Saturday, February 28, 2009

Parenting is Hard: A Story

I just had one of those moments where I'm reminded how hard parenting is. And how it seems that sometimes the hard parts seldom get discussed. These hard things are not the romantic notions of parenting that people often think about when they think, "I want a baby, I feel ready to be a parent".

Kids come up with stuff out of the blue. You never know what will happen next or what they will say. Sometimes it becomes clear we have a new thing to handle that we were unprepared for. Sometimes we have to respond immediately and we are not ready. No one could have prepared us ahead of time sometimes.

I think that becoming a parent made me, forced me to grow and mature. I had no choice if I was to deal with the situations at hand, I would have to grow up even more. I have had to do things I didn't want to do (beyond changing dirty diapers). I have had to do gross things like clean kid barf when I myself was sick and feeling terrible. But the harder things are the things having to do with emotions and with the relationship between my children and myself.

My children were close to my maternal grandmother. We visited her between two and six times a year since my first child was born. They have lived with her for a week at a time, in close quarters. She was always nice to them, very loving and kind.

When she passed away two months ago, I myself was grieving, of course. I learned that when a grandparent dies, even though I'm forty-something, a grown adult can suddenly like a child inside. Yes I was a mother and a wife, but at times I felt as if I was a young child upset about her grandmother's passing. But I had to help my children cope with their emotions too. They were grieving also. So I had a dual thing happening, me grieving her for my own reasons yet me trying to be strong to help my children through their grief. It is not easy.

The other day I was washing dishes. It is the evening and my son had all day to tell me this but he just came up to me with this story. This is case where I had to think and react quickly.

"I had a bad dream last night. I dreamed we went to Maine to visit Nanny. But we didn't know she had died. She died sitting in her rocking chair but no one knew. We thought she was alive and we were going to visit her. When we walked into the she was right there in her rocking chair, dead for a month, with her eyes closed. It was horrible. I felt bad that no one knew she had died and that she had been sitting there for a whole month."

Now what in the world was I to say to that? I was grossed out by that. I mean, let's be honest, that is the stuff of horror movies.

To calm my mind I asked if she looked okay, like she was just sitting there like normal? He said yes, just with her eyes closed. I breathed a sigh of relief as in my my mind I was thinking of what could have been a bad visual scene, something even worse and more scary.

I didn't know what to say so I just said it sounded like a terrible dream.

He had a fever and the flu when he had that dream. Poor kid. (Note, this child has not yet seen a horror film or a crime television docudrama. If he had he may have had other visuals come to mind in that dream. Phew.)

No one really prepares parents for stuff like how to help a child grieve the loss of a loved one. Instead mainstream parenting magazines talk about much less important stuff, like how to make a cupcake with a certain holiday decoration on it to bring to the child's classroom for a holiday party, or how to get kids to stop using a pacifier. That type of stuff is fluff and nonsense when harder things start happening.

Why We Need Spare Time

If a person (adult of child) is too busy they don't have time for the freedom required for creative pursuits and to think and ponder.

I enjoyed this post at Mental Multivitamin that talks about an article about Leonardo DaVinci.

A "pattern of seemingly nonproductive creativity"

The quote below is from the article mentioned by Mental Multivitamin: How to Procrastinate Like Leonardo da Vinci.

"On his deathbed, they say, Leonardo da Vinci regretted that he had left so much unfinished.

Leonardo had so many ideas; he was so ahead of his time."

This also relates to "so many ideas, so little time" which is something that I have been struggling with in these last few weeks. (I'm not a genius and I'm not da Vinci but it got me thinking.)

The best I can do is try to set priorities, then with my time, try to spend time putting into action the things that I decided were most worthwhile. I need time too, to relax. I need open patches of time to breathe. I can't have every waking minute pre-scheduled and planned, being akin to a robot with a prescheduled totally efficient workday. My children are the same way, they need 'margin' in their lives too. One of the hardest things for me is making time to do what is necessary versus what should be done in a best case scenerio and leaving time for fun or just to breathe or time to recover from the flu and so forth. A balance between the necessary things and the want-to-do's. Time to relax and unwind is necessary also.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Going to Maryland

My blog is set to auto-publish while I'm in Maryland sans Internet and sans email. I'll be in Baltimore attending the Apologia LIVE conference as a blogger-reviewer of the conference.

I feel a bit torn as my older son has had the flu since Monday afternoon. He is on the mend but still feverish. I contemplated cancelling the trip in order to stay home to take care of him. I'll be gone only 2.5 days. My husband will be here to take care of the kids, he is capable, although he's never been the sole caretaker of a child sick with flu who is bedridden and really feeling poorly.

However I hope I learn something useful and feel inspired or energized which will help me for months in the future. My two day absence will have rewards that will go on for a long time. If I stay home I'll have helped nurse my son back to good health, just like his father can do, but I will have missed out on hopefully what will be useful information and positive inspiration, so my children will BOTH lose out in the long run if I don't attend.

And I've been stuck in the house since Monday afternoon, feeling a bit cabin feverish, so it will be good to get out. If I don't go I will surely have a worse case of cabin fever by Monday and the week will be off on a bad foot, I can only imagine.

If you're in the Baltimore area and want to come down to the conference, check out the conference website for information.

If you are there perhaps I will see you!

Assignment List Time I Guess

Two yeas ago I was hoping my older son would be more self-directed regarding time management of his homeschooling studies, assigned lessons specifically. He really resisted when I tried to institute a kind of schedule and check list in fourth grade.

In the start of fifth grade I came up with a schedule on paper that he could highlight the assignment when completed. Younger son asked for this too, so I obliged. No TV could be watched for the day until the work was done. That worked well for about one month until it started to slowly crumble. One sickness, a change in the day’s plans that meant we were out of the house doing something else, and other such things interrupted the studies as planned out by date. Then the whole schedule was off.

On a whim, this last fall in September I bought a student planner while at a university book store. I hatched the idea to use that type of planner to parcel out assignments to the kids. I asked my older son if he wanted one (with the university’s logo on it) and he said yes. Of course my younger son wanted one too. But we were busy and when I got home they sat in a drawer and I forgot about them! In January I finally got around to trying that system. I write in the subjects to do on a day and the kids pace themselves to get it done. This year the thing is they have no video game playing until it is all finished.

I had hoped they’d work ahead on some days, when in the mood to do more math and so forth. It has worked a little bit like that but not much.

Today my younger son complained that his ‘to do’ list is empty. I guess I’ll sit down and map out a bunch of days in advance so it is ready. I don’t write lesson numbers or other details so it is not too much of a problem if a child is sick one day and no lessons are done.

You see it is against my true nature to have schedules for myself. I hate them. I feel so liberated after having left my corporate job where we were mandated to use the Franklin/Covery planner. I did love that planner but I found it enslaving rather than liberating. My own desire to not have a life all scheduled out for myself is being put onto the kids, which is not necessarily good. I realize that. It is time to get over my own desire for what I want in my own working life and do what is better for my kids in their educational experience.

My two children are very different in personality. Oddly their results for learning styles are identical (per a test in “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style” but they are different in their brain dominance, polar opposites in fact.

