Thursday, September 18, 2014

U-Pick: The best part of fall

One of our favorite fall activities is the U-Pick farm.  Sure, there are berries in the spring, and cherries and peaches in summer, but we love picking apples and pumpkins in the fall.  Nothing smells more like "fall" than applesauce simmering or an apple pie baking (it's finally cool enough to turn the oven back on) while specially chosen pumpkins decorate the house.

When we go pumpkin picking, we only really have one rule:

You can pick any pumpkin in the patch, as long as you can carry it.

Lucky for Damien, big brother Luke came to his rescue and helped him carry this one out of the field.

Jude got smart and pulled a wagon out to the apple orchard!  Work smarter, not harder!

Living in the "Garden State", there are so many Pick-Your-Own (PYO) farms around here.  Some of our favorites are listed below.  Many have spring and summer PYO crops as well.  Always make sure to call ahead before going, because while there are fairly set seasons for crops, precisely when fruit is ready to pick is up to Mother Nature!

(Disclaimer: Most of these farms purchase packaging supplies from Neal.  While knowing what they had in season got us to go there the first time, it's how much fun we had that makes us want to return!)

1.  Russo's Orchard Lane Farm, Chesterfield, NJ

Russo's PYO starts in May/June with strawberries, and the season continues through to December with Christmas trees.

2.  Mood's Farm Market, Mullica Hill, NJ

 Make sure to bring your own hard-sided containers (no bags allowed) when you come to pick.  The season starts with sweet cherries in June and ends when there are no more pumpkins for any frost to be left on. t

3. Duffield's Farm, Sewell, NJ
In addition to PYO apples and pumpkins, Duffields features hayrides and a corn maze.  Stop in the farm market for still-warm cider donuts and the best chicken salad you'll ever eat.  Student groups welcome with reservations; closed Sundays.

4.  Haynicz Orchardview Farms, Monroeville, NJ

This farm offers the usual Jersey apples and peaches (sorry, Georgia, but Jersey wins every time!) but also PYO Jersey Tomatoes.   If you have white bread, a smear of mayo, and a thick slice of a red ripe Jersey tomato, you have summer on a plate.

 5.  Fruitwood Orchards, Monroeville, NJ

Fruitwood is well-known locally for their honey - their blueberry honey is my absolute favorite and tastes wonderful in our Honey-Apple Bundkuchen.  While they don't currently have PYO apples (just strawberries and cherries earlier in the summer), it's worth a stop in the fall to get some honey.

And a bonus:

Johnson's Corner Farm, Medford, NJ

Johnson's Farm is another farm to consider if you have a larger group - they can accommodate groups from 15 people on up to 300.  It's a favorite of many school children - a trip includes a hayride, a seasonal picking, and an animal farm. 

Happy Fall, Y'all!  Go pick something delicious!

 Blogging through the Alphabet

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The 7 Minute Life Planner (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

The 7 Minute Life is based on the  premise that the average adult only has an attention span of seven minutes. The 7 Minute Life Daily Planner is designed take advantage of that short attention span, actively engaging the user to help manage time better.  The idea that I could have my life - the ideas floating in my brain, the stuff I managed to jot down, and long term goals that seem to get lost in the shuffle of life - under control in just seven minutes each day excited me.  If you ask Neal, he'll tell you I'm forgetful and distracted seventeen ways to Tuesday nonetheless and The Sound of Music's Fraulein Maria looks like a military strategist in comparison. As I watched this video I was nodding at so many things! I could commit seven minutes each night to working on dropping the forgetful and distracted character traits. (Plus, I was excited to be getting a grownups-only review.  Hands off kids, this one belongs to Mom!)

The spiral bound 270 page printed The 7 Minute Life Daily Planner is a more than just a dayplanner.   Its premise: prioritize, organize, simplify.   Prioritize your goals, organize your tasks, and live a more simplified - less scattered - life.  The book itself is divided into several broad categories: determining your goals (both "life goals" and short term ones to reach in the next 90 days) and identifying how to reach them, running to-do lists divided by type (work, home), and calendars.  The largest section of the book is the "Daily Progress Report" that helps you plan your day.   With my new planner in hand, I was ready to take back control of my life, seven minutes at a time.

