Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Boo Hoo My Blog is All Messed Up

Tonight I edited my new sidebar list of books that I am currently reading. I saved the 'template'. When I then viewed my blog there were no entries! What happened?

I then reloaded the old version of my blog (the way it was before I made the changes). Still no entries!


I thought for a while about changing the template as I am getting sick of the way this one looks. If I do that, though, I then have to rewrite and put in all the other links such as to Site Meter and my blog rings. That is too much work that I consider 'not fun'.

I then had an idea that maybe Blogger is having some technical problem and that is causing the problem (rather than me).

And maybe when I wake up tomorrow morning the blog will be all perfect and normal. I can dream, can't I?

As I write this I have no clue what is going on but I have spent almost an hour dealing with it to no avail.

I have no patience for this. I am not a computer wizard or an HTML expert and I just can't handle this right now.

I wonder what is going on????


Started Reading “What Went Wrong?”

Now that I scratched “On Bullshit” off my reading list, it is on to something else.

I began reading “What Went Wrong?: The Clash between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East” by Bernard Lewis. I am trying to educate myself about the Middle East in an attempt to figure out why some terrorists want to kill Americans (or other Westerners). My husband read the book a couple of years ago and really liked it.

As I began reading the book it struck me how my American Public School Education was completely lacking in teaching history of the Middle East. I feel that American Public Schools barely teach history and it shameful and problematic. To have generations of Americans who have no clue about world history is dangerous!

There are two things that I can do.

One is that I can (and do) to teach my children world history in our homeschooling curriculum. Serious history begins in Kindergarten in our home.

I also hope that I instill in my children a love of lifetime learning. I also hope they become good readers who are not afraid to read. I want my children to also know how to access information to research and teach themselves things (even in adulthood). Lastly I want my children to be able to think critically and make judgments about what to believe or not believe, based on logical thinking processes.

The other thing I can do is continue to educate myself about world history. It is a sad state of affairs when an adult can read a picture book for children aged 4-8 and learn things that thirteen years in a public school and a bachelor degree education in a liberal arts collage did not teach me.

Gave Up Reading the Book “On Bullshit”

I began reading “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt by last weekend. I just gave up on it and returned it to the library today.

I think I have found someone who can talk about a single subject ad nauseum that makes me feel like I am not a motor mouth.

The book was going on and on about the definition of bullshit vs. humbug. Despite having read good reader reviews of the book I was bored to death.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Thinking Mother: A Top Five Reviewer Again to Homeschool Talk Radio

For at least the third time, last week my blog was one of the top five referrers to Homeschool Talk Radio. I discovered this tonight while listening to the latest show which was Part One of a show about Homeschooling Only Children.

This qualifies me for a 60 second recorded spot on their radio show. I had opted not to do this in the past as frankly I don’t know what to say and secondly I don’t like the way my recorded voice sounds!

I need to make up my mind quickly about whether I want to make a recording or not. Hmmm.

It is cool to hear my blog mentioned on their internet radio program!

I highly recommend that you check out their free internet radio shows. Simply click on the link in my sidebar (look to the left).

Books I Am Reading Now Added to Sidebar

Tonight I added something new to my blog’s sidebar: a list of books I am reading right now. Yes I am reading all of these books. I plan to keep it current by removing books that I finish and adding new books that I start reading.

Right now I have a few categories of reading.

I am reading two non-fiction books for general interest and self-education: “Freakonomics” and “On Bullshit”.

I am reading one homeschooling book (for the third time): “A Charlotte Mason Companion”. This will remain on my reading list for awhile because this is the book that my Charlotte Mason Study Group is reading this year. We have monthly meetings at which we discuss selected chapters.

I am reading/listening to “The Magician’s Nephew” which is a classic children’s book. I am listening to the audiobook. My older son already listened to the whole thing but I missed some parts so now I am listening to it while cleaning the kitchen and while making art at the kitchen table.

I am reading a handful of books about creating journals and doing altered art. I am slowly reading these books. These are my ‘fun’ books.

Great Time for Land’s End Shopping

A few days ago when I attempted to pack a bathing suit for my older son I realized he had outgrown all of them. I made a mental note to buy a new bathing suit as soon as the summer clothes were available. He was forced to wear a ‘too small’ pair while swimming at the hotel pool this last weekend.

This son also has outgrown all of his shorts and has not a single pair to wear this year.

I just received the Land’s End “Spring Preview 2006” mail order catalog. I jumped online to do my ordering now before the sizes and colors that I want sell out. Yes, this is the time to buy (not in late April, not in May and of course, not in June).

I picked out the next size up in his favorite shorts. I am sticking to the style that he loves. I would have purchased more shorts than I did if we were not on a tight budget. In my ideal world children will have enough clothing to wear for a solid two weeks without me doing laundry. However that is not our reality right now.

A quick check in his shirt drawer showed lots of short sleeved that still fit. For some reason people tend to give him t-shirts such as souvenirs from trips, so he ends up with lots of shirts, many more than he needs, really.

Although I could not find bathing suits in the catalog I did find a limited choice online and bought two pairs. I am sure that later this spring they will add more colors and styles. I bought two basic pairs and that is good enough. I like the basic, plain styles anyway, as does he.

I then realized that my younger son needs a new pair of rain boots, so I purchased a new pair. I am saddened that this time he selected navy blue with red trim instead of his longtime favorite, red rain boots. He has been in red rain boots for over four years and now that phase is over.

I also realized that both kids have either outgrown or soon will outgrow their rain coats and rain pants. So while the stuff is in stock in all colors, I purchased the next size up for both kids. I noted that in the recent past the only colors they sold were a medium blue and a bright yellow. Now the colors have changed to navy blue and bright yellow. So they will be in navy blue this year. (These rain pants are great for hiking after a rain or during the rain. They are also wonderful to wear when kids are playing in the dirt or mud. There is nothing my kids love more than to dig in a big dirt pile and to add water to it to make mud, but that ruins any and all clothing they own including sneakers, so they are required to wear rain paints and rain boots and rain coats for that endeavor.)

Before finalizing my order I quickly checked the overstock section and was surprised to find 14 pages of bargains in boy’s shirts alone. I found many classic, conservative short sleeved t-shirts, long sleeved t-shirts, polo shirts and long sleeved Oxford dress shirts, all on sale. The prices were great so I stocked up on the next size up for winter shirts, and an Oxford shirt for my older son to wear on Easter (as on Christmas Eve I realized the one he had in his closet was too small). I also bought some nice short sleeved summer shirts in the next size up.

My younger son will be wearing all hand me down’s for the things we already own in his next size: bathing suits, shorts, short sleeved shirts, long pants, spring jackets, sneakers and sandals. So I didn’t have to buy any of those things. (Darn that just made me realize that I will have to order summer sandals for my older son later this spring.)

I also noted while on the Land's End site, that the skateboarding type clothing is all on discount, and it was not shown in their current catalog, which leads me to believe that the very long shorts, the very baggy pants, and those shirts that look like a short sleeved shirt over a long sleeved shirt are now considered ‘out of style’. I also noted the vintage surfer image is ‘out of style’.

I wonder what the next style is for boy’s fashion? (We really don't care as our kids wear clothes that are mostly classic looking and conservative.)

Great Trip to Boston and Museum of Science

My husband needed to go to Boston to interview for a job last week. We decided that the children and I would go along. We decided to use old hotel points (from past business trips) to pay for the hotel room.

We decided to go to Boston’s Museum of Science for two days. The main reason to go there versus another museum was that they have a special Star Wars exhibit there right now and our boys have been begging to go. In the past we did a one day trip to the MOS but barely got to see anything, since it is so large and there are so many great ‘extras’ such as the planetarium, Imax theatre, and other special traveling exhibits.

We were all very excited for the trip. We had a little snag on the day we went to leave. We had planned to drive to Boston (it is cheaper than taking the train). My car had just been in the shop two days prior because the check engine light had been coming on, it was stalling, and I thought the transmission was having problems again. We drove it home from the dealer and parked it in our garage and the next time I went to use it was to leave to go to Boston. As we drove out of the driveway we felt a weird unbalanced sensation which turned out to be an entirely flat tire. There was a delay while this was changed. But our spirits were still high and we were all excited about the trip, even though we got there later than planned.

We had a great time. The first night, right after we arrived, we swam in the hotel pool.

The next day my husband had a great interview while the kids and I went to the MOS. My husband wanted us to take the T (subway) but I had no experience with this. I followed the directions of the hotel staff which got us going on a train in the wrong direction, at one point. Helpful commuters gave me a proper lesson in using the T and we made it to the MOS in one piece.

