Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: Saving Memories Forever

Technology has been advancing at a fantastic rate. My dad likes to tell about how he and his brothers were convinced there'd by flying cars by the time they were adults. He jokes that he's been gypped and he wants his flying car!

Those little stories our parents and grandparents tell say a lot about them and their lives.  They're familiar and fun to hear.  I can just picture my dad, a freckled red-headed boy with his nose deep in a Tom Swift novel dreaming of flying cars.  There are other stories told in our families too, important stories about how we became who we are.  And with the Saving Memories Forever app, these stories can be recorded in the storyteller's own voice.

Saving Memories Forever is the brainchild of Jane and Harvey Baker who, after putting together a complete tree of their family, discovered there was a void that could not be filled by a mere knowledge of who married whom and who was the child of whom.  They had no sense of who their ancestors really were.  What were their favorite childhood memories? What dreams did they have as youths? If they were sitting with us today, what song would they sing?

So technophile Harvey developed a way for people to use modern technology to record and share family memories. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you have a recording studio in your hand.  Anywhere you are, you can record!

How it works

In order to use Saving Memories Forever, you must first register as a New User. You can do this by accessing the website at www.SavingMemoriesForever.com (click the Sign Up button in the top-right corner) or via your smartphone by downloading the free Saving Memories Forever app.

Once you are registered, there are two ways to record, save, and share family stories.  The best method is by allowing your iPhone or Android app to guide you through the recording process.  You can set up a Storyteller within moments and be presented with a list of engaging interview questions that can help get the stories flowing.  When you've finished recording, tap the Upload button and the story will immediately be uploaded to the Saving Memories Forever server.  The website is private and only those you've invited can listen to the stories you record.

The second method involves recording mp3 files from your computer and uploading them manually to the website.  This method is workable, but a lot more cumbersome.  There are several online guides and manuals that will help you if you get stuck. 

Regardless of which method you use to record and upload stories, you can then log into the Saving Memories Forever website to manage and share your stories.

Pricing and options

If you wish to use Saving Memories Forever, you can do so for free or you can pay a monthly fee of $3.99 (or $40 a year).  The premium subscription gives you access to some fun extras including an unlimited number of story tellers and story listeners, and the ability to attach photos and text documents to the stories.  The most exciting difference between the free and paid subscriptions, however, is the ability to use key words to tag and subsequently search for your stories.  This would be immensely useful if you were recording and cataloging a large number of stories.  Go here to see in more detail the differences between the two types of subscriptions.

How I used it

Now, since I do not have a smartphone or a tablet I was forced to rely on method two to use this program.  And frankly, I don't recommend it.  Don't get me wrong, it works. But it is not particularly streamlined compared to the app.  In fact, I was ready to dismiss the whole thing as too much hassle until one day my mom came for a visit and brought her iPad.

With her permission I installed the free app and logged in. Within minutes we were recording the story of her "pet" chicken Chirp-Chirp, who wasn't a pet at all and eventually became the family dinner.  When the story was done, all it took was a tap on the screen and the whole thing was uploaded in an instant.  Now this was something to get excited about!  I could picture a family gathering with everyone sitting around the table gabbing and swapping tales.  It'd be a simple thing to set up a smartphone or tablet in a central location and record all the fun narratives.  The playback from the iPad at least was crystal clear (I was very impressed)!

