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City-fied Self-Sufficiency

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Archive for June, 2011

Cars 2: A Review of our Annual Theater Movie

We have been Pixar fans since the very beginning with “Toy Story”.  They give a good, fun story with rich characters; throw in some things the adults can appreciate (like all the old toys in that movie, and the answer to your childhood suspicions about your toys — hey, I know I left that toy over here… how’d it get over there?); put it all in beautiful, highly detailed animation; and (usually) leave out stuff like politics and environmentalism.  (Hey, I said “usually” — don’t get on me about “WALL-E”, which, in spite of the environmentalism, was a very cute movie.)

So, for some time now, we’ve closed our eyes and plunked down the money once every year or so to take the whole family (6 of us now, with my uncle) to the theater.  Last year, our only choice was 3-D, unless we wanted to go way out of town.  This year, we had the option of either version, but went with 3-D anyway, for the sake of the kids.

So we went to see “Cars 2″, and got in almost late.  The theater was way busier that day than we had ever seen it before.  We had seen the previews, and the kids had even collected codes from Kellogg cereals to get points for language translators that were being offered (among other things).  We ordered the translators just the other day.  For once, I participated in one of these things, figuring if they wanted language translators, that was not a bad thing.

Hopefully, the translators (when they get here sometime in the next 90 days) won’t be a disappointment, because, for once, the Pixar movie was.

Don’t get me wrong, “Cars 2″ was a cute movie.  But that’s really all I can say about the story itself.  It was not what we’ve come to expect from Pixar.

Toy Story 1, 2, and 3 — A Bug’s Life — Monsters, Inc. — Finding Nemo — The Incredibles — Cars — Ratatouille — WALL-E — Up — What made these movies so good?  Brilliant graphics and amazing detail in abundance, yes, but what made them excellent was character development, plausibility (yes, even in a movie about talking fish), and well-thought-out themes of friendship, family, endurance, overcoming adversity, and fighting evil.  All this, with no vulgarity.  The occasional girl-boy stuff is fleeting and non-sexual.

So what went wrong with “Cars 2″?

It had the brilliant graphics and amazing detail a good bit of the time.  We struggled with some blurriness in a good bit of it.  I saw someone else’s comments on it that stated that they had watched the 2-D version, and had the blurriness there, too.  I thought it was just a sloppy 3-D job, but apparently not.  The character development was nearly non-existent.  Plausibility was pretty much zero, which I already had figured out from the previews, but I was willing to give them that in exchange for all the other stuff that makes an excellent movie.  It’s a James Bond movie done with talking cars, and Mater as an accidental spy.  You’re plausibility’s automatically gone.  LOL

Unfortunately, there was very little to exchange the lack of plausibility for.  There was a weak lesson in friendship, and not expecting a friend to be something they aren’t.  Other than that, it was action, action, action, and Mater’s social blunders… and Sally’s fixation with an Italian car’s open wheels.  The movie seemed geared more toward the adults than to the kids.  It contained many things that were main themes, that were things pretty much only adults would get.  Lemon cars, like Gremlins, Pacers, and Yugos… kids aren’t going to remember these (I even needed help from Shay).  The lemons were a big theme, but only the adults will get it.  The oil/alternative theme was big, too.  I’m guessing more of the kids got this one, with all the environmentalism they are taught in public schools.

The result?  Other than an occasional chuckle, not much laughter from the audience.  The absence of children’s laughter was telling.  They didn’t enjoy this movie like they had previous Pixar movies, and it was obvious.

Such a shame.  I hope Pixar realizes and corrects their mistakes before releasing their next offering to the theaters.

$600 Savings at the Used Curriculum Sale!

It’s been a long time since I went to a used curriculum sale.  When we lived in Florida, we lived a good distance away from where the sales were held, so I depended on the internet and the occasional hour’s travel (one way) to a used curriculum store.  This time, it was just a 20 minute drive, and I pounced on the chance!

I would love to buy all my curriculum new.  Not because I’m a snob, but because I enjoy supporting things I believe in.  If I buy new, it goes to support those who made the curriculum.  If I buy used, it doesn’t.  Unfortunately, our available $$$ doesn’t allow me to buy everything new.

I do occasionally buy new, because some of the curriculum I use retains its value very well.  At best, I’ll pay close to new prices for used curriculum if I buy it used, and sometimes it will go for the same price as new.  These things I tend to buy new, since I would save hardly anything buying it used, and I can support some of my favorite curriculum producers.  Somebody’s got to buy it new, or they’ll go out of business, right?

