Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Old, Abandoned, and Creepy Places!

I have always had a fascination with abandoned, seldom used or old places. I loved walking around old abandoned buildings or houses. It always gave me a weird feeling inside. Not because I thought they were haunted or anything like that, but because I could imagine what the place must have once been like and the history that the walls could tell you if they could talk.

I remember, once, going to a conference with my parents. We took our camper and, somehow, the conference folks arranged for us to park it at an old fairground. We parked close to the old grandstand area and track where they must have had harness racing or something like that. The fairground and grandstand may have still been used every year, but for me, at that young age, it was old, abandoned and creepy. The rails were rusted. The seats of the grandstand creaked. It was just plain adventurous for a young boy. I had a blast.

Even as I got older I was fascinated with strange things. In Florida, where we used to vacation and then lived, there were large housing developments that cropped up all of the time. The developers would plot out the land, lay the streets and even put street signs up. Sometimes there would be miles and miles of roadway with stop signs and everything, but with nothing there. I remember driving through a huge housing development where I used to do a Bible club. You would drive down a street, and suddenly the houses would end but the road just kept on going for miles and miles. There would be cross streets as well that you could turn on to. There were street signs, but no houses...just nothing. It was just weird and surreal.

Although I haven't explored old abandoned properties for a long time, my interest was recently piqued when I saw an article on weather.com about old abandoned theme parks - http://www.weather.com/travel/creepy-abandoned-theme-parks-20130320 and then later one about eerie abandoned islands - http://www.weather.com/travel/eerie-abandoned-islands-20130404. I remember looking through the theme park pictures. Most were of theme parks that I had never been too but were still fascinating...until...wait! Something looked familiar. I looked at the description and was instantly overwhelmed with memories and curiosity. The pictures were of River Country, an old Disney water park. I remember going there many times. In fact, I used to work in Fort Wilderness at the Trading Post that was not far from the entrance to River Country! Looking at the pictures gave me that old feeling in the pit of my stomach but this time it wasn't just because of the imagined history of the place. This time it was because I was part of the history of the place!

Now I was really intrigued so I started doing some research on the computer and came across a video of River Country done by someone who is an "Urban Adventurer". An urban adventurer is a person who likes to explore old abandoned areas. They could be old, closed down hotels or houses, or they could be abandoned mines or something of that sort. Often it can be quite dangerous and often it can be illegal. This particular Urban Adventurer goes by the YouTube name of "Adamthewoo" and he happens to live and explore a lot of places around...yep, you guessed it...central Florida where I used to live. In fact, he explores places around my old home town of nineteen years, Kissimmee.

When we moved to Florida in 1979, Disney World was still young. It was only six or seven years old. We also vacationed two or three times before we moved there, so Kissimmee and Walt Disney World were very familiar to us. I remember when route 192, the highway that joins Kissimmee to Walt Disney World, was desolate. There was hardly anything there. I recall a little family owned horse riding stable on 192 and fields of nothing along the route. Slowly but surely, hotels and tourist amusements began to sprout up until, now, 192 is packed. In fact, now instead of 192 being desolate because there is nothing there, it is desolate because there are many closed down hotels and amusements that have been abandoned to waste away. Many of them I can remember visiting and exploring they opened up. Now several of my favorite spots are overgrown and are decaying. "Adamthewoo" has "visited" many of those places. It is eerie to see the places that I used to love to visit all broken down. Again, it gives me that odd feeling inside. Almost a sad feeling as I think of what once was.

I've included below a few of Adamthewoo's YouTube videos of those old familiar places for you to enjoy. I must warn you though. Although compared to many things on TV and even on YouTube Adamthewoo is fairly clean, I would suggest you parents watch them before you allow your children to view them. I felt that some of the jokes and language can be a bit crude and over the top and could have been avoided, but that could be just me. Nevertheless, I enjoyed them just because of the content. If you ever want to see what central Florida used to be like before it became a very touristy destination, search on YouTube for some of Adamthewoo's abandoned tourist attraction videos. Perhaps you'll get that old melancholy feeling that I get when I watch them. Enjoy the videos.

