Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review of A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline


https://lighthouse-photos-mbg.blogspot.com/2017/08/mid-coast-maine-ligthouses.html
Scene from Port Clyde Area


For my book  club, we just read A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline.  I knew it was historical fiction and that it took place in Maine, but it wasn't until I started reading that I realized I had been to all of the small towns that were mentioned in the book.  I find it delightful to be able to picture the area that the story take place.  The photo above is one that I took on my visit.


The Book

I had read books by Christina Baker Kline before and really enjoy her writing style.  She wrote The Orphan Train and Sweetwater both books I would highly recommend.  So, I started A Piece of the World with high expectations and I was not disappointed.  Christina Baker Kline has a way of bringing you into her book and making you feel empathy with her characters.

Although this book is a work of fiction, the major characters are all real people and the author did a lot of  research into the characters and the area to give a realistic view.  The book is based on a painting by artist Andrew Wyeth  Christina's World , and in particular about the life of Christina.
The author alternates between describing Christina's early life in the early 1900's to describing her life when Andrew Wyeth is painting her in the mid 1900's.  Christina leads a simple and hard life on a farm in a remote area of Maine.  She grows up with her parents and three brothers on the family farm overlooking the bay.  Although it sounds like a beautiful setting the work is hard without any of the conveniences of modern day.  They have no electricity or indoor plumbing and Christina has a debilitating disease that makes it hard for her to move around.  Despite this she manages to do her chores and eventually take care of the household.

In her late teens and early twenties Christina meets some summer people who visit the coast each summer and we hear of her friends and love interest from Boston.

Later in life the painter Andrew Wyeth summers in the area and uses the upstairs rooms in Christina's home to paint.  Christina becomes friends with Andrew and his wife Becky and he is the one person that seems to understand things from Christina's point of view.

I found this to be a very intriguing book that really makes you consider life's choices.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. 



Amazon Links to the Book and the Painting


                                          

Rockland and Port Clyde Area Today

I have written about the Rockland and Port Clyde area in two different posts.  This post is primarily about lighthouses in the area and was written on my lighthouse blog.
Mid-Coast Maine Lighthouses

I've also written a post on Review This about the area Review of Port Clyde Maine

Today Andrew Wyeth's son is a prominent local artist.  There is a gallery just above the General Store that displays his works along with some of his fathers.
Photos of the Area
Here are some photos I took of the area around Port Clyde.  I found it to be very picturesque.







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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What's Bugging Your Plants And How To Solve The Problem

Winter has set in for the long haul and if you live in Canada or the Northern United States, the plants you brought indoors for the winter months are probably showing some signs of distress.

Why does that happen and what can you do about it? 

Simply put, your indoor space as nice as it may be, is not the "great outdoors".  All gardeners wish they could just bring the summer inside so that they can survive those crazy cold winter months.  Alas, that is not possible.  We all have some plants that we love and want to "overwinter" in our homes.  I know I have a few that I just love and I always start early in the fall to get these favorites ready for their move indoors.


Olivia's Brugmansia

This is my all time favorite flower.  It is really more like a tree and in the southern states it grows to be as big as a tree.  Here in the north, with proper care it can also become quite large, but keeping a plant this big indoors over the winter months is not an easy task.  So I prepare early to bring in cuttings from this amazing plant.  It roots easily in water and once the cuttings have a good root system I plant the cutting in soil and bring that indoors.  You can also go through the process of keeping these in a cool cellar over the winter months, but that is another whole process.  I find it easier to keep just a few cuttings and watching them grow ever so slowly in the winter.  

What's the biggest problems with keeping plants indoors over the winter?

There are really three problems that will cause plants to decline over the winter months.
  1. Light, not enough of it.
  2. Water, too much of it.
  3. Pests, hitchhikers that you didn't expect to give a home to.
Today we are going to discuss the "Hitchhikers"!

There are six common pests that can attack indoor plants and most often they hitchhike in the soil.  They may be dormant for a little while, but once January comes around they seem to explode on the scene.  Let's find out more!

