Saturday, December 30, 2006

Recipe: Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

Right now I am baking these Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti to bring to a family brunch.

I thought that biscotti would be a nice alternative to the usual brunch fare. Also they store longer than fresh cakes and pastry so they will be able to be eaten by the hostess for a little while longer than the rest of the baked goods, that is, if there are any leftovers.

The biscotti turned out great. First we tried them without having dipped them in chocolate. If you are looking for a cookie taste, these are bitter in comparison, but I think they are what biscotti is supposed to be! I've not tried this exact recipe before.

As with anything the main flavor will vary depending on the quality of the ingredients. I would suggest using the best cocoa that you can find, and definately not using old cocoa that has been on the shelf for years (as my mother has in her house).

After letting the biscotti cool I did the chocolate coating. I changed it to semi-sweet chocolate. I also found that I needed double (or more) than the recipe called for. I used a spoon to help coat the biscotti and didn't put much on the side that was to lie flat on the sheet (to harden).

They are delicious if you like the taste of hazlenuts and chocolate!

(Since they have no butter or fat in the biscotti itself this is a good way to get a little chocolate or sweet taste satisfaction without the fat content.)

(We buy our hazlenuts at Trader Joe's for a decent price.)

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Game Review: Find It Games

The title of this post was going to be “My New Addiction”. However since it will read more like a game review, I’ll call it what it is. I am speaking about a series of games made by the company “Find It Games”.

While shopping in an independent toy store for math flash cards (Evan’s Toy Shop in Hamden, CT) I saw this Find It game on the shelf and had no clue what it was. I was in a hurry and passed it by. (They didn’t have the math flash cards that I wanted in stock.)

On my next trip to the sister store, Jesse’s Toy Shop (Orange, CT) to try to find the elusive math flash cards, I saw this game on the counter and while paying for the flash cards, and I looked it over. It is a clear plastic tube with two colored ends. Inside are tiny multicolored plastic pellets. Little objects are hidden inside. With a movement the little objects slide are either instantly hidden or revealed to the viewer. The clerk raved about the game and explained that there are little objects suspended inside the tube. Just by shaking and moving the tube you are supposed to find each object (you don’t take it apart). The list of hidden items is permanently printed on the top and also there are a bunch of paper copies to serve as a disposable check off list.

I thought about this neat sounding game while at home and decided it would make a great Christmas gift. So on another day I set out to buy it (from Jesse’s Toy Shop). I purchased Find It Zoo for my younger son, Find It Original for my older son and Find It Beach for me. I could not resist so I bought all three that the shop had in stock.

I actually imagined that this would be a perfect desk game for people who work. It is exactly the right thing to fool around with while on the phone on hold or while enduring a long and boring phone conversation which cannot be ended.

My kids and I are all addicted to these games now! We want all of them!

The penny is said to be the hardest to find of all. If you find it you read the year on it and submit it on the website and your name will be published. This is a bit like the search for a needle in a haystack. But just fifteen minutes into playing my first ever game, I saw the penny, the tip/edge of it, in the Zoo version. However as I stared at it, without moving it, it sunk below the little plastic granules, right before my eyes. I played with that thing for an hour after seeing that penny and my kids and I just played with it again for another hour. No amount of shaking and wiggling made the elusive penny resurface. The next night I played with it again and did find the penny again, but just the edges. My husband and kids were witness to it. However, before I could read the year on the penny, it slid under the pellets and was long gone.

I am convinced this is truly science at work. Different shaped items are easier to find due to the way they slide easily through the pellets. The penny, on the other hand, is much more difficult to make surface. I have also been playing around with different ways to shake it to make the objects surface more quickly. I don’t quite know what the physics behind this is but I am sure that someone could figure this out. What is relevant is the amount of air space available versus the space where the pellets are and how much room everything has to move around in.

I can imagine that this would be fun to play with in the car, while at the doctor’s office, and as a conversation piece on the coffee table. It is fun for young children, older children, teens, and adults. As I already said it would be a fun thing to keep on your desk or in the desk drawer at work.

This is a durable game. If it is not intentionally destroyed by children or adults, I can see this lasting for many years. It is strong and durable.

The company does have a website but it is sparse and not very helpful at the moment. I just checked and sure enough, Amazon sells them and there are some customer reviews that provide more information than the company’s own website. There are six games available for purchase, so far.

1. Find It Original (full retail $20)

This game has little household objects such as clothes pin, push pin tack, staple, elastic band, Christmas tree light bulb, wooden matchstick, wooden toothpick, etc.

2. Find It At The Zoo (full retail $20)

This has creatures ranging from pet cats and dogs to tropical fish to large animals from every habitat. The objects are either solid colored plastic, clear plastic, or little colored erasers. Most of the colors are not realistic (i.e. bright green goose).

3. Find It At The Beach (full retail $20)

While I thought my sons would like this theme the best I knew the pastel pink and pastel baby blue colors of the pellets would turn off my sons. That is why I bought this for myself (and I will share it with them).

Some day soon we will buy these versions for our family.

4. Find It Kids (full retail $20)

5. Find It Bird Watch (full retail $20)

This version features more than items related to birds! LOVE IT! The items range from birds themselves to bird watching equipment to a few predators.

6. The manufacturer’s website shows a Find It Deluxe Edition (full retail $32) with 70 hidden items, that comes with a board game type activity, where players have a certain amount of time to find a specific object.

I plan to buy these for birthday gifts for my children’s friends. I can’t imagine any child not liking this game.

Actually any “child at heart” would love this game!

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Too Much Miscommunication In The World

I will just sum it up to say this world is filled with miscommunication and it causes all kinds of problems. Perhaps it is the root of most problems. It seems to me that most people don’t learn how to effectively and accurately communicate information. It starts with childhood and continues through the teen years, adult years, and the elderly years.

One small communication problem can snowball into a big problem or a big drama event. A little error of communication can go from affecting one person to involving whole families.

Then those who choose NOT to communicate what they know add to the problem. Sometimes intentionally not saying what one knows of the issue can cause even more problems.

The other issue that sometimes applies is the poor communication of emotions. That is another whole ball of wax that probably fuels the entire psychotherapy field.

I also feel that lack of effective communication and lack of communicating one’s emotions well leads to anger, which when suppressed, turns into rage that can surface as anything from road rage to verbal outbursts, verbal abuse or even physical abuse and in some cases rape.

Right now I’m dealing with health care professionals and my grandmother regarding setting up home care visits for the first time. So far in what should have been one simple act between the doctor, the visiting nurses and my grandmother has snowballed into a mess of miscommunications and still no home care visits have begun. Add in there that the agency’s automated phone system (press 1 for X, etc.) is programmed poorly, in a way to cause further problems for callers; I had to be told how to trick the system, to ignore what the recording says and to press a different number to reach who I really need to reach.

Why can’t people just learn to LISTEN to what was actually said and then to clearly communicate it, and to verify that what was HEARD was actually what was SAID? It would save people a lot of aggravation, worry, anger, and a number of other negative emotions, energy sapping and time wasting.

I have seen these issues in every area of my life ranging from family relations, friendships, volunteer organizations, activities my children are involved in, health care, working in my former career, the government, and it is everywhere.

If we all focused on learning how to communicate effectively, how to listen to one another and to treat others with respect this would would be a much better place.

If we threw in the Golden Rule then we’d really be on the right track, perhaps even to more happiness in the world.

And maybe more peace and less war. Am I getting carried away now? Asking too much?

In the meantime I’ll be happy if the agency just sets up the first home care visit and gets over to my grandmother’s today for that first visit.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Children Reading Aloud To Dogs?

I am sorry but I just don’t understand this concept of having young children read aloud to dogs as part of helping them learn to read.

