Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Helpful Book Lists and Homeschooling Article Website: Regena's Lists

Regena has compiled a list of her favorite books to use to homeschool with the classical method on her website. Her lists include the grammar and logic stage of the trivium. There are lists for many subject areas.

I don’t know anything about Regena except she is a homeschooling mother with a very helpful website!

The site states she has shared these lists on “The Well Trained Mind” message boards.

The more I hear about this message board, the more I think I have been missing out on something wonderful by not having joined the discussions. (Yes, friends, I am not on every single homeschooling chat list!)

I see that Regena’s site has lots of articles, check out the article links on her home page.

Penmanship Lesson Change

For a change with our penmanship lessons, last week, I switched from practicing single letters to copywork (a la Charlotte Mason method). I began by copying poetry by hand onto blank penmanship paper. I found this time consuming and didn’t like making two separate copies by hand, one for each child. Also since I am not used to writing in the Italic method which my children are learning to write with, I am not the best model of that font style. So I switched to use my StartWrite computer program (version 4.1) to input the words, as it is faster for me to do and my children will have a more perfect Italic font to copy from.

It is going well so far. Both children are now able to do this type of copywork without a problem (Yippee!). In the past they both have done things like repeat groupings of letters or skip letters or skip entire words. Since they both can read, I assume that part of their ease is now the fact that they can both read. Additionally the way I set up the copywork is that there is a line of text with a blank line underneath. I have not had equivalent success with giving them a sentence or two on one sheet of paper and asking them to copy it to a blank sheet of paper. I think that trial and error, and doing what works for the child is really a huge component of success with homeschooling!

My latest tactic is to write passages about Star Wars characters (describing who they are, where they live, etc.). Hey, it is working! They are now begging for more copywork. Hear me gasping with surprise!

StartWrite is a computer program, which was written for schoolteachers, (and used by homeschoolers) to create custom penmanship exercises. This program has a range of fonts. The creator simply picks the font, the size of the font, the line style they want. The letters have different shades of gray and black for tracing and directional lines are optional. I bought this about three years ago and figured that I’d save money by using this instead of buying prepared workbooks for each of my children. However, now that I’ve used it a while, I am not sure that this is less expensive than buying penmanship workbooks. My own printer has a cost of about 10 cents per printed sheet, and penmanship workbooks such as those published by Gettay-Dubay cost less than that on a per-sheet basis. However, the good thing about using StartWrite is that the homeschooling parent or teacher can create customized worksheets to target specific issues. For example, if you child needs more than one page of the letter “o”, you can create as many of the sheets as you need. If a child is ready to switch to a smaller sized font, you just switch it, with no worry about unused worksheet pages! You also can create customized copywork from any source you desire: The Bible, poetry, or even from your child’s own writings.

You can read about StartWrite on the company’s home page. I bought this version at a discount, though, from Rainbow Resource Center.

I have two complaints about version 4.1. I’d like to be able to have one document go for more than one page. My version 4.1 allows the document to only be one page. For example if I am putting in a poem and it goes longer than one page, I’d like the ability to have one file for the poem and have it be 2 pages or longer. Version 4.1 forces you to stop at the end of page one, name the document, print that off, then open a new document for the rest of your poem’s content. The other pet peeve that I have is that with each new page that it creates, you must re-define each component, such as reselecting the font style, the font size, the darkness type of the letter, directional arrows, etc. Perhaps with the newer versions of this software, they have made these improvements.

If you are considering buying a penmanship software program, make sure that the program you are buying has the fonts that you plan to use. The different programs have different font styles. My version 4.1 of StartWrite does not have D’Nealian, for example, but does have a total of ten fonts (some are print style and some are cursive style). Check to see what fonts the current version (5.1) of StartWrite offers. Another program I looked into did have D’Nealian but did not have Italic, for example.

StartWrite’s homepage www.startwrite.com allows users to download a trial version of their program to test. I did this before making my decision to purchase it.

I just saw on the StartWrite home page that the new version 5.0 allows current users of old versions to upgrade to version 5.0 for a fee. Something else for me to look into and consider purchasing…

Sunday, May 29, 2005

So Close But Yet So Far: Was Close to Retreiving the Grasshoper Token: A Treasure's Trove

This wass my experience.

Friday, May 27th, I was trying to solve a puzzle based on story and text clues. I had come up with a potential solution using data from the story. I thought that I was looking for the hummingbird in NY. To summarize, my husband and 2 young children and I all hauled down to Queens Village, NY for 8 hours total trip time and searching. We took 2 different trains, a subway and walked. It was humiliating to look in knotholes as passersby stared at us and also stared at us constantly as it was very clear we didn’t belong in that area. It was also rush hour and even people in cars were staring at us. I seriously thought that the police might show up and question us. Anyway the kids got tired, our feet hurt, etc. and I was disappointed that our search turned up nothing. Back to trying to solve complicated puzzles in the illustrations…

This morning I logged on to tweleve.org to see if anything had happened since I was on the web yesterday. I wanted to see if tokens were found before I worked on the puzzle any more (in vain). Someone on the tweleve.org live chat said a forum entry stated the solution to grasshopper and to go see the forum for information. When I saw the location of James Baird State Park in NY, I realized this was less than a 90-minute drive from my home. I will be very honest and say that I had not solved that part of the puzzle on my own; I got that portion of the info from the forum.

I called my friend and neighbor to let her know about this, especially since it was so close to us. She suggested we take our children to the park and search. I assumed that by now the token had been found as saw on twelve.org that at least 4 parties were there by 9a.m. My husband, who is not into this at all, surprisingly, agreed that we should go just to be a part of this, and we’d make a picnic out of it. We loaded the car with the portable grill, hot dogs, etc. and we hit the road. I was discouraged from Friday’s experience and was a bit pessimistic about our chances, but we went for the fun anyway. While in the car I did a tracing of the drop cap map, the entire vine image. It was so big I didn’t know how I’d match it up to a trail map. The children were very excited about participating in the hunt and we listened to some of the audio book on the way.

When we got off the Taconic Parkway we realized the off ramp goes right inside the park. There is a 3-way intersection and the big greeting sign is at the intersection (no parking lot is there). We chose to go to where the picnic grounds/playground was located. We parked and looked for trail maps but only found the restroom (and used it) and doggie poop collecting bag station signs (3 of them). We ran into an employee who said to go to the golf clubhouse for a map. Back into the car and drove to the clubhouse to get a detailed map. We parked the car there and I realized small parts of the vine were black and did a new tracing of just that and the fairy pointing and narrowed down the search to the picnic area. Despite suspecting that we did stop and search near the huge welcome sign and also 2 other places next to the side of the roads. We then went to the picnic area. My husband set up to grill and we went off to the woods.

We headed right for the trails where we saw a family taking photos. We assumed they already had found the token and were taking photos of the tree. We were all under the assumption that the token had been found and worried we were searching in vain. The family was from Louisiana. It was a bit stealth at that point with people walking around but not being open (hiding papers and books under cover), unless they were approached and then people admitted what they were doing there. Everyone I saw was in the woods or on the paths milling around. I didn’t see anyone searching the trees near the front of the building. I did see Kristen walking on the paths with her color copy of the drop cap map page, before she found the token….

We ran into the employee again and he was so friendly, he had gone and found 2 maps for us and offered them to us. We declined as we already had ours but thanked him. We also spoke to one other employee earlier, both were so friendly.

I could not think straight with the 4 (happily noisy) kids with us so when my friend led them off on the trail I hung back and looked at the drop cap map on my tracing paper and did an overlay again, of the trail map. I didn’t have a properly scaled image of the drop cap to the trail so I decided to look in an area/radius. I realized then that the area was not on any trail at all, but was the area between the parking lot and the front of this big building that housed the restrooms. At this point my friend and the children were having a blast in the woods digging in knotholes. We also were looking for a tree lying down as the image on page 57 because I wondered if each token tree is the tree preceding the puzzle page or drop cap map page. I decided to sneak off and leave the kids and my friend on the trail as they were deeper into the woods and I wanted to go right to where I thought it realistically was and search in a calm manner. So I headed off by myself to search in front of the building. I exited the woods and my husband (manning the grill) shouted that the token had been found a few minutes ago.

I went back to the woods and called to my friend and the children to come out, it was found.

We went to investigate and sure enough it was a tree right in front of the building, to the left of the front door of the building, and in a wild dogwood tree (the leaf matched the leaf on the drop cap map on page 59). The knothole was shallow but almost horizontal/laying flat. I got to meet the token finder, Kristen, JerzeyFresh and Packimocity. I will let them tell their own side of the story, which they promised to do when they arrived home.

I don’t have sour grapes but just can’t believe that I was headed in that direction with a firm idea that the right place to search and it really was there and it was found in that area, minutes before I was arrived. So close, yet so far away!

I got to meet others from tweleve.org and one person from the Yahoo Group, which I am on. A whole bunch of people left immediately after the token was found. One unidentified person burned rubber and sped out of there, apparently venting off anger. My friend and I decided to hang around for quite a while and talk to the token finder. We took digital pictures of the area, the token, the finder, etc. I can be seen in the photo in the thread ***JurzeyFresh has the Grasshopper (NY)*** , the pic of the front of the building, I am wearing a blue rainjacket and my friend is in the white t-shirt.

Note: the picnic area and large parking lot area had no signs to welcome to the state park. The only signs around there were stations to give out plastic bags for picking up dog droppings. I was looking for signs so I could search by the signs (as with the dragonfly token).