The six pests are:
  1. aphids
  2. soil gnats
  3. scale insects
  4. white flies
  5. spider mites
  6. mealy bugs

There are a few pests that can literally take over in a matter of a few days.  In the summer months when the plant is outdoors, it has the advantage of natural pest controls.  Ladybugs, praying mantis and just better growing conditions can make these pests less of a problem.  Once indoors the natural controls are no longer there.  Additionally, if you bring in the plant with it's soil from outdoors, you are probably giving the hitchhikers a first class ride into their winter residence as well.

Whenever you bring a plant from the outdoors in, you should take steps to make sure the pests are not coming in with them.  There are several ways to do this.  One is to drench the soil with neem oil products (natural and organic controls).  Spray the leaves and undersides especially to knock off the aphids and wipe out any eggs.  Or you can take cuttings that will be rooted and planted in fresh soil.  

If you notice a plant not doing well, leaves that are falling off, discolored leaves, tips that are browning and not growing, you know you have a problem.
The next step is to isolate the plant (most pests will gladly jump from one plant to another if they are in close proximity), and seek out information on what kind of problem you have.  Some of these pests are easy to find if you know what to look for.  Others might be a little harder, but you can get help if you need it from a reliable nursery.  Bring in the plant, or a leaf and see if they can help you identify the pest, then you can also purchase what you need to help control or get rid of your "problem" before it becomes an all out infestation.

Most people know about aphids, controlling them is rather easy.  You must be consistent but a good blast of water will dislodge aphids and within a few weeks your problem should be over.  Every three days check your plant, if you see aphids, get them into the shower and give them a good hard spray with lukewarm water.  Wash them all down the drain.  Keep your plant segregated until you see no more signs of aphids.  

Soil gnats are not really a "problem pest" in that they won't kill your plant.  They are rather annoying though.  When you disturb the plant, you will see little black flies come out of the ground and fly around and then go back into the ground.  Water your plants with neem oil added to their water and keep the soil on the dry side until you no longer see these little flies.  Over watering is one of the biggest mistakes made when bringing plants indoors.

Scale insects are much more difficult.  They are sneaky and if you don't know what to look for, you will miss them completely.  Scale insects like to hid under leaves and in the meeting of stem and leaf.  They can also attach to flowering stems.  One of my orchids has a scale problem and what set me to find this was a stickiness on the leaves.  This stickiness is from the scale excreting honeydew after sucking the plant juices.  Scale look like little bumps on a stem or leaf and can look like part of the plant.  If you scratch the edges of the scale, you will find it will lift off of the plant.  The easiest way to get control of scale insects is with rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip or cotton ball.  The rubbing alcohol will damage the scales outer shell and expose the bug for removal.  It is important to watch a plant with scale as they will suck the life right out of the plant in short order.  Check the plant weekly and remove any scale using this method.  
Scale insects on leaf and stem. (Picture from WikiCommons)

White flies are also a nuisance.  They attack the undersides of the leaves of many plants.  They also multiply readily, so an infestation is quite possible in a few days time.  Like aphids the best way to keep these under control is to knock them off with a good spray of water.  Do this every 2 to 3 days and then treat the soil with neem oil so that any eggs that may have fallen into the soil will die.  You can also purchase Yellow Sticky traps for these pesky white flies.  They seem to be attracted to the yellow color.

Spider mites as their name implies are very much like spiders, but they are tiny(almost microscopic) and you could need a magnifying glass in order to see them.  What you might see before you actually see the bugs, is a webbing all over the ends of the plant stems.  Imagine tent caterpillars in miniature.  The effect is similar.  When you see those webs all over the plant you will have to get that plant into the shower and wash them off.  Again the undersides of the leaves and the ends of the plant are favorite spots for this pest.  

Mealy Bugs like scale are harder to control and require that you actively search your plants for their presence.  They like the scale have a hard outer shell that will keep them firmly attached to the plant.  Using rubbing alcohol will dislodge them and kill them as well.  

If you want to know more about houseplant pests a great website is from Colorado State and you can find it right here!  They also have some great pictures of these pests if you want to know what they look like or you are not sure if what you are seeing is a pest or not.

I personally have a great collection of Rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs and cotton balls for my houseplants.  Once a month I water all of my plants with Neem Oil added to the water as a preventative measure to keep my plants happy.  Spring and Summer are on their way, but until then, keep a close eye on your favorite plants.  Make sure that no pests will spoil your indoor gardening period.