My thoughts

  • I'm not sure how some of my older relatives would react to this newfangled business.  My grandma has never liked the phone. She's told me before that they went without a phone for years and then when they did get one, the cost of long distance calling was so high that it was only used for emergencies. To this day she associates the ring of the telephone with bad news.  I'm quite certain she would not like to be "interviewed" and recorded.  She might not mind a less invasive method like the around-the-table scenario I mentioned above.
  • I love stories. I love to hear about people's lives. I believe our stories are important.  I also believe people want their stories to be heard. I think that's part of what makes social networks so popular -- it gives people a platform to share their stories with people who care.  I could see Saving Memories Forever being used almost like a video log (vlog) to record a person's own thoughts and memories about people and events in the past, or even current events happening now.
  • If you don't have a smartphone or tablet, the usefulness of this program diminishes greatly.  If you have a cell phone (that's not a smartphone) that has a recorder that uses mp3 format, it would be much easier to use than my cell phone that records audio files in a much more obscure file format.
  • Saving Memories Forever has partnered with The American Widow Project, a non-profit organization that provides military widows with peer-to-peer support, but I could see this app being used by all kinds of families who are separated by great distances whether because of the military or business or any number of reasons.
  • Many people are really into genealogical research, I'm not one of them, but if you are, I highly recommend Saving Memories Forever!

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Adventures in U.S. History Week 10

This week was probably our funnest week yet!  We learned about Paul Revere (and made a tricorn hat!), made a quill pen and berry ink, and took school outside for some nature sketching.

Little Guy being tough enough to fight the British in his tricorn hat.
We learned that Jesus is the Living Water and added to our Jesus bulletin board.

We had a couple gorgeous days before the rain and gloom set in, so Miss M took her book basket outside.

We learned about the Declaration of Independence this week, so we made a quill pen and some ink from black berries.  To make the ink, you take a half cup of berries (we used frozen blackberries, thawed) and mash them thoroughly.  Then pour it through a strainer discarding the pulp and seeds and retaining the juice.  Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Whatever isn't used must be stored in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator.

Smashing berries for ink.
I watched a couple videos on YouTube to learn how to cut a quill pen from a feather (purchased from Hobby Lobby).  It worked out surprisingly well!  I ended up using a box cutter and not the paring knife pictured.

Cut a feather into a quill.
Miss M practiced a bit and then signed her name just like the signers of the Declaration of Independence did!

Writing with a quill and ink.
Science and art met as we went outside to do some nature study.  We each picked a tree to draw and plan to draw that same tree again once during each of the four seasons.  

I have never done anything like this before and am no artist, but I really enjoyed sketching an elm tree with colored pencils and adding the leaves with watercolor paints afterwards.  Even mamas can learn something new and attempt to develop new skills, right?

American Elm, spring 2013, Missouri.
Miss M's dictation this week came from a funny poem from the book When the Aardvark Parked on the Ark by Calvin Miller. (affiliate link)  She's not getting better at listening and remembering the dictation yet, but she has become more patient with the entire process, getting less frustrated when she doesn't know what comes next, so I see that as progress!

We took ever opportunity to be outside that we could, especially on the nice days!

Lunch outside on a sunny, but still cool day.

We're looking forward to another awesome week of Adventures in U.S. History!!

Our adventures from previous weeks:

Adventures in U.S. History Week 9

Last weekend I was busy getting all ready for Kids Clothes Week and didn't get my week-in-review post up!  I figure I better get it posted before I get any further behind.

Little Guy has been "doing school" with Ooka Island (review coming soon!) and is learning to read!  He has collected five books in the game and is so proud of his achievements!

This is the Path to Reading that documents Little Guy's progress on Ooka Island.
I think Little Guy feels a little left out since he doesn't know how to read yet (he's only 3!).  He sees how much fun his big sister has reading and he wants to join in the fun!

Reading about the seasons upside-down.

Most days, book basket time goes something like this with Miss M getting lost in a book for at least 15 minutes.

Tuesday my mom came, so we made Tuesday our Friday and just did math, reading, and our nature walk.  Nana brought her rigid heddle table loom and showed us all how to weave a placemat.

It was a cold, gloomy day, but we took a nice nature walk anyway.  We discovered lots of wild onions growing.

Wild onions growing in abundance.

Wild onion.
Later in the week we saw a turkey vulture near the house. Such ugly creatures!

Miss M learned about how the earth is tilted on its axis and that's why we have seasons.  We demonstrated this idea with a bare-bulb lamp and a small ball-globe.

It was a fun, busy week!  Miss M got very excited when she realized next week will be our 10th week of 2nd grade!