It reminds me of a lady Shay knew once upon a time.  She bought a used Cadillac at a dealer for $10,000.  She drove the car for 3 years.  When she went to trade it in on another car, she got $10,000 for it.  Other than gas and maintenance, she drove the car for free for 3 years.  That’s how well a Cadillac can hold its value.  Some of this curriculum we homeschoolers have available to us does just as well.

So Shay, the kids, and I got out of the house this past Saturday morning, and stopped at the nearby gas station.  There, we loaded up on mini donuts and chocolate milk, and Shay took out $100 cash at the ATM.  Not that I really expected to buy that much, but I wanted to have the option to.  We were on our way.

It was a 3-hour sale held in the gym of a local church, and it was packed!  We hit the ground running, with the kids going off together, and Shay and I going different ways.  I bought two books almost immediately.  It didn’t take long for ILoveBunnies to start calling me, “Mom!  Come look at this!”  “Mom!  We’re over here!  Come see this!”  Shay would search me out, “Hey, you might want to go look at this chemistry set at that table over there.”  I bounced through that room like a pinball, and I learned to take advantage of my opportunities to look at things I wanted to look at.  ILoveBunnies must have called me a dozen times.

We spent the $100, and I wrote a $50 check to a lady who graciously agreed to take it.  Shay had another little bit in his wallet, and we spent most of that, as well, for a total of about $163.

What did I buy?  I thought you’d never ask.

This is an Expedition! dinosaur archaeology kit of a T-Rex skull. The box was already historybythe time I started taking pictures. A similar kit can be seen at Amazon:http://www.amazon.com/Kristal-Educational-897-Expedition-Triceratops/dp/B001A41FF4/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1308721556&sr=8-3

(The caption thing quit working on this picture when I tried to modify it.  I don’t know why.)

A dynamo torch kit. Shay and Bunny-Wan Kenobi both love building stuff like this.

I took a chance on this microscope, since our digital one handed down to us by a friend had finally given up the ghost. For $15, I figured it was worth the risk. Now that I've looked at the reviews on it, it could go either way. People have trouble with it, or they don't, it's about evenly split. We'll see.

Build your own covered wagon model! Shay pounced on this for $1. He loves building models, and has collected a number of them so he'll have something to occupy his mind should times really get bad.

Science supplies! I paid $20 for the chemistry set at left, and $5 for the dissection kit at right. The chemistry set has two different glass beakers, three glass test tubes, two plastic graduated cylinders, a glass eyedropper and a couple of glass pipets, a test tube stand, pH papers, gloves, a glass thermometer, an alcohol burner, plastic tubing, a glass Erlenmeyer flask, and probably a few other things that aren't coming to mind. I got a glass graduated cylinder off of a free table, so I put it in there, too. The lady selling the set had done chemistry with some other families, so a couple of things were missing, and a couple of other things were added. All in all, $40 worth for $20. I stressed the glass pieces, because if those had not been glass, I would not have bought the set. The dissection pad and tools would be about $15 new.

Eyewitness books! I paid only $1 apiece for these, and they sell for $15-20 each!

Math-U-See is one of the curricula that holds its value very well. This is a $40 set, and I could expect to pay nearly that for it used, often. I bought this for $15. Now I just need the student workbook and tests, which I likely will buy new for $25. Math-U-See may not be the least expensive option out there, but it has really helped ILoveBunnies. She started with A Beka, then I tried Alpha Omega's Switched-On Schoolhouse, but she couldn't get the math. Math-U-See uses manipulatives (not the only curriculum that does) and a good, logical progression to make somewhat abstract things concrete and understandable. You can see what the numbers are and what they are doing. You can see why they work the way they work. I bought some of the old Math-U-See curriculum to start with for ILoveBunnies, and I took her all the way back to addition. We started over, and have been progressing at an accelerated pace. When we finished that old book, I bought Gamma for her, from the new curriculum. They had taken the whole curriculum and rewritten it all at once, for a smoother, more integrated approach with better practice sheets (the original curriculum is still in use by many, and is more than adequate). This time around, she's getting it. She doesn't like math, but she does understand it. I got this Beta book and DVD for Buny-Wan Kenobi, who has known nothing but Math-U-See. He loves math.