For your convenience I have included my must haves for over-wintering my favorite plants and keeping them healthy until they can go back outside again in Late Spring and Summer.  Hope this helps you keep your favorite plants happy too!










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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Homemade Tomato Soup Recipe Reviewed

Much Better Than Canned Soup

tomato soup
Make your own tomato soup
After trying your own homemade tomato soup, you will never open a can of soup again. At least, I am not sure I could stomach it after having made my own from this recipe. 

One of my most favorite lunches is tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. For me, it is comfort food at its very best. I love tomatoes so when Mom would fix tomato soup and grilled cheese when I was a kid, I was in heaven. Now, Mom never made it from scratch and to be honest, as a child, I never realized that my most favorite of all soups came from anywhere other than that famous red and white can. 

A few weeks back, I expressed that I hoped that I would get an Immersion Hand Blender for one of my Christmas gifts. Santa did not bring me one but I did use a gift card that I received to purchase one for myself. Want to guess what the first thing I made with it was? I'll give you a hint; it starts with tomato and ends with soup. Oh my goodness! It was so very good and really very easy!

Tomato Soup Recipe

1 15 oz can tomato sauce
2 garlic gloves minced
1 28 oz can peeled plum tomatoes 
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 shallot diced
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon fresh basil
3 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Place the olive oil in a large pot with the shallot and garlic. On medium heat cook the onion and garlic for about 4 to 6 minutes or until the shallot is translucent. Add the remaining ingredients including the juices from the canned tomatoes and stir. Bring the soup to a boil and then turn the heat down to a low simmer. Allow the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes with the pot partially covered. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup to your desired consistency. 

Serve in a bowl with a grilled cheese sandwich and you are in for a real taste treat!

I will offer a tip on the tomatoes. You can use either whole peeled tomatoes or you can use the ones that are already crushed. The only difference is that the crushed ones take less time with the immersion blender. Both work well. Personally, I love the taste of the plum tomatoes but you can also choose regular tomatoes for the recipe. It just boils down to your taste buds. 

As I said earlier, once I made my own tomato soup with this recipe I won't be able to open a can of soup again. This is so delicious and easy to make that I can't believe it took me this long to try making it from scratch. By the way, it passed the husband test, too. He absolutely loved it! 

How about it? Do you think that you might try making your own sometime soon? I can promise you that you will not be disappointed! 




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Monday, January 7, 2019

Chicago Metallic Commercial II Non-Stick Perforated French Bread Pan Review

Baguette loaf bread pan.
Years ago I purchased a bread pan that I really liked. Currently, with the cold and gloomy weather, I've been in the mood to bake some bread. I have a couple of bread recipes that I can rely on producing successful loaves of bread. The Chicago Metallic Commercial II Non-stick Perforated French Bread Pan is the pan I depend on when I want baguette-style loaves of bread. 

The Chicago Metallic Commercial II Non-stick Perforated French Bread Pan has nearly a 5 star rating on Amazon which supports my belief that the pan is a main reason I'm successfully able to bake these small bread loaves.

The first time I used the pan, I made a small Wheat Irish Soda Bread loaf. I was afraid the dough would stick badly in the perforations and I was afraid the loaf would break. I sprayed the pan very lightly with cooking spray. After the loaf was baked, I ran a spatula along the sides of the bread to make sure it wasn't stuck before I tipped the loaf out of the pan. I was concerned for nothing. The bread was not stuck to the pan at all.  Also, because of the holes and the shape of the pan, the loaves come out evenly baked, nicely shaped, and delicious. 

The Chicago Metallic Commercial pan is non-stick and clean-up is super easy. When I am finished baking and after the pan has cooled a bit, I soak the pan for a couple of minutes in hot soapy water, to get any bits of bread out of the air holes. I follow the soak with a rinse in hot water.

I'm not much of a baker and my skills at baking bread are fairly new. I started with Irish Soda Bread. It was my first success at baking bread because it did not require yeast. It was also a very dense, heavy bread. Later, I became really good at baking two different breads that require yeast: Peasant Bread and Patara's Bread Recipe

I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this pan. I think that everyone who enjoys baking bread should have one of these highly recommended bread pans. I purchased the two-loaf pan but for those of you who bake more than I do there is also a four-loaf pan available.




