Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Little Blue Truck Board Book Review

For Christmas, Baby Q got a little board book library as his "big" Christmas present. I wrapped each individual book in tissue paper so he could enjoy opening them even more. He loved it.

One of his books was new to me: Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Animal sounds and a truck in the same board book? It definitely sounded promising. I researched and ordered online, as I usually do with books. When it arrived, I had my doubts: compared to his usual board books, this had a lot of words on each page (about four lines). There was no way he would listen to the full text as a twelve month old.
I was wrong. Mostly.
A lot of the words are sound effects (like oink and beep) and the lines themselves rhyme. It quickly became a favorite board book (tied possibly with Wibbly Pig is Happy and Merry Mother Goose, both old books not in print in the format we read them in).
He will occasionally try to turn pages early, but mostly just lets me read it to him. Two months after he received it, it is still on our daily reading shelf. Anymore we read it, on average, once or twice a day (compared to 2 to 5 times a day the first few weeks after we got it). To me, that is one of the biggest indicators of a successful board book.
 On the back cover, it mentions a free downloadable party kit. Since his birthday wouldn't be for close to a year, I ignored it for a while, but curiosity got the better of me.
First of all, congratulations to the creators of the book for having a cute, simple, easy to navigate website. I was impressed.
 As for downloadables, there are two free "kits" you can download: the Activity Kit and the Party Kit. Both are adorable.
The Activity Kit has a simple maze, a page to match an illustrated animal to the (typed word) sound it makes, some cut-out play figures, and a counting page, a garland that spells "BEEP!," paper Christmas ornaments, and a couple drawing prompts.
The Party Kit includes "Pin the Hat on Blue," party hats, cupcake toppers, colorful bunting flags, and coloring pages of animals and Little Blue Truck to share with party guests. My daughter saw everything and excitedly insisted that Baby Q's second birthday party would be Little Blue Truck themed.
She might be right.
 Today I was looking for a "new" activity to do with my 14 1/2 month old. I printed one page of the cupcake toppers on sticker paper, and printed the coloring page of Little Blue Truck. I showed Baby Q a blue colored pencil and demonstrated coloring the page. He made a small mark in addition to what I had done, and wanted to show me.
So cute.
Next I cut out and peeled the stickers. Now that was interesting to him. He hasn't handled many stickers yet in his young life. I showed him how we stick it to the paper. Then we clapped and said, "Yay!" He like the clapping part of the sticker game and did that a lot, too.

I almost forgot. A couple Sundays ago, we brought this board book to church. Two separate moms, at different times, saw it and started exclaiming over how much their family likes it.
It's a winner.
Below is the official Little Blue Truck trailer, as found on their website.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Lego Temple Ideas and Photographs

It had been a while since the last time our family did some Sabbath bonding over Legos, and last week I kept thinking: this Sunday we will build Lego temples together.
I attempted Boston (its beautiful picture is in the nursery manual). My biggest regret was that I couldn't find enough translucent blue bricks for taller stained glass windows. I do, however, love the impressionistic cubist Angel Moroni up top, don't you?

 K began with an ambitious project that included a door that opened and a check-in desk, but never got finished.
 S started with a baptismal font on the base and built out from there. It has a post-apocalyptic look to it that is definitely not cannon, however.
 Ah, Seattle. A single spire and an evergreen. There's no way to imply the skinny stained glass arches down at this scale. Well, without pulling out the fine-point Sharpies, anyway. M and I did this one together.
 Somehow, smaller was easier.
And then, throwing attempts at replication to the wind, I pieced together a one-of-a-kind building that looks like it could be a temple. Someday.

Family Media Awards Night

Which actress has been nominated for an Oscar?
Which singer will win a Grammy?
Which music video will win a Smith?

What? Didn't you know? February is media awards month; the most infamous of all being Family Media Awards!

Following the media standards in "For the Strength of Youth," our family discussed the animated films and music videos from 2015 (well, the ones we saw, anyway). Then we nominated and voted.
Here is the highly anticipated breakdown of who won a 2015 Family Award!

Family Favorite Full-length Animated Film
Inside Out

Family Favorite Music Video

Best Location for a Music Video 
(filmed around a Scottish castle)

Best Costumes in a Music Video 

Best Special Effects in a Music Video 

Funniest Music Video
(In which Miss Piggy attempts to upstage Lindsey Stirling)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Audiobook Review: Harry Potter Series

Let's start on the defensive:
Why write a review for a series that is already entrenched in popular culture?
First: because for some children, they are still experiencing the characters and series for the first time.
Second: because many adults assume a casual exposure to the Harry Potter universe, involving either seeing the movies or merchandise, is as good as having read the books themselves. They are so wrong.
Third: because for the first time in forever ever, the audio is available on Amazon's Audible (which our family has a subscription to).
In the last couple months, since my husband purchased the entire audiobook collection, there has been a bit of a family mania with all things Harry Potter. Each night as the kids go to bed, they want to listen to a chapter from the audiobook. That sounds benign enough, but the chapters are sometimes an hour long, which doesn't always work on school nights.
Jim Dale was selected by J.K. Rowling herself to be the voice (or should I say voices?) of her books for the American audience. I thought I had never heard of the actor and comedian Jim Dale. Turns out I'd seen him before without knowing it. He plays the quack doctor in Disney's movie Pete's Dragon that can't pronounce Passamaquady. 