What I have learned from this: the drop cap map is key to narrowing down the location. A person could spend days searching all different places and trails in a park and never find it.

What I suspect from this and dragonfly:
1. Perhaps the trees are all near the entrances or parking areas, or near signs and welcome areas, and not on trails? This goes along with “easily accessible”.
2. I also wonder if MS would really want us going off the trail to hunt trees as that is not usually advised on nature preserves/parks as it can damage plants (even though I did search off trail).
3. I suspect that the leaf shown on the drop cap map will be the same species of tree that the token tree is.
4. The drop cap map is just a small portion of the illustration, not the entire thing.

What I know:
1. Take the time to really study the drop cap map. Try to do this before you get on site if possible. If you get the trail map at the park then take a few minutes to study it and form your plan, in a quiet place where you can think and stay calm.
2. Try to remain calm when on site and really look in the range of the area specified in the drop cap map. Don’t be tempted to run into the woods just because others are in the woods and searching, or if groups of Treasure Trover’s are gathering to chat and ponder if the token is gone (we did that). If you feel the token is in a certain/different area, go just to that area and block out what the other people are doing.
3. Have a plan and stick to it. If you really think it is in a certain area, stay there and be thorough. (I got caught up in the moment and we were roaming the trails and checking areas beyond the scope of the drop cap map’s area and I really had to corral my troops to get back to the area where I thought it was.)

Other recommendations:
1. Sticking bare fingers inside these knotholes can be risky business or gross. I was tempted to stop searching knotholes due to being grossed out, so bring gloves. Thin surgical gloves will allow the most sensitivity to feel for the token and/ or ring.
2. Insects reside in these knotholes, as does mildew and other rotting debris—yuck! Bring something to wash your hands with if you don’t have gloves

Other things to consider bringing:
1. Something to put the token on, such as a lanyard. Better than having it in your bare hands.
2. Don’t forget the digital camera also and/or video camera.
3. Champagne for the celebration, or at least a beer, if over 21.


I spoke to someone from Seattle who searched that tree and said he said didn’t see that knothole so didn’t search it. It was only visible if you looked at the tree from a certain angle; if you looked at it from certain directions, quickly, you may miss it. It was about 6 or 7 feet off the ground but there was a stump of some branches that had been cut off and that acted as a natural step and anyone 5 feet high could have easily reached it after stepping up and moving in toward the center of the tree. The tree had multiple limbs and was a small diameter trunk size, a wild dogwood.

I was happy to be there when it was found. It was exciting. Despite me not being the winner I was happy to share in their glory. We hung around for a while longer and eventually some new Treasure Trover’s arrived and we greeted them as a group and exchanged stories.

I gave Kristen paper and a note was written for others to find if they found that knothole. A metal key chain was placed with it, to weigh it down. Later we saw a woman go and retrieve it, and then she placed it back again after meeting the token-finder.

Note: one person (from Long Island) brought a hand-held metal detector and put it right over the token and it did NOT go off. So for those of you using small metal detectors, you may be putting too much faith into them.

My husband overheard someone say that they stopped for a second cup of coffee and were worried it would make them miss it and indeed when they arrived they token had been found minutes earlier. It is interesting to hear all the stories of near-misses.

I seriously think the stories of discovery should be made into a documentary or movie; it would be more entertaining than most of what television has to offer.

Closing thoughts:
1. Why aren’t more people doing this hunt? It still seems that there are not a lot of people doing it.
2. Good Luck to everyone who is working so hard on this puzzle.
3. Try to have fun with the hunt and don’t be depressed if you don’t win, even if you were very close and didn’t find it.

Happy Hunting Everyone!

Friday, May 27, 2005

A Treasure’s Trove Update: Snail Token Said To Be Retrieved

According to Tweleve.org the snail token has been found as of 5/25/05. I hadn’t checked the site since the night of May 24th, due to busy-ness and when I went to the site this morning, was surprised to learn this!

It seems to me that the first poster to report that StarThinker had found the token was another Treasure Trover named destructo, who reported on 5/26/05 at 4:47am, that yet another Treasure Trover by the name of Skoldpadda had just contacted him "from the road" to report that he had solved the puzzle and visited the site only to find a railroad spike and a note explaining that the token was found in that location and removed, and signed with the name “StarThinker”. (To read the messages, join the forum and see the "tokens found" thread.) In a Tweleve.org post dated 5/26/05 at 9:05am; a person by the nickname of StarThinker claims to have found the snail token in a park in Minnesota. He is a registered user of Tweleve.org. He has a website which has the story. This is a great story, well written and suspenseful!

StarThinker is not disclosing the details of how he solved the puzzle, unlike Elrohir who claims to have found the dragonfly. I am going to read more on Tweleve.org later today to see if anyone else is disclosing how the puzzle was solved (since more than one person has solved it). StarThinker stated he is keeping his information private until he receives confirmation from the officials who he contacted as per the instructions on the back of the token.

As of this writing the official ATT site does confirm that both the dragonfly token and the snail token are missing but have not been redeemed. The finder of both the dragonfly and the snail tokens state they did contact the officials as per the directions on the back of the token.

It looks like my suspicion has been confirmed. I first wondered and thought it odd that some pages were decorated with certain trees. I wondered why, and thought they may have some significance. The two token finders both claim that the tokens were found in knotholes in trees that looked exactly like the trees illustrated in the book. I can’t wait to see what the real Yorah looks like! I also love that my thought (shared by some other people) that the tokens were in state/public parks and that they were all in trees and in knotholes is so far, proving correct.

The story states that StarThinker's son was the finder of the snail token, which I absolutely love. The son recognized one of the trees as looking like a tree in the book. He followed his instinct and found the token, while his father was following logic and trying to be thorough by looking in a different area. I love the fact that a child’s non-judgmental instinctual thought process led to the finding of this token.

I also love that it appears that StarThinker found the token in the evening before the sun set and the next person to have located the site was there less than 12 hours later.

So What Does This Mean For Me?
It was May 24th when I found out the dragonfly token was found and that my state could now participate in the treasure hunt. There was no overview summary of the dragonfly story so I spent about 90 minutes reading through the Tweleve.org forums to piece it together. I then looked at the book to compare until I understood the logic. I then spent about an hour that night, before bed, looking over the book with fresh eyes (since I had put it to the side for a couple of months), and taking notes.

I got very excited and wondered if reverse engineering the process by which the dragonfly was found would result in helping locate the other 12 tokens. I also found a new clue that I didn’t see previously and that I didn’t read about online, which was exciting! I am trying to crack that puzzle now. I haven’t yet checked online to see if anyone else has noticed this. Right now I am mostly looking at each page’s illustrations with a fresh eye and noting what I think is strange or illogical. I then plan to re-read the entire text and see if I can figure out the clues by the story, since the author, Michael Stadther, states that anyone who can read can solve the puzzle.

On May 25th and 26th my older son was looking at the book and solving the easy clues. It was great to see him working them through and I loved to see the excitement in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I did not share with him that many of the clues he was solving were the first to be solved by others, and that the answers were posted on the internet long ago.

Now that a second token has been found the pressure is on! The question is how much time do I have to dedicate to this pursuit? I have appointment and plans, a family to take care of, and a blog that I enjoy writing! What are the priorities? Yikes!

My kids just woke up and my older son is now looking for clues in the book to follow a new hunch I have. Boy, this is fun.

Recommended Recipe: Gooey Hot Chocolate Soufflé

My husband and I have been searching for a recipe for a dessert we enjoyed at the
Domaine Chandon Restaurant in Napa Valley, which we visited while on the Wine Country leg of our honeymoon. It was a chocolate soufflé with a gooey center, served hot. This went down in my memory as the best chocolate dessert I have ever had in my life.

My husband bakes this for my birthday celebration and they were divine! They do seem very much like the soufflé we enjoyed while on our honeymoon. This recipe is called Yia Yia’s Hot Chocolate Soufflé.

The top crust and the outer edges taste like a very good brownie. The center is hot and gooey, with a thick soupy liquid center that must be eaten with a spoon.

Serving with a cold glass of milk is a must. We ate ours plain but it really would have been better with a side of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of (real) fresh whipped cream and even better with a fresh raspberry sauce. The chocolate flavor was a bit intense all by itself.

If you are a chocoholic, you simply MUST try this recipe.

By the way this was a surprise for me, which was fun. Our boys especially loved giving me a surprise treat. They also said this was the best dessert they’d ever had in their life. It was so rich they would only eat a small portion.

A very similar recipe, in general flavor, is the (flourless) Chocolate Cloud Cake recipe, which is in the Classic Home Desserts cookbook. This cake is baked in a spring form pan and it rises high, and then crashes down in the center leaving very thin, high sides. The crater is then filled with homemade whipped cream. Due to the lack of flour, the cake has a dense consistency, a bit like brownies whose center is undercooked. This cake is served cold. It is so rich that a thin slice suffices. This is a dessert that tastes best when high quality chocolate is used as the ingredient and which is definitely “worth the calories”.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Great Homeschooling Site: Paula’s Archives, SOTW/CHOW Comparison Chart & Book Lists

The Paula’s Archives Homeschool Advice site has a free chart showing the sequence and content of each chapter of “The Story of the World” (Volume One and Volume Two) by Susan Wise Bauer and “The Child’s History of the World” by Hillyer. (Sonlight and Ambleside Online recommend the use of CHOW but some Sonlight families are using or are considering using SOTW instead.) Some ambitious homeschooling parents are reading both books to their children for their study of history and are using this chart to help them know the sequence to go back and forth between.

