Saturday, December 31, 2005

Italian Bread Soup with Sausages—Delicious Recipe!

My husband was watching Nick Stellino’s Italian cooking show last night (recorded by TiVo) and saw this recipe for Italian Bread Soup with Sausages (recipe #410) on the show. Tonight he made the soup. It is delicious!

Here is the link to the recipe for Italian Bread Soup with Sausage.

Here is Nick Stellino’s website in case you want to know more about him.

This soup recipe is from the cookbook, “Mangiamo! Let’s Eat” by Nick Stellino.

Here is information about another one of his cookbooks: “Nick Stellino’s Family Kitchen”.

Here is information about yet another of his cookbooks: “Nick Stellino’s Glorious Italian Cooking”.


Note: Updated blog entry on 10/01/06 to correct spelling of his name, it is Nick Stellino, not Nick Stellano.

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Working on LibraryThing Account

I have logged in over 200 books on my LibraryThing online account (which is an online catlogue of the books that I own). My library is public and viewable by anyone and everyone. Here is the link to view my virtual library catalog. If that doesn't work you can look me up under my account name which is ChristineMM (same name as my Blogger name and my Amazon reviewere name).

I know I own over 3300 books. I don’t know how fast I will be able to load them all in to LibraryThing. But if you want to look at them now, go for it. So far I have loaded in my homeschooling how-to books and SOME on education theory and did one shelf of history which happened to be next to my desk. I also entered random books which are stacked on my desk’s shelves. This explains why the listings may seem random!

I am going to post a link to my LibraryThing catalog at the top of my blog in the “about me” section.

I think it would be great fun if a bunch of book-loving homeschoolers all had LibraryThing accounts so we could look at each other’s books through cyberspace from the comfort of our own home.

Due to a mix of rain, hail and snow, and icy driving conditions, my plans for New Years Eve have changed. (There goes the town plow down our street now…) So yes, now I am sitting home in front of my computer, blogging, catching up on emails, etc. So please consider setting up your own account!

Happy New Year!

About Pricing Used Books For Resale

I blogged a lot last summer about me buying used books and homeschooling curriculum. I also blogged about how I was helping a former homeschooler sell some of her old books and curriculum on the web and to local homeschoolers.

One thing that I learned is that many people are asking too much money for their used items. Some people I know are asking for 10% less than the full retail price. I also know some people who are asking prices that are higher than Amazon’s price for the same item but Amazon’s are new and unused while the people’s are used and sometimes not even in very good condition.

Another issue with pricing is that when someone is selling an old copy of a book, textbook or curriculum and the product has since been revised, expanded or updated, people don’t always seem willing to accept this fact and they ask too high of a price for it.

Other times homeschoolers are giving only a 20% discount. This is often not worth it because sometimes curriculum vendors have annual sales which offer a 20% discount on NEW and CURRENT items and the other important thing is that the vendors are still willing to accept returns if you are dissatisfied with the product after you receive it. Other homeschoolers usually will not accept returns. I also found out the hard way that not all homeschoolers disclose that their edition is an older or out of date edition. They may either not want the buyer to know it or they may not even realize it.

Buyers should beware!

I was on Amazon today reading about selling used books through Amazon. I found this recommendation very enlightening. This was in the FAQ about selling items on Amazon and specifically about reselling items that you purchased from Amazon.

We calculate the potential value of past purchases at approximately 70% of the price.

I find Amazon’s recommendation very interesting. That is a lot lower than many 'regular people' (not experienced book dealers) are asking for.

Sellers take note!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Discovering, an Internet Library Database for Your Own Books!

Someone on a homeschooling chat list just told me about aka Library Thing. I looked at it today for the first time and am blown away. I am so excited! is a website in which people can input information to build a personal database or catalogue of the books that they own. The service is free for the first 200 books. The price for one year if you input more than 200 books is $10 and a lifetime membership is $25.

This company began on August 29, 2005 and has over 1,150,000 books catalogued so far.

I just joined today. My user name is ChristineMM in case you want to look me up. Inputting books is very fast and easy. I started by grabbing books off of the shelf nearest to my computer, which happened to be some history books. The default database that is searched is Amazon’s site, in the United States. You may choose to search other databases such as Amazon UK or the Library of Congress (which usually has to be done for out of print books). I inputted 50 books in just a few minutes. When searching the Amazon database the process is fastest. Tip: If the Amazon search comes up empty, enter the ISBN. Each time I tried that it worked.

Searching on the Library of Congress database takes a little longer. I have had to use that for out of print and old books.

There is also the ability to input a book manually by supplying all the information that you want to enter by yourself. I had to do this with one out of print book.

What you do is input the title and a list of hits displays on the screen, for example you may choose between paperback or hardcover or different years of publication or from other books with the same title. You click on the title of the book and then it is in your database.

Some key information automatically fills in such as ISBN and Dewey Decimal number.

You may edit and enhance your entry by updating the data fields. One important feature is the ‘tag’. This is a free text box in which you can input any descriptive word or phrase of your choosing. For example you may want to assign a history book with descriptive tags such as
America 1700s, Revolutionary War, United States History, Picture book, Children’s, Juvenile Fiction, Sonlight, TruthQuest, Who Shall We Then Read?

All you do is fill in the information in the tag field and separate the phrases with commas.

If data is missing from the entry then you can input it, such as ISBN or year of publication.

You also have the ability to give the book a star rating, a book review, and any other notes that you wish to make about the book.

Your online library may be public or private. The only thing you need to open an account is a username and your email address (which is kept private). I was surprised that the site requires so little personal information from us in order to open an account. You may choose to share your user name with others such as friends (or in my case, with fellow homeschoolers or with my blog readers).

If you have a website or a blog you can create a code which you can put on your site to highlight books from your personal library. If people buy that book from Amazon from your link, if you are an Amazon Associate, you get the commission. If you are not an Amazon Associate, LibraryThing gets the commission (which may be what is funding their website). I placed this link in my sidebar, scroll down to see it. The link I am showing today shows a random five books from my home library. (With over 3300 books here I don't know how fast I will load all the books into my LibraryThing account.)

Using this database is going a lot faster for data entry than when I use my homemade Microsoft Excel book database. I am doing less typing and am able to get more information into the database in the same amount of time.

Other fun things about the database are the ability to look at other people’s libraries. Let’s say you want ideas for books about ponds, you can look that up. If you see that you own the same book as another person and you respect their book choices you can peek at their other books for ideas. This is similar to the function on Amazon where you can see who else bought that book and what else they bought, but this is better because it includes books which were not purchased at Amazon or books that are out of print and not sold by Amazon.

You can view your holdings in a list format or graphically by seeing the cover images of the books. You can see how many other users own that book, then you can link to their accounts to see what else they own. I see this as yet another way to see what like-minded people are reading or using, which is especially interesting to me as a homeschooling mother who uses real books for our curriculum.

This is so much fun. Later today I will be forking over the $10 fee to pay for the annual membership fee!

I hope that more homeschoolers will begin using this website. We could build a real database of information for each other to reference!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hunt for Rusful Still On: A Treasure's Trove

The hunt for the last treasure from “A Treasure’s Trove is still on. Rusful is the character and the prize is an uncut black diamond. I am surprised that people are navigating to my blog almost daily in search of information and clue to find Rusful. I am not searching for the treasure. Here are some helpful links.

A Treasure’s Trove Official Site

General information about this treasure hunt on the offical website.

Press Release about Rusful

My Favorite Website for A Treasure’s Trove chat and discussion is You must register to gain access to the forums. Scroll down on the forum discussion listing to find the thread “The Rusful Token”. If you take the time to read through the threads you may find the clues for finding Rusful posted. Happy Reading.

Link to the book “A Treasure’s Trove” by Michael Stadther:

Audiobook “A Treasure’s Trove” read by Michael Stadther:

Link to the book “100 Puzzles, Clues, Maps, Tantalizing Tales, and Stories of Real Treasure” by Michael Stadther:

Link to “The Official Solution Book to A Treasure’s Trove” by Michael Stadther, which contains all the solutions except for Rusful:

I was reading online that once again a hoax was posted to some of the online forums claiming that the Rusful token was found on or before December 16, 2005. Before you believe any of the claims on the internet, wait for the official press release from the author on the official site. The confirmation usually appears within 48 hours of the finder posting their discovery.

Happy Hunting.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On a Break From Homeschooling

We are taking the week off from homeschooling. Other than winding down and cleaning the house after Christmas busy-ness and having Christmas dinner here, I am doing a lot of art play. You can read about the fun I am having with art on my other blog, here:

Two days ago, I finished making artist trading cards (ATCs) for an ATC swap that is due next week with the theme of "vintage found photos". I am hosting a swap that ends on Dec 31st so I have been busy organizing that (theme: Baby Swap). I decided to make an extra ATC for every swap participant so I worked on that last evening. Today I am going to continue that and plan to do more collage work in my journal. I also need to straighten up my art supplies and ephemera as they are getting a bit disorganized.