I've heard great things about Spelling Power, but didn't expect to find it at the sale! This book is the previous version, which I can still buy new for $45, or used for various prices, in various conditions. The new edition is $65. The advantage to this is that you only need the one book for all your kids, for all grades, for all time, as long as you are homeschooling. I got this book for $8. It had fallen apart and been rebound with a coil, which is fine with me. At another table, I found the CD/DVD, which is from the new edition, but which will help me learn how to use it, and provides me with a bunch of printables. I paid $3 for them, and they would have been $15 new.

I was not surprised to see Apologia curriculum there. It is very popular among Christian homeschoolers, and is written by a Christian nuclear chemist, except for the elementary books, which were written by Jeannie Fulbright, and "adopted" by Apologia because they were so excellent and written in a similar style to Wyle. A little more conversational than his, but very similar nonetheless. This set is $85 new, and I could expect to pay nearly that for it used, in good condition.

Another Apologia set that would have been $85 new and almost that used, that I bought for $25.

I had never seen this before, but had been looking for something like it. It looks really interesting!

I got these Saxon math books for free. They had been retired from a Christian school, and most of the books in the stacks were quite tired. I use Saxon math to supplement Math-U-See, when more practice is needed. I also use it on the rare occasions that I need a slightly different approach to a particular subject -- a different way to explain it. I lent a couple of my Saxon books to a friend, though, so I was glad to find these!

It has been my understanding that while Bob Jones University has been slowly going more liberal, that tendency has not shown up in the homeschool curriculum they publish as yet. So when I found this is the free pile, I scooped it up. I don't tend to actually have a Bible curriculum, since, with all our experiences in the church, I don't trust very many people to teach the Bible to me, because most of them don't teach it for what it actually says. They have all their preconceived notions that they want to make the Bible fit. So I tend to just read the Bible to my kids and discuss it with them, consulting a concordance, Bible encyclopedia, maps, or commentaries as needed. I knew I would eventually need a course in truth and comparative beliefs for upper high school, though, and that's what this is. We are currently reviewing it, since I was still naturally suspicious, but it looks good so far. Many thanks to my uncle, who is much more knowlegeable than I, for helping review it.

A Beka has been slowly modifying their history books to make them less "offensive" (read: more politically correct). I was very happy to find this old A Beka history book. I bought some other history-related books, too. Here, a biography of Abigail Adams, and books on the Magna Carta (Charta) and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

More history! Usborne books are a lot like the Eyewitness books -- numerous big, colorful pictures, with engaging, yet informative, prose to go along.

A really fun T-Rex book, which takes the dino apart as you flip the pages. A $12 book that we bought for $1. A magic trick for the kids, and science experiment idea books.

A book on grammar, a book on Christian men of science, a reader about Greece, a couple of classic fiction, and an ancient epic.

ILoveBunnies found some beads she likes. She might do what a couple of other girls did, and make jewelry to sell at next year's sale.

A couple of books on purity, a couple of foreign-language word books (the kids were really excited to find the Japanese one. They've been teaching themselves some Japanese. I'm enrolling them in a Japanese course by Mango through the library (free for us). A horse book for ILoveBunnies, and an Iron Man book for Bunny-Wan Kenobi.

Shay also picked up several binders for free, to put his ADA materials in.

After I got it all home, I started looking it up.  It turns out that I would have spent $762 to buy all of this new, not including shipping.  To buy it used, I still would have spent probably 1/2 – 2/3 that amount, still not including shipping.  So, getting it all for $163 is just amazing, and I thank the homeschoolers in our homeschool group for making this possible.  All the other attendees probably did about as well as I did, as we all traded our materials with each other.  Well, I didn’t sell this time, but I probably will next year. :D

War of the vines

As I mentioned before, this home was bought by my grandparents over 40 years ago.  Almost that far back, my uncle has been fighting the vines that have been invading the back yard.

There are several different kinds.  I don’t know what they all are.  One of them is the Japanese climbing fern.  Don’t let the nice name fool you.  It might be somewhat attractive (it was introduced in the US in the ’30s as an ornamental), but this plant is swallowing forests.  You would think it’s related to kudzu.  It has made it around to the front garden, too.

I remember my uncle out there in the summers, pulling the vines out of the ligustrum hedge that holds the little levee at the back of the yard in place.  It was hard work.  Then my grandfather fell ill, and his fight with the vines subsided, and the vines became stronger.  Add to that the years of caring for my grandmother while holding down a full-time job, then the last several years since my grandmother’s stroke, and finally her death a year and a half ago, and you can imagine the inroads the vines have made.

