Monday, November 29, 2010

TOS Homeschool Review--Nanuk: A Baby Polar Bear's Story

As a bibliophile, I adore books.  I sometimes keep myself away from bookstores so that I don't spend food money on my preferred form of nourishment.  I always think of the Erasmus quote: "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes."  That sentence quite aptly describes me.  It is a special treat to me, then, when I receive a book in the mail that is free. 

(When I was teaching writing and literature at K State, I took such unfair advantage of the free textbooks I could request from publishers.  Do you have any idea how many free copies of short story and introduction to literature anthologies are on my bookshelves upstairs?  I can't part with any of them.  It's a problem.) 

The book we received in the mail to review was called Nanuk: A Baby Polar Bear's Story, which is part of a series called My Animal Family from Smart Kids Publishing, Inc.  We loved this book!  My kids both loved the story of a young polar bear who loves to romp and play with his brother but who is also learning how to survive in his cold, icy habitat.  The artwork is just as compelling as the story, and each page is covered with realistic and beautiful watercolors of this polar bear family and the landscape that surrounds them.  I know that this will be a book that we will look at together many times. 

Although the hardback book is, in itself, worth its $10.39 pricetag, the book also comes with a companion DVD with BBC footage that shows a mother polar bear and her two cubs in their natural habitat.  My kids both loved the video.  Not only is the footage incredible, but the commentary is wonderful, too.  The narration is done by a child from the point of view of one of the young polar bears, and this pov made the DVD quite interesting for my kids, who sat in front of the TV quite enthralled.  I was trying to fix lunch in the kitchen, and I must confess I kept sneaking back into the living room to watch the footage and learn about polar bears.  The DVD also includes a song to learn, which I was a little disappointed in.  The song was well-done, but I don't think that it is catchy enough for my kids to want to repeatedly listen to and actually learn. 

One fun perk to this book is that when you buy the book you are given 30 days of access to the My Animal Family website where kids can play educational games.  My daughter liked the games, but it took quite awhile to earn enough points to "buy" necessary items to get further in the game, and that was a little frustrating for her.  It seems if at least some of the items were worth fewer points the game might hold kids' interest for a longer period of time.  

Overall, the print and media combination of this book series is quite well done.  There are several other books in this series as well, and I think it would be well worth the money to invest in at least one of these wonderful books. 

If you would like to see what my other TOS Crewmates had to say about these books check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

missing ed....

Two years ago today we lost our Ed.  I know he was "just" a dog.  I know it's probably silly that I am sitting here with tears.  But to us, he was family.  He was our Ed--our melancholy, deep, beautiful old soul.  In honor of him, I am copying and pasting my post about him from two years ago. 
I still love you, Ed....  <3

Sometime in the blackness of last night I had a dream. In that dream, I looked up and saw Ed, my old soul, my Eeyore, my weimaraner of almost 12 years. He ambled over to his dog bed to lie down, and I threw myself on his back, buried my face in his soft fur, and sobbed. I was crying deep, grieving sobs, but I was also so joyful. “I didn’t know…” I told him between sobs. “I didn’t know that you could come back. I’m so glad you’re here. So, so glad you’re here. I’ve missed you so.” After awhile he sort of dissolved into space, and I was sad, but I was also relieved. He would come back. I didn’t know that could happen after death.

Then I woke up, and of course it was just a dream. Ed was gone, and I knew that he wouldn’t come back ever again. I will no longer be able to stare into his soft, knowing eyes. I will never again wrap my arms around his solid, lumpy softness. I will never again rest my head on his back and breathe in his musky scent.

Ed died last Monday of gastric dilatation. I didn’t even get to tell him a proper goodbye, because I didn’t know that Matt would feel his last heartbeats beneath his fingers as he carried our good old dog into the vet that morning. I had been talking to my mother-in-law on the phone, expressing my concern about Ed’s obvious discomfort, when Matt’s call beeped in. I had made Matt promise me he would call me if the vet decided to put him to sleep so that I could go there and say goodbye and hold him as he died. But it was too late. When I called my mother-in-law back moments later, she didn’t even speak when she answered the phone. She couldn’t talk, because she was crying too. Matt came and picked me up and we returned to the vet together with Jack and Molly. He just looked like he was sleeping there on the table, and I don’t think it really sunk in as I held him and hugged him and told him goodbye that I was, in fact, telling him goodbye forever. An hour later we picked Amélie up in the parking lot of her school, and she held on to her daddy and cried as we told her the news.