Dogs can’t help a child by correcting any errors they may make, can they?

What benefit can this actually have?

(I refer to a program called R.E.A.D.—Reading Education Assistance Dogs)

I have been having some conversations with parents of children who learn to read in public and private schools (not homeschoolers). There seems to be a wide variance of what is recommended by the schools for the parents to do. Some friends tell me their children's teachers have never told them anything to do at home to help their children learn to read (these parents really like and want the teacher to tell them what to do). Another example is that some schools send the child home with a book and tell the child it is their homework to read that book, that night. The parents tell me that they are never told that they are to listen to the book being read. Some parents tell me they have the child read the book by themselves.

One parent was discussing her fifth grader’s reading problems with me. She was asking my advice. In trying to clarify the situation it came out that the girl does not read aloud like a person would speak. She does not use the proper tone as if speaking, she reads aloud in a monotone, robotic way. Additionally, she does not pause at commas or use the ending punctuation—meaning, a question sound for a question marked sentence or an exclamation mark sound or just pausing normally when a period is encountered. The mother said that the teachers have told her for years that it is not important to do those things and that the parent should NOT help the child learn to read in that way or to focus on those issues. The mother said that the school was harping on the child about her low reading comprehension quiz scores, which are done as prep work for standardized testing (no doubt as part of the No Child Left Behind Act compliance).

I have been asking parents how children learn to read in school. Three parents from two different towns have told me that the only time the actual TEACHER hears the child read is during an ‘assessment’ to chart their progress; in other words the actual real teacher of the class never helps the children with their reading. They say that parent volunteers come in to sit with small groups of children as the children take turns reading. Therefore the overall amount of minutes that a child in school reads aloud with an adult listening and monitoring and helping is very little, definitely under 15 minutes (in the classroom). To boot two parents told me in order to get quiet time sometimes they sit in the hall. Two other parents said it can be quite noisy in the classroom, with the most noisy of all being the adult teacher’s aid that is assigned to individual special needs children (who are doing entirely different work). Two other mothers said that additional classroom noise and distraction is caused by the school’s reading specialists that come inside the classroom to give help. They said that the children are no longer pulled OUT of the class for that special help as the parents complained it was a stigma to the children who were struggling. One parent asked if the child who is struggling is hindered by fear and shame of reading poorly in front of their peers on the small groups. Two parents answered that during their volunteer time they never saw a student make fun of a struggling learner. Lastly one parent whose child went to an expensive private school said that the teacher's aid told her the children never read aloud in class (in first grade) but they only did worksheets from the "Explode the Code" series.

My friend who is a reading specialist (in the state of NY) said that children should be practicing reading at home 20 minutes per day, 7 days a week, year round. She says this is not happening in most homes during the school year and most families don't do any reading over the vacation weeks or summer break.

Back to the dogs.
More and more in public libraries in my area are advertising special appointments for children to read to these 'speically trained' dogs. I was told by one library staffer that the dogs are specially trained to sit nicely and listen to books being read aloud. The librarian stated that children are less hindered to read aloud to dogs then to other humans, and that it helps the child by boosting their self-esteem about their ability to read.

I don’t know but it seems to me that reading to one’s own parent with the parent helping the child learn is what should be done, not using dogs, for the simple reason that the adult can read the book and can see if an error is made so they can (gently, hopefully) correct the child and also to give verbal praise. In this process good family bonding time would occur (at least it does with me and my own children).

If a family uses these appointments with the dogs, it is yet one more appointment in after-school time that the child would need to schedule and get to (another contributor to over-scheduling). Then again I guess if the parent is unwilling to do it then a dog is better than not reading for practice at all.

Am I the only one that thinks having a child read aloud to a dog is weird or inferior?

And do parents not feel insulted that a dog is a better after-school teacher of reading for their children than they themselves are?

(By the way I am not speaking about low income areas or places where parents are unable to read. I am speaking of wealthy towns with a median income of over $100K and where the US Census data says most parents are college educated and some with Master's Degrees or higher degrees!)

A certain friend of mine (and my husband) would tell me to follow the money to figure this out. I have not done this yet.

Update 12/24/08: I have seen more and more of these programs being offered in public libraries in my area. One librarian told me that children are not comfortable reading aloud to their parents so reading aloud to a dog is better than not practicing reading or not reading aloud at all. If kids are so disconnected from their parents that they don't feel comfortable reading aloud to them at home then that is a symptom of a larger societal problem if you ask me. If you are interested in that topic I refer you to "Ships Without a Shore" an excellent book by Anne Pierce PhD (read my book review here).

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On My Mind This Week

Here is what is on my mind this week.

1. Feeling grateful and happy for the people in my life, my husband and children. It feels great to feel positive emotions!

2. Feeling grateful for my good health, happy to be able-bodied. (I took this for granted before and this week especially I realize I should feel grateful!)

3. Glad that my sons are having fun with their new Christmas toys and LEGOs. Letting them play a lot this week for a “vacation”. Enjoying seeing their happiness.

4. Worried about the (new) failing health of my paternal grandmother (aged 88).

5. Helping my paternal grandmother as her medical advocate. Realizing that others in the family are not doing their duty to help her so I had to/have to step up to the role.

6. Helping change some things in my grandmother’s home and with her lifestyle for to help her continue to live independently with her worsened medical conditions. Trying to avoid a (permanent) nursing home admission as per her wishes. She could easily be admitted to a nursing home right now if she would agree to it (she is in that bad shape).

7. Looking back on the fall and realizing that we were ridiculously over-scheduled. Just now truly coming to that realization. I suspected it before but thought we were juggling things well.

8. Decompressing from pre-holiday stress and the celebrations that left me physically tired. Resting up this week. (We went right from being over-scheduled to holiday prep with no break in between.)

9. Thinking about January-June 2007: making plans for outside classes and activities for the spring yet trying not to over-schedule us.

10. Still thinking about making a chore schedule for both children (and maybe for me, too). This might start January 1, 2007.

11. Contemplating a big change for me: to have a schedule (gasp) for our family. This again would start January 1, 2007. This is actually a scary concept for me to consider.

12. Reading “Managers of Their Homes” which is about having a family schedule, having everything planned out.

13. Homeschooling: realizing we didn’t do enough home studies as I had planned, in the fall. Thinking about crunch-time, cramming of academics in the winter months to make up for it. Wondering if a gruelingly dense academic schedule in January would be worthwhile.

14. Need to make some plans for this academic crunch. Wondering if I should have a written plan and schedule or just wing it? Thinking about writing up the plans (very soon).

15. This week I am making time to have fun and make some art and to unwind (while I think about all this other stuff).

16. Pondering starting an exercise routine that would be do-able in my home with the equipment we already own. I’d like to get into shape. No, I should get in shape!

17. Thinking about getting more strict with my children’s eating habits and forcing them to eat more veggies and fruits and less bread products.

18. Worried about older son’s limited, picky-eater diet and concerned with recent weight gain. Doctor appointment in early January to discuss blood work findings will influence my decision about how to proceed with this issue. I guess I am kind of prepping myself that a major change will take place.

19. Trying to figure out how in the schedule we can fit a trip to visit my maternal grandmother in northern Maine soon. The last three trips were cancelled due to me or my children getting sick (we have to be healthy when we go). We also have to work around snow storms, which isn’t easy! The failing health of my other grandmother has me worried and feeling pressure to see my maternal grandmother soon (she is 96 and I have this feeling each time I see her that it may be my last).

20. Contemplating the recent church change I made. Trying to wrap my mind around some new ideas and viewpoints. Going through a spiritual paradigm shift and am having a sort of battle (in my mind) between the four very different viewpoints of the religions or non-religions that I have held and that my relatives hold.