Paula's Archives contain lots of articles on homeschooling, with these subject areas:

Literature for History & Science
SOTW Lists,
Latin Roots,
Sonlight,
Art,
Spelling,
Socialization,
Preschool,
Stages of Homeschooling,
Socialization,
Curriculum Reviews and Information, and
Boredom Busters.

There is even a section with ideas on how to deal with picky eaters!

Here is her list of living books for science. This includes a list of biographies of Scientists, Inventors and Technology, alphabetical by person’s name.

I could spend hours on this site! According to the site counter, over 166,000 visitors have frequented her site. Now that is impressive!

Learning In Our Own Way Conference August 12-14, 2005

I received a brochure in the mail advertising for a learning conference being held in Woburn, Massachusetts on August 12-14, 2005. For information see www.learninginourownway.com. This conference is geared toward an audience of homeschoolers, parents with children in school and school teachers.

The motto of the conference is: "a conference for those who want to work with, not on, children."

The Keynote speakers are Dr. Thomas Armstrong and John Taylor Gatto. John Taylor Gatto will be showing a preview of his movie, “The Fourth Purpose”. Other speaker include Dr. Pat Montgomery, founder of the Clonlara Home Based Education Program, Matt Hern, Ken Danford, and Loretta Heuer. The sessions include topics of teaching the gifted child at home, unschooling children with special needs, learning styles and homeschoolers college applications, and ‘what can teenagers to instead of high school?’.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Amber Alert Cancelled: Girl Found and She is Safe

According to this news story, the girl was found in a car with her aunt. The article states that it was believed that she was taking the girl to Palm Bay, Florida, where the girl’s mother lives.

I am happy that this girl has been found. Yet another statistic where the abductor is a relative of the child! I remember reading in

"Protecting the Gift : Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)" by Gavin De Becker, that most abductions are relatives of the child and they often involve divorce and custody issues.

Amber Alert: Connecticut to Florida

I received this from a police department's Emergency Notification System today at 3:01pm EST:

An AMBER ALERT has been issued by West Haven (Connecticut) police department.
An amber alert has been issued for a 6 year old West Haven girl reported to be abducted from a school bus. Britany Scott is a white female, approximately 3 feet tall and weighing 60 lbs.
She has long brown hair and blue eyes and was last seen as she exited a school bus coming from her school. Last seen wearing a black leather jacket and blue jeans.
The white female who took custody of the child was last seen driving a white 4 door honda accord bearing florida license plate 003911. The driver of white vehicle is alledged to be Nikki Tricosanti or Somers. A white female having brown curly hair residing in Bethany Connecticut.
Scotts mother, also alledged to be in vehicle, is Jacqueline Somers, a white female with long blond hair approximately 5 feet 3 inches tall with a tan complection.
Destination may be Palm Bay Florida.
If you have any informaiton please call the West Haven Police Department at (203) 937-3900

Great Living Book Resource: ABC Books by Ann

Fellow homeschooler Ann Tatum has a very useful website for those looking for information about living books. The website contains loads of information, such as book reviews, author reviews, and lists of her family's favorite books.

On her ABC Books by Ann site, Ann states the purpose of her website is:

* to provide low-cost, high-quality, living books to homeschoolers, collectors, and other booklovers worldwide

* to direct them to sources for new books when we don't have them used

* to provide information on authors, series', homeschooling, home business, and other areas of learning in the home

Ann Tatum sells used books including some out of print and hard to find books, check out her Ebay store.

She also has a free email newsletter. Here is her description:

<< Sign up for our newsletter for book lovers by sending a blank email to:
abcbooksbyann-subscribe@yahoogroups.com >>

Ann even gives her tips for becoming a successful Ebay seller.

I appreciate book reviews and information provided by experienced homeschooling mothers who enjoy using high quality living books. If you feel the same way, check out Ann’s site!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Connecticut Residents May Now Participate in “A Treasure’s Trove”

I saw in the news section of ATT’s site that a press release dated 4/21/05 announces that Connecticut residents are now eligible to participate in the contest.

Update: A Treasure’s Trove: Dragonfly Token Said To Be Found

Today I got curious about what was going on with the “A Treasure’s Trove” treasure hunt and checked my chat groups’ emails. This is where I learned that the dragonfly token is said to have been found by a person who chats and posts on tweleve.org. I headed over to tweleve.org to confirm and there is a detailed story of the find and crediting other tweleve.org chatters with helping get to the solution. It seems credible and the token is said to have been found on May 22, 2005. The person states that he has followed the contact directions to notify officials that he has found the tokens. The man states that he has been reading the book to his four-year-old daughter, which is nice to hear. I wonder how the people who solved most of the puzzles are feeling now that they missed out on claiming it. Sadly, one of the first things I wondered is if a lawsuit would be filed. One interesting thing about making posts on Internet chat forums is that all the data is stored, time stamped, etc. and shows who solved what clue on what time and date, so there is a bit of a trail left to show who was posting what the clues are, what the ciphers are, what their guess at a solution is, etc.

I checked the official ATT site and the update entry dated May 24, 2005 states the dragonfly token is missing.

Posters on tweleve.org as well as me are wondering if the same logic and deciphering can be applied to all the clues to yield the solutions to the remaining 12 tokens.

The dragonfly has an estimated retail value of $25,000 and a cash value of $7,500 according to the information in the book “A Treasure’s Trove”.

When I met the jewelry designer at his Danbury store, I was told that the actual prizes would not be turned over to the winners until the conclusion of the contest on December 31, 2007.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Picture Book Review: Least of All—--A Great Living Picture Book

Book Review

Title: Least of all
Author: Carol Purdy
Illustrator: Tim Arnold
Type of Book: Picture Book
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, New York
Year of Publication: 1987
ISBN: 0-689-50404-7

I found this ex-library book at a library sale, they had removed it from their own library's collection. It is currently out of print. I am grateful to have found this, but it is a shame that the library patrons won’t be able to borrow it from that library any longer.

The jacket says story is turn of century time setting (it wasn't clear in the story). They live on a large farm and the use a horse and cart for transportation. The setting is in Vermont, U.S.A.

The story starts with a toddler girl, who is the youngest in the family; she has five older brothers. She lives also with her two parents and one grandmother. All the family is busy all day long with household and farm chores. It appears that the children don't go to school. The little girl has always felt left out and inadequate because for years has been told she is too small to do any tasks around the house or farm. The family has a strong work ethic and she always wants to help. While toddler and prek aged she causes mischief to get attention (this is not in a bad way, just little things to bug the big brothers when they are doing chores to get some attention).

Finally when she is "near 7 years old" she is told she is now big enough to churn the butter. But then she is alone and bored. She picks up the family Bible which has always been on prominent display in the home. Using Bible passages she has memorized from hearing them told at Sunday School, she teaches herself to read (using sight reading methods). She doesn’t think this is anything special but is happy to be able to read to herself to help pass time, by reading the Bible.

One day she is looking at the Bible non-chalantly, and the family sees her and asks what she is doing and she says "reading about the baby Jesus" and they are shocked. Come to find out no one in the family has ever been taught to read. There is a lot of emotion there--joy from other family members. She never knew that no one else in the family could not read. She feels special that she can do something important. It says later she went on to teach the whole family to read.

There were a lot of religious references (for a mainstream picture book) and this is a positive portrayal of Christianity within a multi-generational family. Positive family relations are shown throughout the book.

I think this is a great story for a patient toddler and definately for a preschool aged child through or child up to 7 who may be feeling they are the least capable person in the family. It is of course, also a wonderful story for anyone to enjoy.

Here is the author’s website, where you can read about her writing process, why she wrote each of her books, and her advice to people interesting in entering the field of writing children’s books.
Addendum to the 5/19/05 blog post about the new companion CD to the two Opal Wheeler books which are now in print:
Sebastian Bach: The Boy from Thuringia
Mozart The Wonder Boy

I had a homeschooling friend pick up the companion CD for me at a homeschooling conference last weekend. I then realized the music is in MP3 format (not playable on a regular CD player). There are also coloring pages in PDF format, to print off from your computer and printable sheet music for all the music featured in these two books.

New Guide Book to the World Landmark Books—Looks Great

I just found out about this new book: “World Landmark Books
A Homeschoolers' Guide” by Karen J. Thiessen.

Landmark books are history and biography books, one series is for American History and the World Landmark Books are for World History. This guide book is for the World History series.

The author’s website has information about what the book is about and there are sample pages to view. The book can be purchased directly from the author’s website.

The sample I viewed online is for Winston Churchill. It was a two-page summary, which included a synopsis of the book, with key facts and dates as well as the author’s personal thoughts about the book and notes about Churchill’s life.

After reading the sample it occurred to me that reading this book cover to cover would be a nice overview of World History that would help me feel more confident as I approach teaching history to my homeschooled children. It would of course, also help me decide which Landmark books to purchase. Landmark books are for middle school aged children. Right now I am buying them when I see them at good prices while book hunting. Because my children are in elementary school, I am not using them yet.

If the parent did not read the World Landmark book, but their child did, it seems to me this book would provide enough information to have discussions with the child about the content of the book. I have heard several mothers say that as their oldest child gets older and due to being busy caring for their younger child(ren), the parent no longer has time to preread every book the child will read, making discussions about the book one-sided and difficult if not impossible.