Jim Dale is amazing. If you've watched the movies, it might take an hour or two to let go of the voices of Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, but after that it's amazing. Professor McGonagall's Scottish brogue is spot-on, and Dobby's little earnestly apologetic voice is recognizable every time.
A thought about language: one of the things that annoyed me about the movies was the crude exclamations that seemed so frequent. While there are a few in the books, there are so many other rich words and so much other imagery going on that they are no longer the focal point of the audio. It's hard to remember Malfoy's curse when you're trying to picture Crabbe and Goyle guffawing sycophantically. Yes, her vocabulary is that rich. Unlike the authors of some other popular series, J.K. Rowling's success does not come from cheap English. She is heiress to the riches of the English language.

Now, one concern about having the audiobooks is that maybe children will be less likely to read the real thing and won't grow into as strong of readers. That has not been our family's experience. My daughter would sit in bed, reading along until we turned off the audiobook. She checked a copy out from the school library so that on the bus she could find out what came next. We just finished the audio of the Goblet of Fire (that alone took almost a month--it's more than twenty hours long!), but she finished reading book seven about a week ago, and has begun drawing portraits of the characters.
After finishing each audiobook, we've let the children watch the movie that goes with it. Listening them compare the movie with the books has been hilarious.
I think T has been the biggest stickler for accuracy:
"I can't believe they left out the quidditch match!"
"The light that connects the wands is supposed to be golden, not green or red. How could they get that detail wrong?"

99 cent American Girl eBooks

When we discussed getting the children kindles for Christmas, we were both concerned about the cost of putting books on them, on top of the cost of actually purchasing an electronic device (hint: watch the sales. I think we paid $79 each for the kids' kindle bundles. Don't pay the list price).
Anyway, I tried researching free and inexpensive books that we could get. In the search, I was surprised by how many American Girl books (12) were available for just ninety-nine cents.
In case you didn't know, you can put each book you buy on up to six devices (they must all be registered to the same account), so if I had four girls (instead of 3 boys and 1 girl) . . . well, I don't.
Also, if you're not sure about purchasing a kid's kindle, but do want cheap books, did you know you just read them online?
Incidentally, I have not yet bought all the books on this page. A few were on her kindle Christmas morning (as well as free classics like A Little Princess and books that are shared on her brothers' kindles). I thought it might be useful to have an inexpensive book I could surprise her with for a road trip, plane trip, holiday, etc.

Nonfiction and Short Stories
Most of American Girl's nonfiction books have a lot of full-color pages. If you read the following online, you will get that, but if you download them to a traditional black-and-white kindle, it will all show up in gray-scale. Just so you know.

BeForever (Historical Character) Mysteries
When I read my first American Girl book, Meet Kirsten, I was in second grade. It was a short chapter book with several full color illustrations. Fast forward a generation to the first time I bought books for my eight year old daughter. I was surprised at how long the mysteries were, and that there were no illustrations besides what you get on the cover. Now my daughter is ten, and these books are relatively easy for her.
The number in parentheses is the approximate year in American history that the novel is set in.

I have tried my best to check the links for each of the above. Please let me know if any of the links do not work properly, and especially let me know if I missed any 99 cent American Girl books!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Vegetable Club

Recently my husband asked me if tomorrow was the day for my Vegetable Club. 
My what?
You know, that thing where you get vegetables.
Oh. The Farmer's Market with a CSA?
Yeah. That.

Well, lucky for the family, this past week I didn't pick up on Friday like I usually prefer to, so we got to go as a family on Saturday. There are some cool statues outside.
 In the back corner of the store is where the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pick up is located. For $180, we get to pick up for 12 weeks (that's $15 a week). This CSA is menu oriented, so you get all the vegetables and spices you need for two vegetable dishes.
In the past we tried celeriac apple mash. Tonight will be a butternut squash gratin.
 The whole family is hooked on the flavor of the locally grown pink lady apples, so I've stopped buying apples on my regular shopping trips.
 In another corner of the market is a spicery. (Is that a word?) Obviously, the spices aren't local, but they're a lot fresher than what I'm used to, and the price is very close to what I usually pay in the grocery store anyway.
This time I knew to wash out my old spice jars and bring them in (oregano and thyme). The spice lady has a kitchen scale that she can zero out the container weight on when measuring spices. I purchased a little glass jar for the allspice which smells amazing. I can't wait to use it.
While I was in there, another couple was looking at the dried rosebuds, sold by ounce. Turns out their pet rabbit eats them as a special treat. How cool is that?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Pinewood Derby 2016: Photography

