Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling Week Nine is Up

Week Nine of the Carnival of Homeschooling has been published at Why Homeschool?

This week Henry Cate matches the Homeschool Carnival Submitters to nine Ancient Greek Mythological Goddesses. I applaud Henry for his creativity!

I participated in this Carnival and have been categorized as:

Terpsichore the "Whirler" is the muse of dancing and is often seen dancing with her lyre and a plectrum, an instrument used for plucking stringed instruments.

I am flattered to be considered to be an inspiration and a muse. Dare I confess that some days I feel like a complainer or a windbag?

If you want to read what homeschoolers are doing and thinking, take a look at the Ninth Carnival of Homeschooling. Consider it “me time”—relax, sit back and read to your heart’s content.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Delicious Banana Bread Recipe with Chocolate!

A couple of days ago I realized I had three over-ripe bananas so I decided to make banana bread. Despite loving to bake from scratch, I have only made banana bread once and didn’t have a favorite recipe for it. So I headed right for the Internet to find a new recipe. I have had some bad experiences with poor recipes from various random sites so now I go directly to FoodTV.com and I have yet to be disappointed.

When I saw a recipe pop up for Choco Chunky Banana Bread just the title made my mouth water. This recipe was developed by the Food Network Kitchen and is available here.

The recipe came out great. It has the typical moist, dense, banana bread characteristic with the added bonus of chocolate swirled through it.

Delicious! Give it a try!

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Homeschool Habitat Podcasts: Great Listening!

Yesterday I discovered Homeschool Habitat podcasts. They are new to me but actually began in January 2004.

Podcasts are audio recordings, similar to a talk radio show format, which are available on the internet to listen to right from your computer.

Homeschool Habitat offers free podcasts about homeschooling. The hosts and creators are Kim and Ken Campbell who are homeschooling parents.

Yesterday I listened to two shows while doing boring data entry on my computer. Listening to the shows was inspirational.

There were a few things which impressed me about the show. The first is that I am in awe of the wonderful conversation flow that goes on between Kim and Ken. They sound like two professional talk show hosts but even better, because the way they talk to each other is not fake or stilted, it is genuine and real plus it sounds professional and they both have great voices for audio shows. The next thing that impressed me was their use of music in between segments which added to the experience and sounded so professional and appealing.

I also love and appreciate that Kim and Ken are not preachy and are not critical of the various methods of learning. They are from the perspective which I also share which is that there are many methods and styles and each family must choose what is best for not only the family but for each individual child. Their show has a positive air about it and a relaxed yet responsible and confident air to it.

Something else I enjoy is when I hear a jet or a train going by their home. It sounds so real and sound-effect like yet it is really a jet or a train going by their home (in Chicago). This underscores for me that homeschoolers are real people living and doing great things in their homes and lives while real life is going on all around them. I like the fact that the show is not recorded in a soundproof recording studio.

Homeschool Habitat features an adult segment and a children’s segment. The children’s segment includes Kim and Ken’s children, with either a lesson or a discussion about a learning topic which includes the child sharing what they know or we sometimes even hear them being exposed to a new concept or fact.

As I write this there are eleven Homeschool Habitat podcasts available to listen to for free, dated from January 2004 through November 2005. I hope that more Homeschool Habitats will be recorded and shared with us.

The website with the list of shows is here. Note that each show has a long description of the contents so you can choose which show(s) discuss topics that are interesting to you. Some shows are geared mostly for newcomers or those curious about homeschooling. Despite my fast DSL connection it takes a few minutes for the shows to load on my computer, so I advise that after you click on the “click here to listen” button, that you be patient and wait the few minutes that it takes to load.

Kim Campbell also reviews homeschooling blogs. She reviewed my blog on June 27, 2005, and you can read her review of The Thinking Mother’s blog, here.


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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Home Library Maintenance Work Today

Today I made a 'to do' list. I don't usually do that anymore. I used to be a big list maker but don't need to do that anymore. I use mental lists. Seeing long 'to do' lists on paper which never get finished actually makes me feel like a failure or gives me various negative feelings about myself, so I avoid doing it!

Anyway the ideal list today had 20 items on it. I have already done three which are for me to go to church/kids go to Sunday School, go to the bagel shop to get a dozen bagels, and get a few needed items at the grocery store on the way home from church.

My main project today is to input books into my book inventory Excel spreadsheet. I will be working from some bags and boxes of books which I have bought in the last three months here and there that are sitting in the corner of our home library gathering dust and waiting to be put away in an organized and sorted manner. I also will be working off of my old paper list system, transposing handwritten lists of the books we own into Excel.

The reason that we own so many books is that I used real and good aka "living books" as a main part of our homeschooling curriculum. I have been buying a lot of used books from library sales in the last couple of years. I also love to book hunt at used book shops. I design our own science program using living books as the content. I also use a lot of living history books to round out our world history lessons (our spine is "The Story of the World" and the four year chronological world history sweep as recommended in "The Well Trained Mind". We also read a lot of children's fiction picture books and chapter books including classics.

If I have to label our homeschooling method it would be classical with strong influences and use of Charlotte Mason's methods. Since we combine different companies curriculum and use living books and since I tailor some of the plans to my children's unique interests and since I don't do everything that various 'experts' recommend be done if one is 'to teach a classical curriculum', the label 'eclectic' is a better fit for us.

(Note some things on the 'to do' list that probably won't happen will be to clean everything in the bathrooms from the shower to the mirrors to the toilets. Today I am putting books as a higher priority than cleanliness.)

I need to get a grip on having an inventory of what I own so that I don't purchase duplicate books. I am trying to avoid wasting money on that.

There is a library sale coming up in two weeks which I am feeling an internal pull to attend. The library sale is in a wealthy town and the donations they receive are often high quality including new/never read books and also high quality content books such as non-fiction children's books, classics and other non-twaddle books. I am telling myself that I cannot go to that sale unless I make a concerted effort to input our current inventory onto one usable list.

Someday I want to also move that data into LibraryThing. However I have decided that my first priority is to have a base list. Since I already have 3400+ books in Excel I think I should finish up that listing and get it complete before I continue working on my LibraryThing account which has about 200 books in it. Right now I am not happy that LibraryThing is not yet loading categories of books, they rely on tags. For example if they know a book is a children's nonfiction science book then it should, in my opinion, somehow be categorized by them as a children's nonfiction science category book. Furthermore I would like it to say whether it is a picture book or a chapter book or for what age range the publisher categorizes it as. These things are known to Amazon and to the Library of Congress and the other sources which LibraryThing pulls their information from. Right now LibraryThing is relying on customers/users/members to input their own tags, their own categories. Since I have an Excel spreadsheet in which I have already loaded the categories of over 3400 books, which is a searchable document, I think I should continue working on it.

Update: As of 5:30pm: I am going cross-eyed from doing data entry on the computer. I surpassed book #4100. I need to take a break! I think I did enough for today. I also am thinking that I have a lot of great books that I have not yet read and that I should use what I have rather than buying more stuff. I was just doing data entry of books and stuff that I bought at a homeschooling conference in March 2004 which I still have not used. Yikes.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ridiculous Idea: Lifting Customer Reviews From Amazon for Profit Making

A couple of weeks ago, I was participating in the Amazon Associates online bulletin board discussion (on Amazon.com) and came across a question which left me speechless.

When I recovered, I had to respond.

A person who is an Amazon Associate was seeking verification that she could NOT take customer reviews from the Amazon site and use them on her own website in an attempt to generate sales of that product on her own site, so she could profit from the sale. She said she thought this was not allowed by Amazon in their rules and was complaining about it and seeking verification from other Amazon Associates. She had an idea to basically steal (plagarize) the copyrighted customer reviews to use them for her own profit-making.

Shame on her.

As I said I was speechless at first.

I began writing customer reviews for Amazon in 1999, for fun and to help others. I get no pay from the reviews that I write on Amazon. The idea that someone could or would lift my writing, my review, for their own profit making really irked me.

Here is the reply that I posted to her query, with edits for it to make sense for you to read, since you didn’t see the original question and the other replies.