This book is on my “wish list”!

My Experience With Reading Assessment Tests and Our Reading Reward Program

I was excited the day in March that I received “The Sam Blumenfeld reading assessment test” in the mail. I first learned of this product through the Rainbow Resource Center catalog. I actually purchased it through the author's own website, though.

In the paper catalog they have a long description of this product. In reading the introduction/instructions, I was disappointed to see that this test only scores for 3rd grade and above; I hadn’t realized that. I was hoping that it also scored for at least 1st and 2nd grade. I was curious how my older son was doing, according to the experts.

The directions stat that have to mark it wrong if they sound it out but didn't inflect properly or say the word exactly as we normally speak it (but it was technically sounded out properly). My older son rushed through it and I kept saying "slow down and look at it before you say it" because he read preach as peach and a whole bunch of other errors like that. This yielded some result that he is lower than 3rd grade level. Since they don't give scores to say if he is 2nd grade or 1st grade, I don't know that info.

I should also add that my son was less than enthusiastic about doing this. I didn’t explain or call it a test. I just told him that he had to read this and that was all there was to it. I was afraid that if I told him it was a test he’d get worried or anxious. What actually happened was he rushed through the list very quickly. The test was lists of words so it was a bit easier to make a mistake on what was said as there was no context to it (wow, I am starting to sound like a school teacher who supports sight reading). Anyway, the issue is that when reading rapidly a person wouldn’t even realize that they said “peach” instead of “preach” as it has no context.

I was a bit surprised to see that he scored lower than third grade. About eight months ago, he scored higher with two other/different tests that I found online at the A to Z’s Homes Cool site he scored at 3rd grade fluent for one and at 4th grade fluent for the other. I think the lesson here is that no two tests are alike and we parents should be suspicious of all testing!

I do have here, a school teacher's test book which was being given away for free and I used that in the past but it was so LONG and drawn out, possibly because it tested also for reading comprehension (which Blumenfeld's and the online tests don’t test for).

Anyway, Blumenfeld’s said if they are reading at their grade level or below they have not had enough practice with challenging enough literature. So I guess my response will be to have Jay reading at 2nd grade level (which he already is) and mix in also, 3rd grade level (now rather than take it slower and do it later). I had been using the guideline that I had read somewhere that 80% of their practice reading should be at or below their ability level, to build fluency.

I also have been wondering about children in school who are being tested for reading ability per the latest method and wonder how accurate it is. How is it that my child tested with 4 different grade levels on 4 different tests? Which test should I believe?

Anyway I feel some need to respond to this "new information" even if I am suspect on how various tests can yield such different results. Panic has not set in because due to the “close” score, I estimate he is reading at a 2nd grade level, which is what grade he is in. I am not going to get crazy over this but it is confusing and disappointing to realize that my prior confidence in my son’s reading was maybe incorrect.

Postscript: The above passage was written in March 2005. Shortly after doing the assessment test, another homeschooling mother shared a tidbit on a chat list about a homeschooling mother of a large family who once tracked all the pages her children read and they all became fluent readers of chapter books after they had read about 12,000 pages. I wondered how I could inspire my son to get closer to the 12,000-page goal, just in case this is true for all children. Despite my distaste for reward programs, my children love them, so I came up with a reward program. I figured out that my son would read about 3,000 pages in 8-10 weeks and offered him $40 when he reached that goal. He wanted to save money for some LEGO kits he wanted and most of them were $40 so that is how I came up with the amount. He was so excited about this that he went beyond his 30 minutes per day of required reading and was reading for at least an extra hour per day. I then upped the reward to 5,000 pages. If I had realized how excited he’d be about it I’d have offered only $20 as the prize! He loved this project. Despite us going on a trip and taking a break from our homeschooling lessons during this time, he did meet the 5,000-page goal in 8 weeks. He is now asking for another reward and I offered an ice cream cone at his favorite ice cream shop, (to keep the cost down). I’ve not yet figured what page count is fair.

In case you are wondering, yes, I do know about the book and research gathered by Alfie Kohn in the book “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes”. I have read part of the book but found it very dry and wish the author would cut to the chase. I believed in the theories here to never offer a reward. However I now realize both of my children are goal oriented. They want to know what is expected of them, they like to have a clear cut idea of when they have completed a certain job, and they LOVE the satisfaction of knowing they did what was expected of them and did it correctly and with success. Here is an example: I want my older son to do 20 minutes of math per day, no matter how many pages he can get through in that time. He hates that idea, and instead wants to know before he begins, how many pages I want him to complete. He also wants to finish the page he began. The way I work around this is I estimate how many pages he can get through in 20 minutes and assign that (if he asks). What I also do is watch the clock (with a kitchen timer as it is easier) and we have a 20-minute goal. I do 20 minutes per Charlotte Mason’s recommendation that children of this age do short lessons of 10-20 minutes in length. Math comes so easily to him that I push the time frame to the outer limit.

As to tracking their work, both of my son’s like to keep lists of what they did to track their progress and to see how much further they have to go. They think this is fun. Why should I deprive them of this when I can’t see any real harm coming from it? We do not offer rewards on a regular basis, or even give a monetary allowance for household chores completed, so if the program is a cash reward program, it is their main source of money to save.

I would argue that sometimes having a reward program in place as the one and only program in their lives is not a problem. As a comparison, children in school can have multiple reward programs going on at once as well as the constant shadow of grades and testing being an issue every minute of every day.

Another interesting outcome from this cash reward program is that my children spent many hours analyzing the LEGO catalog to compare prices and to try to decide what they’d buy when they had saved enough money. They truly spent hours doing this. On the way home from visiting a relative who lives out of state, they did this for nearly the entire 500 mile car ride. This was also our first time listening to news on the radio instead of children’s music, so they had to do something else to entertain themselves. They read books and practically memorized the LEGO catalog during this time.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Making Connections—Spotting Liverwurst

While at the deli counter at the grocery store today, my 7.5-year-old son excitedly said, “Oh, Mama, Look! Liverwurst!”.

(I think this is the first time he ever noticed it in the deli case.)

You wonder why he said this with such excitement? It is because two weeks ago we read “A Cricket in Times Square” by George Selden, illustrated by Garth Williams (who illustrated the Little House books). Liverwurst is a favorite food of the cricket and the mouse.

We don't eat liverwurst so when I was reading the part about the liverwurst I had to explain to my children what it was.

My sons and I LOVED this book and we are just beginning the next in the series, “Tucker’s Countryside” (in which the mouse brings a chunk of liverwurst to.

My son then said, “I can’t wait to read more of the second book, can we read that tomorrow?”

The answer is yes! I will make time to read this book to my children tomorrow. Maybe this will get me back on track with doing daily fiction read-aloud’s.

“Cricket in Times Square” is truly a living book, a wonderful story. It could also be turned into a unit study or a lapbook. I read it aloud to my children while my older son was so sick he was in bed all day long.

What Does a Homeschooling Mother Do With Her Own Birthday Money?

What does a homeschooling mother with a tight budget do with cash she receives as gifts for her own birthday?

In the past I have used it to buy great children’s books that I had not been able to purchase due to low funds, in the past. I once mentioned this to another homeschooler and she said she did the same thing. Further inquiries to book-loving and book-addicted homeschooling moms yielded the same answer. Some use it on curriculum, saying that what they were currently using was so boring or causing problems with their child that to be able to buy a different curriculum was what they wanted most. I imaging that the experience of a happier child was a gift in and of itself.

I know some of my friends and acquaintances would think this is odd or disturbing. Some may say this is a sign that a homeschooling mother (or a stay at home mother) has no identity separate from her child, that she puts her children before her, and perhaps is an unhappy martyr. These other mothers could find no end to the list of things they’d want to buy for themselves. Women addicted to shopping or those who love being a consumer have a huge wish list that is constantly edited and added to depending on the latest fad and trend. The fact of the matter is that I don’t want to buy a lot of the things that other women want. I don’t like the latest fad and style of shirt, so I refuse to buy it, “just to be in style”. The truth is I want to look good, but if I were to put on a skin-tight shirt that reveals my bare midriff, it would not be a pretty picture. I defer to looking good over using my body to display the latest clothing fads. I just don’t want the various things that so many women want, or that the women’s magazines feature as great things to buy.

The fact is that quality time spent with my children reading aloud a new, great book is what I like the best. Perhaps it is the time with my children and not the actual book that I want most, but also to share that book with them, what THAT book has to offer with them, is also special.

As I begin to receive cash gifts for my birthday I am seriously pondering what it is that I’d buy “just for myself” and so far have come up with just one thing: a backpack style pocketbook (for ease of carrying when hands are full due mostly to child-related causes). I’d like one that is durable so that taking it to the playground and placing it on the ground will not ruin it. I’d like it to be washable in case something spills on it. (I have ruined two gorgeous Coach leather pocketbooks due to things spilling on them—because the stains don’t come out.) I think I have found my answer although it is a trendy thing (albeit not a brand new trend): a Vera Bradley backpack or a knock-off. I mentioned this to my husband, though, and he offered to buy it for me for my birthday. That still leaves me with this cash for books….

Saturday, May 21, 2005

We Have Too Many Toys—We Need To Purge Some

It is that time of year again. A child’s birthday is approaching and toys will be received as gifts. I dread this because it means yet more stuff will be in the house.

