Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunset at Head of the Meadow Beach (Photo of the Day)

Sunset at Head of the Meadow Beach, Truro, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

More information about Head of the Meadow Beach.

Photo taken by ChristineMM, August 2007.

Medieval Help Desk (How to Use a Book)

This was especially hilarious for me for many reasons.

1. I love books and I loved the idea of helping a user figure out how to use one as new technology, back in Medieval times.

2. I know how learning new systems can be so tough for some people. At my first job in my career field I ended up being the expert on how to use the new accounting system at the medical office that I worked at. I had to help everyone transfer from the really sloppy system to one that kept better records. I thought it was a simple system but it really threw some people for a loop. Old habits die hard. I am always surprised at how scared some people are to try new things.

3. At my next job, I was hired right when they were converting from a paper system to a computer system. The software company trained everyone, including me. Somehow, I ended up being the computer and program ‘expert’ and being in charge of training the employees to use a computer for the first time in their lives (they were all over age 40). The one employee who was over 50 actually quit the job over computer fear and the manager got her to agree to let me train her (instead being trained a second time by the computer techies that we had hired). I trained her individually. I didn’t do anything special; I just adapted my language to be what I thought she would understand. She learned how to use the program, and she agreed to keep the job and praised me for years afterward for my help, laughing at how scared she was to even touch the computer. She even starting saying she could never do the job without a computer again and how great computers were.

4. I used to manage a Help Desk for my department when I worked at an HMO. I can’t even begin to tell a story about that experience. Often we’d have to tell the employees who called us information that was right in front of their faces, or explain how to look at certain screens in the program which they should have been using all day long, that would enable them to actually do their job correctly.

5. I have learned that many people overly-rely on the help of others without having taken any steps themselves to attempt to do what they are trying to do. This includes reading the directions. It also includes phoning someone for help instead of just looking at a screen or reading a set of paper directions which are within their reach. I would rather classify this as laziness than to say the people are 'just stupid'.

6. The best trainers and ‘helpers’ are those who don’t necessarily possess secret knowledge; they are gifted at clear communication, realizing where the learner ‘is at’ and adapting their training to meet the struggling person ‘where they’re at’.

Hat Tip: Mental Multivitamin

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books Has Been Published, September 29, 2007 edition

Take a look at what readers are saying about the books they are reading this week, over at Semicolon Blog's Saturday Review of Books, 9/29/07 edition.

Consider posting a submission, too!

Night Photography Fun (Photo of the Day)

When bored in the car, when I'm a passenger, at night, I've been fooling around with existing light photography, with my digital camera. I put the camera on the existing light setting and shut the flash off. I aim the camera at lights, and move the camera around. It is fun to see what the result is.

Another fun thing is to try to hold the camera still while driving past lighted signs or stores lit with light at night. It makes a big smear of colored lines.

My seven year old then picked up on this. He asked, and I let him play with the camera in this way. We then laugh at the outcome of the photos. Good clean fun.

All photos taken by ChristineMM, August and September 2007, in Cape Cod and in Connecticut.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bitter Sweets by Roops Farooki: Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Bitter Sweets
Author: Roopa Farooki
ISBN: 9780312360528
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Adult fiction
First US edition: November 2007
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Book Review by ChristineMM, "The Thinking Mother"

Summary: Light Beach Reading, Sadly, Not Much More Than That (I Blame The Editor)

3 stars

At first I found the book a page-turner that I didn’t want to put down.

However, it didn’t take long to realize that not all the characters were portrayed with enough depth to make me really care what happened to them. The book speeds over time and across generations too quickly, which left me not very emotionally invested n the characters. Oddly by the end, I cared the most about a character who was not at all one of the books main characters! Yet in the end they didn’t tell whatever did happen to my favorite character (Omar). The loose ends were tied with some characters but not with all. This is just one more reason that the book is unbalanced.

Parts of the story were downright not believable, and some were just too coincidental. We readers want to believe what we are reading even though we know it is fiction, so we will usually tolerate a certain amount of predictability or coincidence but this book crossed that line.

On the good side it was interesting and different for me to read a book whose Muslim, Asian characters resided in Bangladesh and Pakistan and some who later immigrated to England and dealt with life as Asian immigrants in London.

Without giving away the entire plot, this book is about deceptions and lies and the tangled web they weave. The book has to do with leading double lives, infidelity, secret second marriages, and homosexuality. There is some dealing with preference for lighter skin tones, putting down those under one’s class or those who come from certain countries is a part of the story. The idea of a marriage either being for love or for money is an element here, as is the stigma within certain cultures of wanting to avoid divorce. The issue of putting on a good face to make it seem like everything is alright is another element, however the fact that some hate their unhappiness while others seem to just live with it is something that I as a reader didn’t understand at all.

Although the books characters are Muslim the religion itself is never really shown in the story, and we are left to think they are non-practicing Muslims. We also are not given enough information about the different cultures to explain why the characters choose to do or to not do certain things. I didn’t feel the book gave me as a non-Muslim American much insight as to the culture of Muslims. In fact so much of what goes on in the book seems to me to be against the Muslim religion! The book actually left me more confused than ever about the Muslim religion.

The general notion of “lying is not good for anyone” is the message which we didn’t need this book to tell us but we wouldn't mind a reminder if the story was fantastic or if I really loved the characters.

In the end I’d say this is a decent escape novel if you are looking for light entertainment and an easy read. If you are looking for a Toni Morrison type book, this is not it. I’m not sure why the publisher chose to release this in hardback as it seems to me this is more of a perfect beach read which would warrant a trade paperback format, with a lower purchase price.

It pains me a bit to give this book a 3 star review, but I feel it is a good and honest rating in my opinion. I do put part of the blame on the editor and publishing house for not working more with this first time book author to fix up the holes in the story and to make some of the shallow parts deeper, and to help make some of the not-believable parts more realistic and believable—that is what their job is, after all.

Disclosure: I received this book from the Amazon Vine program, having received an Advance Readers copy free of charge in exchange for an agreement to write a review on

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Thinking About How to Rate Fiction for Adults

I have been trying to come up with a system to figure out how good an adult novel is. I mean, what makes a book of adult fiction a 3 star book versus a 5 star book?

I just finished reading a book which I received from the Amazon Vine program. I had committed to read the book and review it on the Amazon site. Now that I have finished it I am stuck with the challenge of rating it and doing a customer review. I will say here and now that doing a customer review just because I feel like it is much easier for me as my strong opinion for or against a book, or a passion for the book is usually what compels me to write my customer reviews.

In 2004 I participated in NaNoWriMo and finished my rough draft manuscript. So I have an unedited manuscript of a work of fiction, sitting on my hard drive right now. I am actually afraid to edit it. And worse, I think at best it would be a 3 star book and I had high hopes of writing a Toni Morrison-ish 5 star book. After writing rough draft manuscript, I realized how hard it is to write a book. I got a little more tender-hearted about doing customer reviews on Amazon especially if I’m not rating it 4 or 5 stars, and so I slowed down from submitting customer reviews.

Then later, after reading more about the craft of writing and the challenge of getting published, I suddenly felt even more self-conscious about rating a book. What authors have to go through to write the book then to actually get it published seems to me to be reason enough to grant it 3 stars for effort, at least. (Not really, but can you see my guilt at rating a work of fiction at 3 stars or less?)

I have no problems giving a comparison to other books on the market (that I know of) or giving an opinion if I feel I am qualified enough, that I know enough about a topic to judge the book. But judging fiction is a little more iffy because so much of it comes down to the personal taste of the reader and that may say nothing of the talent of the author as a storyteller, or even the quality of the writing itself. This is where I worry that readers may be too harsh on a lower rating of a book, ouch, that must hurt the author!

The book I just finished is the first novel of an author who formerly worked in the corporate world. She wrote the book while she was pregnant. The book has been published in the United Kingdom, where she is from. It is soon to be released in America. I feel bad about giving this book only a 3 star rating. I feel self-conscious since this is a new release in America and the book is making its debut. I’m not quite sure whether this deserves a 3 or a 4 star rating.