So that is what is on my mind this week.

These weighty matters don’t leave much room for complaining or pontificating on various other smaller issues.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Updated Information About Credit Reports

Please read my post dated 12/22/06, here and also the comments. Tonight I updated the comments with very important information.

Is There An Automatic Blog Poster Program?

If someone knows the answer to this question would you tell me in the comments or email me by clicking on my profile then linking through to my email address?

Is there a program where I can write posts ahead of time then time them to be posted on a certain date at a certain time here on the Blogger site?

If that existed I'd be able to have a daily post when I am out of town or want a break from the computer.

I have been pondering what life would be like if I was computer-less or at least Internet-free for one month. I am not sure that basic daily functions and my volunteer work could get accomplished but I am curious.

I have enough unposted blog drafts that I could stack up posts to take at least a "blogging fast" yet still be actively posting.

Working On An Artist Journal

Just quickly checking in to say that since December 19th I have been drawing in my artist journal (a cheap spiral bound sketch book) daily.

I finished reading “The Creative License” by Danny Gregory, finally. But before I finished I took Gregory’s advice and began practicing drawing a little each day. I have been doing this while in bed at night that is the only time so far that I have been able to squeeze it in, the rest of my time I am distracted to do other tasks.

My children and also (gasp) my husband says my drawings are coming out well. They do chuckle sometimes at the mistakes. I don’t feel badly as Danny Gregory has me all psyched up to not get mad at myself for making errors or bad drawings while practicing.

I am drawing with a roller ball ink pen. So far that is it; there is no embellishment with color on the page in any form.

So far this is fun!

My younger son is interested in learning to draw again and so his sketch journal is out and he made a drawing the other night.

With all the holiday prep going on last week that is all the art I had time to do last week.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Chapter Books We Read Aloud To Our Older Son In First and Second Grade

I was asked by Jessica of Trivium Academy to share what chapter books I read to my children at first and second grade.

Reading "living books" is a major part of our homeschooling experience.

I hesitate to answer for the purpose to dictating to someone else what they should read aloud—I don’t want to dictate to anyone what books they SHOULD read, because I really think that the books are personalized not just by the child’s interests, depending on if a book is enjoyed by them as the book progresses, and also sometimes by typical gender preferences. I will tell some titles that we read to our older son.

Presently, my younger son (age 6.5, in first grade now) is having a different experience as he hears the stories geared more toward my older son so he gets some books earlier than a person would normally recommend. And my time is challenged with two children and so the order I am reading books changes depending on the child. Plus my younger son was precocious in the area of reading and was reading fluently at age four, so he has been able to read chapter books to himself already, so my plans for what I thought I would do for read-aloud’s have been sidetracked by the reality that he can now read them to himself!

I still recommend highly that picture books, especially the longer text books be read aloud for as long as possible, to age 8, 9, and 10, if possible. My personal opinion is that a first grader should have picture books read aloud to them daily and if you really want a chapter book, perhaps read one (or two) chapters per DAY. Reading chapter books in that manner then means that not a lot of chapter books will be read to the child in that first grade year.

Plus if you are reading aloud for history, science, religion, art history and music history, that is a lot of reading and does not allow for much time left for reading chapter books of fiction for fun and enjoyment! If the other subjects are good, fun, and interesting books the children already can feel they’ve had enough of being read aloud to in a day.

I also want to say that we also read aloud history and science books and anything else that our children are interested in. We don’t read just fiction.

Here is a list off the top of my head of some chapter books we read to my older son when he was in first and second grade.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and all the sequels
Indian in the Cupboard (first book only, I didn’t like the start of book two)
Castle in the Attic and the sequel, Battle for the Castle
The Borrowers (first book only, just haven’t made time for the sequels)
Red Sails to Capri
Charlotte’s Web
Stuart Little
Babe The Gallant Pig
Henry Huggins and some of the sequels by Beverly Cleary
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Little House in the Big Woods (waiting for later on the sequels, going to tie-in with history studies instead)
The Hundred Dresses
Homer Price
The Enormous Egg
Lost on a Mountain in Maine (a true story)

Formula books—series books
Magic Tree House (a couple to whet his appetite to read them on his own)
Boxcar Children #1 was read aloud in Kindergarten then the rest were left for independent reading

As I said before our main focus was to read lots of picture books. We use most of the books in the Five in a Row program (you can read their book lists online for free, on the Five in a Row website. The longer text picture books are also great.

I want to mention also that in world history my son’s favorite was D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths. Another favorite was "Paddle to the Sea" (history, geography) and "Pagoo" (science).

We also read short biographies of artists and composers such as the Mike Venezia books and those by Opal Wheeler.

As I mentioned in other discussions we also read fairy tales, tall tales, myths and fables. There are chapter book versions of stories such as American Tall Tales that can be read aloud. There are some great collections of fairy tales that are short on illustrations and long on text for read-aloud’s.

Lastly we also use audio books to listen to chapter books being read aloud while in the car or while the children are playing or making art. We have listened to all of Jim Weiss (the storytellers) recordings and also some other storytellers such as Odds Bodkin.

Oh, and the wonderful audio recordings that are dramatizations from Classical Kids such as “Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage”—those are wonderful and I believe they are 45-60 minutes long from start to ending which is a good way to get young children used to listening to longer stories in one sitting (while in the car). By the way if you want to make a unit study from these Classical Kids recordings, there are detailed teacher’s manuals available (if you can’t find the teacher’s manuals on Amazon try Rainbow Resource Center for discounted prices).

I noticed a shift with both of my boys from their ability to listen to longer stories at age 5, a big change from their abilities at age 4. Then again at age 6 both of my kids could sit for much longer to listen to the same story (and to pay attention). I feel that this longer concentration on one story line such as when driving in the car on long trips is a good mental exercise. I have noticed that my younger son has picked up the ‘ability’ to listen longer at a younger age because while in the car we were selecting mostly things for my older son’s listening ability. My younger son would just ‘tune out’ when bored, when he was 2, 3, and 4 years old. I was the surprised though, at my younger son’s ability to listen for longer after this unintentional ‘practice’.

Our family takes long car drives quite often (up to 500 miles in one day). Without a TV in the car we have relied on talking, music, and audio stories for entertainment. As my children get older and they no longer are happy to sing along with Raffi I am grateful for the chance to listen to longer chapter books in the car. It saves my voice and it is also more entertaining for me, as I pick stories I’d also like to listen to. After getting used to longer trips like that a one hour or 45 minute drive is ‘nothing’ to my children. (Other people I know say their children complain if they are in the car for more than ten minutes at a time and most then have resorted to buying TVs for their car, or letting them use handheld electronic games).

Oh, one more thing, I highly recommend the book “Deconstructing Penguins” which starts with second grade and lays out a way to teach concepts and elements of stories by using chapter books. Specific books are used and the book tells all that a person needs to know to use those books to teach the concepts. A parent could use the guidelines at home or it would enable any person to lead a book discussion group also. My son and I attended the book discussion by one of the author’s (Nancy Goldstone) so we saw this plan in action (plus I have the book at home). Also I know a couple of groups of homeschoolers who are using this book as a foundation to lead homeschoolers book discussion groups.

A favorite book which covers 120-ish pages of why reading aloud to children is important then has a big list of books for preschoolers and older children, too, is “Honey for a Child’s Heart” by Gladys Hunt.

Well there you have it, a list from the top of my head.

All this talking about what we have read makes me want to go read more books to my children, right now!

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Article About Local Homeschool First LEGO League Team Success

This is a positive-tone article about a local team of homeschoolers who competed in the First LEGO League and placed in the regionals which then qualified them to compete in the state level competition (which they also placed in).