My husband joined us there later that day. On Friday’s the MOS is open until 9pm so we were there until that time. We were exhausted though. I don’t recommend taking small children for 12 hour long museum trips. Twelve hours in a museum is way too long, even when that included sitting down for two meals and sitting down for two Imax movies.

I was blown away by the huge discounts given to homeschoolers by the MOS. Homeschoolers get the ‘school field trip’ rates. Homeschoolers must make reservations through the phone with the field trip/school reservations staff. You must look at their website in advance and plan out your trip including exact times for special shows like the planetarium or Imax movies, and tell your arrival and departure time. Examples of the great discounts are: general exhibit halls $3 instead of $20 and Imax and Planetarium $3 each instead of $9/adult or $7/child. If you drive a car and use the parking garage the all day fee is $3 instead of $16.25 for the 6+ hour parking rate. There are further discounts for the second day you visit and one teacher gets free admission to the exhibit halls (the second adult/parent is called a ‘chaperone’.)

We did a short visit the second day to the MOS but frankly we were all exhausted. Even after a good nights rest, allowing ourselves to sleep as late as we wanted and eating a hearty breakfast, we were tired and were almost wishing we were going straight home. It was great to stay overnight a second night in the hotel, though, as in the past when we did a museum trip and rushed out trying to get home and through commuter traffic at rush hour was not pleasant at all.

We were all grateful for the discount tickets and for the ability to use our hotel points to stay free at the hotel. The kids had a blast swimming in the pool and soaking in the hot tub. It was a treat to get out of town and do something special like that.

I hope and plan to write up reviews of the experience at the MOS as well as reviews of the Imax movies we saw and of the planetarium show.

One last note is that on Friday the MOS was nearly deserted and the few school field trips did not hinder our enjoyment of the MOS (since it is so large). The MOS was mobbed on Saturday, with families, and the parking garage was already full when we were leaving it (causing a problem for those families attempting to visit the MOS that day). I advise going during the week if possible to avoid the crowds, and also to go on a Friday since the MOS is open for an extra four hours (closes at 9pm). Additionally their Observatory is open only on Friday nights (and it is free!).

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Unschooling on CNN Show 1/30/06

I just found out about this.

To air: Monday Jan 30th at 10pm on CNN.

Show name: Anderson Cooper 360

Reporter: Thelma Gutierrez

Topic: Controversy over unschooling

Article about it can be read on CNN's website.

I have never seen a TV show on 'unschooling'. This will be interesting, I hope!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

TiVo Praise Part Two and Cable TV Praise Also

The chat about television, cable stations and Direct TV and TiVo continued on a homeschooling chat list that I am a member of. After my post of the content I blogged about yesterday "Tivo Praise Part One", I wrote the below reply. The conversation had turned from the basic difference between a TiVo DVR and a cable company's DVR. There were also people who insisted there was nothing worthwhile and little educational progamming to be found on cable channels. One person who doesn't use a television in their home stated that a recent visit to a hotel showed poor programming on the cable channels. At least one person wrote in that their family reads books instead of watching television and implied that any of us who watch TV must not be readers. Below is what I posted to the list, edited for better flow.

I find that with our Direct TV we get more and better channels for less money than our town’s (and our relatives) cable companies selections. I know this because when we moved into the town where we live now, we had assumed that cable would be superior. The previous owner had never had cable in the house, they used DirectTV. We went through a rigamarole to get cable installed only to realize that the lineup with this new company was inferior to the service we had a couple of towns away. We then investigated DirectTV and changed immediatley! (Where I live the cable companies differ from town to town. There are different packages to purchase also. Those opting for the cheapest package will miss out on what I consider to be the best channels.)

For an example of why I feel that our Direct TV is better than our cable lineup, we have about 5 Discovery channels. We have a NASA channel to view official NASA footage. There are lots of obscure channels which are filled with educational material. We have one or two biography channels. We have multiple History channels (did you know there is more than one?)

At a random glance at the cable programming (especially that in hotels which is usually a skimmed down version of what is offered at home) it may seem like there is nothing good on. However with TiVo the TiVo records any time, 24 hours a day! It records great shows that air at 4:00 a.m. or whatever weird time they may be on. I could care less what time it originally aired, the show waits for us to watch it when we want to.

With there many varied channels, there exist entire TV series that I never knew about such as one on deep ocean exploration & creatures, shows on history of the West, history of the Railroads in the World, travel shows that show great footage of obscure places on the globe. We have the National Geographic channel with great programming as well.

I also never read programming information, i.e. TV guide. I don’t have time. I just use the TiVo to find shows when I want to find shows.

We did a big unit study on Australia and coral reefs in general. I focused our homeschooling studies on book and printed material only. After the unit study was done, by coincidence, TiVo automatically recorded a documentary about the Great Barrier Reef. The books and words paled in comparison to what we saw on the screen. I couldn’t believe it, the visuals left us speechless. That is when I started intentionally looking for shows to record to enhance (not replace) our regular homeschooling lessons and reading and books.

(We use books every day here, we own over 3300 of them in case you are wondering if we use books. We also read library books.)

Thanks to the TiVo, one year we watched every episode of the TV show "Little House on the Prairie" and the next year, "The Walton’s". This was our family TV time every night. What a great two years of TV shows and family TV watching that was. This was before these series came out on DVD; now you can buy them if you want to spend the money on that, and have them at your disposal all the time if you choose.

Some homeschooling families I know who are very persistent and proud to say “we don’t watch TV” have become NetFlix members. (I don't know any non-homeschoolers who use NetFlix.) This is an online DVD rental service where you order your shows via the Internet, and they arrive in the mail. This company, unlike others, has documentaries. I feel we are paying our $80 for the Direct TV and that is enough money, and the TiVo doesn’t disappoint us. So if you are hesitant about getting cable or Direct TV/TiVo you may want to check out NetFlix. (We paid a flat fee for our TiVo so we don't pay a monthly TiVo fee.)

Unfortunately our local public library is weak on their selection of nonfiction videos/DVDs. I have to drive 30 minutes to get to the great library with a lot of videos and DVDs. That library has a 7 day rental. Still that is a project, time and gasoline to burn, and frankly, using TiVo is easier.

You asked about parental controls. The TiVo does lock out certain levels of programming such as the shows rated MA, violence, language, and all the rest. One remote is used for Direct TV and TiVo and you use that to lock out channels or specific shows.

Someone mentioned watching TV news and said they repeat the same stuff over and over so watching it is a waste of time. I tape a one hour news show every day (it records by itself with a 'season pass'). If the stories don’t interest me I fast forward. Or if I get annoyed by over coverage of something I fast forward. What a great thing not to have to listen to the same drone over and over! I also skip the commercials. I also get to watch this when the kids are asleep or not in the room.

With all that said I still say 90 or 95% (or more) of TV is crap!! I usually realize this when at relatives’ homes and am forced to endure the TV being on all the time and I see what is on there. My parents have the one TV going almost 24/7 and my in-laws keep one TV on, in 2 adjacent rooms, going the entire time they are awake. Trying to keep my kids from watching it and from watching the inappropriate stuff that comes on is maddening and stressful as they usually won’t shut off the shows (i.e. murder scenes, news shows, etc.) just because my young kids are there.

Someone posted about kids watching too much television if there is a television set in the house. My kids watch 30 minutes of commercial free children’s shows each day, non-twaddle, non-violent, age-appropriate, while I shower and dress. They then watch one show with my husband and me at night, which runs about 44 minutes. Each 30 minutes of TV time is 8 minutes of commercials, so 60 minute show is 44 minutes of real programming, less if you cut out ‘coming up next’ and ‘next week’s previews’. Sometimes that night show is an educational documentary, and other times it is something entertainment only like "The Walton’s" or a blend such as reality shows on PBS and History channels that recreate history. You can see my kids don’t watch much TV and they remain far below the American national average even though as homeschoolers some of what they watch is educational and they are home more hours so they have the opportunity to watch more TV.

Someone mentioned their family doesn't watch television because watching it makes their children hyper. If my kids got hyper after watching TV I may have thrown the TV away! I am grateful we don’t have that issue. One less problem to contend with! Handling food sensitivities that give my kids problems is enough hard work!

Okay enough about TiVo, I sound like a commercial now.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tivo Praise Part One

A while ago, on an Internet chat list a fellow homeschooler asked about using TiVo with Direct TV versus a DVR from their local cable company with cable TV. The family had been living without cable channels and had already decided to get cable channels again. Here is the response that I posted.