So I have been thinking carefully about my own personal 5 star rating system for adult fiction. Here is what I have worked up so far. Hopefully once I write this all down and tweak my ideas, I’ll find it easier to find which rating I want to give this book that I just finishing reading (Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki).

By the way I’ve not read anything that professional book reviewers have to say about how they feel that books should be reviewed. I wonder what they say? These thoughts are all from my own head.

My Explanation of Star Ratings for Adult Fiction Books

1 star:

This book stinks. The book is junk, a complete waste of my time. Not well written. I can’t believe anyone would ever want to read this book. How did it get published anyway? In reality I probably would never rate a book of fiction as 1 star because I would not have bothered to take the time to read the entire book and I’ve actually never reviewed a fiction book that I didn’t read cover to cover because that just isn’t fair..

2 stars:

This book is also not worthy of my time. Someone else may like it. Someone else may like this subject matter. It is not well written in my mind. The characters in the book may not be believable, or if they are, the book is just not well written. I might not even be able to get into the book; I may give up on it. Actually I don’t usually do customer reviews on books I don’t read cover to cover but in my own mind, if I can’t even read the book it will get either a 1 or 2 star rating.

3 stars:

This book is perhaps good for beach reading. This is light reading. The actual writing quality is not stellar; it makes me think that even I could write a book like this without much effort. This book does not elevate a person. This book is not worthy of being re-read. This book may be good for ‘an escape’ read. The plot may be dumb, I may not like the actual story, but I did read it and it was entertaining in some way.

The characters or their situations may not be believable, but maybe they are, or maybe I tried to fool myself into believing it just so I could get through to the end. I was moved to finish the book because I wanted to see what happened in the end. Some element in this book is usually predictable, either the ending is obvious, or what one character does is predictable.

This may or may not have been a page-turner. I probably would not recommend this book to a friend unless they specifically wanted something not heavy or just wanted a non-stressful beach read and I thought the content was something they may be interested in.

If the characters in the book are shallow or if I don’t make strong emotional ties with at least one major character, it would warrant the book being rated a 3 instead of a 4.

There were identifiable holes in the story, or some things were glossed over too quickly, and that harmed the story in some way. Perhaps not enough was done to make us love or hate certain characters. I blame this problem partially with the editor or publishing house who could have worked more with the author to address the holes or the shallowness and to fix those problems. Certainly if I as a reader can pick out those problems, could not an editor?

4 stars:

This book is definitely a page-turner. I was driven to stay up late to read it and maybe even put off doing necessary things to find the time to read it. I was drawn into the story. The story and its characters are believable. Nothing in the book was predictable.

The book EITHER is very funny or entertaining in some way and and was a good use of my time for sheer entertainment purposes OR it was serious enough to illicit emotions from me and make me care about at least one character deeply, or the cause or issue in the book.

If I think a certain friend may like the book I would recommend it but I would not feel compelled to shout to the entire world that they simply MUST read this book.

Depending on different people’s tastes and personalities, some may disagree with me and call this book better or worse than I thought. This book may be a bestseller but it just didn’t completely click with me, or perhaps I expect too much from a story?

5 stars:

This book is very well written. The author is a good storyteller. This is a page-turner. I may be so engrossed in this book that I don’t even hear the phone ring. Putting aside things I need to do is done without guilt, just so that I can find more time to read. This is such a great escape book that when I put the book down I have to kind of shake the book out of my system to get back to the mindset of ‘my real life’. I may like the book so much that I wish I could step into the book and live there for a while, or perhaps the book is so emotional or negative in some way that I am happy to have my life be what it is and to not have to go through what the books’ characters are dealing with.

There is a strong emotional tie to at least one of the characters. I feel like I know these characters and sometimes I may wish that I knew them in real life. I actually care about what happens to these characters. The book is emotionally touching in some way, and often will make me cry.

Although I was dying to find out what happened in the book, I was sad to find the end near as I didn’t want it to end. I wish there was a sequel on the one hand, but wish there is not lest the author not do a good job on it.

At least one thing in the book has changed at least one thing about me permanently. I have either seen life through the eyes of another person and learned something from that, have been enlightened to think about something completely differently than I had before or I wish that a certain thing would happen or never happen to anyone in real life like what happened to the books’ character. For example, I may feel horrified to think of the abuse that African-American slaves lived through; I may wish that racism would cease to exist, or I may wish justice to be served to all child abusers. The book might have been the first time that the issue or the cause stirred emotion within me.

The book may have eloquent language and be written in a way that makes me think, “I could never write a book as good as this”. The way the book is written, the flow of the story and the language itself is high quality.

I want all of my friends to read this book. I hope the author makes lots of money on the sale of this book. I wish Oprah would pick it for her book club so that millions of readers will experience this book, and so the author will make a slew of money on those sales.

This book is so well written that nearly anyone who finishes reading the book would agree it was a fantastic book and worthy of 5 stars, if not, they may think it is a 4 star book. I would assume that all the books which I think are 5 star books deserve to have been a bestseller at some point, and sadly, if not, they at least touched the lives of all who read it and changed their lives for the better in some way, and for that reason alone, the book is a success.

An interesting piece on Library Thing about Amazon Vine and the ethics of publishing early reviews

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Reorganization of History Books Nearly Complete

I use mainly real books to homeschool my children with. I call the good and great books “living books”. To save money I book hunt for used books at cheap prices. I also use some out-of-print books and some antique books in our homeschool. I buy books ahead of time and save them for when we need them.

I blogged here to answer the question “What is a Living Book?”.

Now on to the current story…

I am nearly finished reorganizing my history books. Thank goodness.

I blogged here about how my use of cardboard boxes stacked high in a closet that was actually a safety hazard. This blog post tells what happened after that incident.

A friend who has a zillion books recommended a perfect sized plastic bin which she found only at Stop and Shop (a local grocery store chain). This was offered as a seasonal item in August and early September, most likely for the back to college crowd. She said they were big enough to hold a good amount of books yet not too heavy when full—so we don’t injure ourselves in the book moving process.

Day One and Day Two: I took two trips to two different Stop and Shop’s but they were both sold out of these bins.

Day Three: I made trip #1 to Wal Mart and bought a few of two different boxes. I wasn’t sure when in the store, if these sizes would work. I also could not find the price for the larger box and so I picked out only four, hoping they were not too expensive.

The larger one proved to be large enough to hold four stacks of books (laid flat). The plastic is clear, so I can see what books they are through the box. I positioned them so that I could read the titles on the spines by viewing the sides of the boxes. However those are super heavy when full. They are Sterlite brand, 58 quart boxes. There are two cons to this bin. The first is I am not very confident that they make a super-tight seal, so those of you who want to keep books in damp basements or in places where mice may tread may not want to use these. (That is not an issue for me as I’m storing these in a closet in a part of the house which is heated or air conditioned most of the year.) The second con is that the lid is flexible and not too strong and I am not sure how many you could stack on top of each other before the lids begin to break. They are better suited to storing on shelving or lining on a floor, in one layer, or two at most. The price I paid was full retail at $4.97 each.

The other style is also clear and made by Sterlite, it is 27 quart. That one had fancy colored handles that clamped down to lock shut and were more durable lids than the other lids. Those also were sold in pumpkin orange and dark brown colors but I wanted the clear ones. Those held two stacks of books. They are small enough to be very easy to carry. The lids are quite strong. Those sold for $4.57.

So I began the process of opening cardboard boxes and transferring books to the plastic bins, on Day Four.

I soon realized that I liked both types of containers. However my budget prevents me from only using the smaller size. I was happy to see the large bins happened to fit two, side by side inside my son’s closet. Hooray.

I also discovered that the stack of four that I picked up off the shelf had one broken inside it Now I know to look at every single bin in the store to look for damaged goods.

Day Five: I had to make a second trip to Wal Mart to return the broken bin. I then bought more bins.