Abandoned River Country Video:

Abandoned Holiday Inn Hotel that I used to stay at on vacation:
River Adventure Mini-Golf where I used to go with friends and family:
Abandoned Splendid China - a small amusement park that I went to several times. Warning - many of the old buildings have been vandalized and spray painted with foul language that is shown on this video.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Progeny Press Study Guides - A Review of Great Study Guides for Your Progeny!

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By now it should be no secret to you all that our family loves to read. All of us love to read from Sarah and I down to Jacob. Of course, Jacob isn't quite reading a lot, but he loves to look at books and be read to. We are also a very unusual family as to what we read. We read classics! Not exclusively, mind you, but we don't shy away from good literature. When John Allen was very young, I was reading C. S. Lewis and Esther Forbes to him. In the past year or so I have read works by Rudyard Kipling and Kenneth Grahame to all of the children, including Jacob. Our most recent adventures have been The Hobbit for John Allen, which, believe it or not, he had never read and Treasure Island for all of the boys - yes, even Jacob. We happily began both of them because we were chosen to review the two unit studies for them produced by Progeny Press.

I have reviewed study guides before, but never quite like these. I was really impressed and the kids like them as well. Let me describe why I liked them and then, I think, you will understand why the boys appreciated them.

  • They are interactive. - For my boys, that was a real plus. None of them like to write. These study guides, if you buy the CD or the download version, are pdf and can either be printed out or filled in right on the computer. Progeny Press included a whole 15 page "read me" file with both of the downloads that explained how to fill everything out via computer. Really they didn't need the file, we found it easy to figure out, but since Progeny Press is very thorough, they explained how to do it in detail for those who may not be a computer literate. I also liked the fact that after they are filled out, they can be printed for your files or for easier grading. It is my understanding that some interactive files include a self-check feature where the computer will check your answers. That would work with the multiple choice, matching, or fill in the blank questions, but since many of the questions are essay questions that feature is not included and the parents must check the answers. There is a complete answer key included as well, though. (See, I told you they were thorough!)
  • They are thorough. (Have I mentioned that before?) - They include everything that you could think of. Of course there is the suggested study plan which I'll talk about in a minute, but there are also many other features. I really liked the "Synopsis" of the story section and the "About the Author" section. They really draw you in to the study and make you want to read the novel. I've always thought that learning about the author of a book gave you a better understanding of the novel written.  The Progeny Press "About the Author" section does just that. You learn about the author and it helps when you read the book.

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  • They are easy to use. - This time I mean that they are easy to use as far as pacing, lesson plans and flexibility. These studies are meant to be used over about an eight week period but, as I said, they are very flexible. The first week it is suggested that the student read the novel and do some of the pre-reading activities. Although it says "pre-reading" they can do them while actually reading the novel. For The Hobbit some of the pre-reading skills included studying about the author J.R.R. Tolkien, studying about the plant life and other features that "middle earth" had that are based after real life plants, or studying about some of the musical instruments that were mentioned in the novel. Treasure Island has similar activities that help you understand and appreciate the book more as you are reading it. After the week long reading and completion of the pre-reading activities, then it is suggested that you do one section a week. Each section includes several chapters of the book. Since Treasure Island has many chapters in it, there are more chapters included in each section for it's study guide than The Hobbit's guide. It is suggested that each section be completed in a week doing, since there are about five interactive study guide pages in each section, one page a day. We had to change that up a bit. For John Allen working with the highschool level The Hobbit study, it was easy for him to work on a section a week. However, since I am reading the middle school level Treasure Island to Joshua and Jacob (forth and first graders), keeping up that pace with them would be difficult. I have cut the pace down for them and actually just ask them the questions. It is also better for them that I pick and choose the questions that I ask as well because a few things would be very difficult to fully explain to a younger child.
  • They are complete. - What I mean by that is that they include everything in their study guides. With John Allen and The Hobbit, there is vocabulary, character studies, essay questions and "Digging Deeper" questions all in just the first section. I really like the "Digging Deeper" questions as they bring in Biblical parallels to The Hobbit. Make no mistake, Progeny Press is a Christian company and Biblical things will be included. I like that, but I include that information for some of you who may want more of a secular approach. Treasure Island is much the same, but on a bit easier level. They also include vocabulary, fill in the blank questions and Biblical "Digging Deeper" questions. In section two, I really liked the idioms questions since Joshua is on the autism spectrum and has difficulties in that area. I also like the fact that Progeny Press includes links to other helpful websites that may help in the study. However, although Progeny Press is, I'm sure, diligent in constantly checking the links, things on the World Wide Web change often so it might be a good thing for the parent to go through and check them as well before the student does.