We have had TiVo since February 2003, and LOVE IT. We also have Direct TV (for longer than the time that we’ve had TiVo. We switched to Direct TV from cable as we realized that in this town the local cable services were more expensive and had less good (in our opinion) channels than the cable company.)

Two relatives have since purchased a TiVo unit, and now they see why we praised it. My in-laws had finally decided to switch to Direct TV and Tivo but they found out they cannot get Direct TV due to a big tree being in the way. So they recently paid for the similar DVR service which their cable company offers. The service is very much inferior to TiVo and they are disappointed. It s also more difficult and time consuming to program shows to record. There are some unique things that TiVo does that other similar products don’t do. It is these things which I feel are most important and useful for me as a protective mother of young children and as a homeschooling mom who is using the TiVo to find great programs to watch.

1. There is a feature where when you have a show on the screen you rate it with either 3, 2, or 1 thumbs down or neutral/nothing or 1, 2, 3 thumbs up. TiVo then (unless you shut off the feature manually) will automatically record shows with similar themes and subjects. Example, if you like Italian cooking show A, it will record other Italian cooking shows. If you like dinosaur documentaries, it will record other dinosaur documentaries. I have found many great shows by doing this that I didn’t even know existed. If it records something you don’t like you can then give the thumbs down 3 times, and it won’t automatically record that again. It only does the auto record if you have free space on your machine, by the way, meaning, it won’t delete off shows that you specifically told it to record to make room for these extra shows.

2. Wish List Feature: You can free text write a key word and look for shows in the next 3 weeks with that topic in the description and tell it to record them OR tell it to record all shows with that topic. I have used this for subjects like Ancient Rome, Egypt, mummies, railroad, train, Bruce Springsteen, etc. This way you don’t even have to realize a show is coming up, it just records it. This is not perfect for example if you want a space program sometimes it will record The Jetsons but if you do the manual search once every 3 weeks then you can tell it to just record the exact ones you want. You could also search for actor name, director name, or other categories.

3. When trying to find the show to tape with TiVo it is very easy. You type in the word such as for Harry Potter put HAR and it brings you to all the listings that start with HAR. With my in-laws non-TiVo system you have to go to beginning of H then scroll down and down and down to find it. Depending on the word, this could take a long time. My husband scrolled down through many, many pages before finding some show names!

4. It is very simple to record all the shows by doing a ‘season pass’ with TiVo. TiVo keeps track of which are already recorded on your machine and won’t double record them.

5. You can customize TiVo by putting in preferences like “only record first run”. This is helpful for example if you are watching a current series of say, an HBO series and they are also running lots of reruns from past seasons, it won’t record all of them.

6. You can easily add on 1, 2, 5 minutes to beginning or end of program for the few shows for whatever reason always run over time. I watch a couple that do this every week.

7. There are also parental controls. You can lock out certain channels with a password that is easy to use.

8. It also keeps track of everything recorded and deleted by you. So if you ever wonder if your child is recording something and watching something you don’t know about, you can find out!

9. My favorite thing is the fast forwarding through commercials. There are three speeds of fast forward and rewind.

10. TiVo lets you skip forward or backward in chunks such as 15 minute increments of the show.

11. When you stop playing a show, it waits right at that spot.

12. My in-laws machine keeps all the recorded programs on there and you can’t delete them. With TiVo when you are done you delete it and it is not on the list of shows that are available to watch anymore. I find this helpful if I don’t want my kids watching a certain show or even seeing a title on the screen. Or say a show that we watched last year records again and I don’t want to endure watching it again with them then I just delete it and it is gone. It also looks neat and clean.

13. I set TiVo to record my kids’ favorite (and my approved) shows and they are always at the ready to watch. They don’t have to watch some crappier thing because it happens to be what it on at the moment they want to watch something.

14. Oh and I read that TiVo has a patented design that other machines lack. Say you are fast forwarding through the commercials. The you see the show starting and hit ‘play’ then it automatically goes back a couple of seconds and arrives right at the right place. Other machines don’t do this and it can be hard to get to the exact right spot.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Documentary Review: Autism is a World

"Autism is a World" is a documentary that originally aired on “CNN Presents” in May 2004. It is available on DVD. I stumbled upon a copy at my public library and borrowed it.

I first became interested in autism because I feared my children getting autism from childhood vaccinations. My children do not have autism. However I now have a nephew with autism.

I watched the program with both of my children. I know that they don’t understand why their cousin acts the way he does and why their cousin ignores them, as well as why he is non-verbal when he is an age when children are usually talking. This is especially confusing for my younger son who is younger than him. My younger son assumes that since his cousin is older and larger than him that he should be able to talk and read and write and communicate clearly with other people. I think it is good for my children to see people who have various disabilities. Hearing an overview and an intellectual explanation of the situation is also different than just being around someone in person who has the same condition. I have discussed their cousin’s condition with them before but it is hard to understand and seeing other people with the condition, even if it is on the television, is good for them, I think. (Another show we watched recently was a show about a boy of about eight years old with Turret’s Syndrome.)

I was amazed to hear the story of Sue Rubin, an autistic woman. She was diagnosed as being autistic and mentally retarded at a young age. When she was 13 she was still at a developmental age of 2.5, then she was taught to communicate using a keyboard: to type out the words she wanted to communicate. This special, small device allows her to type in the words and then when a button is touched, a voice reads off what she read. It also has a little LCD display similar to the old toy “Speak and Spell”, or similar to the old LCD calculator displays. Within weeks of being introduced to this device, she went from a non-communicating person to a person who could communicate clearly. Her IQ score jumped up 100 points within weeks as did her ‘developmental age’. Much of the story is told in Sue’s own words, as she typed out on her communication device, and it is read by a narrator. At the time the documentary was filmed she was 26 years old and was a junior in college. Sue needs 24 hour care, an assistant to help her in various ways from driving her places to taking notes at college.

I cried during the show as I heard her tell of the difficulty she has dealing with other people. To see Sue you would think she was stupid and out of control, as she cannot always control her actions or the sounds she makes. She doesn’t always look people in the eye and one assumes she is not paying attention. For example they showed a scene during a college lecture in which one would assume that she was ‘out of it’ and not knowing what was going on. The professor asked her a question and she gave a correct answer, more long winded than he expected. Sue also explained that the type of self-control that she must put on herself to get through the long lectures is difficult and exhausting. She seems to have a longer attention span than the other students in the class, who took the first opportunity they had to shift in their seats and start talking with each other (while she typed out the reply to her professor’s question).

One thing that was a clear challenge was the coordination of care and dealing with government agencies who pay for (at least some of) her care.

They also showed Sue ‘speaking’ at a conference about autism. One autistic teen in the audience shared that he also wanted to attend college and she offered to be his mentor.

Also shown was footage of Sue speaking with an autism expert. It is clear from Sue’s experience that the experts have not known everything that went on in the minds of autistic people. For example it was assumed that a non-verbal autistic child does not have clear thought processes such as the ability to learn information or to know the letters of the alphabet, etc. However once Sue began using the communication device it was clear that her brain had absorbed the information that she was exposed to in the first 13 years of her life.

Something else that struck me was that even if an autistic person is not making eye contact or if they are non-verbal and seem to not be paying attention, they are aware of what others are saying or doing or how they are treating the autistic person. This is a reminder to me to treat an autistic child as any other, such as not speaking about them right in front of them as they can hear and may understand what is being said. I feel strongly that an autistic child should not hear things such as negative opinions of the child’s condition or even to hear about the stress that the child puts on the family. All children should feel loved and cherished. I feel that any stress that an autistic child puts on the adults in their lives should be shared in the presence of the child as it should not be a burden that the autistic person has to carry. It is the adults ‘problem’ to deal with the situation and to deal with it in whatever healthy way is necessary. The child has enough issues than to think they are the cause of their own parents stress, aggravation, etc. Discussions of the progress or lack of progress of the autistic child should be done in private, not in front of the autistic child.

The show was just amazing.

I remain confused and curious about what autism is all about and I worry and wonder why the autism rates are rising. What is going on to cause this?

Information and video clips can be viewed on "Autism is a World" website.

You can purchase the DVD or check your local library for a copy.