I have blogged about my own children competing in the Junior First LEGO League. This is not the same level of competition nor is this the team that my children are on. However some of my children’s best friends are on this team.

Congratulations to the Bricklayers Team!

The Junior First LEGO League is for children aged 6-9.
The First LEGO League is for children aged 9-14.

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German Homeschoolers Continue To Be Persecuted

Educational freedom is not alive and well in Germany. This story gives an update to the situation there, with the arrest of homeschooling parents. The situation is so bad that some families are fleeing the country to seek a place which allows more educational freedom for their children.

The craziest part of the article to me is the part when the family was told by the government to bring their own family’s religious beliefs more in alignment with the secular school’s philosophy. I didn’t think that in this day and age in a European country that the suppression of religion existed, but I was wrong!

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Thoughts On Read Aloud’s For A Six Year Old

Jessica of the Trivium Academy blogged here about read-aloud’s for her six-year old. Specifically, it seems she is feeling the pressure to read more chapter books aloud to her daughter. She also mentioned books like “Magic Tree House” and the Ambleside Online suggested reading list/curriculum plan and also the desire for wholesome books which emphasize positive character traits.

Here is the comment that I just left.

Dear Jessica,
I know exactly what you are going through as I went through the same stage as you when my oldest child was younger. Right now my boys are 6.5 and 9.

I also began being influenced by the read-aloud recommendations of Ambleside Online (AO) back in 2002 and 2003 when my oldest son was 5 and 6 years old.

I also felt torn about finding the best books and finding read-aloud's that were not just not-twaddle but that were enriching and worthwhile plus of course, enjoyable.

I have learned some things and will share them with you. I feel strongly each family should do what is right and best for them so please don't think I am dictating what you must do.

First off I feel that AO is way too light on recommendations for picture books. Now there are just so many wonderful picture books and some are worthwhile also for their artwork. Sometimes trying to use only 100 year old books is not a good idea.

I recommend and found for myself that it was best to try to hold onto picture books as read aloud's as long as possible, say until age 8 or 9! For example read many picture books aloud in one day then if you insist on reading a longer chapter book have one going at a time and read 1 or 2 chapters a day (like “Milly, Molly, Mandy”). Some people may try to talk you into early pushing of chapter books in order to help build a child's concentration. I am not keen on that as at least with my kids they have long attention spans.

"Honey for a Child's Heart" by Gladys Hunt is a great book, if you have not yet read it. That book addresses books for preschool and also for picture books then also some chapter books. Some of the other very good book list books focus ONLY on chapter books.

While I do love so many of the AO books I feel some either completely did not 'click' with my children at the age or "AO Year" that they recommend. One example is an unabridged classic like “Robinson Crusoe”. Why push a child of 6, 7, or 8 to hear it read aloud when you could use your read aloud time on something else very good then when the child is 9 or 10 if they have a strong foundation in independent reading skills, they may use that as one to read to themselves. Or if you take some people's advice you will still be reading aloud to your children when they are teenagers and you can read that when your child is older and they are more interested in the topic. Once I tried to read “Swiss Family Robinson” and the old language and big words couldn't hold my children's interest. I refuse to believe it is some deficiency of their intellect (contrary to what some on the AO chat list may say).

Please enjoy this time with your daughter and don't push the chapter books so much. Just one at a time is good. And lots of picture books. Okay so now I am giving advice, LOL.

Also about books like "Magic Tree House". Those are NOT living books. Those are books IMO for children to read to build their reading fluency. They have a very different purpose than the great books to read aloud to your child now or in the near future or something you hope they are reading aloud when they are 8, 9, 10 or older.

Children do need a lot of reading practice of easier to read stuff. Those formula books like "Magic Tree House" are IMO not harmless and so they fit the bill for that practice reading. I draw the line with books that introduce more problems or bad character traits (i.e. "Junie B. Jones", "Captain Underpants").

When a child is learning to read on their own every single thing they read should not be above their level and challenging. They need a little above their level to stretch themselves and they need practice with "on their level" stuff and some even say some practice with reading material "below" their level.

Lastly I will plug audio books. It is those that I credit to helping my children listen to long readings. We mostly listen while in the car, and also as a family, then I can multi-task by driving and listening at the same time rather than only having stories read aloud on the couch at home. By using audio books and stories (i.e. Jim Weiss) my children have heard more books than I have time to read to them.

I use the public library for the audio books. In my state we can borrow from any other library in the state so long as we have a current library card in our own town. I drive to a bigger, (wealthier town) where they have a huge audio book collection and borrow them there. I also borrow the Jim Weiss stories and others like Odds Bodkin and other storyteller’s recordings.

My children also sometimes listen to these stories while playing with LEGOs and while drawing and making art for fun. I also enjoy listening to the stories while I am cleaning up or while I also am doing artwork and the children are right there with me.

Another debate with different takes from Charlotte Mason and AO vs. Susan Wise Bauer is whether or not abridged classics for younger children are worthwhile but I won't digress to that topic right now!

Merry Christmas!
(After so much holiday celebrating it feels easy and good to sit down and read your blog and to leave a comment!)


Afterward I realized I should have also mentioned the book list book that is divided by character traits, “Books That Build Character” by William Kilpatrick since Jessica mentioned she wants books to reinforce certain character traits.

I think it is important to realize that books can serve different purposes. I would not recommend reading aloud the “Boxcar Children” series or the “Magic Tree House” series or even “Nancy Drew” or “The Hardy Boys”. I’d let those be books that my children may read to THEMSELVES for reading practice and to build fluency. I would use the precious read-aloud time for high quality books that are wonderful stories that are in alignment with the family’s values (not corruptive, in other words) and also that uplift the child (and parent) and maybe also that reinforce a value or a character trait. The main purpose of reading aloud to a child is not to instruct or dictate a character trait but with wonderful stories, they usually do involve some kind of moral or lesson that is good in nature. To me stories which depress, scare, or evoke no emotion at all, or are boring or just plain stupid and pointless---those are what many of us call twaddle and that should be avoided or at least, if it is the harmless kind, taken in very small doses only IF the child also has regular exposure to the great books!

I hope the message that came across in my comment was to relax and not to push older books on younger children. Enjoy the good books for younger children when they are young and there will be plenty of time for the longer chapter books and the big classics when they are a bit older. That was one of my main goals for leaving that comment.

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Procrastinating Blog Administrative Work

I know, I know, I should update my blog’s sidebars. I still am not great at HTML so it is not an easy, fun, or fast task for me to do.

Believe it or not people keep asking me to put in my sidebar the list of blogs that I like to read I know so many other bloggers do this and some want me to share my favorites. Sorry, I just keep putting off editing my sidebar.

I should also put a link to a couple of my favorite homeschool support websites and to the Blog Carnival of Homeschooling, too.

I see that Blogger has a new template that I could/should switch over to. The only problem is I will lose all of my coding that has been done so far. I just don’t know if I want to put the time into all that administrative work. I’d just rather keep writing and publishing blog entries.

Maybe I should have my older son (9) take an online course in HTML then have him do all the HTML code work on my blog. Now THAT is an idea!

Merry Christmas!

I want to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas!

Enjoy the day.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Recipe I Use For Anginette Cookies, Anginetti Cookies, Italian Lemon Drop Cookies

For everyone looking for a recipe for Anginette’s, they are also spelled “Anginetti” and also called “Italian Lemon Drop Cookies” and are also called “Italian Iced Lemon Cookies”.

I see several variations of the recipe on the Internet. Some use vegetable oil, some use butter, and others use vegetable shortening. The recipe I use uses vegetable oil.

Some recipes use lemon zest and/or lemon juice. My favorite recipe uses lemon extract for the lemon flavoring in the cookie itself.

Also some recipes use vanilla extract for the frosting’s flavoring while others use lemon extract.