The next bread I want to learn to bake is a Subway Sunflower Crunch bread. Their bread is delicious. I feel more confident experimenting while using the Chicago Metallic Commercial pan. I hope I am able to find a sufficient copy cat recipe. Wish me luck.

Related Link: 

Sam on Ahead of Thyme blog shares a sunflower seed bread recipe. I have chosen this sunflower seed bread recipe to try first because the ingredients list seems to be the closest to what the Subway restaurant version tastes like to me.





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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Maximizing Space in a Small Living Room

The New Year normally brings about the urge to tidy up and get organized.

3 Ways to Maximize Space in a Small Living Room
If you're working with a small space or have recently downsized, utilizing every nook and cranny is the secret to effective space management.

Going vertical is a smart and common way to use every bit of space in a tiny room. However, choosing furniture with a dual purpose is often the forgotten alternative.

With small space living becoming more popular, you may be surprised that just about every piece of furniture in a home can double as something else.

Below are three examples where you can choose pieces for your room that aren't just pretty, but are also storage and sleeping solutions.

Furniture Pieces that Maximize Space in a Living Room

1. Chairs that Convert to a Bed

You've heard of the pull-out-couch, but have you heard of the pull-out-chair? They come in multiple styles and colors. A chair that converts to a bed is exactly that, it unfolds and becomes an extra place to sleep. If a sofa bed isn't something you want to include in your small living room, but still require an extra place for guests to sleep, then consider including one or more sleeper chairs. You won't be disappointed when you look at the variety of designs available. The styles range from funky and modern to traditional. Be sure to check them out.

2. End Tables that Double as Storage or Filing Cabinets

Trunk end tables are very attractive. Perhaps you've seen some or have one in your home. They come in multiple designs, sizes and color choices.  The boxy industrial appeal to this look make it ideal in a room where substance in accessories is needed. These pieces tend to be solid and heavier in appearance. Place them on the ends of a sofa, or in a corner as a stand alone piece.

You can also get end tables that double as a filing cabinet. If you're furnishing a small apartment, these end tables are perfect as a place to store your most important and used files. Since they don't take up a lot of space, you can put them anywhere in the home or apartment. Like storage trunk end tables, they can be used in pairs or as stand alone furniture pieces.

3. Coffee Tables that Double as a Desk and Storage

Did you know that a coffee table doesn't just have to be a coffee table? Coffee tables that double as a work surface are called lift tables. The tops lift up and you're able to bring them closer to you and use the surface as a work area for your laptop or papers. Best of all, these tables offer storage as well. Each lift table is unique in design and color and the amount of storage available. Choose the one that best fits your space.

In summary, picture a living room featuring all of the above items. You've accounted for extra sleeping space, extra storage space, a place for files, a desk with storage, and all of it discretely blends into one room.


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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Yummy, Gooey, Chocolate, Vanilla, Delicious Dessert - Recipe Review

Reviewing a Delicious Dessert 

I imagine that this dessert has an official name in a cookbook or an online cooking or recipe website somewhere.  But when I first acquired the recipe from a co-worker who had brought the dessert to work to share, she called it 'yummy, gooey, chocolate, vanilla delicious dessert'.  And that's how it has been known in our household ever since! We have made it many times and always enjoy it immensely.  

If you are looking for a non-fattening dessert, you won't find it here among the cream cheese, powdered sugar, Cool Whip, butter, puddings and milk. Not to mention the walnuts and Hershey Bar. But for a delicious dessert, it is unparalleled in taste!


Recipe for Delicious Dessert 



CRUST:


  • 1-1/2 stick of margarine or butter – melt
  • 1-1/2 c. chopped walnuts (or pecans)
  • 1-1/2 c. flour



Mix & press into bottom of oblong pan.  Bake at 350◦ for 20 minutes or until lightly brown.

LET COOL COMPLETELY

FILLING #1


  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese
  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 c. Cool Whip (buy 9 oz carton – more goes on top)



Spread on cooled crust.

FILLING #2







TOPPING:


  • Spread remaining Cool Whip.

  • Shave Hershey bar over the top.