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Christine’s Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

Christine’s Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

• 1 package (10 oz. size) frozen peas and carrots (or other vegetables)
• 1/3 cup butter
• 1/3 cup flour
• 1/3 cup chopped onion
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 1 3/4 cup chicken broth or stock
• 2/3 cup milk
• 3 cups cut up cooked chicken
• 1 Pastry for 9-inch two-crust pie

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Directions: Rinse frozen peas and carrots in cold water so they are not stuck in clumps. Drain and set aside. (Note: you can substitute other vegetables if you want to.)

Melt butter in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Sautee onion until onion is soft. If it gets dry and is near burning add a little stock. Reduce heat if necessary to avoid burning.

When onion is soft, add flour. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is bubbly; If too dry add a little stock. Then remove from heat when bubbly.

Add broth and milk and stir or whisk until the lumps are gone.

Return to heat. Stir constantly until boiling. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Stir in chicken and vegetables; remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare pastry. Roll 2/3 of the pastry into a 13 inch square. Ease into ungreased square 9x9 inch pan. Pour chicken mixture into pastry-lined pan. Roll remaining pastry into 11 inch square. Place square over chicken mixture. Turn edges of pastry under and press to close layers together.

Variation: Don’t have a bottom crust. Pour mixture into greased casserole pan or pie dish and use one layer of crust on the top only.

Put pie dish on jelly roll pan (so if it spills over the pan underneath will catch the spill). Bake about 35 minutes or until golden brown and chicken filling is bubbling.

This recipe makes one pie, 4 servings.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Bird Flu on Oprah Today

Quickly want to share that the Oprah show today will feature the Avian Bird Flu pandemic topic.

A fellow homeschooling friend shared that with me; she has been following the Bird Flu issue closely. She urges everyone to watch this show.

Of course I don't want to die of Bird Flu and I don't want my children to get sick or die. So I will be watching it.

I am interested to see what is said on the show and what the aftermath will be.

My friend predicts that after the show, latex gloves and 3M brand N95 masks will be selling out everywhere. She says that the recommendation is that if there is a break out, anyone going out into public will be advised to wear the gloves and the masks.

We will see what happens.

I have not felt that the media is hyping up the Bird Flu Pandemic very much. I therefore assume this must not be a serious threat. Some people feel that the media or various governments are hiding information so as to not scare the public.

I spoke to my husband about all of this today, asking if we should make a Costco run for latex gloves at discount prices. He said these things:

1. By the time Oprah has something on the show it is the tail end of things (example: Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina). I don't think that I agree with this statement as there are not a lot of things that Oprah repots on that are late.

2. There may be hype that makes things sell out. My husband is skeptical that the Bird Flu will ever be a real issue for us. I am not as confident.

3. If the media likes to stir up so many various things that don't matter much, and they don't care how they scare the public in general, why would they go against their grain for the topic of Bird Flu? This argument actually makes sense and I agree with him. The more I think about this the more I think the reason it is not being reported much is not due to an INTENTION of the media wanting to cover up the story but because they don't feel the need or the hype to report on the topic. There are other things that they can REACT to right now with more of a sense or urgency. I think that if the media gets on the Bird Flu scare bandwagon the media will go nuts and mayhem may ensue. You heard it here first!

So my husband doesn't want me to go buy masks or gloves today. I am thinking a small investment may be worth the possible waste. I need to think about this. (But my friend warns to get the masks NOW before they sell out!) Oh I am torn!

So anyway if you read this and are curious about Bird Flu perhaps you can watch or record today's Oprah show. Then make your own decisions about making preparations, buying masks and buying gloves.

Feeling Like a Taskmaster

Last week we took Monday off for Martin Luther King’s Birthday. I was not going to take the day off from homeschooling but my children’s best friend had the day off from public school and asked my children to have a long playdate. The reason that I was not going to take it off was that I still feel behind in our studies due to illness in the family (from children sick with Coxsackie’s Virus, a month long coughing sickness and helping relatives with Cancer).

So the rest of last week we did homeschooling every day. That was an accomplishment. It was our first real solid week of homeschooling since before Christmas.

It felt great to do homeschooling daily and feel good about getting work done as it should be done. It is nice to feel like the plans that were laid actually came to fruition.

We did our lessons yesterday also. So we are on track for this week also. Hooray!

However I am feeling like a taskmaster!

I also added more work for my older son as of this week. So as I begin our second day of homeschooling this week I feel more like a taskmaster than ever!

I visited a local Barnes and Noble bookstore to look at some workbooks last weekend. I wanted to look at the workbooks to decide if they were worthy of buying. If they were not good I was going to research some options for other materials that I’d buy from homeschool supply companies. I had already asked two friends who homeschool as “eclectic and classical” style, for advice and they both pointed me to A Beka for workbook type grammar and language arts. I wanted to see if I could find something easier and faster to obtain (and cheaper). (I was on the A Beka website and found it very hard to navigate as well as tricky to order from. I think they should revamp their website to be more user friendly. I have not purchased anything directly from A Beka in the past and didn’t have a paper catalog on hand as I am not on their mailing list.)

I found some good workbooks at Barnes and Noble and purchased them. I also lucked out as it was Educator Discount Week so I got 25% off rather than the usual 20%.

So my older son has a new Language Arts workbook (20 minutes per day). We are using Harcourt Family Learning’s workbook “Language Arts Grade 2”, a product sold only through Barnes and Noble. This was the only Grade 2 Language Arts workbook they had in stock. I am going to have him whiz through the Grade 2 workbooks, then he will do a Grade 3 workbook.

The Grade 3 Language Arts workbook I bought is published by McGraw Hill and is published under the name of “Spectrum Language Arts Grade 3".

I added the Language Arts workbooks as I have not taken the time to use “First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind” (FLL) by Susan Wise Bauer lately.

I like FLL curriculum, but what I really want right now is a quick workbook for grammar and language arts (not including spelling). My son is a visual learner and finds workbooks easy to learn from, so I am not beating myself up about not finishing FLL, which I feel is more geared toward an auditory learner.

I decided to give him the Grade 3IOWA test this year. That is a story for another day! For now I will share that my older son is working in a test prep book to learn how to take standardized tests (20 minutes per day). He has never seen some of the types of questions that they ask and he actually needs to get used to that type of work if he is going to take the test. I also wanted to know what content they were preparing the children for, because I feel the information on the Iowa test’s website is too broad—they have grouped Grade 3-8 together and say what is tested. I cannot believe that a third grader would be tested on Algebra but they do state that (I assume that is for the 8th graders).

He is doing 10 minutes per day in a “Spectrum Vocabulary Grade 3” workbook also.

Lessons for my older son now spill over past lunchtime. This is a change for us.

I have come to the conclusion that no two semesters in homeschooling are the same. Some people say no two academic years are the same but for us it breaks down further into semesters. So we have turned a corner. My goal is to put our noses to the grindstone from now until at least the spring weather arrives. I want to catch up to where I had expected we’d be at this point in the year and want to end this academic year ‘on schedule’.

Anyway, our homeschool is really feeling like a home school right now.

Top Secret Recipes: Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnuts

I have blogged about Top Secret Recipes® in the past. This is a website which publishes one free recipe a week, an imitation of a company recipe. Todd Wilbur is the person who attempts to imitate popular restaurant foods or grocery store foods (Oreos, for example) and then shares his recipes with readers. Past recipes have included dishes from Olive Garden, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Starbucks.

This week’s free recipe is Krispy Kreme’s Glazed Doughnuts. That is not a healthy recipe but in case you want to read some history about them or see what Todd Wilbur has to say about them.

Some of the previously published recipes are online for free viewing, here.

Some recipes that were published in the past are now only available in the author’s cookbooks.

If you ever see a recipe on the site and you want to keep it, I’d recommend printing it because you never know when the recipes may disappear.

The doughnut recipe is the recipe of the week which will remain only for one week.

Todd Wilbur has appeared on the Oprah show and other television shows. I have seen him on Oprah in the past and he is entertaining to hear interviewed.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Thinking Mother Quoted on Education Reform Blog

A paragraph of my opinion about the 20/20 show “Stupid in America” was posted on a blog called “Scholar’s Notebook: Minnesota Education Reform News”. I feel honored.

You can read the blog and that specific entry, here.

Pondering Homeschool Blogger

People ask me why I blog over on Blogger/Blogspot rather than on Homeschool Blogger which is run by the Old Schoolhouse magazine.

I started this blog on Blogger/Blogspot before Homeschool Blogger was up and running OR before I knew it existed.

In order to learn more about Homeschool Blogger I set up an account, also under the name of The Thinking Mother.

Here are some pro's and con's.

I run Google AdSense ads on my blog and make money. I am not making much but it is a tiny bit which is better than nothing. I can do this on Blogger/Blogspot but not on Homeschool Blogger, so far as I know.