As (another person) said you can't use the reviews (on your website). This is because customer reviews are copyrighted by Amazon and even the reviewer cannot use them. I find this interesting as I started writing customer reviews for Amazon in 1999 and am a top 500 reviewer. That was fun for me; I get no income from that. However it is interesting to me now that I have a blog that I can't post the same review on my own blog that I already posted to Amazon due to their copyright holding status and their rules (which has nothing to do with the Associates rules). So if you are unhappy with the idea of not posting OTHER people's reviews to your site think about those of use who spent time writing FREE reviews for Amazon and now we can't publish them on our own site!!

Now that blogging is my main online hobby I write less customer reviews for Amazon. What I do now is write a review for my blog and publish it and then edit it and pare it down and then sometimes post that version to Amazon. Technically those are then two different reviews and I still hold the copyright on the version posted to my blog.

My main reason for writing Amazon reviews in the first place was to help to other customers. I was grateful for the fact that other customers had written reviews which were helpful to me. Often customer reviews tell more information than Amazon supplies, information which helps me decide to either buy it or not buy it. I also thought it was fun and liked the writing practice.

At this point in time I am more interested in earning income, so am blogging and am now an Amazon Associate!

(With the Amazon Associates program, if anyone buys a product through a link on my blog, I earn a small commission on the product. If you use the general search box at the top of my left sidebar I get a very small percentage. If you make a purchase from one of those boxes with the graphic image of the book (or item) then I get a higher commission.)

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Excited About Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature

I am really excited to attend this year’s Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature at the Westport (Connecticut) Children’s Library. The Festival will take place March 30-April 1, 2006.

Thanks to endowments and other contributions, attendance at this festival of children’s literature is free. In past years, attendees have come across state lines to attend this festival.

This year the theme is “Drawing Inspiration from the World Around Us” and focuses on books for children in grades Kindergarten-Second Grade. Children’s picture book illustrators will be giving workshops. The guests this year are:

Cari Best
Brian Collier
Bruce Degan
Kathy Jacobsen
Koren Long
Melissa Sweet

Anyone may attend this festival: parents, homeschoolers, teachers, librarians, anyone! If you want more information about The Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, see the library’s website, here. Registration is first come, first served, and registration is open now.

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Composting Basics

Composting is easy and good for the environment. Compost is a great ingredient for gardening. Compost can serve as a booster for soil or as a top covering mulch. It can also be used as one of the ingredients to use in a seed starting soil mix.

Is it hard to compost?
Some people have made composting seem way too complicated, or expensive. I don’t see how anyone could stretch the topic to have enough information to fill an entire book but books on composting do exist. I also know that one doesn’t have to buy expensive equipment to begin composting.

What to put in the compost bin
You can compost any fruit or vegetable scraps. Bread or grains can be composted. Small amounts of paper can be composted, but shredding is advised or else the paper may mat and cause problems with moisture and delay decomposition. Grass clippings, small twigs, and tree leaves can be composted. Used coffee grounds and used teabags can be composted. Sawdust can also be composted. Hay and straw can be composted.

Do not compost dairy products, meats, shellfish, oils or fats. These can attract larger critters such as raccoons, opossums, coyotes or dogs, who may dig into the compost bin and make a mess. These ingredients can also hinder the decomposing process by going rancid and disrupting the decomposition process.

In an ideal situation fresh items, called green items, are layered alternatively with dead items, which are called brown items. For example, you could layer raked up tree leaves with vegetable and fruit scraps. However, this is not necessary. The fact of the matter is that large amounts of tree leaves will be had in the autumn but not in the rest of the year. Just throw your waste into the pile and let it decompose!

Grass/lawn clippings should be left on the ground to decompose there and return the nutrients to the lawn. However, if you don’t do this and have grass clippings, you can compost them. If you use too many grass clippings they can mat and block air and water circulation. I am guessing that this would only be an issue if you were a landscaper and you were trying to compost mainly grass clippings.

Adding small twigs and bush clippings can help create air pockets in your compost bin which can be beneficial and speed the decomposition process. They will have to be screened out later, which I do anyway.

Balance is something to consider in a compost bin. For example, loading up your compost bin with tons of sawdust will throw the pH level off. If you dump a huge pile of newspapers into the bin it won’t decompose. Use common sense and don’t overload the compost bin with tons of paper or sawdust.

For whatever reason, using lots of coffee grounds has not been problematic for me or others, from what I have read. In the past I have gathered used coffee grounds from the local Starbucks store. Coffee shops are usually happy to save the grounds for you if you ask. Some want advance notice that you will be coming. If you say you are coming, I advise keeping to that commitment. Other shops may tell you to drop in anytime and get what they have. A local grocery store also gave me bags of corn husks. The store had a garbage bin near the fresh corn on the cob, and some customers chose to shuck the corn at the store. I took home bags of silk and husks and composted them.

Moisture in the bin
A compost bin does need some moisture. If your bin appears very dry or if you are having a dry summer, feel free to sprinkle some water from your hose into it. If you are using a cover and your pile is too dry, take the cover off so that rain water can enter it.

Sunlight and the bin
Ideally the bin should be in the sun because the heat will speed the decomposition process. However, decomposing also will occur in the shade. Composting in the shade is better than not composting at all.

Types of bins to use
My grandmother has composted for years simply by throwing her scraps in a pile. I have always used a bin, since I live in a suburban area.

My first bin was a black plastic bin. Once I started vegetable gardening I needed a larger bin, so I started using a second bin (a wooden homemade bin). This summer my brother gave me his used compost tumbler. I now have more bins than I need!

You can purchase small black plastic bins which look tidy and have a neater appearance than other contraptions. These usually have a locking top. Using the locking top will help keep raccoons or other animals out of the bin. I have seen these in Costco in the spring for under $50. They can cost up to $100 if purchased at full retail price. Because they are large and heavy plastic, they can be expensive to ship, so if you want one I advise finding a local retail store to purchase it from.

Another method to contain the bin is the straw or hay bale method. You buy some bales and make a U shaped container with them. The bales act as the wall. The front is left open, if you want access for turning the pile (more on turning the pile later). If you don’t want to turn the pile you can make it a square shape and close off the front. You could start with one row high and build the walls higher as you need them. If the bales start to rot you can fork them in to the bin so they can decompose as well, and buy new bales for the walls.

If you are handy and want to make your own wooden bin, you can use 2x4’s to construct a bin to the size that you want. Do not use pressure treated wood if you are concerned about arsenic leaching into your compost! I have seen the largest recommended size to be 4x4x4 feet. If it is too large the water and sun won’t be able to get at it enough. After making a three sided frame, you can staple wire mesh inside it, to keep things from falling outside of it. My father made one of these for me. He made the front in a way that removable, stackable boards close it off at the height you want. As the pile gets larger, you make the front higher. Here is an image which is just like the one that I had my father build for me. I freehand copied the design from an advertisement that I saw in a gardening magazine. Lucky for me my father was able to build it without me buying the plans.

I see online that some people are buying fence sections and making a bin out of those. This could get expensive depending on the cost of the fence sections that you have. If your fence is a solid barrier, air and moisture may not get in. I would advise using a fence that had free space in between.

Temperature of the pile
While the stuff is decomposing, it is termed “cooking”. Maximum decomposition happens at some certain temperature which I don’t know or care about. Some people make composing very complicated, by measuring temperatures, etc. I don’t have time or energy for this.

Turning the pile
It is recommended for fast composting that a shovel be used to turn the pile periodically. I have seen recommendations ranging from turning it once a day to every other day to weekly. Basically you take a garden fork and move the stuff around. Turning the pile adds air and allows for moisture to move about. I don’t turn my piles as I am too lazy to do it. I basically add stuff to my compost bin and empty it once per year.

Tumbler Style Bins
The most expensive type of pre-made compost bin is the tumbler. There are a few different kinds of tumblers on the market. Basically they are barrel shaped, and lie in a horizontal position. You open a door to add the ingredients. You are to turn the barrel one notch per day on some models, and turn the crank one full cycle on other models. Advertisements sometimes say that finished compost can be had in just three weeks. I don’t know if this is true. I have not wanted to spend up to and over $300 for a compost bin! (Recently my brother gave me his compost tumbler, but I have not started using it yet.)