Day Six: I picked a day when the boys were at a friend’s house on a playdate. I had a full 3.5 hours to myself to move these books around. Then my kids were at a homeschool event for 5 hours with my husband. So I basically was left alone with 8.5 hours of alone time to tackle this job.

I ended up dividing the books by school levels. I have two nearly full boxes of books intended for high school or adults to read.

I have a full box of biographies for grades 6-8. I have a full box of history for grades 6-8.

I have a full box of biographies for elementary school, mostly Childhood of Famous American books which I am guessing are at an independent reading level of grade 3 or 4. Since my older son has not read those yet I will have him read them this school year even though he is now in 5th grade.

I used the smaller bins to store my out of print, old books. I put Signature biographies in one box. I have nearly three full boxes of Landmarks for American History. I have nearly a full box of “We Were There” books.

I put nearly all the books I hope to use in the next 1-1.5 years for elementary grade students downstairs in two different bookcases. So basically all the picture books and some of the easier readers are downstairs now, ready to use for us to study history with.

I do have a bunch of Cornerstones of Freedom books which fill a copy paper box. I would like a bin for those. I also realized that we should use these in this history cycle as they look too easy for grade 6 or 7 and higher.

I have two copy paper boxes of books waiting to be sorted into new bins.

Day Seven and Day Eight: I still need to get down to Wal Mart again and pick up a few more bins. I then will finish sorting and organizing them and install them into more safe arrangements in the closet.

The bins fit the closet space better which means the stacks are lower and they are no longer dangerous!

Concluding Thoughts
I have to say to move the books around was not all fun. I did get excited to study certain areas of history as I put my hands on the books and reminded myself of what we own here. It was hard work moving the books, I was sweating and it was a real work out.

Despite my love of books and my love of the hobby of book hunting I will say as I said in another blog post, there is something to be said for homeschooling parents just buying what they needs, new, immediately before one needs it. It would save a lot of time on book hunting hoping to find a certain title at a discount. It would prevent large amounts of book sorting and book reorganizing. I will admit that this project was not all fun and games. It had to be done and I had so many things I wanted to do with my time, I really wasn’t in the mood to do this and I was actually a bit mad at myself for having bought up all these books ahead of time.

I guess I now think that ideally to avoid all these book storage challenges, a homeschooling family would ditch the book as soon as they were done with it, so they would not have to store it at all.

However those options are not the thriftiest, to buy something for full retail or nearly full retail right before one needs it. It also prevents one from using out-of-print books in one’s homeschool, as finding certain titles or books from a certain series, used, cannot always be done with immediacy or at a not-high price.

If money is tight then it is best to spend one’s time and energy looking for bargains and buying bins to store books in and saving them up for future use. It is basically a trade-off of spending one’s time and energy versus spending more money.

On the Library As an Option
Also I know you are probably thinking the library is a good option. As I've blogged about before I find that is not always good for us. First, the closest libraries don't always have the topics we need, or have the book on the shelf when we need it. The books there are sometimes twaddle. If I go to other libraries I burn gasoline and my time and energy. If I use interlibrary loan it is not predictible and we don't always have the book for as long as we need it.

Here are two photos of the mess that went on during the book resorting process. As always with decluttering or reorganizing, it always looks awful and worse in the middle of the job.

Can you spot our two cats in the second photo? They kept me company during the process.

When I finish the entire process I'll take a photo of the inside of the closet with the new bins.

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Road to a Pasture (Photo of the Day)

Photo taken by ChristineMM, New Fairfield, Connecticut, late September 2007.

If you want to see another image I took that day and to read my thought process behind this, I blogged that on my other blog in this entry "Composition and Line in Photography".

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"William Tell Overture for Moms" aka "Mom's Overture by Anita Renfroe"

This is hilarious. A typical parenting experience in America.

Was published on YouTube as "Mom's Overture by Anita Renfroe" ---

Was published on YouTube as "William Tell Overture for Moms"---

This is also known as the "William Tell Momism" and "Momsense" by Anita Renfroe.

I found the Momsense lyrics posted online here. I won't post them here as they are legally protected by copyright and I don't want to violate copyright law or disrespect the author by reprinting them here.

Now who wants to write a homeschool mom version??

I see that now Anita Renfroe is selling a DVD.

Hat Tip: V., a local homeschool mom friend of mine.


Anita Renfroe, comedian's offical webpage (video is there too).

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Currently Reading: Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki

My first Amazon Vine book arrived! It is fiction for adults, titled Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki.

I started reading it last night before bed and I was hooked. I ended up staying up later than planned. When I woke up earlier than I needed to be up, I stole the time to read the book again.

So far it is page turner and a good escape book.

I like that this takes place in Bangladesh, Pakistan and in London. I am find reading of another culture (Muslims) thoroughly refreshing and interesting.

One reason I stopped reading much American fiction was I got sick of the same themes over and over, a woman being abused by a male relative or lover, child abuse, broken hearts and other depressing topics happening to Americans.

I’m at about page 60 now (of about 350 pages). I don’t know how it will turn out or if the story overall is good. I am avoiding reading other customer reviews on Amazon or on other websites as I don’t want to read a plot spoiler.

The book will be released in America in hardback on November 13, 2007. The author is from England and it was released there in soft cover in February 2007.

Younger Son "Gets" Capitalism

I have never discussed economics with my younger son per se, such as I have not discussed different economic types that exist in our world, or which types I think are good or bad, or which succeed and which fail, or the pros and cons of the different kinds.

However through real life my sons are learning that it takes money to do things and that one must choose how to spend their money, wisely.

Out of the clear blue the other day, while we were driving, my younger son (age seven) said, "I don't like this, about money. If you want food to eat at home you have to spend money at the grocery store to get it. If you want to eat in a restaurant you have to pay for it. If you want a toy you have to spend money to buy it. If you want to drive the car you have to buy gas, and the car. If you want new clothes you have to spend money for them. And to get the money you have to work. If you don't work you don't have the money. Everything takes money, so everyone has to work."

My response was that he was right, that is the way things are in America.

Although he probably has never heard the word capitalism I think he pretty much 'gets it'.

In case you're wondering my husband and I are not socialists or commmunists and he's never overheard us decrying the fact that America is a capitalist country. So my son's observations on how the money cycle works in America, and his opinion on how he doesn't like it is entirely his own.

Now we'll just have to make sure we don't raise a slacker or a moocher!

And I also thought the way he stated his summary of capitalism in America was kind of cute, and accurate.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 91 Has Been Published

The 91st Carnival of Homeschooling was published today by Eric Novak of The Voice of Experience.

I have an entry in this blog carnival.

There are over 40 entries in this blog carnival, that’s a lot of good reading (and free, too).

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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Thoughts on Kid Nation Episode 1

My friend emailed me to ask what I thought of the first episode of Kid Nation. I replied to her and decided to use that as the basis of a blog post.

Here are my thoughts on the first Kid Nation episode, which our entire family watched together, using TiVo, which allowed us to watch it at our convenience and to pause the show to discuss things mid-program.

This blog entry includes spoilers.

We all felt bad for the crying kids who missed their parents. One boy was eight years old and that seemed very young to me to be on the show. Both of my kids are begging to go on the show next season. I thought they’d change their minds and agree that they are too young when they saw the boy so homesick, but they are steadfast. At each meeting that will take place on every fourth day, the show’s host asks the kids if anyone wants to go home. At the end of this episode, on day four of the experience, that eight year old boy did ask to go home. The other kids were rooting for him to stay on. In an interview taped after that, the boy eloquently said that he thought eight years old was too young of an age for a child to go away for so long and to be on a show like that. (Everyone in our family agrees.)

(This show does not do ‘voting off’ as begun by the creators of Survivor.)

The producers and marketers made out that the kids would organize themselves. That is not really true. From the beginning of the project, at the start of the episode, the producers had pre-selected four leaders and the kids were told they have four town council members who were in charge. So really there was no chance for leaders to emerge from within the group. From the start four kids were in control, or shall I say they were supposed to be leading the kids.