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We have really enjoyed (and still are enjoying) using these study guides. Having a good and thorough study guide helps a student (and their teacher) appreciate a novel. Good literature, of course, can stand on it's own, but a well written study guide can be wonderful complement and the interactive study guides from Progeny Press are just that!
So, how much do these really neat unit studies from Progeny Press cost? Not as much as you think at all! The Treasure Island Unit Study is only $16.99 for the CD or Instant Download version or $18.99 for the Printed version. The Hobbit Unit Study prices are $18.99 for the CD or Instant Download and $21.99 for the Printed copy. Other unit studies are priced differently. Just click here or on any one of the hi-lighted links above to view all that they have to offer.

As usual many other members of the TOS Review Crew reviewed other unit studies from Progeny Press and you can find what they had to say by clicking on the banner below. Happy Homeschooling!

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bend of the River Places First...Twice!

I've posted about my children being competitive shooters before. I even wrote a mini-series for my blog last summer about how they got started that you can find by clicking here. Just as a refresher, though, most of you know that John Allen has an artificial left eye due to a rare form of childhood eye cancer that he was diagnosed with when he was 18 months old. Because of that, he has no depth perception. That makes it extremely difficult for him to play any sports. When he was in second grade, we discovered an excellent competitive BB gun program that was very close to our home and decided to sign him up. He immediately took to shooting, became one of the top shooters in the state, and has since moved on to shooting competitive air rifle.
This is his second year shooting in air rifle competitions and he is doing well. Last weekend was the Tennessee State 4H Air Rifle Championships and he shot the best score he has ever shot and placed 6th overall. His team, the Bend of the River Possums, placed first! They now have to make the decision of whether they are going to accept the invitation to go to the 4H National Shooting Championships in Grand Island, NE this summer. They may also shoot at the Daisy National Championships as well.
Joshua shot in the BB Gun competition and also did well by placing right in the middle of the pack with over 130 shooters competing. Bend of the River placed first in the BB match as well!
Below is a brief video put together by Charlie Pardue, the head coach and owner of Bend of the River. Congratulations to all of the Bend of the River shooters!

2013 tn 4H bb & Air Rifle Champions Slideshow: Charlie’s trip to Dickson was created with TripAdvisor TripWow!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Computer Science For Kids - John Allen's Review (Well...Kind of...).

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As a parent, we are always trying to provide ways for our children to discover their natural talents and likes. Because of our oldest son, John Allen's, childhood cancer and the subsequent loss of his left eye, it  has sometimes been a challenge to find things that he can excel at. One thing that we found that he loves doing is creating computer games and learning how he can program things on the computer. So, when the opportunity came to give an honest review of Computer Bible Games for Microsoft Small Basic by Computer Science for Kids, we were excited and hoped we would be picked for the review. When John Allen received the news that we were actually going to review this item, geared for children ages 10 and up, he was eager to get started and is really enjoying using it.

We received the ebook version and it was very simple to download. I like the fact that, instead of the whole book being downloaded as one piece, each chapter is a separate file that you simply open when you need it. You don't have to open a big file and then scroll down to find what you want, you just open the chapter that you need.