For fun this week I am reading a lot about art and art techniques. I am also catching up on back posts for Yahoo Groups! that I am a member of, on art topics.

I am not ready to get back into Cub Scout topics. For a few more days I’d like to have no thoughts of Cub Scout Leading or the politics that are going on in our Pack.

(Now that all of my favorite TV shows are finished for the season there is NOTHING to watch except old episodes of cooking shows and depressing news programs. Hence the increase in reading before going to bed!)

I also began reading “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain this week. This is bringing back memories of my year as a kitchen worker at a very busy seafood restaurant and the stint I did as a waitress at a competing, also busy, seafood restaurant.

Reading these great stories about working in restaurant kitchens is more entertaining than fiction. My brain and fingers are beginning to itch with the need to write down some of my own stories from my own restaurant experience. The more I think of all that I learned while in that environment, the more I think I will make my boys work at a restaurant kitchen when they are teenagers, as dishwashers. There is a lot that can be learned while working in a kitchen restaurant and 99% of it has nothing to do with food preparation or cooking skills.

I have burned through all the back issues of the art zine Play, edited by Teesha Moore. I have read the first two zine issues of Art and Life, also edited by Teesha Moore. I am reading various books on making altered books and artist journals.

One book that is very inspiring is "Artist Journals and Sketchbooks" by Lynne Perrella. This book is what inspired me to make my own artist journal by handpainting watercolor paper with watercolor paints and then binding it into a hardcover binding.

Another book which I am enjoying is: "The Decorated Page" by Gwen Diehn. This book starts off with more of a artist nature journal type bent (very much like the Charlotte Mason type nature journals) and then progresses to show different kinds of artist journals. There is a lot of inspriation in this book.

I realized just how important and worthwhile it is to do something fun that has nothing to do with being a mother or homeschooling. I realized that for the last 8+ years my life has centered on raising my children OR doing volunteer WORK that has to do with babies, children, parenting, or homeschooling. The blog was a way to do something separate and 'just for fun and just for me' but I write mostly of the topics listed (parenting, education, homeschooling) so it ends up feeling like more of the same thing.

My experimentation with art, binding my own journal books, and starting to keep a journal are things that don’t cross over or involve any of those topics. It is healthy and good to have a bit of a departure from those subjects. Since I am no longer knee deep in changing diapers and since my kids are old enough to play by themselves for a while (or to join me in making art), I think it is high time that I have a bit of fun. And making art has been a kind of therapy for me as I deal with the fear of losing loved ones to Cancer.

So if you want to see what I have been up to go visit my other blog! I have been posting some pictures of things that I have made on that blog.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Pinewood Derby Cars Sold and Marketed to Busy People

The Pinewood Derby is an annual race that some Cub Scout Packs hold. The Scout is given an official Boy Scouts of America Pinewood Derby kit (retail about $3.50) which is basically a block of pine with 4 wheels and 4 nails/axels. The intention is that the Scout and his parent(s) make the car together. The intention is that the child designs the car and decorates it.

(Sometimes churches and other youth groups hold Pinewood Derby races. Here I am discussing Cub Scouting and Pinewood Derby races.)

I can’t believe this. My husband just found this site: this guy who calls himself Pinewood Rick will make a Pinewood Derby car for you if you pay him $60-$75. His website markets this to parents who are too busy to help their son make their own car.

Our Pack has a rule that the Scout must help make the car; as much work as possible is to be done by the Scout. So if a parent in our Pack buys a car from Pinewood Rick they will be in violation of the rules and would be disqualified (if the Pack knew that the Scout's family paid a stranger to make the car).

In America you can make money doing just about anything!

One of the best things about the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby is that the child gets to design their own car. If the father and son and/or mother and son work on the car together then it promotes a close relationship, which is one of the goals of Cub Scouting. What is important is that the boy creates their own car. They take pride in their creation even if the car doesn't win, even if it doesn't look 'perfect', even if the overall shape and design is not one that is thought to be 'best to win'.

I am so SICK of people being too busy to do things! Make your priorities and then do the things that you selected well and right. Don’t take shortcuts such as paying this guy to make the car for you.

The fun is in the making of the car, and in the racing. The fun is not necessarily in the winning of a trophy.

The Pinewood Derby Race is optional for Cub Scouts. Any family too busy to make a car can skip the race. Any family too busy on the day of the race can skip the race.

Often Packs will hold free workshops to help Cubs and families who may not own their own tools. In my five years of being active with Cub Scouting with my sons I have never seen a person in need helped by other parents or Den Leaders or Pack volunteers.

Any company who offers to create Pinewood Derby cars for children whose rules stipulate that the child must make the car should be ashamed of themselves. Especially with Cub Scouting, where rules stipulate the Scout must help make the car, paying a stranger who turns a profit to make cars is encouraging unethical behavior in my opinion. Cub Scouting is firmly rooted in values and morals so to promote something that breaks the rules of the races is so surprising to me.

What would be better is that a busy parent carve a little time out of their schedule to spend some time with their kid and make their own car. What would be good is for the child to have a say in designing it. What would be good is for a child to actually see what hard work it is to make something by hand and to learn to appreciate the effort put into the task.

What is not good is for a child to think that anything can be bought with money and that things can come without any work or effort on the child's part. What is not good is when a Scout knows they are to make the Pinewood Derby car and knows the other Scouts made their own car but this Scout has a superiority complex because he thinks that success (maybe winning a trophy) can be bought with money rather than through his own time and effort. Talk about a way to teach a child poor work ethics!

Any company running a business of that nature obviously doesn't care about the spirit of the Pinewood Derby Race, he just wants to profit from it. He wants to profit from the busy parents or the parents who are more interested in seeing their kid maybe win a trophy rather than seeing their child work on a project through to its completion. In Cub Scouting one motto is "Do Your Best".

The motto for parents who buy a car from Pinewood Rick is "Winning is More Important" and "My Child and I are too lazy to do the actual work, but I have money so I hope to buy my way into my child winning a trophy". That notion sickens me.

Update: Pinewood Rick sent me an email on 3/03/08 in which he stated that there are about a dozen companies selling this kind of service. Back in 2005 when I wrote this post I was reacting to reading Pinewood Rick's site. I was so stunned and disgusted back then.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Read the Shipping Fees Carefully on eBay

Reminder: Read eBay shipping fees before bidding.

I think I have found the worst fine print shipping fee ever seen on eBay shipping/handling fee!

This auction is for a set of 30 Star Wars Attacktix figures.

S&H and packaging is $14.00 for the first {STAR WAR FIGURES ONLY} and $1.00 for each additional STAR WARS FIGURE won. $1.30 insurance is optional. Iternational bidders please email me for quote.

On first glance I thought the shipping fee was $14. Then I read the entire entry and got confused. There are typo’s in the above entry, I believe, other than the spelling of ‘international’ there is the plural vs. singular issue. If I am to change the plural “figures” to the singular “figure” then it would mean the shipping is $14 for the first one figure than $1 for the other 29 figures coming to a total of $43!! Wow.

These little figures are lightweight, weighing perhaps 2 or 3 ounces each. They are durable plastic and won’t require much packing material to keep them intact.

I am annoyed by this tricky shipping entry. I am going to email the seller to ask about his typo and to clarify if the shipping is $14 or $43 for this lot of 30 plastic figures.

I am not going to bid on this but will ask this of the seller just because I am curious and also annoyed that the shipping information is unclear.

This is more proof that many Americans have a poor ability in their written communication!

Note: the average full retail price of one Attacktix figure is $2.30. This auction is for a full set of 30 figures and the starting bid (before shipping fees) is at $80. So far no one is bidding on the auction.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Adults Can Change A Child’s Personality For the Worse

Since I have been around various children lately (at holiday events, etc.) I have some observations. I have known some children over a span of many years and it is always interesting when I have not seen them for a while and then see them again. It is easiest then to notice the changes, not only in their looks but in their personalities as well.

My observations are mostly about children aged around eight. I am really noticing a difference in some of the kids. They have changed for the worse. The innocence is disappearing and what is left in its absence is a lack of respect for adults, sassy backtalk, ‘an attitude’, and even a cynical, critical, or “negative in various ways” attitude.

These are attitudes and behaviors that I see in some children’s television shows and movies but I digress. That is another topic for another day! I try to keep my kids away from those media influences as they are not the kind of role models that I approve of.