Four photos to take at a Pinewood Derby
  1. The row of cars parked and waiting their turn (I suggest doing an angle, not straight on)
  2. Your child's car at the starting point 
  3. Your child with his car
  4. The cars zipping down the track

3 Auto Settings to use on a DSLR at a Pinewood Derby
In the past, one of the things that has bothered me most about the Pinewood Derby (and pack meetings in general) is the inability to take satisfactory photographs with either my phone or my point and click camera.
For Christmas, my husband gave me a Nikon D5500 digital SLR, which I took to try out at the Pinewood Derby.
Now, being able to manually adjust settings for amazing photographs is a wonderful feat, and something I enjoy playing around with when I have time. Zooming cars and rambunctious 8 year olds don't stay still long enough for me to do so. That's okay. Auto settings exist for a reason.
There are three camera auto settings I would recommend for this situation.
1. The first is the basic "AUTO," which is good for getting pictures of stationary cars (I think I might actually have taken those two photos in the child setting, described later, but AUTO would be slightly better). I liked getting them in a row (at an angle) and zooming in. In the photo above, I love how the cars in the foreground are nice and crisp, while those in the background are more blurred.

2. Next, go to SCENE and select CHILD
This variation on the auto setting is excellent with getting skin tones just right (something that's always so wrong in my previous gym photos). Under the assumption that kids move around a lot, the CHILD setting does bump up the ISO a little bit. Expect a little graininess.

3. The last picture I wanted was elusive: the cars racing down the track. It was so hard to hit the trigger at just the right moment. This one took several tries. I happened to use the SPORTS setting, under SCENES, had the button half-pressed before the cars started, and clicked the millisecond the front of the first car entered my view. This is what I got.

Sunday Journal

Today is my third (and possibly last, for now) Sunday journal post.
This morning started a little rough, with both Mommy and baby battling colds. We were late for Sacrament Meeting again. Arrgh. In a "What Lack I Yet?" moment, I realized that completely, 100% preparing my Sunday School and Relief Society lessons during the week, would make it easier for us to arrive when I plan to.
After church, Cory stayed for Choir practice. I had thought he might drop choir, since it looks like he won't be around for performances this year, but he says it helps him be spiritually ready to start the week.
On the drive home, the kids watched part of The Other Side of Heaven.
When we got home, M carried Baby Q inside (he was awake, having napped during church) and set a pot of water on the stove for lunch. We had Colby Jack Mac 'n Cheese, farmer's market salsa with leftover chips, and sliced apples for lunch. And water. Cory must have put water on the table, because I sure didn't.
After lunch, someone turned on the Wizard of Oz. Not exactly my idea of a Sunday movie, but I didn't stop it either. No one really sat down and watched it from beginning to end, but I think everyone enjoyed the nostalgia of it. S sat at the table folding tiny figures that represented various Harry Potter characters. I think M was reading in her room.

During part of the movie, Q cuddled with his dad, then he toddled around the living area, I suppose enjoying having everyone around.
T mixed up a batch of brownies. Cory gave the okay for a double batch, so we could take a few over to a family he home teaches this afternoon.
I curled up on the couch next to Cory and tried to sleep off my cold for a little bit. Not too long.

Remembering our discussion from last Sunday about purchasing gospel art to hang on our walls, Cory showed my a couple paintings of Jesus he found online that he liked.
After the brownies were out of the oven and the movie done, we told the kids we were going for a Sunday walk to "earn" our brownies and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. We saw a demolition site, a sick tree that had been chopped down, and some nice houses we live near (but not in). Baby Q did not fall asleep.

After eating brownies, T taught his dad how to play marbles (something they recently learned in Boy Scouts). Baby Q watched and was really excited about it.

Around 5:30, we got in the car to deliver brownies to a family in our ward. The Other Side of Heaven was still playing in the van, and the kids had a lot of questions (I guess it's been a long while since we've watched it before): what is lockjaw? Did he die? Is this real? Why did the 3 girls get on the big boat? M found the movie highly concerning and wanted it turned off. I guess the drama was too realistic for her. She doesn't mind fantasy drama, though. She just finished book 6 of Harry Potter. I don't think she even cried over Dumbledore. It probably helped that she heard that would happen.
When we got home, it was time for dinner. We made rice and sweet and sour meatballs, but let the kids all have a bowl of porridge (with their rice) after they had tasted a bite of the sweet and sour.
S practiced Primary songs on the piano: "Book of Mormon Stories" and "Follow the Prophet."
Then it was time for scriptures and 5 minute chores:

  • K got living room
  • T rinsed all the dishes I had put in the sink
  • M did a bathroom check
  • S did more of the living room