My older son is very right brained (visual spatial learner). He doesn’t like ‘to do’ lists. He is more spontaneous and doesn’t like to plan ahead. Therefore trying to get him on a schedule and get him to be more independent with work I want him to do is not so easy. His ideal day has no appointments and allows him freedom to do what he feels like doing in a day. If he is so inclined to work on reading a book for three, four or more hours, or to build with LEGOs for six hours in a row, he will. He loves projects but only if they are of his choosing. It gets tricky to try to have a child learn certain topics and skills when they want to be so autonomous with their actions that may have nothing to do with stuff that say, the state says they want homeschooled kids to be learning or things that are required for college prerequisites even in the career field that he thinks he wants to enter.

My younger son is very left brained (concrete sequential learner). He loves ‘to do’ lists. He likes to be told what to do. He hates to have wide open spaces of time and told “go find something to do” or “do what you want to play”. He wants to be told what to play or have another child be the leader to direct the play they’ll do together. He likes to know, when he rises in the morning, or even the night before, what is planned for the next day. He likes order, routine and predictability in his day. This son loves to check off completed work. He likes hard work such as shoveling snow. He beams with (a reasonable amount) of pride at a job well done. The harder the task is, the happier he is when he has finished it with satisfaction. Learning comes easy for him and he would like to get 100% accuracy on every assignment that is easily graded. However when learning is a challenge in the least, he is unhappy and doesn’t necessarily put the same amount of effort into working toward accomplishing that thing as when he’s sweeping the garage or mopping the floor (he loves to clean).

As you may have gleaned from what I’ve said, I wish my older son was more self-motivated instead of me having to parcel out assignment after assignment. I wish my older son did more work on his own instead of (still) wanting me to sit right next to him while he does his work.

I have no desire to push my younger son who is in grade three to have ‘to do’ lists and to self-pace his independent work, but that is what HE wants. It is so strange to see two kids who are (just under) three years apart who are three grades apart approaching the same thing differently. One is trying to put off a responsibility until later than I want for him while the other is begging for more responsibility at an age that I think is too young.

As my friend said over time as the kids get older we need to help prepare them to do more and more work on their own. Kids in upper middle school and in high school (homeschool) should not still be getting spoon fed information from the mouth of the parent. More of their work should come from source materials (books, textbooks, etc.) and they should gradually be more self-paced in their work instead of having the parent micro-manage each assignment. If the plan is to attend college, they do have to learn time management and self-discipline regarding their studies at some point. I’d rather have slow gradual learning than spring it on my kids in eleventh grade in our home school!

Another thing we need to accept is that certain kinds of learning require long periods of self-study through reading. If a student is to do well in college they need lots of practice reading and processing information and gleaning meaning from what they read, comparing the information they take in, and thinking about it analytically. Kids need to get used to the idea that certain kinds of learning really do involve them alone reading a book (or alone doing assignments). The older the kids get the less learning is all about fun and discovery through playing. In certain content areas, the information just doesn’t come from ‘living real life’ of a typical American family either, so actually doing academic assignments using educational materials is necessary.

These kids keep me on my toes, that is all I can say. I feel like I am constantly juggling my ideas for what I want for them for good and reasonable workloads for their ages, versus what they want for themselves and tying to have a harmonious home environment without me turning into super-strict drill sergeant mom. Just with my two kids I cannot implement a “one size fits all” approach. I surely don’t know how school teachers are expected to do it, but that is another topic entirely.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

They Need Recess and Ideally, Regular Doses of Nature Too

This New York Times article addresses these topics:

1. Kids need recess, more than 15 minutes a day.
2. Kids should not be punished by teachers to remove recess.
3. Being outside in nature is better than being outside in an urban setting (study done to prove it).
4. All kids benefit from time in nature, it helps them with learning.
5. ADD/ADHD kids benefit from time in nature especially.

"A small study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder last year found that walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration. Notably, children who took walks in natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas, according to the report, published online in August in The Journal of Attention Disorders. The researchers found that a dose of nature worked as well as a dose of medication to improve concentration, or even better.

Andrea Faber Taylor, a child environment and behavior researcher at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, says other research suggests that all children, not just those with attention problems, can benefit from spending time in nature during the school day. In another study of children who live in public housing, girls who had access to green courtyards scored better on concentration tests than those who did not.

The reason may be that the brain uses two forms of attention. “Directed” attention allows us to concentrate on work, reading and tests, while “involuntary” attention takes over when we’re distracted by things like running water, crying babies, a beautiful view or a pet that crawls onto our lap.

Directed attention is a limited resource. Long hours in front of a computer or studying for a test can leave us feeling fatigued. But spending time in natural settings appears to activate involuntary attention, giving the brain’s directed attention time to rest. "

Article Title: The 3 R’s? A Fourth Is Crucial, Too: Recess
By: Tara Parker-Pope
Date: 2/23/09
Published in: New York Times

Homeschoolers take note and apply it in your family. Schools should take note and change their policies.

In my town the elementary school rearranged the day so the kids have a lunch then a short recess after (45 minutes for both things). In other words they have only one real break in the day. I personally would think that the lunch time should be one break (short) and then at least one other separate recess (just recess). My town does not have recess in middle school (grades 6-8).

When I was in elementary and middle school both, we had a morning outdoor recess and ate snack while outside. We had a lunch only indoors (no recess connected to lunch). We also had gym class that was additional time for movement and was outdoors in good weather and in fall and spring.

This topic of kids needing recess and kids needing time outside and in nature has been discused over and over and over, all pointing to the same recommendations. However public schools still seem to resist change. They blame NCLB and the need to have additional academic time to teach the government required academic content.

This was said in the article:

"The lead researcher, Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the findings were important because many schools did not view recess as essential to education."

Will the school administrators get it now?

This is a good example of "studies show children need THIS THING but public schools refuse to implement it". I don't get that mindset at all. Schools should care both about the health of the kids (discussed in the article that time outside and breaks help children's health), and schools should care about academic success. Anything to help ADHD kids attend to their studies and to excel should be considered for implementation too. So with all that points to the need for recess, for more recess, and to not punish kids by taking away recess, why don't schools CHANGE THEIR WAYS? Can someone explain it to me? Where is the logic? Why are the schools not applying what is right and best for children, even when there are studies to prove what is being said and even when physicians say it is right and best?

Hat Tip:
My friend K. via email

Related Topics

Charlotte Mason, an educator who lived over a hundred years ago who inspires home educators, advocated for daily time outside in nature for all children

Book: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Naure Deficit Disorder

Time to Plan For

Things we did last summer that the planning and scheduling begins this week---

I can't believe it is time to think about these things already!

Big family camping trip with Boy Scout Troop

Boy Scout summer residence camp for older son

Should I volunteer again this year at Boy Scout residence camp?

Above: my humble abode for the week should I choose to volunteer again.

Above: Camp food in the dining hall is what I'd be eating.

Crew with Yale Community Rowing program for older son

Cub Scout summer residence camp, younger son

Whether to host another Japanese foreign exchange student this summer or not?

(Double click above photo to see what he is doing.)

Already know I don't want to volunteer at Cub Scout Day Camp.

Me on a hot summer day volunteering, thinking, "This is the last year I'm doing this!"

Older son asking to volunteer there again, so we need to figure out if he'll go or we'll spend an extra week in Cape Cod.