I started with the video introduction to using the planner (about a half hour total) and then started in on my book.  Writing information for the front sections took me a long time.   Ultimately, I left a lot of it blank. I asked myself, "What's my long term goal?"  I suppose I should be embarrassed to say "Survive to tomorrow."  I would like to get out of "survival" mode, but I'm not in a season of my life where I can focus on anything much beyond that.  With doctors, therapists, and homeschooling, I don't have time to really focus on "me."  I have hobbies that I indulge - for example, I like photography, so fill that need by taking pictures for blogging, but I'm not in a position to create any long-term goals for that.  My independent consultant business is purposely casual business; I don't have the time and resources to make it more than a very part time, fill-in venture. This planner area feels more designed for the up-and-coming corporate executive, not a homeschooling mom.

I had higher hopes for the Daily Progress Report. This is the "officially just seven minutes" part.  At the end of each day, you are supposed to spend seven minutes planning tomorrow. 

7 Minute Life Daily Planner Review

Rather than a blank piece of paper to write a to-do list on, this two-page spread is divided into categories. The core of the 7 Minute Life is this: spend seven minutes organizing and prioritizing, and then micro-prioritize five tasks into the 5 before 11- five tasks that you will tackle first thing in the morning, before life takes over.

And then...reality intervened again.

The ADHD side of my personality liked the concept of category boxes, grouping like with like, so I wasn't searching all over two pages.  The Type A side of my personality hated the headings on the boxes - they didn't really fit my life.  The ADHD side of my personality didn't like not having the boxes labeled correctly, because then I had to try to remember why those tasks were grouped together.  The Type A side didn't like not remembering.  Enter some washi tape and a pen, and voila!  I had better categories that fit my life. 

Except doing this *every single day* got old really quickly.  It also doubled the time I needed to plan each day.  "Fifteen minutes a day" doesn't sound like a lot - but it's twice what I had signed up for.  (It also took up a lot of tape -- tape that I often had to find again each night because somebody borrowed it during the day.)  I tried just writing the "new" topics in the headings, but it was too visually cluttered and overwhelming for me.  (I can't imagine where Jude gets his sensory issues from...)  The tasks - appointments, voice mails to return, contact lists, etc. - were well suited to a business perspective, but I found as a homemaker and caregiver, they just didn't mesh well with my life.

I also had a hard time keeping track of my book.  (Here comes that ADHD again...)  I was hoping that this would be more organized than a piece of paper with a running to-do list, but here's something I didn't count on: the to-do list folds and fits in my pocket.  A 7" x 8" book doesn't.  Again, for someone working in an office with a static desk, this could be perfect because it doesn't need to go anywhere.  For me, it was one more thing to hunt down.  I would have it in my hand, and then need to help the boys.  I'd walk over to Luke, put the planner down to pick up Luke's book, then have to dash to another room to break up a fight over crayons.  By the time I was able to get back on task, I then spent another five or ten minutes wandering and trying to find the book again!  I tried to train myself to put the book down before I moved, but it didn't always happen.  Of course, the days it did happen were when we were at the hospital all day and I left the planner at home.  With my paper to-do list, I just would stuff it in my pocket and go.  (Yes, Neal keeps reminding me I can use an app on my phone, but it just doesn't work for me.  I need pen and paper.)

I also was frustrated that the planner only lasts about 90 days.  I completely understand that it would significantly increase the size of the book if it was an annual planner and approach "Great American Novel" proportions, but it felt like it would be a waste to have to purchase a new book every three months - a waste of money because you'd be paying for the same 20 page "introduction to the program" section, and of time because having to re-write the annual and monthly calendars.  I think a ring bound, refillable planner would make this more appealing, because it would just be a matter of switching out the exhausted sheets (tasks, progress reports, etc.) for fresh ones.  My current dayplanner binder is going on five years old; I just swap out the completed year's calendar for the new year, add more blank pages for notes, etc.  Each 7 Minute Life Daily Planner costs $24.95; I can't justify spending $100 each year on a planner.  I will concede that a "complete" new planner binder like mine is around $100 for the binder and a year's worth of inserts, but I spend less than $25 annually for refills. 

I loved the concept of the 7 Minute Planner, and there are a few ideas that I think I will continue to use in my daily life, like the "do this first" 5 before 11 sublist and a waterglass tally (because seeing it in front of me did remindme to drink more). It does have me contemplating some life goals; I'm not ready to do any planning, but am taking note of things I actually enjoy doing and might want to consider setting goals in those areas.   I wanted this to really work for me, but unfortunately, this flibbertigibbet is still a problem to solve.

Click the banner below to see how this planner worked for other Crew Members. You can also follow 7 Minute Life on social media:

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©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sunday Sharing Pinterest Party - Week 38

Welcome back to the Sunday Sharing Pinterest Party!  I'm so glad you're here! 

Thank you to everyone who linked up last week.  
I admit, I was a little afraid there would be crickets after so long a hiatus.  
Lots of people and lots of links -- a perfect party!!