I can be an Amazon Associate and earn a percentage of books or anything purchased on Amazon if it goes through links on my blog. I am new to that and have made less than $5 so far but still it is something. I can do this on Blogger but not on Homeschool Blogger, so far as I know.

I already am familiar with Blogger/Blogspot but not Homeschool Blogger. They don't work the same, technically speaking, and to move to Homeschool Blogger would mean learning something else new which I don't find at all fun. I have limited time for blogging and don't want to spend that time on learning new computer stuff which is boring to me. I just want to write and post that to blogs.

If I were on Homeschool Blogger I could find other homeschooling blogs easily. I could make a little community. I don't have that with Blogger/Blogspot.

So for now I remain on Blogger/Blogspot.

One more thing, Blogger/Blogspot was purchased by Google. I have confidence that this site and service will remain open and running. I am not quite sure why Homeschool Blogger/Old Schoolhouse magazine runs a blog site and 'what is in it for them'. I question their ability to run the sites. It must cost money to maintain. What are they getting out of it other than maybe selling more magazine subscriptions? I know that Mothering magazine has had issues with running their free message/chat boards. I wonder when and if Old Schoolhouse magazine will have issues with paying for running all those homeschooling blogs.

20/20 "Stupid in America" online viewing, free

Someone from a homeschooling chat list shared this link. This website shows the entire 20/20 show "Stupid in America" without commercials, online, and free!


length: 41 minutes

If you haven't seen it yet and you are a taxpayer, a US citizen, a grandparent, or a parent of a child who is not in school yet, is in public school or private school, or is being homeschooled, I want you to watch this!!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Book Review: A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola

Here is a quick book review of "A Charlotte Mason Companion" by Karen Andreola.

I first read this book in 2001 when a homeschooling neighbor lent it to me. She raved about the book and thought I’d really like to read it. After I read it, I wrote a customer review for Amazon (dated December 31, 2001). At the time my oldest child was four and my younger child was one year old. (I’d put my Amazon review here but that would be an infringement of THEIR copyright.)

In 2003 I joined a group of homeschooling mothers to talk about "A Charlotte Mason Companion", so I purchased it. I re-read the book from cover to cover, in 2003. (At that time my older son was six and my younger son was three years old.) I enjoyed attending a book discussion group and hearing what the other homeschooling mothers had to share about this book, this method, and homeschooling in general.

Starting in the fall of 2004 I began a Charlotte Mason Study Group, a homeschool support groups whose main focus is learning about the Charlotte Mason (CM) method and seeing what inspires us and how we can work elements of the CM method into our homeschools. This Study Group will continue at least through the end of the 2005-2006 academic year. The Group voted to read "A Charlotte Mason Companion" rather than some others that are on the market, so I am re-reading the book yet again, a few chapters a month, this time around. Each time I read the book my impression of it changes. I find this very interesting but from what other say, this is not unique.

There are several books on the market about the CM method. Those who are interested in the CM method hear about most or all of the books and usually don’t know what the difference is between each book or know which to read or buy. Most public libraries don’t have any books on the CM method so for people in my area, borrowing books about the CM method from the public library is not an option. We need to figure out which is worthy of a purchase in order to read it!

Homeschooling books come in two general categories. One is the telling of a method of education and why that way should be done, period. The other is (usually) a mother telling about her family’s homeschooling journey. These “journey” books usually begin with why the child started out in school, why they were taken out, and how they discovered homeschooling. Usually they start off with method A and tell how that went and then for various reasons it was no longer working so they went to method B. These books can be very interesting to read. I used to love these books back when my children were babies, toddlers, and when my oldest was a preschooler as it gave me a glimpse of what the homeschooling lifestyle of a family with children ‘in school’ was like. These stories can sometimes be very detailed such as telling how Johnny learned to read, how Jane had a hard time with penmanship or memorizing her multiplication tables.

"A Charlotte Mason Companion" is a blend of these two types of stories. Andreola wrote a book which is not pure theory and not a pure boiled down summary of the CM method. (For that, read “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.

Andreola has written thoughtful essays on separate topics. For example, chapters are divided by topic such as vocabulary, writing composition, teaching reading, etc. In these essays she usually tells of CMs theory, her own opinion, and a bit about her own children. Andreola has two children and they seem to be almost perfect angels. The women in both of the study groups that I participated in all felt that Andreola’s super gentle ways and her always calm and never annoyed or angry experience was not anything that any of us had experienced. Whether that is Andreola’s true experience or whether that came across incorrectly in the book is something I don’t know.

The first time I read the book I really loved it as it made me think. Some books, even non-fiction books and homeschooling books can be read through quickly. "A Charlotte Mason Companion" made me stop and ponder. I read the book before going to sleep at night and I had lots to think about.

The first time that I read the book from cover to cover I remember feeling still confused about how one would organize and do the CM method on a day to day basis. I felt that the book left me wanting to do it but unclear as to how to organize it. For example I didn’t understand at what age picture study would start and how many times per week picture study was recommended by CM. At the time of my first reading I felt happy and positive about the CM method but continued with our unschooling method. (Later I heard Catherine Levison speak at a full day seminar and "got" how to do the CM method. I then purchased "More Charlotte Mason Education" and read it and found that it was the same information I had heard in lecture format. I appreciate having all that information in a book format for easy reference. I then began using the CM method. The reason I mention all this is that when I read "A Charlotte Mason Companion" for the second time I wondered why I was left confused about how to do the CM method as truly it was all in there. I don't know the answer. This is yet another thing that happens with readers: one person can read a book one time and get one thing out of it and read it a second time and get something else out of it. One person can read a book and feel it was clear and another can read the same book and find it confusing! One person can love a book while another hates it!

At our Study Group meetings we read assigned chapters of "A Charlotte Mason Companion" each month. At the meeting we start at the first page and Group members read aloud passages that they really liked or wanted to comment on. They then share their opinion about it. Others join in and share what their thoughts are. This method really has worked out well. Most chapters have discussion questions at the end. We then go through these questions and discuss any that didn’t already come up in conversation. It is through our discussions that we also share what we do with our children and with homeschooling. We share things such as “CM recommended this and this is how I do it” or “I do a different history order than CM but still use living books (a la CM) and narration (a la CM)”. Therefore people who attend our meetings hear not only what Andreola has said but what CM said and how we apply this in the real world.

My main criticism of the book is that it is clear that Andreola views the world through the eyes of her own experience. Rather than trying to rise up and above the experience of parenting her own two children, it seems from her writing that she is still in the mode of “if you do X then Y will result” and since that worked with her two children, that it will work for all children. I am no longer viewing the world through those eyes as I see my own two very different children and I see a lot of other children as well.

As I have shared before, parents of ‘only children’ can be some of the hardest friends to have because they have such a mindset of “I did this and it worked so if you only did this then your child would be just like mine” which is, in their eyes, perfect or near perfect. Some of the best friends to have are those with three or more children because they see that raising them in the same family, with the same parenting methods, the same education style, doing the same activities (swim team, Scouts), whatever, produces very different children.

Back to Andreola, one example is in the book she tells in detail how she had success with teaching her children to read by making up her own curriculum and by using a blend of sight word memorization with phonics. She is against intensive systematic phonics. I can easily point to what reading experts say about the dangers of blending the methods (Samuel Blumenfeld speaks about this frequently at his lectures). For example one may finish that chapter and think that the right and only CM way to teach phonics is by a homemade phonics curriculum. This is not true. You can do that if you want, and if you so choose to, I recommend reading Ruth Beechick’s “A Home Start in Reading” which explains how to do this. (The book also is a great overview of the teaching reading process from birth through the end of third grade. This 28 page booklet is a fast, easy read and will empower any parent to teach their children to read. I also highly recommend it to parents of schooled children so they can know what the process is, help their child at home if they are struggling and/or teach them to read at home.)

Andreola does not ever mention that a phonics curriculum can be bought and used if the parent prefers. I used "Alpha Phonics" which is a very easy to use systematic, intensive phonics curriculum. I was happy to pay $30 for the program (which I used with both children and can still resell) and save a lot of time with me writing flash cards and writing out lists of words. (I see today Amazon is selling "Alpha Phonics" new for less than $20, what a bargain!)

I highly recommend "A Charlotte Mason Companion". It is an enjoyable, non-stressful read. You may feel inspired by it.

