages the imagination. We received a DVD-Rom with 1,000 words and definitions, taken from the SAT vocabulary list. The words are supplied in two formats: MP4 video and MP3, that you can download to a portable device. I suppose if we needed to, we could put words on our tiny MP3 players to playback vocabulary words while we’re walking or out doing yardwork or riding in the car.

The MP4 files are viewable on the computer, using QuickTime or some other MP4 player. You see a cartoon-style picture illustrating the word, you hear the word pronounced, then its definition (which replaces the picture on the screen), followed by a short story to give you a context for using the word. The definition is repeated, as the picture reappears.

You can see examples at the VocabAhead website.

The MP3 features the same audio track as the MP4 file. That means in at least one case, a mistake is repeated as well. In the audio definition of “hebetic” the reader said “occurring or at relating to puberty” while the words on the screen read “occurring at or relating to puberty”. A subtle mistake, but one we caught that evidently the manufacturer didn’t. I suppose that it’s another way to make the information stick in the brain, the surprise at something “not quite right” and the re-listening to figure out what it was, but as an editor myself I imagine some editor somewhere cringing at knowing all those DVDs are out there with that error. It happens. If you have an editor’s eye, you’ll probably find some typos in this very review.


While I think the VocabAhead approach is a good way to learn and practice new vocabulary words, I must insert a word of caution.

This is obviously a product designed to cater to worldly teens. Standards and expectations seem to be set low. The content is probably mild, compared to the average public school setting, but doesn’t really fit our homeschool culture. The teens in the families we know like good, clean humor, avoid coarseness, and treat others with respect.

Middlest and I found a number of definitions and anecdotes that made us wince. I’m somewhat surprised at some of the words included. I suppose it’s a reflection of the degradation of our culture. The word lists are designed for SAT preparation and probably not chosen by the VocabAhead folks.

I guess teens who watch a lot of sit-coms would not have a problem with this DVD-Rom, but families who don’t watch a lot of television and try to promote respectful attitudes might want to use this as a springboard for discussion, not just hand it over to your teen without comment, if you choose to use VocabAhead.

The Vocabahead website features a word-of-the-day email subscription, vocabulary videos, a “Study Room”  where you can build your vocabulary online (complete with flash cards and quizzes), teacher helps (so you can build vocabulary in elementary school as well as higher levels), and more. You can customize your word study using the website tools.

On the VocabAhead website you can find a link to purchase the VocabAhead DVD-Rom for $24.99 or a book ($12.95) with the same information and free MP3 downloads of the vocabulary words.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of this product here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received either a VocabAhead book or DVD-Rom for review purposes only. No other compensation was involved.