CHILL

SERVE


SUMMARY NOTES



The most interesting part of this dessert (which makes a WHOLE lot, filling the 12 x 10 x 2 inch pan I use as seen in these photos) is that it KEEPS really well and tastes even better the longer it is kept chilled in the refrigerator. Of course you could make a smaller batch, but we most often make it for a larger gathering or a party occasion. And this yummy dessert seldom lasts long enough to store more than one or two days around us! 








(c) Wednesday Elf 1/5/2019

#All images are personal photos by (c) Wednesday Elf


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Friday, January 4, 2019

Handmade Crocheted Slippers by DawnRaeCrochet Reviewed

Handmade Crocheted Slippers by DawnRaeCrochet Reviewed
One of my favorite gifts that I received this year for Christmas was a pair of handmade crocheted slippers from DawnRaeCrochet on Etsy. 

It is true that Dawn Rae is a fellow contributor here on Review This and she is a gifted writer.  I have always thought we were very blessed to have her on our team.  However, she is equally gifted as a crocheter.  I can now personally attest to her exceptional crochet work.

I did not purchase the slippers for myself.  They were a surprise gift that I will cherish for the rest of my life.  After working with Dawn for more than 5 years, I consider her a dear friend.   Our friendship makes the slippers even more meaningful to me.  I know her hands lovingly touched and crocheted every stitch that makes up the slippers.  That is much like the bounds of friendship that are strengthened by each thread of conversation, experiences, hardships, laughter and fun.


Handmade Slippers by DawnRaeCrochet

Handmade Crocheted Slippers by DawnRaeCrochet Reviewed
My slippers are shades of blue, which is perfect for me since blue is my favorite color.  The color is beautiful and the rolls of stitches are even and tight, the thread ends are well hidden.  All of these qualities, starting with the color combination choices, are proof they were made by an experienced crocheter that also happens to be a perfectionist. 

In the world of sales and marketing, presentation is critical.  I was very impressed by the way DawnRaeCrochet packaged and shipped the slippers.  They even had a "thank you" business card tied to them with a ribbon that won't damage the stitches.  The card doesn't look like a traditional business card either since "thank you" is the prominent text.  Just another personal touch that stands out in this world of mass production!


The Gift of Handmade Crocheted Slippers


You could also give the gift of handmade crocheted slippers, even if you don't crochet.  Or treat yourself to the gift of beauty and warmth.  

DawnRaeCrochet currently has slippers available in her Etsy shoppe.  She also offers crocheted hats and blankets.  All are beautiful ways to stay warm this winter!
 






Read More Product Reviews On
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House of Sylvestermouse



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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Swagman XC2 Hitch Mount Bike Rack Review


Bike riding has always been one of my greatest outdoor pleasures.  Cycling provides me with an exhilaration that I don't find with other forms of exercise.  It's like it gives me wings.  As I was thinking about my new year's resolutions, I realized that I want to ride more in 2019.  The only thing keeping me from doing so was the need to transport my bikes.  This is where the Swagman XC2 hitch mounted two-bike rack entered the picture.


I had already done all of my homework.  I knew the features I wanted and I'd read all the reviews.  A few years back, when I purchased a recumbent bicycle with a long wheel base, there were few bike carriers that could accommodate my Easy Racer.  That is when I was introduced to the Swagman line of racks.  They are popular for several good reasons: quality, features, affordability, and ease of use.

Most households have bicycles of different sizes and styles.  You need the type of bike rack that can adjust to fit that wide range.  My new Swagman XC2 is the rack that best fits not only my bikes, but also my lifestyle and budget.


Assembling my new bike rack took just a few minutes.


Here I have attached the Swagman rack to my hitch receiver.  


The tire trays keep wheels from spinning and help stabilize the bike during transport.


A well-cushioned ratchet arm tightly secures the bike frame to the rack.


It is very easy to load and unload bicycles from the rack.  Though I opted for the two-bike carrier, you can also purchase a Swagman rack that will carry more bicycles.  As you can see, there is still plenty of room for me to access my vehicle when the rack is in use.  The center post of the rack folds down to allow for the tailgate to be opened and closed.  Though I drive a cross-over SUV, this really is an ideal bicycle carrier for most vehicles.