With certain children I sense that they have been let down by adults around them. I sense a lack of trust or a worry that I, as an adult, may be ‘the enemy’. I get this sometimes when I meet children for the first time, say, at a birthday party. I look them in the eye and sometimes talk to them (a simple greeting) but they give me this evil eye and/or a rude look. It is hard to engage most (non-homeschooled) children in a real conversation (including close relatives who you think would act nicer or be more comfortable around me). Many or most children seem to not want to talk to adults at all, these children congregate with other children, with ‘their peers’ but avoid adults at all costs.

Since I have been around their parents as well at these events, I have observations about what is going on. Most of the time the adults want nothing to do with their children at these events. The parents actually say things that I hear--so I am not making this up! For example, they tell their kids to go away, leave them alone, to go play with the other kids. Often children will only speak to their own parents, they don’t engage other adults in conversation, even a polite hello, if, for example, they approach their parents to say something and there is another adult right there. The children ignore the other adults and as a result the other adults ignore the child.

I also see sometimes, a child asking for help and the parent refuses. I can see, at times, the child thinking that no adult will help them, as they think that if their parent always rebuffs them that is what they must accept.

I also hear the tone of the parent’s voices and see where their child learned it. (My kids are not perfect and neither am I, but I see some really rude behavior from adult to their own child when I think it is way off base or unwarranted. Just because a person is your child doesn’t mean that they should be treated like dirt just because they are your own flesh and blood.)

I hate seeing when a child is injured. So many parents don’t even ask, “Are you alright? I know it hurts. It will be alright.” Most just say, “Get up, go back and play” or they may say “Okay you are a big boy get up and don’t cry, it is not serious”. I believe that all people including children like and need to have a sense of empathy. Just acknowledging that there is pain is what children like most of all. Some adults think that if you acknowledge the pain you will somehow make it hurt more or make the situation worse. I find the opposite is true. It is when the existence of pain (or emotions for that matter) are ignored and suppressed by others that the pain (or emotions) escalates. Then if a child feels the parent is not paying enough attention to their injury, which is what makes the situation worse and the child sometimes can get hysterical. It is hard to watch as a bystander. Why is it that some parents just won’t acknowledge the pain? I also wonder if these parents acknowledge their own pain, emotions, or stress levels, or that of their spouses or others in their lives? I bet they suppress and deny many things in their lives!

It is pretty sad to see some children I know getting so rude and cynical at young ages. Some children began this behavior at age three. With the eight year old’s who are knee deep in attitude problems, I wonder what the teenage and college years will hold? When children lie through their teeth over and over at age seven, what does the future hold?

I pray that I can be the best parent to my children, that I can give them what they need in the form of guidance, support and parental authority so that they grow up without horrible attitudes, critical or cynical outlooks, etc. I want my children to be happy and I don’t think that a child with a negative attitude is not happy. I want children who are have morals, values, are friendly in a sincere and authentic way. I just hope that along this journey I don’t do something to mess my kids up! I want to RAISE them up in a positive way not hinder who they are becoming as people. I hope I am capable!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Fun Christmas Video

Here is a fun video clip that you and your children may enjoy!

Thousands of lights are synchronized with Trans-Siberian music for this Christmas spectacular.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Book Review: The Home-Based Bookstore by Steve Weber

Steve Weber is the third person in the last month to offer to send me a free book or DVD because I am a top 500 Amazon reviewer. That is making me consider getting back to writing more reviews for Amazon! It is kind of nice to be ‘recognized’ and appreciated for writing the reviews. Writing those reviews is something I haven’t been doing much lately. My extra time has gone to writing the blog, which I enjoy doing. (Now if it would only generate some income for me!)

Steve Weber the author of “The Home-Based Bookstore: Start your own business selling used books on Amazon, eBay, or your own website”. I read the book over the last two days, and decided to write a review.

Weber’s book is well-written and easy to read. I was grateful that this self-published book had a good typeset and contained no typographical errors (as so many self-published books do).

When I read that Weber took in over $1 million in four years I really wanted to hear how and what he did to earn that kind of money!

Weber is very enthusiastic about how any person can start a home based business selling used books. He suggests that less than $100 can be spent on building an inventory and getting up and running. (Although later in the book one realizes how much time and energy can be saved by using various computer programs and services which are additional expenses. If some of these computer programs are to be used an upgrade to a new computer and to a broadband internet connection is recommended.)

I learned things that I was curious about such as how to decide what to initially charge for a book, strategies for pricing books such as how he drops the prices over time to move the inventory. When to get rid of stock that isn’t selling and what to do with the ‘dead wood’ is also covered.

As I suspected, his main source of books is library used book sales. So when I attend those sales as a homeschooling mother looking for inexpensive or hard to find books to teach my children with, I am competing with book dealers such as Mr. Weber. I have not had good experiences with book dealers at these sales! It was therefore interesting for me to read about how he makes his livelihood with library sales as his main source of books. Weber also tempted me to consider entering this line of business. After all, I love books and I am already attending the library sales to buy books for our own home library. The idea of running a part-time business from my home would be something that is more do-able for a homeschooling mother than employment outside the home!

Weber explains he started this as a part time venture but when his book sales exceeded his “real job’s” 40K per year salary, he quit it and now sells used books full-time. Weber speaks of his experience including discussing which genre of books he chooses to focus on, which are nonfiction books and books which are selling the most frequently on He also favors books that will sell more quickly rather than buying inventory and holding it for many years. What this book will not do is tell you everything you need to know about every single genre. It also does not go into detail about rare and out of print, or highly collectible books, for that information you will have to refer to other books which he recommends or do other research on your own (and/or learn by experience).

Weber goes into detail about the details of the operations of running an internet based and mail order service. I appreciated hearing these details as these are things that he has learned from experience that work. Examples are what types of packaging to use for what type of book, where to buy shipping boxes and materials at wholesale prices, pro’s and con’s of places and ways to buy postage (online vs. at the post office). Weber recommends good communication with customers (which some online book sellers I have patronized should read and follow)! Weber even gives sample form letters to use. Inventory methods and organizational systems are also discussed.

Weber’s favorite website for selling used books is and he discusses why this is his preference in detail. The con’s of eBay are also explained and were eye-opening to me. I was also surprised to learn that computer programs exist that will upload your data to up to 19 different online book selling websites.

There are also some basics about being self-employed and running a business from your home, such as tax issues every business owner should be aware of. There are some basic record keeping recommendations and legal issues discussed.

There are a couple of things that were not discussed in eh book. The problem of the odor of used books is not even mentioned yet as a used book-buyer this is a problem. I feel that the odor of books should be taken into account when deciding the condition of the book. Whether a book has mothball odor, cigarette smoke odor or whether it has mold or mildew odor is very important—yet I have purchased books online which the bookseller had rated as being in very good condition but they never mentioned the book. Some booksellers I have spoken to have told me they don’t consider the odor of the book when assigning condition because it is not outlined in the definitions of the book’s condition.

Weber favors for selling used books. Weber does not discuss my concerns with I have found to be not as buyer-friendly for purchasing out of print books. For example the listing usually lacks a book description and it can be hard to determine what year the out of print book was printed in, or the edition. There usually is not an image of the cover of the out of print books and sometimes the listings don’t even say whether the book is a soft cover or a hardcover. Some out of print books are not even listed on Amazon. Those of us who buy and/or collect out of print books tend to find better descriptions and listings on other websites such as Abe books. EBay auctions also are more user friendly for purchasing out of print books. If you are considering selling out of print books, the wealth of information and the praise for may not be applicable.

Weber also did a good job of summarizing the fee schedules for each of the various large online book sellers. It was helpful to see everything laid out in one place, to see how fee structures compare and contrast.

If you want to get into the used book selling business this book will lay out everything you need to know to get up and running. The book contains a wealth of information and is inexpensive. The things you will learn from the book will pay for the expense of buying it and will save you time and energy. You can start out slowly and add in everything that Weber recommends, over time, if you need to and want to. More research and information will be needed if you choose to focus your area of expertise in areas which are different than Weber’s. Even if you are just curious about this business this is a worthwhile book to read. The book is 165 pages, is indexed for reference and is a quick and easy read. The tone of the book is upbeat and enthusiastic and you will be left with the feeling that not only can you do this but that anyone including you, can be successful at it and can make quite a lot of money doing it!

Weber's website is

Weber's blog is:

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Rabbit Trail Story: The Phantom of the Opera

This blog entry is a typical homeschooling “rabbit trail” story.

In the past when I have read books about homeschooling, specifically the type where a family tells their own story, there are tales of rabbit trails. I don’t think that all homeschooling families follow rabbit trails. Some rabbit trails seem more academic than others, on the surface. Of those who do, a common challenge is knowing when to stop and when to get back on the main path. Rabbit trails are a major source of the studies for unschooling families. Rabbit trails can be fun and you never know where they will lead or if they will quickly become dead ends. I like to follow rabbit trails and am not disappointed when they end or hit a dead end. If the rabbit trail keeps going and it is not taking over our lives, meaning it is not hindering other studies over the long term then I think it is a healthy thing to experience. Rabbit trails can’t really be planned, they begin spontaneously but following the trail can take effort and work or planning.