My recipe calls to drop the dough by spoonful onto the baking sheet.

I have had two different results using this method. The first is that when I make the dough and quickly put it onto the baking sheet, this results in a sloppy shaped cookie, with rough edges and not rounded at all.

My husband likes them rounded up and more evenly rounded in overall shape. I grease my hands with butter and quickly roll the dough into a ball then bake it, and it comes out round and rounded up on top.

However I did (in 2007) have a different experience. I made the dough and let it sit for about 15 minutes in the bowl as I was using all my baking sheets. I had six batches of cookies in the process of being made at once. Then I put the dough onto a sheet dropping it by the spoonful. I then had to wait about 20 minutes until the oven was free. By the time they went into the oven they had risen a bit. When those cookies were baked they were perfectly round on the edges and rounded up in the center.

After they are cool, I dip the tops into the frosting and place them onto a cooling rack. Then my children then put those tiny multi-colored decorative balls on the top.

Aginette's prior to frosting:

Can you spot the couple that were dropped by the spoon instead of being rolled into balls?

My husband’s favorite recipe appears in the great cookie cookbook “Sweet Maria’s Italian Cookie Tray” cookbook by Maria Bruscino Sanchez I can’t share it here as it would be a copyright violation.

However-- I did find the recipe on the site---EXCEPT that recipe uses vanilla extract and our favorite recipe uses 2 teaspoons of pure lemon extract to give the cookies the lemon flavor.

Note again for the icing this website says to use vanilla or anisette (licorice) extract in the frosting. The Sweet Maria's cookbook wants lemon extract in the frosting. Our family prefers the lemon cookie with a vanilla flavored frosting (it’s a free country, you can choose what you want).

Tips from me:
We dip the cookies into the frosting and quickly turn them over and place them on a baking cooling rack to dry. Some drips will come down and make a mess. I put my rack over the sink to collect the drips. Or, in 2007 I tried something different as I needed access to my sink. I placed newspaper on the table and then put the racks on top of that and let the newspaper catch the drips then threw the newspaper away later.

If you decorate these further make sure to put the little balls or jimmies onto the frosting when it is still wet. When storing place between sheets of wax paper so they don’t stick to each other.

These are moist and don't last a long time.


Note: this blog post was updated 12/21/08 to find a working link for the recipe, to add more details and to add photographs.

Photos taken by ChristineMM.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Strep Throat Alters Christmas Plans

Well both of my kids were diagnosed with Strep Throat the other day. They are both on antibiotics now. Even on the day of the doctor visit the one who felt sick prior to that day proclaimed he felt "Great!" and the other was not sick at all (but the doctor said his neck lymph nodes were a bit swollen and his throat was dark pink on exam). So anyway my point for mentioning that is that although both are said to have strep throat and they are on treatment, they both feel fantastic and are not acting sick at all!

From my research online (here is one source) it is contagious for only the first 24 hours after beginning the antibiotics.

Despite that information, my brother cancelled plans to do an early Christmas with us and his family out of fear of being infected. He and his family are going out of state to visit his wife’s parents and other family members for Chrismas day, so they won’t be here on Christmas day to celebrate with us here at our home with the others in our family who will be guests in our home.

Well not doing an early, separate celebration with them gave me extra time for baking cookies and cleaning the house, and it let my kids rest at home for another day. So for that reason I didn’t get into an argument about the fact that my kids would not have been contagious. Who wants to argue anyway? Their Pediatrician said it is “risky” to be around my kids. Whatever. I continue to be amazed at how the medical professionals can give different advice even based on something as simple as the question of "how long after starting antibiotics is a person with strep throat contagious?".

Side Note:
My cousin who lives out of state and whom I do not see on Christmas was telling me that she is very stressed out about seeing all the different people in her family for Christmas. It gets confusing about who to spend Christmas day with when there are many people in the family plus when their parents are divorced. Both my cousin and her husband’s parents are divorced so there are 4 different pairs of parents who want to see them and their grandchildren on Christmas day. Add in siblings and their extended family, and my cousin and her husband's living grandparents and wow, does it get hard to please everyone and to see everyone for the holiday.

My cousin said one of her friends said “enough is enough” as she is going to six different family member’s Christmas parties.

I guess I don’t have a lot to complain about with seeing my husband’s family on Christmas Eve and my own family on Christmas Day, then one more party for my brother and his family, do I?

(I am sick of cleaning the house and decluttering the house so am taking little breaks and using that time to blog, in case you are wondering how I find the time to blog when it is this close to Christmas.)

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News Story: Boy Arrested Over Christmas Present

My first impression was that this is a hilarious story (what the mother did). What the twelve-year old did was not good, I am not making light of this. I can empathize with this mother.

I wonder if taking this action will really make an impact?

Perhaps a better consequence would to give the video game console to charity and to not let the boy play video games at all, that would be my suggestion. Because really, does it make sense to arrest him only to then give it to him on Christmas day?

I have been telling my kids that if they snoop and find a Christmas gift or if they open or peek at a wrapped gift which is already under the tree then it immediately will be given to a charity where another child will receive it. Perhaps this mother should consider doing that?

Hat tip: My Recipe For Life

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Information About Credit Card Pre-Approval Offers (Help Protect Yourself From Identity Theft)

I was just reading a blog called Hot Water Bath. Marsha was complaining that she is getting many credit card pre-approval letters, often numerous offers per day. I was then moved to write her an email. I have turned it into a blog post.

Did you ever wonder how a company knows that you are a person that they’d like to open a credit card account with? Did you assume they send out random letters to everyone, just based on knowing your name and your residence address? That is not how they do it.

The starting point is the credit bureaus. The three credit bureaus collect your personal information and compile it into a “credit report”. Most people already know that.

But did you know that the credit bureau’s actually SELL your supposedly confidential information to each company that you are getting letters from? It is true. Yes, they are making money off of your supposedly private information. Does that bother you?

Also, that means also that employees of said companies have access to your supposedly confidential information. Now I do not know if this information is processed by computers and not humans but I don’t want anyone or any data bank gathering, analyzing, and storing my confidential information (what if someone hacks their computers?)

Think about it: if you get three offers per week, that means that three credit card companies who have looked at your data and decided you are the type of customer they are looking for. After all, they don’t usually target their marketing to poor credit risks—they look for people who fit a certain demographic, those who own a home, perhaps, or a home worth a certain amount (known by the amount of the mortgage on your credit report). They also of course look at your credit history, how often you make late payments vs. pay your bills on time.

I have two issues with this:

1. For each offer that you or I get we are now opened up to multiple opportunities PER COMPANY to have our identity stolen

2. Why should the credit bureau make money off of our confidential information---which----by the way---they want to charge US to view just to see if there are any errors on their part or if anyone is actively stealing/using our identity?

Another thing to think about: I think we should all be given at least two free credit reports per year to monitor errors and to monitor for identity theft. However, the last I knew, some companies were charging $60 or more per year to individual people (not to the whole family) to have unlimited access to view their credit reports throughout the year.

Back to this selling of your private information and the pre-approved credit card offers…
In a very easy step you can contact all three credit bureaus and tell them to remove you from their marketing list. I can’t remember the official phrase for what you are to ask for but they use some term.

I am very sensitive to these credit bureau issues as my identity was stolen in December 1999 while Christmas shopping for a toy for my oldest child, by a cashier in a retail local store. That same, old information was used again in July 2003 and then in December 2005. So I am still fighting an identity theft battle that all started in 1999. And again, none of it had anything to do with the Internet, which most people think is the number one way that personal information gets stolen—well that was not my experience.

In the middle of that process about dealing with my identity theft, I found out about the credit card pre-approval thing where they sell our data and boy did that tick me off.