The show began on an afternoon, so the most chaos was that afternoon, at dinner time, at bedtime and breakfast time the next morning.

At the first dinner, my boys were aghast at the pasta incident, and horrified that the kids cannot cook or know how to make pasta. I did think of all foods to eat first that they said they wanted to eat mac and cheese, that is so ‘American kiddish’. No one knew how to cook pasta, and the first mistake was to put raw pasta into cold water on the stove, then next they filled it nearly to the top with raw pasta! What they did was to dump the pasta and the water onto the ground to get rid of it. We all thought that was purely ridiculous and I paused it there, and asked my 10 year old what he would have done. He said he would have boiled a new pot of water, removed some of the raw pasta and cooked it, then recycle the old hot water for a next batch of uncooked pasta from the old pot. I can’t believe the lack of thinking skills on that one, to dump the food. That’s scary!

One example of breakfast chaos was that they made enough food for everyone to have one pancake (and some other food). However the kids were told to just serve themselves one. Some kids served themselves more than one. The kids were not organized so not all of them got there together. The latecomers were left with no food for breakfast. Nothing seemed to be done about that situation. The ones who the cameras showed had taken double the food portion, had no consequence (unless it did happen but the editors didn’t show it).

On day two, after breakfast, the town council members consulted a book that they were told would help them lead the team. First they were to divide up the kids into four district, four teams of ten, basically, with each town council member being in charge of ten kids. The town council leaders got to pick their team members. That was done in privacy so at least it was not ‘schoolyard’ style and the other kids didn’t see who was picked first or last.

Next the host of the show gathered everyone together and revealed a structure for the town. There were four classes, not school type classes but social classes. The four classes ranged from laborers to wealthy people. Each class had certain jobs to do, some obviously worked harder than others. The rich ones worked less hard than the poor class. They were given jobs and a pay, ranging from 10 cents for the laborers to $1 for the wealthy. They played a game to determine which team received which classification.

So this is another example of how the show marketers billed this as a town of kids making their own civilization when in reality the structure was put into place by the producers and less decision making was actually available to the kids. That disappointed me because it was the thing that appealed most to me about the show. I wanted to see the kids organize themselves and work out the issues together.

At one point on day two during the game they won a race against time to complete the game. That meant the town council got to choose between a TV set or four more outhouses. At that point they had only one outhouse for the 40 kids. They chose the outhouses, and a bunch of kids were happy. Although some did want the TV, including the 11 year old town council boy.

At one point the two oldest teenaged boys (14 and 15 years old) were vandalizing the buildings with messages saying their team was the best, with chalk (the only writing implement they had available). They were being immature rather than being role models. A bunch of the younger kids were actually annoyed with their immaturity.

We’ll see how this pans out.

As the show ended my kids said they loved it. They still are begging to audition for the second season (if there is one). Both think they are old enough and could handle being without their parents for 40 days and nights and to live in a situation like that in the desert without any intervening adult supervision.

With that said, I can’t imagine putting my kids on that show, especially my seven year old.

By the way if you missed the show, you can watch it online for free. I am not yet sure but believe the show is available after it airs on television until the time that the next episode airs. In other words, I think only the most current show is available online for free viewing.

CBS Video webpage

You can read this show’s recap on the CBS site, here.

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Give Them What They Want. Period.

Last night I was at a public meeting with three state representatives. One State Representive, Arthur O'Neill hosted the meeting. Rep. O'Neill is proposing legislation that will help parents easily withdrawal their children from public school. The aim is to help prevent more abuse by school staff. It will hopefully help prevent (illegal) false claims of abuse and neglect made on behalf of school staff to DCF.

One State Rep asked for a statistic or two to show that homeschoolers are actually learning. To paraphrase, he wanted some number to show that homeschooled children are learning or being educated on par with public schooled children, or maybe are even performing above it.

I say, give him what he wants. It was clear to me from what he said he wants to share a statistic or two with all the other legislators to quickly show the adequacy of homeschooling. He was not at all discussing increased legislation to try to increase monitoring of homeschoolers by any government worker. He was trying to address the concern that some other legislators already hold, that worry of “how do you know the homeschooled child is actually learning”.

I am happy that a legislator is trying to help homeschoolers. Again I say, give him the statistic. He wants it to use as a tool to help the homeschoolers.

However some homeschooling parents in the audience were not just happy to agree to supply him with a statistic or two. They wanted to share their opinions and philosophies about other things, and a handful of them spoke to share their viewpoint. The bottom line is that they wanted the legislators to see that THEY were right, that they shared a different view, they live with a different paradigm and it seemed to me they wanted to convert these legislators to agree with their viewpoint. I think that is a pretty big job, to try to instantly convert a person to that other mindset over the course of a couple minutes by simply listening to a person’s own testimony and opinion. What I am saying is that whatever the person is saying will probably fall on deaf ears or be wasted breath. Yes, it is true, maybe hearing those things will be placing a seed in the minds of all who listened. However there is a pressing issue on the floor, a current attempt to rectify a situation, we have a person in front of us willing to help get that task done—let’s stay on topic.

That other perspective which they dove into was the whole idea of testing in general. The con’s of testing, how imperfect testing is, that testing that is done in public schools. How imperfect test scores are, in general. How some kids who know material have poor test taking skills. How some kids take tests easily and score well but may not know a lot. How government supports public schools but they regularly churn out graduates who are illiterate or who are already known by test scores, to not have learned what was taught in those schools. How kids who tested well in school may not turn out to be adults who are very educated. In fact, some may have been so under-served by public schools that they, for years or forever, don’t read another book or learn another thing. (One father said that he gradated high school as a low-level reader and had a really hard time when he enrolled in college at age 30.)

Then they brought up that American students know less than students in other countries. This segued into the discussion of “public schools are supposed to teach their students and they are failing and the government knows it”. This snowballed into a discussion of the mess that American public schools are in.

One legislator hit the nail on the head when he said the issue is that some educrats don’t want anyone to know of the success of homeschoolers who were taught at home, some by non-teacher parents, or parents who even lack a college degree. It is hard to explain why the public schools have a hard time producing children who, the statistics show, have FAILED to learn what the administrators themselves feel the students should have learned. When so much money and personnel and overhead (buildings etc.) are used to administer a public school education to those students--who are under-performing or under-achieving. How can that be? Compare that to a homeschooled child with a non-teacher parent and a very low budget can successfully educate a child, in a non-multi-million dollar building. But I digress from my main point.

It frustrates me when this general thing happens in a discussion. To me even discussing those issues is going off topic and going off on a tangent. The issue at hand is a request for a statistic. The legislator wants to HELP homeschoolers. Let’s give him the statistic and let him do some work to help those in our community.

Let’s keep to the topic at hand. Let’s not ignore the open request and the open task at hand and move on to broader topics which this legislator cannot do anything about. We can talk all day of how imperfect standardized tests are, when used in schools, but that discussion will not stop the current thing happening with numerous parents in Connecticut. The issue is when some parents of public schooled children try to withdrawal their children from school and follow all the correct protocol, some are being harassed by their town/city’s school staff and some are being turned in to DCF with false allegations of various kinds of abuse and neglect. (Note again making false allegations to DCF is illegal, but despite that, it continues to go on.)

Again the goal is to stop the harassment and coercion by school staff and DCF of parents who are new to homeschooling, whose children formerly were educated at public school.

The legislators are there to get certain tasks and jobs done, let them do their job. If that means giving them a statistic, then give it to them. Period. Don’t refuse to give them a statistic. And don’t give them a statistic then tell them how test scores and statistics are sometimes flawed!

To read related information on the issues with DCF and Connecticut homeschoolers, click on the label below titled “Connecticut DCF Investigating Homeschoolers Issues" to access my former blog posts on this topic.

Related Article: Consent of the Governed:
CT Legislators Attempt To Help Homeschoolers

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sunday Night Traffic on the GWB

UGH! This sucked. Sorry but there is no other word for it.

