Crispy Critters Hobby information.

Crispy Critters Hobby


Monday, January 26th, 2015

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Friday, January 16th, 2015

The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research. Stephen D. Krashen. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann/Libraries Unlimited. 2004. 151 pages, plus notes after each chapter, 32 pages of references, and 11 pages of researcher and subject indices. ISBN: 1400053145. Available from Amazon.com for $10.85.

“I first heard about the literacy crisis in 1987 on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah Winfrey had four adult “illiterates” as guests, people who, it was asserted, were completely unable to read and write. Their stories were touching, and by now, familiar to the reading public. They told how they had been “passed along” in school, surviving by paying careful attention in class and relying on friends. They had evolved strategies for getting through the day…

Thanks to television shows such as Oprah Winfrey, these films [dramatizing adults who were illiterate], and numerous articles in the press and in popular magazines, the public has the impression that a sizable percentage of the public is completely illiterate, that the public schools are graduating hordes of young people who can’t read…”

So begins Stephen Krashen in his introduction. He continues:

“There is no literacy crisis, at least not the kind of crisis the media have portrayed… There is…a problem. Nearly everyone in the United States can read and write. They just don’t read and write well enough.”

In other words, they’re functionally illiterate. They can read, but they can’t ‘process’ what they read. So when they become adults, they’re unable to sufficiently comprehend operating manuals for possibly dangerous equipment at work, or hospital prescriptions and instructions.

Educator and author Stephen D. Krashen has spent ten years and more researching literacy around the world, and advancing his theory of free voluntary reading (FVR) as a way to increase literacy in the United States.

Free voluntary reading advances the theory that it doesn’t matter what children read – graphic novels, teen romances, the sports page, or literature, only that they do read something. Krashen presents the results of decades of research into this theory within these pages.

First he presents the evidence that free voluntary reading works, by presenting various ‘read and test’ studies, and contrasts that with the efficiency of the current method, ‘direct instruction,’ as well as the benefits of reading to the general public – reading influences cognitive development; people who read more, know more; they test better on cultural knowledge; and they can express themselves better.

Next he presents ‘the cure': providing access to books (and other items such as comic books) children ‘want’ to read (as opposed to classics that they’re ‘made’ to read), reading aloud, and providing time to read.

Then he discusses other issues, and makes his conclusions. He emphasizes the importance of writing as well as reading, points out that more television does not necessarily mean less reading, and second language acquisition.

This is a scholarly work, but written in an accessible way, for the most part, so that any parent or interested individual can understand the evidence, theories and methods of teaching that he presents. Teachers in particular will find this book of interest.

There are some gaps, however. Although he discusses the effects of too much television on reading, he makes no mention of computer games. Parents buy their six year old children X-boxes or GameBoys, which they then take on school bus rides, cross-country trips, etc., making it even less likely that the child involved will ever willingly open a book when they can play a game instead.

He also doesn’t consider the gender difference – why girls usually read much more than boys from an earlier age. In fact he doesn’t identify students by gender at all. None of the many tables and charts differentiate between the sexes. Whether this is political correctness, or whether he feels that free voluntary reading works regardless of a child’s age or gender he does not say. (Comic books are typically read by males, teen romances are typically read by females. In the discussions in these two sections the examples from readers are always male for the comics and female for the teen romances, so one can infer from that…but still, all of the research should have been identified in this way.)

Nevertheless, this book contains good and thought-provoking material, and advocates for literacy need all the ideas they can get.

Monday, January 12th, 2015

If you’re living in an apartment don’t think you can’t make your rented home your castle! You don’t have to spend a lot of money or be a master decorator to create an environment you can be proud to show your friends and family.

Here are just a few ideas to get you started.

Your space may be small, so take advantage of space saving decorating ideas like using items for both storage and decoration. Old vintage suitcases are ideal as accent tables and can also hold items you just can’t give up, like your collection of prom corsages, boxes of photographs and other assorted memorabilia or keepsakes.

A great source of artwork may be available at your local library. That’s right. If you have a library card you may have access to paintings from the greatest artists of all times right in your own home. Well, copies of famous paintings! Paintings are often loaned out for one to three months at a time. Enjoy the art and when you’re ready for something new exchange it!

Thrift stores and dumpster diving have been elevated to an art in recent years. So don’t be shy about driving through your neighborhood on the night before “big trash pickup” day. Small tables, dressers and such that may not look so great naked can be dressed up with a coat of paint or a cloth covering and function for many more years to come.