If you are interested in using the CM method but still feel confused about it I recommend “More Charlotte Mason Education” by Catherine Levison. In this short book, Levision maps out the daily how-to-do-it information, from birth through the end of grade 12.

Overall I recommend first reading a bit about the CM theory, and if you are interested, reading one book about the practical matters. You will then be able to decide what parts of the CM method (or all) that you want to follow.

There are other books on the market about the CM method. It it not necessary to read all of them (unless you want to). You can also read Charlotte Mason’s original writings. I find these long winded and dry and still have not gotten through them all.

If you have read any of these books and would like to leave a comment to this blog entry, I encourage you to do so!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Advice for Socialization for Homeschooled Six Year Old Girl

An email came through a homeschool chat list asking for advice and ideas. The mother stated her six year old daughter was asking to go to school so she could have more friends. She also asked specifically about people’s experience with Girl Scouts for socialization.

This is the response that I sent to her via the chat list. Before posting this to my blog, I tweaked it a bit and added a couple of details.

I would put her in Girl Scouts. They meet weekly. If she meets nice girls there then invite them for private playdates.

Also is she going to other classes with other homeschoolers or with schooled kids? Library events/classes? Art classes? A sport? Chess club? 4H? Swimming lessons? Swim team?

A bunch of my friends started a homeschoolers 4H club and it is going great! I am a Cub Scout Leader and my homeschooled son is in that. The advantage to 4H is that a family can have multiple aged siblings in the same program and they take both girls and boys. Girl Scouts is for girls only, I am sure you know that, and for girls in one grade only (ditto for Cub Scouts). Busy homeschooling families often appreciate the ability to have multiple children doing something with a group if all the children can do one meeting all at one time, for convenience and time-saving reasons.

I don’t know what it is like where you live but around here there is a crazy amount of classes for kids once they turn 6, which results in much over-scheduling in the homeschooling community as well as with schooled kids. A lot of 6 year old’s I know have a better transcript of activities and clubs then I ever did (even as a high school aged student in public school)!!

Sometimes within the homeschooling community I find I have to start something in order to have it exist, rather than wait for others to start it. Rather than me sitting and complaining that X doesn’t exist I have started it myself. I have started a “science of toys” class, an art/craft class for 6 year old’s and their younger siblings who tag along followed by a playdate. Some of these things have worked out great and others did not pan out as planned.

Are their other homeschool support groups in the area? I was shocked recently when I met three women who had no clue that there were any homeschoolers outside of their church HS Group, they didn’t’ know that ‘the rest of us’ existed right under their noses and were complaining that there weren’t enough other homeschooled kids for their children to play with. They were keeping just to their fellow church-HS-friends and felt very isolated (which was very sad to me as they were miserable). They did also not like the curriculum that their church recommends and were so unhappy that they were considering putting their children into school. I gave some ideas for other curriculum and some homeschoolers classes in our area, and they were surprised that they had never heard of them and said they were excited again and would try using those classes and the other curriculum. This is also proof that it is beneficial to really look around within your local homeschooling community, to reach out, see who is out there and see if something great exists that you didn’t know about.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Wacky Weather; Lost Power

I don’t know what is going on with the weather lately.

Last week the temperatures soared to 60 degrees, with sunny days that smelled like spring. We then had days of rain and chilly temperatures.

Then the weekend brought high winds from the north that froze the rain and turned everything to ice. We had two days of single digit temperatures and frostbite warnings. We also received five inches of snow.

Then yesterday, I woke up after midnight to high winds again, this time from the south, with temperatures in the low 40s. The weather reports stated the gusts were 30 miles per hour. What struck me was that the wind was non-stop and lasted for about 15 hours. Rainfall was heavy and melted all the snow that had accumulated. The trees never stopped moving and it was actually a bit scary. I am surrounded by tall oak trees which are 60 feet high and taller, any number of which could easily crush our home if they fell! Thank goodness they are healthy and strong. These winds did knock down trees on other properties and we lost power for six hours yesterday. The dark clouds and pounding rain did not allow much natural light into our home. We did our homeschooling by candlelight. We were warm enough, but I had plans to light a fire in our fireplace if it got too chilly.

It was so odd being without power, without the computer or internet, and without the ability to cook meals. I had to learn how to open the garage door without the electrically operated door. I also noted how silent the house is without the hum of the fridge, the bubbling of the fish tank, the sound of the furnace, the blowing of heated air, or the sound of the well water filter system. I was reminded yet again how without something like electricity we really lose a lot of our civilization. It was also hard to communicate as some friends and neighbors use telephones which require electricity, so they were unavailable.

So the power is back on, thank goodness. I was worried that all the bulk food that I cooked would become spoiled! It is alright, phew.

Today it is back to normal with running errands, posting to the blog, checking email, etc.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

American Idol to Start Tonight: My Husband’s Torture Begins

That time of year is here again. The time when there is nothing good on television so were resort to watching American Idol. My husband is funny because he will watch nearly anything but this show drives him crazy. If this season is to be like the past two seasons, my children and I will be watching it while he sits nearby, reading and cringing. The thing my husband hates most of all is watching the audition shows where we see the REALLY bad singers. My kids and I think this is the really funny part.

If this season is like the past, my older son will automatically pick out a country singer to be his favorite (no matter what the gender). My younger son prefers to support and vote for males, preferably those who sing rock music (!).

Yes, we do vote. We vote numerous times. My children each vote once or twice, either once for their two favorite singers or twice for their one favorite. In the beginning of the show I vote for up to four candidates. The redial on my portable phone makes this an easy task.

We watch the TiVo’ed version on the same evening, so we can skip by the commercials yet still have time to phone the votes in. The other advantage to watching a pre-recorded version is that I am calling in on off-peak hours. I find that if I phone in right at the end of the live show, the lines are jammed and busy.

I view American Idol as entertaining and harmless. It is not controversial or anger-inciting (as watching the news is). It is entertaining without crossing the line into the ‘brain rot’ category (which so many shows are)!

Will you be watching American Idol?

My Thoughts on 20/20 Show “Stupid in America”

I am writing this while the kids are on a break from our homeschooling lessons. Here is a quick jotting down of my thoughts on the show that aired a few days ago on 20/20, a 60 minute show titled “Stupid in America".

1. I think that all parents who use school for their children should watch this show.

2. All parents who homeschool should watch this show so they see some of the issues in American public education including the lack of the effect of a voucher system. In the very least this show will make homeschoolers feel good about their choice (even if the issues on the show are not the primary reason they are homeschooling).

3. I have read books on the subjects of: an ideal education for children, the problems with American public schools, the problems with institutional schooling in general, ideas for education reform and have heard some lectures given by people about these topics. I did not learn about any new topics from watching this show that I didn’t already know.

4. This show did talk about topics that are seldom talked about in the mainstream media. By the way American public school reform dates back to the early 1900s. I have a book from 1905 which talks about the problems in school and how they need to be fixed. I also was surprised to learn that a huge education reform movement was going on when I was entering elementary school. As an adult I was thinking that things were alright when I was in school but really many teachers and administrators, back then, were upset and are upset about the same issues that reformers are upset about today. The only major difference is that back then the big outcry was “we are not spending enough money on education” and now they are saying “we increased spending and things are not getting better”.

5. The fact that the show was 60 minutes long allowed the topic to be delved into pretty deeply. There was a definite focus to the show and I appreciated that the subject matter was kept to certain topics so those topics could have enough time dedicated to them. An example was they did not ever talk about homeschooling which was good and fine with me, as it allowed the focus to be on what it was on: the problem with American public schools. They also did not talk about learning styles or alternative education methods or private schools. There was a short segment about ‘making learning fun’ and how that is successful.

6. The focus of the show was on American public schools. The major focus was the fact that we have a monopoly system. We do not have school vouchers. The point that the system is flawed and produces poor results in learning was made over and over. The system in Belgium was explained, where money is attached to the child and the child can go to whatever school they want. The schools there are more competitive as they need to get good learning results and keep the families happy or they will lose the business. Test scores are higher in Belgium. I was left with the impression that John Stossel (the host) wants America to have a voucher system.

7. American charter schools were shown a bit, as one option that is legal right now. Administrators, teachers, and parents were interviewed saying why they feel that students do can flourish in charter schools, because they are free of much of the problems that come with school being a monopoly (inability to fire bad teachers and the effect of teachers unions on the education system).

The most charismatic person interviewed was education reformer Kevin Chavous, who runs a charter school. Chavous has written a book “Serving Our Children: Charter Schools and The Reform of American Public Education”. I enjoyed hearing what Chavous had to say and I’d like to read his book. I had never heard of him before. He was passionate about the topic, and obviously had strong opinions and convictions.