After driving about 750 miles in one day we hit this awful traffic, trying to pay the toll (with the EZ Pass, even) on the GWB (George Washington Bridge). After this we had another hours' drive home. We were thoroughly drained at this point in the day.

Actually you would not believe the mess that went on in this traffic. I can't even explain it. Suffice it to say we had nearly ten accidents in this mess. It was so illogical and nutsy that I can't even explain it in words.

Photo taken by ChristineMM in April 2007.

Recommending the 'Why Homeschool' Blog

I want to share some information about one of my favorite homeschooling blogs.

'Why Homeschool' was begun by a husband and wife, Henry and Janine Cate, who wanted to mainly talk about why homeschooling is good and why it is better than school in their opinion. The regularly feature articles on the pro’s of homeschooling, issued with public schooling and topics of education in general and education reform. They also like to quote articles and give their thoughts on them. They are good writers who state their opinions clearly. They are Christian but their blog is not full of religious references, their articles appeal to a wide audience.

They also seem to gear their writing toward new homeschoolers or to people thinking about homeschooling, to open their minds a bit to the idea of homeschooling. Their blog may also appeal to others who don’t homeschool but hear about homeschooling or are reading about problems with institutional schooling in general.

Here is one of their blog posts where they compiled what they think is the best of their articles: Some of Our Best Posts.

The Cate’s are also the founders of the Carnival of Homeschooling, which is a weekly blog publication of links to other blogs on the topic of homeschooling, education, and family life of homeschoolers. That Carnival routinely has at least 30 links. Reading a blog carnival is just like looking at a table of contents of a magazine. You read the short explanation of the article and if you want to read it, you link over to read the article which appears on the author’s blog. Blog carnivals are free which is an advantage over print magazines. Since the Carnival of Homeschooling is published weekly that is more frequently published than print publications.

I read their blog regularly and I highly recommend you check it out.


Why Homeschool blog's main page

Carnival of Homeschooling archive page at Why Homeschool

Blog Carnival website (find lots of blog carnivals here)

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Monday, September 24, 2007

July 21, 2007, Shortly After Midnight (Photo of the Day)

Where were you in the first minutes of the day on July 21, 2007?

This photo was taken by a friend of mine. For the first time I'm sharing my older son's face with my blog readers.

Thoughts on Children and Poetry

The other day I woke up earlier than my children. I went into our family library. I sat down and my gaze went to a bookcase that contains books about math, poetry, and literature (Shakespeare, Dickens, etc.).

One reason I probably glanced over there was that on the Creative Mom Podcast discussion group we have been sharing our haikus on Mondays and also because host Amy keeps mentioning Douglas Florian books. My children’s all time favorite book of poetry is Insectlopedia. We also own Mammalabilia but we don’t like it as much. Hearing Amy talk of how her boys love them makes me feel old and makes my boys seem so grown up because it was back in 2002 when the reading of Florian’s poetry was a regular thing happening in our home. That seems so long ago now! And I am suddenly melancholy that my boys seem to have outgrown that phase. I don’t want that phase to be over yet!

I saw the gap in the math shelf which is where books and curriculum which I let go of used to reside.

Then I noticed the poetry shelves were a mess.

I will admit right here and now that in the last year I didn’t “do” much poetry with my children. I have basically been neglecting those books, unless you count adding a new book or two if I stumble upon a good looking poetry book while at a library book sale.

The shelves were overflowing and were partially double-stacked.

I decided right then and there to sort the shelves.

First I put all the poetry books which are in picture book format for young children and put those on the lowest shelf so my boys can reach them easily. I moved those in with the math books. I then put all the poetry collections for young readers on the next lowest shelf. The highest shelf has the poetry collections which are larger and are a mix of poetry that I might read with my children.

I then put the Shakespeare books intended for elementary grade students to read on the rest of the shelf. I also put two books of Dickens for young children there.

I removed some poetry works which are really for just my own enjoyment. There is no room on the shelves for these unless I double stack the shelves. I’ll have to find a new home for those.

I found two titles which I accidentally had doubles of, both were Jack Prelutsky books. I listed one on PaperBackSwap and I will hand the other one down to my nephews.

While I was in the middle of this project my older son woke up and joined me in the library. He cuddled under a blanket and I tossed him a Jack Prelutsky book, one of the duplicate copies, and he was reading it. He was cracking up and finding funny poems to read aloud to me while I finished sorting the books out. His favorite poem was “A Pizza the Size of the Sun” (which is also the title of one of the books we own). You can read teh poem "A Pizza the Size of the Sun" on this webpage.

I then tossed him a book of limericks and told him that when I was in the fourth grade in public school we learned about limericks. He tried reading them but didn’t ‘get them’. I then read a few aloud with the proper cadence and he was laughing. I told him I was forced in school to write limericks and that I found it very hard and frustrating, and how hard it is sometimes to write poetry under a deadline such as for a homework assignment. He said he was glad he was not being forced to write limericks by a school. So instead we read some together and laughed at them together.

The reading of poetry went on for about a half hour.

I decided right then and there that this year I will make a concerted effort to pull the poetry books off the shelf and to read some aloud with my boys on a regular basis.

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Connecticut Homeschooler Has Article Published in Magazine

Virginia Early, a Connecticut homeschooled teenager has had an article published in an international journal, The Christian Science Journal. Her piece appears in the September 2007 issue’s “Teen Talk” column. (The journal has primarily an adult audience.)

The piece is titled “Rough Ride in the Outback” and is about a healing Virginia experienced after a bicycle accident while on a church youth group summer trip in Australia last summer.

The article is not online, or I’d link to it. You can read the Table of Contents that lists her article, here.

Virginia did a great job writing this article, it is well written and equal to or better than the writing quality of what I see in most popular, mainstream American magazines.

I had received a sample copy of this magazine in the mail, asking me if I wanted to subscribe. When I flipped through it, I was so surprised to see the photo of this homeschooled teenager who I personally know!

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sorting Through Homeschooling Math Materials

Here is a post I drafted in November 2006 which I just realized I never published, so here you go.

Today I sorted through my three bookshelves filled with math books, manipulatives and games.

I found a couple of things that I never used that is no longer of use to us. My younger son has taken to math very easily (as did my older son). I have no clue if this is because they are using the wonderful Math-U-See or if it is because they have some natural talent. I like the way the Math-U-See program teaches math.

Through living normal life my children have learned some math that their math curriculum hadn’t yet taught them. Today my older son asked me to do an Usborne maze book with him. To do one of the puzzles he had to do subtraction that resulted in some negative numbers. Where he is with his Math-U-See curriculum had not exposed him to that. Yet he grasped the concept quite easily when I explained the concept with one sentence.

My children love watching Cyberchase, a cartoon on PBS which is centered on math concepts. From watching this show they have learned fractions. I have never taught them fractions nor has Math-U-See taught them fractions yet. Yet they learned it easily, the concept of it, how to write them and how to read them. Our only use of fractions in our daily living is the use of measuring cups while baking and cooking. Once I gave a simple explanation of what measuring cup measurements were that I did off the top of my head one time.

I found one duplicate book that I owned, a Critical Thinking Book “Mind Benders A3”. I bought one used from the Well Trained Mind Sale and Swap Board and another from a used curriculum sale I attended this last summer. Oh well. I just listed it on PaperBackSwap and someone is already snapping it up, it is on a PBS member’s wish list.

I found some worksheets given to me by an elementary school teacher who was moving and having a big tag sale. I found this sale by word of mouth from her homeschooling friend. Anyway, I sorted through those dittos today and pulled out two copies of each and will give away the rest to homeschoolers. I gave my older son a stack of worksheets on counting change/money and he found them easy. This is one area that I thought he was weak in but I am wrong. I guess I take it too seriously when sometimes he can’t decipher the proper monetary value of what ‘a dime’ is (by the word “dime”).

I found a picture book on teaching time that I will give to my nephew. It is a little too beat up to list on

I found a sheet in the papers from the teacher about using calculators in the classroom which has me ready to go on a rant but I will save that for another blog post.