Our Current Rabbit Trail: The Phantom of the Opera

Background Info
To explain what one is, if you don’t know, read this story and you will understand.

In 1993 I went to Chicago with an architecture class from college. We were studying the architecture by being in it and around it. We did a bit of research before we went on the trip. We each had to give presentations on certain Chicago history and landmarks. We also had to write a long research paper. We then walked miles and miles around Chicago, stopping to view certain buildings. Some lectures were given by students and other times the teacher (an architect) would educate us about the buildings.

While in Chicago we visited the Opera House. We were offered student discount tickets to see the show that night, which happened to be Phantom of the Opera. A friend and I decided to go. She had brought dresses and we decided to dress in very nice dresses. I borrowed her dress and shoes and we even wore gloves. We had some champagne before the show and went off to see it. We were both overcome by the emotions of the story and were teary-eyed as we watched it.

When I got home I purchased the soundtrack from the London version of the musical. I listened to this over and over.

I read the novel in 1994 or 1995 and it was interesting to see how the book and musical were different. I turned the book in to a used book store for credit when I was done. (I now regret that decision.)

I chose one of the songs as my wedding song a couple of years later—“All I Ask of You”. The fact that the main female character’s name is the same as mine and is mentioned in the song is a pure coincidence.

In 1997 while very pregnant I got to see the New York production of the show, a guest of a salesperson whom my husband did business with. This was my last nice night on the town before I became a mother. My chapter with Phantom closed at that point.

When my older son was four I took out the soundtrack and tried listening to it in the car. My son was scared when he heard the powerful organ music so I was unable to hear it.

Three years ago, I found a children’s picture book abridged version of the story in a used book store. I bought it. My older son was five at the time and looked at the pictures. He was afraid of them. He begged me to read the long story to him. I shortened it up. The pictures still scared him, and I had to hide the book as a result.

In 2003 I found a great book about the story of the musical with photographs at a library sale. I bought it and put it away. (Yesterday I was unable to find it, it is stored in a box with other books which I don’t have room for on my bookshelves!)

Now About The Movie
A month ago my friend told me that the musical was closing on Broadway and she wanted me to go see it with her. She remembered that I loved Phantom in the past. I agreed to go. We made plans to buy tickets at a discount. I could not believe the show was closing. (I now was told it is not really closing.)

A couple of days later my friend and neighbor said she had watched the movie version. Honestly I knew a movie was being made but I am so out of the loop with movies and what is going on in Hollywood that I didn’t know it had already come out. I would have loved to see this on the big screen. Anyway my friend said she borrowed the movie from our town library. I decided to watch the movie. I picked a day that I was very sick with a head cold and could not do my usual homeschooling routine with the kids. I was so sick I just wanted to lie in bed all day and rest. I decided to watch the movie.

I had a challenge though, as the kids were home. I decided to let them watch it if they wanted to. They watched the movie with me. I paused the movie to explain certain parts to them as the story unfolded. Honestly I didn’t recall the scene where the man is hanged or I may have not wanted them to see it. They both loved the movie and the haunting music. Unfortunately the library's copy did not come with the second bonus material disc. I would love to own the DVD with the bonus material. I love to hear and learn the background information, as do my children.

I took out my muscial soundtrack from the London cast, from 1987, and we have been listening to it while in the house and while driving in the car. Each child has their favorite tracks. They are quoting the songs and singing them out loud throughout the day. They are also asking the meaning of certain lines such as, “Spare me these unending trials!” We own the 2 CD set which has more tracks on it than the 'highlights' audio CD.

Yesterday I borrowed the movie again. I’d like to watch it again. If they want to see it with me, they can. (Postscript: We were too busy to watch it again and had to return it. I really want to buy it so we can have it here to view at our leisure!)

I thought I had remembered buying the book about the musical. I checked my bookshelf with books about music and operas, and it was not there. I checked my book database on the computer and found all the information about the book. I looked in a box of music books that I have stored in a closet and it was not there. I am perplexed as to where this book is. I did find the children’s book about the story in there and took it out.

I showed the book to my kids. They begged for me to read it aloud, which I did yesterday.

We have been discussing how the movie is different from the children’s book. I explain to them how something like a musical or a movie which is adapted from a book has changes in it. One example is that the crashing down of the chandelier is very different in the musical (and original book) than in the movie. We also discussed how the special effects are different for the movie vs. the stage production.

Now if I really want to go crazy I could turn this into a unit study in which we study Paris, France at the time period that the story took place.

My husband asked if I should change plans for seeing the musical to include taking my older son. The tickets are already purchased and it is too late for that. However we decided that when he gets a job, all four of us will go see the show together. I was wondering if my five year old would sit still during the show. I now think that it would be so captivating, especially if he knows the songs and the storyline, that he would be fine.

I also checked our library to see if they had audio recordings of musicals other than the London production; they did not. I am going to check larger libraries in the area. I’d like to hear how different singers sound and if they changed the story around at all (as was the case with a few things in different productions of “Les Miserables”).

Should Children Be Exposed to Phantom?
I am sure that some parents would think that exposing children to this story is over the top and that the story is too mature for them. I beg to differ. This a classic tragic hero story, and it is just a great story. The music is wonderful and inspiring. I would not have shown this to my children if my oldest was five, but since my younger son is five, he sees it along with the older child.

We also discussed the larger issues in the story such as the way society treats a person who has a deformity. We also discussed the sins such as the murders that took place in the movie.

This is a constant challenge—figuring age appropriate material when there is more than one child in the family. A couple of people have told me that they tailor their family’s experiences to the youngest aged child, I think that by doing this the older child misses out on a lot and in the very least would miss out on what other children his age are currently doing such as reading Harry Potter books or other things like that. As it is my older child is still happy to sit and watch Barney which is pretty surprising considering my younger son is already saying, “That is a baby show”. I don’t know where kids get these ideas from but it really is a show tailored to children aged four and younger, so I can’t argue with him as it is the truth!

Mainstream parents are showing children of this age (8 and younger), television shows and movies which have what I consider to be inappropriate content: shows with rude behavior glamorized, where children backtalk adults, where adults are portrayed as stupid and the children ‘cool’. So many shows are lacking morals, or are glamorizing things such as breaking rules or breaking the law. Many shows contain sexual innuendo or are pushing sexual topics down to characters who are too young to be experiencing it. One example: The Suite Life with Cody and Zack on the Disney channel is about two eight year old’s and they talk about and tease each other for not having dates. Some children this age are routinely shown movies with a PG or PG-13 rating, and some I know even see R-rated movies. One family I know showed the Spiderman PG-13 movie that contained a bloody murder scene to children aged 3.5 and 5 and then followed up with a Spiderman themed birthday party for the 4th birthday party. They later purchased the DVD for home viewing and it has been watched repeatedly by the children. Now that, I think, is inappropriate. Some children listen to music on the radio which is filled with sexual references, and some own music CDs which are purchased by the parents which contain mature themes and even profanity!

I am happy to share “The Phantom of the Opera” with my sons. We are having a ball with it!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

My Hometown Library

I believe that my positive experience with my hometown library was a big influence on who I became as a person. I feel the public library helped me become a bookworm and encouraged my curiosity. I grew up with the idea that anything could be researched and learned about and a great place that everyone can do that for free is in a library.

Here is a photo of the library in the town that I grew up in. I took this photo earlier this month. I no longer live in this town.

I was saddened to see the results of their renovation. The character of the place was severely altered and cheapened. It broke my heart to see it this way.

When I grew up the children’s library was in the basement. This was a wonderful place. The children’s library had a separate plain entrance. We then walked down carpeted stairs that twisted and turned and I remember thinking they were great fun.

I remember the librarian teaching me to use the card catalogue. I would visit this library with my mother and we would look for books together. My brother would go off in one direction and I would go off in the other. I remember they had the small sized hardback versions of all the Beatrix Potter books in a special display right over the card catalogue. The card catalogue itself was made of wood and the drawers slid out silently. There were little shelves that slid in to the cabinet and were hidden. When you wanted to use one you pulled it out. Then you pulled out the card catalogue tray and put it on this little shelf while you looked through it.

My favorite thing to do was to browse the stacks. While in fourth grade I would go right to the Bobbsey Twins section and see what they had. Later I read through all of the Nancy Drew books. After that I went on to regular chapter books and would go to the stacks and pull books off the shelf until I found one that looked interesting. This is how I found “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

I want to mention that my mother is dyslexic and is not a big reader. She read books aloud to me when I could not read. The reading aloud pretty much stopped when I was in first grade and was taught to read. She kept buying us books and taking my brother and me to the library to borrow books for entertainment as well as for school work. My mother did not homeschool me nor was she a model for me with reading but she instilled a love of books within me. My mother read for research such as to read about her hobbies of stained glass, knitting, etc. She also was pre-reading some of the Judy Blume books before she gave them to me to read.