Stay home so older son can volunteer (above) or go to Cape Cod with the kids (below)---hmmm. Which would I rather do? Not a hard decision.

And younger son doesn't want to go to Cub Scout Day Camp this year, so scratch that off the list for him.

Due to the economy and feeling that we should not be spending money now that we may need later, we'll not be taking any trips that we have to pay for (no hotels, no airfare, and so forth.)

Decisions, decisions......

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Being Below Average in Ability (and Academic Ability)

Finally the book “Real Education” by Charles Murray became available! I’ve had it on hold from the public library for months. It looks like a keeper and I’m tempted to buy it so I can have access to it when I want. The book explores four truths that he feels needs to be accepted and understood before discussions on the public education system and what must be done to ‘fix it’ can begin.

The first point is “ability varies”.

After a discussion on the multiple intelligences model created by Howard Gardner he says this.

“Ability varies and it varies a lot. Four of the seven abilities are especially important in adult life…”

“What does it all mean for straight thinking about education? To me, it means that educators who proceed on the assumption that they can find some ability in which every child is above average are kidding themselves. It is not Howard Gardner’s fault, but the theory or multiple intelligences have become a justification for educational romanticism. The truth that people may possess many different abilities is unthinkably transmuted into an untruth: that everyone is good at something, and that educators can use that something to make up for other deficits.”

“Empirically, it is not the case that we can expect a child who is below average in one ability to have a full and equal change of being above average in other abilities. These chances are constrained by the observe relationship that links the abilities.”

Murray goes on to discuss that the categories of multiple intelligences and the tested ‘stuff’ on tests are not isolated, often two or more abilities are linked, if you excel in one area, you may excel in three areas. This is explained well in the book. A simple example is that a student who excels in math will also excel in reading and may also have a determined personality trait that helps them persevere while learning in school. Conversely a child who struggles to read probably also struggles to learn math and may lack the intrapersonal skills connected to self-discipline (and I add, impulse control). In another section he explains that according to elementary school teachers a below-average child can be taught something and demonstrate they learned it, then three days later it is forgotten and retaught and seemed to be mastered then it is forgotten again and again. This is due to the fact that some below average people have poor memory recall, he says. No matter how good the teacher is or what methods are tried the content may not stick. That type of discussion is seldom addressed when talking about ‘the state of public schooling’ and about improving public education in America.

All above quotes are from page 29.

On page 33, he wants the reader of the book to accept that there are people who are in the lower half of the spectrum, that indeed some people (adults and children students) are below average. He feels the reader probably is above that average and therefore it is hard to grasp that some people are below average. He says,

“It is safe to say that a majority of readers have little experience with what it means to be below average in any of the components of academic ability.

The first basis for this statement is that I know you have reached the second chapter of a nonfiction book on a public policy issue, which means you are probably well above average in academic ability—not because getting to the second chapter of this book requires that you be especially bright, but because people with below-average academic ability hardly ever choose to read books like this.“

Anyhow I laughed out loud when I read that. I’m happy that Charles Murray thinks that I’m above average. Actually per my high school rank I was above average but not so great either. I left high school thinking I was not too smart at all, just plain average, nothing special. And at times the experiences I had with teachers led me to believe I was stupid. I received only two statements which could be said to be ‘esteem boosting’ from teachers from second grade through high school graduation. Those were so rare that I recall who the teachers were and what they said to me, what grade I was in and everything. Things have changed today with all the self-esteem boosting in schools but the sad thing is that I think sometimes it is being said without being truthful, but I digress.

The book is great so far. I blogged about these ideas last year after watching a lecture for the promotion of this book on BookTV. That post is here and it includes a link to watch the lecture free, online.

Charles Murray Left Me Speechless

Here are the four truths as quoted from the BookTV lecture.

“1. Ability varies. A simple truth.
2. Half of the children are below average. A simple truth.
3. Too many students are going to college.
4. The future of America depends on how we educated the gifted students.”

I'm putting this blog post in the category of "problems with schools" because one major issue is that the notion of mass schooling of large groups of children has many problems in and of itself, some are caused by trying to educate large numbers of kids, kids of different abilities, and trying to come up with one best plan that can be applied to all children. That is usually called the 'one size fits all' approach. Murray explains for one thing, that newer creative classroom teaching methods designed around the multiple intelligences idea just don't work out in real life as nicely as it sounds in theory.

Part of the reason that I teach myself about these issues in American public education and about different teaching methods is so that as a home educating mother I can try to figure out how to avoid the problems known in public schooling combined with the most innovative ideas for teaching children in a one on one situation that is the homeschool setting. Some great ideas for educating children just cannot be applied in a class of fourteen or more kids of different abilities (or pick some other number, we could quibble about what the ideal number is but perhaps a more important issue is a teacher working with students more closely grouped by ability).

The principal of the elementary school in my town has made it clear to my acquaintances who have spoken with her that she does not believe that ability matters when structuring public education in her public school. She believes in something she calls a "horizontal hierarchy" rather than a "vertical hierarchy". She said she does not support grouping kids even in small groups by math ability to target learning to them 'at their level'. One mom told me she got the principal to admit that for the kids who have mastered the concepts or 'are ahead' they just have to sit and be patient while the slower learners catch up, and that the focus is on pulling up the struggling learners to get them up to speed (seeking LD labels and putting them in special ed programs too). And that in general the content in the class 'shoots to the middle'. We parents have heard these things before but sometimes we don't hear such frank admissions of those facts from an educator.

This book by Howard Gardner outlines his theory with regard to 'multiple intelligences'. I have wanted to read this book but have never made the time for it.

Several homeschoolers have said that Thomas Armstrong has taken Gardner's ideas and written books about them in a "multiple intelligences lighter version" which makes for easier and faster reading for parents and laypeople. I have not read his books either. Today I see he has a book for adults and even one for children to teach them about multiple intelligences called "You're Smarter Than You Think".

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Difference Between a Cold and the Flu

I found this helpful information on the FDA website about how to tell the difference between a cold and the flu. I’m referencing this regarding one of my children who is sick with flu symptoms.

I thought perhaps this information may be of help to your family.

Note the part where this government stie says to not use antibiotics on a cold or the flu.

I also note they say not to call a doctor right away and then tell a list of when to call a doctor. I find that interesting. They also don’t say at what temperature point for the fever it is advisable to call the pediatrician for a child who is sick. I find that odd.

What to Do for Colds and Flu on the FDA site

Destroy All Cars Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Destroy All Cars
Author: Blake Nelson
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Problem Novel, Male main character
Publication: Scholastic, May 2009

My Rating: 4 stars out of 5 “I Like It”

Summary Statement: Unique Character, Engaging Story, Entertaining

James Hoff is the main character, a gifted seventeen year old boy. The story takes place from January to June of his junior year in high school. He likes to write and journal on his laptop more than chat on the phone with friends, and this story is told through journal entries as well as with essays he wrote for his AP English class. He spends a lot of time alone pondering the injustices of the world and hatching ideas for solving the world's problems with extreme measures (like destroying all the cars) and zero population growth.