 This week's featured blog is Upstate Ramblings!

 Anne's Chocolate Pumpkin Bundt Cake won me over.  
This looks simply scrumptious!  
It may just be Luke's next home ec project!  

Ready to share your great posts?  Let's start the party!

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Happy Trails

T is for Trail Hikes - Appalachian Trail area, WV/MD

 On our big history trip this summer, we did some hiking.  If you ask the kids, we did a LOT of hiking.  We went up and down mountains, over rocks, to a waterfall, along the Stations of the Cross, and through several battlefields.

School House Ridge, Harpers Ferry WV

This relatively unmarked trail once was the Confederate holding at Harper's Ferry.  It is now a nature walk.  The path takes you up and then across a ridge; bringing up the rear and doing a head count, I realized I was only a couple singers short of a Von Trapp concert.

This trail starts from the William Houck Lake-side comfort station in Cunningham Falls State Park.  It takes you up to the main parking lot and the Falls trails, two of the nine trails that are either in or pass through the park.

Looking at the steep and rocky Cliff Trail just off the main parking lot, we had opted to walk to the falls by the more gentle (and semi-paved) lower trail.   Interpretive signs, benches here and there, perfect for a relaxing walk. After about a 15 minute walk, we reached the Falls.

Cunningham Falls
Cunningham Falls - known locally as McAfee Falls

Never ones to shy away from challenges, the kids still wanted to try the harder Upper Trail.  I warned them that once we started, we were committed.  They understood and agreed; Luke took the lead and I again brought up the rear.  I told Matthew and Celia to stay within sight of me and Luke wrangled Damien, who somehow managed to consistently race ahead of all of us.  It was NOT an easy trail.  I'm impressed with how they did, especially Jude.

This is at the bottom of the hill, back at the parking area.  It doesn't do the elevation justice - the hill behind is about the equivalent of five or six stories, and at a very steep angle.

One of our stops was to the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on the campus of Mount St. Mary's University.  Our original plan was to go to the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton nearby, but we ran out of time wandering round the Grotto.  Two main paths - Corpus Christi Path, with the Stations of the Cross along the walk, and Rosary Path, lined with scripture and mosaic depictions of the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries and interspersed with shrines dedicated to various saints (including St. Jude).  The end of Rosary Path is marked by the St. John Paul II garden, complete with the Luminous Mysteries. 

Our Lady of Lourdes National Shrine Grotto MD

We managed to hike small several sections of the Appalachian Trail as well.

Appalachian Trail midpoint

Our first steps on it were at Harper's Ferry, WV.   If you're through-hiking and make it to this sign, you're basically halfway!

Harper's Ferry NHP also is home to two other hiking trails:

On one side of the Potomac River is Harper's Ferry, WV.  When you walk across the bridge and navigate a tight spiral staircase, you're in Maryland and a different park.

Did you know South Mountain is the only place where the AT crosses a battlefield?  South Mountain is where the Union soldiers held back the Confederates heading for Washington, DC and forced the battle at Sharpsburg (Antietam).  Atop the mountain is the very first memorial monument ever completed to honor George Washington.  The path up to it converges with the AT, and then just before the peak they split again.

Washington Monument, South Mountain MD

We had a good laugh here.  A few hundred feet along the monument trail was a small picnic shelter labeled "Mount Vernon."  It reminded us of our trip to Mt. Vernon, VA and the hike up the hill from the Potomac to the main house.  On the other side of the Museum was a comfort station - a large picnic shelter and restrooms.  It was called "Fort Necessity."

We enjoyed our hiking and plan on searching out some short, easy hikes around here.

Important things to know when you're hiking:

1.  Wear the right gear.  Some people like to hike in sandals, but personally, I prefer closed shoes.  They don't have to be heavy-duty boots - sturdy sneakers are good enough for short hikes.  Ballgown-style dresses are optional.

2. Be prepared for the weather.   Always be generous with the sunblock! Even with sunscreen and overcast skies, we found ourselves a little pink.  

And if it rains? Hikes are still fun.

3.  Stick together.

4. What in the blazes??? 

Know where you're going, and watch for signs and blazes so you don't get lost, especially if trails overlap.

5.  The view is worth the climb.

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Heirloom Audio Productions: Under Drake's Flag (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

With several hours a week on the road for therapy appointments, I’m always looking to cram “schoolwork” into the road trip. Because the boys tend to be more audio-and-visual learners, I tend to just pop an educational DVD in before we drive away. The big boys like audiobooks to read along with the text, so we’ve never tried an audiobook. We were given the opportunity to review Under Drake’s Flag: The Extraordinary Tales of G.A. Henty produced by Heirloom Audio Productions  and I was intrigued. It’s purely listening – an audio CD – but is considered “Audio Theater.”  This two-CD set ($29.95 plus $6.95 S/H) is about two hours in length, making it perfect for a ride to and from DuPont for us.