Our adventures from previous weeks:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Kids Clothes Week Day 5 -- flutter sleeve top

It was dark and rainy all day today.  Great weather for sewing…not so good for taking pictures though!  You can see the shorts I made Miss M yesterday in action here.  She complained about them being too poofy, but she did say they're comfortable. I hope she'll wear them…she's a tough one to please!

Today I made the "Seesaw" ruffle sleeve top from Ottobre 3/2012 (#17, size 110).  Miss M doesn't like the length.  She feels like it's too short and constantly pulling it down.  It actually does fit her well, but I'll probably make it a bit longer next time to suit her.

I didn't bother finishing the flutter sleeve edges.  I just left them raw.  I also didn't use clear elastic for the gathering of the fluttery bits…just regular old basting stitches.  I've never had very good luck with clear elastic for anything other than stabilizing a shoulder seam.

And here's a modeled shot of Little Guy's striped tank top.  Aaaand…I just realized he's wearing it inside out in the photo. Whoops!

This pretty much wraps up my participation in the Spring 2013 Kids Clothes Week.  It's been fun!  My next project will be a life-sized doll for Little Guy.  He has already named him Rocco and insists he have blue eyes and look tough!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kids Clothes Week Day 4 - striped tank and rainbow banded shorts

Last night after I saw how cute the mesh tank top turned out, I went ahead and cut out another tank from the same striped jersey I used for my maxi dress.

It's the same pattern as the mesh tank top (Ottobre 1/2013 #15).  I cut the back as one piece instead of having it yoked. I also cut the lower edge straight along a stripe instead of curved.  The neck and armholes are self-bound.

Today I made a pair of banded shorts for Miss M.  The original pattern has ruffles on the bum, but I was afraid that would be too babyish for Miss M, so I left them off.  The band is fully interfaced quilting cotton and the main fabric is a lightweight twill with tiny white polka dots.

The pattern is Ottobre 3/2008 #3 in size 110.

I couldn't get actual modeled shots today and tomorrow is supposed to be stormy, so no promises on getting any soon.

My plan tomorrow is to sew a little flutter sleeve top for Miss M and maybe a pair of sweat shorts for Little Guy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Kids Clothes Week day 3 -- mesh tank top

While this shirt is neither very springy nor very practical (save for the hottest of hot days in summer), it is a big hit with Little Guy!

The pattern is the "Victor" mesh tank top from Ottobre 1/2013 #15 (in size 98).  I have another cut out from more practical material, but I really had fun making this one out of mesh fabric from JoAnn and a scrap from an old t-shirt for the yellow bit.  The ribbing is also from JoAnn.

Little Guy thinks it makes him look tough…wouldn't you agree?

He's too much of a sweetheart to look tough for long though!  I love his little compact bod! :-)

Tomorrow's project…a pair of shorts for Miss M!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kids Clothes Week Day 2 -- gingham knit nightgown

KCW Day 2 arrived amid "a wintery mix" coming down all day.  It's dreary and bitter cold outside…perfect for staying in and sewing!

I've had this gingham interlock knit since I was in college. I never got around to the project I bought it for.  It's nice to finally put it to use and get it out of my stash!  I took the tank top pattern in Ottobre 1/2013 (#2) and lengthened it to about 28" from the shoulder.  Next time, I'll draft the A-line from just under the armpit instead of halfway down the body since it's not quite as loose as I'd like.  On the other hand, as an actual tank, I think this pattern has a very nice fit!

Miss M loves her new nighty!  I love how simple it was to put together.

Miss M modeling her new nightgown with Sackgirl!

Tomorrow's project…a mesh tank top for Little Guy!

Review: Spanish for You!

I love languages! In college, I majored in Linguistics, which I found completely fascinating.  I took courses in several languages including Spanish, Russian and Mandarin Chinese.  Sadly, I've never become fluent -- or even conversational -- in any language other than my native English.  There are so many advantages to being ability to speak a foreign language both personally and professionally.  I want that for my children.  But it can be intimidating!  How do I teach what I myself haven't mastered?  The right curriculum can remove much of that intimidation.