I also found a bunch of worksheets from teacher’s manuals from that teacher to teach fourth graders to write checks and to balance a checking account. Now I ask you, who the heck put that on the curriculum for a fourth grader? No child needs to know that until they are 16 or possibly 18 years old. Well that is my opinion. I will NOT be teaching my children to write checks and my children have no need for a checking account. I simply can’t fathom that. Does the current math curriculum include how a debit card and an ATM card is used, how to use the machine and how to balance those in with the checks in the checking account balancing process?

I decided to give away the teacher manual video’s for Math-U-See for the Introduction level and the Foundations level. Both of my kids have been through the Introduction level and are done with it. My younger son has converted to the new system and is not doing the “Foundations” level of the old Math-U-See. I thought a homeschooler who didn’t understand what Math-U-See was like perhaps would like to view these videos to get the gist of it. Then if they like it they can buy the new program or even buy the student materials for the old program.

I get asked how I organize my books often. I basically group similar items together. I don’t use the Dewey Decimal system or anything like that.

Here is how my math shelves are organized.

Math-U-See materials
Other workbooks for students to use
Other practice materials for students to use (write on/wipe off books, etc.)
School textbooks for math that were given to me for free (good for reference sometimes)
Critical Thinking Books, a few of their various manuals, Mind Benders, etc.
DIME build up blocks
Cuisenaire rods
Logic Links
Pattern Blocks
Multi-Link Cubes
“Super Mind”, “Mr. Super Mind” (Tangram like game for young children)
Flash cards
Music CDs about math facts
Math card games
Math Board games
Teaching time materials
Picture books about teaching time
Chapter books on history of time-telling
Picture books on various math concepts (Sir Cumference, etc.)
Math in real life books (math in nature, etc.)
Logic puzzle books, Mensa books, etc.
Lateral thinking puzzle books
Mathamania books from Highlights magazine
Student and Teacher manuals for the manipulatives (Pattern Block City, etc.)
Books for parents and teachers about using math games to teach math concepts

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Trying Out Blog Widgets and Tools

This week I have been experimenting with various blog widgets and tools.

First I tried using the Amazon Associates product link that shows only the book’s cover, not the price and other buying information. None of those links worked. I had spent about 20 minutes, at least, grabbing all the HTML coding for my Foxfire book links from Amazon and they all were dysfunctional. So I had to get all new HTML with the other style link box that shows the price and more information and re-do the blog entry. What a waste of my time!

I would like a search box on my blog that lets my readers (and me) search for content from within the pages of my blog. The Google one that I used to use was not working right, I’d search for a word that was right in front of me or even in a blog post title and it would say there were no matches, so I dumped that function.

I then for a long time used a Technorati box. At some point I realized it was not working well either. Again I’d search for a keyword that was in a blog post title and it would say there were no matches. So this week I deleted it from my sidebar. What is the point of having a blog reader search for a topic on my blog, be told I never blogged on it, when in reality, I actually did?

I like the Carnival of Homeschooling link box but I don’t like that it has a graphic ad for which I receive no compensation. I might delete it. I am undecided on that.

I installed a new Technorati cloud which shows my top tags, the things I blog about most frequently.

I installed a brand new Amazon tool for Amazon Associates called a product cloud. It is way at the bottom of my sidebar. It shows products that Amazon sells which match up with words and phrases that I have blogged about recently. I was a bit worried about the functionality as it took over 24 hours for the customized information to appear. It is working now. I’ll leave it down there at the bottom.

I thank all blog readers who have ever purchased anything through my blog’s Amazon Associates link boxes. With that said, I really have not been making much at all lately. I’m at 84 cents for the month, based on the sale of two books. Last month I didn’t break $3. Oh well.

I spread around my Amazon sales to different blogs and websites. Whichever site or blog I feel has helped me the most lately or enriched my life the most on the day I make my purchase, gets my sale. Lately the site I am most thrilled with and that enriches me the most is the Creative Mom Podcast and so I threw Amy my Amazon purchases of an art book for me, two different Foxfire related books, two books for homeschooling: Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind Grade 3 teacher manual and student workbook, a Water Pik and a toaster oven.

I also have been paring down my blog post labels. I have been deleting out similar phrases. I do this in little spurts, fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there. I would like to tighten up my labels so there are less of them.

I opened an account on Digg this last week. I didn’t know anything about Digg before this. It is a site where people can submit a good blog post or website article that they read online. Others can see the links to those submitted article and other Digg account holders may choose to also read those articles. If they like the article, they can choose to vote for it, and you can see how many people liked reading a certain article. There are lists of the most popular articles being read, so you can browse through the popular articles to find things to read. I can imagine I’d waste a lot of time on the Digg site if I visited it regularly. I just don’t have time to sift through what others think is good reading and to go all over the Net to read this and that and to maybe find something to read that also was meaningful to me. Also, the topics on Digg are not necessarily the topics I want to read about. Some of the most popular articles were the stupidest content and of no interest to me. They also don’t have a category specifically for education, homeschooling, or parenting, and you can only submit articles that match up with their content. Some of the homeschooling and education posts have squeaked through when labeled as politics. The Digg site is primarily for politics and current events/news, technology and the entertainment fields: television, movies and sports.

One last thing I’ll mention is that I get a ton, and I mean a ton of blog readers through Google primarily and also some other Internet search engines. I feel that my regular use of Technorati tags helps my blog posts be found by Google and the other search engines. This drives traffic to my blog. So if you want to drive traffic to your blog, use Technorati tags in every blog post of substance.

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Art is Everywhere (Photo of the Day)

I spotted this just before entering a movie theatre in a mall. It was late morning and the lunch diners had not yet flooded the Food Court.

I am sure the people who saw me taking this photo thought I was nuts, or weird, at least. I don't think they saw what I saw.

Photo taken by ChristineMM at the Westfield Mall, formerly known as the Connecticut Post Mall, Milford, Connecticut, USA.

The Notre Dame Library and Touchdown Jesus (Photo of the Day)

Theodore M. Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, USA.

For more information about "Touchdown Jesus" see the Wikipedia entry for the University of Notre Dame's football stadium.

Photo taken in April 2007 by ChristineMM

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Homeschool Open House Week in Review: Week 3

Homeschool Open House Week in Review
Week 3: September 17-23, 2007

Older son is aged 10 and in 5th grade.
Younger son is aged 7 and in 2nd grade.

I am sorry to report that the overall excitement about restarting homeschooling is over at this point. Real life intervened and problems have arisen and it just knocked the wind out of my sails.

I would say this week was a bit disappointing as we still have not found a nice rhythm to our days yet. When the homeschooling is getting done, the housework and laundry suffer. When I stop to do a laundry marathon, the lessons slack off. When I get the homeschooling done and the household stuff done, I have little time for my own self to take a breather. I would like to find a nice rhythm and have things flow nicely but that has not fallen into place yet. I am still trying to find a balance and a rhythm.

The best thing about this week is that we all really love the schedule, the fact that I did NOT over-schedule the kids. My boys have enough down time for free play at home, enough social time with friends for the homeschool park day and also for playdates with friends. We have breathing room in our days and it is NOT about rushing here and rushing there, worried about making it to the next appointment, which is what life was like for us last year.

My boys are really enjoying the outside classes and events that I’ve scheduled for them. They are elated about doing every single one of them and that is good. At some times in the past we were too busy and it got to a point where they took for granted the fun things they were doing. “Oh, time to go to that Audubon class again, ho hum”, was their attitude last year.

Bad news regarding the health of two elderly relatives was received this week. I will keep quiet about the major issue which has us all very upset. I will share the other big thing, that my grandmother (age 97) is now temporarily (or perhaps permanently) living with my uncle (which she is not happy about as she wants to remain in her own home and under her own control) while she recovers from an injury sustained after a fall. I fear she may be admitted to a nursing home which is something I really don’t want for her. This is the grandmother who lives 500 miles north of me, in the woods of Maine. On top of all of this my other grandmother who lives alone (age 88) is giving me the guilt trip that I am not spending enough time in my hometown, visiting her. Note that at the time she did that, we had just been to visit four days prior. I feel pushed and pulled by various people this week.