I know that a lot of people love their dogs, but Ed was special. He truly was an old soul. When we got Ed, he was a reject puppy who was skinny and neurotic and all feet and ears. We instantly fell in love. At the time, I was struggling deeply with an eating disorder, and as strange as it sounds, Ed’s arrival was a crucial impetus in my healing. Ed unconditionally loved me. I unconditionally loved Ed. I honestly don’t think I had ever allowed myself to be unconditionally loved before.

He always seemed so sad, though. When he was three years old we ascertained that his melancholy temperament was due to loneliness, so we brought home a very young soul, Molly. We quickly realized that loneliness was not his problem, and I don’t know that he ever forgave us for ousting him from his only-child position in our family and introducing to him not only a dog sister, but also two human siblings. Still, he loved us, followed us everywhere, and always, always provided a solid yet soft self to wrap hurting arms around.

He was part-human, I think…or perhaps he was more than human. I remember one time, especially, when a dear friend flew in to visit me because she was in the middle of a heart-breaking crisis. We spent hours on my couch talking and crying, and every time my friend would be about to cry, Ed would lay his head on her lap and look up at her with limpid eyes full of sympathy and understanding. It was uncanny. It was amazing. It was Ed.

He should have been a bird dog. He should have spent his life galloping through fields and bringing his master his prey. Instead, he was stuck with us. He patiently stalked squirrels in our back yard, “pointed” at anything even remotely interesting, and climbed, with both increasing difficulty and frequency, on our couch or bed. He watched us through his old-soul eyes, and I think that if I would have stopped, flung my arms around him, and listened more often, I might be a wiser woman today.

My heart hurts as I write this. I can’t even see my comptuer screen.

I miss you, Ed. I love you. Please come back to me in my dreams again so I can busy my nose in your fur, and please, please, God…let there be at least one dog in heaven, and let that dog be Ed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Corps of Re-Discovery Review--Cornhusk Doll Kit

When we received the Cornhusk Doll Kit in the mail from Corps of Re-Discovery, Amélie's eyes lit up.  She loves it when we get any package in the mail to review, but the opportunity to do a craft together made her especially excited.  She loves "projects"! 

(and let me just insert here right up front that I might have pictures to include except for the fact that my camera has hidden itself in a remote location of my home.  Argh!)

Corps of Re-Discovery is a company that was founded after a homeschooling family took the task of studying American history quite literally and traversed across 47 of the 50 states!  They came back, combined their creativity and ingenuity, and created a company that offers craft projects of several eras and people of American history, including Native AmericanPioneer and Colonial, and Frontiersman.  They also offer leatherworking materials.             

We received the girl cornhusk doll to assemble, and honestly, the timing could not have been more perfect for us.  We are studying world history this year, but we just started reading Little House in the Big Woods, and Laura has a cornhusk doll!  Amélie now has more of an idea about what life was like when children were playing with cornhusk dolls rather than American Girl dolls, and she can also use her imagination and play "Little House on the Prairie." 

We enjoyed assembling the doll together, although there were a couple of spots where I got a bit confused (however, it is hard to say whether this is a flaw in the product directions or my own user error!).  At the moment she is naked, because I could not maneuver a needle and thread if my very life depended on it.  We are going to bring the doll to my mother-in-law's house, and I am sure she will be more than happy to help us sew the apron. 

I was very impressed with this educational AND fun product, and at the very reasonable price of $4.50, I just might order more of these doll kids or some of the other reasonably priced items from their website for Christmas presents! 

If you would like to see what my other TOS Crewmates had to say about both the Cornhusk Doll and other Corps of Rediscovery Products, check them out here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.