Can’t paint your walls? Most rental apartments are drab variations of basic white and don’t allow tenants to do their own painting. In that case, purchase inexpensive colored or printed sheets. Keep the pattern simple or you’ll have a hard time coordinating accessories. Don’t worry about the thread count since you won’t be sleeping on them! Then, make one wall an accent wall and tack the sheet up with small nails. This creates a cozy look that can also be changed whenever the mood strikes!

Bring a little of the outdoors inside. Even without a green thumb or appendage of any kind, you can find hearty and inexpensive indoor plants that can take quite a bit of neglect before kicking the planter! Too many fake plants with colored blooms though, can make a small place look like a mortuary. So stick with real green plants or realistic looking silk plants with neutral colored flowers.

If you won’t feel at home without a little clutter, then give it an easy place to hide when guests come over. Set aside one empty box in the closet to slide accumulated mail, paperwork, etc. into for safekeeping until the coast is clear again.

In a word, mirrors. Inexpensive ones can be found in most discount stores and thrift and used furniture stores. Used by decorators of the most posh homes, mirrors can instantly enlarge a room. Be careful though to find a reflection you’ll want to see again and again.

Your apartment, no matter how small or temporary, can still reflect the inner you with a little bit of effort. Use the resources you have, throw in a little creativity and make your apartment into the cozy castle you deserve!

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Dodogpackinggs need exercise. People have busy lives. When these two facts collide, the canine need for physical activity often takes second place to the human pressures of work, family, and other commitments. Experts recommend an hour of daily physical exertion to keep a dog healthy, but many working dog owners have large, powerful breeds: they can’t simply toss a dog toy around the living room if they want to have any furniture left afterward.

Dogpacking is a fun, easy way to provide a mental and physical workout for your dog, even as he helps you in return. Imagine your dog carrying leashes, teaching tools, dog toys, and cleanup bags to your next training session, or bringing along lunch and drinks on day-long outings. Trips to the grocery store could be more fun and beneficial to the dog if he carried home some of the weight, and backcountry expeditions will enjoy the canine companionship and an extra hand (paw?) to carry the gear.

With proper training and conditioning, a healthy dog can safely carry up to a quarter of their weight in specially designed dog packs. Working breeds, especially those bred for draft work, can carry a third of their weight or more. Consult your veterinarian to ensure your dog is in proper shape before beginning a dogpacking regimen.

Where to Start
Obtaining a proper pack is the first step. It is possible to construct a pack yourself with the right pattern, but the best bet for most beginning dogpackers is to purchase one of the commercially available models. The important considerations for pack selection are 1) correct fit and 2) intended use.

Correct Fit
Correct pack fit not only ensures that your dog avoids abrasions or muscle sprains, it also keeps the packing experience enjoyable. Imagine walking a mile in shoes that are too tight or too loose: while it may not injure your feet, it certainly won’t be fun! Pack makers generally size their products based on the weight of the dog and the circumference of their girth, measured around the entire dog just behind the elbows. Common sense on the owner’s part is also necessary. A Welsh Corgi may be too short to wear the same pack as an equally-girthed taller dog, for instance.

Intended Use
Intended use is an important consideration. The needs of an owner who wants a dog to carry leashes and bowls for a trip to the beach does not need the same durability, volume, and ruggedness that a wilderness backpacker requires. Two factors will help you decide on a pack:

Volume
How much do you need to carry? Dog packs, like human backpacks, are often sized in terms of cubic inches. For hauling a few items on a day trip, 650 cubic inches (roughly 13″x6.5″x4.5″) is probably sufficient. For a multi-day backpacking excursion, look for packs with volumes of 2000+ cubic inches. Of course, don’t buy a pack that is too large for your dog to carry!

Durability
A pack that will only see service for in-town jaunts does not need to be as heavy-duty as models intended for wilderness hiking. If you plan to take your dog on backcountry adventures, look for packs made from heavy-duty Cordura nylon. A pack that splits open halfway through the trip could be a nightmare. Remember, dogs can be rough on packs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pack Construction
Dog packs come in many different models and designs, but they have several elements in common. Examining a pack for the points listed below will give you a good idea of the quality and usefulness of the pack you are considering.

1. Panniers. These are the bags that hang on each side of the dog to haul your gear. Roughly rectangular in shape, they are sometimes tapered for a more ergonomic fit and are usually made from nylon. Some will have additional features such as storm flaps over the zippers to repel water, compression straps to secure and stabilize the load, or interior pockets to help organize gear.