I have tried to stick to my homeschooling plans, to get done what I think is a reasonable amount of work. It is proving hard to do. Yesterday I thought a lot about whether or not my expectations are too high. I really don’t think they are too high. Actually I still feel that we are doing less than what I’d consider ideal. So I still feel a bit guilty as I think my kids should be doing more yet they are not keeping up with what they already have to do. After some slumping and laziness earlier in the week, yesterday was a big catch-up day. I don’t like ‘big catch-up days’, for one thing it goes against the philosophy of short lessons each day, a philosophy of Charlotte Mason, that I feel works nicely for retention of information and for prevention of ‘overkill’. I mean, what person really wants to do 90 minutes of math in one sitting or six pages of penmanship practice? My kids think it is torture but they brought it on themselves.

I think my kids are being lazy. They feel put out by being asked to do any amount of homeschooling work yet they are not on their own, doing ‘good stuff’ such as the tales the unschoolers often like to tell. They are not, in their spare time, doing educational pursuits or even reading anything I’d consider worthwhile or educational. (They like to read comic books, magazines, and catalogs in their spare time.) Actually they keep asking to watch TV to which I say no.

A local homeschooling friend just began her second year of homeschooling. Formerly her two children were in school. She says her kids are elated to be homeschooling and are so happy to not be in school dealing with numerous negative things they experienced that they are full of glee about homeschooling and are cheerfully doing their homeschooling work. She says she thinks my kids, since they have been homeschooled since birth, are not feeling gratitude for their situation because they don’t know what they are missing in school (not dealing with the negatives of school). She feels that if my kids had been to school like hers did, that mine would be happier to know they are doing things differently with homeschooling and they’d never complain about what I’m asking them to do. My kids don’t live with the pressure of testing, the pressure of the CMTs (Connecticut’s standardized test) nor do they have homework to do at night, so those are three big things they have no clue that they are blessed to not have to do.

I am disappointed to admit that my kids have gotten a bit rebellious about doing their work. Monday morning my older son started right off with back talk and a bad tone of voice regarding starting to do his homeschooling lessons. He ended up with a warning, then later punished with no television for the day. He was not ready to knock it off yet, and so he received a warning for the next day (and he finally chose to stop complaining at that point). Also on Monday morning my younger son lied about how many pages he read in the Bible (a NIV version in graphic format/comic book style). He claimed to have read 50 pages in 15 minutes. Of all things to lie about, to lie about reading the Bible, it really was too much for me to even grasp, and he instantly was given a punishment of no television that day. I told him that if he was going to try to pull stuff like that I’d mandate a narration for every single reading not just occasional narrations. I feel like I’m giving them an inch and they are taking a mile.

Then yesterday my younger son was punished as well for sneaking to watch television and for refusing to come downstairs to begin homeschooling.

We did spend some time on history this week. I read aloud “Viking Adventure” by Clyde Robert Bulla which took me a full two hours. After the first 90 minutes I was getting hoarse so I stopped reading aloud for the day and we finished it the next day. I really want to ramp up the history and get down to business with history. I wish we were reading great books like this every single day.

The use of the paper schedule, with one week on one page is really working out well. At a glance we can see if we are ‘behind’ or ‘on time’ or ‘ahead’. I will say I feel I’m a bit of a taskmaster lately which stinks.

As far as the learning goes, things are going smoothly. Here are a few examples. My kids are grasping new math concepts easily. The math facts are getting memorized. They are both doing well with spelling. After struggling to memorize problematic spelling words, my older son had success with reading over the spelling words written with a dark marker on blank index cards. Hey, whatever works. When he doesn’t do that, he struggles day after day without mastering the word, yet after one time of studying the words on the flash cards for five minutes, he retains the proper spelling.

I am putting fiction books into my children’s hands to read for reading practice. Sometimes they balk or frown and say they won’t like the story, then they end up loving it. I fluctuate between giving them books I think are very good quality, to other times, letting them read some popular stuff that kids nowadays are reading, even if it would be labeled twaddle by me. My younger son at first refused to read the book I gave him to read, saying he thought, based on the cover illustration and the title, that he’d hate the story. Well he ended up loving the story and even stayed up late, reading in bed, as he didn’t want to put it down. And my older son read before bed also, staying up late to finish the story since “it was so good”.

Yesterday finally I sat down and finalized the plans for my homeschool support group for this year. I run a Charlotte Mason group. We have a small number of core members who attend a night meeting. For the first time we are going to start meeting in a coffee shop instead of in my home or someone else’s home. This year our focus will be to discuss living books. Each month we are going to have a topic and the main discussion will be to share titles of our favorite books to teach that topic, science or ancient history, for example. It should be interesting. To lighten my load I decided to not meet monthly but we’ll meet about five or six times over the entire year. This weekend I hope to get the email announcements for the meetings to the various homeschool support websites and circulate emails to the Connecticut homeschool email discussion groups.

The Cub Scout year is up and running. Both my husband and I are Den Leaders, for two different Dens. That work takes up some of my time now. And this week I need to get organized and make some arrangements to visit some Boy Scout Troop meetings so we can make a decision about which Troop our older son will cross into, in February. I don’t want to be thinking about that during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season!

By the way my older son’s Lyme Disease symptoms so far have stopped since he was put on the antibiotics. Hooray for that!

So, this last week for me has been more about real life, dealing with problems and dealing with emotions. All the while, even when feeling drained of emotional energy, or when I’m feeling sad or the condition of my suffering and sick or injured relatives, I’m juggling the responsibility of homeschooling my children, parenting them and running this household. I’m also trying to be there for my husband to help him through these rough times. Perhaps this is a good example of how we homeschooling mothers are not just all obsessed with our children’s homeschooling and maybe this is a good demonstration of how their education is not 100% of what we do with our mental energy or our time. We homeschooling mothers have full lives and other responsibilities to juggle as well. Keeping all the balls in the air and trying to fulfill all the obligations is sometimes a challenge. And life is not always perfect nor does it play out ‘as planned’ all the time.

General Information:
Homeschool Open House’s Weekly Reporter blog post project is a concept devised by Jessica of Trivium Academy. For more information, see the Trivium Academy blog entry dated 9/04/07.

Graphics which I am using in my Homeschool Open House and Weekly Reporter were designed by Jessica and are available on her blog, again in the same blog post dated 9/04/07.

For information about how you can become a Weekly Reporter or to view a list of other Weekly Reporters, read the information at Trivium Academy in the 9/04/07 blog post or see the information in her right sidebar.

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Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books Has Been Published, September 22, 2007 edition

Take a look at what readers are saying about the books they are reading this week, over at Semicolon Blog's Saturday Review of Books, 9/22/07 edition.

Consider posting a submission, too!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Candles (Photo of the Day)

Photo taken by ChristineMM, April 2007.

For location and tons of information, see here.

Currently Reading: Hands-On Literacy Coaching

Today I am reading Hands-On Literacy Coaching by Nancy Boyles.

This book was sent to me by the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

The book is intended as a guide for Literacy Coaches, the newer term for what used to be called a Remedial Reading Specialist. Well, actually, the Literacy Coach is intended to be helpful to all teachers in an elementary school, and then the teachers are able to help all the students. (This is versus the old style of having one reading specialist who works directly with a low number of students who are deemed to be in need of extra help with reading.)

When I'm finished I'll write a full review of the book here on my blog and also as a customer review on Amazon.

At this point it is too early for me to tell how much of this book will be useful to homeschooling parents or is more in general about teaching reading versus being a book only of use to school staff.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My New Favorite Liqueur: Amarula Cream

I was shopping at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store for a new bottle of Bailey’s Irish Crème to make frozen mudslides with; I spied a bottle of something I’d never heard of. It sounded simply scrumptious and so I splurged on a bottle.