So if you want to put a stop to these pre-approved credit card offers, I would suggest that you ask the 3 credit bureaus to stop selling your data and it will:

1. Not let them make money off your private data

2. Protect you from identity theft in one way

3. Save some trees/paper

4. Save a little from the trash heap or the recycle plant

5. Stop annoying you when you receive them, if it bothers you

In case you don’t believe me, I have found this site which gives this same information that I already knew about. This site has the names of the three credit bureaus in America and tells how to contact them by snail mail or by phone. If my memory serves me correctly you can do this request over the phone by telling or pressing touch-tone buttons on your phone after calling the credit bureau’s on the phone. They will be asking your social security number and other private information—that is normal and necessary, so have your data handy when you make the call.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Local Homeschool Support, Networking, and

It was about 1999 or 2000 that in Connecticut the big all-inclusive homeschool support group ceased to exist. The old network (CHEA) was paper-newsletter based. There was no website. One person was calling for a website as she felt that more and more people were using the Internet to make connections. I don’t know all the details but basically the group split into two factions, the pro-Internet and the ‘old school paper newsletter’ who didn't want a website. A new group was formed which was only an Internet-based networking platform. Then, in the end the old group ceased to exist. The new group thrived (CHN aka Connecticut Homeschool Network).

I found out about this website today because someone came to my blog from this URL and I saw it on my Site Meter while taking a quick peek at it. I have never heard of it before.

They have a sub-thread “Homeschool” then “Norwalk” (Connecticut) and have 195 people signed up that say they are homeschoolers who want to meet other homeschoolers in the Norwalk area. You can view that area of their site, here.

I am curious about this site and also wondering who all those Norwalk area homeschoolers are which are not connected with others already. I don’t know why they have not yet found the free online Connecticut all-inclusive (it is not secular or anti-religion) support network called Connecticut Homeschool Network (CHN). I wonder why are they not finding CHN or the myriad of other CT HS support group networks—it is a good question. Another big group right in the Norwalk area is TEACH which is the state’s biggest Christian homeschool organization.

From there I see a TV producer looking, as of last week, to meet homeschooling families from Connecticut who are willing to be on a TV show. Her user name is ‘Lindaperry’ and I don’t see how to can find more info without opening an account.

Just after spending two minutes on this site, it seems to me that people are finding this site and not knowing about other ways already in place to network. I really don’t care how people meet up with each other but I find it interesting that attendance in numerous Connecticut homeschool support groups is so low that some groups are no longer meeting monthly yet here are these people basically dying to have the chance to connect (read their notes and you will see their eagerness and desire, if not desperation, for some way to connect with others right in my area who are homeschooling).

I see that parts of their site are free to use but other functions are fee-for-service. This means that a company is either making money off of providing an Internet platform for networking. What an idea! I don’t know if they are making a profit yet but my point is that there are already grassroots organizations, formal/official support groups online in Connecticut who charge nothing for Internet chat, charge nothing for Internet listing of meetings, and there are many homeschool support groups who offer free meetings for face-to-face networking. Yahoo Groups! already offers free Internet discussion groups and there are groups of Connecticut homeschoolers who are have been chatting (free) for years.

I am not sure that is needed to help homeschoolers connect for support and networking. It might be that web surfers find first before finding the other free websites and networks.

Almost every homeschooling family I know is either on a tight budget or would at least rather use their money to pay for educational items, products (books for example), or services (a museum entrance fee, for example) than to pay to be able to find others to network with in their own geographic area.

One thought that I had is I wonder if we homeschoolers are doing enough outreach to help these people find those of us already doing it. That discussion is one that was a hot topic about a year ago. It comes down to the fact that putting on outreach events (free) to the public takes a lot of time and energy and sometimes, and expense. We homeschooling families are parents who are busy home educating and parenting our families and sometimes the addition of yet another volunteer project is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Well anyway I hope these families are able to find the Connecticut homeschoolers for the networking and support that they need and want.

Here are the two largest organizations in Connecticut which provide FREE resources for support and networking, such as a list of individual support groups.

CHN: Connecticut Homeschool Network (all inclusive)

TEACH: The Education Association of Christin Homeschoolers (Christian)

Once you find some support groups that you are interested in joining, join it (nearly all are free) and speak to the leader. The support group leader can tell you of other homeschool groups, Internet discussion groups and co-op’s that you may not have found out about by doing the Internet search.

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Our Family’s Christmas Traditions

I decided to make a list of our family’s Christmas traditions and to share it with you.

The list is growing year by year, under the control of my children. Apparently they feel that if we do something once we must do it annually. The challenge is the list is getting so long that doing it all is becoming more difficult.

1. Hang a wreath on the front door. This used to be a gift from my grandmother in Maine, who could buy them for nearly nothing, and she’d ship them to us. Some places around here charge $75 for a small wreath for the front door. Last year out of thriftiness I used a re-usable wreath that plays music from a music box which was a gift. This year it is a small wreath made by my older son in wilderness class with found nature objects.

2. Go to a Christmas Tree Farm and pick a tree from the field, cut it down, and use that in our house. We have (just) one Christmas tree in our home.

3. My husband puts the lights on the tree, and puts the tree up. The children and I decorate the rest of it together. Some of the hand blown glass ornaments belonged to my Great-Grandmother and my Great-Great Grandmother, others belonged to my parents and some are our own. This year the children did almost all of the decorating! And only one ornament was dropped and broke!

4. I buy a few ornaments each year that apply to my children’s lives at that point. This year they have metallic robot ornaments with a retro look from Old Navy. In the past I’ve bought space shuttles, trains, and doughnuts. Usually the ornaments are hand blown. I happen to stumble upon these and buy them anywhere from TJ Maxx to the grocery store and they are inexpensive. The kids love having a piece of their current favorite thing on the tree.

5. Making gingerbread-something from scratch. I am really surprised at the number of kits and shortcut methods (graham crackers on milk cartons). It is not hard at all to make gingerbread dough and royal icing from scratch. I got into it ignorantly by pulling a free recipe off of the internet, I had no clue how much work was involved. It is not hard but we do a little each day so it remains fun and not a full-day project. My children pick the design and in the past we’ve made trains on more than one occasion. I usually make up the pattern in my head and sketch it on paper. These are not works of art. My children pick out the candy and that in and of itself is fun for all of us. Then I let them decorate it any way they want, even if it is overloaded or sloppy or a different way than I’d personally do.

6. Make some Christmas cookies including my husband’s favorites (anginette’s) and my children’s favorites (sugar cookies and coconut macaroons). Eat some, serve some at our Christmas dinners and give some away for gifts.

7. Use our German Christmas Pyramid at Christmas Dinners. Keep it on display in the dining room.

8. My husband puts up the crèche in the dining room.

9. Have special candy only at Christmas time (Andes mints, chocolate covered cherries, candy canes, fancy toffee from some candy maker in Colorado).

10. Children do a chocolate candy Advent Calendar from Trader Joe’s (99 cents, not a big expense).

11. Children each have their own LEGO Advent Calendar.

12. We host Christmas Eve Dinner with my husband’s family. Traditional family foods are eaten including my husband making the time-intensive zeppoli. And we drink champagne which mellows out certain high-strung relatives. Santa also comes to visit and gives one small gift to each child.

13. We open presents alone, just the four of us, all in our pajamas, on Christmas morning.

14. We host Christmas Day Dinner with my family. Prime Rib is the main entrée.

15. My husband gives me a Mrs. Prindable’s candy covered apple as a gift, and I eat this for breakfast on Christmas morning. (They are getting ridiculously expensive, they didn’t use to cost as much as they do now.)

16. We visit a local Trolley Museum and do the ride and visit Santa on the trolley for the annual photo with Santa picture.