James is an ultra-environmentalist whose favorite person is Karl Marx. He hates the consumerist mindset and detests things like Americans (including his own parents) owning status symbol cars and teens wearing certain brands of clothing. We learn his views through his ranting essays (which don’t garner good grades or much praise). James wants huge change and wants to play an active role to affect that change. He is of the mindset that he should feel guilty for existing simply because he is human and because humans are wrecking the Earth.

He is a unique person not just due to his opinions but through his actions. He has chosen to eschew typical American teen culture. Wearing thrift shop clothes which he further cuts up to make look worse, despite being from a wealthy family, not wanting a cell phone or the car that his father offers him are just a few small ways that James chooses to act different even though all but a couple of kids at school hate him for being different.

The extreme viewpoints can be take one of three ways by the young readers or adults. First, if you like some of those views (or all) you may be happy that in the book the character is trying to persuade others to see that his way is right. Second if you hate those views you may hate the book for that alone. Or, you may find his rants funny and get a good laugh out of the extremist views and realize his views begin to shift over time. His rants tone down as he realizes that some do-good efforts are not always fixing the problem and that sometimes activism even with good intent is futile.

James is a typical teenage boy with a normal sex drive. The book does include one not-too detailed sex scene in which he loses his virginity. He admits to masturbating but there are no scenes which describe it. He starts to date a bit and comes out of his shell more and more and then the rants begin to subside. The book does have an angry tone in the rants especially in the beginning, and profanity is used (even in the school assignment essays).

I liked that he showed leadership skills by volunteering for a nonprofit organization to try to save some wetlands and a pond from being filled in and turned into a housing development. Also while at a high school party he declines to drink alcohol and stays with a soda instead.

I found the story engaging and I didn’t want to put it down. I liked seeing James change over time as he grew and matured a bit, and as he shifted from a self-isolated ranter to someone whose views calm down the more he becomes more socially active. I found the character of James unique and refreshing, and funny.

The publisher, Scholastic recommends this book for readers in grade 10 and up (age 15 and up). It seems to me the reading level of the book is younger than that, perhaps at a 6th grade level (however the content is more mature then I’d recommend for 6th grade). Due to inconsistency with Scholastic’s assignment of recommended reader ages to content I’m feeling confused about how Scholastic arrives at that determination, so I won’t comment on the appropriateness of the content to the age of the reader.

As an adult I enjoyed the book mostly for the unique voice of the main character. I’m not sure it would be a top pick for my sons to read when they are in 10th grade, that will depend more on which genre of fiction they prefer (so far they prefer the fantasy genre rather than realistic fiction problem novels set in the present day).

As a parent I feel there are some talking points in this book about relationships, dating, casual sex, and premarital sex. A discussion of ‘going too far’ and respecting the wishes of the girl and knowing when to stop pushing the girl would be appropriate. It is a good segue into what date rape is (although that is not a topic in this book).

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program and agreed to review it for the Amazon Vine program.

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Purge Book Review for Amazon Vine

Here is my much shortened book review as I published for Amazon Vine. My longer review is here which includes a list of the issues in the book that the characters struggle with.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Amazon Vine.

Title: Purge
Author: Sarah Darer Littman
Publication: Scholastic, April 1, 2009
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Grades 7 and Up per publisher , Problem Novel
Format: Hardcover book
Full Retail Price: $16.99

Summary Statement: Sometimes Too Much, Sometimes Too Little and Targeted for the Too Young

2 stars = I don't like it.

The book is marketed to be about a girl suffering from bulimia who is institutionalized for treatment. (Actually she has two more serious issues that happened to her that led to the admission). Scholastic, the publisher, is targeting this to readers in grade 7 and up (age 12 and up). With regard to the reading level of the book it seems to me to be below a grade 7 reading level, perhaps at a grade 5 or level, but I feel the content is too mature for possibly a 7th grader let alone younger readers.

The story is told I the first person through reading her written journal entries or experiencing situations such as therapy sessions through Janie’s eyes. The book reminded me of a reality show where you step right into the action and live the story as the days unfold, finding out the background story as time goes on. I found it to be quite similar to the TV reality show “Celebrity Rehab” although with mostly teenaged eating disorder patients and in a book form.

Too Much
There are a few areas in which I think this book is ‘too much’.

I got the impression that the book was written to help save a reader (girl or boy) from ever starting down the path of the actions of an eating disorder. That is a noble effort. But then throwing in too many other serious issues into the book is ineffective when most of those were not resolved. I wonder if these other life problems were inserted to have a ‘talking point’ opportunity especially for use in the classroom, to make a reason for the teacher to discuss all these things with the students.I want to list the issues here but fear it will be considered a spoiler which is not allowed by Amazon in reviews.

Second, there are too many details of the process of purging. For most of the book it is repeatedly stated to be an effective and non-dangerous weight maintenance or weight loss method. It read like an instruction manual that may help some readers begin their purging journey.

Regarding the big sex scene. The therapist tells Janie to write out what really happened to land her in treatment and to plan to read it to the boys and girls in the session I felt it was unrealistic that she would write and share that level of detail when it was to be read to a mixed gender audience.

Fourth, is the frequent use of profanity. I know that most teens that age swear, so it is like real life in that way.

Not Enough
I said before there were too many problems in the book. When I say there is “not enough” I mean most of the topics are not covered deeply enough or resolved at all. That can be harmful to the reader. When a character we don’t know has a serious thing happen to them we feel little emotion. When children (and adults) constantly have buzz words and issues thrown at them it desensitizes them. I am not imagining this phenomenon, it has been discussed by psychologists for years, usually regarding the unemotional way that TV newscasters relay stories of terrible crimes or the impact of violence in movies and TV and video games on young people.

I feel it would have been better to focus on the bulimia issue and maybe one other problem such as her feeling inferior to her older sister who she thinks is perfect, and have those covered thoroughly and deeply, with emotions that would to really impact the reader.

Too Young
Given the serious nature of the topics that are just casually mentioned in the book I think that grade 7 is too young for this book, that’s my opinion.

Last Thoughts
I didn’t find the book depressing, meaning it wasn't a dark mood read. The main character’s sense of humor may seem really funny to some readers. But what was sad overall was that so many problems that the teens and the forty-something patient had were just not resolved well. My impression was kind of like, “really bad stuff happens to teens and people of all ages and the people are victims left to handle it on their own”. Another message is “we can’t control the bad stuff that others do to us so we just have to control how we react to it”, as well as a better message of “there are better ways to handle stress than to relieve it through anorexia or bulimia”. The main character’s situation ties up a bit too nicely in the end while the other characters lives are still a mess, so the overall message is not all positive, leaving me feeling a bit sad, more for the readers who may have been unsettled by the other problems that were not resolved.

The kind of light way this story was told reminds me of how a movie created from a book sometimes comes across when the original book was deeper and more emotionally touching. For that reason I think this book would translate well to the big screen and I would not be surprised if a movie is made from this book. The main character’s sense of humor would help lighten up the movie by making it a bit entertaining.

Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival #104 Has Been Published

The Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival #104 was published at Simply Forties.

Check it out and get inspired to make something from scratch!

Please consider submitting to this blog carnival if you make things from scratch. It can be anything from cooking and baking to sewing and crafts.

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 165 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling edition #165 was published today at Consent of the Governed.