When I first opened the Spanish for You! book, I was impressed!  Here was an affordable year-long Spanish language program that can be used for a range of ages at the same time.  It presents material to students in a spiraling fashion so that regardless of a student's prior experience with Spanish they'll be able to add to their existing knowledge.  This allows for groups of students with different levels of experience to learn right alongside one another, a huge plus for traditional classrooms with new students coming in or co-op classes with students of different ages.

About the Curriculum

There are currently two themed books available from Spanish for You!, Fiestas (celebrations) and Estaciones (seasons). A single grade level costs $39.95.  Or you can purchase grades 3-8 together for $64.95. Another book Viajes (travels) will be available soon and is currently offered as a truncated trial version (4 weeks for $9.99 or 6 weeks for $12.99).

The Lesson Guides for grades 5 to 8 are set up for a span of 24 weeks.  The Lesson Guide for grade 3-4 is for a span of 30 weeks to accommodate a slower pace for younger learners.  It is assumed you will be teaching four days a week for 10-30 minutes each day.  However, the instructions explicitly state that you can modify this schedule to suit your needs. You can go at your own pace as long as you do the work in order.

Spanish for You! Lesson Guide for Grades 3-4.
In Fiestas there are five Lecciónes or Lessons, each covering a holiday or celebration native to Spanish-speaking countries. These are really more like units than lessons as each one spans 5 or 6 weeks.  I found this terminology a little mentally frustrating at first when we were still on Lección 1 after 3 weeks!  But academically, the pace seems to be just right.

Each unit follows the same layout:
New vocabulary is presented first, then relevant commands are introduced. The commands lead directly to the verbs from which they derive. The verb conjugations are then put together with the vocabulary to make meaningful sentences. Add in an aspect of grammar and finally put it all together!

With such a nicely designed program, one thing that seemed odd to me was the almost-sloppy illustrations in the book and on the flashcards.  So I asked author Debbie Annett about it.  She told me that the illustrations were drawn by her daughter. She really wanted the curriculum to belong to the kids and, specifically, to be illustrated by a child.  She believes that children don't learn any better from fancy, costly materials than they do from simple, well-presented material and engaging, purposeful activities.  She said, "While glossy, colored graphics are nice (and I am certainly not saying they are a negative!), that is an extra cost in the production of something. I wanted this curriculum to be one kids would enjoy and that would be inexpensive and effective."

While the program might lack visual polish and flair, it certainly does not lack scholastic heft!  This is where the curriculum really shines.  Each lesson is carefully constructed based on the author's 14 years of experience as a Spanish teacher.  The lesson guide clearly lays out what to teach each day and covers everything from the alphabet, numbers, and colors to more complex grammatical concepts.  There are numerous games and activities suggestions that make learning fun. Each Spanish for You! package has been put to the test in the author's own classroom before it is ever offered for sale.

Another important component of any foreign language program is pronunciation.  Each Spanish for You! package comes with not one, but two sets of audio.  The first was recorded by a native English speaker and is spoken at a slower pace.  Linguistically, this is important because as English speakers ourselves, we share the same set of phonemes or recognizable bits of sound that make up words.  This makes understanding the correct pronunciation easy.  A foreign voice sounds foreign to us partly because they use different phonetics than we're used to and our ears have a hard time separating the sounds through our native phonemic filter.

The second set of audio was recorded by a native Spanish speaker from Mexico and is spoken at a more natural pace.  For a beginner, that natural pace sounds awfully fast!  But it too is important so that a new set of phonemes can begin to form in the student's mind that will allow him to separate the sounds of Spanish into the meaningful bits that make up words.  Bottom line: it helps develop fluency to have both native and non-native sound tracks for every page of the book!