If it starts to smell
If your compost bins starts to smell it is probably not getting enough sun or it is too wet. You can turn the pile and see if that helps.

Adding Soil to the Compost Bin
It is always helpful to add soil to the compost bin. Natural bacteria that live in the soil help the stuff decompose faster. If you have spare soil, putting layers of soil on top of a smelly compost bin can help mask the smell.

Compost starter products
Some garden supply companies sell products which they claim will speed up the decomposition process. These are said to contain enzymes and naturally occurring bacteria that speed up the process. I have read that studies showed these to not make the materials decompose any faster. If you want your stuff to decompose faster, turn it at least a few times a week and add soil to it.

Emptying the bin and Screening the compost
Once per year I empty my bin. Sometimes I wait until it is full, though and empty it once every 18 months.

I had my father make me a screen using scrap wood and wire mesh/hardware cloth. The screen fits over the top of the wheelbarrow. It is sized to fit the wheelbarrow perfectly so it does not move about. The wood hangs down over the sides, locking it in place. I shovel onto the top, shovelfuls of compost. Wearing thick gloves, I move the composted material over the screen. The fully composed material falls through and into the wheelbarrow and it is toted to the desired location and used.

Any small twigs or sticks are removed and thrown into the woods. Partially decomposed matter is returned to the compost bin.

What finished compost is like
Finished compost is dark brown or black colored. It has a wonderful fresh, clean smell. It does not smell like garbage or rotting food! People call finished compost “black gold”.

How to use finished compost
When I was gardening I would use the compost at the beginning of the gardening season as a top dressing in my garden. Studies show that using compost as a top mulch actually helps deter pests and keeps the garden healthier than any other kind of mulch product. The last I knew no one understood all the reasons why but this is what the research showed.

I also put any leftover compost into a large garbage bin and move it into my garden shed. This was helpful in the late winter when I then used the finished compost as an ingredient to make my soil blocks, which I used to germinate seeds in, to grow my own seedlings. Keeping the sifted compost in a bin in the shed kept it from freezing solid.

Now that I am not gardening very much, I still compost my food scraps and raked up leaves. This actually keeps my trash from smelling very badly. It is not so bad to take the garbage out because there is no food in it. I use the compost on the containers of herbs that I grow on my deck. I also use it as a top dressing for my shrubs.

Gathering food scraps to compost
Here are some ways that you can gather stuff in your kitchen to compost. You can put a bucket under your sink, in your cabinet. You can use anything from a pail to a small bucket with a lid on it. This is what my relatives do. One relative drapes a rag/dishtowel over the top, while another uses a lid.

I was given a plastic compost gathering bin once with a charcoal filter in the top. That one was too small, holding about 1 gallon of material. I didn’t like it because the container was too small and the charcoal filter would get food smashed into it which was disgusting and not easy to clean. I also was too lazy to change the filter.

Later we bought a lovely ceramic compost holder that was to stand on the top of the kitchen counter. It had a lid. That worked great until we dropped the lid on the driveway and it broke. Later the handle broke off, and lastly, we dropped the container itself and that smashed. I think I paid about $25 for it. It really did look nice, though.

Right now I am using a decorative ceramic plant pot which is intended to house a houseplant. This holds about two gallons worth of stuff. It does not have a lid. If I don’t want to look at what it in it, I place a dinner plate on top (it fits perfectly). This was purchased for $10 at T.J. Maxx a few years ago for a houseplant. I had since given up keeping houseplants and it was sitting, unused in my basement. I don’t know why I had not thought of this earlier.

The goal in my house is to dump out the contents every few days, when it is full. It usually does not smell by that point in time. It is much more pleasant to empty the contents if you have not let it get full of mold and mildew, at which point it can smell. I am too lazy to empty the contents daily!

Trust me, composting is not difficult unless you make it difficult.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Networking with Local Homeschoolers is Important

While I have found great support for homeschooling via homeschooling books, homeschooling magazines, and over the internet, there is still something special about having local friends and acquaintances who also homeschool.

I first began looking for networking opportunities when my oldest child was very young. We first began thinking about homeschooling when I was pregnant with my first child. After my son was born, I knew three families who were also homeschooling at the time that my oldest was a baby; they were mothers who I met through La Leche League breastfeeding support group meetings, who just happened to also homeschool.

By the time my son was two, I wanted to meet more people. I started by joining a state-wide homeschool support organization whose main function was to publish a paper newsletter and act as a political watchdog and communicate those findings. The membership fee ($25 in 1998) covered the cost of the newsletter. The newsletter had short articles written by homeschooling parents which I found very interesting. It also listed local homeschooler field trip and other events. The newsletter also had a list of local support groups.

I then began to attend local support group meetings. I had trouble finding one which I felt comfortable with. I needed a meeting which was close to my home. I found that I was the parent of the youngest child and people expressed surprise at my being at the meeting (when my oldest was just two years old). There was a mentality that until the child is Kindergarten aged then they are really not homeschooling. I begged to differ as in this area stay at home mothers enroll their two year old’s in preschool. The pushing-away mentality and the idea that the education of the child was someone else’s concern began when the child turned two. I already felt a divide in this area with my friends who were also stay at home mothers, who sent their children to school.

I felt uncomfortable at some of the meetings because the support group leader and the others in attendance were using one of the expensive "school in a box" curriculums. I felt odd for using an unschooling method and for enjoying the use of regular books and designing our own curriculum based on my son’s interests. Some of the mothers expressed that they thought textbooks were fine and that they had no interest in designing their own curriculum. I felt worlds apart from them, as if I was an outsider in an already small social circle.

What I wanted back then was to be around like-minded people. I wanted to discuss education theory, different teaching styles and why we choose to do what we do. I wanted someone who enjoyed the debate over phonics based reading methods vs. sight reading, and how to tell if a child was ready to learn to read. I wanted reinforcement of why homeschooling was great and why schooling was a second-best option. Instead I heard complaints such as children who were not motivated to do their textbook work.

For a while to save my sanity I backed off from trying to find local homeschoolers who had children the same age as my oldest that were also homeschooling. Instead, for support and information I turned to these places: books, magazines and internet chat lists (with homeschoolers from far and wide who spoke on very limited topic areas). This is what I did from the time my oldest was two through the start of his Kindergarten year.

At the start of the Kindergarten year, I tried looking for another support group and I found one, which met further away. I found that some of the other parents with children my same age had sweet precocious daughters who craved to ‘do school’. These families were doing much more formal schooling than I was interested in and they did different work that my son was not yet ready to do. I met some people who really were on the fast track, and from my perspective it seemed they were trying to do a lot more than public schools because they wanted to prove that they could do better as teachers of their children. Again I felt that I was not part of this group, and that what I was doing was different. I felt isolated again.

While my oldest was a toddler and a preschooler, I kept a small circle of friends whose children were using school. I didn’t mind that they were choosing a different path than me. I was not one of the homeschoolers who only wants her children associating with other homeschooled children. However I received a rude awakening when the Kindergarten year began. My son’s friends who were the same age were suddenly unavailable for playdates. The combination of the school day, the homework and the extracurricular/paid classes and sports took up all of their time. Saturdays were booked with classes and sports also, as well as errand-running and family time. Suddenly they had no time for playdates with my children. I felt very isolated then, not having a firm foundation in the local homeschooling community and having felt as if my son lost his schooled friends. During this year most of the playdates were with neighbors and with new homeschoolers that I was reaching out to and trying to establish friendships with.

Over time I persisted in networking with local homeschoolers, taking it easy. Over time I found other families that I clicked with. We don’t all homeschool the same exact way but we don’t criticize or judge each other, either. I steer away from those who are very judgmental or those who only want to associate with others of their same exact religion.

Technically this our fourth year of homeschooling (not counting the three preschool years) and I now have a small circle of trusted friends within the homeschooling community. I don’t speak to all of my homeschool-mother-friends on a regular basis because we are all so busy. With some friends I mainly communicate via email. Others I see at local homeschool park days or other homeschooling events or classes. I have found a niche, I think, and it feels great.