Parents who were both packrats raised me. Two of my grandmothers were packrats. My brother has ended up to be a packrat, as have I. I am trying so very hard to unlearn this behavior and to be able to let go of stuff.

I began looking into homeschooling when my oldest was just a baby. This included the decision to do not use a preschool. I wanted to have our children surrounded by good things such as fine toys, toys that inspire the imagination, art and craft materials to inspire creativity. I wanted fun and educational board games, card games, and computer games. I wanted my children to have all the same imaginative play experiences as children who went to a preschool. This resulted in the accumulation of LOTS of toys and games (and books, but I am not complaining about the books!).

Using the model of learning centers, I organized the toys into different stations in the house. We never used them the way schools do, forcing a rotation to various stations, but they helped the basic organization. (Example: toy box holds musical instruments, Thomas trains stay in that area, die cast vehicles stay in that area (close to train tracks) so they can be played with together.

Last December my older son had an idea, one this is not new but he thought of this himself. “How about before each holiday we go through our toys and give the ones we aren’t using to poor kids?” I was elated that he’d actually consider letting go of some things, as he is the one who remembers every single toy and wants to keep every single toy. I am in favor of this but haven’t been able to do it 100%. I could pare down our toys to a few basic things if all I wanted was to have toys that they are using on a daily basis. Part of the problem of not being able to get rid of some of them lies with me.

I don’t always agree with my children’s choice of toys to get rid of. I have my own reasons for not being able to let go of certain toys and games:
a. It was expensive to purchase
b. It is timeless and classic
c. It is high quality
d. The grandchildren may want to play with it someday (reason to not donate it)
e. It has educational value
f. They might want to use it someday
g. Visiting relatives use it when they come here and it keeps them happy, busy, and out of trouble while they are here
h. Other visiting children use it when they come here and it keeps them happy, busy, and out of trouble when they are here
i. It holds good memories of my children playing with it
j. It bothers me to think that that stage of their childhood play is over and done with
k. Perhaps we’ll have more children and they could play with it

I have done some sorting and purging while my children were out of the house or sleeping. The things that are easy to get rid of are the junky toys such as fast food restaurant toys and little things received as part of birthday party goodie-bags. I now do throw away broken toys although for years these were collected in a special box waiting for my husband to repair them. Most were never repaired and some could not be repaired due to the type of plastic they were constructed with (not taking various glues).

Yesterday I attempted to purge toys with the children’s help. They wanted to get rid of toys that I didn’t want to get rid of and I wanted to get rid of toys that they didn’t want to get rid of. I also found toys in places they didn’t belong which would take time to sort and put where they belong, this includes toys that cannot be played with right now as they are missing key parts (lost in the rest of the house). I stopped that project out of frustration.

It helps me to know that other children will use the things that I give away. I cannot handle the idea of throwing good toys in the garbage. Last year I gave a total of 14 boxes to my cousin who had just given birth to her first child, a boy. I also have had my brother and sister-in-law look through some boxes to pick out what they want. I have a friend who is begging for our cast-off’s. I have also donated some things to Goodwill, which I thought my cousin would not want.

What I need is for a friend to come here and help me declutter these toys and other things stored in my basement. I need a team effort to help me separate from these things. I placed a call to a friend and asked if she’d help me. She agreed and asked if she could take everything I didn’t want, to keep some and the rest she’d share with the community center’s child play center. I agreed. Wish me luck.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Cookbook Review: Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax (A FAVORITE OF MINE)

Earlier this week my childrenand I made 48 cupcakes with (two batches of) “1-2-3-4 cake”, a yellow cake recipe from Classic Home Desserts, and received several compliments and requests for the recipe. This inspired me to write a book review on the cookbook that it came from, which is my favorite cookbook for cake recipes. (It has other dessert recipes as well but I use it mostly for cakes.) I also plan to post this to Amazon as a customer review (which I have been doing for fun since 1998).

Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax

I received this as a gift in 1994, the year it was first published. Although I have a large cookbook collection now, I use less than ten on a regular basis. Classic Home Desserts is a great cookbook and is my staple for baking desserts.

I feel that healthy eating is best, but desserts do have a special place—mostly reserved for holidays and special occasions in our household. My policy is that if I am going to eat a dessert, I want it to be worth the calories, fat and carbs. There is nothing worse than eating a dessert that is flavorless or just inferior quality—but you won’t have that problem with baking from THIS cookbook.

After getting married and then, later, after having children, I began a tradition to bake a birthday cake for my family members from scratch and this cookbook is my recipe source. Each time I serve a dessert from this book I receive numerous compliments. Several people have also suggested that I open a bakery or start a home business baking desserts. This always surprises me as all I did was follow the directions in the recipes in this book—nothing special was done on my part and certainly the recipes are not my original creations. For the cakes, I am always surprised when people are shocked when they find that the cake actually has flavor—because they have grown used to grocery store baked cakes which have almost no flavor!

Our family favorite for yellow cake is the 1-2-3-4 cake, it is very moist and flavorful and always receives rave reviews. I also use the 1-2-3-4 cake recipe, as per the books directions, as the cake portion of the Boston Crème Pie. The Applesauce-Carrot Cake is the absolute best carrot cake I’ve ever had in my life, and friends and relatives agree. (I amend the recipe by omitting the lemon from the frosting and use vanilla extract instead for a traditional cream cheese frosting that is not lemon flavored). The Chocolate Cloud Cake is to die for, and a must-try for chocoholics (use the best chocolate you can find for the best flavor). The All-American Fudge-Chunk Brownies are delicious and a far cry from supermarket boxed mixes.

I was raised in a home where cakes were baked from boxed mixes from the grocery store. I now know that cakes from scratch with quality ingredients are far superior in taste. Baking cakes from scratch is also not difficult at all and takes just a few minutes more than using a boxed mix (the extra time is the 3-4 minutes it takes to cream the butter and sugar).

A Kitchen Aid stand mixer is also a kitchen must-have and makes baking so easy!

Cookbooks that have different recipes than Classic Home Desserts which are also staples for baking in my kitchen are: The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook for the bread recipes (easy to make with the stand-up mixer) and for Italian cookies and Christmas cookies: Sweet Maria’s Italian Cookie Tray: A Cookbookby Maria Bruscino Sanche.

This book would make a wonderful gift!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars Origami

While looking for information about something else about Star Wars, I stumbled upon a site by an avid Origami hobbyist. She provides free instructions to make Star Wars vehicles and druids in Origami. Amazing. What isn’t on the web?

Addendum: My boys saw the Star Wars origami designs on the computer screen and begged to try it. They chose the pattern which proved to be too difficult for us, as none of us had ever done origami. "Wait!", I cried, and I jumped up to search the bookshelves. I had three different origami books on the shelf, one with orgiami papers included. I picked the book with nice photographs of the completed projects so they could get a realistic view of some projects they could make. We then launched into beginner's level patterns. We had fun doing this for 45 minutes, and stopped only because we were hungry for lunch. The origami books were purchased at library book sales for less than a dollar each; I'm glad I had them on hand!

Mothering magazine wins award for Best Public Service Series (for articles on vaccines and mercury in vaccines)

Here is wonderful news, from a press release sent to me today (because I signed up with to receive emails from Mothering magazine).

I am happy to see that the pieces that won awards are about vaccines and mercury content in vaccines.

Press Release
For immediate release: May 2005

Mothering magazine wins award for Best Public Service Series

Santa Fe, NM - The Western Publications Association (WPA) bestowed its Maggie Award for Best Public Service Series on Mothering magazine April 22 in Los Angeles. Mothering magazine won the Maggie award for articles appearing in the July/August and September-October 2004 issues:

Mercury Must Be Removed from Childhood Vaccines–NOW! by Peggy O’Mara

The Flu Vaccine and You by Richard Pitt

The Thimerosal Timeline by Peggy O’Mara

Parents’ Letter to Office of Special Counsel by Lisa Sykes and others

In the Wake of Vaccines by Barbara Loe Fisher

Daniel’s Success Story by Mary Romaniec

The July/August articles raise awareness that injected flu vaccines still contain mercury in the form of the preservative thimerosal, and that there is alarming evidence of a possible connection between the mercury found in vaccines and the spiraling rate of autism in children. The September/October articles tell the stories of two mothers spurred to action by their children’s vaccine injuries, and of one child’s recovery from autism. The July/August articles influenced the passage of a new law passed in California on January 6, 2005. As of July 1, 2006, it will be illegal in California to give pregnant women and children younger than three vaccines containing more than a trace amount of mercury. (AB 2943 by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).

Now in their 54th year, the Maggie Awards of the Western Publications Association honor excellence in print and electronic magazine publishing in the western United States. This year’s Maggie entries totaled nearly 1900 from magazines published West of the Mississippi River or distributed only West of the Mississippi River. Just eighty-seven Maggies were awarded for editorial, design and promotional excellence.
Mothering is a bimonthly magazine that reports on natural family living. Articles cover pregnancy, childbirth options, midwifery, breastfeeding, educational alternatives, and family health issues. Check out Mothering magazine.

Opal Wheeler’s Wonderful Biographies of Composers and Great Book List Book by Jan Bloom

Last summer while shopping in a used bookstore in another state while visiting family members, I stumbled upon two Opal Wheeler books. They were hardcover biographies of composers written in the 1940s. These copies had inscriptions from the parent to the child, and they were birthday gifts. They were in good shape except for where the girl had taken it upon herself to color in some of the black and white illustrations. The books are geared toward elementary school aged children. They are story format (narrative) biographies that begin at each composer’s childhood stage of life. Each book contains references to certain musical works and some of the music selections are in the book as well.