My father has not read a book since he was in high school. My father reads the city newspaper nearly from page one through the end. He skips the sports section as he is not interested in it. I was provided full access to the newspaper which we subscribed to. At first I read only the comics and later moved on to “Ask Beth” column and “Ann Landers”. I learned some good social graces from Ann Landers (which my parents were not teaching me) and I learned some adolescent and teenage issues from “Ask Beth”.

Back to the Library
I remember researching research papers. I still remember the report I had to do on tomatoes in which I said it was both a fruit and a vegetable and the teacher saying I was wrong and taking points off of the report. It was then that I realized that people are not always right, that books held lots of information and opinions. One should not rely on the knowledge of teachers as they were sometimes incorrect! I knew I was right about the tomatoes as I had read that in several encyclopedias and books.

The children’s department also had many pets. Yes, pets. There were rabbits and guinea pigs and noisy birds. What fun it was to go visit the animals. I remember the water fountain was near the pets. I’d get a drink and visit the pets while my mother checked our books out.

I remember the cards inside the books had the names of the patrons who had borrowed the books on them. I’d look at who had read the book that I was reading, before it was checked out. It was interesting to see names of other school children who I knew on some of the cards.

Starting when I was in fourth grade I was able to ride my bike to the library by myself to get books. This was about a 1.5 mile bike ride in one direction. I remember struggling to ride home with a bag of books hanging off my handlebar. This was before backpacks were used by children.

Other days I would take the bus to the library after school and then walk home afterwards. There was a pay phone outside and I’d use that on some days, to call my mother to come and pick me up, especially if it was winter and it was dark by the time I was ready to go home.

When I was young sometimes my mother would need a book from upstairs. This was a very serious place. We’d climb the huge marble steps to the front door. The front door is gigantic and heavy. As you walk in there is a domed ceiling with huge murals on it. You can hear a pin drop in there. The Librarians were very strict. Everyone spoke in whispers and even then that carried.

When I was in about seventh or eighth grade I began frequenting the adult section. I remember being glared at by the Librarians. They were warning me with their eyes that I had better behave and be quiet.

I remember a huge dictionary on a podium which was located near a giant fireplace. Tall windows surrounded this rounded room. There were many sturdy wood tables and heavy wooden chairs to sit in. My friends and I would do our homework here, especially when we had research papers to write. Back then (in the 1980s) the libraries did not have computers and they were not places to use equipment. They were for reading and research and working. (When the renovation was done they got rid of the wonderful wooden tables and chairs to put in newer, cheaper, more flimsy furniture. Also the room looks bad now that they have giant magazine holder metal-ugly shelves. These shelves actually block the view of the room. There is way too much room on these shelves, much empty space and the magazines are face-front. This room is now the periodicals reading room. It is stark, and not warm and cozy at all.)

One area of the library housed the adult fiction books. This was a semi-circle area. The shelves were metal. The second story was fancy cast iron. The aisles were very narrow and odd shaped, like a wedge. Only one person could fit in the aisle at a time. The staircase to get there was rickety and made from this fancy filigree cast iron. This was very much not wheelchair friendly so during the renovation this was all scrapped. What a shame!

The main lobby of the rotunda now houses two computers with the internet. These are odd because you must stand to use them. In every other library I’ve ever been to the computer stations have chairs to sit in while using them. They are also not pretty to look at. Also everyone in the place can see what you are doing. A woman next to me was using the internet to view pornographic images of women. I could not help noticing this as I was approaching the area to use one of the computers and the screens were about 2-3 feet away from each other. I shuddered to think of children seeing this!

Upstairs under the rotunda were rooms which housed a museum collection of stuffed wild animals and birds. This was not open to the public at any time, it required an appointment and a guide. I visited this a few times as field trips with the Girl Scouts. I remember thinking it was very creepy. This was a private collection which was donated to the library. I am not sure but it may have been the property of the man who built the library.

When the renovation was done they removed the museum pieces and replaced the rooms with children’s books. There is a main ‘aisle’ that goes around in a circle, like a balcony. The rooms are off of this and so the children’s section is one room after another. The problem with this is that the children, toddlers and babies are noisy and this noise echoes down and goes through the entire library. You can imagine the tone of the library is much changed, then. The place is also noisier as the families must climb a large staircase to get upstairs and if they do their footsteps echo throughout. (There is also an elevator.)

There was not a lot of parking in the front of the building. During the renovation parts of the back lawn were paved over for a parking lot. The most frequently used entrance is now a boring back door which enters into the basement level.

This basement level now houses most of the book collection. The decorating is shabby to say the least. The ceiling is low and is that cheap tiled hanging ceiling, whatever that is called. There are wall to wall carpets which I hate as they hold a lot of dirt and can get mold and mildew easily. There is fluorescent lighting and no windows. It is a very depressing place. This area also houses tables for study and working upon.

It saddened me to see the changes in the renovated library. I will have to rely on my memories of the place for the warm and fuzzy feelings. I will bring my children to this still library some day and show them around and tell them of my memories. Much of it is still lovely, especially the exterior, especially when compared to some of the new libraries that are being built.

Comparing My Experience to My Children’s
My children are having a very different childhood and experience with books than I did. I have over 3000 books in our home library. I use the public library more now that my husband is unemployed. Most of our books are educational or non-fiction but many are fiction and for entertainment only. I prescreen books and have standards for what I allow my children to read and be exposed to. This is not the ‘open door’ policy that my parents had for me. I am a very different model for reading than my own parents were, but I can’t fault my parents because I did turn out to be a voracious reader and a person who is not afraid to research and learn through books and libraries. They did a good job! And I am trying to do a good job also!

What I Want My Children to Know
The most important thing that I want my children to know is that books contain knowledge and ideas and entertainment. Books and other written materials like magazines and newspapers are a window into someone else’s mind and soul. If a person is willing to read and research there are worlds of knowledge and information available to them. A library is a great place to get this information for free, when a person can’t afford to buy every single book that they want. It also lets a person see a variety of what is out there, so they can choose what it is they want to read. The key is to know how to use the library and to feel comfortable going there, and then to actually use it. This is one of the goals for me to teach my children.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Jesse’s Toy Store and Evan’s Toy Shoppe Review

I see people are navigating to my blog looking for information about Jesse’s Toy Store in Orange, Connecticut.

I am happy to throw business their way so here is the info:

Jesse’s Toys
185 Boston Post Road
Orange, CT 06477
(203) 799-1301

They also own a second store called

Evan’s Toy Shoppe
1647 Whitney Avenue
Hamden, CT
(203) 230-2840

Here is some information about these two stores. They are owned by the same family. This is an independent toy store. This is not a large franchise or a chain.

The stores are small but they are crammed to the ceiling with great toys. Many of the toys found in the stores are what people would call old-fashioned. There are very basic toys such as hula hoops and balls and batons. There are LEGOs galore. They carry the full line of Thomas and Friends (formerly called Thomas the Tank Engine) and Brio. They have a gigantic selection of Playmobile toys.

For girls they have loads of wonderful looking dolls which I don’t see at the usual chain stores.

There is a section of educational toys. They have great science experiment kits, for example. There are talking globes and kits such as “grow your own crystals”.

They carry magic trick kits.

They have pirate toys. There is a display of polished stones which can be used for buried treasure.

There is a large selection of dress up clothes. These clothes run the gamut from cowboy to princess. They do not cater to imitating children’s movies.

There is a large selection of wooden toys. They have wooden kitchens, wooden food, and other wooden pretend play toys.

I have found things that are hard to find elsewhere such as child sized broom, dustpan, and snow shovels.

There is a giant section of board games. They carry board games that you probably have never heard of and are not found in the big name toy stores.

There is a huge selection of puzzles. Puzzles start with the wooden peg puzzles and go up to large numbers of pieces. They carry the Ravensburger puzzles, which are thick high-quality puzzles which don’t have movie characters on them. Ravensburger has timeless designs on their puzzles.

They carry Felt Kids felt toys.

There is a small selection of classic and high quality children’s books.

They also have a wide variety of musical instrument toys for children.

Oh, and there is a large selection of German plastic figures. There are figures for knights and kings, farm animals, forest animals, and dinosaurs. The dinosaur figure collection is huge and I believe they carry more than one brand.

They also have a line of craft kits such as those that girls love to do.

Just about any high quality wholesome toy that you could think of is carried by Jesse’s Toys. Often their store is the only local store that I have been able to find these items in.

I highly recommend patronizing Jesse’s and Evan’s toy stores. I am on a kick lately to try and give business to this small toy store. I only go to the big chains when I am looking for toys which are not sold by Jesse’s (such as Hasbro Star Wars toys).