I have found a small core group of close friends for my children who also homeschool. These children are all hand-picked by me and pass my litmus test! I like the parents as well. We don’t all parent in the same exact parenting style but we agree on many of the same important parenting areas. I should also mention that my children have a small number of close friends who do go to school.

There is something special and important that happens when networking with local homeschoolers which goes above and beyond what can be gleaned from online communications, or by reading homeschooling books, or homeschooling magazines. Many of the conversations I have with the other homeschooling mothers could also take place between me and my non-homeschool mom friends; however, the difference is we share something in common and for that short period of time I am not a minority, not the one doing the alternative thing (or the weird thing). If you have not yet found friendship and fellowship with other homeschooling mothers who live in your geographic area, I highly recommend that you pursue it.

I feel fortunate and grateful at this point in time to not only feel supported by homeschooling books and magazine articles, but also by a local homeschooling network. On one level, we have an internet chat list for local homeschooling parents which usually provides daily emailed communications which I guess is considered 'support' and 'networking'. I feel supported knowing that if I am having a problem or challenge with homeschooling that I can call a veteran homeschooling mother who I know or that I can call a support group leader. I enjoy attending homeschool support group meetings because I never know what will be discussed. Often the most interesting and enriching topics come up spontaneously. Having some friendships over a long period of time provides a continuity that makes me feel more stable. There is also something special about seeing the other children change and grow over time.

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Does anyone else see a likeness between Caillou and Kevin Couvais?

Alright, does anyone else think that Kevin Covais, one of the American Idol contestants looks like the PBS cartoon character Caillou?

The moment I first saw Kevin on the audition show I thought “that is Caillou!” My husband and kids agree with me although they all keep pointing out that Kevin has hair while four-year old Caillou does not, which is just a small technicality. Anyway this has become a big joke in our house as every time we see Kevin on the screen I shout “there is Caillou!”

I didn’t like Kevin’s singing in the audition show and couldn’t believe he made it to Hollywood. Imagine my further surprise when he made it to the final 24 contestants. I didn’t like his performance last night and was surprised when he received positive remarks from the judges.

My husband and children disagree with me, so they cast their votes for Kevin after watching last night’s show. Sigh.

There is talk on the show and in the media bout Kevin Covais having a baby face. Here is an article that talks about this 16 year old Long Island resident.

Yes, we have watched all the American Idol shows that have aired this season. I think it is a little much to drag out these shows to two hours. This week is a little over the top, with a two hour show for the female contestants, a two hour show for the male contestants, and a results show tonight to reveal which four will be eliminated from the competition. If this elimination show goes for longer than an hour then I think the Producers are mad. (Notice that I have dropped the typical American phrase "crazy" and replaced it with Simon Cowell's English slang term "mad". This was not intentional, it just happened! I have also begun calling some of the singer's performances "a-paaaauullll-ling" just like Simon does, because some really are not just awful but they are appalling. Simon's accent and favorite phrases are getting stuck in my head!)

If it were not for TiVo I would not watch American Idol. There are far too many recaps, too many “coming up next’s” and too much time wasting. Not only do I fast-forward through all of that, but also through the horrible singers (sometimes) and defiantly always through the commercials. My time is too valuable to spend watching all of the extra stuff. I LOVE my TiVo!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The 8th Carnival of Homeschooling is Up

The 8th Carnival of Homeschooling has been published, here.

I was one of the contributors.

Here is a list of the Carnival of Homeschooling archives, in case you want to read even more!

A blog carnival is a blog posting of blog entries about a certain topic. In the Homeschooling Carnival, the Carnival Host writes a short article with a very brief description of the subject of the blog entry and provides a link to that blog. You click to link to the article you want to read. It is like reading a homeschooling magazine on your computer screen (and it is free)!

Happy Reading!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Some Recommended Resources to Teach Reading: Any Parent Can Teach Their Child to Read

From the archives, here is an entry which originally appeared on 3/4/05, with a few edits. What motivated me to republish this is that people are navigating to my blog to read this old entry from search engine searches while looking for information about expensive programs to teach children to read.

Twice in the last month, parents in my area have asked for materials to teach reading to their preschool aged children on our local Freecycle list. Not knowing if they will get the expensive programs they have requested, I chose to reply to them to tell them about these inexpensive items that they can borrow from a library or buy if they so desire.

What I want most of all for parents to realize and know is that it does not take an expensive curriculum or program (i.e. Hooked on Phonics) for a parent to teach their child to read or to help their child learn to read. I commend these parents for their willingness to meet their preschool aged child’s request to learn to read. Here are the products I recommended to them and that I also recommend to you.

Basic how to teach your child to read resource:

Invaluable information for parents who homeschool and also for parents whose children attend school, easy and quick to read, 28 pages, $4 full retail (check Amazon for deeper discount perhaps) “A Home Start in Reading” by Ruth Beechik tells you all you need to know from babyhood to the fluent reader, how to teach your child to read with homemade materials. This is the book that made me realize that teaching a child to read is not rocket science and can taught by a parent. This is also a good for a reference if you choose to use another method (a curriculum or whatever), because the book boils down reading theory into a few pages and gives encouragement that if a child is taught with good methods when they are developmentally ready, learning to read can be easily accomplished.

A Home Start in Reading by Ruth Beechick:

Note this is sold separately or part of "The Three R's" which I actually recommend. "The Three R's" covers how to teach reading, language arts, and math from birth to the end of grade 3.


Beechik also has a bundle 3 pack (which was later republished into one binding with a black cover), which has the booklet on reading, one on writing/language arts and one on math. The bundle pack is called "The Three R's" with a full retail price of $12. Right now this is being sold at a discount on Amazon (prices fluctuate). I recommend the bundle pack as all the information is useful and helpful, and it is cheap.

The Three R's by Ruth Beechick

(new version with one binding)

(old version with three separate booklets sold in shrinkwrap as a three pack)


Learning via video entertainment: Innocent, animated cartoon videos made learning the “sounding out” concept easy and fun for my younger son who received that video for his 4th birthday. I wish I knew about these videos when my older son was learning to read. There are three in the series now. It appears the VHS format is no longer being sold, but DVDs are still available.

Letter identification and letter sounds video is called Leap Frog Letter Factory:

Sounding out words, putting letters together to make one word, short vowel sound words video is called: Leap Frog Talking Words Factory:

Introducing the "silent e" concept (I have not seen this one): Leap Frog Talking Words Factory 2: Code Word Breaker

You might also find these three videos in a bundle pack and/or sold with a plush Leap Frog character toy.

You can help your child learn to read by playing homemade games. This book is designed so you can pick games to match exactly what skill your child needs reinforcement with. The games are inexpensive and easy to make or assemble. This is a popular book with teachers as well as homeschoolers. The games can be used to reinforce what is being taught (in school or in the home school), as a reinforcement of information the child is having trouble learning, or can be used to introduce new concepts. Games make learning effortless.

Games for Reading by Peggy Kaye:

(Peggy Kaye has similar books for math and writing if you like this one you may need or want to check out her other books. The books by Kaye are popular with teachers and can often be found in public libraries.)

My friend gave me this book and my children loved using it. I am not convinced it was a real help with teaching my children to read but if you have the money and want something really fun to do with your children, check this book out. My kids beg me to play these games with them (even long after they were reading fluently). These are pre-written notes which you tear out and hide around the house according to the directions. The child must read the note in order to find the next note. A downside is that there are also illustrations with the notes which I feel gives the location away completely, so they don't really need to read it. The notes progress from very easy to more difficult, with the games at the beginning of the book being very easy and those at the end being longer and more challenging.

Learn to Read Treasure Hunts by Steven Cohen:


Learning with a cheap phonics curriculum: I taught both of my kids to read with this wonderful phonics curriculum which is categorized as an ‘intensive, systematic phonics method’. They read lists of words on a page. It works. It is easy for the parent to use. One son of mine finished at age 6.5 and the other finished at 4.5, and both were reading fluently by the end of the program.