Having transported my bikes a few times since gifting myself with the Swagman XC2, I can honestly say that I am very happy with this product and only wish I had bought it sooner.  This is a great investment that will help me achieve several of my health and travel goals for the new year.

Depending on where you live, you may not be able to do much outdoor biking this time of year, but it really is the best time to get a bargain on a new Swagman bike rack.  When I checked on Amazon this morning, I couldn't believe the price on the Swagman XC2.  It was $80 less than retail (44% off)—the best price I have ever seen for this item by far.  You will want to take advantage of this sale if you are in the market for a top-of-the-line bicycle carrier.  I also recommend that you purchase the Swagman cable hitch lock for this bike rack.  This is something I bought for protection against theft and I have very much appreciated the extra peace of mind it has provided.

I hope to see you out there along the bike trails.  May the road rise up gently and the wind be always at your back.  

Happy New Year!







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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review

The Best Way to Learn German or Any Language


The best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it and use it daily. Language is definitely a case of  "Use it or lose it." That's why my two years of college German had almost completely disappeared in the 45 years I didn't have any occasion to use it. A few years after graduation special circumstances compelled me to teach a bit of German to some select elementary students, but then I stopped teaching and started selling books and blogging. Spare time was scarce. I simply wasn't motivated to study when I'd rather be using my leisure time to read. But now I'm motivated since I discovered these two apps for my new Galaxy Note 9 phone.

Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review of Drops and DuoLingo

Small Doses of Language Work Best for Me


Both of the apps I use, Drops and DuoLingo, have very short daily lessons. Both have positive reinforcement built into their programs. You know immediately whether your answers are right or wrong. I have been using both of these for about two weeks now. I got tired of the ads so I bought the paid versions after trying them out. Both programs encourage you by keeping track of what you've accomplished.

In the image above are two images from Drops. The first, in purple, is my page at the end of a session. It shows me how many words I've learned so far and how long my session lasted. It also shows which level I've achieved in my current topic. Underneath the time is a brief review of the words I've learned and reviewed during this session. This is really handy, since some words need more practice than others. Sometimes I haven't quite gotten the pronunciation down. If I click on an image in this section, I will see the English meaning and hear the German pronunciation again. If I still didn't catch it, I can tap again and I will hear the word again --  more slowly. I use this feature a lot.

The second Drops image shows the current topic I'm working on. The yellow lines show how much progress I've made. The yellow stars on the red row of squares underneath indicates that I've mastered the words in those topics.

How Drops Works

I have the premium plan and no longer see ads. I also can choose the length of each session. I think the session length begins at five minutes. I am now doing fifteen minutes a session and often I do two or more sessions a day if I have time. It's fun. It keeps my brain exercising. At the beginning of each session you receive a word drop. It looks like a large water drop and it brings you a new word you haven't yet seen. You also see a picture that represents it and the English meaning as you hear the the pronunciation of the German word. If you don't want to practice that word because you already know it, you swipe it up. If you want to learn or review it, you swipe it down. 

Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review


The next screen shows you the word again and two pictures (far left of image.) It lets you choose the one picture it matches. You hear the German word again. After that you may have any of the other exercises pictured drop down. The rust-colored exercise helps you look more closely at the word and put the parts of the word into the blank spaces below. If you hesitate, they give you a hint of where to start by wiggling one of the ovals. If you've worked with the word a couple of times before they may add another group of letters that isn't a correct part of the word just to make it more challenging.

The blue screen shows one of my least favorite exercises. It's a word search. You get the first letter and have to tap the others in order to spell the word correctly. I've learned how to cheat when I don't know the correct article form and there's a choice. I find the blank oval and tap to get to it because I know it comes right after the article. It's tricky, though. Even if you know how to spell the word (which I often don't) you may have the same correct letter in two different positions you can choose. You have to look ahead to see which leads to spelling the rest of the word. If you guess wrong, the program will correct you until you make the right choice.

There's another spelling game I didn't show you. It has the picture and you have to keep picking letters from a group of a few letters on the bottom until you spell the word. When you pick a letter, another moves into its place, so you don't see all the choices at the beginning.