Oh and something you won’t find pushed in these stores are video games, hand held electronics, or television viewing. You might find a Thomas video but you won’t find much more than that.

Jesse’s and Evan’s both have excellent customer service. If you are looking for a gift for a child you need only ask the staff for suggestions and they will offer many age-appropriate ideas within your price range. This is great for grandparents and other adults who are buying gifts for children but aren’t quite sure what the children would be interested in.

Happy Shopping!

To Do List For 12/20/05

I don’t usually share this amount of detail with my blog readers but for some weird reason I feel like doing it today.

To Do Today

Speak to our Cubmaster about some Pinewood Derby planning challenges.

Return defective toy to Wal Mart, was a Christmas gift. (When I went to wrap it I realized it was missing parts!) Return a toy which was a duplicate purchased in error, also, to Wal Mart.

Buy something to use up the store credit left over from the last return. (Postscript: I forgot to use the credit when I paid for the purchase.)

Go to grocery store to buy confectioner’s sugar needed to make cookies later today. (Note: Husband has already been to the grocery store today but I forgot we needed this item.)

Bake my husband’s favorite cookies (Anjenettes aka Italian Lemon Cookies).

Bake my grandmother’s favorite cookies (thumbprint cookies); these will be her Christmas gift.

Give a Thank You gift to my friend since it is finished now.

Go to friend’s house to retrieve my older son’s winter jacket which he accidentially left there yesterday. Pick up toy that my younger son lost while there (if they found it). (Postscript: They did find it. Phew.)

Ponder spelling curriculum changes. Read teacher manual section of the Spelling Power book.

Put away the last boxes of Christmas decorations.

Fold two loads of laundry which are dry and awaiting attention.

Plan something for dinner.

No plans to do homeschooling today.

Make some art if I have time.

Go on the treadmill while watching Dr. Phil. The fact that this is last on the list says something, doesn’t it?

My Beef Stew Recipe

Here is a recipe which I adapted to fit my own taste. The original recipe appeared in
“Dysart’s Cookbook”, from Dysart’s Truck Stop which is located in Bangor, Maine.

Beef Stew


1 lb. stew beef, cut into 1” cubes
1 Tbsp. olive oil or butter
1 small onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, cut into 1” pieces
2 medium parsnips, cut into 1” pieces
1 stalk celery, cut into 1” pieces
2 large potatoes cut into 1 ½” pieces
2 cups chicken broth or stock
2 cups beef broth or stock
½ tsp salt or more to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper or more to taste

Heat oil or butter in large pot or Dutch oven. Add beef and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is brown, about 15 minutes. If this gets too dry before the beef is brown, add a little stock.

When beef is browned, add the rest of the broth/stock, all the other vegetables, and salt and pepper. Heat until boiling, then reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer until beef is almost tender, and until all vegetables are tender, about 2 to 2 ½ hours. Add additional salt or pepper if needed, to taste.

Variations: • add 1 bay leaf if you like the taste of bay
• substitute turnip for parsnip if you prefer
• substitute more carrot for parsnip if you prefer
• omit out potato if you want to reduce starch content

This recipe is easily multiplied and freezes well. I freeze it in one or two portion sizes and defrost when needed.

OPTIONAL: To thicken: mix ½ cup cold water and 2 Tbsp flour in a bowl. Gradually stir into the beef stew. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute, reduce to low heat, serve immediately.

Spelling Curriculum Changes On My Mind

I blogged last week about possibly changing our spelling curriculum. Here is a follow-up report on what has transpired since then.

I had a homeschool support group meeting here last week and brought the subject up for discussion. I know one mother who was there is already using Spelling Power with her two children. I asked for her input.

It was actually interesting because both of her children were using it at the same time but then one was having the issue that I keep hearing over and over about Spelling Power: that some children get upset at constantly being tested and focusing on what they DON’T know rather than giving them a set of words and having some of them be easy and getting great test scores. This friend ended up switching back and forth a bit, and presently one child is using Spelling Power and the other is using Spelling Workout.

My friend explained the first steps of doing the placement level test to figure out which word list to use. I appreciated the crash course.

The following day I gave both of my children the first test. I had a little freak out moment because the children did not write their names on their tests. One child tested at a certain high grade level and I was surprised and happy. Then I realized that this was my five year old son’s test not my older son's test, and the result surprised me.

I hesitate to share these results but I have tried to write this without the grade levels and it doesn’t make much sense. I will just share them as they also help show how testing is not always accurate.

My Kindergartener (age 5.5) tested at a grade 6.0 level (grade six, zero months). However the second test that we did to verify that this was correct showed that he should be working with the fourth grade word list. (I am still surprised that he tested that high.) I really was surprised that the test was set up in a way that would allow the first test to come out two grades above the more accurate test.

My third grader tested at a grade 4.7 level. The second test to verify showed that the fourth grade level is right for him. So in his case the test was on the mark.

After doing the placement test I realized I must have been torturing my children to make them test through every single lesson in their current grade levels. The fact that they are getting 100% or 90% on tests on words they have never written in their life does indicate that the levels they were working with in Natural Speller were too easy.

Then this gets back to the whole idea of what we teach our children and how content is labeled by grade and age. It really is an abnormal and unnatural thing to take a bunch of words and label that as what kids should be learning at that time. In the public schools they don’t do spelling with children. My son is doing spelling in Kindergarten. Doesn’t it seem crazy that a child of that age would test at a fourth grade spelling level? Can you imagine how bored he’d be in school?

The next step is for me to figure out how to use the Spelling Power program, the rest of what they outline as ‘their method’. I then will decide if it is do-able or if I will use it the way I have used Natural Speller: look at the word, write it three or four times and that is it. Get tested at the end of the week. Done.

Another challenge is that if I have both children doing the same exact grade level in the same program it sets up a competitive environment that I don’t want to foster. I am going to have to think about this before plunging in.

I am grateful that both of my children are naturally good at spelling. I wonder how much of it was the fact that they were exposed to systematic, intensive phonics and had the word patterns set into their memory? How much is the way their brain works naturally?

Grammar Thoughts
I also realized in this exercise that I want to teach my older son more grammar. Some of his spelling errors on the placement test were grammar related such as plural endings in “-ies” and also apostrophe cases.

Oh and the topic of our Charlotte Mason meeting this month was about teaching grammar and writing composition. At this point I am not in line with Charlotte Mason and feel that teaching some very basic grammar rules is what is right and best for our children. It was interesting to see that all the attendees at the meeting had the same conclusion and were already teaching more grammar to earlier grade levels than CM recommends.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Susan Wise Bauer on Homeschool Talk Radio This Week

I see that this week’s show on Homeschool Talk Radio is Susan Wise Bauer about Classical Education at Home. Susan Wise Bauer is co-author of "The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home".

I am very excited to hear this show! I am going to download it now!

If you are interested click on the link in my sidebar to get to the site.

Finished Wrapping Gifts

In case you were wondering I did finish wrapping and organizing the gifts for my children and everyone else in my family. Phew, that was tiring.

I had forgotten where I had hidden some presents and others I had forgotten I had purchased. I think at this point that everything is present and accounted for.

Now I am going to finish making some homemade marble art tile coasters that I am giving for gifts. I started them yesterday and they are more than half way finished. I have been writing about them on my other blog.

Have a good night!

Different Prices on Hasbro Star Wars Toys Annoys Me

I am a bit annoyed by the different prices of Hasbro Star Wars toys and I don’t understand the logic of it.

K B Toys sells Hasbro action figures for $6.99. Local Toys R Us stores sell the action figures for $5.99. Wal Mart is selling the same action figures for $4.77.

Non-electronic Lightsabres at K B Toys were $8.99 for many months. Yesterday at K B Toys the lightsabres were selling for $9.99. Amazon was selling lightsabres for $7.99. Local Toys R Us stores was and still is selling them for $7.99. Wal Mart is selling the same lightsabres for $6.88.

Regular electronic lightsabres sell for $19.95 retail and that same price has been consistent across the different stores. Wal Mart was selling some different electronic lightsabres for $8.00 in November and December (this month). The $8.00 ones were in a different package (a hanging display thing with minimal packaging). The more expensive ones are sold in a large cardboard box. The models for Count Dooku (bent handle) and the Anakin/Darth Vader electronic light sabre that changes from blue blade to red blade both sell for $25.

The build your own lightsabre kit sells for $35. My son received that for his birthday and my kids have spent hours playing with it. There are many combinations of ways that the handle can be ‘decorated’. If you buy this I advise you come up with a system for your children to keep all the small parts together in one place. There are tiny crystals and blade color changing disks in the kit that can easily become lost. (Wal Mart’s price on that was about $33.88 instead of $34.98.)