2. Belly and chest straps. These nylon-webbing belts are what secure the pack onto your dog. Most designs have a chest strap that wraps around your dog’s chest, and one or two belly straps that secure the panniers underneath your dog. Look for wide straps (narrow ones can be less comfortable) and some kind of padding over the straps (often a fleece or closed-cell foam wrap). Make sure the buckles are sturdy and lie flat so they don’t dig into the dog as the pack moves.

3. Backpiece. This is the connector between the panniers that rides on your dog’s back. It is a critical component of the pack, because the weight of the load will be focused here. On some designs, the backpiece is a solid piece of nylon (often padded), while other models have two or three nylon straps. Each style had advantages. Solid backpieces distribute the weight better, and are often equipped with mesh pockets or bungees to hold additional gear or a handle to help carry the pack when it’s not on your dog. Straps are individually adjustable to mold the pack more closely to your dog’s contours, ensuring a more natural fit.

4. Other goodies. Packs will other include other features and conveniences as well. Compression straps help to stabilize the load and can be used to strap gear on the outside of the pannier. Exterior pockets are great for items like need to be accessed quickly (like poop-scooping bags!). Some packs even include integrated water bladders!

Fitting the Pack
When your pack arrives, adjust it to fit your individual dog. The panniers should hang as vertically as possible to keep the weight centered low on the dog’s shoulders. The bottom of the pack should be no lower than the dog’s elbows nor forward of the front legs. The belly strap(s) should be snug, but not overly tightened. The chest strap must not be too high on the neck region, nor so low that it interferes with the swing of the front legs. If your pack has an adjustable backpiece, you can taper the width of the rear portion of the pack to conform with your dog’s waist.

The most important consideration of pack fit is the comfort of your dog. Freedom of movement is paramount, so adjust the pack anywhere it seems to hamper the natural way your dog moves.

Acclimating Your Dog
Your dog needs a chance to get used to the pack. Allow him to sniff and investigate, but discourage mouthing or gnawing of the pack-he should learn that the pack is a work tool, not a chew toy. Let the dog wear the empty pack around the house for an hour or so, making sure that no nibbling or worrying at the pack takes place. Better yet, go on a vigorous walk with your dog wearing the empty pack, and give lots of praise and attention. Soon your dog will associate the pack with exercise and accomplishment.

Once the dog is used to the feel of the pack, stuff both sides with crumpled newspaper to expand the sides without adding appreciable weight. It will probably take some time for your dog to understand that the pack makes him considerably wider: the first doorway is likely to cause a bit of confusion when a pannier collides with the door jamb!

After this initial adjustment period is well underway, you can begin adding weight. As mentioned before, a healthy dog can carry one-fourth to one-third of their weight. However, these proportions must be attained gradually as the dog builds strength: don’t load them up on the first day! Start with perhaps a tenth of their weight. Eight pounds is insignificant to an eighty-pound dog, but it will allow him to get a feel for the swing of the pack and an idea of what dogpacking entails.

Loading the Pack
Now that your dog is comfortable wearing the pack, you need to become accustomed to loading the pack – it’s not as easy as it sounds! There are two major concerns:

1. Balance: The panniers should be roughly equal in weight. If one side is too heavy, the pack will tend to slip around the dog, sagging on the side with the most weight. In extreme cases, your dog may have difficulty walking in a straight line! Adjusting the balance of the pack is an ongoing process. If the pack includes a water bladder, for example, items in the panniers might have to be redistributed every time a significant amount of water is added or removed. Heft each pannier to roughly gauge its relative weight, then put the pack on your dog and watch it closely for a few moments. Often, the natural movement of the dog will cause an imbalance to be noticeable.

2. Sharp corners. Be careful of items with sharp points of corners, as they can jab into your dog’s sides as he moves. If you have wide, flat objects that you can place in the panniers next to your dog’s sides, they will protect against other, less comfortable objects that may also be in the bag. Another protective option is to cut pieces of closed-cell foam to fit the inside of the pannier. These will protect your dog’s ribs from jabs by hard-edged objects.

Get Packing!  Now that you and your dog are comfortable with the pack, get out there! There are many dog-friendly trails in state parks, national forests, and wilderness areas, and don’t overlook urban excursions as well. With a properly fitting pack that doesn’t overburden your dog, your canine friend will soon relish these packing excursions. Many dogs learn to become excited at the mere sight of you handling the pack, because they know that exercise and adventure await!

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

It’s finally time for you to join the digital photo revolution…but where do you get started? The best place to start is to know what you’re up against.