8. The show then shifted gears to focus on American public school teachers and the teachers union. They showed how difficult it is to fire teachers and how tenure seems to only ensure that problem teachers stay in the system. Students and parents were interviewed and gave examples of problem teachers (drunk at school etc.). Reports were made about teachers who have sex with students or have cyber sex with minor aged students. Even when a teacher admits to the crime, they often cannot be fired! Can you imagine? The difference between their system and the American private industry is so different that it seems unthinkable to believe that these teachers actually are living and working in America.

9. One new thing I learned is that in New York city these problem teachers are made to sit in the ‘rubber room’ which are rooms where they go by day to sit and read books and magazines, rather than to teach. The school not only pays their salary and keeps them employed but they pay $20 million per year to rent four different buildings to house these teachers. There are 80,000 teachers in New York City and they said only two have ever been fired due to having just cause. A flow chart of the disciplinary process for teachers was shown and it unfolded it seemed to go on and on, with many pages, with a complicated flow chart process!

10. Interesting quotes were made by some teachers such as stating that no teachers ever do a bad job and if so it should be proven. Another comment was made that it should be proven that a teacher is not doing a good job (and implied that it was impossible to do). Well that is not true given that some teachers actually admit to things such as having sex with minor aged students. Another interesting quote from a teacher was that there is nothing wrong with monopoly systems. Another said that to have a more competitive school system such as more charter schools and money attached to the student should not be tried as it has never been tried before. One may argue that the monopoly system has been in place for over 150 years and according to statistics it is not doing a great job. One teacher went so far as to say that competition has never worked in any system and it would not work in schools. Well, that is sheer ridiculousness! Competition works in many parts of American life!

11. I enjoyed watching this show because it was different to watch and see the same information that I have read in print.

12. It was beneficial to me to see so many different people saying the same thing that I have read in books. It is one thing to read a book with one author and you may thing “this person is nuts” or “wow, this person is biased” or “maybe this person is just wrong”. However to see the interviews with teachers, administrators, parents, and students and all were saying the same things that I had read (or personally experienced as a student myself) was interesting.

13. Another major point that was made is that adding more money to the cost of education doesn’t impact the results. More money doesn’t make more learning or more educated children. Statistics were given to show spending in past years and how increases have been made and how the test scores are the same or worse now. They also showed how spending is done on buildings, equipment or extra-curricular things that are not helping basic learning. A charter school was shown which has shunned many things such as expensive sports equipment (the children run around the city block for gym class) and the children help clean the school and set up and break down the cafeteria for lunch (rather than paying someone to do it). This and the other things they are doing such as having the principal visit each class each day is helping the children learn more and score better on tests! They also showed one town who is building this gigantic $35 million building to house only school administrators!

The author of the book “Education Myths”, Jay Greene, was interviewed on the show. Here is one of his great quotes:

"If money were the solution, the problem would already be solved … We've doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years, and yet schools aren't better."

14. We saw an example of an 18 year old who can barely read. We saw parts of his PPT meeting with a room full of specialists. One was saying that she sees improvement in his reading and that he is doing great and that no changes in the program are needed. We also heard him read and it was equal to what my children were reading and how they were reading when they were still going through their first phonics program (one at age 5 and one at age 4). The PPT meeting was shown to demonstrate how the system is now loaded with education specialists and how their time is spend in long meetings such as this one, where it was implied that nothing much really gets done in the PPT meetings. I have a relative with autism and have listened to audio recordings of his PPT meetings and I can attest to the long-winded and dragged-out nature of those meetings, which are filled with a handful of school staff.

15. I really think that every parent should be more active in their children’s education if they send their child to school. Parents should not just think that if they move to a ‘good town’ with a ‘good education system’ that it is enough. Parents should be aware of the issues with public schooling and should see if these things are happening in their own school.

A great book for parents of schooled children to read which sums up everything they need to know and gives MANY ideas for how a parent can work to get their child better educated (even if that means supplementing a bit at home after school hours) is "The Educated Child: A Parent's Guide from Preschool Through Eigth Grade" by William Bennett, Chester Finn Jr, and John Criss Jr.

There are a lot of other books on the market about problems with American public schools. Most of the books just talk about the issues. The difference with “The Educated Child” is that it is written to the audience of parents who send their children to school and it gives ideas for what parents can do to make sure their children are educated (even if that means supplementing a little at home).

In case you are thinking that American public schools are doing a great job, the show reports that only 1/3 of fourth graders and 1/3 of eighth graders are performing below standards for reading and math. It is also stated that in fourth grade, American children are doing well when compared to other countries, according to test scores but that the scores plummet in comparison to other countries for middle school and high school levels.

ABCs website
A long article on this story, called “Stupid in America: How America cheats our kids out of a good education” with related links is on the ABC site, here.

ABC is running a poll right now asking if we think competition will improve American schools. As of right now 82.9% say “yes”. Go here to vote.

Today the ABC website is showing two short video clips from the show, one is called “Stupid in America” and the other is called “Monopoly in Teachers”. Go here to view these (click on the links).

Consider Emailing ABC
I am sure that ABC will receive thousands if not more than a million negative emails from teachers and school administrators. I plan to email my positive comments to ABC. Please consider emailing ABC with your thoughts, no matter whether they are positive or negative.

If you want to email ABC go to this page and scroll down to the link for “contact 20/20” and click on it.

I am really happy and am still surprised that such a show actually aired on American mainstream television. I have felt that in the past the American media was skewed toward not ever wanting to say anything negative against the American public schools in general or toward teachers. It seems to me the media has been anti-voucher system while this show was very obviously pro-voucher system. Lastly the media usually is in the camp of “spend more and the education will be better” and blames the American citizens for being cheap with spending on education. However this show showed very plainly on more than one occasion how more spending ahs been done and how it has not helped. The fact that American public education seems to be getting top-heavy was also shown very clearly, and that is where the money is going. I am sure that ABC is going to be slammed by negative emails from teachers, administrators and people who don’t want to believe the statistics and facts about the reality of what is going on with American public education.

Monday, January 16, 2006

My Favorite Hymn

I thought today I’d share my favorite hymn. This hymn has touched my soul more than any other. When I am feeling blue or depressed I read the words of this hymn and it comforts me. This is one of the things I do when I am feeling stressed about things that seem to be beyond the scope of my control (because I can’t fix them by my own direct actions).

This site plays the music to the hymn.

Title: Through the Love of God Our Savior
Words: Mary B. Peters, Hymns Intended to Help the Communion of Saints (London: Nisbet & Co., 1847).
Music: “Ar Hyd Y Nos,” traditional Welsh melody; harmony by Luther O.Emerson, 1906

Through the love of God our Savior,
All will be well;
Free and changeless is His favor;
All, all is well.
Precious is the blood that healed us;
Perfect is the grace that sealed us;
Strong the hand stretched out to shield us;
All must be well.
Though we pass through tribulation,
All will be well;
Ours is such a full salvation;
All, all is well.
Happy still in God confiding,
Fruitful, if in Christ abiding,
Holy through the Spirit’s guiding,
All must be well.
We expect a bright tomorrow;
All will be well;
Faith can sing through days of sorrow,
All, all is well.
On our Father’s love relying,
Jesus every need supplying,
Or in living, or in dying,
All must be well.

Delicious Crème Brulee From Good Eats Show

My husband really became interested in cooking after watching the Food Network channel.

I mean, he became interested in HIM actually cooking (not being an armchair cook or him demanding that I cook this or that which he saw made on TV). We have been watching the channel since the channel first appeared on the cable TV lineup back when we were dating in the early 1990s. After we got married (and we were living together in our own home) my husband really took off with cooking, using recipes from the Food Network as the base.

In the beginning, the Food Network had all the recipes from their shows online, for free. Now the site has recent recipes only. If you see a recipe that you like on the site I recommend you save it to your hard drive or print it off as it may disappear at any point in time.

One of our favorite TV shows on the station is “Good Eats” with Alton Brown as the host. Each 30 minute segment features a food type or just one recipe. Alton Brown discusses the food, the history, and even food science. One or more recipes are made on the show.

About Good Eats show

Last week’s new show was called “My Pod” (Episode EA0914) and was about vanilla beans. That show featured Crème Brulee. My husband is not a big sweet eater but crème brulee is his favorite dessert. It is something that perhaps he eats once or twice a year, usually while at business lunches or dinners. It is a dessert that I have eaten perhaps six times in my life, total.