I am facing the challenge of buying the toys for my children that they want, finding what they want—which store has which toy in stock, and trying to not get ripped off in the process.

Happy Shopping.

Finding LEGO Retired Products

If you are looking for retired LEGO toys or for items that has backordered until after Christmas, or that they listed as ‘sold out’ I have an idea for you. Go to your local INDEPENDENT toy store and see what they have. I am referring to non-chain stores such as the ‘expensive’ toy stores that cater to educational toys. These shops usually sell items that are not usually sold in the big chain stores.

If you live near me then you may want to check these stores:

Jesse’s Toys in Orange, CT
Evan’s Toys in Hamden, CT

Sometimes there are small chains such as Zany Brainy that may have a lot of LEGO stock.

If you are looking for LEGO Harry Potter: Hogwart’s Castle #4757 from 2004 which is listed as retired on’s site go to Jesse’s Toys in Orange, CT, they have them in stock for $99.98.

If you are looking for Harry Potter: Dumbledore’s Office #4729 which is listed as retired on’s site go to Jesse’s Toys in Orange, CT, they have them in stock for $49.98.

Jesse's Toys also had smaller Harry Potter sets which are retired.

If you are looking for the LEGO Star Wars Clone Turbo Tank #7261, which is backordered on check your local Wal Mart. The Branford, CT Wal Mart had them last week for $88.88 (regular retail $89.98). Today has this on backorder until a date in January 2006.

I was really surprised to find items that has on backorder at Jesse’s Toys in Orange, CT. I noted the prices are the same as when buying from I decided I’d rather give my business to Jesse’s than to The owner is very helpful and friendly and he deserves some business.

It is tricky when a child is introduced to something such as Harry Potter and they want some toys but the parent realizes that many are retired and no longer available. Searching out the small independent toy stores is an easy way to find these products new and at regular retail. That sure beats paying above retail prices plus shipping on eBay.

Today's Mission: Gift Wrapping and other Christmas Prep

I really want to write today but I have to restrain myself. Today's mission is to prepare Christmas gifts, by organizing them and wrapping them. I have gifts here for my children purchased with money from relatives. I need to decide who is giving what, wrap it and put the properly labeled gift tags on the gifts. I need to wrap gifts that we are giving to relatives. I will look at all the gifts for my children all in one place and decide if we went overboard. If we did go overboard, then I will hide some to give for their next birthdays.

I also need to decide if I am putting out the various Christmas decorations that are in boxes in my living room or not. I will decide what to do and by the end of the day I will have gotten the boxes out of the living room.

We bought the tree last Saturday. As of that day, we had not yet taken the family photo for the card. Delays were due to one of us not being home during daylight hours so we could take an outdoor photo with the camera's self-timer. (The first photo was by a professional photographer, then a studio, but now that we are on a low budget we have resorted to the self-timer and our regular digital camera.)

I was not rushing to do an indoor photo as I've had an ugly cold sore on my lip, and also my hair was overdue for a haircut and a perm and I thought my hair looked terrible. It was my husband's idea to take the photo while we were Christmas Tree shopping at the Christmas Tree Farm. I asked another customer to take the photo as we stood in front of our live tree before we cut it down. I don't think you can see my cold sore. It was very cold so I was wearing a hat and no one can see my hair. All three photos that the stranger took came out great. My husband uploaded the photo to Costco's website and we picked it up a couple of hours later.

I made an assembly line and had the kids help me by putting address labels, return address stickers, and stamps on the envelopes. They helped me attach the photos to the front of the cards. My younger son helped me stuff the envelopes.

We did have a glitch with the address labels. The printer was not aligning them correctly then we ran out of labels. Then the program got corrupted and the data had to be re-entered and formatted correctly. We had to get our hands on some more blank lables. This took two days.

One mistake I made was I realized I sealed the last ten envelopes (with stamps on them and everything) and had forgotten to sign the inside. This happened because I signed the insides of about 100 cards first. At the end of the stuffing process I needed ten more cards so added them and sealed them up without signing them. Oh well. Every year I get one card that is not signed inside, so this year it is me doing it.

The Christmas cards went out on Thursday afternoon. That was a nice feeling of accomplishment.

So today is a huge prep day for me. I guess I should get offline now and go do it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

You Can Buy Stuff from Amazon Via My New Link

Okay here is a shameless plug. I have an announcement: I was just approved to be an Amazon Associate.

You now can see a link in my left sidebar to If you are going to buy something from Amazon, anything at all, please consider using my link box. The only thing you have to do is input a keyword into the search box, click on it, and link in to Amazon, then buy it. Once you have linked to Amazon you can look for other things to buy and purchase those also—you don’t have to jump back to my blog to search for each item.

I get a small percentage of your purchase price as a commission for the referral.

I am trying to come up with creative ways that I can generate income for my family since my husband had not had a regular job in over two years. He did have a six-week temporary consulting position in which he made very little money but that is it. So this is my latest idea.

So if you are going to buy anything from Amazon consider buying it through my link so we can earn a little money! (I actually opted to get paid with Amazon credits which I will use for purchases for homeschooling books for our children.)

It is against the rules for me to use the link box for my own purchases, in case you were wondering, which is too bad! I am a faithful Amazon customer.

Last week we ordered some books for Christmas gifts. We also ordered a coffee maker for a gift for a relative. I found the best selection of Dansko clogs on Amazon, with free shipping also, and tax-free, (which shocked me), so I purchased them online instead of combing local retail stores to find styles I wanted in the size I need. You can get loads of stuff on Amazon!

So please consider buying through my link.

Okay, the shameless plug is over.

Journal Fear, My Journals and Journaling with My Children

If you have not noticed I have another blog in which I write primarily about my artistic journey with altered art, artist trading cards, etc. My little hobby started off with making artist trading cards. I then moved on to making altered books and making my own artist journal. I have not been a journaler in the past so now I am doing that for the first time which is a journey and a project in and of itself. One thing leads to another and now my children are journaling with me. Here is a post that I intend to put on my other blog. Since this involves my children and may be of interest to other homeschoolers, I decided to cross-post it. If you want to see my other blog there is a link in the sidebar, it is called christinemmatcs and it is also on blogspot.

Journal Fear, My Journals and Journaling with My Children
I will admit here I am having some fear about journaling. Here is what is going on.

I made a journal out of watercolor paper. I chose to paint the paper before binding it between hard covers. Each page looks so wonderful that I don’t want to cover it up with collaged images of any kind. So far my journal pages have mostly writing on them. Last night I journaled for an hour and was unable to put any images on it. I have lots of ephemera that I like and also ephemera from each day’s ‘events’ but I don’t want to “ruin” the page by covering up the water colored image.

Two nights ago I started a gluebook (aka glue book). A gluebook is a book in which a person does pure collage. No writing, no painting, nothing but glued in papers. I thought perhaps this method would free me. If I was collaging upon plain white paper then I would not want to cover it up. The problem with this type of background is that it is flat and boring. I finished one page and started four others. I then felt compelled to write on the pages to explain or discuss some of the items which appear on the page. I held back from doing because as per the ‘rules’ a gluebook is just a gluebook.

Then I was telling myself who cares what the definitions and rules are. I can do whatever I want. I guess I am in such a beginning point that I worry about doing things ‘right’. The other part of my brain tells me with journaling there is no ‘right’. It can be whatever I want it to be, I am free, I can do what I want.

Using whole images vs. pieces
Here is my other problem. Not only do I not want to show the whole background but I also have a problem with the image. I tend to want to use an entire image even if to do so takes up a ton of room.

I have seen work by artists who use portions of an image. Example: I would include the whole train ticket while someone else may have ripped off one edge of it and used a small piece of it (and that looks great). I am telling myself that if just a portion of the image evokes the same image or feeling or captures the moment or whatever, then that is doing its job and that is all that was required—seeing just a piece of it not the entire thing. However I am having a hard time doing it. I also hesitate to just shred up a piece of ephemera. I am actually afraid to do it. It seems silly for me to write that and admit that. Perhaps to get over this I should make some color copies of things then shred the copies and then once I am comfortable with that, start tearing and cutting up the originals. (I prefer to use original ephemera since I have so much of it all around me.)

So where I am at is I have been journaling in my artist journal and have started a gluebook.

The gluebook I started is in a spiral bound artists sketch journal which I bought 1.5 years ago while at a homeschooling conference. There is a great paper and art supplies vendor who attends this certain conference. The vendor has inexpensively priced paper which they custom bind into various tablets and pads. The company is called Miller Pads and Paper. They have a paper mail order catalog and an internet site. The Miller Pads and Paper sketch pad is 6x9 inches and cost $3.50.

I remember buying pads of watercolor paper (seems to be 140 lb. but I am not sure) for $3. This has not pilled on me and seems fully functional! There were 25 sheets in each pad. You can’t beat that price!