When I got home and researched these books I realized they were indeed out of print. There were also more in the series. I began looking for them at library sales and buying them on Ebay, trying to collect them all. I don’t have all of them yet!

Later I realized this author is listed in Jan Bloom’s “Who Shall We Then Read” which is one of my favorite book list books. I actually use my copy as a book inventory and often will bring it with me while book hunting to try to avoid buying duplicates in error. This book is a wonderful source of great books, many of which are out of print. The book’s largest section contains fiction chapter books, and it also has a section of book series, which are non-fiction, such as Landmark, Signature, All About, We Were There… series, etc. It is nice to know all the books that are in a series and they are also listed in more than one type of list such as Landmarks by numerical order, Landmarks by title in alphabetic order, etc. This book is self-published by the author. The last I knew it had to be purchased directly from the author at her website, her company is called BooksBloom (that is one word). The site also explains what each of her books is about.

Jan Bloom wrote another book which I own and love, called “What Should We Then Know?* about contstructing, furnishing, maintaining, and enjoying a home library”.

To purchase Jan Bloom’s books or to browse their inventory of used books for sale, see information at their Abebooks site.

Jan and Gary Bloom also attend some homeschooling conferences, presenting seminars of using real books in homeschooling and as a vendor, selling used books.

Back to Opal Wheeler's books...
I had received a free sample copy of The Teaching Home magazine in the mail this week and was surprised to see an advertisement that two of the Opal Wheeler books have been put back in print by Zeezok Publishing and are being sold by The Book Peddler. I have purchased items from this vendor at homeschooling conferences in the past. They are known for selling curriculum and wonderful living books at a discount.

I mentioned this discovery to a homeschooling friend and she said that in addition to the books being in print, there is a new companion CD containing the musical selections, which are mentioned in the book. Today I went online to check this out and see that there are two books that are in reprint now:

Mozart the Wonder Boy
Sebastian Bach The Boy From Thuringia

The CD is for these two books only and is called:

Bach/Mozart Companion CD

You can view the items (and buy these items if you desire) from The Book Peddler.

I already own the Mozart book (it was one of the books in my first discovery book hunting experience). I am excited to buy the Bach book and the companion CD.

I wonder if the republishing of these books will interest homeschoolers and I wonder if collecting the rest of Opal Wheeler’s books, which are still out of print, will result, and drive prices on Ebay auctions up (before I can finish collecting them all)?

Addendum added 5/23/05 6:45pm: I had a homeschooling friend pick up the companion CD for me at a homeschooling conference last weekend. I then realized the music is in MP3 format (not playable on a regular CD player). There are also coloring pages in PDF format, to print off from your computer, and printable sheet music for all the music featured in these two books.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Review: Star Wars toy lightsabres by Hasbro

We are up to our eyeballs in the new line of Hasbro lightsabres, which are tied in with the Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith movie, soon to be released in theatres. About two weeks ago we purchased one for each of our children. We (children and parents alike) assumed the best ones were the battery-operated versions that light up and make sound (but we were wrong).

The journey began with a trip to Toys R Us, which did not have all of the lightsabres that Hasbro makes in stock. We purchased the green blade model, which is Yoda’s, (chosen because green is a favorite color plus the store's in-stock selction was small). When placed in Jedi training mode (with a switch) the voice of Yoda giving encouraging remarks is heard. There is a humming sound the whole time it is on, and it makes a crashing sound when the blade is struck against something. It also makes an interesting sound when turned on and off, similar to the sound the lightsabres make in the movie. My children are disappointed in the design and frankly I am surprised that Hasbro produced a toy with these faults:
a. The blade does not retract fully inside of the handle. My children would prefer that, like in the movies, the blade be completely hidden when shut off and not in use.
b. The blade does not lock into a closed or semi-closed position.
c. There is a built-in clip to attach to your belt or pants but when in this position, due to not having a lock, any time you tip it downward or actually use the clip, all the blades fall out. This is not realistic to the movie.
d. The unit is quite heavy and the handle is thick and bulky to hold onto.
e. Within the first hour of play, my son accidentally dropped his unit and the electronic functions stopped working. We were able to exchange it, but that entailed yet another errand we had to complete. This also had me wondering how many accidental drops or hard clashes (during play) would it take to break the light bulb?
f. The price we paid is $19.99, which is steep compared to the non-electronic unit. Due to the cost of $19.99 I began to be worried about the unit breaking during play, so we ended up buying some non-electronic lightsabres (more on that later).
g. These don’t flick open easily, we have to use two hands to make it extend.
h. These don’t close easily, it takes two hands to hold the toy and close it, doing a twisting motion, which is not easy. They don’t close up by pushing it against something (like the ground).
i. The Yoda blade length has 3 segments (instead of 4 like all the other models). I felt this was dangerous when fighting with other children who had different Hasbro models because all the other models have 4 segments and they are quite longer. In order to play and hit lightsabres with each other, the child with the Yoda version must stand closer to the other child and therefore is more at risk of injury when the other child’s longer unit can hit his body accidentally. Perhaps they were trying to be very realistic and have a shorter unit since Yoda is shorter but in the end this makes the play more dangerous for the child using this model.

Also at Toys R Us, we purchased another other battery-operated version we purchased is the Obi Wan Kenobi light saber, for $19.99, which has a blue blade.

This unit also makes a special sound when turned on and off, similar to the sound in the movie. The entire time it is turned on it makes a humming sound. It also vibrates when it clashes against another lightsabre (or an object). My son and I both thought the vibration was a little too much, and we wonder why they couldn’t have toned it down a bit. The vibration is especially annoying to me as a parent (it is loud!) and as a result I make the boys use it outdoors so I don’t have to hear it as loudly as it sounds when inside. This lightsabre suffers from the same design flaws as the Yoda lightsabre:

a. The blade does not retract fully inside of the handle. My children would prefer that, like in the movies, the blade be completely hidden when shut off and not in use.
b. The blade does not lock into a closed or semi-closed position.
c. There is a built-in clip to attach to your belt or pants but when in this position, due to not having a lock, any time you tip it downward or actually use the clip, all the blades fall out. This is not realistic to the movie.
d. The unit is quite heavy and the handle is thick and bulky to hold onto.
e. The price we paid is $19.99, which is steep compared to the non-electronic unit. Due to the cost of $19.99 I began to be worried about the unit breaking during play, so we ended up buying some non-electronic lightsabres (more on that later).
f. These don’t flick open easily, we have to use two hands to make it extend.
g. These don’t close easily, it takes two hands to hold the toy and close it, doing a twisting motion, which is not easy. They don’t close up by pushing it against something (like the ground).

My sons then realized that their friends had lightsabres, which fully retracted and could actually be worn on their person. When they took the lightsabre to the playground they were unable to clip it to their belts and it was not convenient to carry in their hands all afternoon. The combination of annoying sounds and fear of breakage due to replacement costs of $19.99 led us to decide to buy some non-electronic lightsabres.

I see that Hasbro has an approximate cost of $7.99 on the non-electronic lightsabres. These come in many blade colors and some of the handles have different designs and colors. We bought four of them, with different colored blades. Here are the ones we bought:

1. red blade

2. green blade

3. blue blade

4. purple blade

A local K-B Toys is selling them for $8.99, so note that some stores are charging higher than the "suggested retail price" that Hasbro recommends. We are very happy with this line of Hasbro lightsabres. I decided to not only buy one for each child but to buy two extra. The reason is so when other children are visiting, the guests can play with them along with my children. It only makes sense! Here is the reason why my children and I love these lightsabres:

a. They are more lightweight than the electronic models and therefore are easier to carry.
b. The blades fully retract into the handle and LOCK closed.
c. The lock is easy to operate; you hold it down and flick the blade to open it.
d. When flicking it open, it takes just one quick flick to extend the blade completely open.
e. It closes very easily. My children prefer to push it (gently) into the ground or floor to close it.
f. The built in clip works well to clip the closed unit onto the waistband of the pants, a pants pocket or a belt. Due to good design the unit stays closed while worn in this manner.
g. The lack of electronic components and light bulbs allows for rougher play and not worrying about breakage while using it in lightsabre to lightsabre clashing together play.
h. There is nothing to break if it accidentally gets wet or left outside and is rained on.
i. At this low price we can afford to buy a couple of extra’s for guests to play with.
j. All of the blade lengths are of equal length allowing for safer play.


In the end, both my children, spouse, and I feel the electronic models have some poor design components and are expensive to buy or replace if the first one you buy breaks. Prices for electronic models vary by design, some are $19.99 and others are $24.99. It is fun and special to have a lightsabre that lights up, especially when they use it in the dark, but my children feel the non-electronic lighsabres are superior and are using them much more frequently.

By the way this is the first weapon toy that my children have owned as I used to have a strict non-violent toy policy in our family (and maintained this for almost eight years), but that is a story for another day. We used to also have a family policy of not watching movies or television shows that contain any use of weapons or include killing, but that changed when I allowed them to watch Star Wars Episode IV, last month. We are focusing on “the good guys” and rooting for “the good guys” in the Star Wars movies. I see that a bunch of toys in the Hasbro line are Darth Vader centered, due to the obvious plot of Episode III being about Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader. However since I don’t want to focus on “the dark side” characters, I won’t be buying merchandise and toys whose emphasis is Darth Vader. I did contemplate buying the electronic talking Dearth Vader mask but after hearing from another parent that one of the recorded phrases it speaks is “come over to the dark side”, I won’t be buying that for my children. As an adult I clearly see how that is a neat phrase to say and applicable and realistic to the movie but as a parent I don’t want my children encouraging each other to “go to the dark side”—we want to stay on the “good side”.