I have an entry in this blog carnival. This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading. Take a look!

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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Game of the Week: Battleship

Battleship was a game that my brother received as a Christmas gift one year, and we played it together when we were children. His was the first edition of the game without technology and with little decoration. Do you remember the TV commercial that accompanied the game when it first came out? A boy cried, “You sunk my Battleship!”

We really didn’t think of it as a war game or about gunning down ships while at war. To us it was about finding where the ship was hidden. No one taught me the strategy and method but by trial and error I figured it out. The best situation was when the ship with two pegs was sunk; we could spread out the guesses with a wider girth in between and methodically guess across the grid.

In between when I played in the 1970s and now, other editions have come out. Electronic battleship is one. My kids found a Star Wars electronic version at a charity tag sale and we bought it. You have to spend more time programming it than it is worth. The newer non-electronic versions have all kinds of visual clutter. I recall some having decorations behind the grid, very annoying and bothersome to me, it must be something tied to my ‘learning style’ or my ‘modalities of learning’.

I was able to find an old Battleship, non-electronic, at a tag sale for $1. We have been playing it nearly every day for a week. We’ve played it in the past too, but it has been dormant for too long. My boys are enjoying it and are working out the best strategy in their own minds. When all else fails and the methodical guessing each certain number down in the row, if our opponent is winning and we are close to losing, we switch gears to guesses in large blank areas.

I think the non-electronic Battleship game is worth playing. It is not boring to me or my kids and even my husband will play it without complaint.

I’ve been brainstorming ways we can adapt the game play to include four players, one player for each grid. So far I’m not sure how it can be done and prohibit ganging up on one person or if one person finds a hit, if it is fair that someone else may be the one to sink it.

I highly recommend the older, less visually cluttered versions of Battleship for today’s children, even for the kids who usually prefer to play video games.

I can’t find the old commercial that I remember the most but here is one that I also remember.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Homeschool Showcase #18 Has Been Published

Check out the Homeschool Showcase #18 which was published at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers today!

Homemade Whipped Cream Cheese

Today for the first time we made homemade whipped cream cheese. Well, we took store bought Philadelphia cream cheese, purchased in bulk at a low price from Costco, and made whipped cream cheese with it.

Why? Well, we don't always have cream cheese or whipped cream cheese in our home, but the kids like it. It is expensive at the grocery store, in my opinion. We sometimes would buy it at BJ's Wholesale Club but our local BJ's no longer carries it. Costco only sells the three pound brick of regular Philly cream cheese so my husband bought it with the intention of making our own whipped cream cheese at home with it.

Here is the recipe we used.

Homemade Whipped Cream Cheese recipe

We used our stand mixer (Kitchen Aid brand) with the whisk attachment. It was simple!

And it's delicious.

In small ways, a family can make the dollar stretch. The savings adds up over time.

Cost Comparison

Kraft Philadelphia Whipped Cream Cheese at lcoal grocery store (Stop & Shop), 12 oz. for $3.49 ($4.65 per lb.)

Kraft Philadelpha Cream Cheese (brick) at grocery store (Stop & Shop), 8 oz. for $2.29 ($4.58 per lb.)

Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese (brick) at Costco, 3 lb. for $5.69 ($1.89 per lb.)

Homemade Whipped Cream Cheese with Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese with small amount of milk (per recipe) yielded 3 lb. 3 oz homemade whipped cream cheese for $1.89 per lb. equivalent to $1.42 per 12 oz. container. That is a cost savings of $2.07 per 12 oz. container or a total of $8.26 per 3 lbs! In other words the cost of whipping your own cream cheese at home when buying the base ingredient in bulk at Costco is 60% less!

While we are at it the cost comparison of Kraft Philadephia Cream Cheese in the brick form at the grocery store vs. Costo, the grocery store is 59% higher in price!

Between the groceries we buy at Costco (including fresh produce and some organic items), the low gas price (consistently 30-35 cents less per gallon than the regular gas stations near my home), the price of the Costco membership is worth it. We go there once a week to shop and fill up on gas and we feel the cost of the Costco membership fee is justified. To save even more money we have an American Express card through Costco which we get cash back (2%) on purchases made at Costco plus 5% back on all gas purchses at any gas station, and 3% from restaurant purchases.

Still Time to Decide to Attend Apologia LIVE Conference!

The Apologia LIVE homeschool conference is being held Friday February 27 through Saturday February 28, 2009. There is still time to decide to go.

I was speaking with my friend, who is attending with me. We were discussing the schedule. We are looking forward to the road trip and to spend the weekend doing something different, to get out of Connecticut and the rat race pace of life here in Fairfield County. We are looking forward to hearing speakers whose lectures we hope will energize us and take away any of the last remnants of the winter homeschooling doldrums.

Read more about the Apologia LIVE conferences here, see if they are any coming to your area by checking this list.

If you live near Baltimore and want to attend this Christian homeschooling conference, check out this information.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Little Discussion About the Oscars with My Kids Has a Bigger Purpose

Today while in the car coming home from church something was said on the satellite radio station about the Oscars being tonight and that the viewing audience was down, for the award show. It was reported that the pre-show red carpet part will not be shown tonight as some viewers were only watching that and not the awards show. The Oscar people want viewers to watch the actual award show.

I had to laugh out loud because some of my friends have only watched the pre-show as they told me all they cared about was seeing the celebrities on the red carpet, to see them in general and to see what they are wearing. As I said yesterday I don't care about the Oscars or what anyone is wearing. I also am unclear how seeing a celebrity sitting in a seat is going to show their full outfit.

Then my eleven year old son said he knew that an actor that has been in some children's movies is nominated for an Oscar. He said what movies he was in, in the past, and I know the face but neither of us knew the actor's name. He said he hoped he would win as it is the only one he knows of and he likes his acting in the other movies.

I explained to my kids that part of the whole problem with the Oscars is just what he said. He didn't know what I meant of course so I explained it.

I explained how some people think that the judges vote for who they like the most or whose work they like over time rather than to judge the nominee for the role or thing they did with that one movie that got the nomination. I explained it so the kids could understand, about the types of nominations they do and how no matter what happened in the past such as what good job or sub-par job they did in the past, that the Oscar is supposed to be judged upon the person's one role in that current movie that is linked to the nomination.

They understood it and we discussed being fair, and how it would be a mistake to vote for a person based on a judge's personal preference such as “who they like the most”. In one case it could be that a judge likes a certain genre of movies or the character in the movie was likable or other things that could influence them rather than truly evaluating that specific thing in that one movie.

Almost every day my kids say something that triggers a little 'teachable moment'. My hope with that conversation is not that they are more knowledgeable about the American cultural thing of the Oscars and how Hollywood works but to try to see their own biases and to look at their opinion or perception of something and see it from a different perspective and to reframe the situation in the truer, newer light.

I am sure that topic will have to be revisited many more times in their lives for them to get it. I do hope they develop that ability because I feel that many issues arise from people's inability (mainly in adulthood) to see reality for what it more truly is including viewing one's own opinions and experiences through the eyes of another person, or from a bird's eye view. The ability to see the bigger picture is very important in making wise decisions and for making better choices in even the smallest interpersonal relations. Seeing the big picture is also important regarding critical thinking, applying logic and analytical thinking.