Alpha Phonics by Samuel Blumenfeld:

I do not believe that expensive phonics programs which are advertised to parents of schooled children are necessary (i.e. Hooked on Phonics). As I stated earlier, all you need to know can be learned in a book which costs $4.00. If you so desire all you need is a marker and some index cards to make materials to teach your child to read. If you want a more formal program, you can find that in Alpha Phonics, which costs under $20.

Good luck and don’t be afraid!! You can help your child learn to read or you can teach them to read all by yourself!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Using Natural, Homemade Cleansers (and Avian Flu Prep)

Below is a post about the use of natural cleansers which I posted to an avian flu website today. I am starting to read about avian flu and thinking about the possible preparations that we should make. I don’t have much to say about the avian flu in general because I don’t know a lot about it. I don’t want to be an alarmist. I also don’t know how much of this is really under our own control to prevent or manage. It occurred to me, though, that anyone who seriously thinks that a pandemic is coming should think about ways to boost our own immune systems (and our children's), because some things we do in our typical daily lives can hinder or boost our immune system. Rather than just thinking about the more common concern of obtaining Tamiflu or stockpiling food or water cleansing tablets, perhaps we should be getting our bodies in the best health possible such as boosting our immune systems. It really makes a lot of sense to me that our primary preparation would be to boost our own immune systems. I feel that one important step is to not hinder our bodies natural immune system by exposure to manmade chemicals that are known to be harmful or toxic.

Here is the post (with a few edits):

I don't know if anyone knows about how typical chemical household cleaners can hinder the immune system. I am not an expert but that is my understanding from what I have read.

It seems logical to me that if we want to avoid getting the avian flu or any other illness one important factor is to boost our immune system.

I feel this can be done in two areas in our personal lives.
1) reduce exposure to chemical cleansers which can hinder our body's immune system (or other body systems);
2) change our nutrition to boost our body's immune system (I will post on that topic separately).

For a year I have been using homemade natural household cleansers. Books with recipes usually have chapters on the problems with using common household cleansers and their negative health impact.

I remember when I was working at an immediate medical care facility and two workers came in very sick from having breathed in a floor cleaning product, when they opened the door to the janitor's closet. They ended up very sick with chemical pneumonia and had to be hospitalized in the long run. The doctors had to use a reference book to look up the product they had inhaled to learn about that product and to see what the ingredients were. Afterward, I looked at the book, and was shocked to learn that common items sold in grocery stores are actually considered toxic. For example one very popular surface spray product which made me cough and has given me a sore throat when I spray it and breathe it in, was listed as a toxin that should never be breathed in. I was surprised as it is near impossible to use the product without a mask on and not inhale it! Who knew that this common product was toxic? How could it be so popular yet be toxic? My eyes were opened to something I had never known before. I had assumed that because products were sold in grocery stores, advertised on TV, in magazines and the Sunday newspaper carried coupons for them regularly, that they were entirely safe to use.

A common surface and floor cleaner with a bleach base that my friends and relatives use gives me instant headaches. This inspired me to try to make my own household cleansers. (Before this I was buying expensive natural cleansers made by small companies. One woman with a cottage industry business told me the products were simple to concoct. I then thought why should I buy their easily concocted product if I can make my own?)

So I have been using recipes made from the book "The Naturally Clean Home" (an inexpensive book).

There are more recipes in this book than I will ever need. For a year I have been making these and am surprised that:
1. I am saving a lot of money (spending under $2 per month on laundry for a family of four for example)
2. they work fine
3. they smell great
4. I have had no problems when using them such as sore throat, headache, nausea, etc.

Let's say you are a lurker, or you are even doubtful about avian flu. It couldn't hurt to reduce your exposure to chemicals through use of natural househould cleansers. If you are a person who really feels you will be quarantined, then doesn't it make sense to have products in your home that are not toxic? Do you want to be trapped in your house with chemicals? Wouldn't you rather use products that actually help heal the body?

The recipes use natural essential oils which have different properties such as tea tree oil which hinders growth of fungus and mildew (which are sold at health food stores or over the internet). These essential oils can also be used for aromatherapy and other uses which can aid in healing or just to make the house smell nice. Another example is the use of lemon essential oil in a diffuser (plugged into an electrical outlet or hand sprayed with an atomizer) to help disinfect the air when someone in the house is sick. Eucalyptus oil can help with respiratory illnesses or with stuffy noses, etc.

I have been using cleansers to wash the floor, carpet powders, surface washers, glass cleansers, and bathroom/toilet cleaners. I also use the recipes for laundry detergent. I use straight vinegar as a fabric softener as some chemical fabric softeners or dryer sheets are considered to be damaging to the neurological system and thought to be linked to Cancer by some.

My recommendation is to start small by using just a few essential oils. You can make a lot of different things with lemon essential oil, tea tree oil, peppermint oil, and lavender oil. (The essential oils are thought to be expensive by some people.) (If you want to get fancy later with other citrus oils or cedar oil then feel free!)

The other main ingredients are baking soda and vinegar (buy both in bulk at Costco). Liquid castille soap (a natural soap) from Trader Joe's or a health food store (or Dr. Bronner's brand, on the internet) is also needed. With just that stuff and water, you can make a lot of different recipes.

If you want to read a bit more that I wrote over six months ago on this topic, you can view the entry on my blog, here:

There are other books on the market for natural cleansers as well. However, how many recipes do you need? Example: there is a book on all the stuff you can make with baking soda, another on vinegar. I think owning and using one book is enough.

These natural cleansers are also better for the environment, which kind of goes without saying...although some people would want to use natural products for that reason alone.

Beware of free recipes on the internet that say they are natural as some contain chemicals including Fels Naptha soap, for one example.

Happy cleaning!

From the Archives: I Love Using Natural Home Cleansers!

I am reposting this entry which was originally published on August 4, 2005.

I am on a roll with making homemade cleaning supplies from scratch with natural ingredients. These products really do work. I am using this book as my source of recipes:

The Naturally Clean Home by Karyn Siegel-Maier. Before buying this book, I was trying some free recipes from the internet. Some of them didn’t work, and others contained chemicals but said they were “natural”.

With just a handful of cleansers, I can do all of the routine house cleaning and laundry. I found this book from a link on Amazon and the raving customer reviews led me to buy this book instead of another book that I originally was considering buying. Taking the advice of one reviewer, I limited my original shopping list to a few items and made cleansers with those ingredients. I realized that most of the recipes in the book can be made with a low number of ingredients. These ingredients are:

Tap water
White Vinegar
Baking Soda
Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
20 Mule Team Borax
Liquid Castile Soap, peppermint scented or
Liquid Castile Soap, unscented, with addition of essential oils (makes it more expensive)
Lavender essential oil
Lemon essential oil
Peppermint essential oil
Tea Tree essential oil

I enjoy cleaning much more now that I am not feeling sick to my stomach, coughing, getting a sore throat or getting a headache from inhaling the fumes of chemical household cleansers. I also now have my children help me clean the house and they actually clamor to do the cleaning (even the toilet!). Yes, my children beg to wash mirrors, sinks, counters, and even to vacuum and mop the floor. It is true.

If you buy this book I advise you to choose one recipe for a certain task. The book has more than one recipe for certain tasks. I would start off by buying these things:

Arm and Hammer Baking Soda (in bulk at Costco, 12 lbs. for $3.80 is what I paid)
Arm and Hammer Washing Soda (grocery store laundry detergent section)
Borax (grocery store laundry detergent section)
Glycerin, 6 oz. (drug store)
Liquid Castile Soap (Trader Joe’s brand, Peppermint scented or if not available in your area, Dr. Bronner’s brand from a health food store or internet order direct from Dr. Bronner’s).
Tea Tree Essential oil (Trader Joe’s or Atlantic Spice Company)

Find a Trader Joe’s store go here.

For information about Dr. Bronner’s castille soap, go here.

Again, if you use Trader Joe’s peppermint castile soap in the recipe you would not put in the other scent of essential oil as recommended in the recipe. If you use unscented castile soap you’d add the essential oil that the author recommends. I have found dirt cheap prices on all pure essential oils from Atlantic Spice Company (internet/ catalog mail order). Note that Atlantic Spice Company offer some sizes up to 8 oz. for very inexpensive prices!