Digital cameras are primarily categorized by the resolution of the pictures they will be able to take, or the cameras megapixel. Unlike your old pictures, digital pictures are made up of thousands of tiny dots called pixels. One megapixel is equal to one thousand dots. The more dots you have, the better the resolution of your picture, and larger photograph you’ll be able to print out without the photo starting to look grainy, because you can see the dots.digital camera 2

Here’s a chart to give you an idea:

1 megapixel = good enough for the web but not much more
2 megapixel = 4×6
3 megapixel = 8×10
4 megapixel = 11×14

If you think you may want to crop out piece of your photographs, and then blow that particular section up, you may want to purchase a higher megapixel camera than you think you will need for just regular photographs.

The higher the resolution of your photos, the larger the file on your computers memory card will be, and the more memory you will need. A memory card serves as the film in your digital camera. You can purchase additional memory cards for your camera and switch them out just as you would rolls of film. Memory cards however can also be purchased in varying sizes, some large enough to hold hundreds of photos. Make sure when you purchase a memory card you are getting one that is going to be large enough to hold all of the pictures you will take before you will be able to get back to your computer. Like your old camera, where you could just run out and pick up a roll of film, memory cards are much more expensive, and much harder to find while out on a family vacation.digital camera

Once you find that perfect camera, you can then start looking at ways to print your photos out. There are a variety of photo printers on the market. Try and find one that specializes in printing only photos, and has a resolution that is similar to that of your camera. Photos taken with the best camera in the world can only look so good on a crappy printer.

Manufacturers are releasing new digital cameras, and new photo technology every day. Keep track of what’s going on around you, and make a visit to a few camera stores before making a purchase. Try the cameras out, and get a feel for them to make sure that you are able to get the best camera possible for you.

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Hopeless with plants? Do your friends joke about your “black thumb” and buy you silk plants? Keeping houseplants isn’t rocket science, and it doesn’t require a degree in botany-just an ounce of knowledge and a lot of common sense.

Know your plant. Most houseplants are, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, tropical in origin. What this means in practical terms is that they don’t survive our winters outdoors, thrive in indirect light, and generally (though not always) require moist conditions. There are exceptions, of course: some tropical plants won’t survive inside our homes because they need more light than we can provide or more humidity than we care to withstand.

It pays to do a little research. When you buy a plant, ask the retailer for the botanical name of the plant (this makes it easier to look up later). Find out from the garden or plant shop what kind of general conditions it needs. Some require bright light, some moderate, and some can withstand low light. The same goes for watering.

Soil, air, water, and light. These four are really all it takes. There are a number of plants that don’t require soil (the epiphytes or “air plants”), but all require some measure of the other three. In all likelihood, your plant will be potted in soil already, so the air, water and light are up to you.

Air: Drafts are bad. This should be taken as a general guideline, and not a hard and fast rule. Drafts and breezes can dry out a plant much faster than even bright sun can. If it’s winter, don’t let the plant sit too close to the furnace vents or in the path of a fan.

Light: There is such a thing as too much. Most tropical plants we have in our homes are what are considered understory plants.That is, they grow underneath much larger trees that shade them much of the time. For our purposes, what this means is that “bright light” to a houseplant can be translated roughly as “in the vicinity of a sunny window” but not necessarily on the sill. Be aware, though, that some houseplants require a lot of light-so much that you may need to invest in a full-spectrum “grow lamp” to keep your plant at its best. There is, of course, such a thing as too little light. Again, ask some good questions when you buy the plant, and consider doing a little research on your own.

Water: The cause of death of the majority of houseplants is overwatering. People kill their plants with kindness. Remember that plants have been around for millennia in much less hospitable conditions than your living room. They’re tough. Plants, just like some mammals, “hibernate” during the cold months. With the lower light levels and lower temperatures, plants don’t use as much energy, and so need less water. As spring arrives and everything begins to warm and brighten, the plant starts using much more energy. Adjust your watering accordingly.

 

Again, nothing beats good specific knowledge of your plant, but most plants need to be watered only when the top ½-inch of their soil begins to look and feel dry. There are, again, plenty of exceptions. Some plants need to have their soil kept a little moist all the time. Others need only be watered once a month.

Some tips on watering:

  • Room temperature water is best. Let water sit out overnight if you draw it from the faucet.
  • The larger the pot, the less frequently you will need to water.
  • Never, never,put a live plant into a pot without drainage if you can help it.
  • Buy a saucer to put underneath your plant so that when it drains, the water doesn’t end up on your carpet.
  • For those species that require more humidity, place a layer of small (pea-sized) pebbles ¼ to ½-inch deep in the saucer,and set the pot on top of it. The pebbles and water create a humid “micro climate” for your plants. Keep the saucer watered even when you’re not watering the plant.