17. Have a family photo taken (all four of us) and send that out as the Christmas card image.

18. New tradition, my children participate in church choir and are part of the big Christmas Pageant.

19. Attend Christmas Mass at my husband's church as a whole family (on the day of Christmas Eve).

20. Listen to Christmas carols while at home (not in the car, generally). We each have our favorites and we listen to everyone else's choices.

Not on the list:
Doing huge outdoor Christmas decorations of any kind including a light show. I personally would love to have a zillion tiny white lights on the bushes in our front gardens but my husband is not interested in doing that prep work. In the past I was overwhelmed with caring for babies and young children. Perhaps I’ll start doing this some time in the future now that my kids are older.

We don’t host any Christmas parties, the two dinners for family are enough for us.

Christmas When I Was A Child
My own family didn’t have many Christmas traditions. I was raised in a Godless home and Christmas was purely a secular event. Religion and Jesus Christ were not a part of our Christmas. Christmas was about presents, getting stuff, Santa and then getting together as a family to eat.

My father is a Scrooge, then and to this day. He hated the Christmas tree and is cheap, so each year we’d end up with a ridiculous Charlie Brown type tree which came from a neighbor’s woods (not a tree farm). Every tree in the woods was $10. They were not groomed so looked terrible. My father complained of the decorating while my mother was silent. I usually did most of the decorating myself but my father dictated many rules about what must be done and how, including just one piece of tinsel on each branch (ugh). We were forced to follow all the rules even when it was not fun to do. Lastly the tree was put up right before Christmas and taken down soon thereafter (usually not even lasting two weeks, or ten days, even). This disappointed me as I loved the Christmas tree and the process of decorating it.

My Own Family's Traditions
I have decided to make Christmas more fun and to have more family traditions.

I also want to do things that are fun to my children not just directed by me and my husband. We are not strict on things, such as if the children put too many ornaments are on a branch, we keep quiet and let it be. We want them to enjoy Christmas. We want traditions to be age-appropriate and enjoyable for our children.

Additionally Christmas is not just about presents and Santa but it is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. We all attend church (all year long), even if it is two different churches and two different religions, (Catholic and Protestant).

I never intended to have this many traditions but as I said my children keep asking that we do the same thing year after year and sometimes things are done once but end up being an annual tradition. If anything on the list was not do-able one year or was not fun we'd nix it for that year or completely.

My children absolutely love the traditions. For us Christmas is practially a month-long event.

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Yet Another Book List Book That I Want, And General Thoughts Twaddle and Book List Books

I brought up a topic on our local homeschool chat list about matching books for independent reading to children when the child is reading above their grade level.

Two mothers highly praised this book: "Some Of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers From Preschool to High School" by Judith Wynn Halstead.

I want this book!

I put it on my wish list on so perhaps I will get it for 'free'.

In the mean time...
Last night I was in my public library returning some items that were due and I wanted to see if they had the book in their collection. However, I forgot the title of the book. I asked a Librarian and she had never heard of the book. The Director was questioned and she spoke to me and she said she never heard of the book either. The Librarian was looking online to see if she could find it. Then I remembered part of the title and we found the book. The Director was happy to hear of this book and said that she was about to put an order in and she was adding it to the list of books that would be purchased. Hooray! I hope this book helps other people, too.

They put me down as the first person to borrow the book when it arrives.

After browsing it I’ll decide if this is a “must have”. I am guessing that it will be. If so then Amazon, here I come!

Thoughts on book list books...
The online discussion was interesting as I shared a link to one mother’s list for children who are reading five grades above their level. When I read the lists for ages 5 and 6 I was happy and pleased. Some other mothers protested at the books suggested for older children. Later I checked and she was recommending "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" for 8 year old's. While I personally enjoyed that book I don't think it is appropriate for an 8year old nor should it be a child's early introduction to what autism is. I didn't find the book "ha ha" funny at all and wonder if an 8 year old would (perhaps they would).

Then the whole discussion turned into that challenging issue of what one child finds too heavy to handle vs. another family’s value system vs. another family’s preference to avoid fantasy books or magic themes and so on. It can be hard to take book recommendations from other people unless one or both of these things take place:

1. You know the bias, tastes, and/or religious values of the book list compiler and you know what they would like and not like and if those are in alignment with yours

2. The book list compiler provides enough information on the topics that you want to know about so that you can make your own judgment. For example if they tell if the book contains use of drugs, alcohol, romance, dating, sex, rape, violent crimes, magic, fantasy, (and on and on).

Twaddle vs. Living Books
Some book list books are just lists while others give a paragraph of text praising the book. Despite that I still am surprised sometimes at high praise for what I consider to be junk. Other times the subject matter of a book is not one that clicks with a certain child, while other books are loved by some children and not enjoyed by others.

One example of a “junk book” (also known as ‘twaddle’, the opposite of which I call ‘living books’) is a picture book I picked up last night, it was in like-new condition and for sale at my library’s used book sale (an ongoing sale with a small number of books). The book is by a popular author whose other books I like. I paid 50 cents for the book and figured if it stunk I’d swap it on Well upon reading it to myself, I hated the book and decided I would not read it to my children. Needless to say this morning I listed it on

I just checked Amazon and it has a 5 star review average with a small number of parent-reviews, all who love the book. The professional reviewers were careful to summarize the books’ content but not to make any opinion or value judgment on the content of the book which if you realize that, can make a difference as someone was paid to write that review. If the goal is to help push book sales then it is best to just summarize it and to find something good to say about it even if that has nothing to do with the storyline (as these did).

My not liking that book also indicates I am a picky person when it comes to books. I think there are just so many children’s books out there that are fantastic that we don’t have time to read them all, so why bother spending time on the sub-par? I tolerate some books if some other aspect is good such as stellar illustrations or if it covers a topic that is hard to find in a children’s book. Sometimes I’ll favor one book for the wonderful text and story and content yet use another book for the superior illustrations or photographs (even if it has terrible text). What I do is read both to my children or just use one for illustrations and skip all the text in that one. However if the book glamorizes or makes a joke or downplays of something that I consider to be a negative behavior in children I avoid it as I don’t want my children exposed to anything that would encourage a bad behavior, sorry. I have enough parenting challenges without reading books to my children that will put new ideas into their heads or make that behavior seem acceptable by other adults.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Special Zoning For Homeschooling? Now I've Heard Everything.

Now I have heard everything.

Article title: Accessory housing decision postponed (See the sidebar.)
Journalist: Cheryl K. Chumley
Date of Publication 12/19/06
Published by: Loudoun Times-Mirror, Loudoun County, Virginia, USA

In this article (see the sidebar about other matters discussed at this meeting), a citizen raised an issue as to whether the current home occupancy zoning laws would allow homeschooling to take place in the home or if that was a violation of the current zoning laws. The outcome was that so long as a family was not being paid to homeschool the children in the home environment then a family could homeschool.

There were also discussions of meetings held in a home in which prayer occurred, questioning if that was legal under the zoning laws. The outcome was that fellowship meetings or meetings where prayers took place was fine so long as a church was not formed in the home and actually run as a church. However it was not totally clear-cut as they stated if a pastor was present that ‘muddied the waters’ as to the legality of a meeting with a pastor present with prayer happening.

There was also discussion about retail operations out of the home, think: home-based used bookselling business.

Is this America we are living in?

I can’t believe that what happens in a private home is being scrutinized by town officials and by other citizens in the town. It seems crazy to me to discuss what meetings can be held in a home in a residential neighborhood.

And why in the world would a family be questioned about homeschooling at home?

Next will they outlaw home demo parties such as Tupperware parties? And what is wrong with private tutoring of a student in one’s home if the homeowner is getting paid, anyway? What about the people who cut hair out of their kitchen or basement barber chair, why aren't they being picked on?