I have heard it said before that these short conversations between parent and child are important. Some call them "teachable moments". The thing is we need plenty of time with our kids in order for these little things to crop up and then we need to take the time to talk to them. It's important to be with our kids and to have open communication with them.

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Recipes for Homemade Girl Scout Cookies

I stumbled across these recipes today on Baking Bites and will be trying these soon. They are recreations of Girl Scout cookies made from scratch (no trans fats either).


Thin Mints


Tag Along’s

Samoas Bars (a twist on the original shape)

Many more delicious recipes can be found on Baking Bites


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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Will Hollywood Take a Day of Mine?

A homeschool mom friend invited me to the once annual movie day thing that is taking place today. It's an annual thing she attends with a friend. A nearby movie theatre sells a ticket for $30 and they show all of the Oscar nominations for movie of the year, one after the other with just a short break in between, plus some popcorn and unlimited sodas.

I was seriously considering going until I realized that the five movies would take up FOURTEEN HOURS of my life. Yes my day from 10:30 a.m. to midnight would be taken up (drive time is additional).

I would be sick if I ate popcorn all day, and soda.

I would have to smuggle in bottled water and snacks. And maybe keep a healthy sandwich in the car.

What would I do with my hands all that time? I usually bite all my nails off during one movie out of boredom (after all the popcorn is gone). I was thinking of bringing along my kid's Thinking Putty. I even contemplated buying glow-in-the-dark plastic knitting needles (they are silent too) and knitting in the dark. I am not kidding.

I don't think I'll be attending. I don't want to see them all anyhow. There is one I'd like to see (Slumdog Millionaire) but I can wait for the DVD release and borrow it free from the local library. I'd also like to see The Reader, just because I read the book years ago (but have forgotten the content).

I have a short list of things I really WANT to do with my time, and that I'm in the mood to do today. Time is usually what I'm always longing for, more free time! When given a full day of no appointments outside the home. I have one thing I kind of NEED to do that today is perfect for (has to do with being able to shop alone in a local yarn shop). If I don't do that today it will have to be done the next Saturday that I'm in state (in two weeks).

Lastly, I don't watch a lot of movies as frankly I think most of them stink and are a waste of my time. It is expensive to go to the movies also, too much money and the food costs too much. A small amount of snacks cost me $22 and tickets cost me about that much for the two kids and I to attend the bargain matinee to see Inkheart, earlier this month, which was a movie that was worthwhle to watch on the big screen.

And I don't give a hoot about the Oscars. I don't know everyone nominated. I don't watch the Oscars. I don't care about the personal lives of the movie stars, sorry but I have other things on my mind. Celebrities propping each other up to award each other, who cares?

No, Hollywood, I'm not giving you a day of my life today. Sorry.

As I write this and inform my husband of the decision he smiled and said, "Starve the beast!" As you can tell he's not a big lover of Hollywood either.

One more thing, lest I give the wrong impression, I'm happy that my friend invited me, and both she and her friend are intelligent people who are not celebrity worshippers. My friend described this day for her as a pure escape from the reality of life, kind of like a suspension of reality, to be in a dark theatre for at least four movies (last year they took a break and went to eat dinner in a restaurant). I don't want to imply that my friend is foolish by any means.

Today I just feel happy to be home and attending to what I want and need to do here. I want to get done the projects I've not yet been able to finish. And the day is bright and sunny and inspirational. The completion of those tasks hopefully will make me feel fulfilled, more than watching the movies will. I think and hope it will!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Another One for the TBR List

Just read about this book by Jennifer Fox "Your Child's Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them" at Mental Multivitamin. Looks great. My curisity is piqued. Check out the excerpt that was posted at MMV.

Homeschool Phys Ed Class in Winter

This year I sat with friends, chatted and knitted while the kids ski.

Older son is asking me to ski with him. He said, "I wish you could do Pine Run with me! It is a blast!"

I said, "Maybe next year."

Parents get the same discounted rate for our homeschool ski program so it is tempting.

Here I am outside the ski lodge in the sweater I knitted in large part while the kids were skiing. I've already started a second sweater which will be sized smaller so it is not as loose fitting.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thank You A Rod

Just have to share that the other day my younger son came up to me and said that when he gets older he wants to use steroids to help him do better at sports.

How wonderful.

So thanks A Rod for being such a wonderful leader and role model to America's youth.

I'll be honest. We are by no means sports fanatics. My husband and I are in agreement that we just can't get too worked up about grown men getting paid big bucks to play a sports game. Sorry. College football of the alma mater college is another matter and admiring college athletes of all sports (not just football) is something else, especially those student athletes who actually go to college to learn and do graduate with a real degree and who graduate without being arrested for any crimes.

How did my younger son even know about A Rod? We hadn't told him, he overheard it on the news while driving in the car or overheard it on the TV playing in the other room or something.

Anyhow we had a little lesson about what steroids are, why they would be used, that they are dangerous, that they are illegal, that professional sports have rules, what might happen to A Rod now that he was caught, and lots of stuff like that.

I understand that the world does not exist to be perfect to make my parenting an easy task. I get it. But just let me vent for a moment that parenting is a constant challenge. It is downright draining sometimes to keep trying to teach a certain set of values, morals and a certain ethical code when there are such clear examples of the polar opposite being done by prominent Americans, and having the media put it in our face so often that we can't seem to avoid hearing about the same story over and over and over. Between corrupt politicians, sports figures using peformance enhancing drugs and terrible acting musicians and actors, our kids don't have many famous people to look up to. (And please if you are not American don't judge our entire nation on what those wrongdoers do! They do not represent the majority of Americans!)

We parents of young boys need more real American role models for our children to aspire to emulate.

Where are the role models?

Where are the leaders who follow the rules and laws of our country?

Purge Book Review by ChristineMM

My Rating: 2 stars out of 5 = “I don’t like it”

Summary Statement: Story Flawed and Target Market Too Young

Title: Purge
Author: Sarah Darer Littman
Publication: Scholastic, April 1, 2009
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Grades 7 and Up per publisher , Problem Novel
Format: Hardcover book
Full Retail Price: $16.99

Janie starts off the summer after her junior year in high school in an inpatient mental health facility for treatment (against her will). The plot, the main action of the story, is her recovery and the suspense in finding out the full and real reason why she was admitted there in the first place, which we don’t find out until near the end of the book (it is more serious than just being for bulemia). The story is told in the first person through her accounts of life in the facility, telling of group therapy sessions as well as her written journal entries (a non-mandatory recommended therapy).

The main character Janie has a sense of humor and is smart so hearing her story and life in the treatment facility through her eyes is interesting. It seems to me to be written on an easy reading level, perhaps a grade five reading level. The publisher (Scholastic) has the book flagged to be marketed to children in grade 7 and up (that is age 12 and up). That would be fine and well except for the issue that the book contains numerous serious, mature themes (each worth exploring on their own but the book doesn’t suffice to ‘cover them’). You see, the characters have serious problems and there is also good amount of profanity (yes I know teens that age talk that way, especially angry ones). There is a detailed sex scene (more on that later). Due to all that, I’m not sure that this book belongs in the hands of a 12 year old. Another issue with easy reading level books that have larger font, a fair amount of white space on the page and a short page count is it can result in readers younger than the publisher’s stated recommended reading age reading it (which would not be good). Also high school aged readers will probably feel this is a ‘too juvenile due to its simple story and its reading ease. (Actually this would probably translate well without much modification into a movie while books with more complex stories are often harder to make the transition to the big screen.)