These are the types of products that I make from recipes from the book:

Laundry detergent
Laundry stain remover
Laundry fabric softener
Glass and mirror cleaner
Countertop cleaner
Wood floor cleanser/mopping
Tile floor cleanser/mopping
Sink & exterior toilet cleanser
Toilet bowl cleanser
Bath/shower wet scrubber cleanser
Wood furniture cleanser
Wood dusting product
Car interior cleanser (dashboard, etc.)
Car rug cleanser
Car tire cleanser
Car exterior shampoo

Liquid hand soaps in our home have been replaced by liquid castile soap, which can also be used as a shower gel/shower soap (but I use homemade natural soap instead but that is another project altogether).

The following items I continue to buy from Trader Joe’s as they are less expensive and seem equal in environmental impact:

Trader Joe’s liquid dish detergent
Trader Joe’s liquid dishwasher detergent

I encourage you to make your own household cleaners. They are less expensive and are less harmful to people and the environment!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Edible Gardening Information for Beginners

I wrote this at my friend's request. She asked that I tell what I know so that those who are interested in gardening for edibles can learn some of the basics.

By reading books I have taught myself to garden organically: vegetables and herbs, flowers, shrubs and grass. I know a tiny bit about growing fruit. I will share some of what I learned. I did veggie gardening by germinating my own seeds and growing organically. I gardened for 6 years until I moved to this house, which is a place overrun with deer. We are unable to garden unless and until we install an expensive and unsightly electric fence. I really miss gardening!

If you start your own plants from seeds you get to choose the variety. If you rely on nursery plants your selections will be limited. It is also hard to find organic veggie plants. It is also expensive to buy plants that are already started (compared to cost of a packet of seeds). The seed packet in USA is required to be dated for the year it was packaged. This is not an expiration date. Seeds can last many years if they are stored properly, which generally can be summed up to keep in a plastic sealed zip top bag in a cool and dry place (or in the refrigerator if you have space).

Heirloom varieties are varieties which are old, different people have different lengths of time which qualifies as being called 'heirloom'; some say 100 years or older. Many of the heirloom varieties are not good for traveling by truck or long storage, so they are not often sold in grocery stores. Many taste better, though. Some of the fun of gardening is having access to eat wonderful veggies which are far superior in taste than that which we usually buy or are accustomed to having, from the grocery store.

Heirloom varities will reproduce by seed to the same exact variety. This means if you buy a packet of seeds and grow the plant, you can save the seed to use in the future (so you don't have to rebuy new seeds the next year). There are special processes you have to do for certain varities so if you want to do that, it is something to research and learn.

Some heirloom seeds are available and are not organic. Some seeds are hybrids but organic. Some are heirloom and organic. Pick your choice. One may think that to buy non-organic seeds but to grow organically is fine, while purists may want both organic seed and to grow organically. This is your choice.

My favorite seed companies are:
Cook's Garden
Seed Savers Exchange
Tomato Growers Supply Company (for a huge variety of tomatoes)
RH Shumway
The above mail order, paper catalogs are very educational reading as well as describe in detail why one variety is different than the others. I found this very educational and it helped me pick which varities I wanted. For example I learned that while some early bearing tomatoes are early, they don't taste so great or have a woody texture, so I decided against growing early varities.

Seeds can easily be grown indoors under flourescent lights. You do not need to buy the very expensive 'growing lights'. I grew them in my basement under lights. I bought an inexpensive timer from Home Depot to turn the lights on and off automatically. I also rigged the lights from chains which could be adjusted for height, because if the light is too far away the plants stretch and get leggy in order to get more light. I gradually moved the lights higher as the seedlings grew. You will need to keep the seedlings damp and watered which may take 1-2 waterings a day. In my opinion, the seed packets don't stress this enough and if it is too dry it can prevent germination. If your basement is below 60-65 degrees you may have to have heating pads (special for germination) under them. You may want to place your seedlings near your furnace. If you are lucky enough to have windows with a southern exposure which will get sun and if you have the room, you may be able to germinate your plants by the windows instead of using the lights.

I had the most success with a germination method using 'soil blocks'. You don't have to do this but I love it. You make blocks out of soil and there is no pot. Water is kept in the bottom of the seed tray and they are always moist. If you want to know more about that, it is fully explained in Eliot Coleman's book on organic growing (mentioned below). You can always use the 99 cent kits they sell at Home Depot.

I gardened with a method called "square foot gardening". This is a method by which plants are grown close together in order to get the most production from the smallest space. This used to be a TV show on PBS (which I never saw). There is a book by this title which has now been revised and expanded, called "All New Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. (The older out of print book that I read was simply called "Square Foot Gardending".) This is the book that taught me everything I needed to get started. The typical way of doing a skinny row of veggies or herbs is really wasting space and also a waste of water, and leaves more to weed.

I also learned a lot by watching reruns of the TV show by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman called "Gardening Naturally".

My public library also has these videos. Sometimes it is nice to see things in action rather than just read about these. If you can watch these, I recommend it. The books I mention are more important, but see if you can watch these videos if that idea appeals to you.

Also helpful are the old episodes of the PBS show "Victory Garden". Perhaps your library has these videos to borrow. These are not necessary but are interesting and inspiring.

I learned even more by reading Eliot Coleman's books "The New Organic Grower"

and "The New Organic Grower's Four Season Harvest".

These books probably will provide you with way more information than you need. However I found some information invaluable which is not covered in other books. The "Four Season Harvest" book actually tells how to grow year round, even in northern climates (they live in Maine), by using something called a cold frame, which you can make out of old windows or doors and some wood (or you can buy fancy factory made ones).

The most helpful guide for identifying bugs and other garden problems is (!!) the free mail order paper catalog for Gardens Alive!. They issue many catalogs a year and within the pages are full color photos of pests and plant diseases. I save some of these as reference manuals. I recommend signing up to be on their mailing list. They also have coupons in the late winter and spring and usually for new subscribers, such as "$25 off your order" and that applies even if your order is $25 or less! This company sells things to help garden organically for veggies, flowers, herbs, grass/lawn and even fruit trees. If you are interested they also sell some great grass seed which grows roots down to 4 feet which requires less watering.

Another company which sells supplies that I cannot find locally is Gardeners Supply Company.

In my opinion, it is pretty easy to grow veggies and herbs. The easiest method for me was when I used plastic as a mulch, which prevented growth of weeds. It isn't as pretty as plain dirt but the weeding is way less. I felt that it was an environmental trade off to use the plastic sheeting (and also I reused it the next year) than to waste water by evaporation or to use chemicals to prevent the growth of weeds. Special red colored plastic sheeting (as mulch) was shown to increase yields of tomato plants. You can also use black garbage bags which you cut up. The dark color also helps retain heat in the soil and helps the plant grow faster. If you have the time and energy to weed daily then by all means don't use plastic mulch and do your weeding. (I also had tried 4 inches of bark mulch instead but this was not as effective.)

I also watered with a soaker hose only as watering by sprinkler actually wastes water as much is lost by evaporation and making the leaves and stems wet increases the chance of mildews and other plant diseases from developing. I found that Home Depot had the best price. I ran a regular hose from the faucet out to the garden. I then ran the soaker hose in and around the plants, at 18" apart from each other, so when it is used, all the soil gets soaked. The soaker hose is kept on for longer, such as 4-6 hours at a time (but hardly any water is coming out/getting used). I bought a timer from Home Depot to do this as it was more convenient than remembering to turn it on and off. The watering lengh of time will vary depending on your climate. I also did it every other day (and the timer was set for that) but again this will vary depending on your climate. I ran the soaker hose under the plastic mulch. To pin the plastic mulch down and also to pin the hose into place I cut wire clothes hangers that we had tons from the dry cleaners. Companies sell thicker ones that are expensive if you prefer to spend your money that way. I just snipped the clothes hanger with a wire cutter and one hanger made 2 U-shaped things and I pinned the hose and plastic in place with that.