Is someone going to protest a La Leche League support group meeting---a grassroots organization which has been meeting in home for 50 years now, to provide free support and information for breastfeeding mothers? And what about homeschool support group meetings? And what about monthly book club meetings? All these things are done by non-profit groups or by social circles of friends; they are not even money-making businesses.

And since when would anyone be questioned for praying in their home? Why would a home visit by a pastor be questioned as problematic?

Things are getting nutty!! If this keeps up I may turn into a Libertarian.

I found this article from a Google News alert for keyword “homeschooling”.

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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 50 Has Been Published

The of Blog Carnival of Homeschooling Week 51 was published at Principled Discovery on December 19, 2006. There are over 30 entries in this blog carnival, that’s a lot of good reading (and free, too).

I have an entry in this Carnival.

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.


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A Very Good Article About Lyme Disease

This article does a very good job of explaining one family’s battle with Lyme Disease as well as covering all the issues of the problems with current testing, doctor’s ignorance about the Disease, problems with CDC reporting, misdiagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (a not infrequent thing), and treatment issues.

Title: Family battles Lyme
By Patti Jares, Staff Writer
Published 12/20/06
Published by: The Wickenburg Sun (Wickenburg, Arizona)

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Past Blog Entries of Mine About “Stupid In America” 20/20 Show

I am still getting hits on my blog from people looking for information about this show.

There are usually recordings of the show available on Here is one link that I pulled today. However since putting that footage on YouTube is a copyright violation don’t be surprised if the link no longer works. In any event, you can go to the home page and do a search for “Stupid in America” and see if a different recording of the show comes up.

The original show was 60 minutes including commercials. I assume these shorter versions on are shorter because the commercials were removed.

Here are links to past blog entries I wrote about this show.

1. "Stupid in America transcript link" published August 30, 2006

2. “Stupid in America” Documentary To Re-Run on September 1, 2006 (published August 30, 2006)

3. John Stossel Op-Ed Piece "Competition Works" About American Education Reform (published March 12, 2006)

4. "20/20 "Stupid in America" online viewing, free" (published January 23, 2006)

5. "My Thoughts on 20/20 Show “Stupid in America”" (published January 17, 2006)

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Older Son Completed Electronics Course

Here is a photo of my older son, who was taking an online electronics class for homeschoolers at Quick Study Labs this fall. He took the Edison Project I class for children aged 8-11.

Here he is working out an experiment, in our family's library.

Enrollment for the next session is going on now, check the Quick Study Labs website for information.

This is one example of how some classes can be outsourced with 'subject matter experts'. In this case the instructor is a college professor who teaches electronics.

I cannot help my son with these lessons as I know nothing about this material. I could take the entire class with him in order to learn it myself to help him but I choose not to. Actually when he needs help my husband does it but he did say that the content was already above his head so my husband had to go back and read through the lesson material in order to help him out. I find it very interesting that a child can be interested in content and has the ability to guide themselves through learning about a topic that most adults know nothing about, off the top of their heads. You can see that with some lessons that a child of age nine can educate himself. (I know some people would never believe this but it really is true.)

One more thing I want to say is that some naysayers and critics of homeschooling may be saying right now, "Ah ha, here is a homeschooling mother admitting she is not qualified to teach her child a certain subject." Well, to you I would say that the content of this electronics course is something that is NOT typically in any public school curriculum not just for fourth grade as my son is in, but in NONE of the grades. In my own public school education (K-12) and also in my husband's public school (K-8) and parochial High School (9-12), neither of us learned this electronics information at any level including in high school. And we never learned this stuff in college either (me, Bachelor's, he, Bachelor's and MBA). So you could actually say this is another example of how homeschoolers have more flexibility and more access to additional subjects that go ABOVE AND BEYOND what American public schools usually teach.

The worst part (the only bad part, actually) of this class is that each week there is a test to take. This requires studying just like a child would do in middle school (not an open book test), with multiple choice, matching, true/false questions etc. The regular tests each week can be retaken until 100% is achieved. Once every four weeks there is a big test covering everything to date which can only be taken once. This is the first time that my son is taking tests of this kind as part of his homeschooling. He does not like it nor does he find it fun, but I am basically telling him 'that is the way it is, just do it'. Not everything in a child's homeschooling has to be fun, in my opinion. Taking these tests is not harmful. At least with homeschooling we can custom design most of what we do and we can avoid stuff like the test taking if we want, in the 'home' part of our homeschooling. However with the benefit of the good of this online course we are also having to endure the test taking.

This was also our family's first experience with an online course.

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Children And Teens Getting High On Over-The-Counter Drugs

On September 27, 2006 Dr. Phil aired an eye-opening (to me) show about children and teenagers using over-the-counter drugs to get high. She show will repeat tomorrow, Tuesday December 19, 2006. If you are a parent I urge you to watch this show. The show is titled “Generation Rx”.

One phrase is “Robotripping”. That is the term for drinking a whole bottle of Robitussin cough syrup (4 ounces) to get high. On the Dr. Phil show is a teen who is addicted to this and cannot get through a day without drinking multiple bottles of it.

Another thing is called “The Triple C Cocktail”. This is when a person takes cough remedies such as Coricedin HBP Cough and Cold remedy, or Coricedin Chest Congestion and Cough remedy, which contains dextromethorphan. For more information see this online pamphlet published by the US Department of Justice.

Other over the counter products used are NyQuil and entire bottles of mouthwash.

Where do they get it? They either get it from their home medicine cabinet, buy it themselves at the drug store or they steal it.

In my area many of the cold remedies are now kept behind the counter with the pharmacist. Even adults have to ask for them (after standing in line). Also some grocery stores in my area have limitations to one bottle or box of an over the counter medication can be purchased per day. There are even signs on the self-checkout registers saying the computers are programmed to kick out sales of more than one product per day.

I found the show eye-opening and disturbing.

I think our nation needs to ask itself why are the kids doing this? Something is wrong in the family itself and within the child. I know the reasons why teens experimented with drugs in the 1980s and I assume some of the reasons are the same.

One of my main goals in parenting is to have a different family relationship than I had in my own experience. I want more of an attached family, or should I say not a “disconnected” family. I want an environment where my children can speak to me openly and not be afraid of repercussions (even when they are teens). I want my children to like and not to seek to numb themselves or to escape from life. I want my children to have good self-esteem and high confidence in themselves rather than thinking negatively of themselves. I want my children to have different measurements of themselves than I did (I was more focused on appearances, having the right clothes, blending in with others rather than having my own style, etc.)

I also want my children to have responsibility. I have no idea where today’s teenagers think they can sit around getting high and to go through life like that and to not be responsible people, functioning in society. I keep seeing videos on Dr. Phil and Oprah of teens and people in their 20s who do nothing but live at home with their parents, don’t work, watch TV all day, and mooch off of their parents (some of them get high or drunk in addition).

One major reason to watch this show is to know that children and teens are getting high on these things which are readily available in our corner drugstores and Wal Mart and even convenience stores and gas stations. They show the warning signs of behaviors and signs that a person is high on these drugs to watch for. So for those of you who think your child would never have access to an ILLEGAL drug you can now ponder that your offspring do have access to LEGAL over the counter drugs that can be abused by intentional overdosing.

I know some parents are saying “that is ridiculous, who is really doing that”? Well it is really happening in America.

If you are a parent who is saying, “My child would never do that” I’d like to shake you and to tell you that you are in denial of reality. The first step to not seeing the signs of drug or alcohol use in a child or teen is the denial that “their child” would ever do that. Wake up and smell the coffee, every child is at risk for experimentation with this.

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