I tried it on the rocks and it is amazing! It is a crème liqueur with a thick consistency just like Bailey’s Irish Crème. The flavor, though, is what I’d describe as primarily caramel with hints of both vanilla and chocolate in it, if that is possible. It is a sweet crème drink. It is so delicious on the rocks that I have not even tried to use it in a cocktail mixture!

The name of this fantastic product is Amarula Cream liqueur.

Coincidentally soon after I bought it, I saw the product featured on one of the episodes of “The Thirsty Traveler”, a television show which investigates the history and production of alcoholic beverages. The show includes a bit about the country they are in and some cultural information. The host interacts with the locals as well as the owners of the companies who make the alcoholic beverage. We see the original ingredients in the field or in the wild and then see the drinks in production in the factory. Each episode is dedicated to one drink, whether it is Mexican tequila or German beer or absinthe.

So from watching that episode, I learned more about Amarula Cream, including that it is made from the fruit of the Marula tree, otherwise known as the elephant tree, hence the choice to use an elephant on the label. The fruit is from South Africa. The trees grow wild; the tree is not cultivated by man. Residents harvest the fruit by picking up the ripe fruit with drops onto the ground when ripe and placing it in baskets which they hand carry. They are then paid on a ‘per piece’ basis by the makers of Amarula Cream.

You can read more about the Marula Tree on the Amarula website, here. I saw this just now and was surprised.

According to age-old myths and legends the tree also holds a significant position. Amongst some tribes it is known as the "The Marriage Tree" as it is accredited with special aphrodisiac properties, and many marriage ceremonies are still held under the Marula tree.

In case you are worried about exploitation of the locals who help harvest the marula fruit, here is more information from the Amarula site’s commitment section:

It is estimated that approximately 60 000 people are dependent on the income generated by the residents who sell the fruit to the production plant. A recent report by the Institute of Natural Resources estimated that through this its involvement in the area, Distell injects roughly R1,5 million per year into the local economy.

As the harvesting season of marula fruit only lasts for about six weeks, local residents who collect and sell the fruit to the production plant are without incomes for the greater part of the year. Through a consultative process with tribal chiefs, a range of sustainable economic development programmes were created to ensure that the locals who supply fruit to the production plant, have alternative incomes for the remainder of the year.

If you have a sweet tooth and like crème drinks such as a frozen mudslide or a White Russian, I bet you’d love Amarula.

I brought some to a friend so we could share a small glass and she agreed it was divine.

Now if you are wondering how much alcohol I drink, I hardly drink any, having usually only 1-2 drinks a month. I like a margarita if I’m out in a Mexican restaurant and there is nothing like a cold beer with good pizza. I also like a frosty frozen cocktail on hot summer days if I’m outside at a pool party. I believe that moderation is key with alcohol consumption and my interpretation of the Bible is that it speaks against drunkenness and excess consumption.

Links and References
Amarula crème liqueur official website, includes cocktail recipes

Amarula Wikipedia article

The Thirsty Traveler Amarula episode (#FLTHR-301)

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Great Post On Perfectionism

I really enjoyed this post on perfectionism on Ragamuffin Studies. I am a perfectionist also, having thought that I had tamed that tiger. However since about January I have been struggling and I realized at some point last winter that the root issue was that I was being a perfectionist. It was disrupting parts of my life and giving me grief.

Another thing I like about Elisheva’s post is that she includes in her discussion, is a discussion of the word and the root and how there is not a word in Hebrew for perfection or perfectionism.

It is an interesting read, check it out.


While catching up on reading posts on Consent of the Governed, I just read this outrageous story about a school that banned students from wearing shirts with flags on them, including American flags. The ban was retracted after public outcry.

I have thought that schools are no longer teaching American pride and patriotism but this is a crazy example of how it is worse than I thought.

The Thinking Mother Blog Post Featured on The Issue

I was surprised to receive this email this afternoon.

"I am contacting you to notify you that we are featuring you on the
front page of, in the Issue of the Day. Today's Issue
discusses Kid Nation and its moral implications. Your blog provided
a great introduction to the Issue. You can view your post at

By way of background, The Issue is a blog newspaper, with the idea of
drawing together all of the voices of the blogosphere into one forum,
where people can converge to understand and engage with a variety of
perspectives. Every day we feature an Issue of the Day as a deep
dive into a subject, where we display four different perspectives to
paint a three-dimensional picture of every topic we cover, as well as
blogs by genre and two other sections.

All the best,

Matt Dalio
The Issue"

Kid Nation Premieres Tonight

Reminder: tonight is the premiere of the new reality show Kid Nation, it will air on CBS.

You can read a blog posts about the show here.

The first blog post which I published before the controversy broke out is here.

My second blog post after the controversy and allegations of child abuse is here.

My children, my husband and I will be watching it together tonight.

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My Daredevil (Photo of the Day)

My younger son pushed the limits here, with his great sense of balance he felt capable.

Location: The pier in Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

My Favorite Parts of a Tom Luckey Interview

Connecticut’s WNPR radio show did two interviews on their Where We Live show. The first part was about the nature of children’s play and the need for time outdoors and playing on playgrounds. That segued into a discussion of how playscapes are being built in Connecticut which are handicap accessible and that are made safe in many different ways for children with all kinds of different disabilities to play on them.

The second part of the show was an interview with a playscape designer named Tom Luckey who creates interesting and visually amazing playscapes. (Click on the link to find the interview page which has a photo of one of the playscapes, I just can’t describe it for you in words.)

You can listen to a podcast recording of the interview by linking from this page.

The two different parts of the show are recorded in two different podcasts. This blog post links to the Tom Luckey interview, Part Two. Tom Luckey works and resides in East Haven, Connecticut.

I especially appreciated these parts of the interview and I decided to quote my favorite parts here. Luckey was an artist and a playscape designer before he became wheelchair bound and paralyzed and he continues his work after the accident as well. What I liked was the discussion of how the accident and his resulting disability led him to ‘reinvent’ himself in his personal life. I also liked what he said about finding a way to make a living doing what you love.

Quote (5:43):

TL: About a year and a half ago, I fell and am now paralyzed from the neck down. So, there is a whole dimension to my life that is going on completely apart from my work, and that actually takes up more time than my work. There is a lot of profit in that because a lot of the things that I neglected because I was so busy, I now am sort of going back over and picking up pieces that I’d never known existed before that are now becoming a big part of my life. My wife and I are kind of re-inventing our marriage, and that is pretty exciting. And in lots of ways, it is much closer to the stuff that really means something in life, although my work is really important to me.

Interviewer: Do you think you would have been able to reinvent yourself in this way, if this accident had not happened, is this something that you woud have done on your own or does this have to be kind of forced upon you in some way.

TL: No, I would never have done this on my own. This was like full stop, re-start in a whole new direction. And for the most part, I think it has actually been a better direction. It sounds crazy, to be completely paralyzed and sort of thinking, array, it is not like that. I mean, in a sense, as we get older we get more paralyzed, as our joints give out and our muscles get weaker, and eventually we die. This has been a real shock and a true kind of awakening.

Interviewer: (paraphrased) As you move forward…how is it changing the work and the creativity that you bring to your work?

TL: He goes on to say that he now works with his son and his major work is creating and designing and he no longer works with the installation part of the projects and makes a comment that he gets to do the fun creating part and someone else has to worry about how to duplicate that in real life during the installation process.

At about 11:15 into the interview, he is asked about someone who has a vision about doing something creative but doesn’t think they can make a living at it.

Tom Luckey replies: I’ve got the exact answer. Don’t stop, work your way along the wall until you find the little crack in it that you can fit yourself through. There is a wall in the world around the sort of the secret garden that you need to get into to make a living and to have an audience and be fulfilled, and you have to work your way along that wall. There are really no shortcuts. Because I think you really need to learn the lessons of the garden that you are trying to get into, which is really just where you can do what you want to do and get paid for it. You learn it by working your way along that wall and you have to do that. And don’t stop. If you just get it in your head that you are nto going to stop, then eventually you will get there, and it takes a long time.

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