Lastly, a brief note on fertilizing. Again, know your plant. Plants of the genus Dracaena are very popular as houseplants, but they don’t like to be fertilized very much, and should never be fed more than once a year. Never fertilize a sick plant-it will likely make the problem worse, rather than better. Read the instructions on your fertilizer-if you use a water-soluble plant food, mix it properly and be consistent about its application. If you prefer, use a slow-release granular plant food. They’re just as effective and feed for 3-4 months at a time.
Keeping plants can be rewarding, especially as you notice the little green thing you found at the store grow new leaves, flower, and eventually end up as a big green thing. A little knowledge goes a long way.

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Crushed into my quicksand couch by post-midnight inertia, I half-watch a movie a dozen years old that I have seen a half-dozen times. The film is Dead Poets Society, which tells the story of young Neil Perry, a boarding school student. His extraordinary teacher lifts him from his study-by-numbers drudgery to a world of poetry, Shakespeare, and free-thinking, until Neil’s well-meaning but hidebound father intervenes and forces his son to return to the sensible straight-and-narrow of business studies. How tragic, I respond, to have a parent decide one’s career. Then I stop, examine my rambling résumé, and discover that I am Neil. My father chose my path.

One cannot tell this at first glance–I never donned the badge and blue my father wore on the police force–but slowly, quietly, and pervasively he shaped me into a reflection of himself. I thought I was master of my fate: I left home, moved to a different state, chose to study theatre in college, and added a history major to keep my options open. In recent years I have become a playwright, columnist, and screenwriter. Nothing to do with guns and crooks and laws and busts but everything a mirror of my dad. You see, my father is a storyteller.

To my knowledge, he has never performed on a stage or written anything for publication: I don’t even recall a ritual of paternal bedtime stories. When a stranger asks him to describe himself, my father’s response is automatic: ex-cop, Dixon 6-L-1, retired–but the gold shield still molded into his wallet is a badge of what he did, not who he is. Exchange much more than a cursory hello with him, and you’ll get a story.

Yarns of children and love, arrest and crime, fighting a war and building a family are woven into the fabric of everyday life and threaded through his easy conversational manner. My deep-voiced father can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime. He is the neighbor leaning on the back fence, passing a lazy afternoon by telling tales and listening to someone else’s life told to him.

Many of his stories I have heard not once but a dozen, a score, a hundred times. Part of this repetition can be blamed on the linear nature of temporal reality: nothing new has happened in the 1940s since the 1940s. Often I hear a story again because I am present when my father tells someone who has not heard it; sometimes he forgets which audience has heard which stories. Mostly, though, he repeats them knowing he has told them before.

As a child, this made me crazy. “I’ve heard this before, Dad,” I would say, “I know what happens.” His favorite stories were the worst–not only did I know the ending, but I could sing along with the exposition, the descriptions, and all the salient plot points. Stories are made to deliver information, and when the retelling imparts nothing new, what’s the point?

Years passed before I understood. My father is not a newscaster or journalist; his goal is not the presentation of information. To him a story is a tool to unearth a memory; repetition is the crucible to refine it, burning away the muddy irrelevancies of life and reducing the past to its essence. What remains are the moments worth remembering and passing along. In this way, my father is a kind of Homer, chronicling the odyssey of our family and repeating the ballads until he is sure the oral history will be passed to the next generation.

Even more, he taught our family the power of personal narrative, telling stories that opened up private windows to his life, letting the emotions of the original event resurface. His firsthand accounts focused on the internal experience, not the external plot of the story; he allowed the listener to live vicariously inside his memory. Stories told in this way are intimate, electric things. They are a way to connect, to bond, to draw one’s self closer to another soul.

A child cannot be raised in such an environment without learning how to tell stories, and my father is a expert teacher. He grounded me in exposition, description, and dramatic timing. By example he taught me to hook a listener, craft a phrase, twist a plot, nail a punch line.
Did my father decide my career? Absolutely. My three distinct fields of interest–theatre, history, and writing–share a common theme: they are nothing more than storytelling. History records the stories of people; writing preserves them for posterity; theatre enacts them on the stage. I am a storyteller, like my father before me. And now, when I am home and my dad launches into a favorite tale, I listen and smile.

I’ve heard this before.