My favorite game is the last one -- the matching game. I don't have to spell anything for this one. I just tap the pairs that match. No matter which game, once you make the correct choice, you will hear the word that is the correct answer repeated again. Approaching the word in so many different ways -- as a whole, as an image, letter by letter, section by section, and as sound -- helps your brain cement it in your memory. Words you studied at the beginning keep reappearing in later lessons so that you don't get a chance to forget them. You can probably tell I really like this app. You can use it easily on a phone or a computer.




What I Don't Like So Much about Drops


Overall, I enjoy using Drops, but there are a couple of things I don't like. Part of the reason is in the program itself and part of it is my own lack of knowledge. I have a problem with the artwork. Now I definitely could not do better myself, but I have trouble figuring out what some pictures are supposed to be. Here are some examples in the screenshot below.

Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review of Drop and DuoLingo
Screenshot from the Drops App. Get more information here.

I had no problem with the words and pictures on the left side of this screenshot from the review at the end of the session. But I had a tough time figuring out just what that man on the right top corner was doing. I thought maybe he was doing some sort of dance. I had to check the English translation, which was "I like." Yes, his thumbs are up. But when I hear the words, this is the image with which I associate it. Verbs are hard to illustrate.

My other problem was probably one I inherited from my mother who used to keep a novel inside her geography book during class. I'm not very good at identifying countries other than my own by their map shapes and/or flags. So it's only the German word that helped me recognize Greece (lower right corner of image.) When we learn the words for nationalities instead of the countries, we keep the flag and instead of the map there is a common object or a building often associated with the country. I had no trouble figuring out that bagpipes were Scottish, but many buildings in Eastern European countries seemed similar to each other. So I had to learn flags, country shapes, and architecture along with the language. I suppose that's good, but it confused me. That's why I started to pull out the old German books from college and the children's illustrated German dictionary  I used to sell. Those books  were great supplements to the apps.

Visual dictionaries for children are very good even for adults beginning the study of a foreign language. Here are two of the best available now. Mine are out of print.



DuoLingo or Drops?


I find DuoLingo boring. There is little color as far as I've gotten. It's more like doing textbook exercises on the computer. I understand the logic behind it, but maybe I should be at a more advanced level than I chose. It seems the several short sessions I completed never got past various ways of mixing these words (in German and English, in and out of sentences) : man, woman, men, women, boy, boys, girl, girls, is, are, he, she, it, you, they, the, a, and that. They were used in questions and statements. I realize this is establishing basic sentence patterns and teaching forms of the verb "to be" and singular and plural nouns, pronouns and articles. It's still boring. More color and variety in activities would go a long way to making this more fun.  Below is the screenshot of a scorecard after a brief review exercise. These are the instructions and the right answers. 


Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review of Drops and DuoLingo

Below is a screenshot of the correction screen for one of the exercises above. This is about as visually exciting as it's gotten so far. I'll let you guess which app I use most often. 



In all fairness, I have not explored all the options in this app yet, even though I have paid for the premium version. I have not joined a club  to practice with other people. I can't find one in my community, and now I'm beginning to wonder if I misunderstood that. 

I did check out the stories -- one reason I got this version. They aren't very exciting.  More like the dialogues in beginning textbooks. Bilingual children's books are much more interesting and colorful. Check out the wide variety on Amazon. Many of them are available to read for free on Kindle Unlimited. That's how I've been able to read so many of them this week. Some with very familiar stories are only in German. I will need to improve my skills before I'm ready to read those, but they are on my wish list.

In my opinion Duolingo is like a textbook put on a computer. You hear or read German and write what you see or hear in English. Or you do the opposite. I can only use this program on the computer because I can't seem to switch to a German keyboard on my phone. To be able to hear and speak comfortably I need to be on my MAC because my headsets for speaking and listening on my PC are somewhat uncomfortable for a complete session.

I probably would not buy the paid Plus version of DuoLingo if I had it to do over. It does give me a kind of practice Drops doesn't have, but it is more academic than I wanted in an app. Drops is much more fun and I seem to learn better with that kind of practice. I have a stack of German texts if I want to study the subject academically. 


Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review
My College Texts and German References with Other Books I've Picked up Since Then
© B. Radisavljevic



My Current Plan for Studying German


My daily routine includes at least one session of using the Drops app a day, and I do it first thing in the morning on my phone before I get out of bed. That's the only way to make sure I get it done. I  also keep the Beginner's German Dictionary close to me in case I want to use it for visual review. It's a picture dictionary I used to sell. It's now out of print. For visual learning it's hard to beat Usborne books, but you can only get most of them used now. I don't think one book in my stack above is still in print, since I've had most of these for over fifty years.

Books in my stack are good for reference and review, but I need to update the dictionary. Many words have been added to the language since 1964. Here's my wish list to supplement my references. I didn't really see an adult dictionary I want yet. I will stick to the one I have until I find a more useful one. The DK Visual Dictionary (below) will have some of the more modern words in it. It will serve my purpose since it is intended for adults.

I also will keep downloading German or bilingual picture books I can read for free on Kindle Unlimited.  There are also many books there on how to learn German that I have downloaded to evaluate. When I have a bit more vocabulary, I will get the story book below. I need more experience with using the language. I hope to find my German Christmas carol book I got in college and start singing the carols again. I have some on CD's and can also listen to German music free as part of my Amazon Prime Membership. I've already found some great children's songs in German.


The most recent thing I've done is start following people on Instagram who speak German . This allows me to see how Germans actually speak informally to each other and I can read the German memes and jokes they post. I have found some real goodies so far. One of the most helpful accounts I follow is German for Mummies. Every day it posts a cute cartoon drawing with labeled thematic photos. Most of the posts include simple sentences using words in the drawing. Here's one of my favorite posts from the feed: a frog in a pond.

 I hope if you want to learn German, too, some of my ideas, reviews, and recommended materials may help you. Feel free to ask questions in the comments or talk to me on Instagram or Twitter. And don't forget to follow this blog, Review
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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Hamilton Beach Wave Crusher Blender Reviewed

Make Milkshakes or Smoothies With A Blender

milkshake
Milkshake image courtesy of pixabay.com
Santa brought me a new blender with a travel jar this year for Christmas. I thought that a review of it was in order today. To be honest I didn't ask Santa for a blender and was a little disappointed when I unwrapped the box. I had asked for a milkshake maker so that I could make my own milkshakes. I already have a blender; never mind that it is probably 30 years old or older. The point is that I have a blender and I can make a milkshake in it but it isn't quite the same. When I looked at the box, I couldn't help but think that Santa did not have his listening ears on when I made my simple request. I should have known that most of the time he knows what I need better than I do. 

So, on Christmas morning I am trying very hard to hide my disappointment while secretly thinking that I really don't need another blender. After all of our gifts had been opened, I took the box out to the kitchen to try and figure out where I would put this second blender. As I begin to remove the parts from the box, I ungratefully think that this new one doesn't do even half the functions that my old one does. The little devil sitting on my left shoulder was working overtime to make me think negative thoughts! The little angel on my right shoulder says, "Now, be nice and give it a chance! Look a little closer, dear."  I look at the function buttons and realize that I had rushed to judgement unfairly. The functions are: Mix Milkshake, Puree Smoothie, Dice Chop, Grind Crush Ice. "Well, smack me with butter and call me a biscuit! Maybe Santa had done better research than I had." The little devil grunts and rolls her eyes but the little angel smiles her approval.

Suffice it to say, that I absolutely love the Hamilton Beach Blender with a travel jar that Santa picked out for me. I can make a milkshake in the 40 oz glass jar or I can make one in the 20 oz glass travel jar. The Wave Crusher Blender is really versatile. It is pretty ingenuous, really. The base will hold either jar securely. You see, the blade attaches to the large jar or the smaller one and then to the base. The removable blade makes for a really easy and thorough cleaning, too. No more worry about slicing my fingers while trying to clean the blade! Trust me, that is a real advantage in my case because I have a history of cutting myself with sharp objects. I think they call it the clumsy gene or something like that. 

I have already made a few milkshakes with this new little tool and I was able to find a place on the counter for it. Currently, my favorite is a chocolate peanut butter concoction but I am sure that I will come up with some other ideas as this new year rolls on. I may get brave and make a few fruit smoothies sometime soon. 

Santa knew what he was doing and I am very happy with his choice. I think you might be happy with one, also. 

May this new year bring you much joy, laughter and love! 



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