Not only are they suffocating the hedge at the back, they have invaded the plants at the sides, all the way to the sides of the house.  They have sent many, many runners out into the yard, which produce new sprouts like flags standing up in the grass, then they fall over and start crawling across the yard.

I started searching for something that might kill them, and ended up with Roundup Poison Ivy Plus Tough Brush Killer.  There’s poison ivy in that hedge, too, so we’ll see if this kills it.  Anyhow, I bought a gallon spray bottle of the stuff, and started spraying vines.  Several days later, they started to droop.  This is what they look like now:

I never thought I would like brown so much.

The bright green at the top of the vines is the vines on the back of the hedge that I have not reached yet.  You get on a ladder, and it looks like a sea.  Like you will go back there, and it will swallow you, and nobody will ever see you again.

You can see that there is a strip of dead grass in front of the vines (you can’t even see the ligustrums, can you?).  I knew there was a chance of this.  I used a tarp as a drop cloth, but the grass was affected anyway as leaves fell off the vines as they died.  The poison is systemic.  It is absorbed by the leaves and travels through the plant to the root, which it kills.  The vines on the back, while connected by runners, also have their own root systems, so they have survived so far.

It even seems to be affecting the palmettos that I sprayed.  Let’s hope.

The grass is a small price to pay, and will grow back.

I was afraid the poison might drip from the vines to the ligustrums, and kill them as well.  The vines were so thick, though, that the ligustrums appear unharmed.  A clump of English dogwood was not so fortunate.  It isn’t dead, but it’s lost most of its leaves.  I don’t know if it will make it.  It probably would have been good to try to get the vines out of the dogwood first, lay them on a tarp, and spray them there.

So now it’s on to the vines in the yard.  My uncle brought home some cardboard squares from work that each have a hole in the center.  I’ve been using these to protect the grass as much as possible.  I pull a vine through the hole, spray it, and go to the next one.  When I’m at the last square, I remove the first one and place it.  I have them numbered so I can tell which I’ve used most recently, and which have vines that have probably stopped dripping.

Spraying vines. I can't even count how many there are. It's just depressing. Near the top right corner is another vine waiting to be sprayed. I bought a refill for the Roundup, so I can mix more batches and save money. Thank goodness the stuff has no smell!

A vine invading the garden! I've added red dots to the right of the vine so you can see how it goes up into the cantaloupe. it had wrapped its evil tendrils around ILoveBunnies' cantaloupe vine! Grrrrr...

I don’t know how effective this fight will be.  The runners may continue to send up new shoots.  I hope that with perseverence, we will kill all these vines!


We enjoy an occasional look at the Fail Blog, and some of its derivative blogs like That Will Buff Out.

Recently, we saw something that made Shay say, “I’ve got to try to get a picture of that  (and submit it to That Will Buff Out)!”

I have really no idea what this guy was thinking.

We saw it on the way to pick up Shay’s work car.  So when we were on the way back, I had my phone ready to take a picture.  I just rested my hand on the dash, and glanced at the screen now and then to see my progress.  I knew I had only one shot, since I was doing 45 mph.  One last glance, a button press, and I hoped I had it.

By that time, there was a police car to the left of it, and no sign of the driver of the truck.

This is along an exit from one major highway to another.  The embankment goes up to the highway I just exited.  He appears to have taken the exit, then changed his mind and tried to turn around into opposing traffic.  It is an exit — it’s one way.  Shay thinks the guy had to be drunk.  I certainly can’t argue… no thinking person would have attempted this.  Of course, that automatically makes suspects of half of the drivers in this town!

I accidentally had it set for indoor picture-taking, so I had to fiddle with the colors a little.  Shay did submit it, and it actually made it (please remember the site is largely about goof-ups — there’s stuff on there I wouldn’t let the kids or myself see):


I’ve been wanting a compost tumbler.  We generate enough yard, rabbit, and kitchen waste, I should be able to make some slammin’ compost!

Where my uncle works, they get plenty of things in 55-gallon metal drums, so we were able to get one for free (Thank you, Uncle’s boss!).  It had some sort of solvent/denatured alcohol stuff in it, so we let it air for a long, long time.  Months.  I know these barrels aren’t normally favored for this, but by the time Shay started working on it, the residue was gone.  It just smelled of rusty drum.  Some cement, some wood, some wheels, and some hardware, and Shay has turned it into a compost tumbler for me.