I also had purchased from them some other supplies which we have not used yet. Some of the greatest things were hardbound books with plain white covers and blank pages within that look like children’s picture books. However adults could use these books. I think I paid under $3 for each of these. There were various sizes. I have three in my basement which are 9x12 inches. I don’t know the page count off hand but it is low such as perhaps 32 pages or maybe less.

What my kids are doing as of two nights ago is journaling. My children are aged 5.5 and 8. I gave them their sketchbooks and said they are for gluing in, using stickers in, drawing, and/or writing in. I said they could do whatever they wanted with it. I also had one for me and sat down to go through pages of a magazine and I collaged upon the pages. My children chose different things to do. They ran to get their big art kit, a box of markers, a gel pen set, and the box of stickers. They alternated between creating their own drawings and making collages out of stickers.

Note to self: I need to get more stickers for the kids to play with. If anyone knows about a sticker assortment for a decent price let me know. I should check out A.C. Moore, maybe they have some, as I have one of those 40% off coupons for one non-sale item on hand.

My younger son also asked me to make some drawings for him. He is at that stage where he wants his drawings to be very realistic, as true to life as a photograph. He then refuses to draw if his drawing doesn’t look the way he wants. That first night I caved in and drew him a figure of Obi Wan Kenobi and then a picture of our house.

Last night I sat down to journal and both the kids ran for theirs. My older son did one page of stickers that looks like a crowded collage, then moved on to drawing his favorite thing: trains. He used gel pens. The first was multi-colored. Then he got an idea to do one with only shades of blue. There were about a dozen different shades of blue gel pens in the set (half sparkle ink, half matte).

My younger son wanted me to draw a Sith Lord with lightening coming out of his fingers and electrocuting a Jedi (yuck) and I refused to do any drawing. Instead I traced his hand on the page and he drew lightening coming out of that. Then when he complained of an inability to draw in a realistic manner I suggested he draw shapes instead. I introduced him to oil pastel crayons and I showed him how they could be blended. He did one page of abstract shapes and a second page was more like a border of the page outlined then repeated over and over toward the center. He had a blast blending the oil pastels but didn’t like it when he saw his hands were covered in dark colors. Thank goodness 99% of it washed off with warm water and soap.

Journaling in the evening right before bed has been a very relaxing experience for all three of us. I think we are going to keep this up. It is also nice that I am getting time to journal and not feeling that me doing that is ‘time away from them’. We are all doing it close to each other but working independently.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Homeschool Blog Award Going on Now

I just found out that there is a Homeschool Blog Award thing going on. There are a bunch of different categories.

I am flattered to see that my blog has been nominated in the category of “Best Homeschooling Mom Blog”. Wow!

You can only vote once and you cannot change your vote.

I was looking at the blog list and now want to check out all these other blogs (as if I have time).

Check it out if you have the time and inclination!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My Experience with The War On Christmas

I have been following, in spurts, the issue of The War on Christmas as is talked about by Bill O’Reilly, a political radio and television talk show host. I understand that John Gibson is also on the bandwagon, and has released a book on the subject this year. I recall they were both discussing this last year as well.

Here are my experiences so far this year.

I should mention that this whole backlash against religion and Christmas has tilted me a bit in the other direction. A few years ago I intentionally would only buy cards with “Merry Christmas” on them. I also only buy the Jesus and Mary illustrated USPS stamps.

I bought Christmas cards at a discount store for an unbelievable price. They were last year’s designs, so they were in the overstock section of a local discount store. I know they were last year’s designs as some of the cards actually had “2004” written on the front of the cards as part of the design. The downside is that these cards don’t say “Merry Christmas”. I was also faced with the choice to send a religious Christian message on a regular card with a photo tucked inside it loosely or to have a pretty card intended to house a photo—with a non-religious image and a non-religious message. I chose the nice looking picture card. I have the budget to contend with this year! So this is the first time in a few years that I am not sending a greeting with the word ‘Christmas’ on it, which bothers me, actually.

I also noticed while at the Post Office yesterday that when people asked for Christmas stamps they were given the non-religious stamps automatically rather than being offered a choice. I was buying 100 stamps for a relative and when it was my turn I asked specifically for the ones with Mary and Jesus. In November when I bought stamps for my own cards I asked what they had for CHRISTMAS stamps and was shown the selection including Hanukah and Kwanzaa, which I thought was interesting as I had specifically said I wanted CHRISTMAS stamps (not stamps for all holidays in December). I am sure the clerk was trying to be PC and thorough. I found it very interesting.

I had thought I was done with Christmas shopping last week but come to find out, I really was not. I was going to give money to my nephews but then I was asked to buy them LEGOs. So last night I was back out shopping.

I have been to Wal Mart twice, to Toys R Us four times, and to an independent toy dealer three times. I have also been to three different drug stores (for ornament hangers one time and for Christmas cards twice). I have been to various other retail stores. I also have been at the US Postal Service three times in the last two weeks. Also I have been to a few fast food restaurants because I was caught out shopping longer than anticipated. I also have been buying groceries at several different stores in different towns. Oh, and I have been in large chain craft stores twice a week for the last six or eight weeks—these businesses are selling a lot of holiday related craft making supplies and also gift items. Not one single staff member has:
1. Thanked me for the purchase
2. Gave any holiday greeting at all

Except---for one store clerk, last night. I was going to a craft store and saw a dollar store. I had never been there before. It also was the largest dollar store I have ever seen. It was the size of a small grocery store. I went inside to see what they had (you never know what a dollar store will have!) and was blown away by what they were selling. I saw items that are normally $4-6 all for $1. I even bought a pack of multi-colored Sharpie markers which sells for $18. Anyway the owners were there and they were all Indian. As I was paying I was wondering what I am supposed to say to a person who most likely is not a Christian. Before I could say anything, I was thanked, wished a good evening and a Merry Christmas. I was so shocked my jaw almost fell to the floor.

(I also don’t understand why no clerks are saying ‘thank you’ anymore, not even McDonald’s employees are saying it. Back when I worked at McDonald’s, it was in the training manual that we had to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, I recall! I swear Americans are getting ruder and ruder and basic manners and decorum seems to be going out the window more and more each year.)

My personal opinion on the War on Christmas is first and foremost it started as a Politically Correct thing. I dealt with this when I worked for a large HMO. (Maybe I will find time to write of that interesting experience where they did away with Christmas and then rolled in the Holiday and then did away with that and began celebrating Winter.)

Anyway I think a lot of companies are more worried about being politically correct than they are trying to wipe out the Christian holiday. I also think (since I was raised in a God-less home) that many non-Christians and atheists included do celebrate something called Christmas although what they are doing, in their eyes, has nothing to do with Jesus or religion, but is about gift giving, spending time with friends and family, taking time off of work and school, eating, hearing traditional Christmas songs, and doing various Christmas traditions such as decorating their homes, looking at other people’s decorations, putting up a tree, drinking egg nog, etc. In the past these people had no problem saying “Merry Christmas”.

Anyway it was one thing to try and be PC when Christmas messages were all around me, by saying “Happy Holidays” and putting that message on our Christmas cards, but it is yet another to be PC when traces of Christmas are non-existent. It really does seem like the word Christmas is being erased on the part of companies (all types) and also by retailers who are selling me items that are very obviously intended for use because of Christmas. It really bothers me to not see or hear the word “Christmas” anymore!

I think I have an interesting perspective on this because I was raised without a religion. My parents used to say they were agnostic. I was never baptized and had no religious education nor did we attend church as a family. I did attend church at various times with friends (as a social thing to do, if I wanted to hang around with them at church time it meant I had to go to church). I remember attending various churches in town as part of earning a Girl Scout badge which had something to do with learning about other religions (I wonder if they do that anymore?). Most memorable was attending a church filled with black people singing gospel and acting very happy and lively—this was so different than the other churches that I had attended.

I was raised at a time when Christmas was celebrated in the public schools including (being made to) sing religious themed Christmas carols in my music class (which I did not have a problem with at all). (I graduated in the 1980s.) I also was surrounded by people for whom Christmas was a religious celebration (and I was tolerant of them and had no problem with the fact that what they were celebrating was a different thing for me—my holiday was more about the Tree, food, family, time off from school, and most of all, presents.) I loved Christmas then and I still love it! I was NEVER offended at the word Christmas.

Now that I am an adult my parents are bolder and say they are atheists. For them Christmas is now a time to give and receive gifts, eat special foods and to see family. Now that I am an adult and a mother, and a believer in Christ, for me Christmas is now a celebration of the birth of Christ as well as all the other things that I have already mentioned. My husband and I have created even more Christmas traditions for us to do with our children.

I am disgusted at the removal of the word Christmas from Christmas and am annoyed that most retailers are taking my money for Christmas purchases yet are not wishing me a “Merry Christmas”.