The book with both girl and boy teenage eating disorder patients, I fear, will be recommended by well-meaning teachers who seek to discuss eating disorders and to enlighten both girls and boys about the issue when the book has a big problem: the kids have too many problems and nearly all of them are poorly dealt with in the story. Examples are characters we don’t know anything about and really have no emotional connection to are given problems and we readers don’t care enough about the character to feel empathy for their situation. Due to the high number of problems in the book the author did not really address them all (just barely mentioning them, and not addressing the suicide attempt or date rape well enough). The reader doesn’t see the issues through to a good conclusion. It would have been a better story if the problems of the main character were delved into deeply and not had the clutter of all the other issues in the story.

Another thing that surprised me was the level of detail about the main characters binging and purging techniques. It read like a how-to manual and for nearly the whole book the character insisted that her bulimia was a safe weight loss and weight maintenance strategy as well as an effective technique for relief of pent up stress and emotions. The idea that the various eating disorders including purging can be a lifelong weight maintenance strategy that doesn’t always receive professional treatment or recovered from is supported by the numerous stories of the patient’s mothers and fathers who have neither received treatment nor are cured from their disorders. I found that odd and problematic that the teens are institutionalized against their will by their parents to be treated for a disorder that a parent sometimes taught them to do (and is still doing). The author obviously wanted the reader to see that sometimes the unrealistic weight ideals of people in our culture and the bad strategies pass down from parent to child (blame the parents for their bad parenting!), but I wonder if the inclusion of that will confuse young readers to think that eating disorders in all cases may not really need to be treated and cured (after all the parents are fine, which is something the other patients struggle with but is unresolved.

The doctor asked the girl to write down why she is really in the hospital and to plan to read it aloud to the group. That entry included a sex scene which was too detailed, included alcohol drinking, and too much of a feeling-good thing before it turned bad. The details of that sexual encounter were unnecessary to tell the story. I feel it was also unrealistic for the character to share that level of detail, as any teenage girl wouldn’t write all those details knowing she would be reading them aloud to her therapy group of both boys and girls. Besides, up to that point she’d not told much personal information to at all due to wanting to retain her privacy. The in my opinion more serious and real reason that she was admitted to the facility was not due to just having bulimia but her fellow patients didn’t know that until she read them her journal entry.

I am a parent and care deeply about child readers being matched to well written books that responsibly handle the topics well, especially in the situation of realistic fiction ‘problem novels’. As I said before this book has too many problems and at one point when more and more problems appeared it started to be ludicrous. “Let’s see if we can put every hot topic teenage problem within the cover of one book to accurately show how messed up ever teen and every family really is!” is what I felt the author was thinking when she chose to do that. It seemed to me also that the issues were labeled and barely touched upon so that it could be a ‘talking point’ for discussion such as with a teacher and her class. “If we mention all these problems and inform the preteens we can prevent them from ever happening!” The problem and challenge of inserting so many issues in one story is they cannot be handled well within one story. Limited exposure to numerous topics dulls the reader’s emotions.

I am not for censorship of books, I would like to see authors acting responsibly by handling ‘hot topics’ and serious problems well. Writing is not an easy craft and creating complex stories that are written on a reading level appropriate to the target market that allow the reader to feel empathy and to be able to be moved by a book, changed and improved for having read it is not easy to do. I note the author is a member of an organization for authors (As If!) in which they discuss and complain about any person or organization that expresses a problem with content in books for children and young adults is a violation of "intellectual freedom" and state "if you are trying to get a young adult book removed from a school library due to concerns over "mature content", you are violating the First Amendment rights of the school's students" (quote from As If! site, here). So anyone who speaks up about a poorly written book or takes issue with the agenda being pushed in children’s fiction such as using a controversial book in a school classroom is labeled is negatively labeled as a censor.

With problem novels I think it is a best to have well-written stories that make the intended impact on the reader. A great book can emotionally impact a reader and often having read one excellent book on the topic is enough for one child or teenager. I think this book misses the mark. (I recall being moved greatly by “The Best Little Girl in the World” which horrified me when I was a young teen and I had no desire to ever read another story about eating disorders again, I ‘got the message’ that anorexia was a bad and serious thing.)

In my reviews I usually mention the hot topic issues in case parents want to know what the book is about before buying it for their child. Each parent should know what a book is about before putting it into the hands of a younger child (even one who is 12 years old). Here is a list of issues. I’ll keep details out to avoid plot spoilers but if you don’t want to know any of these issues stop reading now. They are:

anorexia, multiple girls

anorexia one boy

bulimia (binging and purging)

athletic wrestling jock who starves himself before weight-in’s and overeats after matches

lifetime poor eating habits and eating disorders of some of the parents

a boy who is homosexual then comes out of the closet to the patients and later his parents, then his father says he will divorce wife as he is angry of son’s homosexuality

other male makes negative remarks about the other boy's homosexuality and is labeled a homophobe

an incest victim

self-mutilation (cutting)

alcoholic father in AA treatment

some parents divorced

high achiever teens who are highly achieving but have low self-esteem

disconnected teens and parents with skewed perceptions of emotions (thinking a parent doesn’t like their passions when parent is very proud of them)

hard working father providing well financially for family eluded to as incompatible with being a good father

too much pressure to do well in school academically and stress over college
admissions (blaming parents for expecting academic success)

one patient is in her 40s and is divorced and a wreck after her husband cheats on her and leaves (this character seemed out of place in the book too)

losing one’s virginity to a date rape (condom used)

detailed sex scene

use of alcohol by teens including leading to sex and the date rape

casual sex unattached to emotions and sexual promiscuity

attempted suicide by overdose of parent’s anxiety medications

parents ignored plea that the suicide attempt teen was in danger and 12 year old calls 911 and saves sibling’s life per the doctor, if left to the parent's choice of action the teen would have died!

an anorexic patient dies due to cardiac failure while in treatment for her eating disorder

I think I remembered it all.

Now isn't that a bit much for a 240 page book that Scholastic is marketing to readers in grade 7?

One more thing in case anyone is wondering about religion. Religion is never mentioned in the book. Religious parents who wish to discuss this book with their children can find many examples of problems that could have been solved or approached differently if aspects of the family's religion was applied. No matter what a family's religion is there are things that take place in the book that could be discussed in a customized way in light of the family's own religious beliefs. Christians might say for example that a spiritually alive teenager who truly feels unconditionally loved by God may never find themselves in the position that some of the book's characters face.

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine review program.

Note: This is a longer review than I am publishing on for the Amazon Vine program.

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Delicious Steak au Poivre

Pictured is the Valentine's Day dinner my husband made for me.

The Steak au Poivre is Alton Brown's recipe made with filet mignon. It was Delicious with a capital D.