Fruit trees:
My relatives have experience with these. Between seeing their experience and reading, I learned enough to decide against owning fruit trees. (I also grew up with fruit trees in my yard and the fruit was not good but we suffered with rotting fruit falling down in the lawn and attracting loads of stinging wasps and bees, and was given the horrible childhood chore of picking rotten fruit up off the ground.) Newbies should know that these trees usually are prone to various diseases or get bugs or worms in the fruits. Most people use chemicals to prevent this, which is costly and is not desirable for those seeking organic methods. Nets also may have to be used to keep the birds from eating parts of the fruit and ruining the harvest (and adding to the cost of growing our own fruit). Organic methods are available, research these before investing in trees. I also am under the impression that it takes a few years or more to get the tree big enough to make a decent harvest. Your efforts may lie more in concentrating on berries and/or veggies and herbs.

Some varieties bear fruit through the season while others produce all the harvest at once. Choose what you want. Berries may require netting to keep birds from eating the harvest. If you grow blueberries or raspberries you may have to construct a big wood frame, like an outdoor room, with netting over it in order to protect the harvest. Rabbits love strawberries. Think and learn about the possible critters that live in your area and what they may want to eat and how you can prevent it. There are books in most libraries about this topic. It is a shame to grow plants only to have the animals eat it before you harvest it.

Research sturdy supports for climbing varities. The typical tomato supports were not good enough for my heavy plants. Vining varieties will produce more tomatoes than bush varieties. Some varities produce tomatoes throughout the season while others bear it all at once. To get the most out of your garden I'd advise to grow vining varieties, grow with upright supports (instead of letting them grow over the ground) and choose varieties which are indeterminate (produce fruit throughout the season). (All this is explained in the "Square foot gardening" book. Determinate means they produce their fruit all at once. Also if you want a load of fruit, consider growing some cherry tomatoes which yield a lot more than the large tomatoes, I have had great luck with 'Sweet Million' variety (and they taste delicious).

Living Mulch:
Oh, this is a neat thing I did for two years. I used a living mulch of radishes under and around all my veggie plants. In a few weeks they are harvested and you eat them, and replant more.

If you like mesclun varieites you can grow it in full boxes such as 4x4 foot boxes, the entire thing is a growing bed of lettuce. I'd snip off what I needed daily, down to about 1 inch, then it regrows. You can do this starting in the early spring through the middle of summer, then repeat at end of summer through the fall. If you use winter gardening techniques with a cold frame you can do this all winter. You really get a lot more lettuce by doing it this way then by growing full heads of romaine or other heads of lettuce.

Lastly, grow what you really want and will use.

Fun things like pumpkins and gourds take up loads of space. If your goal is to grow food to eat and to get the most yield for your space, avoid these.

Corn is also iffy in most regions, and may not be worth it using the space to grow it in. You may be better off sticking with more nutritious veggies or buying corn from local garden stands while it is in season.

I am not an expert but if you post any questions I will try and answer them. Also I bet there are websites for organic gardening with chat forums that may also help you.

Of all the magazines for gardening I found Organic Gardening to be most helpful for organic gardening of edible plants. Some/most of the gardening magazines are about flowers or ornamentals only, or may not support organic methods.

Picking a location:
This is pretty basic but I will throw in that your gardening location will need eight hours of sun in the summer months. It should not be under trees or near tree roots. A southern exposure is best. A slight slope going downward and facing the south is the absolute best for yields. Also with the square food gardening method you will see that you build your garden up with new soil rather than digging down into existing soil (which is more work and may be in more poor quality soil).

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Thoughts About the Unschooling Segment on CNN (and the link to view it online)

Here is a link to the segment about unschooling which aired on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 degrees show recently. The reporter is Thelma Gutierrez, the segment is six minutes long and can be viewed on the internet for free.

Seeing unschooling in the media is pretty rare!

I am not so sure that this segment was positive in nature. On the surface they didn’t say anything negative but I felt that some of the content was not very reassuring that unschooling was a good thing. I think they did a good job of explaining what unschooling is. However I was left with the impression that most of what the kids do is play. I didn’t think that it came across in a positive manner because the importance of play was not stressed as a desirable thing for children to experience.

I thought it was weird that they focused on sleeping in late as the opening segment. I don’t know of any homeschooled children who sleep until 11 in the morning, or at least I don’t think I do! It implied that three different kids from across America all slept until after 11 o’clock.

There was a statistic estimate quoted that 150,000 children are unschooled. That is the first time that I have ever heard a statistic about those who unschool.

They showed a five year old and said he chose to watch morning cartoons. This was not an entirely accurate statement. To me “morning cartoons” refers to junk cartoons such as were on TV when I was a child that we’d watch on weekend mornings. I recognized the cartoon that this boy was watching; it was “Cyberchase” which is an educational cartoon with a math theme that airs on PBS. My kids watch this show as part of their limited TV watching time and they have actually learned some math concepts that their math curriculum has not taught yet such as fractions, how to reduce fractions, and division.

I was interested to see the children who were interviewed directly and thought that they were well spoken. Unfortunately the oldest child shown was 10 years old. I would have liked to seen and heard interviews with some unschooled teens.

One good thing was one family showed standardized test scores which showed the children above grade level.

The reporter asked the five year old:
“What is your favorite thing to do during the day?” and the response was: “go shopping on the computer”, which was surprising to me. Then they showed the boy navigating on the internet with ease, to go shopping online. (He appeared to be on the LEGO website. I recognized it!) When the reporter asked if he is allowed to buy things on his own, that he wants, the reply was comical: “Hey—who knows?”(I am not sure how well spoken my own five year old would be if being interviewed on camera by a reporter, so I give him credit for being outgoing enough to cooperate!)

Most of the kids came off as doing very little academics. One mother asks what the kids want to do. One chooses to play outside. Another chooses to play and also to do a bead craft project. Later this girl says she is not very good at writing so her mother makes her write letters to her friends rather than just talking to them on the phone. (Gasp, some unschoolers will be upset that the mother is ‘making’ her do anything academic.) This girl also says that when she wants to learn about politics she goes to Google.com and reads about politics.

The 10 year-old girl from Georgia was shown to be learning Chinese and also to play piano and practice martial arts as what she does most of the day.

One ridiculous statement was made by a school board member who was interviewed. He said he didn't know how kids could ever “get an introduction to geography or world history at home”, I was miffed; that is very easy due to the high numbers of picture books for children aged 4-8 on the subject (not to mention books available for older children and teens). He mentioned not being able to learn lab chemistry at home. The thing they didn’t mention was that unschoolers (and all homeschoolers) do go out in the community and do learn in some classroom situations. Even unschoolers take classes and some go to community college as teens.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Seventh Carnival of Homeschooling is Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week Seven was published on February 14, 2006. It is being hosted by Beverly Hernandez who blogs at About Homeschool.

Grab a cup or glass of your favorite drink and see what the bloggers are saying for the 7th Carnival of Homeschooling. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

New Business Week Article on Homeschooling Features Connecticut Family (A Positive Article—Hooray!)

Here is a new article which is being published on February 20, 2006 in Newsweek in the “working life” section of the magazine.

Article title:
Meet My Teachers: Mom And Dad:
A growing number of affluent parents think they can do better than any school

One family mentioned in the article lives in Madison, Connecticut.

One interesting quote is:

In some circles homeschooling is even attaining a reputation as a secret weapon for Ivy League admission.

The Ivy League College possibility has caused lively banter and even some flared tempers in the past, on one Connecticut homeschool online chat which I am a member of. The conversation started out with homeschooling being a way to get a good education to hopefully gain entry into a great college. When someone mentioned that homeschooling may even lead to an Ivy League College admission, things became interesting. The conversation jumped to “Why are Ivy League Schools so valued?” This led to a discussion of hiring politics within corporations and how some corporations favor degrees from certain colleges (which some people didn't know happened in the real world). Then the topic of “many colleges are good or great” came up and those who don’t think their children will go to an Ivy League school became defensive. Then the conversation turned to “college is not always a desirable option for everyone” and for that the radical ‘don’t need school’ people came out of the woodwork, saying things along the lines of “we don’t need school to educate our children now why do they ever need college?” or "we can homeschool college" or "people can live a great life and income without a college degreen in America".