I am presently faced with a dilemma as all of our Star Wars-watching children-friends were planning to see Star Wars Episode III in the movie theatre and they have been talking about it with my children. I was almost about to say that this is peer pressure but there is no pressure, just talk with each other about being excited that a new movie is coming out. Now that I know is it a PG-13 rated movie (unlike the others which were PG) and that this movie has the most violent content of all and some very scary parts including execution/murder of a group of children, I am faced with a dilemma. We are full tilt into watching the other movies and they know, due to advertising all over the place and from talking to their friends, that the next prequel is coming out this month. We had planned to take our children to see this movie on the big screen but now I am rethinking that plan. I am also very frustrated that toys and the movie are being marketed to children under the age of 13 but I’d better stop writing now or I’ll be deep into a rant about that. I will leave that for another day’s blog entry.

May the Force Be With You!

P.S. You can see by my detailed thoughts on something like these lightsabres why I consider myself a thinking mother, although at times like this I wonder if I am an overthinking mother!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Details of Successful Bookhunting at Local Library Sale

I broke down and went to a library book sale. It had been ten months since I went to a library book sale. I had to pay $5 to get in as this is preview night, but from having gone to this sale a few times in the past, I knew it would be dead quiet after 7:30pm (it opened at 7:00pm and that is when the book dealers are lined up and in a frenzy). I also knew that on “free admission day” it would be a zoo and wanted to avoid that as well has having my pick of the children's books. For whatever reason, on preview night, usually the dealers are not hoarding them up; they run right for the DVDs, videos, and adult fiction at this sale (the adult fiction is sorted alpha by author which is very convenient for them, and everyone).

All the books were supposed to be 50 cents but for whatever reason they only charged me 25 cents per book, perhaps the children’s were half price of the adult books (as is often the case). I didn’t take the time to read the pricing signs at the sale or I would not have been confused about this! The price of 50 cents per book was what the library was advertising. Well, I am grateful that I only paid 25 cents per book! I bought 100 books for $25! I usually avoid the DVD/video section because I am usually feeling guilty or out of control about always seeming to buy more books than I intended and/or spend more money than I intended. Last night I did venture to that much-picked over section just before I left and actually hit a big scoring, a surprise find of edited for children’s viewing content movies by Clean Films priced at $1 each. I knew from being a member of this internet/mail movie renting service that these movies usually sell for $28.95. I couldn’t believe that someone else in town was using Clean Films (I thought perhaps I was the only “strange person” in town doing this), let alone buying the movies in DVD format then donating them to the library! I picked up some movies that my children can view now and others to view in the future: Ghostbusters, Stripes, Airplane, and Caddyshack. I found some G-rated movies such as Gentle Ben and Air Bud Golden Receiver, in VHS format (unedited). As I was looking through these I was wondering if I was nuts or truly an addicted-to-cheap-prices packrat, because a couple of months ago I put all the children’s videos we own in one pile, and was shocked and disgusted at the number that we owned: when place “spine” out (so you can read the title), in one layer, they filled 16 copy paper boxes! YIKES! And this is for my children who are usually only watch 30 minutes of children’s programming per day! At least I was able to give away two boxes and keep (just) 14 boxes of them. If we could afford it I would embark on a project to buy shelves to house these and keep them in the living room but for now they are living in cardboard boxes in the basement. Anyway, having them in the unfinished basement is helpful because “out of sight, out of mind” is a good thing to help guide my children to do activities other than television watching.

I also picked up a bunch of great videos to leave at my mother’s house for my kids to watch when they are visiting (so my parents won’t put Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network on for them to watch). My nephew will also reap the benefits of these videos as he watches them while my mother baby-sits for him after school (which she does each school day).

There were loads of science books, most of which I passed by. There were more science experiment books than we’d use, because we already have enough (I think). I passed over many in the “Eyes on Nature” series as I feel the text is twaddle although the photographs are high quality (I thought they were not worth the 50 cents, if I had realized they were 25 cents I probably would have bought them for the photographs alone).

I picked up a few historical fiction chapter books for use in the future. Unfortunately, there were hardly any history books. I think American children are really not getting enough history in their schooling and in their private life, and therefore parents are not buying children’s history books and are not donating their cast-off’s to the library’s fundraiser book sale! (There certainly were no shortage of series books such as Babysitter’s Club and Goosebump’s--this is what is being read by the town’s children.)

The classics for children section was large. I was told by a resident with high school aged children that these are the high school’s required summer reading books. Apparently the parents buy them then donate them when the teenagers have read them once. We already own these, Moby Dick, Lord of the Flies, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, etc. The adult classics section was also full: Beowulf, Shakespeare, and Greek philosophy. If I had been aware of which translation of some of these were the best, and found them, I would have bought them. I am proud of myself for not buying these but tried to keep the spending low in this time of unemployment and we have no plans to use these unabridged versions for about another six years.

I saw paperback versions of Harry Potter, which I left because we already own the hardback books, which I have not yet read to my children. Now that I am home, I wish I had bought them because it would be easier for the kids to read the lightweight paperbacks for independent reading. Also for 25 or 50 cents, who cares if it gets wrecked or if the paper is cheap quality?

I passed over a school math textbook and unused workbook. The workbook was huge and I skimmed it to figure out the grade level. I will never understand why textbook publishers don’t put right on the book what grade level it is for. I am sure the remedial math textbooks are different and separate from the regular books so I doubt that a 2nd grade text would be used on a 3rd grader struggling with math, therefore I doubt that they are avoiding labeling of the grade so as to not harm the self-esteem of the student using the text. Anyway my point of mentioning this was for many pages in the beginning the problems seems to be on Kindergarten level, then moving to first grade content level, then it went on to second grade. It dawned on me that it must be a 2nd grade text but they had SO MUCH REVIEW there that it was surprising (and disappointing). I figured we didn’t need this on hand for an “extra” as we are happy with our math curriculum (Math U See). However once I got home I thought, for 25 cents that was silly not to buy! Since it costs me 10 cents to print one page on my home computer printer, buying that couple of hundred page workbook is more cost effective than printing off some math worksheets off the internet for when my kids ask for extra problems; yes, they both ask for extra problems to do for fun. That is a signal to me that homeschooling is going well for them, and that it is working!

Can you see how when I try to restrict or reduce my book buying, I sometimes regret it later? It can be agonizing! You see, while at the sale, I am both trying to remember if I already own this book, or do I think I will really read or use this book. Then I think, “well for 50 cents is it worth buying?”. I usually say “yes” then end up home with boxes of books to sort, catalogue, and store. When faced with overflowing boxes of books and no place to put them, I then regret buying all of them! Also the thought of “it is just 50 cents” can add up quickly if this rationalization is used too many times. I know some homeschooling mothers who attend library book sales with a budget of something like $20 or $40. I don’t think I have the discipline or will to stick to a monetary budget let alone one that small. (At the large library book sales I typically spend $150-$200.)

I also picked up a hardback fiction chapter book for 25 cents, which is one in a series, authored by Diane Duane. It is a teenaged-wizard series, this is #4 called "A Wizard Abroad". I had not heard of the book but took a chance on it. When I got home I found that according to Amazon, it says it is for grades 5-8 (which usually means independent reading level). I didn't know if it was good or twaddle, but at this cheap price, I took a chance. It is set in Ireland apparently and seems to have 2 girls as the main characters and 1 boy, all wizard kids aged 14-ish. If anyone is familiar with this series and can tell me if it is good or twaddle, or objectionable in any way please let me know.

I did have a problem leaving a few of our family’s favorite books and favorite train videos (for preschool aged children) there, so I bought them to give to my nephews. I couldn't believe the D'Aulaire Greek Myth book was there and was going to buy it although we already have it (and read it and loved it), I was considering giving each child their own copy to keep, but a boy overheard me proclaim my surprise that someone gave their copy to the library for the sale, and he said he loved the book but borrowed it from the library and asked if he could buy it so I gave it to him (he was about 9 years old). I thought he’d be better off owning one copy than we’d own two copies. That is an example of me trying not to be greedy and not to be a book worm/pack rat aka a bookrat.

I bought a duplicate of a Laura Ingalls Wilder bio longish-text picture book "Pioneer Girl" and Dinotopia by James Gurney (the first book), in hardback. I am not sure whom I will give these to. Sometimes I sell the great books I find at cheap prices to homeschooling friends for the price I paid for them. So far I can’t bring myself to make a profit by reselling to homeschoolers as that would technically put me into the book dealer category and my experiences with book dealers at library sales is so negative that I don’t want myself to be placed into the same category as them! Yes, even though we are living without income and unemployed I feel guilty making a profit by reselling books purchased at library sales!