What is Audio Theater?

What is “audio theater”? Well, if you were my grandmother, you’d call it a “radio drama” (as opposed to a music or news program). Think back to the heyday of radio, from the 1920s through World War II. With no way to transmit visual pictures, the entire story needed to be conveyed with sound – the actors’ dialogue, their tone and inflection, and the music and accompanying sounds – to be brought to life. With genres from westerns to murder mysteries, the sounds of the show played as important a role as the plot itself in immersing the listener in the story. As television rose to prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s, the radio drama faded to near static.

Over the past five years or so, there has become a reemergence of the audio drama as an art form.  Under Drake's Flag is considered an Active Listening Audio Adventure -an audio drama with fast-moving stories, using dialog, music, and sound effects to captivate the listener. Rather than being a main feature on terrestrial radio (if you can find it at all!), it has found its niche in podcasts and audio CDs.  These audio theater pieces are perfect for longer car trips - more vivid than a sometimes dry book reading, but not distracting from the road.

Under Drake's Flag: The Story

The story is based on the 1880 novel Under Drake's Flag: A Tale of the Spanish Main by G. A. Henty.  It begins with Sir Francis Drake's 1572 voyage to the Americas, during the Spanish Inquisition and English-Spanish slave trade. The main character, Ned Hawkshaw, is a fatherless youth on the verge of manhood. After seeing him brave rough seas to save another sailor in a shipwreck, Sir Francis Drake promises Ned one day he will have him to serve on his ship; that day comes sooner than expected when a crew member falls ill and Ned is asked to take his place. Aboard ship, Ned becomes fast friends with Gerald, another young new crew member. Together, they travel with Drake to the Americas, though not without a few mishaps along the way. Midway through the story, they are washed ashore into "enemy" territory - the Spanish colony - and the second half of the drama tells how the boys are forced to fight for their survival.  The story does not say precisely how long the boys are marooned in America; it is inferred that they return to England on Drake's 1577-80 circumnavigation (Drake's ship is sighted north of Lima, and the boys travel across South America on foot to meet the ship after it passes through the Straits of Magellan).

I admit, I didn't recognize most of the actors' names, but with a quick Google recognized their work. The role of author/narrator G.A. Henty is voiced by Brian Blessed.  You don't recognize his name, either?  Americans may recognize his voice from the roles of Clayton (Disney's Tarzan), Boss Nass (Star Wars), or  Grampy Rabbit and Eduardo Enormomonster (Peppa Pig and Henry Hugglemonster, respectively), but he is a reknowned British actor who has been active in British television for nearly fifty years, including several BBC and Kenneth Brannaugh productions of Shakespearean plays.  Royal Shakespeare veteran Ian Cullen voices Sir Francis Drake.  (That name may be slightly more recognized by Dr. Who fans.)   Many of the actors are reknowned in British theater, television, and film.

The boys each only listened to the CD set once.   However, I listened to it on three separate trips to the hospital.  It actually was an interesting way to listen though - because with each child, it was different.  Jude and Damien just listened, but often seemed to "check out." That doesn't surprise me - with Jude's disabilities, intense listening with no visual input is very difficult for him, and Damien is only four.  The music and dialogue help highlight the tension of the shipwrecks, the battles, and the triumphs of Ned and Gerald; as Jude and Damien listened, they tended to fade in and out of focus, cued by the tenor of the sound.  In reality, it was just me really listening to the story.  As the driver, I found it engaging enough to help relieve the boredom of a drive I have done literally over a thousand times, but not so much as to distract me from the road.  For the big boys, however, Under Drake's Flag was a completely different story.

Some lively discussions

In the CD jacket, there is a short activity book; a more detailed study guide is available for download.  However, instead of using these and making the program more a literary study, the older boys and I opted for discussions of ethics, viewpoint and history. 