I love the concept of spiraling material! As the student works through one of the Spanish for You! books, the material within that book builds upon itself.  What was learned at the beginning shows up again in later lessons. Then each successive lesson pulls from the material learned in the previous lessons. This means students continuously review as they go along and build on what they've already learned.  Although the material spirals within a book, the materials between books does not spiral, so the books can be done in any order.  This allows students in a classroom setting come into a class and learn the material within their grade level whether or not they've had previous Spanish experience!

What You Get

  • a soft cover book (trial packages come with an e-book instead)
  • a 24-30 week lesson guide for the grade(s) you order in PDF format
  • self-checking worksheets in PDF format
  • flash card pages with pictures that correspond to the ones in the book in PDF format
  • audio files in MP3 format of the entire book spoken by a native English speaker
  • audio files in MP3 format of the entire book spoken by a native Spanish speaker from Mexico

What You Will Need

  • a program that plays MP3 files
  • an updated version of Adobe Reader
  • a printer
  • cardstock

Other materials that would be handy to have available are:
  • colored cardstock
  • dry erase boards and markers
  • index cards
  • dice
  • bingo markers
  • board game markers

My Complaints

  • I still have mixed feelings about the illustrations in Fiestas.  Part of me applauds Debbie Annett's reasoning behind her choice of artwork, but part of me would like to see cleaner, neater drawings to illustrate each word.  However, Miss M doesn't seem to mind them in the slightest!  I was very careful to keep my thoughts about them to myself and waited to see if she would say anything about them, but she hasn't.  And believe me, if she had thought they were "off" she would have said something! She's not one to hold back her opinion! Ha!
  • Although I think Fiestas did a wonderful job of introducing some important cultural holidays, I did feel it would have been beneficial to include words that our students can use when celebrating holidays right here in the U.S.  Most of our students will not be traveling to foreign countries anytime soon, but they might encounter a Spanish-speaking child in their own neighborhood.  It would be nice if they could say "Merry Christmas" or ask what their family will be eating for Thanksgiving.
  • The book is printed entirely in Comic Sans. COMIC. SANS.
    Nooooooooo!  Did you know there are entire websites dedicated to the eradication of Comic Sans?  You can even download PSA flyers to hand out to offenders. Okay, this may not be the most compelling bit of criticism, but really, for the sake of all that is lovely, forego using Comic Sans in the future, m'kay?  Trust me, posterity will thank you!

Final Thoughts

Talk about affordable! I really don't think you'll find a more effective, comprehensive program at a better price anywhere!  What you're giving up in bling, you're more than making up for in academic excellence! I haven't run across any other complete, full-year Spanish language program that you can get for only $40!  And only $65 for all three grade levels (3-4, 5-6, and 7-8)! 

Practicing Spanish vocabulary on the whiteboard.
I've been scheduling our Spanish lessons near the end of our school day to allow for time to get our other work done. Unfortunately, by this time Miss M is usually losing focus and ready to quit for the day.  Because of that, I think we'll be setting aside formal foreign language study for a while until she's able to concentrate a little longer.  I hope to keep up some informal conversational study to at least keep fresh some basic phrases and vocabulary.

¡Hasta luego! Until next time, amigos!

Check out my honesty policy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Kids Clothes Week Day 1 -- cutting out

Kids Clothes Week is here!  I started the week with my plan made and my patterns traced.  Today I spent about an hour and a half cutting out these four garments (while watching Bones on Netflix).

I'd like to add in a pair of shorts or pants for Little Guy, but I haven't picked out a pattern or fabric yet…and may not have the time to execute it anyway.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Self-Drafted Maxi Dress

I made myself a dress!  And it only took one day from drafting to completion.

It's so comfortable! And I love the way the neck and shoulders give a lot of coverage, both for modesty and for protection from the sun.

I got the fabric at JoAnn.  It has narrow metallic silver stripes between the navy and red.

I'm tempted to make 6 more of these and live in them all summer long! 

(Wait, did I just say summer?  We don't even have spring warmth here yet!)