My new compost tumbler!

It rides on wheels, and is turned by a handle on the side. I do have to be careful as I am bringing the handle back up and around, that I don't lift it off of the wheels. Occasionally, it does start to roll off track, but, as long as I keep an eye on one of the wheels, I catch it quickly and just reverse the direction until it pops back into place.

Holes drilled in the ends, and in a row along the bottom, ensure good air flow through the contents and also help release excess water.

A file made these edges safe. I don't run my fingers along them on purpose, but I shouldn't get cut on them by accident.

I’ve already filled it up with dropped hay, bunny berries, garden trimmings, and such.  Now I just need to paint it black!

I rotate it every day or two, spraying the contents with water when needed.  We don’t have a lawn mower (my grandmother made my uncle get rid of it so he wouldn’t mow the yard anymore because of his age — so someone else cuts the yard), so I can’t grind the stuff up before I put it in there.  This will make it take longer to turn to compost than if I was able to shred everything up really fine.  Oh, well.

Shay admits that it cost more in the end than he expected because of the hardware (had to be suitable for outdoors), but I have a compost tumbler, and I’m happy! :)

To say that I haven’t posted much lately would be a bit of an understatement.  Yes, I could have, but once you get behind, it’s hard to play catch-up.  Do you really get behind on a blog, or can you just jump back in?

Anyway, much of my time lately has been taken up by bunnies and gardening.

Squeak’s most recent litter, now 4 weeks old, was not getting enough milk — Squeak was not producing enough.  So we took up baby bunny feeding.

Fluffy’s most recent litter, now 10 days old, doesn’t like staying in the nest box.  Therefore, they keep going missing, and we keep finding them huddled on the walkway, waiting to be either stepped on (we haven’t done that yet, thank goodness) or picked up, or worse.  So we’ve been spending some time looking for baby bunnies.  Bunny-Wan Kenobi found one of the poor things outside the rabbitry.  It was less than a week old, and died of exposure.  One has never been found, and is probably under the rabbitry frame.  They’re not big enough yet to be too big to fit through the cage wire.  I’ll be installing babysaver wire soon.  I hadn’t needed it before!

The garden has been putting out cucumbers and tomatoes like nobody’s business (thank goodness I planted only one cucumber plant!).  This has caused me to venture into canning, something I was planning to do.  Yesterday and today, I finally canned my first vegetable victims ever!

So far:

8 pints of bread & butter pickles

10 pints of dill spears

A bunch of tomato sauce that I’ve been using so fast, I haven’t had a chance to can it.  But, not to worry — there are probably two more buckets’ worth of tomatoes out there ready to pick now!

I have also been waging war against bugs trying to demolish my garden.  First cutworms, then squash vine borers, then armyworms, and, finally, flea beetles.  It’s difficult to find something that will kill flea beetles without killing bees.  I like bees.  I NEED bees.  And I haven’t seen a lot of bees, so I certainly don’t want to kill the ones that do make it around here!

We also planted a bunch of dwarf fruit trees in containers.  My beloved Shay built a composter that I have already filled up.  My uncle and I went to war against a bunch of invasive vines that he has been battling for decades (maybe we can finally, FINALLY kill them!).  They’ve been growing all over the ligustrum hedge along the back fence for all this time, and sometimes putting runners out into the yard.  With my grandmother’s stroke and illness over the last couple of years of her life, and then with our moving in, the vines have put out many, many runners.  So we’re spraying them with some Roundup product (poison ivy plus tough brush, or something like that) in order to get control.  It seems to be working on the vines on the ligustrums.  Let’s hope it works on the poison ivy, too.

I have so much more to do!

A trip to the feed store, canning tomatoes,  filing an amended return for my mom, spraying more vines, planting new squash plants, finding a dehydrator, treating fur mites on Fluffy’s babies (all those trips outside they’ve been taking), a lot of kitchen cleanup…

I miss Mammaw.  She was my great-grandmother.  She could cook, sew (an amazing seamstress, she was!), crochet, knit, embroider, and can.  I can cook.  I need to learn how to sew and can.  I’m sure I would learn faster (and do it faster!) if someone who knew how to do it was with me.  This is my mom’s first time canning, too.  No, I don’t miss Mammaw just for all the useful info she could give me, I miss her for herself, too.  :)