Twice more I listened to Under Drakes Flag, but this time with the older boys on individual hospital runs.  The difference in perspective - both from "recreation" to "study" and from their ages and experiences - was impressive to see.  It was an advantage to have them listen individually, because each boy and I had the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions initially, and then we were able to discuss ideas in a slightly larger group. Matthew showed that "dawning of realization" that is the hallmark of the tween years, while sixteen-year-old Luke had some astute observations. Like any good historical story, there are a number of sides, including a final "viewing through objective and modern eyes."
  • Sir Francis Drake was a man of strong "ethics" when it came to plundering.  Treasure was up for grabs, but his men were instructed to take only treasure or the lives of armed men.  None who was unarmed or surrendered was to be harmed, and no women or children to be touched.  A kindness by the standards of warfare for the time,  but it doesn't negate the fact that he was still stealing gold, silver, and jewels and killing those that defended their property. 
  • Drake was shot during an early battle.  Injured, he ordered Ned to keep quiet about the injury and the team pressed on to find a cache of silver.  Drake ordered his crew to retreat and instead search for the "real" treasure - gold and jewels - and then collapses.  A testament to their loyalty, all of his men carry him back to the ship, rather than dividing into two parties; the result is despite the battle and Drake's injury, they remain empty handed. Was this "God's punishment" for the attack, "just desserts," or placing the value a good leader above material gain?
  • The listener's sympathies would almost automatically be with the English - after all, they are the protaganists of the story, off to rid the earth of the evil Spanish regime.  But then...English Ned rescues Spanish Doña Ana from a shark attack; her father repays the debt by hiding the shipwrecked Ned and Gerald with a band of escaped slaves.  Kojo Kinte, leader of the escaped slaves, also makes a good point: the English are the enemy of the Spanish, but it was the English who kidnapped and sold Africans to the Spaniards.  Usually, those at war live by the doctrine, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," but in this case, the enemy of Kinte's enemy was still his enemy!  The Spanish turn against themselves, executing Señor Segasta for helping the boys.  Listening from an objective viewpoint leads to the question "Is any side truly 'right'?"
  • The Inquisition is clearly not the Catholic Church's finest hour.  However, the Spanish Inquisition took on a more political tone (though authorized by the Church) than the predecessor Crusades.  The boys and I discussed the difference between artistic license (the behavior of the priests) and actual history. Even allowing for some human failings and some priests becoming consumed with their power, the Church was not the entity that actually tortured non-Catholics or sentenced heretics to death, but rather a "religion of the state" being used as secular law. This led to a discussion of the use of religion as a political regime, and discussions of the intents of the American Constitution ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...") as well as the current religion-based conflicts in the Middle East. 
  • We also found ourselves discussing how an author writes from his views.  Henty wrote this story in the 1880s, and many felt his stories glorified British imperialism.  (Even his novel on the American War for Independence was told from a Tory's perspective.)  We talked about how his perspective (an Anglican imperialist) could affect the story he told (with only a passing reference to the English's role in the slave trade and from a Catholics-are-evil view) versus what we might think of the same events, looking at them nearly 150 years later from a American Catholic view.

Final thoughts

From an artistic view, this production is very well done.  The actors chosen for the recording are among some of Britain's best. They have provided a very good show, down to the use of accents and dialect - you can hear the class differences between the educated leader Drake and the rough crew, as well as feminine Doña Ana's breathy and accented English compared to the more fierce and gutteral tone of Kinte and his men.  The music is a perfect example of beautiful composition: it plays a forefront role in providing the listener with the emotion and his imagination with the setting.  The sound quality is even throughout the program; though the music swells and quiets throughout the volume remains constant.  It's perfect for listening to in the car - you're not constantly fiddling with the radio to change the volume or skipping back because you missed something.

The publisher's age recommendation for the program is "six to adult," but I would put it more in the "middle school and older" realm.  With two hours of intense listening, it was too much for a younger listener.  The story is full of rich vocabulary and wordplay - good for older kids, but (if you'll pardon the pun) it sails over the heads of younger ones.  As an action story of sailing the seas and surviving on land, the storyline sounds like it would be appeal to an elementary level student, but the content really is for older ones and adults who can better grasp the history and reasoning of the story.  The study guides provide a strong base for using the CD set as a literary study, including content/comprehension questions and vocabulary, and we found it was a good starting point for a history and philosophy study.

Heirloom Audio Productions has announced Audio Theater production of In Freedom's Cause will be released in November 2014.  In this story about the fight of Wallace and Bruce, Brian Blessed reprises his role as G.A. Henty, as do the actors who portray Ned and Gerald (Jonny Scott and Daniel Philpott).  Actors Joanne Frogart (Downton Abby) and Billy Boyd (Lord of the Rings) add their voices to the program as well.  Given how much we enjoyed listening to Under Drake's Flag, this new production is definitely going on our carschooling list! To keep up to date with Heirloom's releases of these and other titles, follow them on Facebook.

Under Drake's Flag Reviews

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.
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