(I have been writing about healthy eating lately. Crème Brulee is not a health food. It is a special treat which is to be enjoyed on rare occasions, in my opinion.)

Note: Good Eats repeats many times, so if you missed the first showing, know that it will repeat many times in the near future. Episodes from previous years also seem to repeat forever.

My husband decided to make it yesterday. We retrieved the recipe off the Food Network site.

We didn’t have any vanilla beans on hand so I set out to buy some from the excellent spice purveyor, Penzey’s Spices. This is a mail order and internet business in addition to them having a retail store which is about a half hour drive away from our home. If you don’t get Penzey’s mail order catalog in the mail you may want to get on their mailing list. Reading the catalog is very educational in and of itself.

My husband even borrowed his father’s blow torch in order to caramelize the sugar granules for the top of the dessert.

Yesterday afternoon my husband made the recipe and we tasted it today. It was delicious!

If you have never tasted Crème Brulee imagine the texture of a very creamy (full fat content) yogurt with the taste of sweet cream and vanilla. It takes like vanilla yogurt without any of the tartness of yogurt and with a better, more potent vanilla flavor. The top has granulated sugar which is caramelized into a hard shell. Tasting the burnt sugar with a crunchy texture in combination with cold custard is heavenly.

For a more flavorful taste we used organic raw sugar (from Trader Joe’s) rather than white granulated sugar. It was delicious!

The key to great tasting desserts (and regular food) is fresh and high quality ingredients. We use pure vanilla extract not imitation (which I found out from Good Eats is made from wood pulp!). We used fresh vanilla beans not old hard ones, to make this recipe. Fresh eggs are also key to any recipe or even when eating fried eggs or hard boiled eggs. You can tell if an egg is fresh by cracking it and dropping it into a bowl or onto a plate. With a fresh egg the yolk is dark and plump and not cloudy. The yolk should have some of the whites surround it almost in a ring, then more whites spill out around that. If that pattern of whites is not there, it is not a fresh egg. The whites should be clear and plump, not runny or cloudy.

It is not hard to have a pantry full of the basics for cooking and baking. With a basic pantry of ingredients it is easy to cook or bake from scratch—you just follow the recipe.


If you like cookbooks and reading about cooking, Alton Brown has authored some books:

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Cooking Marathon Again Yesterday

Yesterday I did errands in the morning.

In the afternoon I made four batches of Chicken Soup (my mother’s recipe).

I made five batches of Pasta Fajioli (Italian White Bean Soup).

The soups will be portioned into containers and then frozen.

I also made a New York Style Cheesecake (with my older son’s help) just because he asked for one. We each ate a piece for dessert, after dinner. It was good but the bottom crust was burned. The recipe was from the back of the box of Philadephia Cream Cheese.

My husband made Crème Brulee, with a recipe from the Good Eats television show. We each had a portion today. It was delicious!

So we had a big cooking day here yesterday. I am burned out of cooking in bulk for a while.

While cooking I started listening to the audiobook “The Last Battle” by C.S. Lewis.

This audiobook is narrated by Patrick Stewart who is an actor who I first saw on Star Trek: The Next Generation; he played Captain Jean Luc Picard. I love his voice on the show and I am enjoying hearing him read this last installment in The Chronicles of Narnia.

In between cooking we continued to put Christmas decorations away and to declutter the family room. I can’t wait for that to be done. It seems like the never-ending project.

A Thought on Blogging and Writing Ability

If Americans are such non-writers why are there so many Americans writing blogs?

I am not saying all the blog writers are using good grammar and are doing high quality language. However it seems to me that perhaps the fact that any person can have a free blog is actually increasing some people’s writing. Practice makes perfect, so maybe blogging is helping a lot of people become better writers!

Another Reason Why Being Fat is Not Healthy (Fat Buttocks and Injections)

Today on FoxNews channel, the health segment “Sunday Housecall” featured a report that fat buttocks hinder the absorption (and therefore the effectiveness) of injected substances (i.e. antibiotics, vaccines).

Isadore Rosenfeld M.D. does a great job of explaining medical topics in layman’s terms without being patronizing. Really, basic health matters are not hard to understand or learn. There is a lot of know and keep in mind when practicing medicine and for that reason I have a lot of respect for physicians. Surgeons require a lot of specialized training and are in a very different league, in my opinion, than general practitioners, Pediatricians or even Internal Medicine doctors.

I think that the American public is far too ignorant about health matters. The information is there to learn and know if a person is willing to read a little or even watch news segments like this one. Most Americans choose to stay ignorant on medical matters, such as simple first aid procedures, how to know when to seek medical attention and what to do in case of a medical emergency. I think it is pretty pathetic. I also think that there are certain things all people should know about how to live a healthy life and stay well. But anyway…

Dr. Rosenfeld talked today about how injections work. Dr. Rosenfeld and I are on the same page with the idea that some people need to know the reasons behind something in order to understand it and believe it. A certain portion of people don’t care for the reasons and don’t even want to hear them. Some people want to hear the bottom line or be told a directive instead. Example: “take this pill”. Others almost require knowing the reason behind something in order to believe that the information is credible.

Anyway about the injections. Injections are given in the upper buttocks for a couple of reasons. I knew this before seeing the show. Dr. Rosenfeld explained this on the show. Muscles are good carriers of materials and do a good job transporting an injected substance into the body so that the body can then use or be positively affected by the substance. That region is also low in pain receptors and the injections given there are less painful than if they were given in some other areas.

However if the buttocks have a layer of thick fat on them and the injection goes into the fat then the substance will not be absorbed properly and will be ineffective.

So there is yet another reason why not being overweight is a good thing.

In America the overall mentality is we go to a doctor when we have a problem and they give us some kind of treatment and we are fixed. Now we know that even an injectable medication or an injectable vaccination may not be properly accepted by our bodies if we are not ‘as we are supposed to be’ (i.e. overweight).

I wonder how this will affect children and vaccinations. I see more and more, reports stating American children are obese and the rates are climbing. I therefore suspect that overweight children who are given injections into fat body parts will not properly absorb the substance and that increases the likelihood that the vaccination will not be effective. What a shame, if someone goes through the effort to get a vaccination and it doesn’t even work.

I was unable to find a working link so you could view this story online. The story is not yet published on the Fox News website.

I am posting this as:
1. It is on my mind.
2. It interests me.
3. Health matters are something that a mother should be concerned about for herself, her husband and her children.

I resolve to not only finish some projects (such as getting all the Christmas decorations put away and the house decluttered) today, but also to go on the treadmill at some point in time.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

About PostSecret

A couple of weeks ago I discovered PostSecret.

I found out about this while shopping on Amazon and saw that other people who bought the books I own had also purchased the PostSecret book, compiled by Frank Warren.

In reading about the book I found out this started with a website. I immediately pointed my browser to the site to check it out.

Apparently millions already know about PostSecret, so I have been in the dark. I will share the information in case you are also in the dark.

Here is what it is and how it works. If a person has a secret, being defined as a secret that they have never told anyone else, and then they qualify to participate. The person designs their own 4x6 inch postcard and mails it to a certain address. This is done anonymously. This is kind of a confessional and catharsis thing.

Selected postcards are featured on the PostSecret website. The new images are uploaded each Sunday. The site only shows the images for one week; there are no archives.

A book has been published which is a compilation of some of the submissions to date. The book is fascinating. I bought it with money that was given to me for Christmas. Unfortunately I don’t feel that it is a good coffee table book for our family as some of the images and content are inappropriate for children.

Last week an art exhibit in Washington D.C., of PostSecret postcards ended. I read that over 15,000 people attended. I would have liked to have gone!

I find some of the postcards hilarious and others very sad. Some have even brought tears to my eyes. It is hard to believe some of them, I wonder if some are made up for shock value just to get published.

Before you view the site be forewarned that some of the content can be emotionally disturbing or inappropriate for young children, or for you to view while at work! Some of the content may even disturb an adult or be against your morals or beliefs. For example the secret may be about a rape, sexual abuse, sex, or any other type of sin. The secrets are also sometimes funny or silly. Some have nudity. You never know what will appear. A recent one that caught my attention was a reference that a woman is scared she will never be able to conceive a child again, and stated she ‘killed’ her first baby (I assume through abortion).

If a person’s postcard is featured on the site the person sometimes writes in with comments or background information about their postcard.

If you want to send in a postcard, here is the address to use:

13345 Copper Ridge Road
Germantown, MD 20874-3454

What do you think of PostSecret?