I took son, 7.5, with me and he was picking up twaddle (due to nice cover illustrations) so I caved on just a couple and also gave in on the Gary Larson "Far Side" comics which he wanted but I warned they may go over his head as they are intended for adults. LOL. I used to love them. I doubt he will "get them" but now we have them and for this price, why not buy them. This is his first experience with "comics". (We are still avoiding comic books, so far.) Another weird thing is that I used to own these same books, purchasing them when I was a teenager and in my 20s and at some point was culling my bookshelves to make room for more books for my children and homeschooling and I brought all my Far Side books to a local used bookstore for trade credit. This is the first time I am rebuying books that I had paid full retail for and had already gotten rid of.

Cute things my son said at the book sale
1.
Son: “Can we buy this book about making paper airplanes?”
Me: “We own two books already about making paper airplanes, I think that is enough.”
Son: “But this is the COMPLETE book of making paper airplanes.”
(That was the title of the book.)
(Woman behind us chuckled at this.)

2.
Son: “Oh, Mama, Here is Moby Dick! Can we buy this?” (Holds up a paperback version.)
Me: “We already own that book in a hard cover format.”
Son: “Then why haven’t we read this yet?”
(I have no clue how he knows anything about Moby Dick.)

3.
Son: “Here is a good one.” Holds up a Landmark series history book “Landing of the Pilgrims”.
Me: “Yes, that is a very good book, we already have that at home. Good job picking out a great book”
Son: “Okay.”

4.
Son: “OH—Here is “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, like the old Disney ride that they got rid of. Can we buy this? I have been waiting so long to hear this story!”
Me: “We already own that book.”
Son: “We do? I have been waiting forever to hear this story. Can we read it when we get home?”

(Knowledge of Disney-things sometimes does inspire children to things bigger and better than Disney.)

(Side Note: Something that amazed and surprised me: several different adults I know have revealed to me in casual conversation that they thought Disney was the original creator of stories and characters that Disney actually just “lifted”, such as Pinocchio, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc. It is sad that these adults never knew the original and often better versions of these stories.)

And then a stranger questions us about homeschooling and I try to answer with tact…
As we were paying one of the volunteers asked my son what grade he was in and he replied “second”. She then asked if he was involved in the shuffle when they had to move grades to other schools and other town buildings (due to the mold problem) and he said, “no, because I learn at home, I am homeschooled”. The woman went speechless. Another volunteer overheard this and asked me why we homeschool—and added, if I don’t mind sharing the reason with her. I replied that at first my husband suggested it as he read and believed the studies that showed that homeschooled children were scoring higher on standardized testing than public and private schools. She said “OH!” and her body language instantly changed and I could tell she had heard enough. I then added that my reason for wanting to do it was so that I could tailor the teaching to the child and so we could be freer to teach the content that we want, making a custom-made education for our children. She seemed to not be interested in hearing this but she did then ask if I was trained formally in education. I replied, “No, but I have training and used to train adults in the corporate world.” and added, “I am teaching myself what I need to know to teach my children. I used to think that teaching a child to read would be difficult but I have taught both of my children with success.” She had this horrid body language and I suspect she is either a teacher or a school administrator. I then added in for the heck of it, that people in town often ask why we homeschool when we live in THIS town and they feel that THIS school system is SO wonderful. I heard a homeschool conference speaker say once that every person in nearly every town says this about the schools in THEIR own town, which I thought was hysterical, but I digress. I said that I explain to them that our decision to homeschool was made before we even moved here and this decision has nothing to do with this town or this town’s school system.

When I told my husband about this exchange he said she was probably the principal of one of the town’s schools! Wouldn’t that be funny? If I begin being harassed by the town about homeschooling I will suspect it came from this exchange, from this woman taking my name and address off of the personal check that I paid with! It had been quite some time since a stranger questioned me about homeschooling.

I have been thinking about asking parents who send their children to public school about why they chose public school instead of private or something like that. I bet that would go over like a lead balloon.

In the end I walked away with four boxes of books and videos for $44. Can’t beat that bargain! I call that a successful book hunting experience.

Postscript: Yesterday morning, I entered these books into my Excel inventory spreadsheet and they are stacked in boxes awaiting filing in their proper places on our library shelves. Who knows when I will get around to that, but probably before all the family comes here to celebrate my son’s birthday.

Yesterday afternoon my boys spent a couple of hours browsing through the books and reading some of them. This was a picture perfect moment so I ran for the digital camera. Perhaps if I ever figure out how to upload photographs to Blogger I will post it. Then I had to interrupt my older son as he was reading in order for him to get dressed for Little League practice and he announced that he didn’t want to do Little League next year. I gently inquired as to why and he said he didn’t like it that much and I said it was up to him, but inside I had this image of me cheering and jumping up and down in joy! Imagine what the fans inside the ballpark look like when the winner of the World Series is declared---that I what I was imagining inside my head! It is so great when a child makes a decision on their own rather than having the parent be the decision-maker and limiter of something that the parent wants changed. Hooray, I will have only one child in Little League next year!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Homeschool Support Group Luncheon & Leading By Example

A few days ago I attended a luncheon for the homeschool support group leaders in my state, specifically, for the leaders of groups who are linked to the state’s secular homeschool support group. In our state there is cooperation between the secular organizations and the religious organizations, which is nice. This was the first time I attended this annual event. It was held at a hotel and we were treated to a buffet luncheon and delicious desserts and coffee and tea.

I rode up with another local homeschooler and it was nice to have pleasant adult conversation, since I was coming off of serious cabin fever due to weeks of illness in our family. While we ate, I chatted with other support group leaders. I was also happy to sit with an old friend, the first person that personally influenced me to homeschool my children. She did this by offering to lend me back issues of homeschooling magazines then when I accepted, she handed me a stack about a foot high. She also was available to answer any questions I had. I saw her and her children regularly at La Leche League (LLL) meetings and saw that her children were not only very normal looking and acting but they were well behaved during these adult meetings. I mention the way she inspired me because it is a way that not many people choose…she led by example and I observed her and she offered materials for me to read if I wanted. I was left with information that I had to actively read and process. She did not verbally try to convert me or talk me into homeschooling. She gave me materials that I would actively have to use (read) if I wanted to extract the information. This method empowers the other person rather than having more of a leader/follower role. I was able to read the magazines, digest them in my own time, and come up with my own ideas and opinions. This is a method that is endorsed and used/taught to LLL Leaders by LLL and is something that perhaps critics of LLL don’t know or realize. It is a very different thing to provide someone with materials and the ability to ask questions and seek support, and to empower them, than to try to convert people and talk them into something and make them rely on the Leader/”expert” for information. An empowered person develops good self-esteem naturally and easily, and feels confident in their ability to make decisions and is usually then quite satisfied and grateful with the end results. But I digress…

At the luncheon we heard a legislative update from a local attorney who keeps her eye on legal matters and who has clients who are dealing with issues with public education and homeschooling. While we do not presently have any pending legislation regarding homeschooling and/or how to homeschool, there are issues in the state regarding withdrawing a child from the public school system. Some residents of this state are filing the proper paperwork to withdraw their children from public school but are not being taken off the roster and are then being declared truant, which sets a whole other process in place including visits from the Department of Children and Families, for home inspections and other investigations of the child’s “truancy”. Apparently this is not happening with children who are withdrawn to attend private school, but only with children being withdrawn to homeschool. The school staff is asking parents to do certain paperwork and certain things that are not specified as required by law or statute in our state (they are making up new processes and policies). This is quite upsetting. It has been hard to stir emotions on this issue with parents: the already-homeschooling parents think it is not their problem and my friend’s whose children attend public school tell me that they can’t and won’t believe that this is an issue, and they also feel this won’t ever apply to them, so they don’t care about it. I spoke to one friend whose child attends private school…at first he attended private school to get a superior education but now that the child is on his third private school (and he is in second grade), the reason he has moved around is to find a better fit for his learning disabilities. I thought this friend would be sympathetic to this problem because other parents whose children are in public school and are having learning problems may not be able to withdraw their child to enroll them in a private school or to homeschool them. She said that she didn’t feel that the public schools would ever refuse to withdraw a child who was entering private school and that perhaps this was a backdoor way to hassle homeschoolers. She then surprised me by saying that she felt that homeschooling was too new to be known if it is a successful endeavor (saying there are not enough studies to show that homeschoolers are actually learning and becoming productive members of society). Anyway you can see that one issue with trying to stir up public attention in this matter is difficult, as parents seem to feel it is “not their problem”.

Next we heard from the President of the state organization, giving updates which mostly are about our upcoming state homeschooling fair. The fair will be larger this year than in the past, with more exhibitors and lots of activities (live educational presentations) for the children to attend. I am speaking at the fair for the first time.

I was surprised to see that there were nearly 40 attendees of this luncheon. It was inspiring to see that real people in other parts of the state are homeschooling their children. We then were directed to change tables and meet someone new. We did this a few times and I heard some interesting stories. Two mothers said that if they had known about homeschooling before their children were enrolled in Kindergarten they would have never sent them to school. I heard horror stories of what some children endured in public school and why they pulled them out. I also met one mother whose child homeschools two subjects (math and language arts) and all the other subjects are done in public school (from 10:30am to the end of the day). I met some mothers whose children are teenagers who now attend college full time (at younger ages than 18/19). It was nice to meet some people who have homeschooled their children for over 15 years and/or “since birth”. When we discussed what method we use for homeschooling, there was a large diversity and I was again reminded that with homeschooling there are many different paths that can lead to success. I met people who unschool, are eclectic, loosely structured and highly structured.

I left the meeting energized and rid of cabin fever. I am looking forward to the state homeschooling fair and realized I need to get my butt in gear to get my presentation ready!