Books Owned Reveal Past Plans Unfulfilled

I'm in the middle of a massive book move. I'm shifting stuff around as I'm repurposing a room. I've been busy doing that and have been offline a lot this week, due to that project, homeschooling, normal house cleaning and cooking, and me and older son getting sick and also the fact that I was a temporary single parent while my husband was away on business for five days has kept me away from reading email and surfing the Internet as much as I typically do.

As I go through the books to reorganize them I am reminded of past plans, past wishes and past hopes.

I see books that I bought to use some time in the future that I never made plans to use. What a disappointment.

I see good ideas and good topics still untaught in our homeschooling journey.

I see good intentions without goal setting, without plans and without actionable steps having been taken. It is painful to admit that.

I see lots of ideas for future learning experiences though!

I am not being too hard on myself about not-done things, as I have good thoughts at the forefront of my mind of all the great and fun stuff we HAVE done in the past. Not having done everything I'd hoped is not a failure if what was done was good and worthwhile.

You see the problem is overabundance. Too many ideas, too many materials, too many opportunities to do other things that took our time and energy away from doing these other things. So long as what we did do was good and worthwhile then it is all fine.

The idea of negativity being felt from abundance is a terrible thing to let happen. Overabundance can, if we let it, make us feel dissatisfied with the good things that we did experience. Overabundance you think would be a good thing but in fact it can be a bad thing. If you are burdened with too much of a good thing I would advise that you do two things.

First be honest about what was done in the past. If things were good and worthwhile then allow yourself to feel grateful and happy about those experiences. Let yourself feel the satisfaction of those things and the happiness that doing those things brought. Do not let the undone things on the 'to do' list erase the good feelings that you should let yourself experience.

Second evaluate how you are spending your time in the present and in the future. If current plans are sub-par compared to the still undone ideas and what the unused materials owned have in store, then consider changing your plans. Set new goals. Make plans to use the stuff. Figure out how and when to use the things you have to bring to fruition the ideas you hatched at one time. Create a new schedule if you are a schedule-maker. Commit in the schedule to making time to do certain things you want to do. Make a new path for the future that you think will lead to good places.

In short, use what you have.

Don't dwell on why things weren't used. Don't ruminate on your past high expectations or past overly full schedule that led to the failure of your imagined plans not be completed in real life. The fact is that many mothers (and homeschooling mothers) have overactive imaginations that lead us to believe we can do 48 hours of stuff in a 24 hour window. Those of us with creative minds tend to have too many ideas and we think that we can do a lot more than we can actually do. We are human and we can only do so much in one day! The problem is sometimes not that we failed to get it done in real life but that we had overactive imaginations and unrealistic plans. Let's allow ourselves to feel the happiness in the day we are living not ruin our days with regrets over what was not done.

And if you have too much stuff, if things have been outgrown or are past the time when using them would have been best, let go of them. Don't let the unused stuff sit there making you feel guilty for not having used it. Pass the stuff on to someone else who can put them to good use. Don't hoard and pack rat the things away that you will never use. Let someone else benefit from your overabundance. Set the stuff free to be used by another family who wants to use it.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Thrift Shop Book Find

While in a thrift shop last month I spied something that I knew was a must have. It was a mint copy of a book called "The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch" or perhaps it is just "Mr. Punch".

It is a visually dark and odd-looking in a good and interesting way graphic novel.

When I saw it I knew I had to have it. The artwork is unique, a combination of hand drawn with photographs and collaged pieces. The dominant colors are sepia tones, darker browns and black. With a full retail price of $19.95 I was thrilled to only pay $1. They had a special sticker on it asking $1 for what is supposed to be just 50 cents for a softcover book. Whatever. It looks like it was never read and still smells like a new book (no cigarette smoke or mildew odors, hooray).

The authors are Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. I had no clue who they were but today when I pulled this out of the shopping bag it still was sitting in I recognized Gaiman's name as he is the recently announced winner of the 2008 Newbery Award, an award for a book published for children (an award for the book writing not for illustration only).

Looking at some Amazon reviews today, I'm intrigued to read the story itself not just to admire the artwork. I might read it tonight before bed.

If you are into collage and the sepia tones and odd or dark stories and into graphic novels, this may appeal to you visually or for the story.

Older Son Loved the book "Castle Diary"

I had to laugh this morning.

I bought the book "Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess" by Richard Platt in 2004 with plans to use it in our study of world history. (I'm embarrased to admit that for five years it sat on our shelves untouched, but this was part of my older son's delay with much independent reading due to a visual processing disorder learning disability.)

As the title implies it is a fiction story in the style of a diary. It is set in the year 1285.

A couple of days ago, I assigned it to my eleven year old son to read as part of independent reading of world history. I figured he'd like it. It looked good to me but I had not pre-read it.

After day one he said it was boring and complained about it. I said to stick with it and just read it. (Mean homeschool mom that I am.) Today he came to me smiling and said he finished it. And that HE LOVED IT.

Note the change of opinion!

Note that perseverance sometimes pays off! If I had waffled and been swayed by my son's first complaint and renegged on the assignment he would have missed out on his eventual enjoyment of the story!

He said an ad in the back said that the author had also published a book called "Pirate Diary". He asked to read that.

I replied, "Sure! We already own that too!"

"We do?!? Where is it?" was his reply.

He was elated and ran to the world history bookshelf to get it.

"Castle Diary" was published in 1999 and the publisher (Candlewick Press) has it labled for readers aged nine and up. There are illustrations on nearly every page. The font is a bit small, but not too bad (of note for readers with eye tracking problems).

I'm happy that my older son like it. I will assign "Castle Diary" to my 8.5 year old to read next because I think he can handle it. Certainly it was easy for my 11.5 year old to read. The story itself is short at 112 pages.

We are speeding along in our study of world history, a combination of read-aloud's by me with assigned independent reading by both of my children. Even though I have my older son reading a combination of easier books and books on his grade level and he is doing just fine learning from his silent reading. What matters is he is absorbing content and making connections.

Regarding my older son's eye tracking problem, he has made great progress and received a new treatment plan yesterday to tweak and improve one area that has not self-resolved. I am so happy that he is disovering the joy that comes from reading and that his self-esteem is rising about his perception of his reading abilities.

"Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter" by Richard Platt

And today I see the same author published a diary book for Ancient Egypt!

"Egyptian Diary: The Journal of Nakht"

Make a Lightbox for Photographing Stuff

This is an example of how creating posts for one's blog can lead to wanting to do something new leading to researching something leading to teaching oneself to do something and then actually doing it.

A blogger was sharing recipes and photos of the food she made and was frustrated with how hard it was to photograph food well. (I am having the same issues right now, after finally having a camera that can do the job well the lighting and background and foreground is sometimes now the problem.)

So anyhow, apparently professional photographers use a lightbox when photographing small items (who knew?) and this blogger at I’ve Got a Little Space to Fill set about to research it. She used online to create her own lightbox from inexpensive materials (and a good lightbulb).

If you are curious or want to make one of your own check out her post Make a Lightbox.

Hat Tip: Make it From Scratch Blog Carnival

Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival #103 Has Been Published

The Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival #103 was published at 11th Heaven’s Homemaking Haven.

Check it out and get inspired to make something from scratch!

Please consider submitting to this blog carnival if you make things from scratch. It can be anything from cooking and baking to sewing and crafts.