Ah, homeschooling parents...some of the most opinionated people around. I guess we have to be, or else we’d not stand up and go against the chaff to do what we do.

Back to the article
Here is a nice line:
What surprised her was how lovely it was for the family to create its own educational rituals.

and I like the rest of that paragraph, too:
The biggest misnomer is the word home since the family travels all over, from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry to the world's most active volcano in Hawaii. Morillo's fear was that homeschooling would make her kids' world smaller. But instead, she says, "it's opening it up more.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Started Working on Preparing Two Presentations for a Conference

I have begun working on the preparation for two presentations that I am giving at an upcoming breastfeeding and parenting conference which is being put on by La Leche League in my state.

Working on one of them is pretty dry and boring. I am doing this one as a favor to the organization (not for my own personal fulfillment or desire) as they were not able to find anyone else who was willing to speak on this topic. I have to read many medical studies and boil them down into layman’s terms, figure out what the summary is and what their other recommendations are, point out any issues with the study and figure out what the relevance is to breastfeeding mothers, La Leche League Leaders (lay breastfeeding counselors) and health care providers.

As part of my prep work, I was reading some of the research, and I started to become annoyed last night while reading about the October 2005 American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on SIDS which affects sleeping arrangements and breastfeeding. Everything is so political and complicated yet I think many lay people don’t realize that all of this goes on. For example apparently the AAP study group on SIDS who evaluated information on breastfeeding and co-sleeping did not work in tangent with the other group of people from the AAP Breastfeeding Task Force. I have to wade through all of this mess and try to find the truth in it. In addition to the actual policy itself I have fallout/reactions to read from other organizations and experts, ranging from La Leche League International's press release to the what the Academy for Breastfeeding Medicine has to say, to what a leading co-sleeping researcher says (named James McKenna PhD). You know there is a problem when so many people have issues with a published recommendation.

I had a deadline yesterday to turn in an outline, objectives and my own speaker qualifications. I didn’t meet it, but I did get it in early this morning, so now that is done. Phew.

Working on this presentation prevented me from having time to participate in the 7th Carnival of Homeschooling. Oh well. I will plan to make a submission for the next Carnival.

My other presentation is about organizing the home, decluttering, etc. I think that will be easier and more fun. To be comprehensive I plan to read a book (that I have not read before) on the subject called “Organizing From the Inside Out” by Julie Morganstern. This presentation should be more fun to organize and to present.

Yesterday I received the La Leche League conference registration brochure. I am excited about some of the topics being presented. I am disappointed that my decluttering session is at the same time as one of the main guest speakers’, Lu Hanessian, lecture about a topic which she wrote a book about. The book is called “Let the Baby Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood”.

I haven’t read the book yet but have heard that it is great.

(At times like this I wonder what I am waiting for. Why am I not writing a non-fiction book about my own experiences? The idea of making money from my writing as well as making money speaking at conferences about my own experiences an opinions is something I’d love to do. Why am I not doing it???)

Not only am I disappointed that I won’t be able to hear Lu Hanessian’s talk myself, I worry that most people will attend that session instead of mine (as she is a featured guest speaker). My topic for that time slot is a ‘fluff’ topic as the main focus is not breastfeeding specific or parenting specific so perhaps it won't draw many attendees (or worse, they may sign up for my session and ditch it to crash the guest speaker's talk). Perhaps if attendance at my session is low it will be cancelled and then I can attend the other session. (I would hate to do all the prep work, though, and then have it cancelled. I would also hate to present to ten or less people which is not a good use of my time.) Normally this guest speaker would have discussed this topic at the lecture after the big dinner but this year there is no big dinner in the evening at this year's conference.

I am not getting paid to speak at the conference. I think I might be getting a small discount off of the registration fee that I will pay to attend the conference. Perhaps I will take that money and buy Lu’s book and have it autographed, and read it at my own pace at home after the conference is done and over with.

I like to give presentations. In my former life in the corporate world I received training to design and give presentations and doing that was part of my job description. While in public school I was scared to death to speak in front of people, for fear of ridicule by cruel classmates, however as an adult I got over it and “just did it”. Adults are much easier to present to because they either want to be there and want to hear what you have to say or (most adults are) mature enough to know how to act and treat speakers with respect. It is too bad that public schools still force public speaking on some students yet don’t set expectations or teach the students how to be good listeners or respectful listeners. But I digress.

Homeschool Mom Opens Bird Flu Website

My friend and fellow homeschooling mom started a website last week named Flu Trackers.

This site features postings of news stories about the flu and bird flu (avian flu). People may also chat about the subject. Subscribers are from all over the globe!

I am in the very beginning phases of grasping the bird flu possible future pandemic issue and don’t have much to say on the subject at this point.

Check it out!

For anyone who assumes that homeschooling moms or stay at home mothers have no interests outside of child rearing and/or homeschooling, this mom’s venture should prove them wrong. This is just one example of the myriad of ways that stay at home mothers are using their brains!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Homeschool Support Group Meeting Attendance Low in Area

I have been chatting with other homeschool support group leaders from my state on an internet chat list about attendance this year. Although this is not a scientific study, all who participated in the discussion and those who I have chatted with off-list as well report that adult support group attendance is down across the whole state. Some leaders have been wondering what is going on. After discussions with their members, here are the things that they attribute it to.

People are finding homeschooling support on the internet now more than ever! Free support is found on email discussion groups, online bulletin boards, from reading blogs or websites. People report that they find answers to their questions by using internet search engines and reading the information. Others ask questions of experienced homeschoolers on discussion lists. The convenience of the internet and email is useful for busy people; they can ask a question when it is convenient and then read the reply when it is convenient (whether it is midnight or days later).

Some report that they seek very specific homeschool support from others with the same exact issues on internet chat lists, which is harder to do with local groups. For example, people connect about homeschooling with a Waldorf inspiration, homeschooling gifted children, homeschooling only preschool aged children, unschooling, or homeschooling with living books. Another reason why some people have told me that they like the internet versus local support groups is that they can avoid feeling judged about their personal choices for homeschooling methods. For example, a general homeschool support group meeting may draw eclectic homeschoolers, unschoolers, those doing ‘school in a box’, very religious people, pagans or atheists. Some seek advice from those doing exactly what they are doing. Some don’t even want the possibility of feeling judged by others.

Some read homeschooling magazines and books for support and information. However I am hearing that more often people seek free information on the internet on websites and blogs rather than spending money on magazines or books. People seem to find the time to read snippets of information on the web rather than sitting down with a book to read it cover to cover. Some people have told me they don’t want to spend money on homeschooling books since they can get the information for free.

Some experienced homeschooling families find themselves very busy. Finding time to attend an adult support group meeting gets difficult. After spending a busy day homeschooling their children and/or running around to various classes, going out at night for an adult support group meeting is not always desirable---relaxing at home with the family is more fulfilling. (Another perspective is sometimes a person sometimes feels too relaxed at home with family and wants to get out and be with other like-minded adults!)

Veteran homeschoolers who have been attending adult support groups meetings in past years or who attend homeschool park days have made connections in the past. They have already found friendship with other homeschooling parents, for support from others, and also connections for friends for their children. As needed, friends call or email each other for support, a shoulder to cry on, to have a laugh, or just to shoot the breeze.

One leader reported that she has held only one meeting since September. I have had lagging attendance in my support group and have considered terminating the meetings or the group. I surveyed my members and they are asking me not to do this. We have a meeting set for later this week and we will see what happens. I was disappointed in the past that the people that said they want the group to hold meetings would say they were coming, then they don’t show up, or they cancel literally at the last minute. I was disappointed that some recent meetings had only 2-3 attendees. The conversations are always lively and interesting, though, so they do seem worthwhile. For now I will continue holding evening meetings!

(Side note: a friend who is a La Leche League Leader reports an all time low attendance in the last year compared to the other 10+ years she has been holding breastfeeding support group meetings in her hometown. Meeting attendees also shared with her that they find most of the answers to their questions and self-education on breastfeeding and parenting free on the internet.)