John Allen has enjoyed using it so much that I decided to let him write this review. Well, not exactly I guess. What I did decide to do is to "interview" him for this review and allow him to explain what Computer Bible Games for Microsoft Small Basic is like and what he thought about it. I've made myself fairly familiar with the material as well and will add my two cents in at the end of the "interview". So, without further ado, here is my interview with John Allen about Computer Bible Games for Microsoft Small Basic.

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John Allen, tell me why you wanted to review this curriculum.

I would like to be a video game designer someday. I have gone through other programming courses before but this one is the first one that I've used that uses this programming language.

I also liked the fact that this curriculum is a Christian curriculum and teaches you how to program Biblical and Christian games.

What programming language did you use?

This course uses Microsoft Small Basic.

Did it come with the curriculum and, if not, did it cost any money?

It didn't come with the curriculum but all of the information on how to download it was included and we were able to download it for free.

Is Microsoft Small Basic easy to download and to use?

It was easy to download and very easy to use. It is easier than some of the other programming languages and can do some pretty advanced things.

Tell me about the curriculum itself.

The curriculum itself has 13 Chapters that cover everything from small messages and mathematical concepts at the beginning to more advanced such as debugging, looping, and using graphics.

It starts by explaining the history of Microsoft Small Basic. It begins by teaching you small programming techniques but each chapter builds on the previous chapter and teaches something new and more advanced. In each chapter, after you learn a new skill, you use it to build a basic program that demonstrates that new skill.

Some of the beginning programs that I've built so far are a "Welcome" program that gives you a welcome message and a "Sandwich Program" that uses mathematical concepts to help you figure out how much of a sandwich each person will eat at a party and how much will be left over.

What are you looking forward to doing in the chapters to come?

I am looking forward to the later chapters where I use more advanced techniques such as looping and how to use graphics, timing and animation to create more advanced games like the card game "war" and the Bible games "Noah's Ark", "Daniel and the Lions" and "Elijah and the Ravens".

Have you enjoyed working through the program so far?

YES! It is easy to use and gets more to the point than other programs I've worked with. There isn't a lot of boring reading but each chapter goes by very quickly. I've been able to use this on my own without any help. It's taken me less than an hour to work through each chapter. Younger students might need some help and supervision from their parents or other adult but should be able to work through it without too much difficulty. 

Have you found anything negative about this curriculum?

So far, I haven't found anything negative at all.

Would you recommend it to others?

Yes! As I said before, it is easy to use; it's fun; and I am learning a lot. I would recommend this program to any person that is a beginning programmer and is just starting to learn how to create a program.

End of Interview.


I equally appreciate that this curriculum is a Christian curriculum and teaches you how to create Christian games. So many computer games are anything but Christian and contain many unwholesome things. We also received the secular version of this curriculum that we weren't required to review but I have looked over. The beginning chapters are the same, but, in the later chapters, the Christian games are replaced with classic secular games that look to have nothing objectionable in them.

I also appreciate how easy this program was to incorporate into our homeschool. John Allen just took my laptop to his room and within the hour came out with a new concept learned and a newly programmed computer game to demonstrate his newly learned skill. He never asked me for help at all. In fact, instead of giving HIM help, HE was teaching me new things. As mentioned above, a younger child may need some parental help and supervision to use this program.

As you can see, John Allen has really enjoyed Computer Bible Games for Microsoft Small Basic by Computer Science for Kids and has learned a lot! He is looking forward to the later chapters of the book and we are looking forward to using some of the other material that they offer for computer programming.

Their prices also make it easy to decide to use more of their products! The Paperback Textbook Plus and E-Tutorial Digital Download is just $59.95 with free shipping for orders within the USA (add $19.95 for international orders) or you can purchase the Single User License Digital Ebook version for just $34.95. You can find out more about this product or any other product from Computer Science for Kids by clicking here or on any one of the hi-lighted links above. Happy Computing!

Many other members of the TOS Review Crew reviewed this and other items from Computer Science for Kids and you can find what they had to say by clicking on the banner below.

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